Beyond Words: Celebrating 2015’s WGA-Nominated Screenwriters

February 6th, 2016 by

The Black List’s Kate Hagen (@thathagengrrl) attended the recent Beyond Words 2016 event sponsored by the Writers’ Guild of America, West, the Writers Guild Foundation, and Variety.

As awards season continues chugging along, the WGA-W, the Writer’s Guild Foundation, and Variety gathered together to celebrate 2015’s WGA-Award nominated screenwriters.

Andrea Berloff and Jonathan Herman (STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON), Aaron Sorkin (JOBS), John McNamara (TRUMBO), Charles Randolph and Adam McKay (THE BIG SHORT), Matt Charman (BRIDGE OF SPIES), Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy (SPOTLIGHT) and Drew Goddard (THE MARTIAN) took the stage at the WGA Theater to discuss their creative processes, what scenes they had to cut from their scripts, and how to approach script structure when dealing with real-life characters.

Photo credit: Variety

Even with original screenplay nominees Taylor Sheridan (SICARIO) and Amy Schumer (TRAINWRECK) unable to attend, the stage was packed as John August (this year’s recipient of the Valentine Davies Award) joined the 11 writers on stage to moderate. August told the audience we’d being seeing a lot of lightning round questions to keep the conversation moving.

August first asked the writers: How long was the production process of the film from initial conception to theatrical release?

THE MARTIAN: Three years

SPOTLIGHT: Four years

BRIDGE OF SPIES: Three years (11 months from pitch to production, an incredibly fast turnaround time)

CAROL: “Eighteen effing years,” as Nagy put it.

THE BIG SHORT: Five years

TRUMBO: Eight years

JOBS: Three years

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON: Five years

Ah, the long, lonely life of a writer. Since all of the nominated scripts besides CAROL and THE MARTIAN were based on real people, August then asked the panel about how they approached integrating real life into their work. For Berloff and Herman, having access to Ice Cube and Dr. Dre from day one was hugely beneficial in shaping COMPTON, as they were able to draw on interviews and transcripts to make the film feel authentic. Sorkin told the crowd that meeting Jobs’s eldest daughter, Lisa, and John Sculley helped him find the emotional through line of the story, despite Jobs’s death three weeks prior to Sorkin’s start on the script. McNamara and Charman echoed Sorkin’s statements, saying that meeting Dalton Trumbo’s daughter and James Donovan’s son, respectively, allowed them to shape TRUMBO and BRIDGE OF SPIES.

For the writers of THE BIG SHORT, it was a split decision on meeting their real-life inspirations: Randolph “didn’t want [those people] in my head” while writing, but McKay had to meet the actual folks to help his work as director. McCarthy and Singer also relied heavily on research for SPOTLIGHT, spending six months interviewing anyone and everyone to help construct their story about the Catholic Church’s abuse of power in Boston. Both SPOTLIGHT writers praised the journalists who are the film’s core for their collaborative efforts, and their help in shaping scenes up until filming began.

Since their scripts were not based on real people, both Nagy and Goddard were thankful for the freedom that their fictional source material offered. For Nagy, who kept only the basic characters and ending from Patricia Highsmith’s novel THE PRICE OF SALT, having the freedom to craft Carol and Therese’s story totally on her own was invaluable. Likewise, Goddard, who has a long resume of TV credits, said that not having to rely on expository dialogue, as is often the case in TV, allowed him to craft his characters based only on their actions in the film.

For the rest of Kate’s take on the event, go here.

“Twas the Night Before Black List…”

December 24th, 2015 by

Funny how things become traditions here at Go Into The Story. Two years ago, screenwriter Chris McCoy uploaded this series of tweets the day before the roll-out of the 2013 Black List:

“‘Twas the Night Before Black List and all through the LA / Writers were nervous – could this help them get pay?”

“Their loglines were sharp and polished with care / In the hopes that St. Franklin soon would be there.”

“The writers were ambien’d all snug in their beds / While visions of having a sustainable future danced in their heads.”

“The agent in Prada and the hopeful in Gap / Had just settled their brains (with pot) for a long winter’s nap.”

I asked Chris if we could run with his verse as a blog contest to which he kindly agreed and that led to this. It was so much fun, I decided to reprise it this year. The winner: Shannon Corbeil. So in the spirit of Christmas Eve, I thought it would be appropriate to share the poem Shannon wrote completing what Chris started. Here it is!

‘Twas the Night Before Black List and all through the LA
Writers were nervous – could this help them get pay?

Their loglines were sharp and polished with care
In the hopes that St. Franklin soon would be there.

The writers were ambien’d all snug in their beds
While visions of having a sustainable future danced in their heads.

The agent in Prada and the hopeful in Gap
Had just settled their brains (with pot) for a long winter’s nap.

When, as if from a dream, there came inspiration.
One writer sat up with a funny sensation.

Away to her laptop she flew like The Flash.
For suddenly she knew how she’d earn some quick cash!

The glow from the screen was a welcoméd sight.
“Screw the rumors,” she murmured, “this can’t hurt my eyes.”

She typed and she toiled, the words flowed like wine.
She looked to the clock–would she make it in time?

With all of the talent in this wild town,
she knew she would def’nitely have to throw down.

Too many to number, the hashtags were plenty!
She thought to be safe, she’d pick ten–maybe twenty:

#amwriting! #screenwriting! #movies! #endscene!
#zerodraftthirty! #BlackList2015!

“From Facebook to Twitter! From Tumblr to Vine!
I’ll network the shit out of e’ryone online!”

For her work was not ready for laurels quite yet;
she had to be prudent when hedging her bets.

Tomorrow she’d celebrate twenty fifteen Black Listers…
but perhaps with a poem, they’d next year call her ‘sister’.

Three months of hosting and two readers’ notes?
A dream for a script that could rock next year’s boat!

So she published her words and climbed back in bed,
tucked the covers around her, and laid down her head.

Her last thoughts before sleep were not of fortune nor glory;
just heapings of thanks for Go Into The Story.

Thanks, Shannon, and to all the writers who took the time to compose a poem. I was so impressed by the submissions, not only did Shannon win the Ultra Groovy Grand Prize, two script evaluations and three months hosting on the Black List website for free, I gave away additional Uber Groovy Grand Prizes, one free Craft class of their choice I will be teaching through Screenwriting Master Class in 2016.

In the spirit of Shannon’s verse, my sincerest hope for each of you is that in 2016, you write a screenplay, teleplay, novel, short story, or poem that brings you the best of fortune and success… like making the Black List.

Happy Holidays!

Analysis: 2015 Black List

December 22nd, 2015 by

The 2015 Black List rolled out last week – you can find titles, writers and loglines for all of the selected scripts here — and as promised, today we have some statistics and analysis for you.

First some interesting stats about this year’s Black List:

* There are 81 screenplays on the 2015 Black List (There were 70 screenplays on the 2014 Black List)
* More than 250 working film executives at major Hollywood financiers and production companies contributed to the 2015 Black List
* 45.7% of the scripts on the 2015 Black List have a financier attached (47.1% on 2014 Black List)
* 74.1% of the scripts on 2015 Black List have a producer attached (73.2% on the 2014 Black List)
* 19.8% of 2015 Black List writers are females (16) compared to 12.8% (9) on the 2014 Black List
* 22 of 81 scripts on the 2015 Black List explicitly require female leads (27%)
* 8 writers (or teams) on the 2015 Black List do not have an agent (4 in 2014)
* 3 writers (or teams) on 2015 Black List do not have a manager (9 on 2014 Black List)
* 31 scripts are based on nonfiction source material
* 14 biopics on the 2015 Black List compared to 10 last year
* No writers have multiple scripts on the 2015 Black List. One writer, Randall Green, had two last year — Cartoon Girl, The Swimsuit Issue

Drilling down into the scripts:

Real life stories are prominent in the 2015 Black List including biopics (Bubbles, Stronger, Rocket, True Fan, White Boy Rick, Queen of the Air) and stories inspired by true events (All the Money in the World, The Virginian, Castle Drive, Mayday 109, Nyad, Circle of Treason, Hunting Eichmann, Battle of New Orleans LAbyrinth, Songs of Treblinka).

Most popular genres (in order of popularity): Drama, Action, Thriller, Comedy

3 scripts feature a serial killer: Crimson Trail, Green River Killer, The Wretched Emily Erringer.

2 scripts deal with astronauts: Ares and Pale Blue Dot.

2 scripts set in the world of hip hop: White Boy Rick and LAbyrinth.

2 scripts deal with terminally ill characters: Hammerspace and The Water Man.

2 scripts touch on real life exploits of the Kennedy family: Mayday 109 and Chappaquiddick.

2 scripts about the making of the movie The Godfather: I Believe in America and Francis and The Godfather.

What to make of all this?

As always, the fact financier and studio executives continue – year after year – to spotlight dramas as their favorite genre suggests the people involved in movie development have serious tastes.

Unfortunately the fact so many dramas of such quality remain unproduced are yet another sign how the major studios have relinquished that space, particularly mid-budget dramas.

But then a movie like Creed comes along. The sports drama, which had a reported $35M production budget, has already grossed $97M before finishing its domestic run and expanding into international markets. Moreover with a bump in numbers over Christmas week plus a couple of possible Oscar nominations, such as Sylvester Stallone for Best Supporting Actor, the film could go on to make a tidy profit. Yes, it’s a kind of sequel and benefits from a certain amount of brand awareness, but BWOM has been strong despite the fact there are only three boxing matches in the movie and the movie is very much a throwback to 70s storytelling sensibilities, heavy on character.

So perhaps some of the 2015 Black List drama scripts will get a bump toward production due to the success of Creed.

Another thing: While about half of the Black List scripts this year are biopics or based on nonfiction source material, the fact is nearly 50% of stories are original in nature. And some of them are really original including the #1 script on the list “Bubbles,” the Michael Jackson story as told from the perspective of the singer’s pet monkey!

As always, I encourage people to read as many of these Black List scripts as possible. These 81 scripts represent, as best as we can know at this moment in time, where development execs’ heads are at and most importantly what types of stories resonate with them in a positive way.

More stats:

Black List 2015: Scripts By Management Company

Madhouse Entertainment – 9
Grandview – 8
Kaplan/Perrone Entertainment – 7
Bellvue Productions – 3.5
Industry Entertainment – 3.5
3 Arts Entertainment – 3
MXN Entertainment – 3
Principato-Young Management – 3
Management 360 – 2.5
Curtis Brown Group Ltd (UK) – 2
Lee Stobby Entertainment – 2
Management SGC – 2
The Mission Entertainment – 2
Think Tank Management and Production – 2
Anonymous Content – 1.5
Affirmative Entertainment – 1
Apostle Pictures – 1
Benderspink – 1
Brio Entertainment – 1
Circle of Confusion – 1
DMG Entertainment – 1
Energy Entertainment – 1
Epicenter – 1
Haven Entertainment – 1
Kailey Marsh Media – 1
Kevin Donahue Literary Management – 1
LBI Entertainment – 1
Magnet Management – 1
MGMT Entertainment – 1
Mindframe Films & Management – 1
Pacific View Management – 1
Project D Media – 1
Sanders Armstrong Caserta – 1
The Syndicate – 1
Thruline Entertainment – 1
Underground – 1
Untitled Entertainment – 1
Writ Large – 1
Zero Gravity Management – 1
BE Management – 0.5

Via Deadline.

Black List 2015: Scripts By Agency

WME – 15.5
CAA – 15.5
UTA – 14
Paradigm – 8
Gersh – 5
Verve – 5
APA – 4
ICM Partners – 4
The Agency Ltd (UK) – 1
Equitable Stewardship for Artists – 1
Kaplan Stahler Agency – 1

Via Deadline.

There you have it: Another annual Black List put to bed. For the writers who made the List this year, it’s up and at ‘em time, a whole slew of meetings on Hollywood’s perpetual bottled water tour in the offing… only now these writers will be perceived as having a lot more heat than before.

Industry news coverage of the 2015 Black List:

/film

Deadline

Entertainment Weekly

Fast Company

Hollywood Reporter

Indiewire

Variety

Washington Post

The Wrap

Franklin Leonard on KPCC’s “The Frame”.

Follow the Black List on Twitter:

@megalie @terrykhuang @thathagengrrl @franklinleonard @GoIntoTheStory

Deadline Extended: 2015 Black List Word Cloud Logline Challenge!

December 18th, 2015 by

It’s simple. Every year after the annual Black List is released, we take the loglines from each of the Black List scripts and create a word cloud. Here is this year’s version:

2015 Black List Word Cloud

Then I invite anyone and everyone to participate in the Black List Word Cloud Logline Challenge. You can go here to see the original post.

Folks have already submitted some really great and fun loglines, so I am extending the deadline to Saturday, December 19 at Midnight (Pacific).

Your mission for the 2015 Black List Word Cloud Logline Challenge should you choose to accept: Come up with a logline using words from the word cloud. Or loglines (you may enter as many times as you want).

NOTE: One way your logline will be assessed is by how many words from the word cloud you use in your logline. If only one or two, less points. If five or six, more points.

BIG NOTE: Please CAPITALIZE each word cloud word in your logline.

Example: A YOUNG RUSSIAN AGENT INVESTIGATES her ESTRANGED FATHER FORCED into a ROMANCE with a SOCCER SNIPER.

That, my friends, is a truly crappy logline. However it gets across the key CAPITALIZATION point. This helps in judging each entry. Speaking of which, the inimitable Max Millimeter will return to select the winners, and you know what a hard ass he can be. His whole thing is about entertainment — “Get my [bleeping] attention!” — which you can read about here. So bear that in mind.

Oh, and when he talks about the six words test, he’s not saying make your loglines six words. What he means is can you reduce your story concept down to six words and if so, do those six words communicate a solid story and an entertaining one.

How’s this for prizes:

* 5 Semifinal Winners: 1 free Craft class I will be teaching next year through Screenwriting Master Class. There are 8 of them: Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling, Story Summaries: From Loglines to Beat Sheets, Handling Exposition, Scene Description Spotlight, Character Development Keys, Create a Compelling Protagonist, Write a Worthy Nemesis, and The Coen Brothers and the Craft of Storytelling. Each winner gets their choice of one class.

* 3 Finalist Winners: Free 1 script read + 1 month script hosting via the Black List website.

* 1 Grand Prize winner: Free 2 script reads + 2 months script hosting via the Black List website.

Again extended deadline for entries: Midnight (Pacific), Saturday, December 19th.

If you’d like to see some examples of previous Black List Word Cloud loglines, check out submissions here (2012), here (2013), and here (2014). For this year’s entries, go here.

More details about the contest:

(1) “How many loglines may I post?” You can submit as many as you’d like. That said, even in a fun challenge like this, you should focus on quality over quantity.

(2) “Since there are only about 100 words in the word cloud, there is bound to be overlap with loglines. How will you sort that out in terms judging?” Good question. And hopefully a good learning point for all of us, the difference between the logline for Dude, Where’s My Car? — “Two potheads wake up from a night of partying and can’t remember where they parked their car” — and The Hangover — Three groomsmen lose their about-to-be-wed buddy during their drunken misadventures, then must retrace their steps in order to find him”. The focus on a lost groom due for his wedding is substantially better as a comedic conceit than simply looking for a car.

(3) “What about people riffing off earlier loglines?” Another good point and I would think Max will tend to look more favorably on earlier loglines with similar iterations simply due to the earlier writer came up with the idea first.

NOTE: IF YOU HAVE WON A GITS CONTEST IN 2015, YOU ARE INELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE A PRIZE. HOWEVER FEEL FREE TO ENTER TO WORK YOUR CREATIVE CHOPS.

Bottom line, let’s remember this is supposed to be a fun exercise. The opportunity to get a free script read, web hosting or Craft class with me is a nice treat, but hopefully won’t create any ill will on the part of folks who don’t get selected. Even if you don’t win, you will have exercised your creative muscles, and that’s a plus for you.

FINAL REMINDER: Please CAPITALIZE word cloud words you use in your LOGLINE!!!

Let’s have some creative fun! Good luck!

“Twas the night before Black List…”

December 13th, 2015 by

Screenwriter Chris McCoy has made the Black List three times (Get Back, Good Looking, Good Kids), so he knows of what he speaks when he composed these four tweets a few years back:

“‘Twas the Night Before Black List and all through the LA / Writers were nervous – could this help them get pay?”

“Their loglines were sharp and polished with care / In the hopes that St. Franklin soon would be there.”

“The writers were ambien’d all snug in their beds / While visions of having a sustainable future danced in their heads.”

“The agent in Prada and the hopeful in Gap / Had just settled their brains (with pot) for a long winter’s nap.”

That’s as far as Chris got, but thanks to him, an opportunity arises!

Who wants to finish the poem? An ode to Black List Eve! The best one receives two script evaluations and three months hosting on the Black List website – all for free.

To help you out, here is the original poem:

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

“Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

Here are Chris’s original tweets:

“‘Twas the Night Before Black List and all through the LA / Writers were nervous – could this help them get pay?” @theblcklst

— Chris McCoy (@thatthere) December 15, 2013

“Their loglines were sharp and polished with care / In the hopes that St. Franklin soon would be there.” @theblcklst — Chris McCoy (@thatthere) December 15, 2013

“The writers were ambien’d all snug in their beds / While visions of having a sustainable future danced in their heads.” @theblcklst — Chris McCoy (@thatthere) December 15, 2013

“The agent in Prada and the hopeful in Gap / Had just settled their brains (with pot) for a long winter’s nap.” @theblcklst

— Chris McCoy (@thatthere) December 15, 2013

Know this: At 9AM Pacific / 12PM Eastern tomorrow, all eyes will be on Twitter as the screenwriters who made the 2015 Black List are announced. Why is this such a big deal? In eleven years time, the Black List has become a prominent force in Hollywood by recognizing and promoting screenwriters and the best unproduced scripts as rated by studio execs.

As proof to the impact the Black List has in filmmaking circles, all you need to do is ask any screenwriter whose script has made the annual list, what that achievement had on those projects and their career. Here is a sampling of comments from interviews I have conducted:

David Guggenheim (Safe House): “The first time (Safe House), I couldn’t’ believe it. I thought it was just the coolest thing, because as an up‑and‑coming writer, you want to get on the Black List. You should aspire to write a script that people really love and that they remember. When I’d heard, I couldn’t believe it. Then with ‘Black Box,’ it was just really special as well because I really love spec writing, so it’s nice to get acknowledged for that.”

Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks): “Both (producer) Alison (Owen) and I will tell you that The Black List was a MASSIVE part of helping get this film made. It was being on that list that brought people’s attention to SMB. After the Black List, a whirlwind of attention arrived and very quickly built a hype around it. We all owe a great deal to Franklin and everyone involved in the Black List, and I cannot underestimate how important it was in the process of getting Banks noticed and into the hands of the people who would eventually give it life.

Arash Amel (Grace of Monaco): “Everybody was talking about the Black List, and the script being on the Black List – we landed number 12 if I remember right. I also had pre-booked studio meetings that went from generals to ‘We really want to be in business with you.’ That’s huge, for a writer who’s struggling and making it and working up the ladder. For them to go from leaning back, to sitting forward now … that’s what the Black List played into, a sign of quality. That’s what I view it as. I felt like I didn’t have to explain myself so much anymore.”

Thus a lot of nervous and excited screenwriters (and their reps) today on Black List Eve. So let’s get the celebration started early with your conclusions to the beginning of Chris McCoy’s ode “Twas the Night Before Black List…”

Entry deadline: Monday, December 14 at 9AM Pacific. That’s precisely when the 2015 Black List begins its unveiling. Contest winner announced Thursday, December 18th.

Follow the unveiling of the 2015 Black List tomorrow at 9AM Pacific: @theblcklst.

Hashtag: #BlackList2015.

You can follow Chris McCoy on Twitter: @thatthere.

And in the spirit of the season, here is some virtual egg nog for everyone, flavored with a special spicing of creative juju!

Enjoy!

Black List Writers on the Craft

September 1st, 2015 by

In August, I featured many of the Black List writers I have interviewed, zeroing in on their approaches and insights into several key areas of the writing craft.

Black List logo

Here are links to each of those series:

How do you come up with story concepts?

Black List writers on the craft: Story Concepts (Part 1) – Waiting for inspiration to strike

Black List writers on the craft: Story Concepts (Part 2) – Reading to surface story concepts

Black List writers on the craft: Story Concepts (Part 3) – Sourcing story ideas from the real world

Black List writers on the craft: Story Concepts (Part 4) – Finding inspiration for story concepts from feelings

Black List writers on the craft: Story Concepts (Part 5) – Using questions as a starting point for generating story ideas

Black List writers on the craft: Story Concepts (Part 6) – Assessing and developing story ideas

Black List writers on the craft: Story Concepts (Part 7) – Honing one’s skill at generating and developing story ideas

What aspects of story prep do you devote the most time and focus to?

Black List writers on the craft: Story Prep (Part 1) – Research

Black List writers on the craft: Story Prep (Part 2) – Characters as the focal point of prep

Black List writers on the craft: Story Prep (Part 3) – Not using an outline as part of prep process

Black List writers on the craft: Story Prep (Part 4) – “Preliminary” outlines

Black List writers on the craft: Story Prep (Part 5) – Working with an extensive outline

Black List writers on the craft: Story Prep (Part 6) – Comprehensive approach to story prep

How do you develop your characters?

Black List writers on the craft: Characters (Part 1) – Real people

Black List writers on the craft: Characters (Part 2) – Brainstorming and asking questions

Black List writers on the craft: Characters (Part 3) – Biography

Black List writers on the craft: Characters (Part 4) – Finding a character’s voice

Black List writers on the craft: Characters (Part 5) – Insider Tips

How do you understand and work with the concept of ‘theme’?

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (Part 1) – What is theme?

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (Part 2) – Begin the story-crafting process with theme

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (Part 3) – Discover theme during the writing process

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (Part 4) – Not come off as “preachy”

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (Part 5) – Being personal

In a few months, I’ll continue the series with more observations from Black List writers. Until then, I encourage you to read what these writers have to say about some key aspects of the craft. Wisdom in their words.

Go Into The Story Black List Writer Interviews

August 31st, 2015 by

In the month of August, I have been featuring insights on the craft from Black List writers I have interviewed over the years. That inspired me to complete something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: Aggregate links to all of the Black List interviews I have done.

Black List logo

Here they are:

Arash Amel (2011, 2014 Black List)

Nikole Beckwith (2012 Black List)

Roberto Bentivegna (2012 Black List)

Carter Blanchard (2012 Black List)

Christopher Borrelli (2009 Black List)

Elijah Bynum (2013 Black List)

Damien Chazelle (2010, 2012 Black List)

Spenser Cohen (2013 Black List)

James DiLapo (2012 Black List)

Geoff LaTulippe (2008 Black List)

Brian Duffield (2010, 2011, 2014 Black List)

Stephany Folsom (2013 Black List)

F. Scott Frazier (2011, 2014 Black List)

Jeremiah Friedman and Nick Palmer (2010 Black List)

Joshua Golden (2014 Black List)

David Guggenheim (2010, 2012 Black List)

Julia Hart (2012 Black List)

Eric Heisserer (2012, 2014 Black List)

Jason Mark Hellerman (2013 Black List)

Brad Ingelsby (2008, 2012 Black List)

Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman (2012 Black List)

Lisa Joy (2013 Black List)

Kyle Killen (2008 Black List)

Eric Koenig (2014 Black List)

Justin Kremer (2012, 2014 Black List)

Daniel Kunka (2014 Black List)

Seth Lochhead (2006 Black List)

Kelly Marcel (2011 Black List)

Donald Margulies (2013 Black List)

Chris McCoy (2007, 2009, 2011 Black List)

Jeff Morris (2009 Black List)

Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2012 Black List)

Declan O’Dwyer (2013 Black List)

Ashley Powell (2012 Black List)

Chris Roessner (2012 Black List)

Stephanie Shannon (2013 Black List)

Will Simmons (2012 Black List)

Chris Sparling (2009, 2010, 2013 Black List)

Barbara Stepansky (2013 Black List)

Michael Werwie (2012 Black List)

Gary Whitta (2007 Black List)

I consider interviews to be the equivalent of primary source material. In other words, when you read interviews with writers such as these, you are getting information from people who are on the front lines of the movie and TV business.

Interviews with over 40 Black List writers. You should read them. Who knows you may gleam some key insight which could transform your approach to writing.

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (5 Part Series)

August 29th, 2015 by

Over the years, I have interviewed over 40 Black List screenwriters. This month, I am running a series featuring one topic per week related to the craft of writing.

Black List logo

This week: How do you understand and work with the concept of ‘theme’?

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (Part 1) – What is theme?

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (Part 2) – Begin the story-crafting process with theme

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (Part 3) – Discover theme during the writing process

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (Part 4) – Not come off as “preachy”

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (Part 5) – Being personal

Once again, we see a variety of approaches to a key aspect of the screenwriting craft. Test out some of these ideas in your own writing. When you find something which works in terms of themes, stick with it.

In my opinion, the Black List is the most important brand related to screenwriters and screenwriting in Hollywood. Therefore it makes sense we should study the creative processes of writers who make the list. More insight and inspiration coming in next week.

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (Part 5)

August 28th, 2015 by

Over the years, I have interviewed over 40 Black List screenwriters. This month, I am running a series featuring one topic per week related to the craft of writing.

Black List logo

This week: How do you understand and work with the concept of ‘theme’?

The diversity of responses among the Black List writers I have interviewed is fascinating. Monday we explored various articulations of what ‘theme’ is. Tuesday we looked at some writers who begin the story-crafting process with theme. Wednesday we hear from writers who discover theme during the writing process. Thursday we considered writers who carry a concern about theme: Not to come off as “preachy”. Today writers who emphasize the importance of theme being personal.

Stephanie Shannon: “Theme is really important to me. They emerged in my research– learning about what made “Alice in Wonderland” different from other children’s stories and learning about what was really special about Lewis Carroll and what was going on at Oxford at the time. In my research I found so many interesting things to mine in the story. I think I ended up embracing the themes that also meant something to me personally. Father/daughter relationships are an important theme with me. I think it was important to me that the theme not only serve the story but also was something that was close to my own heart personally. I think those are always the stories that I want to tell, that I’ll end up telling the best.”

Brian Duffield: “Usually it’s a theme I want to explore because it’s really locked into my head as a person, as something I’m going through or struggling or interested with, so even if I throw out the characters or genre surrounding that theme a dozen times, the theme stays intact because it’s an itch I need to scratch.”

Seth Lochhead: “I leave theme to my subconscious (I’ll let it come out as I pursue the more tangible elements of the story – although according to my previous answers, tangible doesn’t seem to be one of my writing pursuits). If I’m obsessed with something, if I’ve noticed something, some illness in the world, some crack in reality, I let it in and if it wants to come out in my work so be it.”

Spenser Cohen: “Movies are there to teach us about the human condition, what it’s like to be in difficult or impossible situations… Every writer has their own life experiences, their own point of view, so the way they see the world often dictates the theme.”

Geoff LaTulippe: “The good news is that, in talented writers, I think theme comes out organically. It’s not something you have to force. But it is something you have to consider, or why are you writing the fucking thing in the first place? Why bother?”

Takeaway:

* You are more likely to write an empowered script if you have an emotional connection to its themes.

* You can also reverse this: If you can identify your points of emotional connection to a story, there’s a good chance some of its themes are to be found there.

For Part 1 of this week’s series with Black List writers, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Case Study: Female Driven Comedy

August 26th, 2015 by

Over at the Black List, among the titles the super bright Terry Huang has is Director of Data, and his latest post features some interesting… well… data.

I’ve been recently providing data to a screenwriter to help her pitch her new female-driven comedy and thought it would make an interesting case study. Basically, she’s going out to financiers to ask for money to direct and wanted help to make a financial case to back the film.

Here are two interesting charts of data Terry uncovered:

We were looking specifically at female driven comedies, so I wanted to look at what someone could expect to get for financing such a film.

This chart shows male versus female comedy budgets year over year.

Female = blue, Male = red

Female led comedies get far less money for production. The median budget for female led comedy is around $20 million. For reference, the median male comedies are given about $7 million more each year.

So I sort of knew how much a female comedy was historically financed at, but how did it the return compare to male driven comedies? Did male driven comedies warrant the higher production budgets based on their theatrical grosses?

The answer was not really.

If you look at the gross for male versus female, you find that even given substantially lower budgets, female performs in line with male comedy and sometimes outperforms.

Female = blue, Male = red

When you look at the median film for female comedies, it more often than not returns higher than the median male driven comedy (7 out of 11 years shown), even though if you look at the chart above the median male comedy gets again about $7 million more in production budget (as stated previously).

Terry’s conclusions:

So I went into it trying to figure out a way to make a case for the female driven comedy and it wasn’t that hard. It turned out that female driven comedy more often returns its budget.

It seems then that studios are probably overspending on male content and underspending on female content given the grosses. They should probably be more selective about the dollars they give out to male led movies and a little more generous to female led content.

Charlton Heston once said, “The problem with movies as art is they are commerce.” At the end of the day, someone has to pony up the cash to get a movie made. Hopefully armed with information like that which Terry has surfaced, writers and directors who are promoting a worthy female driven comedy will find more receptive financiers.

For the rest of Terry’s post, go here.