September 23


HOW TO MAKE A MILLON DOLLARS AND PAY NO TAXES (Classic Post)

First, you need to make a million dollars….

And here’s a produced screenwriter, member of the WGA, represented by an established agency (according to the WGA website) who thinks he can tell you how to do it. Chris Soth has a new website and is offering a screenwriting course. I know nothing about the course nor about Chris, but he was kind enough to drop me an email and I thought this might be interesting to all of you.

From looking at his website, Chris’s method apparently is based on breaking movies down by their “reels” (instead of by acts) which, actually, was historically the way Hollywood motion pictures were made in the early days. It was all part of trying to make studios run like car factories – but that’s a topic for another day.

If anyone has taken his course, feel free to chime in.

May 4


REMARKABLE IDEAS (Classic Post)

If your story idea is not sufficiently remarkable, it really doesn’t matter how well you write it. The story will not sell.

That’s nothing new, yet it is the costliest mistake a spec screenwriter can make – especially writers that have developed some writing chops but have yet to make a sale. It is costly because it leads to months and months of useless work.

At one point in my producing duties, I ran across an excellent writer who had ten completed scripts, no sales. I requested one script after the other, looking for something our company could use – really wanting to give the guy a break because he wrote incredibly well. I really liked his scripts – but one after the next, they were not remarkable. We had to pass. It is impossible for almost any producer to get a story made – no matter how well written – that is not remarkable. It was a valuable lesson and one I take to heart every time I start to write a new project.

The question I ask myself is, “If this script is written very, very well, will it make a great motion picture?” The answer is “NO” unless the story idea is remarkable.

So what does that mean – “remarkable”?

Dictionary.com defines “remarkable” as:

1. Worthy of notice.
2. Attracting notice as being unusual or extraordinary.

These are good definitions – only make the standard even higher. A remarkable idea demands notice. The best way to explain it is by example. Here are three recent spec or pitch sales (as reported by Done Deal), all of which are remarkable:

A SWAT team’s top cop, who is incapable of feeling emotional or physical pain and is thereby revered for his fearlessness, undergoes surgery that will allow him to feel everything he’s missed in life. (“No Pain, No Gain”)

The chief executive of a company is demoted to the mailroom and has to work his way back up. (“CEO”)

A man learns to appreciate his life when everything in it is suddenly the opposite of what it normally is. (“Opposite Day”)

Whatever you think of the film that may ultimately result, what there is to learn is that these concepts are (a) highly focused, (b) fresh, (c) whole and complete in themselves, and (d) engender emotional values that are familiar and known.

So how do you create a remarkable concept? People do it differently. There is no one right way.

Here’s how I do it. I think of interesting ideas, write them down, then from the list, pick the one that most interests me. Now the real work starts. I write the idea usually as a single sentence in the form:

When a ______ does _______, he or she _________(active verb) in order to ___________.

Then I begin to hone the idea, sometimes for hours at a time, day after day, removing the clichés (we all write in clichés until we force them out), changing concepts that are not particularly interesting to ones that are more interesting, changing general ideas to specific ones. I write one version after the next, resulting in pages of versions of the concept. I usually arrive at more than one version that suggests a remarkable idea. When I get to one, I check it against what I thought I wanted to write – see if this version is still something I want to write (just because it is a remarkable concept does not mean it is for me), and either stop if all is good, or keep going. Sometimes I back up, if it has gone off track, and take it in a different direction.

I keep going either until the versions lead me in hopeless circles and collapse or until I get to a finely polished concept that excites me and will now lead me through outlining and writing the script. This process involves a great deal of thinking ahead – looking at where the concept will lead me in the writing – and stepping back and looking at just the concept as a producer or agent or audience member would look at it. I try to be very hard on myself and say, “Would I go see that? Would my friends go see that?” I do not cheat on the answers. Unless the answers are both a LOUD yes, I keep developing.

If you don’t create your own process for getting to remarkable concepts, you are likely to create your own mountain of well-written unmarketable scripts.

Enough. Now go write.

December 10


OPB (Other People’s Blogs) (Classic Post)

I received emails from a couple new bloggers recently letting me know they exist. Thought I’d pass it on to you….

Ken Levine, tv comedy writer/director with credits including M*A*S*H, Simpsons, Becker and Everybody Loves Raymond has a new blog called “by Ken Livine”.

Xander Bennett, a TV writer from Australia, also has an interesting new blog, Chained To The Keyboard.

May 27


LONELY WRITERS. . . . (Classic Post)

Squirreled away in your apartment, typing all night, sleeping all day. Go out once in a while to stock up on groceries, then back to the grind. You are creating genius work. You are the stoic writer, alone in your world of insight and creativity. Who needs friends? When you are done, your work will shine above all others.

In your dreams….

In the real world, successful writers are part of a community. They meet other writers, develop support networks to help them through the struggle that is each screenplay, maintain healthy relationships to provide balance and perspective on their work. As their careers begin to develop, they befriend development execs and other professionals. In short, they are part of the world of writers.

Why?

Because you can’t create a writing career in a vacuum.

Even in the writing process, professional writers rely on substantial support networks they have developed over the years – trusted friends with whom they can discuss ideas, trusted readers to critique work as it is being developed, other trusted colleagues. This is a huge advantage over you, writing alone in your apartment.

Once the script is completed, these same writers have still more people to rely on – fans they have made around town, executives they have befriended, producers, managers, agents, and on and on. Another huge advantage they have over you.

They also live in the real world – friends to hang out with, interests outside writing, some writers even have spouses and children – yes, just like real people. Yet another advantage over you.

Developing a community that supports you as a writer is not just a lifestyle choice. It is necessary to the work. It makes you a stronger writer, substantially increases the chance of any script you write actually meeting the needs of the motion picture industry, and helps you through the many low points every writer faces.

To develop your own network, you must reach out, hold yourself out openly as a writer, celebrate your chosen path, and draw to you people who support that part of who you are. You must align your universe to your goal of advancing your writing career. Nothing less will get you there.

It can take a long time to develop your network. But it doesn’t happen alone, in your apartment, with a bag of groceries rotting on the counter, while you create genius inside your head. Tomorrow, why not write in the coffee shop? And take a break to introduce yourself to the person writing on the laptop next to you.