Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Great Quotes and Bios of Today’s TOP Writers!

"I love films that are simple stories with complex characters." -Stuart Beattie

Australian screenwriter Stuart Beattie is credited with having written the role no one ever thought they'd see Tom Cruise play: Vincent, the riveting homicidal hit man in Beattie's original screenplay, Collateral, directed by Michael Mann (The Insider, Heat). After 15 years in the business, Beattie has learned a thing or two about how to make characters and plots sing (or sting) on the page. And his long-gestating idea for a rejuvenation of the pirate movie eventually hit pay dirt with the Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, on which he has story credit. Listen in as Beattie describes what it feels like when Tom Cruise looks like he wants to kill you, where the best story ideas come from, and how to stay passionate when you can't even get your mother to read your screenplays.

"At the center of every story is some question I do not have the answer for, and something that really scares me." -Paul Haggis

Acclaimed writer-director Paul Haggis has been a fixture of television and film for over 25 years. In this wide-ranging interview, the Oscar®-winning co-screenwriter, director, and producer of Crash (Best Picture 2005) discusses a three-decade career that led from writing for sitcoms like Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life to his breakthrough screenplay for Oscar®-winning director Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby (Best Picture 2004). Haggis's matter-of-fact stories of navigating the entertainment industry are an indelible primer for how to manage the screenwriting life, make a successful transition from TV to film, develop a strong story and characters, pitch an idea, and surmount Hollywood's more frustrating obstacles.

"What can't be taught to screenwriters? Tenacity and having a hard skin." -David Goyer

David S. Goyer has a deliciously twisted mind. (They don't call him "The Prince of Darkness" for nothing.) And he knows how to bring comic book characters and superheroes to kicking, screaming, vengeful life, as he did in The Crow: City of Angels, the Blade series, and Batman Begins. His intense Batman screenplay, written with director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia), resurrected the moribund Dark Knight franchise and confirmed his writing voice as a go-to source for a green light. Here, in this wry and surprising dialogue, Goyer reveals his tricks of the trade for how to intimidate a room full of studio executives, when to stand on principle, how to hook an actor's ego with killer character descriptions and dialogue, and why fear can pay the bills.

"If you write a really compelling story, everyone will want to be involved. " -Ted Griffin

There's no con more satisfying and lucrative than finding a way to make a living as a screenwriter. And Ted Griffin is a man who knows a good con. Anyone who tried to follow the clever criminal head games he built into his screenplays for Ocean's Eleven and Matchstick Men knows not to trust this guy. Except when he talks about screenwriting, which he does with great humor and insight in this enlightening interview that ranges from his early work on Ravenous and Best Laid Plans through the unexpected pitfalls of trying to direct his first film, Rumor Has It...

"Be that person who's stubborn enough to look in the face of the hurricane and not blink. " -Sheldon Turner

Sheldon Turner is the prototype for the smart, brash, ambitious young screenwriter - only he's also got a law degree from NYU and has had his fiction published in the New Yorker. Turner recently broke through with his script for the 2005 remake of The Longest Yard, starring Chris Rock and Adam Sandler, and he has half a dozen other scripts in development. He's got insane discipline, writes longhand, and boycotts email. He figured out how to work the system, and he's got more witty axioms for how to play the Hollywood game than a Tropicana craps dealer at 3 am. But you'll just have to hear Turner talk to get it - what being the biggest guy in the room can do for you, how to read an audience, what to say in pitch meetings, and why you should let everyone know that you think Lost in Translation sucks.

"I like to stretch the boundaries of genre and layer in as much interesting material as I can." -Jim Uhls

Jim Uhls is not your average screenwriter. For one thing, his nickname is "Professor Peculiar." For another, as this exclusive off-kilter discussion of his craft demonstrates, Uhls is eager to break the first rule of Fight Club: He talks about Fight Club. A lot. That seminal film, directed by David Fincher (Se7en, Panic Room), pushed every boundary possible for a studio movie, and Uhls' darkly funny script, adapted from the Chuck Palahniuk novel, is a wickedly subversive example of how to successfully adapt an "unadaptable" book. Step inside the mind of the man who figured out how to do it, as Professor Peculiar explains how to use a newspaper story approach to build a brilliant pitch, why you should interview your characters, how to know when to "stick a fork" in your screenplay, and the macabre particulars of how and why he had to murder his brother's cat.

[Excerpted from http://www.thedialogueseries.com/ and interviews on DVD with The Masters!]

Monday, July 17, 2006

Less is More: Lean Scripts Earn Bigger Checks

David Trottier, author of The Screenwriter’s Bible, should be within arms reach of EVERY screenwriter – from aspiring wannabes to the Pros. Trottier may not get you a deal, but he’ll help you format, structure and craft the kind of story that can get you noticed!

There has been a lot of talk about new spec formats, lately. Beginning in the 90s, a strong movement toward lean unencumbered writing emerged. It should come as no surprise in an art form, which by definition is minimalist in scope (vs. the elongated prose of the novelist), that such a trend would only deepen. So what is the new spec style?

First, some technical issues to consider. Much of the available software, today, is designed to default to a more or less shooting script style format, while you (most likely) are writing a spec script. Trottier recommends disabling the following features:

Do not write CONTINUED at the top and bottom of each page. Do not write “continuing” as a parenthetical when a character continues his/her dialog after a paragraph of narrative description. And never number your scenes.

Avoid camera directions: ANGLE ON, CLOSE ON, POV, PAN, DOLLY WITH, TRUCK, ANOTHER ANGLE, ZOOM, PULL BACK TO REVEAL, ZIP PAN, CRANE SHOT, ECU, WE SEE, etc.

Avoid editing directions: CUT TO, DISSOLVE TO, IRIS, WIPE. The key, here, is “avoid” – meaning that you use technical directions only when absolutely necessary to move the story forward. (That’s about two or three times in a screenplay.) Remember, you are writing a story spec, not directing the movie.

As Trottier is fond of reminding us, “In the original BASIC INSTINCT spec by Joe Eszterhas, which sold for $3million; there is not a single DISSOLVE, CUT TO, ANGLE ON, SERIES OF SHOTS, MONTAGE or fancy technique in his entire 107 page script.” Only scene headings, description and dialog – period! Again, the focus is on telling a story through clear, lean, unencumbered writing.

Use of MORE when dialog is continued from the bottom on one page to the top of the next should be cheated – that is, move the entire block to the top of the next page or cheat the bottom margin to get the last line in.

Use parentheticals sparingly unless the subtext is unclear. Once in a while a line of action (about 3-4 words) is okay if doing so adds movement to the scene. (A lot of executives only read dialog, so this technique can improve the read. But only if not over-used.)

Try to keep your spec within the 110 page range. (Remember, every page equals about a minute of film time, and that costs money to produce! Today’s 2 hour and 30 minute behemoths are almost never written on spec, and certainly NOT by first time screenwriters.) Paragraphs of narrative description or action should never be more than four lines in length. Each paragraph should focus on an image, an action or story beat. Some paragraphs may only be one or two lines in length. Aim for lots of “white” on the page. This, too, will improve the read.

Use of MONTAGE, the SERIES OF SHOTS, INSERT, INTERCUT, FLASHBACK, and SUPERs is acceptable for dramatic or comedic purposes (or for clarity and ease of reading).

Today, specs are becoming increasingly non-linear in their story form, and may require the use of these or other techniques. I recommend that you do whatever is best for the story: bottom-line. Read lots of scripts within the genre(s) that you are writing in. Stay with movies that are most current to ensure that you are up to date on the latest tricks and techniques that have passed mustard with the Hollywood reader. Learn the rules, then break them!

Keep in mind that your audience, however, is the READER of your script and that these people are already "half-blind". These poor souls often read four or five scripts per night, and sometimes ten or more on a weekend! Just let the story flow like a river using visually compelling, concrete language that directs the eye and touches the heart without dulling the senses.

If you do, your reader will thank you on Monday morning with a “RECOMMEND” vs. the deadly “PASS”. Lean scripts earn fat checks.

May you get yours… this year!

Kevin C.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

parallelism, parables and image

Jesus used images that people were familiar with and compared them to the spiritual; this resulted in some of the best stories ever told, called parables.

I'm working on doing this aswell... I've found myself pulled into films when they used this method of story telling.

One example I remember clearly is in Finding Neverland when the dinner was over and the two families bickered with each other; then that beautifull goosebump moment when Berry (Johnny Depp) walks into his room/Neverland.

I've attached a script that I've tried this method on.


FADE IN:

INT. PHONE BOOTH - DAY
Man in a suit dials on a phone.

EXT. PHONE BOOTH - DAY

ROY, a tall black man in his 60's, stands on the sidewalk waving pamphlets in the air. THEO, 30, short bald dark skinned, the pastor, stands beside him.

INT. PHONE BOOTH - DAY

MAN
Do you want to loose out on this deal?

EXT. PHONE BOOTH - DAY

ROY
Do you want to miss out and go to hell?

INT. PHONE BOOTH - DAY

MAN
This is a special plan, only a few people will get this.

EXT. PHONE BOOTH - DAY

ROY
Only Christians will get into heaven. Not the Buddhist, not the Muslims.

INT. PHONE BOOTH - DAY

MAN
Not your neighbor, not the people with regular plans.

EXT. PHONE BOOTH - DAY

ROY
All you need to do.

INT. PHONE BOOTH - DAY

MAN
… is sign this paper.

EXT. PHONE BOOTH - DAY

ROY
Just say this prayer.

INT. PHONE BOOTH - DAY

MAN
And you'll have the best insurance ever!

EXT. PHONE BOOTH - DAY

ROY
And you'll get into heaven and be able to live for ever.

INT. PHONE BOOTH - DAY

MAN
Don't miss out. You never know what could happen.

EXT. PHONE BOOTH - DAY

ROY
You could die to morrow. Don't miss out and go to hell!

A white woman takes the pamphlet and shakes Roy's hand.

INT. PHONE BOOTH - DAY

The man nods his head.

MAN
You made a wise decision.

EXT. PHONE BOOTH - DAY

ROY
You made the right choice.

Spilt screen.

Roy and the man are smiling.

ROY (CONT'D)
God Bless you.

MAN
God Bless you.

EXT. PHONE BOOTH -DAY

Roy pats Theo on the back .

ROY
Another soul for the Kingdom.

INT. PHONE BOOTH - DAY

The man writes a check on his clip board.

MAN
Another sucka.

EXT. PHONE BOOTH - DAY

The man walks out laughing, and turns to Roy who is also laughing and putting a check on his clip board.

MAN
Hey.

ROY
Hey.

At the same time, the man and Roy exchange brochures and pamphlets.

MAN
Would you like to get some premium health insurance? If you find ten more people who are interested, you can get 50% off.

Roy shakes his head.

ROY
This sounds like a pyramid scheme to me.

Roy hands the pamphlet back to the man.

ROY (CONT'D)
Are you a Christian?

The man shakes his head to say no.

MAN
Naah, that church stuff sounds like a pyramid scheme to me.

The man hands the pamphlet back to Roy, and walks off. Roy laughs.

ROY
Pastor Theo, can you believe this guy?

Theo shakes his head.

THEO
He has a point.

Roy and Theo turn and walk the other way.

ROY
The only point he has is the one sticking out of the top of his head.

THEO
You can't treat people as statistics Elder Roy. Church is not spiritual insurance. Church is people.

Fade out:

Friday, July 07, 2006

How Old is Too Old to Be a Screenwriter? (Part Two)

Hollywood take note: boomers are aging and the battle is raging.

Variety reported late last year on an AARP series of 23 (I repeat twenty-three!) class action lawsuits being heard in California Supreme Court charging the networks, studios, talent agencies and production companies with age discrimination. Tracy Keenan Wynn (The Longest Yard, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman), co-counseled by the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), is joined by more than 150 writers over the age of 40.

In part one of this series, we began by tackling the Big A’s: Ageism and Access. More and more writers are asking about the possibilities of their becoming screenwriters, even if they’re over 40. Who would take these older writers seriously? Well, as promised, here’s the good news:

Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Age 48
Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash), Age 53
Mike Leigh (Vera Drake), Age 63
Brad Bird (The Incredibles), Age over 40
Alvin Sargent (Spider-Man 2 and 3), Age over 65
David Magee (Finding Neverland), Age 44

The list goes on ...William Goldman is pushing 70; David Mamet is 53; the Cohen brothers are easily beyond 35. Academy Award-winning authors of Shakespeare in Love’s, Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman are no spring chickens. Norman is closer to 60 than 50, and Stoppard turns 64 last year.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: “But those guys all fall under the category of already established writers.” Perhaps the more relevant question has to do not with the plight of established screenwriters, but with the new screenwriter with a few miles on him or her?

Generally speaking, people do get better with age when it comes to career performance. Professional athletes, lawyers, chefs, actors, and writers tend to improve with time. Raw enthusiasm; energy and youthful effervescence are slowly translated into depth of experience and increased skill. In other words, guessing at what life is like is replaced by living it. So why shouldn’t someone who starts writing screenplays at 35 or 40 get the benefit of the doubt that she will write a good one?

Well, if you’re a young 37 and can pass for say, 30, no problem. If you’re a youthful 47, in good shape and have a full head of hair, again, no problem. But if you’re out of shape and balding and have bad skin and are an overall physical wreck, you may have problems. Not with someone reading your script. But when you get called for a meeting!

Assuming you’re a true diamond in the rough … Agents and managers say age isn’t an issue. All that matters is a good script; and in part they are right. Great writing and a strong story are always paramount. But a word to the wise, try not to take any meetings until s/he has read your script (and fallen in love with what’s between the covers!), especially if you’re a high-end baby boomer not in your best shape.

This is why it’s to your advantage to find an agent, first. She will send out your script, and nobody will have to know that you have children in college or that you’re about to become a grandfather. (P.S. - While you’re looking for someone to “champion” your work, if you’re worried, why not hit the gym while you’re at it!)

Is it better to be young and starting out as a screenwriter? Yes. Are the odds against you if you’re over 35 and writing your first blockbuster? Absolutely. But as D.B. Gilles says, The Screenwriter Within, “…that’s all the more reason to try.” Why? “Because you know that the best stories are always the ones when your hero triumphs over insurmountable odds.”

So, the next time someone says you’re too old to be writing for Hollywood, take them back to the beginning of this article and point out how many produced writers are over 40. Remember, too, if the California Supreme Court rules in your favor, the studios will have to adapt. (Forget John Lennon and just Imagine ... “quotas” for women, minorities, and ... those over forty!)

The bottom line is being encouraged. It’s never too late to be what you might have been. Besides, there’s only so much you can squeeze out of a zit-faced 20-year-old who still lives at home with his parents. And if you’re still worried, and really motivated – go ahead, pick up the latest graphic novel or buy stock in Marvel Comics!

Above all, tell the world through your writing to get with the program – the largest market force in American still resides with the baby boomers that are “growing” and “graying” every day.

Write what they want to see, and then watch Hollywood come knocking on your doorstep.

Kevin C.

Monday, July 03, 2006

hoorah

Hey fellow writers,

Working on my second novel and need encouragement. The plot is all worked out, but my style is still "arriving." I want to experiment. I feel myself going more impressionistic. Come on, cheer me on...

Ange