Be prepared.  This is a longer post than I usually write.  I got carried away. Apologies. Maybe because it’s back to school time that these first few paragraphs may seem like a classroom lesson, but if you keep reading I promise it gets better.  I suggest you pack a lunch or read it in sections; stretch first we’ll be awhile.  Okay, ready?  Ahem… Stories give a narrative account of events either real or imagined. Those events involve characters. The characters the audience relates to are the heroes we root for. We want them to win. We are invested in their character arc as they journey from one place to another, learning something, transforming internally and improving their lot in life along the way. It is understood in most stories that after trial and tribulation the main character chalks up a win. This is similar to the way Americans believe in success. That if you do the right thing, if you work hard, if you don’t give up, you will eventually get what you want. It’s America’s Promise which can be summed in the equation

Talent + Hard Work = Success.

In screenwriting, heroes’ arcs go up because of good behavior and after several losses they end winning what is most important to their journey. In a negative character arc, the anti-hero’s journey is the result of bad behavior and choices that hurt others and eventually themselves because they end losing either their life or what is most important to their journey.

Read More →

I started this blog to help emerging screen and TV writers survive the day job, general meetings and life shit that happens on the way to success.  So you’re a writing a TV pilot, I assume you know what to do.  If not, there are a gazillion analysts to help writers write.  Here is one I highly recommend – Michael Tucker and his Lessons From The Screenplay on You Tube are definitely worth a subscription and a donation via Patreon.

 

My little friend Dave–  is a producer on a network television series. Dave is smart and confident and has earned every break he ever got on his own – with some assistance from the nimble telephone skills of a well-connected agent, but he’s an outstanding writer who is fantastic in the room.    Now he’s in escrow on his first house –  in the Hollywood Hills, and just bought a new BMW.  All well deserved.  Not to mention his most recent girlfriend was a television actress on a long-running cable series that ended a few seasons ago.  Dave— is living the life and I couldn’t be happier for him.  No, truly.  No shade, not hate, just happiness that someone who put in the work, got something back. That is the ideal TV writing relationship.  You give a little, you get a lot.  You and your beloved walking hand in hand down the garden path.  All is love.  When it’s good, it’s Jess and Nick in a cooler on New Girl.  Oh, but when it’s bad… Carrie cheats on Aidan then doesn’t marry him when he takes her back.  WTF Sex & the City?

A bad relationship involves more than the simple act of lying.  It’s Game of Thrones-style abuse, treachery and betrayal to the core of your marrow.   And a good cry doesn’t wash the pain away.

Television writing is my bad relationship.  For my little friend Dave– he watched some episodes, read some scripts and liked what he saw.  He took it out a few times and discovered it liked him back.  So began their romance.  One meeting led to another. Then meeting the show runner for a staff position which is sort of like meeting the parents.  Can this person sit down to dinner with us every week?  If the answer is yes, sweet– you’re in. If not, then it’s time to break up.  After a few tries, you find the right show, or make the right connection.  And someone pops the question:  Will you write for us?  The ring of the telephone call from your agent with the offer is better than a diamond.

Read More →

Jury Duty. That federal act of conscription that makes answering the summons mandatory. The first rule of jury duty is you cannot talk about jury duty. The second rule is you cannot talk your way out of jury duty. Oh sure, you may get away once or twice, but if you are registered to vote, they will find you eventually.  Best to not resist.

The court room is where most of the action takes place in legal dramas. Let’s face it, actors want the sexy lead roles of the attorneys. Check out Matthew McConaughey in “The Lincoln Lawyer” (2011)  and “A Time to Kill” (1996). Very different movies but the same McConaughey swagger. When the lead actor is the focus, a distinguished character actor gets to play the judge and one of the most pivotal roles is usually left out altogether – the jury. When the jurors are given the spotlight they are depicted as stealth operators – even lazy or stupid to varying degrees. TV shows with creative titles such as “The Jury” (2004) “The Jury” (2011) and “We The Jury” (2016) seem to have come and gone with little notice. Films have more luck with drama than in comedy but are generally dismissed as popcorn flicks. The notable exception is Sidney Lumet’s insightful “Twelve Angry Men” (1957).

Read More →

I am a positive person. On the outside, I may have a crusty hard shell, but if you tap me with a fork, I crumble like a delicious crème brûlée. So while I eschew the hearts and flowers sentimentality of the season – the Hallmark movies about a lovely but lonely single woman and the slightly reckless single dad who looks like he just stepped from an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog who hook up after fighting for ninety minutes over whose responsibility it is to save the town’s only church lost to a Grinch-like town councilman/rich old man, ugh! (And if I have to see one more commercial telling some man how special his woman is so he needs to buy her a diamond at Jared, I will put both my eyes out with a screwdriver) – BUT, I still have hope and optimism for the success of holiday movie screenwriting. That is why it is so disappointing when bad Christmas (apologies to my non-Christmas-celebrating friends/readers) movies happen to good writers.  Screenwriting is hard enough, holiday features are even worse because of the emotional points that must be hit.  We love classics like A Christmas Story and A Christmas Carol or the original Miracle of 34th Street.  But most holiday movies don’t reach classic or even cult status –  Black Christmas.  The writers are lucky enough to get it made and move on.

Read More →

I am the first to admit that I am not over my ex. He broke up with me because he is an immature waste of space who is too stupid to see that I was the best thing about his whole ridiculous existence. But I may be biased. Actually, he said I didn’t support him enough – whatever that means. I know I’m better off without him. Who needs a three bedroom tract house in Chatsworth, spending weekends checking the pH in the pool and buying pizza rolls in bulk at Costco? Besides, if we married I would have had to change my name to “Mrs. Auto Parts Store Assistant Manager” and that’s too long to fit on a business card.

farewell-20196_1280

I prefer my air-conditioned cave at the intersection of Independent Career Gal and Hot Chick Who Can Do Better. Not really, but I make it work. When you lose something you have come to rely on it’s hard to move on. You have to make it work. Somehow. It’s natural to go through the stages. You blame yourself for not being able to continue. You blame them for not compromising. You hate them. You love them. You hate that you love them. And you look for something to replace the pain. I feel the same way about my break up with Final Draft.

Read More →

happy-1085352_1920Lili Loofbourow’s review of the HBO comedy Vice Principals in The Week brings up a point emerging screenwriters need to think about.  Assholes.  Anti-heroes are commonly without valor.  The skilled writer/actor/director combo is able to give this branded a-hole enough rope to re-brand and bring the audience around.  Think Walter White, Dexter Morgan or Tony Soprano.  Even if your character dies at the end, the audience tuned in each week for the next installment of motherfuckery. For a comedy there’s less death, but more public shaming like Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm.  We secretly admire Sue Sylvester’s fearless cruelty in Glee, but she can’t be the lead.  No, for a lead to be an asshole it’s definitively a 10 in degree of difficulty. So should it be attempted by someone new to the game?

A-holes are anti-heroes, but all anti-heroes are not a-holes.  We watch characters who are awful people because they are interesting.  The anti-hero is someone who has a huge learning curve from rotten to saved by love or rotten to dead.  Interesting story and good acting will sell that every time.  A character with no redeeming moral or social value has nowhere to go.

With its casual racism, misogyny, and mean-spiritedness I would normally not give Vice Principals the time of day.  But the polarizing effect of these two major fucking douchebags makes me think there is a big takeaway for writers.  The premise is two high school vice principals are put out when neither of them is promoted to the job of principal in favor of a thoroughly qualified outsider.  Nice enough, right?  But when you throw in the specifics: They are in South Carolina and the outsider from Pennsylvania (Philadelphia); they are men and she is a woman; they are white and she is black; they are er– educated enough and she has a doctorate.  Enough for  comedy gold, but in the first few episodes these writers take the easy swings with offensive and insulting stereotypes… and whiff.

Read More →

skull-and-crossbones-578212_640.jpg7DSIn my  7 Heavenly Virtues post I listed ways in which emerging writers can maintain their dignity while pushing their work forward.  Now for the Deadly Sins.  These are the OGs of bad behavior the Catholic Church warned you about.  After toiling away the hours at a day job from hell it is tempting to embrace every one of these sins just to feel you have some control over your destiny.  But then the good angel on your shoulder chimes in and calms you down, taking you back to that safe place where life happens and you live to dream another day about your brilliant spec screenplay sale.

As you sit down to write your next magnum opus consider carefully the temptation of the deadly sins.  Once aware of them, you can make the conscious choice to either flee to the light or embrace the darkness once and for all.

  1. Lust

Let me holla at you, baby. If you have a dream cast for your screenplay, keep it to yourself. It is never a good idea to write a script because you want the leads to be Idris Elba and Margot Robbie or whomever is your free pass. For my friend Consuelo Mackintosh it’s Denzel with Tom Hardy tapping in. Me? I respectfully decline to answer. It’s one thing to write a character and have someone in mind as an inspiration, it is quite another, and highly dangerous to be so vagmatized or dickmatized as to eliminate many, many qualified actors because you’ve tailored your characters to a few who are unavailable, unaffordable or uninterested. If you can write a great story and three-dimensional characters with a way for an actor to show their range, you will attract the right people for the right roles. The universe has a way of working things out when you let it happen organically.

2. Gluttony

Have you ever seen the Nathan’s Famous hot dog eating contest?  Or any competitive food eating event?  Gross.  Watching a 95 pound woman consume 140 hot dogs in 3 minutes is not even remotely appealing.  And packing your script with action and mystery and comedy and kooky sidekicks and clichéd tropes does not appeal to greenlighters.  Don’t overstuff your script.  Keep the story simple. I know you want to put your best foot forward and show what you can do, but even the keenest of readers will put a spec down with lightning speed if they have to get from point A to point B by trudging through the non-linear narrative of points K, Q, and T first.  Like any good meal, it will wash down easier if you keep it light.

         3.  Greed

Almost thirty years later and that mantra is relevant.  At least in financial circles.  But you do not dream of being a Wall Street trader or hedge fund manager.  You are a screenwriter.  The greatest sin, the deadliest of the deadlies is the sin of material comfort.  Life happens.  And most of us are not successful out of the gate.  We need day jobs.  Unfortunately this business of being a screenwriter takes time and life things become the focus.  You want money.  You want to live a comfortable life.  So you take a job as an assistant or animator or development executive or agent trainee, anything film adjacent thinking it’s only a few years until you sell your script and can live your dream.  Only a few years go by.  Then a few more.  And you find yourself working as a booking agent for juvenile talent at Nickelodeon.  What happened to your great spec that you slaved for years over and were going to sell?  You got greedy and traded the hard work it takes to make it as a working writer for the easy money of climbing a ladder you never wanted to climb.  Listen, I get it.  But I would rather live in my hovel and write, spending every cent I have toward selling my work, than buy a mini-manse in the hills if it means earning the money in a job that keeps me from pursuing my dream.  Don’t allow life to stop you.  And don’t let your screenplay become something you work on as a hobby.

      4. Sloth

Vomit drafts are important.  No arguments there.  But after that, you need to go back in and do the heavy lifting of rewriting.  Excise anything that is unnecessary or doesn’t make sense.  Expand your character development.  It is not acceptable to leave characters twisting in their motivation or drop story lines half way through the pilot.  To introduce a theme and leave it hanging is not only bad writing, it’s lazy writing.  Finish the thought.  Complete the work to the best of its ability, not your own.  That means have others read your work.  Spend the money of professional guidance.  Re-read and re-write.    Get in the habit of constantly nitpicking because I assure you when you do sell your script, at least one page one re-write will be part of the deal.

     5.  Wrath

My sworn enemy, Effthat’B Jackson (no relation) fired a very nice woman in her fifties last year because she did not like her.  This very nice woman in her fifties has yet to find a new job.  She should not have been fired in the first place.  That makes me angry.  But if I say or do anything that could hurt my long term opportunities.  Something for all emerging screenwriters to think about.  Do not fuck up your future connections by alienating anyone who could know someone to help you down the line.  Case in point, my erstwhile manager.  I was with a manger for over a dozen years and she has proven problematic for many people.  That is all I will say because I do not want to become someone who bad mouths people in the industry.  If you know the manager I’m talking about, you know what I’m talking about.  Let’s leave it there.  Do not succumb to your emotions.  You need contacts, friends, too, but contacts and allies.  Speaking poorly about someone limits those connections.  You never know who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who could make that call for you.  On the other hand, if I had all the information about my manager-from-hell sooner, maybe I’d be in a better situation now.  Who knows?  Still., err on the side of professional.

       6.  Envy

Grrl, please.  Yes, there are some people’s career path and luck I wish I had.  But that’s them,  I am me.  I respectfully suggest that all of the trollers online and in writers cliques stop trash talking those who are successful.  Throwing enough shade to blot the sun does not get you where you need to be.  More important it does nothing for your screenplay or pilot.  Haters gonna hate, but keep that shit to yourself.  People do talk and your reputation is what will find and keep your work circulating.  No one wants to read a jealous, pain in the ass buzzkill.  Stick to your own program and carve out a path for others to follow or want to follow.  Strive to be the writers others emulate instead of talking down about someone you don’t even know.  It’s just not cool.

      7.  Pride

Asking for help shows strength and wisdom.  To need help getting your name out there with your work is not a weakness.  Do not let your pride and being unconnected or unwilling to take notes on your work get in the way of your own success.  I suspect the sin of Pride is what kills more careers than Greed and Sloth combined.  The fact is, you can’t do it alone.  Reach out — help is there, you have to keep looking until you find it.  Don’t give up.  That’s your pride talking.  Don’t listen.  Instead, listen to your work.  If it is good enough, you’ll know.  And you owe it to yourself and that work to do whatever it takes to get it out there.  Take the notes.  “Thank you, sir, may I have another read?” When it’s sold you won’t care that you had to call that ex who now works in Development.

The Seven Deadly Sins may be tempting.  At some point in your journey to emerging you will pray for a way to sell your soul.  But, please, before signing that pact with Satan consider the immortal words of Iron Maiden’s Moonchild.  Cue music.

“Seven deadly sins,
seven ways to win,
seven holy paths to hell,
and your trip begins

Seven downward slopes
seven bloodied hopes
seven are your burning fires,
seven your desires…”
Iron Maiden

angel-645058_640Back in the late 6th century, Pope Gregory I re-defined the 7 Deadly Sins and a set of virtues to balance them. There are several sets of virtues as people of faith believe human beings all seek a path to the glory of the Almighty. The lists are a cheat sheet for how to behave. Thanks, Greg. We have Contrary Virtues which directly oppose the sins and Heavenly Virtues to guide us on the path to righteousness. These are a combination of the four cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance) and three theological virtues (faith, hope and charity). Okay, end of catechism.

I admit I am not a religious person.  I believe there could be some sort of higher power that aids us in our times of need, especially when we want to score a sweet parking space in front of the market.  Professional rich people, athletes, musicians and actors like to shout out the god/ess who answers prayers.  But what about those of us whose prayers are rarely answered?  Why are they not? Or is the answer simply, “No?”  What are we doing wrong that the winner of the Best Rap Solo Grammy is doing right?

Maybe it’s not how we pray, but how we live.  Are we embodying the qualities necessary to have some spiritual assistance in our struggle to emerge?  Thankfully, we have that organized list of virtues. No matter what you believe it never hurts to put good energy out, even if only to settle whatever agitation festers within our own souls.

  1. Faith

Faith requires patience. Wasn’t it a screenwriter who coined the proverbial “Patience is a virtue?” Don’t roll your eyes, it could have been. The concept of having faith in one’s chosen profession is probably self-explanatory. Most of us are not lottery winners. There is no luxury car in the driveway of our million dollar mansion. We did not sell our first script out of college. It takes several screenplays, dozens of drafts and more than a few years – if you even get lucky at all. So why do we do it? No, seriously ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”

Read More →

martini-548031__180My very good friend, Consuelo Mackintosh is applying for a grant. The How and Why of the grant were easy peasy, let’s have a couple of shots to celebrate. The next phase, she’s not so much celebrating as dreading. In this section of the grant application she has to write a biography. A one paragraph summary of your life.  Even if you are an unabashed narcissist, this is not as simple as it sounds.

At some point in your career you will be required to write a biography. A short bio be it for your agent to include with your script or an announcement when you’ve won a contest or been hired to some noteworthy assignment is sometimes the industry’s first impression of you. It is an easy opportunity to build your reputation. Scared yet? You should be. How you present yourself matters. I wish it didn’t. I wish we could all go to meetings in sweatpants. But that’s not realistic. If people judged strangers by the quality of their work then the make-up, lingerie and plastic surgery industries would collapse in on themselves.

So you have to put your best self forward and write your bio, huh? Do you go all the way back to your 5th grade essay on the electoral process and why it matters? Should you include the fact that you have rescued and found homes for seven cats? Um– No and No (but, well done.) The short bio is just that– don’t say too much, but just enough. Let’s break this into a few easy to manage components.

  1. Who Are You – just the facts, please.  Whatever relevant information is appropriate for the audience reading about you.“Consuelo Mackinosh is a native of Argentina, home of the tango.”
  2. How You Got To Be An Expert – the education, experience and street cred that makes you perfect for doing what you do.“She decided to pursue her American Dream in Los Angeles. Fluent in both Spanish and English, she earned her B.A. in Business Administration from UCLA .”

    Please note: Years are tricky. It is never a great idea to admit your age unless applying for something specific – Under 21 or Over 40 programs for example.

  3. Any Noteworthy Accomplishments – this is where you sing your praises; because you know if you don’t no one else will.“In the 1990s she married and started a family while running a successful clothing business out of her home. Two children and two divorces later, Consuelo is a grandmother of three forced to work in the fitting room of a major retail department Co store where she uses her excellent interpersonal skills telling fat women how good they look in clothes two sizes too small.”
  4. Wrap it up – tells what you are doing now or where you are living.“She found a new passion writing her best-selling self-help guide, Where’s The Wine? And currently co-hosts a popular You Tube film review program ‘Drunken Movie Reviews with Consuelo and Esmeralda.’ She currently lives in the San Fernando Valley and is waiting for potential husband number three to lock it down.”

Here’s how it looks when you put it all together…

Consuelo Macintosh is a native of Argentina, the home of the tango. Fluent in both Spanish and English, she decided to pursue her American Dream of becoming a suburban wife and mother of two in 1984 in Los Angeles. She earned her B.A. in Business Administration from UCLA. In the 1990s she married and started a family while running a successful clothing business out of her home. Two children and two divorces later, Consuelo is a grandmother of three forced to work in the fitting room of a major retail department store where she uses her excellent interpersonal skills telling fat women how good they look in clothes two sizes too small. She found a new passion writing her best-selling self-help guide, Where’s The Wine? And currently co-hosts a popular You Tube film review program ‘Drunken Movie Reviews with Consuelo and Esmeralda.’ She currently lives in the San Fernando Valley and is waiting for potential husband number three to lock it down.”

Make your adjustments as necessary, whether you are writing for wit and humor or conservative business professional these rules apply.

And don’t forget to update as needed when new information changes your status or you expand your vocabulary. Consuelo’s grant application is not due for a few more weeks, but at least she can sleep easier with a bio that states the facts in a tone that represents her true spirit and humor of the organization she is appealing to. Good luck, C. And the next bottle’s on me.