June 14



I am a pre-pro writer with three solid scripts (one was a Chesterfield semi-finalist) but no agent. A good friend’s next-door neighbor is the CEO of a small but successful film studio. The CEO is essentially a line a credit and probably doesn’t have much creative control, but I imagine he’d be willing to pass along my work to someone within his company. I want to take advantage of this seeming opportunity but am unsure how best to proceed. What can I reasonably ask for from this contact?

Ryan from Pennsylvania

Having the attention of the CEO of a successful studio is a good thing. Don’t assume he (or she) is not involved in creative decisions. A number of studio heads have built careers on creative vision.

You can ask for a number of things:

First, you can ask if he can refer you to an agent. Referrals are the best way to obtain an agent. If the CEO does not know any agents, ask him to introduce you to the development execs at his company. They certainly know agents. Let them know you’d like to find a beginning agent with a good agency who people in the industry really like. Continue reading

September 2


Aristotle Is A Story Stud.gifHere is the rest of my heinously abridged version of Aristotle’s Poetics – just parts that are important for screenwriters to know. (Part I is here.) Studying the real thing is better, and you can view it here.

Reversal of the Situation is a change by which the action veers round to its opposite, subject always to our rule of probability or necessity. Recognition is a change from ignorance to knowledge, producing love or hate between the persons destined by the poet for good or bad fortune. The best form of recognition is coincident with a Reversal of the Situation. the recognition which is most intimately connected with the plot and action is, as we have said, the recognition of persons. This recognition, combined with Reversal, will produce either pity or fear; and actions producing these effects are those which, by our definition, Tragedy represents.

Two parts, then, of the Plot – Reversal of the Situation and Recognition – turn upon surprises. A third part is the Scene of Suffering. The Scene of Suffering is a destructive or painful action, such as death on the stage, bodily agony, wounds, and the like.

A perfect tragedy should, as we have seen, be arranged not on the simple but on the complex plan. It should, moreover, imitate actions which excite pity and fear – that of a man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty.

A well-constructed plot should, therefore, be single in its issue. The change of fortune should be not from bad to good, but, reversely, from good to bad.

Fear and pity may be aroused by spectacular means; but they may also result from the inner structure of the piece, which is the better way. Actions capable of this effect [should] occur between those who are near or dear to one another – if, for example, a brother kills, or intends to kill, a brother, a son his father, a mother her son, a son his mother, or any other deed of the kind is done – these are the situations [that inspire pity and fear].

Now any speech or action that manifests moral purpose of any kind will be expressive of character: the character will be good if the purpose is good. As in the structure of the plot, so too in the portraiture of character, the poet should always aim either at the necessary or the probable. Thus a person of a given character should speak or act in a given way.

It is therefore evident that the unraveling of the plot, no less than the complication, must arise out of the plot itself.

Of all recognitions, the best is that which arises from the incidents themselves, where the startling discovery is made by natural means.

In constructing the plot, the poet should place the scene, as far as possible, before his eyes. In this way, seeing everything with the utmost vividness, as if he were a spectator of the action, he will discover what is in keeping with it, and be most unlikely to overlook inconsistencies.

As for the story, whether the poet takes it ready made or constructs it for himself, he should first sketch its general outline, and then fill in the episodes and amplify in detail.

August 8


As most of you know, at The Thinking Writer, I think a lot about theme. In a review of Alex Epstein’s excellent book, “Crafty Screenwriting”, The Artful Writer has dredged up a debate over that all important element: theme. It is worth paying attention to. A-level writer Craig Mazin shares his insight.

Here’s a sampling of past entries from The Thinking Writer on theme:

Why Bother With Theme?
April 4, 2005

But I Have A Theme?
April 7, 2005

February 25, 2005

August 2

“HELP ME HELP YOU” (Classic Post)

WHO?   “Jerry Maguire”, “The Sixth Sense”, “Pleasantville” and many other well-written, successful screenplays share an important technique. This technique not only helps the reader and, eventually, the audience to engage in the story from the first few pages, but it helps you as a writer to write the story. It forces you to focus your story from the very beginning, something that is key to a successful spec script.

What is this magic technique? Proper character introductions.

A proper character introduction does all of the following: (1) introduces the character in crisis; (2) reveals the character’s internal conflict; (3) provides a basis for relating to or empathizing with the character – even the antagonist; and (4) demonstrates the character’s unique personality.

Character introductions are one of the few places in a screenplay where you can be very, very overt. You still need to “show, not tell”, but you can hit the points incredibly directly.

The best way to understand this is by example, so here they are:

“Jerry Maguire” (written by Cameron Crowe) – Jerry is introduced in crisis, narrating directly to us his strange dream, discussing what is wrong with his life and how he believes it can be saved. You cannot get more direct than that. After these pages, you understand his character, you know his internal conflict, what drives, and to what he aspires.

“The Sixth Sense” (written by M. Night Shayamalan) – In Malcolm’s opening scene, he expresses his worst fear, that he is really a fraud and a failure as a child psychologist, and his desire – not to be a fraud. We also hear Anna’s internal conflict, that she is second to Malcolm’s work. I prefer to introduce one character at a time, but even with these two characters introduced simultaneously, the introductions are effective. We also see both of them in crisis: an old patient has come back to kill Malcolm. We see Malcolm’s genuine desire to help.

“Pleasantville” (written by Gary Ross) – David is introduced listening to his mother argue with her boyfriend as he is engrossed in the perfect world of the T.V. show “Pleasantville”. The contrast between the real world and the TV world, and David’s reaction, reveals what David wants and what he has. His internal conflict and his desire are revealed without David even saying a word. We already know him and what he wants.

Once these clear, focused introductions are made, the writer has a compass for the balance of the story. Every scene will explore these character conflicts and, eventually, the story will resolve the character’s desire. This type of character introduction also builds immediate audience/reader engagement. From the beginning, the audience/reader wants to see these issues explored and resolved.

Not all screenplays are built this way. However, using strong, clear, overt character introductions is a strong technique with benefits throughout the writing process and one you should consider.

Enough. Now go write….