Sunday, June 29, 2014

My latest Professional Screenwriter e-book is available now!!!



THE LATEST PROFESSIONAL SCREENWRITING BOOK IS A HIT ON AMAZON!

#99,569 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#34 in Kindle Store Screenwriting
#52 in Kindle Store Performing Arts
#94 in Kindle Store Authorship


Those who can’t do teach. And those who can’t write professionally somehow end up writing books about screenwriting.
This book is DIFFERENT. Written by a PROFESSIONAL currently working in Hollywood—
As a SCREENWRITER and FILM PRODUCER.
The author was able to use his connections to get Successful Professional Screenwriters/and Television Writers to –
REVEAL A SECRET about what led to their SUCCESS.
What he discovered will help other screenwriters!
This e-book has 34,000 words…
Internet links throughout the content
An “Appendix” section summarizing each chapter, which can be used as a checklist 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Wednesday, May 7, 2014




Several months ago, I commented on a post which received so many favorable responses that I've decided to post it on my blog for my regular readers to take in and think about. 
Here's the original blog post from Ted Farrar, Writer, Batrachologist, nature lover, granddad -- 

For the sake of writers everywhere, please STOP this!

Please, please, please - for the sake of all established and newbie authors alike - PLEASE stop giving away your e-books for free or at ridiculously low prices!
You might think you’re giving your books an advantage by promoting your name, but all you are doing is undervaluing your work and making it impossible for authors to make a decent living. At the present time there are so many free e-books available that e-book readers have no need to pay a reasonable price to read anything. I know of people who NEVER buy an e-book – they just surf the freebies. They’re not that discerning: if it’s rubbish they’ll go on to the next freebie. The thing is, they don’t have to be discerning. People get a finite amount of leisure time and as long as they’re spending that time reading free books they aren’t going to be buying yours.
To compete in this giveaway market means that to sell any books at all we have to reduce the price way below what our books are worth. Now, I don’t know about you folks, but I worked and sweated my arse off to write my novel. The idea that ‘Okay’ or ‘Now’ magazine is worth more than 18 months of hard work sticks in my craw.
Although this might sound hilariously naive, attempting to level the playing field with this being a free market and all, I’m proposing we should introduce a minimum price range. I suggest we should price novellas at no less than £0.99, short novels at £1.99 and larger novels at £2.99. This still gives us scope to value our work at more than this, but safeguards us against slitting our own throats to attract a readership, and then we can let our books speak for themselves.

THIS WAS MY RESPONSE --

Here's what I believe Ted might be overlooking... 

When a reader gets something for free (because you offered it for free or because they took it for free, pirated, it doesn't really matter so far), in that territory, the odds are, when they liked it, the chances of the author SELLING SOMETHING just increased.
The key phrase is WHEN THEY LIKED IT...
This is especially true with books... 
Meaning that people like to test something...
Whatever happens after they like it... 
Usually bodes well for the author... financially.
I have theories as to why that that is true, and so do a lot of other people, people way smarter than me, who have staked their reputation on this -- People will pay if it is worth while to them to get what they want.
TRUST YOUR WRITING. 
Trust that if you create something that is worth paying for... people will pay for it.
If Free gets you noticed... do it. 
If a discount gets you noticed... do it. 
There's only so much time... and books take time to read... 
There will never ever be "overnight" successes. 
It takes time... free... discount... whatever... 
If you are unknown... and you wrote something... didn't do something infamous... 
YOU WROTE SOMETHING... it takes time...
Whenever you hear someone talking about a plan to MAKE PEOPLE PAY FOR SOMETHING... 
I believe its those people who are not trusting the quality of their writing. 
And these same people will be asking for something else if they achieve their aims.
I hope I'm right. 
And if I'm wrong, I grant Ted his point, and that by granting his point, it might be too late to change courses.
I'm still going to take that chance because... 
I know I'm right... 
And...
I believe in my writing!!!
And all you writers who feel the same way (and if you don't feel that way, why are you still in the game?)... 
This is one of those moments... where you may not have sighted land yet...
And you're getting itchy because you fear there may never be...
A point where you reach the promised land.
I tell you it's out there... 
STAY THE COURSE. 


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The AUDIO BOOK of DEMON DAYS is HAPPENING!!!

Producing and narrating the audio book of DEMON DAYS is D. Michael Berkowitz!!!



Mr. Berkowitz was a company member in the Tony-nominated, Olivier Award-winning Broadway production of Stanley at Circle In The Square. He appeared in the critically acclaimed, Lucille Lortel and Obie award-winning, Drama Desk nominated Off-Broadway production of Counsellor-At-Law, starring John Rubinstein. He has appeared on the TV series “Law & Order” SVU” and “All My Children.”

I believe this is the man to make the words of DEMON DAYS come to life!!!



Sunday, April 6, 2014

THE WIND RAIDER GETS AN AMAZING REVIEW!!!


Influential R&R (Reader & Reviewer) Terry Price loves the first book in The Wind Raider book series!

Here are some quotes from her review --

Wow. I've read Post-Apocalyptic novels before, but never one like this one. Think of the best ones you've read, combine your favorite elements from them all into one, and you have "The Wind Raider - Book One".

Richard Finney is a master of his craft and a true professional. There are characters you love, ones you hate, and non-stop action. His sleight of hand is powerful, because characters and situations are not always who or what they appear to be in his novels.

Check out the entire review at her facebook page -- TerrysReviewsandAuthorInterviews


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"I’m so RIGHT, I’m afraid I’m being NAIVE about my ADVICE to screenwriters..."



The website FRESH VOICES posted today a recent  INTERVIEW  I did with one of their staff.



"An idea must go through a series of creative tests before I consider it worth writing as a screenplay or book."

I answered questions about my take on the industry... 
Where the screenwriting trade was headed...
And my approach to the craft of screenwriting...  


"We’re at the cusp of another seismic shakeup of filmmaking, possibly similar to what happened in the late sixties that led to so many great films produced in the 70s."
I was excited to talk with the site because their outreach is geared to the next generation of screenwriters trying to make an impact in movies, TV, and media.  

Check it out... and let me know what you think about what I say... Even if you disagree... I'd love to hear your FRESH VOICE!


Saturday, March 1, 2014

WHY A MEETING WITH THE DIRECTOR OF “GRAVITY” STILL HAUNTS ME



I had blown it. I had completely choked on a great opportunity to change my screenwriting career.


When Gravity was released in theaters I went to see it in IMAX 3D. 
Like most people who have seen the film, I was blown away. Gravity is wonderfully scripted, acted, and directed. The production also featured significant technological breakthroughs that compel audiences to see Gravity in a movie theater if they are to get the most from the experience.  
Watching Gravity prompted other thoughts, more personal in nature.
 I actually met with the director of Gravity over ten years ago and had the chance to change the course of my screenwriting career.
And I choked.
At the outset I should say that for legal reasons I can’t reveal the project we discussed, but trust me, the specific project and any of the related details aren’t really important to the point of the story.

The meeting came about when Sandy Weinberg, my agent at the time, called with news that the director, Alfonso Cuarón, had read a screenplay I had written and really liked it. Cuarón had a production deal at Warner Brothers’ studio where the meeting would take place. Sandy didn’t have any more details beyond Cuarón wanting to meet and discuss the script, but I was excited because I had really enjoyed his previous movies and thought he was wonderfully talented director.   


So I arrived on the Warner Brothers lot for the meeting and was shown into his office immediately. From the moment we met, Alfonso was personable and smart, and he displayed both qualities without a hint of pretention or artifice. His English at that time wasn’t the greatest (I’m sure it’s gotten much better over the years), but it was certainly good enough to convey his views about what I’d written. He told me he really liked my script and went into some detail about the parts he had responded to and why he was excited about the project. His thoughts clearly demonstrated that he understood what I was going for creatively with the script and there was no doubt he’d be the perfect director for the project.
But after delivering his final compliment, he gathered his breath and then revealed that despite responding to the script, he also had a big problem with it. And for him, the problem was a deal breaker. It turns out Alfonso had brought me into his office so that we could brainstorm a solution to this story problem. If we were successful, his new contract at Warner Brothers would allow him to put the project into development with his company’s discretionary fund. So we immediately launched into an intensive discussion that covered every aspect of the script… story… characters… themes… plot… everything. And we eventually arrived back to what was bothering him about the screenplay. 
For the record, Alfonso’s creative problem was real and profound, which is my testimonial to how smart and insightful he is as a storyteller as well as a filmmaker. He had no way of knowing that his sticking point had been a long running creative issue with the project, one that I had worked hard to smooth over with every draft of the screenplay. And I’d been at it for the last five years.
Any screenwriter with experience at the studio level usually ends up realizing that you are often times in a room with some of the smartest and most creative people in the world. And any flaw or problem in your work is not likely to escape notice, rather, it will surely be highlighted. The goal of highlighting the flaw is almost always about trying to come up with a solution. Smart and creative people revel in the opportunity to solve a creative problem, while at the same time, I believe the goal of a screenwriter should be to solve your own story problems so that you’re never stuck with a solution dictated by someone else. But in this case, I would have relished a solution to the problem coming from any source, especially if it came from a talented filmmaker.  
As time ticked away, so did my confidence in coming up with an idea that would make Alfonso feel good that the problem he had with the script could be resolved. 
I should have anticipated the situation because I had already spent a ton of time trying to work out the same problem. Yet somehow, during the entire process of developing the story, that creative Eureka moment had never materialized. And the pressure of an impromptu creative meeting on a major studio lot with a brilliant director made the challenge to produce a breakthrough even more daunting.
Despite my best efforts, every solution I devised in that meeting completely bombed with Alfonso.
I knew we had reached the end when Alfonso’s assistant interrupted for a fourth time (to his credit, Alfonso had already cancelled three previously scheduled meetings so we could continue discussing “the problem”) to remind his boss that he needed to leave for his next meeting, one that he could not cancel or reschedule. 
Our meeting ended up lasting over two hours.
I will never forget the disappointment on Alfonso’s face as his eyes looked toward the carpet in his office as he said, “My friend, I don’t think we’ve solved the problem.” 
I had blown it.
I had missed the shot at the buzzer.
Dropped the Hail Mary pass in the end zone.
Watched helplessly as the puck squirted through my legs for the winning goal.
I had completely choked on a great opportunity to change my screenwriting career.
As it turns out, when the movie was eventually produced, the exact creative story problem that Alfonso Cuarón had with the project ended up hurting the finished film, and was reflected in the reaction by both audiences and critics. 
Failure is a part of the industry.  Even success is often laced with failure. I believe one only perseveres as a screenwriter if you are disciplined in handling the fallout that comes from failure. My advice to other screenwriters has always been to thoroughly examine any failure like an autopsy -- embrace and document the details, sort through all the issues, and try to decode what led to the breakdown. 
Then let go. 
Move on.
Learn from the autopsy so you can evolve as a writer, but don’t allow your failure to hinder your progress as a working professional. I believe that those who don’t adhere to this, will eventually no longer be working professionals.
And yet… walking out of the movie theatre after being dazzled by the beauty of Gravity, I couldn’t help but think about how my career would be different… if I had just been able to solve that story problem many years ago on the Warner Brothers studio lot.
At this very moment I feel as if I’m on the top of my creative game, and given the same opportunity today, I really believe I would nail that meeting with Alfonso.
But I couldn’t do it then.

And I have never stopped wondering why.

Thursday, February 27, 2014



In medias res
It’s a Latin phrase that translates in English as - Into the middle of events.
And it’s a phrase all screenwriters should keep in mind when they write.
It means: Get into a scene as late as possible and get out as soon as possible.
Screenwriters who live and write by this rule will speed up the pace of their script, and reach a new level in their storytelling ability.
Why? Because pacing is critical in achieving maximum impact in a story you are trying to tell… and sell.
Skip writing about a character walking through a door and saying hello, and then asking another character whether they’ve had a nice day.
At the end of the scene, forget having the characters get up from their chairs, exchange handshakes, and say goodbye to each other.

Just cut to the next scene as soon as possible.


There’s no doubt there’s at least one great filmmaker who ignored this advice and did just fine with his productions. Stanley Kubrick had many non-essential verbal exchanges between his characters as they entered and exited rooms. 

2001: A Space Odyssey (screenplay by Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke, based on several stories by Clarke) and Clockwork Orange (screenplay by Kubrick, based on a novella by Anthony Burgess) are two prime examples of Kubrick’s movies where characters went through the routine of introductions and exits without any obvious narrative payoff. Kubrick ignored the rule of In medias res purposely to showcase the superficiality of humankind’s emotionless interactions, thereby giving greater force to the scenes of violence in both films. 

No doubt both movies cited above are classics, but before you get inspired to do the same, please remember -- Kubrick was the Michael Jordan of filmmaking, a master of his art so great that his achievements will probably never be replicated, not just because he was a talented filmmaker, but also because he created films at a time that now feels light years away from where we are in commercial movies.

The professional screenwriters who master In medias res with their scripts increase the probability their projects will be viewed as a “fast read.”
Make no mistake, this is not faint praise.
In an industry full of people who don’t like to read, saying a script is a fast read is an enormous compliment, and could be the difference between having your script read or not read by a VIP who could get your project produced.
For those who aspire to be professional screenwriters, I totally recommend you keep In medias res in the forefront of your mind at all times.
I could go on and on, but I’ve said what needs to be said.
And now it’s time for me to leave. No need to get up and show me the way to the door.

Just do a hard cut to the next scene. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

INTERVIEW WITH THE WIND RAIDER CO-CREATOR DEAN LOFTIS!!!


THE WIND RAIDER NOVEL - PART ONE is FREE!!!! 



"While I’m certainly a writer at heart... I have developed that 'marketing sense' to latch on to the spectacle of landsailors and Ki-summoned tornadoes..."

We felt this was the perfect time for all readers of THE WIND RAIDER Book Series to get to know the co-creator DEAN LOFTIS
I first came in contact with Dean in 2002 and almost immediately we began working on THE WIND RAIDER together.
We lived in different states, but still managed to collaborate through emails and phone calls. 
The first novel was published in December, 2013. 
So for over ten years Dean and I have been tied together. 
And we've come together again for this interview.
Not in person. To this day we still haven’t personally met each other.




FINNEY: What inspired you to create THE WIND RAIDER?

LOFTIS: I wanted to capture or recreate the "epic" feeling I experienced from fantasy/sci fi novels and films I grew up loving, such as Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and The Road Warrior. One of my favorite epic fantasy book series is the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson, who has talked about how combining the familiar with the exotic helped him spark what became the very expansive Covenant universe.  I remember sitting in my dark basement in Kansas City at 4:00 a.m., my “writing time” back then after having had newborn twins and working around a full time job, and somehow coming across an image of people landsailing at dusk across a dry lake bed in Arizona, with an almost haunting full moon in the background. The “exotic” image of the landsailor and that haunting moon “hooked” my imagination and in hours I had created the boy protagonist Josh (who was really me in search of a financially life-changing event, as I still am today) scouring the windswept wasteland for valuable “sky rocks” beneath a haunted, fragmented moon. And I thought wind would be so important in this world, the defining, all-encompassing element. I also mused about some type of religion springing up around the wind.

FINNEY: What were some of the challenges you encountered?

LOFTIS: Creating any new world that is unique and intriguing is challenging. Perhaps the greatest challenge is also to make the world familiar and realistic for the reader. The more fantastical elements you create for a world, the more realistic and believable these elements must be to pull in an audience. 

My goal was to create a fictional world where people were realistically struggling to survive in a harsh setting -- Josh was searching for something valuable; Lore was weaving rugs for money; and water was a valuable commodity for everyone fighting for their lives in the desert. What helps readers believe and accept fantastical elements is genuine human emotions and motives. I believe the best way to accomplish this is to create an organically driven world, one that would naturally feature a thriving city of commerce, which would also attract thieves. Familiar and realistic, while at the same time… unique. This is the setting that triggers the action in the main story.  

FINNEY: We came from different backgrounds when we first met. You worked in Public Relations and I was a screenwriter and a film producer. Is there anything about your job in Public Relations that helped you developing THE WIND RAIDER?

LOFTIS: Having worked with so many clients and campaigns in advertising – having had to execute many bad ideas forced on me along with some of my own bad ideas -- I think I've developed a fairly reliable filter or instinct for what is a “good idea” in the sense of identifying the elements that would appeal to a certain target audience. I've learned to better apply my marketing sense to my own creativity and works, including the development of the various aspects of The Wind Raider. One example would be while I’m certainly a writer at heart and know ultimately what matters and resonates are the characters, their interactions and themes explored, I have developed that “marketing sense” to latch on to the spectacle of landsailors, Ki-summoned tornadoes, a shattered moon, a city floating in the sky, etc.

FINNEY: THE WIND RAIDER quickly received interest from Hollywood. What was it about the project that made it so attractive?

LOFTIS:  From a Hollywood feature film perspective, I think the THE WIND RAIDER is not what they call "high concept." That is, it cannot easily be summed up with a catchy or pithy phrase over lunch, such as "Scientists extract DNA and create living dinosaurs for a Jurassic theme park in which a group of visitors become trapped." Unlike some other writers, perhaps because of my annoying advertising background, I don't criticize Hollywood for this; the very easily pitchable nature of a high concept, the ability for the many players involved in Hollywood to quickly "get" and in turn transmit a concept up the ladder to their superiors is very powerful, from a pragmatic business point of view. There is no more collaborative industry than Hollywood and no industry that risks more money and careers trying to bring to life "good ideas."
I think THE WIND RAIDER has originality and depth, both visually and dramatically. Many high concept ideas make it through the initial Hollywood door, but then die from lack of execution and originality, which means they were "good ideas" to talk about from a birds-eye view, but not compelling in execution. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

SECOND SCREENWRITING BOOK ALREADY AN AMAZON BEST SELLER!



The second publication in my Professional Screewriting Book Series was just released and is an amazon.com best seller... in England!

Here are the numbers -- 
#13 in Kindle Store > Books > Education & Reference > Publishing & Books

#34 in Books > Reference > Publishing & Books > Authorship



It's also an amazon.com bestseller here in the United States! 

#90 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Humor & Entertainment > Movies & Video > Screenwriting

But I guess I just love that across the pond, the aspiring filmmakers are all over what I have to say about writing quality screenplays!


Here is an excerpt from the book 19 Techniques for Professional Screenwriters -- 


BASIC WRITING TECHNIQUE #2

Don’t confuse “Plot Spin” with “Setup.”

One of the keys to understanding “plot spin” is to know that it is completely different than the “setup” in a screenplay.



In The Godfather, the setup in the first act introduces the entire family, including Michael, who will end up being the character that ushers in the plot spin of the movie. But everything that happens up to Don Corleone being attacked, and even what happens afterwards, until the moment Michael decides to become part of the family business, is all “setup.” It’s only when Michael steps up to be part of the family business that the first act plot spin occurs.
The key to deciphering when the plot spin kicks in is waiting to see what choice the writer makes in telling his story. For instance, after Don Corleone is shot, the rest of the movie could go in the direction of how the oldest son, Sonny, takes over the family business and we watch as his hot temper ends up incinerating what his father spent years creating.
But that’s not the story the screenwriter chose to tell.

The plot spin takes the story in a different direction, one that is different than another choice the writer could have made in choosing to move forward... 

Michael Corleone is the one who leaps from his law-abiding perch to murder a dirty cop, is forced to flee to another country, then returns years later to take over the family business in a way that is even colder and more calculating than his father. And this we see firsthand, because it is Michael who is the lynchpin of the entire story.
But not all plot spins are as obvious.



 Let’s examine the movie Back to the Future (screenplay by Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale), which many screenwriters have trouble spotting the first act plot spin. 
In the first act, the protagonist, Marty McFly, ends up in a time machine that takes him back to the 1950s, in the same town where both of his parents are still young and haven’t yet fallen in love.
Now some people might believe the plot spin is when Marty travels back to the past. And it’s an easy mistake to make because the screenwriters take their time setting up the story in the first act (they take their time for a reason – endeavoring to establish some characters and situations in the present day that will allow them the opportunity to pay off this setup in the past).
But when the plot spin does arrive, it is clearly at a point in the narrative where the story goes off in a different direction – Marty’s mother ends up falling in love with his time-traveling self, and turning a blind eye to Marty’s father, a development that jeopardizes his own future existence. This is the plot spin that puts in motion the main direction of the plot for the second act.
Remember, the plot spin takes the story in a different direction, one that is different than another choice the writer could have made in choosing to move forward with the storyline.
In Back to the Future, after the plot spin, it turns out Marty’s mission is to execute a plan that will have his mother, now in love with him, to once again fall in love with his doofus, dweeb father, so it will allow the time continuum to go back as it was, allowing for Marty to once again be born. 
Before this plot spin was settled on, the plot spin options were wide open – what if Marty had gone back to the past and he realized that someone from his original timeline had also traveled into the past and intended to marry his mother and cut out his father altogether and it was Marty’s job to stop this… time traveling stud. It’s a good plot spin, but we would have missed out on all the wonderfully humorous moments of Marty’s own mother making overtures toward him.
Or, what about the plot spin of Marty meeting his mother in the past, and just when he’s getting to know her some other person from the future is hell bent on killing her, which would prevent Marty from being born in the first place…
Wait, that’s already the plot spin for another movie, The Terminator (screenplay by James Cameron).
Okay, you get it, right? There’s a lot of ways to go, but choosing the right plot spin is critical. In many ways, the plot spin is the main support beam holding up the construction of the plot in your screenplay.



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

YOU ASKED FOR IT! I FINALLY WROTE IT... A SERIES OF BOOKS ON SCREENWRITING!



Most screenwriting books are written by writers who aren't industry professionals. Or if they were industry professional screenwriters, their experience is so old its no longer relevant to the way movies are written and produced today.

I earn a living to this very day as a professional industry screenwriter.

I've written a series  of books on screenwriting that I believe will be very insightful for those looking to learn the trade or for those looking to step up to another level.

The first book -- 20 BASIC RULES for Professional ScreenWriting -- has just been published!

Here is an EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK --

BASIC RULE #10

At the end of the first act, a “Plot Spin” needs to occur within the framework of the storyline. The point of this screenwriting technique is to “spin” the main storyline in a different direction. this plot spin often times changes the direction of the narrative in a surprising way that excites the audience experiencing the first act.

With this rule, we’re at the part of the screenplay structure I believe is the cornerstone to great storytelling in movies. I also believe it is the key narrative component for a teleplay, novel, or any “narrative” format where the storyteller has the goal of deepening the engagement of the audience.
Frankly, this is the creative step that usually begins to separate those who write and those who write stories where a reader wants more. It is also the fundamental step that separates those who create professionally… and those who end up creating for family and friends.
Even veteran screenwriters mess this step up (or skip it altogether) and the screenplay they’ve authored takes a beating when it is read by industry professionals. Others who read the script (or see the movie) won’t be able to articulate why they are responding negatively to a story after the first act, but more times than not their misgivings are based on the lack of plot spin (or a bad plot spin).

This is the crucial step to laying out a plot that will help your audience double down in their interest on the story you’ve set up in the first act. In the three-act structure, the first act plot spin occurs at the end of the first act, and is a calculated narrative development that takes the plot established up to that point, and “spins” the story off in a different direction. The mark of a great first act plot spin is how clever, original, or expectant the narrative has changed directions.
Consider a protagonist who is working for the Roman Empire as a loyal centurion, but then, after the plot spin, loses his career, family and land because of a change in leadership. This first act plot spin in Gladiator (screenplay by David Franzoni and Josh Logan) occurs after the character of Maximus performs heroically in a battle against the last Germanic tribe, but then resists the will of the new emperor who takes over after Marcus Aurelius has died (actually killed by the same man who has become the new emperor).

The first act plot spin is a narrative “game changer.”

The mark of a good first act plot spin is one where the previous pages have set it up, perhaps even hinted at the possibilities of this new direction, but haven’t necessarily given it away. The key as the writer is to establish such a well-written first act that the audience is open to several possible ways the story could end up going, but that when the first act plot spin is finally revealed the direction is more than just consistent with what preceded it; the storyline has now gone off in a direction that is potentially exciting, intriguing, and engaging for the audience.
Many screenwriters fail to come up with a screenplay that has a quality first act plot spin and also fail to realize how important this omission is to the way their script will be received. Scripts without a first act plot point start with the setup – the setting and the introduction of the main character – but then proceed forward, usually in a narratively “linear” way, with the same setup and main character doing exactly what has been foreshadowed in the first act.
An example of this kind of shallow storytelling can usually be observed by watching a “Lifetime” cable movie from the 90s. The first act in those productions usually consist of a protagonist falling in love with some guy with the hint of danger introduced before the first commercial break. And by the second act the heroine ends up stuck in a marriage with an abusive husband. The rest of the narrative is about her surviving the turmoil of an abusive relationship.

The first act plot spin is meant to “re-engage” the audience in a way that becomes even more profound than the beginning of the story. This is the goal, no matter the genre of the story.
In Star Wars: A New Hope (screenplay by George Lucas), the main character, Luke Skywalker, is introduced along with many other characters (Princess Leia, Obi Wan Kanobi, and Darth Vader) in the initial setup of the story. During the first act we discover that the universe has been torn apart by a galactic civil war, but unfortunately for Luke he’s on the sidelines working on his uncle’s farm.
Then, at the end of the first act, comes the first act plot spin – the discovery of a droid by Luke, which pushes his character to accept the mission of fighting for the rebel cause. His meeting with Obi wan Kenobi and the slaughter of his adoptive parents only makes his decision to fight for the rebel cause a mission he can’t refuse.

The first act plot spin is a narrative “game changer.” It re-energizes the story and prepares the audience for what the movie is really all about. A screenwriter must get this step right in laying out their storyline. If one fails here, an industry professional, (producer, studio executive) experienced in telling commercial stories, will be able to immediately spot the flaw in the screenplay. 


The second book in the series -- 19 TECHNIQUES for Professional ScreenWriting will be published next week!


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

THINKING LIKE SQUIRRELS...




Several years ago I was interviewing a scientist (I’ll call him “Dr. Hal”) for research on a screenplay I was writing. We were talking and crossing the street and we came across a dead squirrel that had been hit by a car. Whatever we were talking about, it was totally appropriate for Dr. Hal to comment, “look at this poor creature here, lying as road kill. And do you want to know why? Because his little brain has been fine-tuned over hundreds of generations to avoid all of his food chain enemies so he can reproduce and keep his numbers strong as a species. But one of the things his brain was not programed for was fast moving, large bulky objects of steel, moving at incredible speeds. These objects the squirrel either misjudges, or worse - in a very significant way, he is “blind” to the impending threat because his brain simply does not register this speedy steel attacking creature as lethal because for thousands and thousands of years it’s never had to.”

Now I’ve never checked Dr. Hal’s observations on squirrels and cars to see if he’s onto something or if he just impressed me with something that I obviously found interesting enough that I’m repeating here. But I think it captures my feelings about a point in history that humanity is now facing.

As a species we have acquired certain skills, as it turns out, exclusive neurological skills that allowed us to triumph over our competitors as we fought our way up the ladder of evolution. One of the skills is that our brain became quite adept at seeing “patterns.” This skill allowed us to track game for instance. We also mastered the skill of abstract thinking. Put the two together and we could think about something that was going to happen (because it had repeatedly happened before), then plan ahead, be there before the final outcome (eventually even channeling the path of the outcome) and then take advantage of our forethought and planning.

But as we evolved as a species, it turns out certain parts of our brains have continued to think like squirrels. We often times miss seeing a threat to our lives, even if the threat is coming straight at us.

We homo-sapiens are both  “gifted” and “flawed” as a species. And along comes another year...  maybe the best time to work on the part of brain that is no different than squirrels.

I want to wish everyone out there a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

And lets all do our best in the coming year to stop thinking like squirrels...

Thursday, October 31, 2013

AN EXCERPT from -- THE WIND RAIDER - Part One !!!!!


"Sir, you need to run like the wind is chasing you, because that is exactly what will be happening soon enough…" 



CLICK HERE TO READ THE EXCERPT!!!!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

HOW A TRIP TO A NUCLEAR MISSILE SILO INSPIRED MY WRITING OF THE BOOK "BLACK MARIAH"



“...Everything in this building goes down and we hope it always stays that way.”
My inspiration for the Book Series came years ago by a trip I took to a Nuclear missile silo! 

I was hired by Castle Rock productions to do a page one rewrite on a theatrical movie project. Because of the nature of the story line, the producer of the production arranged for me to visit an active nuclear missile silo somewhere in the Midwest. To this day I still don’t know where it is located.

On the day of the field trip, I showed up at the Van Nuys airport in the San Fernando Valley and was quickly ushered into a private plane by a representative from the military. I wasn't blindfolded or forced to wear a black hood like some terrorist hostage. Actually, I didn't realize there were any restrictions at all until the middle of the plane flight. After using the restroom, I was walking down the center aisle when I stopped to look out a window. The soldier who was tasked to accompany me throughout the entire field trip immediately spoke up, “Mr. Finney, I need you to step away from that window.” The tone of his voice, and the specific words he used, made me realize for the first time that I was not on some joy ride. 

A couple of hours after leaving the San Fernando valley, we landed on a private airstrip. I was quickly escorted off the plane and driven a few miles to the nuclear missile silo. When we arrived, I wasn't surprised to see two non-descript brick buildings behind a barbed-wire fence with a small guard station manned by a couple of soldiers.  I had heard that most of the nuclear silos were purposely designed to be non-descript above the ground.

The elevator ride down went for a long, long time.  I felt like I was a character in Dante’s Inferno. During the journey I happened to look at the elevator’s wall panel and commented to my minder, “So there’s no button for a penthouse suite?” He cracked a smile, his first one of the trip, and replied, “No, everything in this building goes down… and we hope it always stays that way.”

When I emerged from the elevator with my minder, we were greeted by a group of people who worked at the missile silo. There was an exchange of names and small talk, and I quickly noticed how our voices sounded like we whispering even though we were all speaking normally.  It was like we were standing in a bank vault.
As I was shown around the premises, I came to discover it was like I was meeting some sort of cult. Everyone I met who worked in the nuclear missile silo seemed to be in lock step. There were shared private looks… laughs… and finished sentences. They all worked in close quarters, under the most intense conditions, and so it probably was inevitable that there would be a… bond, but watching everyone interact was like watching people who had made a blood pact.

“the only people who truly know what we do, the immense responsibility, is my wife, and everyone down here. So I guess, we’re all just like family.”  

Because so much was expected from these people, the military knew that there would be the inevitable slip up, perhaps even a breakdown. During the tour I discovered that every individual working in the silo (most were military, but some were clearly from the private sector) were all required to submit to weekly drug tests and monthly psychological evaluation tests. And I was told that family members connected to those working in the silo were also tested for drugs and went through their own mental evaluations.

Another aspect I found interesting was that each individual who worked in the silo was required to review their other silo mates, passing on their personal evaluations for those in charge to help them see any warning signs that could be detrimental to their job.  

Despite the Orwellian implications, it all seemed perfectly logical to me -- if a person’s job involves handling a weapon of mass destruction, you can never be too careful regarding the oversight.  
No one I spoke with (obviously not for the record, and always in the presence of military minders) had a problem with it. It was consistent with the running theme that I got from everyone I encountered. One soldier said it best, “the only people who truly know what we do, the immense responsibility, is my wife, and everyone down here. So I guess, we’re all just like family.”  

On the flight back, I kept thinking about the idea that a “family” was in charge of a weapon of awesome power. I then thought about the possibility that it wasn't a nuclear weapon, but something that could keep the world safe from harm. And yet… it would still be under the supervision of a… family of people… humans… with all their flaws, desires, and imperfections.


That’s when I came up with the idea for “BLACK MARIAH.”  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

WHEN SHOULD YOU ABANDON A BOOK... OR A GUY?


Recently the website goodreads.com published a study featuring statistics on how quickly a person  “abandons” a book they have begun reading.  
Because so many of today’s most passionate readers are female, the goodreads.com article got me to imagine stretching the scope of the study so we weren't just talking about statistics regarding readers abandoning books…
What if the study also covered how quickly women end up abandoning men they have just started dating.   
This notion probably popped into into my head because I’m the father of two young women in their early twenties. On a daily basis, I worry about them pursuing a relationship with the right guy.
Before moving on, I should point out that, yes, the thoughts I have below are all within the context of a heterosexual dynamic, but that’s not to say I've ruled out any and all possibilities concerning my daughters’ future relationships with a significant other.
According to the goodreads.com survey, fewer than fifty pages is all it takes for 15.8% of readers out there to abandon a book. I translate “fifty pages” to be like reading the prologue and first chapter of a novel before abandoning the book.
In social terms, it would be the equivalent of a woman deciding to have nothing to do with a guy after the initial get together. I have in mind, a first encounter at a bar, or some other social situation, like a party. It could also be a blind date (setup by friends/family) or a get together arranged via an Internet matchmaking site.
Using the scenarios outlined above, I believe a 15.8% abandonment rate would be way low if it accurately measured how often women were blowing off men after the initial encounter.
The men I run across in public (and sadly, in my private life as well) are dreadful. The fact that women would hang around almost 85% of the time after they've been introduced to a guy would be almost inconceivable. It would mean that more than eight out of ten guys the average woman meets are not jobless… terminally immature… morally vacuous… on parole… cast member of a reality show… already in another relationship… or… all of the above.
Seriously, eight out of ten guys… worth going forward with? I just don’t see it.
Moving to the next level on the chart we see that 27.9% readers abandon a book after 50-100 pages. Now the rate of 27.9% is a statistic that begins to calm my nerves. I believe at least we’re moving in the right direction.
As both male and an author, if you’ve given me 100 pages to close a deal where you keep on reading, or shut everything down, I believe I’ve had a very fair shot to win your love.  
With that said, as a father, I would not like to see my daughters operating at the level of 27.9%.
I believe things are desperate right now for women out there (of all ages, not just early twenties) looking for the right guy. Finding someone for a relationship who is intelligent, caring, attractive and can cover his fair share of the monthly budget is not exactly like choosing a jewel from a treasure of embarrassing riches.
I often tell my girls to be choosy. Even being a snob in this case is acceptable if it helps in the filtering process of finding the right guy.
We exist now in a world where employing the philosophy -- he’s good enough for right now… could potentially lead to a relationship, no matter how short, that ends up affecting your entire life.
And even if a guy seems like he’s someone worth “reading” more, I warn my girls to look for the subtext between the words written on the page.
One of the clues to watch for is how a guy treats people he encounters in his daily life -- the hired help, taxicab drivers, the person serving your Subway sandwiches. Does the guy you’re dating treat these people like human beings or does he take advantage of the opportunities to play out hidden anger and emotional issues that he might be hiding from you?
A man I met while conducting research for a screenplay said to me, “you can learn a lot from watching how a dude treats someone they owe money to, then observing the same dude treating everyone else like they all owe him money.”  
Same point. Different world.
Back to the chart – if we take “100 pages” as the equivalent of two dates with a guy, the statistic attached to this page count reveals how optimistic your average woman is when it comes to relationships.
I should have put OPTIMISTIC  in all caps in the previous sentence because I’ve been there when the ex-wife of a guy actually showed up on a woman’s  second date screaming about back alimony. I was there later when my female friend said that she would see the guy again for a third date and justified her decision by telling me, “why not, his ex doesn't look anything like me.”
Jumping to the bottom of the statistics, we find that 38.1% of readers will continue to read a bad book all the way to the last page. This is the statistic that really astounds… and scares me.
Somehow, 38.1% of women out there, after meeting a guy, intend to ride out the relationship until either there’s an intervention or the life insurance on the guy has finally paid off. I list these two choices because I’m afraid to list the other choices that run up against this indisputable fact -- there’s a lot of bad books out there… And there’s a lot of bad guys out there!
I don’t fault any woman who will hang with a bad book only because there is a part of you that simply wants to know what happens on the last page.
My fear kicks in only when I think about all the women out there who keep on reading, even though they have long ago figured out exactly how the book is going to end.
And yet… what I write above hides a personal truth.
If my wife had not had a certain amount of optimism, I would be alone right now.
When I met her, I was broke.
And my ex-wife actually did show up where my present wife was working and needed to be escorted from the premises by security.
And because I was a writer when we began dating, my career choice pretty much promised that for long periods of my life I was probably going to be “jobless.”
Actually it’s amazing that my wife is still reading my book.
I know that she’s hoping that future chapters will have more thrills, take place in exotic countries, and have way more sex. She’s also praying that there’s a happy ending… even if the happy ending is at the expense of some cheesy developments, or a victorious climax that the male protagonist does’t really earn. I can even confidently predict that my wife would even excuse our book concluding with a Deus ex Machina ending.
So I guess my own personal experience is not an obvious source for supporting my overall premise as to when a woman should stop reading a particular book. But that hasn't prevented me from giving my daughters advice --
- Because you abandoned reading Jane Austen after high school doesn't mean you won’t enjoy her when you are older. Tastes in books change because people change.
- Be smart enough to stop reading when you’re not connecting with what’s on the page.
- And if you can’t stop reading a particular book that’s proving to be an awful experience, then talk to someone. Yeah, I understand, it’s not going to be me, but… someone.
- And, there really are times when you should legitimately give a book a chance and keep reading all the way to the end.
This is true even though, chapter after chapter, the story line continues to disappoint and the main character never seems to get his shit together. But you keep reading because you’re intriqued enough about the possibilities, the promise that the writing will eventually get better, and because the connection between a reader and a writer can be symbiotic. What is missing on the page is often times filled in by readers with imagination, intelligence, and patience.
And of course, optimism.

This advice especially holds true to reading a really long novel. At a certain point, after you’ve devoted so much time and energy, whether you like it or not, that book is now part of your life.