April 14

THE WORD LIST (Classic Post)

A screenplay is a super-condensed description of events. Each word must convey a substantial amount of information, not the least of which is the emotion of the character or moment. There is very little room for neutral language. Phrases like “he looks at her” are not helpful. To help me increase my “emotional vocabulary”, I have compiled a list of words that convey greater emotion. I offer a downloadable version of that list to you now.

NOTE OF CAUTION: Whenever you download a file, there is a possibility of it containing a virus. I have scanned this file and have no known virus issues on my computer. However, the file is offered “as is.”

Click here to get the RTF format file.

November 9

OLD FLAME (Classic Post)

Washington GifCalee of Los Angeles writes:

I wrote a screenplay 3 years ago that won a fellowship but was never sold. It was based on an obscure historical figure using research from the public domain. Recently, a book came out about the same guy with the same name as my screenplay. The agent is sending the book around town but it’s boring and brushes over the main dramatic point of my screenplay. Is there anything I should do to revive interest in my script or to make it known that if someone is interested in the book, there’s already an award-winning screenplay out there, even if it was written before the book? Also- do I have any legal rights to the title?

There is always a way to revive interest in your screenplay. Seek a director or actor for a lead role, search for a qualified and devoted producer to work with you, or find a bunch of money for production. Any of these things will revive interest. In fact, writing another good script can revive interest in a previous script.

As far as submitting your script to people interested in the book, if you can find them, why not? However, don’t be discouraged if they are not interested. It is very unlikely any of them will want to review your script if they are considering the book. It only creates potential legal issues for them if they do.

As far as the title being the same, it happens all the time. Titles are generally exempt from copyright protection. Sometimes trademark or other tradename protection is available, but even this usually does not apply to spec screenplay titles. You likely have no real protection. On the other hand, if you believe the author used your script in the creation of his or her book, you do have some rights. Proof is always an issue, but if you have some evidence that this is the case, you should definitely consult an intellectual property attorney.

Good luck with your script and, most importantly, keep writing.

June 24


Tavis from Portland has a lot to say about a number of challenges to breaking in. He says:

Everyone knows of the main catch-22 concerning screenwriting and agents. You can’t get one until you sell a spec, but to sell a spec you need an agent.

Not true, Tavis. You need a good screenplay and a referral to get an agent. You do not need a spec sale. Many screenwriters have entire careers without ever having a spec sale.

There is an initial quandary though, and that is finding the time to write a really great spec script while working a full-time job. I often find myself frustrated, thinking that if I could only spend 40-hours a week focused on writing I could really put something of quality together. But as it is I only have several free hours each day and they are after a mind-numbing full day at work.

This is a real challenge. Ron Bass, who is arguably the most prolific working screenwriter in Hollywood (and at one point was the highest paid writer), used to get up at 3:00AM to do his writing before he started his day job as an attorney. It took him 17 years to get his break. It’s hard, but it’s part of making it. You might consider doing your writing before your day job, too, so the writing is sharp.

So, basically this question is about funding and grants. Is it possible if you have a story which requires a good amount of research and is rooted in some sort of historical/factual/scientific background that a grant would be available to assist a writer in developing a project?

There are many grants and fellowships designed specifically to help emerging writers who show some promise focus on their writing. Alex Epstein at Complications Ensue recently ran this list.

I never hear anyone talking about these issues and just wonder are all the writers out there independently wealthy and can just spend their time writing whenever they want, or do they have spouses supporting them or what?

Of the working screenwriters I personally know, most of them were bartenders or production assistants (another low paying Hollywood job) before getting their breaks. None of them were wealthy.

June 22



This is a picky technical script question I just can’t seem to resolve on my own.

When writing with the reader in mind, suppose you have the early appearance of a character who must remain a mystery to the viewing audience, until later. Do you use the actual character name of the character at that point in the script, thereby spoiling it for the reader?

For instance, in Dickens Christmas Carol, the ghost of Jacob Marley shows up in Act I, but suppose his identity was to remain unclear to the audience until he made a return in Act III, Would the character in Act I be something like GHOST, to be cleared up later? And once it is known by all who he is, would we continue with GHOST or transition to MARLEY or GHOST/MARLEY or handle it some other way ?

Bryan from USA

This is a common question to which there is no good answer. There is no hard and fast rule other than this: DO NOT CONFUSE YOUR READER. Anything you do which confuses the reader is a bad thing and readers are easily confused. They are usually under a great deal of pressure to push through your script. If they have to stop and go back to understand something, you have already lost the battle.

Given that one golden rule, you are already damned by the mere existence of this character. Nevertheless, if it is important to your story, you need to pick one of the less-than-perfect solutions and use it. You are probably better to transition to GHOST/MARLEY, but even then, you may lose the readers later when they see only MARLEY. If MARLEY is the only ghost, you might even continue to call him GHOST even once his name is revealed. After all, he is still a ghost.

Very experienced screenwriter John August answered a similar question on his blog not too long ago. It may be helpful.

November 1

Screenwriter versus Subway (Classic Post)

New York City Subway
flickr: cieling
Academy Award nominated screenwriter Will Rokos (“Monsters Ball”) was hit by a subway train. He apparently leaned over to peer into the tunnel just as the train barreled out, hitting his head and knocking him onto the tracks. He was conscious at the scene and is hospitalized in critical but stable condition. TW sends well wishes for his speedy recovery.