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 11


TURKEY GIFSome time ago, MaryAn (from place unknown) suggested I provide “An Idiot’s Guide Of What Not To Do” when writing a screenplay. Here, in no particular order, is my list of some of the most common mistakes.

1. DO NOT USE VISUAL TRICKS TO REPLACE STORYTELLING. Because we hear over and over again that film is visual medium, many emerging writers believe that writing visual tricks will sell a story. It won’t. That’s what the director is for. Your script should focus on storytelling. That is what will either sell it or sink it. That does not mean the moments that actually advance the story should not be visual; they should. However, too many emerging writers overuse shot descriptions and descriptions of visual tricks in place of storytelling. For an example of how to do it right, see the script for The Matrix (not sure if this is the production draft or an earlier one).

2. DO NOT ALLOW PERSONAL EXPERIENCES TO CLOUD THE FACT THAT THERE IS NO EMOTION ON THE PAGE. Emerging writers often feel a great deal of emotion in their scripts while no else does. This happens because the writer is reflecting on a personal experience that is not shared by most readers. Instead of relying upon your own feelings, use the tools of drama, i.e. proper conflict building, theme building, character building, and structure. That does not mean you should ignore your feelings, just that you cannot use your feelings to substitute for proper dramatic writing.

3. NO MELODRAMA. Melodrama is the using of stock events to evoke emotion. The difference between melodrama and drama is that the emotion in drama grows out of central conflicts and themes developed throughout the piece, whereas in melodrama, the emotion arises out of a sudden event that is not developed out of the story. The death of a loved one is the type of stock event that can easily be misused. If it arises not out of the theme and central conflicts, it is likely melodrama. Today’s audiences are ordinarily too sophisticated for melodrama. Studio executives are, too.

4. NO MATH. Do not make the audience/reader perform complex story calculus to keep up with you. They will not do it. Everything you want the audience to understand must be clear and direct. That does not mean you cannot have subtext. In fact, you must have subtext. However, your subtext must also be clear. Learning how to remove the story calculus takes experience. Just remember, if readers get confused about or totally miss story points you thought you made clear, the fault lies in ourselves, dear Brutus, and not in our readers….

5. DO NOT SUBMIT MATERIAL UNTIL IT IS READY. The fact that you have rewritten your script ten times does not mean it is ready. A script is ready when it is clear, focused, and well-structured, when the dialogue is sharp, when you have driven all the extraneous material out of the story, when the theme is clearly and fully played out by the story, when the story feels like it must have been simple to write – a clear beginning, middle and end (although you know it was anything but simple). Only when all of this is accomplished should you submit your story. That does not mean you should not get qualified reads along the way. On the contrary, you must get qualified reads. However, those qualified reads should not be from the producers you hope will buy it. They should be from your carefully cultivating reading circle.

I hope this helps. Now go write….

October 1

FIRST CLASS (Classic Post)

PROFESSOR WAGSTAFFSam from Philly asks:

I am an amateur writer, and I am looking to take a class, but I’m not sure which is best suited for me. What I am trying figure out, is the class offered by the New York Film Academy better or the same as a class at a local college? Thanks for the help.


Honestly, I have no idea. I haven’t taken any classes from New York Film Academy or from your local college. Nevertheless, for what it’s worth, here’s what I have looked for in the past when I took classes:

Experience of the teacher. I prefer to learn from instructors that have at least some reasonable professional experience.

Curriculum. I personally prefer courses that involve both writing and theory. All theory and it tends to mean very little. Many courses require you to write outlines, scenes and pages and subject them to peer review. This, in conjunction with theory, can be helpful. This is one of the reasons weekend seminars are not very effective from my point of view. You spend all your time on theory and have no guided practice. You walk out thinking you now know how to write a decent screenplay, but when you actually sit down to write, theory is just theory and you must face the same hard issues in your writing that you had before. There are no quick shortcuts to learning to write strong, professional quality work.

An important caveat to peer review is that in a screenwriting class, most of your peers are awful. They will never be good writers. You are taking input from people who, for the most part, don’t have a clue. Consider every word they say, but think through it and make your own judgments about your work. One of your goals as a writer is to surround yourself with quality input as quickly as possible. Bad input is sometimes distracting and often disheartening. At an early stage, it is a necessary evil, but you must make it through the fire.

Tuition. Do not get sucked into paying a fortune for any course, especially a short course, that promises to deliver huge results. It won’t happen. Short courses are like books – you get a lot to think about, but you still have to work it out for yourself through lots of writing over a long period of time. Tuition for screenwriting courses should be in line with other similar college courses.

Good luck finding a course.

May 15

TWO WEBSITES (Classic Post)

Thinking Writer received emails from a couple folks with websites of interest.

First, Paul Guyot checked in just to say hi. Paul is a working writer with a great sense of humor. His site is definitely worth checking out. He also has an excellent blog: Ink Slinger.

Second, is a site where producers place “scripts wanted” listings. I am not endorsing this site in any way. I do not know anything about it other than glancing at it before putting up this post. I did recognize one company claiming to be looking for screenplays and I know it to be a very low budget production company, but it does actually make movies. Caveat emptor.

August 30

Nineteen Years Ago, Thelma & Louise Drove Over A Cliff (Classic Post)

Photo by bradleygee @
Nineteen years after Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon took their famous turn in a ’66 Thunderbird convertible, screenwriter Callie Khouri discusses her Oscar winning screenplay for “Thelma & Louis” with Sallie King of the Los Angeles Times. Discussing the ending, she says:

People either thought it was an uplifting ending or they thought they committed suicide at the end. It kind of depends on how they see it.

Uhm? If it isn’t suicide, what is it?