January 3


[Editor’s Note: I’m busy as hell, so no time for reflecting on the past year and the new year. I will get to it shortly. In the meantime, here is a question I meant to answer some weeks ago.]

This question from Hong Kong:

Could you point me to a good online screenwriters course for absolute beginners.
I appreciate your help.
kind regards

AFI has a free introduction for beginners seminar online here. Other resources you will want to consult include the following:

First are the many sites that have downloadable screenplays, including the script gallery at screentalk.biz. I like this one because all the scripts are PDF files and, therefore, in there original format. You should read scripts voraciously.

Second, there are the wonderful columns at Wordplayer, the website run by A-list writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. You should read all of them. In fact, the entire site is terrific.

Third, the WGA west website has a number of great resources for writers, including columns on craft.

Fourth, there are a number of websites that explain traditional three-act screenplay structure. The substantial caveat on these is that every writer develops his or her own ideas about structure – so do not take any one set of ideas as gospel. In fact, some of them will just send you in the wrong direction. One example of a site that explains structure is Screenplay Mastery. I am not endorsing this site in particular; you should look at a number of sites to see different points of view.

I hope this gets you started. Good luck….

January 4

MORE SCRIPTS, PT. 2 (Classic Post)


Someone was kind enough to share with this blog the Fox Searchlight URL where it also has nominated scripts posted, but your comment was sucked away by my sometimes arbitrary spam filters. I saw it disappearing too late to rescue it. If anyone has the link, please share it. You can send it to me on the questions page if it does not post when you submit it.

UPDATE: Per Christina (see her comment), here is the URL for Fox Searchlight Scripts: http://www.foxsearchlight.com/awards/ Thanks. They have another great collection, including “JUNO”, “Waitress”, “The Darjeeling Limited” and some others.

May 9


I’m in an interesting situation. I recently finished a spec script and posted it on website, which got the attention of a new producer. This producer liked my material, but wanted me to write his version of the story. I should ad the spec script I wrote is an adaptation of other source material. The producer’s take on the material is weak — I know this because I’ve tried it, and used reputable consultants to get it into the shape it’s in now. This producer is going to pitch his material written by myself to some execs, but I fear it will be a horrible representation of my abilities. On the other side, this could be my only chance to show my material. This producer won’t listen to my suggestion, which are based on the advice of other consultants/writers. What do I do?

[Name withheld upon request.]

There is a lot to talk about here.

In general, when you are trying to get your first break, there is nothing wrong with doing rewrites for a producer you believe in based upon notes you believe in. I have done it more than once and, in each case, felt the script was better for it. On the other hand, doing free rewrites based on notes you do not believe in for a producer you do not believe in is a waste of time or worse. Once a producer has given you input which you have incorporated, arguably, the producer has some interest in your screenplay since he or she has contributed creative content. It can be difficult to unwind that process. Part of screenwriting is knowing when to say “no”. It will prove more powerful than “yes” in the long run. The months you will spend writing a draft you do not believe in can be better spent writing something else you do believe in.

The fact that you do not own any rights in the underlying material further mitigates against doing free rewrites based on a direction in which you do not believe. The script may end up being a writing sample only, which is still a good reason to write it, but not a good reason to turn it into something that does not fairly represent your ability or story sense.

I am not advocating cavalierly shunning producers with a real interest in your work. If the producer has a track record of getting films produced, you should carefully consider his or her notes. I do not know who your “reputable consultants” are, but typically, consultants get paid whether your script gets sold or not. Producers only get paid if the script sells. A producer with a real track record might be a producer with some story sense.

In the final analysis, you are the one who needs to make the decision based on your own story sense. A screenwriter’s unique voice is his or her best asset. If you do not believe in the direction the producer wants to go, move on. It is very unlikely that this opportunity is really your only chance to show your material.

March 6


If staring at my pages were an Olympic event, I’d win. Right now, I’m thinking about my characters – their very conception. True, for me, the focal point of the script is the story as a whole and how it explores the related questions that interest me (a/k/a the theme). Like Aaron Sorkin, Gary Ross and many others, I organize my scripts around ideas that I hope are important, a set of ideas to bind all the scenes together.

That doesn’t mean I can ignore the characters. A common note every writer receives at some point is, “Your characters need more development,” or “They don’t seem real.” The development exec doesn’t really mean what she says. It’s not her fault; she isn’t a writer. What she means is, your characters must involve the audience. If the audience (which may be the reader in the case of a spec script) is not involved in the characters – the story is not working, pure and simple.

So, aside from organizing the story to explore a set of ideas that matter (and that is no small aside), how do I get the audience involved in my characters. That’s where the text and subtext ideas come in. “Text” is the literal meaning of the words on the page. “Subtext” is what the words really mean. If they are one and the same, the audience is bored.

The central concept I use to draw life into the words – to add subtext to the text (e.g. to make the words mean something other than what they literally say) is this: Continue reading