Thanks to everyone who remembered my birthday. Most messages were sent via Facebook and someday, I will respond. I never go on Facebook and I am 100% absolutely, self-sabotagingly wrong, but I always saw social media as a way of either promoting yourself or curiously hovering over people you may have met a few times or during your school days but barely know now or ever. Since I am incurious about most people who are not actively in my life I don’t make time to hover.  And I apologize for not catching up in the some way with my Facebook friends who give a shit enough to reach out to me.

That said, here’s my excuse: My birthday really was a blur. No details necessary, although I believe a mermaid and the Rolling Stones logo were involved at some point, but the phrase “I am too old for this shit” really does apply here.  My head is still wonky.  Which brings me to the subject of this post.

Can you improve your screenplay if you write it while wonky?

No. Wonky – intoxicated, inebriated, drunk, high – whatever you want to call it inhibits the receptors in you brain, relaxes your body and creates a state of somewhere between, “It doesn’t matter” and “This is easy.” Try to write an essay high then read it the next day and see if you can figure out what you were talking about.

Writing is a serious art. I don’t expect Van Gogh was sipping elderberry wine when painting his sunflowers. Poor man had enough demons in his head to deal with. And despite histories of renowned alcoholism, neither Fitzgerald nor Hemingway wrote their tomes unless their heads were clear.

“Write Drunk. Edit Sober.”

The quote attributed to Hemingway (but contested) glorifies the creative process.  But screenwriting is not only about inspiration and creativity of story, plot and character.

All writing is work. Hard work.  Screenwriting can seem painstaking because it requires a special format and nuances that come from maintaining the structure. Many non-writers float the myth of creativity as if some muse floats into the head and the art flows forth.

What utter bullshit. Inspiration comes from many muses — and you may have the very best you’ve ever had after a few pints at the pub, but the physical act of typing the correct words in correct format to establish a brilliant flow is a skill. As with all skill, it takes patience, practice and sober thought.  You don’t drive drunk. You don’t do your taxes drunk and you do not write drunk.

Wonky in the head removes all filters. You unleash a stream of conscious style that is not bound to the conventions of your structure, plot or character development. Wonkiness allows flow. Okay, fine for a first draft. But what happens when you need to polish this turd?  Making heads and tails of your wonky words is now a chore.

In honor of my birthday, go on, by all means have a drink on me. But emerging writers — Beware, you still have all that editing to do. Don’t make it hard on yourself. Find your creativity any way it comes, but when it’s time to write it down, keep a clear head. Wonky definitely has its time and place, but polishing a screenplay that’s been requested by a studio, ain’t it.  Have some food for thought and get back to work.

Check out more videos from FILM COURAGE on You Tube

Finding film courage was like my little friend Daphne Dingle falling up a hill. She can walk and talk at the same time, but for some reason Daphne cannot see two feet in front of her. Even with 20/20 vision.

One day Daphne was walking through Griffith Park and saw a stray dog and wanted to get a closer look to see if the dog had tags. So into the trees she went. And promptly got lost. She never caught up with the dog, but caught her toe in a hole and fell up a hill.

The up side of this story is when Daphne got up and realized she was lost, she continued moving forward, through the trees and onto a hiking path where she found a hiker who took her back to where she was familiar. That hiker was attractive, intelligent and single. He and Daphne are getting married this weekend.

Fall Uphill

Writers are frequently lost and losing their footing. It helps to know there is a way through the woods. You must be strong and have the courage to believe in yourself and your talent — even when the odds are against you.

Articles, interviews, reading screenplays, taking classes and speaking with others are ways to help find your way back to your path.

Film Courage is a resource site for any possible film related topic. Used by fans, professionals and emerging screenwriters like us, the articles are helpful and insightful. A great jump start to your inspiration and aspiration. So check them out when you get a chance.

When you are lost in an unfamiliar wood, do not stop. Do not go back. Move forward through the trees and maybe you’ll find a trail to lead you back to something familiar and maybe even something better.

My very good friend Consuelo Mackintosh is a gossip. Not the nosy, Gladys Kravitz (from the 60s sitcom “Bewitched”) busybody, Consuelo’s the “Hey, I just heard this” type. And it’s always juicy. Today she relayed a tidbit about our mutual friend, Daisy Dimple who got dumped by Dylan Darling. See, I knew they’d broken up, but I didn’t know why until Consuelo told me (because that’s what friends are for). It seems Daisy, Dylan and Dylan’s best friend had been partying and Daisy had too much to drink. She started making out with the friend.  Dylan caught them. Her defense was, “I thought it was you.” Umm… No. That was the end of that. Girl screwed herself, which is a shame because they seemed like a– great?– sweet?— respectable–  yeah, let’s go with that, couple.

Daisy’s self-destruct is a lot like screenwriters who do one stupid thing – something so dumb that it wrecks the entire script.  You went to the trouble of designing a bulletproof outline and spent all that time creating character bios. You know every beat and pulse of your story and every motive and goal of each character – so why on earth would you accidentally/on-purpose blow it up?  Here are three reasons:

1. They’re showing off

Sometimes writers are so passionate about their story and confident in their ability to tell it, they think they can break the rules. They can’t.

Keep it brief. 90-120 pages, that’s it. If you can’t tell your story in that time, then be prepared to have someone else take over for the next draft.

Yes, yes we are happy you know all of the exact camera angles and terminology of filmmaking, but don’t show off. Keep the directions out of your script. It pisses off directors who don’t appreciate a snot nose telling them where to put the camera. And gatekeepers want to feel they’re reading an easy-flowing story. Pans, Zooms and Cuts all over the page take the reader out of it.

Another way writers show off is in their scene description and dialogue. Forget all that crap about literary. Most readers, especially for us emergings, don’t have time for a novel. They don’t care about the gilded statue of Venus winking in the burned Roman sun when shit’s about to explode.  Efficient and Economic will win the day.

Similarly, keep the dialogue necessary. If your character speaks with a certain patois, address it in the character description (of in the parentheticals if necessary) but not in the actual dialogue if it slows down the read.

Seriously, don’t screw yourself by trying to show off. Use proper format. Know the importance of white space and don’t ever forget this is a reading draft not a production script.

2. They received too few/too many notes

I admit I have a hard time listening to notes from anyone I don’t think understands the story I’m trying to tell. So I am very picky about whom I get feedback from.  It is hard to hear notes from people you are not sure understand the nature of the beast.  My general rule of thumb is get at least three people to read your script. If two have the same note, then that’s something you need to look at.

On the other hand, if you’re writing an indie domestic drama and your best friend suggests an action sequence, you don’t need to add one. 

You know your story better than anyone. Have the confidence to receive notes (you will from producers anyway) and do not – REPEAT DO NOT screw yourself by accepting any note that takes away from the essence of the story that you are so passionate to tell.

3. They’re sure the screenplay is ready

Down deep in the bones of every emerging screenwriter is the knowledge that there will be one more draft. Even if you’ve gotten a dozen sets of notes for a dozen drafts, that is just to get you repped or sold. Then there will be another half dozen or so drafts for production. Don’t screw yourself by thinking your script is perfect.

Does each scene have a purpose? Are any of your characters cliché? Do you need all these characters? Is there any place in the scene description that could be tightened? What about dialogue? Are these the best words—Do you need any words at all?

Hey, we’re all human and sometimes a writer has a little too much to drink and winds up kissing the wrong person. Er—I mean writing themselves out of a sale. Stay focused, stay humble and know your story. And when you do screw up don’t make excuses just keep writing.

Many online groups like Virtual Pitch Fest work as a matchmaker to gatekeepers who could (should and will) agree to buy your script. The catch? Why money, of course. PAY TO PLAY has become PAY TO PITCH. For a fee ranging from $10 to $99 you can straight up video pitch your story to a rep or executive just as you do during in-person meetings and pitch fests. At least through Skype you can stay in your comfy drinking pants.

I absolutely recommend this route for emerging screenwriters. Not only do you get to actually pitch, most of the matchmakers instruct the executives and managers to provide feedback which will come in handy when you work your way up to the plush pile carpets and mahogany paneling of the front office execs.

But you’re nervous and you’ve never pitched before so you have no idea. If you haven’t a clue how to pitch yourself or your script I suggest you take a class. There are plenty. ROADMAP WRITERS has a “Career Writers” pitching program. STAGE32 has their “Next Level Education” webinars. And you can always practice with your writers group or look up sample pitches on You Tube – like this great one from David Russo.

So what do you include in your video pitch?

Let’s say you’re doing the speed dating you do at Pitch Fest. It’s usually 7-10 minutes. Shoot for 1 minute of intro. 6-minute pitch and 2-3 minutes Q & A.

Here’s how you break it down:

Minute 1 – Be cordial and thankful but not effusive — “It’s nice to meet you, thank you for hearing my pitch.”

Then launch into who you are in sixty seconds. That’s it. Hit the highlights and nothing else, you simply don’t have time.

Transition – “Because I [did this]… it inspired me to write…” Here you show your personal connection to the story and how it relates to others.

Minutes 2-7 – Pitch your little heart out.

Start with the logline. Do some comparisons to help the listener get a good idea of “World Meets Tone.”

Example – “It’s CRAZY RICH ASIANS meets MONSTER-IN-LAW” or “A modern PRIDE & PREJUDICE.” The most famous example is SPEED often summed up as “DIE HARD on a bus.” Go to IMDB and look for similar projects to yours in World and Tone.

Stay in your lane. If you are pitching a screenplay stick to movie comps, TV projects need TV comps. Try not to have anything too similar or too abstract. And for Goodness sake pick hits.  Never use a box office dud for your comparison.  Duh.

To Memorize or not to Memorize… I memorize then forget. I created PowerPoint presentations of my pitches. Using Skype, I can just follow the presentation as I stare at the webcam.  It requires little memorizing and allows me to get a good flow so I can have a natural conversation if the listener interrupts. (Most won’t, but you never want to lose your place.)

For the most part, you need to keep it free-flowing and sound natural. Paint a picture to draw the audience in.  Who is the main character? What do they want? What is preventing it? Why do we care?  You don’t have time for anything else.

For features – what happens in Acts I, II and III.  For TV – spend at least a minute on your character arc since they are the draw for the series and make sure you have what happens for the rest of the season and how the series will continue for 2-3 more seasons. Very important.

Strong Finish – You can have a dramatic character farewell or simply end the pitch with a, “That’s the end” and take a breath.  Silently congratulate yourself for getting through it.  But, you’re not done. Even if you spoke quickly and took more than 6 minutes for your pitch, you (should) have at least a minute left for Q & A. 

If you’ve done your job and drawn in the executive, they will have a question about the story, the characters, the budget or actors you see in the main roles.  That’s a good sign.  If they have nothing to say, then it’s up to you, kid. Here is where you make yourself memorable. Show that you’ve done your research on the person to whom you’re pitching. If they or their company has a project in contention for awards or has won – acknowledge it. If they are working on a project in development that interests you, ask about it. If nothing else, ask a generic question about Hollywood or industry standards—ANYthing! If you get 10 minutes, use all 10. You want to form a connection. That is what this type of video pitch is really for. You need people to know you, not the other way around.

What next? Nothing. You wait to hear from the executive. If you use a company that guarantees feedback you’ll get some. Fabulous. Incorporate the insights and keep going. If you get a script request – also Fabulous, an executive is reading you. Well done. Don’t quit your side hustle just yet. Remember the most important goal of an emerging screenwriter is to make connections. Now that you’ve done it once, go out and do it again.

I get that money may be an issue because these pitches are not free. If you can’t get a Sugar Daddy then get a Side Hustle. Check out my post on that.  Money is tight everywhere, but if you don’t believe in your sacrifice, no one else will. But I digress. Time to finish writing. And get pitching.

Let me know how you do.

Other options:

Fade In pitch festival

Greenlight My Movie

MoviePitcher

My very good friend Linda Lighthouse wanted a boyfriend. She always wants a boyfriend, and to be fair, she always has one.

Linda is one of those women who is never single for long. This time, it took a whole three weeks. She used a neat little device called a VISION BOARD. Now, I am not saying she got a boyfriend because she made a vision board. I am saying the vision board helped her subconscious mind allow what she wanted to come into her life.  So being the wide open-minded person I am, I am going to create a vision board for 2019 to help my emerging screenwriting career.

Let’s be clear, I’m not getting carried away here. Looking on the internet for guidance, as one does, I see literally dozens of sites dedicated to Vision Board Parties. Say what now?

VISION BOARD PARTY

Yes, apparently this is the new thing for suburban moms looking for a safe girls night out. Vision Board parties have replaced book clubs and wine tastings at your local meet up for fun and friendship.

The idea is, you look at your board whenever possible and reprogram your Subconscious Mind to allow those images to manifest in your reality. An entire cottage industry has grown around the idea of allowing, accepting and receiving. Of course you remember Law of Attraction. It’s not a fad. You (and I really mean Me) may say It won’t work, It won’t work for me, It’s stupid, I don’t have time, I’m doing it wrong, but that’s exactly the conscious No beating the subconscious Yes that keeps the Law of Attraction folks flying private to book signings. Books like The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero and anything by Jerry & Esther Hicks or Deepak Chopra all say pretty much the same thing in different ways. And made their author fortunes. No, I will not be cynical. This is a legitimate project and I will put my very best self into it.

For solitary vision board makers like myself I prefer the old school cut, paste and decorate over the digital grab photos and download an app. I think cutting photos, glueing them to a poster board and dousing it with glitter sends a stronger “I really want this” message to my subconscious.

I am not my friend Linda who has had more success and can tap into those happy feelings easier that I can. So this Vision Board Project 2019 will be a challenge. I need to reprogram my subconscious to allow what I want to flow into my space and manifest successfully. How some images in a collage are going to do that, I do not know. This is kind of a leap of faith.

First—I have to figure out what I want my subconscious to allow.

T.U.F.F.

I have created the acronym TUFF to describe what I want to manifest in 2019.

T = Television – as an emerging screenwriter, my new manager that I got last year wasn’t a good fit. So I need someone new.

U = Unraveled – the title of the short film I am in pre-production on. I need help to crowd fund and develop of reliable production team

F = Features – I have been so focused on TV, I have forgotten to peddle my wares as an emerging screenwriter. I need to manifest connections to production companies.

F = Fun – With all the stuck in the mud, my emerging has taken the joy out of my life and I need some fun and (new) friends.

Second – I’ve cut images that each of these areas where I need to manifest successful flow. Here’s the result:

Third – I have also included Affirmations and positive phrases to help my mind reprogram and visualize the success they represent. Each month I’ll check back in and let you know how it goes. I am a successful screenwriter. Not because my Vision Board says so, because I say so.

Wishing everyone a happy and prosperous New Year.  Cheers!

It’s the holidays so I wanted to express some seasonal joy and gratitude for being alive and well in 2018. I am grateful for my family, friends and opportunities. I am also grateful that I am a screenwriter.  We all know that ups and downs, but more than that — the passion that drives us as storytellers and project creators fills our souls. There is nothing else we would rather do, or else we’d be doing it, right?

Here’s a little inspiration from The Writers Guild back in 2009.  That night the WGA interviewed these men were nominated for their work. Next will be you and me and every other emerging screenwriter with the courage to follow their passion and live their dream. I am grateful for that. I’m sure you are, too.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS and THANK YOU, EMERGING SCREENWRITERS FOR 100 POSTS!

 

 

 

Film critic Joe Queenan once proclaimed William Goldman “the world’s greatest and most famous living screenwriter.” The Guardian. 

The Academy Award winning screenwriter of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “All The President’s Men” died last week of pneumonia at age 87.  His work also includes “Marathon Man,” “Chaplin” and “The Princess Bride” based on his novel. He is known not only for his screenplays but for writing plays, novels and semi-autobiographical books on the industry.

Anyone looking to Hollywood for a writing career knows William Goldman for his 1983 book Adventures in the Screen Trade, the must-read book for anyone who even thinks about making a living in Hollywood.

“Nobody knows anything.”

The honest assessment is the best-remembered quote of the book, but it only addresses the decision-making skills of the gate-keepers. I reminds emerging talent from all levels that it just takes one Yes to discount a legion of No. For screenwriters, Hollywood is not just an industry providing opportunity, it is a place that peels away layers of your soul. Mr. Goldman addressed that as well with a warning:

“Screenplay writing is not an art form. It’s a skill; it’s carpentry; it’s structure. I don’t mean to knock it — it ain’t easy. But if it’s all you do, if you only write screenplays, it is ultimately denigrating to the soul. You may get lucky and get rich, but you sure won’t get happy.”

Publishers Weekly interview (1983)

So on this Thanksgiving Day I want to say Thank You William Goldman for reminding me what happiness is and is not. Take a moment to remember all of the things you have that make you happy and I’ll bet none of them involve pilot season or pay-or-play contracts. I have clean air, fresh water, family, friends, a roof over my head, chocolate chip mint ice cream and a bottle of Merlot. Who needs Hollywood?  R.I.P. Mr. Goldman

Emerging Screenwriters Extra:  A 2010 interview with Michael Winship for the Writers Guild Foundation

To make it simple, your screenplay theme is the perspective your Main Character has after they’ve finished their journey.

Let’s look at a few examples:

In Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) goes from not wanting to be a single father to learning his greatest accomplishment is being a great dad. The theme? Divorced fathers can be excellent custodial parents. Remember in the 70s, this was a thing as courts always sided with the mothers.

In Murder on the Orient Express (2017), Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is a strictly by-the-book right vs. wrong kind of man who has to compromise these fundamental principles to allow people who’ve done wrong to go free. The theme being there are no absolutes when it comes to murder. Sometimes circumstances create killers from victims and vice versa.

One more. Black Panther (2018). A film that has so many important social and cultural themes it is hard to narrow it to just one. But the theme of self-identity reflects an African-American culture at war with itself and struggles to achieve in a divided America. This is from a great study guide by Grade Saver:

Writing about Black Panther for The New Yorker, Jelani Cobb describes African-American identity as “two feuding ancestries conjoined by a hyphen.” He posits that there is a fundamental tension in the very notion of being African-American because to be black on some level means being not totally accepted as an American by much of society. And yet they cannot reject this identity because it has been forced upon them by history and circumstance. 

Ryan Coogler was all over that shit in the movie.

So how do you thread your theme?

Watch movies. Compile a list of where the Main Character is at the end. What must they sacrifice? Is it their principles? Their former way of life? Their child?

Know where your Main Character is at the end of your screenplay emotionally. After taking a tumultuous ride for ninety pages, how are they doing? Once you take their pulse you can see their attitude about what’s happened over the course of the story.

In Big (1988), 12-year-old Josh Baskin (David Moscow) becomes 30-year-old Josh (Tom Hanks) after wishing he was “big.” It takes his journey through an adulthood he’s certainly not ready for to realize he’d rather be 12. He has to sacrifice the grown up life including a mature relationship to return to his family and friends. His attitude is relief and gratitude about not being big. Lesson learned. The theme of appreciating where you are in your life cycle is also reflected in his adult girlfriend, Susan (Elizabeth Perkins) who at the end when Josh asks her to become 12 so they can stay together, she refuses stating she was 12 once and that was enough.

Even action movies follow these thematic examples. Armageddon (1998) may be about the imminent destruction of the plant, but through Bruce Willis’s sacrifice it’s really about making sure his daughter gets married to Ben Affleck. His external goal to do his job dovetails with the inner goal to see Liv Tyler happy. The rest of the story serves that goal. Even if it costs him his life.

In addition to knowing your Main Character’s sacrifice and attitude toward it at the end, another key to finding your screenplay theme is to understand your character’s main goal. What do they want at the beginning and how does that goal change in the middle? If you’ve done your job correctly, by the last act, the original goal will have changed to something the character either rejected or did not know they wanted.

Romantic comedies are really great at this. Baby Boom (1987) is not about neurotic go-getter JC Wiatt (Diane Keaton) leaving corporate America to raise a baby she was given responsibility for in a relative’s will. It’s about finding true love with a compassionate, laid back veterinarian Jeff Cooper (Sam Shepard).

One of my favorite rom coms is French Kiss (1995). Kate (Meg Ryan) chases her fiance (Timothy Hutton) who’s fallen in love with someone else and broken the engagement. She tracks him down in France where with the help of a French louse, (Kevin Kline) she is able to lure him back only to realize she doesn’t want a sap so easily turned. She wants real love with a strong man who loves her. Oh, there’s Kevin Kline who fits the bill. Convenient.

That’s a primer. Learning your screenplay’s theme is a necessary evil when creating your outline. If you don’t have an outline, beat sheet, treatment, something, shame on you. You have to know where you’re going before you get behind the wheel.

If you establish the main character’s goal, how that goal changes, what they have to sacrifice to achieve it and the attitude at the end of the journey, you will not only have a solid theme to sell to producers, but a satisfying screenplay for readers.

Shane Black (Lethal Weapon), Terry Rossio (Shrek), Mark Fergus (Children of Men) and David Hayter (X-Men) in one fell swoop talk about writing a Hollywood blockbuster.

I have been a member of the Scriptwriters Network off and on since 2000. The best I can say is they are hit and miss. Some great panels for beginning writers who think they’re advanced and special events for advanced writers who think they’re beginners.  I am neither so I look for interesting guests in the speaker series.  Found this one in the archives.

From way back in 2011 but worth a gander, especially if you’re hoping your script has the chops to become a tentpole feature.

Enjoy!