Archive for the ‘Screenwriting’ Category

Clueless at Outfest

Monday, June 14th, 2010

I’ll be hosting a screening of Amy Heckerling’s CLUELESS at LA’s Outfest 2010. It’s one of my favorite movies of the 90s, but some might wonder if it’s gay enough for the festival.

I would argue that…

True to its title, CLUELESS doesn’t know how gay it is. Amy Heckerling’s 1995 clever reworking of Jane Austen’s Emma gives us Alicia Silverstone as the stylish but shallow Cher Horowitz, whose well-intentioned meddling leads her to deeper revelations about friendship and forbidden love — her ex-step-brother, the dreamy Paul Rudd. Along the way, she falls for the gay guy, pursues the jerk, and gives her soul a makeover. CLUELESS is a blast of queerjacent sunshine.

Catch the Clueless screening at the DGA. Tickets are $13 — but much cheaper if you become a member.

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Burn it down

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

You wouldn’t splash gasoline on the walls of your home, then toss a few matches while strolling out the door. In real life, this kind of willful destruction is criminal.

In fiction, it’s crucial.

As the writer, you need to burn down houses. You need to push characters out of their safe places into the big scary world — and make sure they can never get back. Sure, their stated quest might be to get home, but your job is to make sure that wherever they end up is a new and different place.

Writers tend towards benevolence. We love our characters, and want to see them thrive. So it can be hard to accept that what our hero actually needs is to have everything taken away, be it by fire, flood, divorce or zombie uprising. No matter the story, no matter the genre, we need to find ways to strip characters of their insulating bubbles of normalcy.

The Fire (or other catastrophe) often occurs as an inciting incident, setting the wheels of plot in motion. In The House Bunny, Anna Faris’s character is kicked out of the Playboy Mansion by page 10. In Gladiator, Russell Crowe’s family is killed.

Just as often, The Fire signals the end of the first act. In Star Wars, Luke returns home to find his aunt and uncle dead. In 9 to 5, the trio of secretaries has inadvertently kidnapped their boss. There’s no going back to the way things were.

But The Fire can work just as well later in the story, effectively burning bridges characters have just crossed. Three of my upcoming projects feature second-act or third-act Fires that not only keep the momentum going, but also remind the audience of the scale and stakes. 1 Late fires ward off complacency in everything from The Dark Knight to Revenge of the Nerds.

It’s easy to think of dozens of great movies that never really burn the house down. But the better exercise is to look at your own scripts and ask, (a) what could burn, and (b) why haven’t I lit it on fire?

  1. There’s something uniquely cinematic about destroying a giant set. A TV show, no matter its ambitions, generally has to protect its standing sets until at least the end of a season.
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WGAw screenwriter survey

Friday, November 6th, 2009

WGAw screenwriters should have received an email yesterday about an online survey the Guild is conducting. Please find the email — it might get stuck in your spam filter — and click the link.1

The survey takes five minutes, and will help set priorities for the Guild.

I was one of the beta testers for the survey, helping revise some of the questions about economic conditions and industry practices. It’s your choice whether to include your name or do it anonymously, but please participate. It’s important to let the Guild get a sense of what’s changing for screenwriters.

Generally, it’s much easier to get feedback from television writers — you can visit a show’s writers’ room and ask. Since screenwriters tend to work alone, each writer might think her situation is unique, when it’s actually become common.

This survey will help put numbers to hunches.

  1. Each email has a unique link to the survey, to ensure that the participants really are WGAw members.
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When characters say the name of the movie

Friday, November 6th, 2009

This handy montage might make you think twice about letting your characters use the title of the movie in dialogue.

(via fourfour)

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Sundance Roadshow

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

The Sundance Institute announced yesterday that for this coming year’s festival, they’ll be taking eight features and their filmmakers out to theaters across the country on January 28th — before the awards are even given out.

Eight cities will be included in Sundance Film Festival USA:

Ann Arbor, MI — Michigan Theater
Brookline, MA — Coolidge Corner Theatre
Brooklyn, NY — BAM
Chicago, IL — Music Box Theatre Los Angeles, CA — Downtown Independent
Madison, WI — Sundance Cinemas Madison
Nashville, TN — The Belcourt Theatre
San Francisco, CA — Sundance Kabuki Cinemas

This is an idea I’ve been talking up for years — the chance to participate in Sundance without trudging up to Park City.

As a filmmaker (and fan of indies) it’s frustrating to notice that audiences will line up for two hours in the Utah snow to see a movie that, six months later, they won’t drive to the nearby theater to see. The difference, of course, is that audiences want to be the first to see something. They want to participate in the discovery and discussion. This roadshow provides a chance.

If I have any quibble, it’s that the Arclight in Hollywood would be ideal. If this first round is a success, maybe we can hope for additional venues.

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How to handle a meeting

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

questionmarkI’m a twenty-five year old aspiring TV writer living in LA. After a friend of mine sent my spec pilot to a few people, one (who works at a cable channel) said she’d like to set a general meeting with me to discuss my writing and the upcoming pilot season.

This will be the first time someone is acknowledging me as a writer rather than as an assistant (my boss is kind enough to let me take off work for the meeting). Do you have any advice for how one should conduct oneself in such a meeting? They’ve already passed on picking up the pilot, and staffing season hasn’t started yet, so it appears that this is just a “get to know you” meeting. Should I prepare pitches for alternate projects? Do I dress casual or professional? What should I do as far as follow-up goes?

– James

I have much more extensive answers to your questions in two previous posts, How to Meet and What to do in a general meeting. But for newcomers, I can offer a bit of a summary.

Your goal in a general meeting is to figure out what they might be able to hire you to write — if not now, then at some point in the future. They want to put a face with the name with the words they’ve read.

At a certain point, they’ll talk about the kinds of projects they have in development, and the things they’re looking for. If anything sparks, pursue it. Talk about it in the room, then follow up the next day, and the next week. You’ll be chasing a lot of half-baked projects, most of which will never come to be. But one or two might. And that’s what you need.

Your advantage at this point is that you’re cheap and available. A producer could likely hire you with discretionary funds to rewrite a mediocre project she has sitting on the shelf. A show might bring you on at the lowest level of staff writer. And if that opportunity comes up, take it. Do an amazing job, then let that momentum carry you into your next assignment. And your next.

You don’t have to put on a suit. In fact, it’s better to be the worst-dressed person in the room.

My overall advice is to not freak out over any given meeting. Pretend it’s just having coffee with somebody who went to your same school. Unless you’re pitching a specific project, don’t approach it with any particular expectation — simply enthusiasm — and it’s likely to go fine.

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Prince of Persia, full trailer

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

You can see the trailer we used for the original pitch here.

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Every villain is a hero

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

A helpful thing to remember when plotting out stories with a clear antagonist: he probably doesn’t know he’s the bad guy.

  • Alan Rickman’s character from Die Hard likely sees himself as George Clooney’s character from Ocean’s 11.

  • In Michael Clayton, Tilda Swinton is struggling to protect herself and her company. She sees it as a survival story, with herself cast as the heroic victim.

  • Even monsters, like the shark in Jaws or the velociraptors of Jurassic Park, can be heroes of their own story. In Aliens, the Queen is defending her brood. Once we understand that, the conflict is even stronger.

Whether you’re writing a thriller, a comedy or an action movie, always look at the story from the villain’s point of view. What is he trying to do? Besides the hero, what other obstacles are in the way?

Too often, we come up with the villain’s motivation (revenge, greed) and stop. Rather, look for what the journey is. We might only see a small part of it from the hero’s perspective, but knowing the whole arc gives us more to push against.

Have a little sympathy. Let your villain win a few times, but make him work for it.

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Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Like English, Spanish has a knack for neologism. Ken Ellingwood’s article in the LA Times provides a glossary of new words and phrases related to Mexican drug violence.

My favorite is encajuelado:

Encajuelado: Based on the word for “trunk,” a body dumped in the trunk of a car. This is a common method for disposing of victims of a drug hit. Often, the bodies are bound and gagged with packing tape or are encobijados, wrapped in blankets.

When something is happening enough that they made a word for it, you know there’s a problem.

Ellingwood’s glossary explains that an encajuelado is sometimes accompanied by a handwritten narcomensaje, a scrawled drug message meant to threaten rival drug cartels or government security forces. Messages sometimes take the form of banners, known as narcomantas, and are hung from bridges or in other public places to demonstrate a gang’s audacity.

As a screenwriter, you have to be careful how much of this esoterica you try to use in your script. Particularly if characters are speaking English, trying to wedge a “narcomensaje” into dialogue is going to feel forced. Yet a reference to a character being encajuelado, once explained, is chilling.

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Hulu is not dead to me

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

CNET has good interview with Eric Garland, the CEO of media measurement company Big Champagne, talking about file sharing and the future of film and television.

Most of his points aren’t new, but they’re delivered in less-hysterical terms than you often see.

The music people used to say, “How can you can compete with free?” And now you ask anybody in digital music and they’ll tell you, “I’m just trying to compete effectively with free.” They’ve embraced the very condition that up until very recently they said they would reject. I’m telling you, you are going to compete with free. Sometimes you’re even going to win, once you make the commitment to living in the marketplace as it is and not as you wish it were or as it once was.

Garland shares my sympathy for international viewers, who are often told to wait months for movies that the U.S. gets on day one. If you don’t give the audience a convenient and legal way to watch something, they’re going to find a convenient and illegal way. And it’s hard to blame them.

I have much less sympathy for users outraged that Hulu is going to start charging. “Hulu is dead to me” is the common refrain on messageboards and Twitter.

But here’s the thing: you don’t have a god-given right to free shows, just as you can’t walk into Barnes and Noble and start shoving books in your backpack. We’ve conflated the ideas of intellectual liberty and zero cost into a big bundle of entitlement.

While I disagree with many points in Chris Anderson’s Free , he makes a useful distinction between flavors of “free.” I’d argue that movies and television need to be free as in accessible — by a global audience on their timetable. But you can have that kind of free without setting the price at zero. In fact, charging for something often makes it more accessible, by making it economically worthwhile to keep the systems running.

Right now, Hulu competes very effectively with free torrents on price. But if it chooses to move to a subscription model, it can ultimately offer more content at higher speeds, allowing it to compete better with free torrents on access.

Netflix is often seen as a tremendous bargain, offering a vast selection of movies and TV on demand for a low subscription price. That’s what Hulu may morph into, and that’s not cause for alarm.

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