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The Three Most Important Professional Screenwriting Rules when Writing a Script Adaptation about a Real Person or Event.

I recently read a memoir that the author is very interested in turning into a movie/TV adaptation. My observations about the book and adapting the work into a script reminded me of the Three most important Professional Screenwriting Rules in doing an adaptation, specifically when the source material is about a real person, who is still living. 

1 The Dead don’t have any rights. 

The Living do have rights, including the legal right to tell their own story. There are dozens and dozens of rules regarding script adaptations with real events or living people as the source material, but this is number one because a writer can potentially get into a lot of trouble if they don't observe this rule. 
When a Professional Screenwriter writes a script adaptation based on a living person as the focus of their story (and/or the person's life as the source material) they must have a legal agreement allowing them the right to pursue the project. There are exceptions to this basic rule, including a screenplay adaptation that depicts a living person who would be legally considered a “celebrity” or is in the “public spotlight.” However, this exception to the rules has complicated nuances, as do other exceptions to this basic rule. The bottomline is that the professional screenwriter should always get legal advice from an attorney who specializes in entertainment law before proceeding forward. 

2 When writing an adaptation, create a script that will entertain your audience. 

This is the Second Most Important Adaptation Rule, and the one that many non-professionals (and plenty of professionals) end up breaking. Many artists believe the highest creative calling is an adaptation that is accurate about the facts and they are almost always wrong. 
Making sure the adaptation is factually true with the source material doesn’t even come close to the importance in writing an entertaining script. Those who believe it should rank this high are writers might want to consider work on propaganda films or industrial videos. 
The entertainment industry also has a category of filmmaking called “documentaries.” People who choose to be entertained by a factual based depiction of an actual person / and /or real event can seek out the documentary version of the story. 
This rule is all about prioritizing the writing of an entertaining story rather than one that mimics a history book. The goal is to capture the spirit of the living person, and/or real event you are depicting in your story and doing this in the service of entertaining an audience. Those who lose sight of this prime directive are the ones who create movies that are difficult or boring to watch and rarely find a commercial audience. There’s little nobility in writing a script that stays true to the facts, but no one sees because it was either never produced or was shunned when it was seen. 

Not keeping the facts Holy in writing a script adaptation can be a problem for the real people being depicted in the story. This is why working with the main subject of your adaptation is often problematic. Many Professional Screenwriters never meet the subjects of the story they are writing even when given the opportunity. Contact with the source of your adaptation can be illuminating for the Professional Screenwriter, but there's always the chance that it will do the opposite - hinder the creative process. 

3 An adaptation should be relatable to the commercial audience taking in your work. 

No surprise that I rank this number three because of my hardcore philosophy of writing a script that will resonate with an audience. Meaning that your creative loyalty begins with you as the artist and the relationship you have with your audience. Everything else comes in second place when telling your story - the facts… the original source material… especially the person(s) that are the focus of the source material. 
Now this rule can be very much different when writing an adaptation of fiction, like a novel. The Professional Screenwriter who adapts a beloved book (or series of books) should probably heavily consider what the readers found enjoyable. But when considering a non-fictional adaptation, loyalty to the potential audience of your work is more important than living up to those who were there, or know the person who is the focus of your story.   

The filmmakers of the HBO Show, WESTWORLDwere clearly ambitious in the way they chose to remake the 1973 Michael Crichton movie. 
Their creative approach was to dig deeper before laying the foundation for the series' storyline. 
Going that route opens up more possibilities for the writers tasked to write each episode. 
It means there is more to draw on when telling a story from one episode to the next.   
One of the great weapons in Professional Screenwriting is to have a scene where a character tells a story to another character (or a group of characters). 
Not every script has the organic opportunity for this to occur. 
However, when the project is right, this tool can be a powerful way to deliver to the audience an aspect of the storyline that will illuminate what had previously been hidden, whether it is about a specific character, a secret from the past, or even thematic aspects informing the script. 
Unfortunately, this writing weapon is often abused by screenwriters, used in a lazy, hackneyed-attempt to cover over plot holes or other inferior efforts in telling a good story. 
There are ways one can tell the difference when this technique is in the hands of an artful story teller -- 

- The Character’s story is written in a way that the ultimate meaning is Ambiguous. 

- The Story told by the Character has a specific purpose – usually along the lines of revealing something deeper, not only about the character who is relating the tale, but the reaction of the character on screen listening. 

The fifth episode of WESTWORLD begins with Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), telling one of the park’s early robotic creations, “Old Bill,” a story about his past. How the scripted story is produced on screen ends up being a perfect example of the two points cited above.   

Why Theatrical Film Directors have largely given up the status as Auteurs when working on a Hollywood Studio Movie. 

There has been a seismic shift in our creative arts. In the Neo-Golden Age of TV, the Series Showrunner has become the New Auteur. The Shift has occurred not only because the Auteur in the TV World is the Writer, but also because the artistic influence of the director in Studio Feature films has been on the wane for a while as well. 

Since the early 1970s, the creative visionary in Studio Films has largely been the Director, but that has changed in the last two decades. The shift was slow at first, but it has accelerated over the last seven years. This is due to the studios moving more and more toward becoming Special Entertainment Event promoters, using all their resources to produce and release fewer theatrical films than ever before. Even more restrictive is the creative content the major studios seek when they choose to get behind a film project. The slates for all the Hollywood studios are now completely dominated by big-budget SF… Fantasy… or Supernatural Genre movies, many of which are sequels from Branded Franchises, and with an increasing number of the projects based on comic books as the source material (specifically Marvel and DC). 
This shift has wound up with the typical director on a Hollywood studio production being hired not so much for a unique, artistic vision, but for his ability to fit a filmmaking skill set into creating something much larger than just the mere production of a movie. We’re talking about the creation of an entity so powerful that it is capable of taking over the world — first in Japan on a July weekend, then conquering all of North America the following week. Europe and the rest of Asia are the final targets in the ensuing weeks. The Directors of major studio movie projects are being hired only if they can prove that they have the acumen to handle the production of a movie like a General handle the coordination of many different divisions of troops in tasked to come up victorious in a carefully laid-out campaign of war. 
Unfortunately, the shift of artistic influence does not seem to have helped the Screenwriter(s) working on the average studio film. Unlike what has happened in TV, the screenwriter working in the theatrical film world has traditionally been one of the lowest on the status totem pole when it comes to the creation of a project. And that still appears to be the case in many of the movies that have been produced in last the several years. 
Those who have gained more power are the people who represent the money, whether it is a studio executive, or the executive who represents the company covering the costs of the production. 
The impact of this shift from Director as Auteur to Director as Traffic cop has not necessarily resulted in badly made movies. I speak specifically about the amazing high quality that each Hollywood production continues to showcase such as state of the art technical effects; the highest level of craft on display such as costumes, production design, photography and acting. This has resulted in studio movies maintaining their huge commercial popularity with audiences all over the world. 
The exception to this is North America, where movie attendance has been generally in a slump for several years. Could this slump be attributed to the film director no longer having the same creative voice of other legendary filmmakers in the past? 
The job of a director today often times means sacrificing originality for a vision that matches a largely pre-determined blueprint for the project set up years ago when the property was first born, and/or when the Franchise was bankrolled by the studio.   

Picture in your Mind Three Phrases if you want to Avoid 
the Creative Blind Spot

The Process of Creativity Often Leaves an Artist Blind when evaluating the Work. 
This is why so many who create develop methods of objectively gauging their effort so the work will end up becoming better as the creative process proceeds. 
Here are Three Phrases to Keep in Mind so You don’t experience a Creative Blind spot -- 

Slow is better than Fast 

When you conceive of an idea, take your time with it. 
There will be a burst of excitement about what you’ve come up and that energy is a great motivator to act. And I suggest you run with that energy for a bit and get the idea/inspiration out of your head and on to paper. 
But then you should take a breath. Actually, take more than a breath. Give yourself plenty of space before doing this next step – objectively evaluating the worth of your new idea. You’re looking for clarity and the best way to get that is with mental Separation and Space. 
Ideas often come with speed, but an artist who takes the time to evaluate objectively will be the one to figure out what is good and what is wrong.  

More is Better than Less 

If Captain Ahab had been a Writer or filmmaker; rather than a Whaler, he would still be making a huge mistake spending all his time Hunting One White Whale. 
Enhance your odds for success by increasing the volume of projects you create. 
Too many talented artists get bogged down obsessing over that one White Whale of a project they believe will be a game-changer for their career. If it pays off, the creative obsession with a lone project year after year after year can indeed change an artist’s life. 
But it rarely happens this way. And there’s a better path to take with the same goal in mind. 
In the More is Better than Less approach the prime directive is to work on your White Whale project for a set period of time, then move it aside no matter what stage you are in the process. Take the time to tackle a completely different project which you should promise yourself you will finish. Only then are you allowed to circle back to your White Whale for another round. This approach has at least two upsides going for it -- you’ll have more work to show when someone asks to see examples of your work; and working on other projects beyond the White Whale project will can't help but make you a better creator when you tackle more rather than less. The variety of experience will also enable you to have a clearer perspective when you turn your creative attention back to chasing the White Whale project.  

Shorter is better than Longer 

To be successful, an artist must often immerse themselves in the work, becoming obsessed with the world they are creating. 
But one can end up drilling too deep and along the way, lose their creative bearings. This can happen at many different stages during creative process. Some artists become blind while working on the development phase of a project. Some artists spend years and years of research on a project and never get to the point of turning the work into creativity. Others allow the research to “wag the creative tail” to the point that the work feels stuffed with details extracted from the research which ends up overshadowing the goal of telling a good story.  
Another Creative Blindspot can be summed up with one-word – indulgence. The creator becomes fixated on specific aspects of the creation -- style, themes, tones -- and the work suffers. Creative isolation can also lead to a blind spot when the time spent on a work without feedback can lead to a myopic process where the only person who ends up being gratified by the final effort will be the creator himself. 
Perhaps the most common hazard in working on a project for too long is the mental (and physical) exhaustion that will inevitably take its toll on the creator. When this occurs, the artist is often times blind to the finished effort coming off as overworked and/or creatively rushed, as if the goal at one point in the process was simply to finish the project, because the chance of achieving quality work had long ago been compromised.   

9-12-16 POST


Sorry, but this is where many of my posts regarding PS related Articles will end up in the future. No more front page coverage because I'm getting sick of reading of my own take downs on people who I believe are trying to exploit writers who want to pursue Professional Screenwriting.  
And yet, if you are interested in these issues -- you've come to the right spot.

AT ISSUE: SCREENWRITING TEACHERS / COACHES Who are Clueless about what they are talking about when they claim to know anything about Professional Filmmaking. 

PERSON:  LISA CRON - author of two books on writing.


I posted my first objection to the interviews on 09-05-16

Creative Screenwriting Magazine immediately responded to my comment online. 
It would be great if you'd go into detail on what you disagree with, and why. We welcome discussion and debate about screenwriting!
I jumped all over their invitation to explain.  

Richard Finney: Okay, per your request, here's some details to my objections. 

From Cron Interview: “When I graduated from college I moved to New York and I actually wanted to be a writer – that was my goal. But I didn’t quite have the courage to do it.” 
“I also worked in television for a while – in reality TV, before there was reality TV! That was an education in and of itself. The television industry wasn’t for me.” 

RSF: This is one of the biggest problems with people who end up seeking to advise other people… they don’t end up doing so after establishing a career actually writing professionally. In this case, by her own admission, Ms. Cron did not pursue a career as a screenwriter (movies or TV) or as a novelist. Whether she lacked the courage to pursue a writing career, or there was some other problem, those like Cron who attempt later in their life to “teach” or “coach” others (not for free, but to make a living doing so) are almost always limited about how much they can actually “teach” or “help” when it comes to guidance about a profession they did not end up pursuing. Yes, it happens, there are those who can offer insight who are not creators, but when you have quotes from Cron, like those I highlight below, one really must question her "expertise." 

From Cron Interview: “I think that the biggest problem we have when we think of stories is that we think of them as entertainment.”

RSF: The above quote begs this question – what exactly should “stories” be, if not “entertainment.” In another context, perhaps this quote wouldn’t be worth examining. But Cron is being interviewed by Creative Screenwriting, so isn’t it more than fair that her quote reveal a basic understanding of what Professional Screenwriters attempt to do when they write? They seek to entertain. Right?
Let me go further and put out a basic definition of what a professional screenwriter seeks to do when they create – you are writing a story intended to involve other professionals who will help you produce your work, which will then be watched by mass audiences who are looking, on one level or another, to be entertained. 
The fact that Cron believes thinking of stories as entertainment is a "big problem" perhaps reveals her mindset -- since she’s not pursued a creative writing career, perhaps she has somehow lost the prime directive of anyone who seeks to creatively write screenplays as a profession -- you seek to create work that you can share with an audience as entertainment. 

From Cron Interview: "There are no stories that are plot-driven. Every story is character-driven. Some stories are more plot-heavy and more things happen…but by definition, the plot is just a bunch of things that happen."

RSF: The above has to be one of the most idiotic statements I’ve ever read by someone interviewed by CS. Seriously. Why interview anyone who believes this, and not question the statements. 

Let’s begin with the first quote, which is absurd on the most basic level. Of course there are stories that are plot-driven. And there is an art and craft to coming up with a plot that are much more than "just a bunch of things that happen."

Perhaps Cron is unaware of what a plot actually is, how it functions when it comes to creating a story. The fact is that there is almost always some kind of plot behind every story that is created for commercial entertainment (and I could make the case that when a creator tries to create a plotless story, they are actually adhering to a… “plot.”) I’m talking the basics here -- the basic construct that has led to Pulitzer prize winning works, Best Picture Winners, and creatively constructed TV program

Because Cron’s first sentence ("there are no stories that plot driven") comes off as simply delusional, let's pretend her words are just an attempt to be provocative… stand out from the crowd of people trying to sell their latest book. I’ll be a sport, play along and move on to her next sentence – "Every story is character-driven." 
Again, this is flat out wrong. Especially when its coupled with the first sentence We would have to make a greater leap and imagine Cron is trying to imply that only “great” stories lack plots, or are only Character Driven. But this is still completely wrong! So wrong that I shutter to imagine anyone getting any creative advise from someone who thinks this way.

If I may be allowed to make my point by only mentioning one truly great film (but I could name hundreds) hoping this example will suffice to prove Cron’s above quotes are absolutely ridiculous – 
“2001: a space Odyssey” is a movie that has no main character in the first 25 plus minutes of the movie. The main character that is then introduced in the next story segment is eventually completely dropped forty minutes later (and we have no idea what has happened to him) And then, in the story’s third segment, a new main character (or main characters) are introduced to the audience within the frame work of the film’s story, and finally these are characters viewers will follow until the film is completed, with their fates ultimately revealed by the filmmakers. 
Now the entire three segments I just summarized above (and include individual scenes within each segment I mention) are what would be considered by professionals as a... “plot.” This plot begins after the opening credits and is a creative construction that lasts until the closing credits. 
If Ms. Cron wants to believe that “2001” is an example of a plot where “just a bunch of things happen,” and these segments, and the individual scenes, somehow have no relationship, or otherwise form no connection creatively to what many professionals consider to be the difinition of a... "story," then, please, I want to read her theory to support her stance. 
Of ourse, my point in citing one of the greatest films ever produced, which clearly has the opposite what would be considered a “character driven plot,” is my way of showing that Cron seems to have a problem understanding the basics of creativity.

From Cron Interview: “I think that writers are taught either pantsing or plotting. And both of them get it 100% wrong, because both of them start on page 1. Both of them start as if what it’s about is the plot and then the plot somehow gives birth to a protagonist.” “Those are your two options – you’ve got one or the other and that’s it. My take is that neither one work.”

RSF: The above seems to be part of the “content” Cron wants to pass off as thoughtful and insightful. But coming up with a new catchword (“pantsing”) is not helpful if the phrase is just some made up title to look like the author is only offering something original. 
Whoever is teaching that plot should begat the main character is wrong. Whoever is teaching that there are only two options to creativity is wrong. 
But those wrongs don’t make what Cron says later in her interview right -- 

From Cron Interview: “Every character enters the story already wanting something and that’s their agenda going all the way through. I remember at one of my UCLA classes, everyone had works in progress. I asked them “what does your protagonist enter wanting?”

RSF: I had to read the above quote a couple times just to be sure I understood what she was trying to say. I think I do when I write this – Her statement above shows a complete lack of understanding of how almost every great work from popular and critically acclaimed creators are constructed for commercial mass audiences. I’m talking, film, TV, and novels. Across the board. That’s how scary what she says above is.
I will use a couple of her own examples she cites in her interview to prove how wrong she is. In the beginning of the HBO series, “The Night of” the main character, Kaz, “enters wanting” -- to go to a party. 
In the beginning of the movie “Die Hard,” the character, John McCain “enters wanting” -- to reconcile with his estranged wife and goes to her company Christmas party hoping to make it happen. 

Now what happens after the “1st act break spin” (potentially landing structurally at different places in the storyline when we’re talking TV series vs. 120-page Movie Screenplay) in both projects ends up sending the story… the plot… the main character… in a profoundly different direction regarding the narrative. Profoundly different. 
Creating a narrative from what the main character believes they "want" when they “enter” the story… and what they end up doing during the rest of the story (no matter TV series or movie) is actually an essential part of the craft and art of creating a story one intends for commercial audiences. 
So when Cron seeks supposedly her important info from storytellers about what the main character wants when they enter, then chastises the creator when it is not what ends up being what the story often is about… well, that’s what I would call a fundamental creative disconnect. A disconnect from creators who work professionally, and audiences who are looking for a good story. 
The above is why I wrote what I first wrote in response to Cron’s interviews.
Despite whatever she has accomplished, and claims to know about creativity, Cron is clearly clueless about the basics of storytelling. 
Furthermore, I maintain what I originally wrote, that there are more quotes that are equally ill informed from her interview that I object to and would do your readers a disservice if they were to be treated seriously.

Less than 24 Hours Later -- Creative Screenwriting responds 

CS: Richard Finney, thanks for this insightful post. The CS team really enjoyed reading it and discussing your thoughts!
I'd like to respond to some of your issues.
One of your challenges comes to the objectivity of tuition. The idea that there is advice which is right and advice which is wrong. 

In some areas of teaching its pretty clear that this can be established. "Don't jump off cliffs". When it comes to something as subtle as storytelling, it is far harder to say that advice is categorically right or wrong. 

Compare the advice of another writer who challenges the screenwriting books, John Milius, with the advice of Robert McKee (interview coming later this week!)

These two have directly contrasting views on the value of screenwriting books. I don't think CS is interested in who is 'right'. We publish their views and leave it to the reader to decide if they agree.

We've published interviews with many people whose views I personally disagree with, who give advice I wouldn't. 

And Tom Stempel's column is extremely subjective. I frequently disagree with him on his reviews, but I'm delighted to publish a strong intelligent voice.


You wished we had asked more questions about some of the topics. That might be a fair criticism, but of course interviews are often time-constrained and the journalist often has to try and balance out the interview.


When we publish a craft article, the advice comes from Creative Screenwriting. If you'd felt this way about one of our craft articles, I'd be extremely concerned.

The content of our craft articles is edited and amended by Creative Screenwriting, whereas we never edit the *content* of interviews.


You'll notice I've not directly agreed with or challenged any of your interesting and thoughtful criticisms - I think mostly I should maintain an editorial dispassion. I hope you think that's fair. And I'd be delighted if others joined in this discussion.

If you want to mail me, I'd be delighted to hear from you. I have an open submission policy! 

Sam Roads 

Here was my response --

RSF: I appreciate your kind words in your response above.

CS wrote - When it comes to something as subtle as storytelling, it is far harder to say that advice is categorically right or wrong. 

RSF: You are right to call attention to the issue. And I agree 100% with what you write above. I attempted to speak about the very same point in one of my original responses when I wrote, “Whoever is teaching that plot should begat the main character is wrong. Whoever is teaching that there are only two options to creativity is wrong.” But I should have added more to both sentences so my point would have been more successfully conveyed. Something like – “Wrong,” because there are so many different ways to create a story, therefore, anyone who claims there is a specific path to take to creativity is wrong. But your response, your words on this point definitely clarifies a very important issue. 

CS wrote: Compare the advice of another writer who challenges the screenwriting books, John Milius, with the advice of Robert McKee (interview coming later this week!) 
RSF: Again, I agree with your point that “when it comes to… storytelling… it is far harder to say that advice is categorically right or wrong.” And I do appreciate (because I find them also appropriate for this specific creative exchange) your choice of the two people you cite to illustrate your point in “comparing advice” - John Milius, who had a long history of working as a professional screenwriter/filmmaker in the entertainment industry; and Robert Mckee, who is definitely largely responsible for ushering in the whole screenwriting teaching business. Though he did work as an industry professional as a TV writer, his success in the last four decades plus, has made popular the choice of teaching/coaching screenwriting as a professional pursuit. 

CS: We've published interviews with many people whose views I personally disagree with, who give advice I wouldn't. And Tom Stempel's column is extremely subjective. I frequently disagree with him on his reviews, but I'm delighted to publish a strong intelligent voice.

RSF: I understand and agree with your points above. Your job description did not and should not come with the requirement that you agree with the content of everything you guys publish. You are not the editor of propaganda pamphlets or an in-house company newsletter. I also agree that the best way to serve your readership is to give them multiple points of view on the craft of writing. However…

CS: You wished we had asked more questions about some of the topics. That might be a fair criticism, but of course interviews are often time-constrained and the journalist often has to try and balance out the interview.

RSF: … If there are time restraints that a journalist faces that do not allow the writer to properly prepare/interview/edit the piece, than the work of that writer shouldn’t be published. And whatever the reason regarding the Cron interview, the lack of follow up questions engaging the subject to clarify her statements ended up being a P.R. person’s wet dream – essentially an interview that reads like a set of questions sent out to the subject… answered in whatever way the subject feels like answering… and then published without any sign of journalistic engagement. The Cron interviews read like something included in a press kit put together by a publisher/author promoting a book. There’s nothing wrong with blogs or any website recycling press kit interviews for content, if the blog/websites do not have any higher ambition than to recycle press releases. 
I obviously believe CS has a higher standard, with an established history of being a publication that has always treated Professional Screenwriting as both a craft and an art form. 

CS: You'll notice I've not directly agreed with or challenged any of your interesting and thoughtful criticisms - I think mostly I should maintain an editorial dispassion. I hope you think that's fair. And I'd be delighted if others joined in this discussion. 

RSF: I do think your editorial dispassion is the way to go. And I appreciate the tone and content of your response to my responses concerning this subject. I hope it leads to more people being engaged.


A piece on The Shiningposted on the BlueCat Screenwriting site asks this question in the title - "Who is the Antagonist?" I'm sure the post by blucat was meant to be provacative, not only with the title, but in the content as well. The goal was to have the piece resonate with readers interested in the art and craft of screenwriting. However, the piece, apparently "staff" written by those who work at blucat, is wrong headed no matter who authored the post because of this premise -- In the Stanley Kubrick movie adaptation, Jack Torrance, is a protagonist who eventually becomes the antagonist as the story progresses. 
The above premise is supported by many objectionable passages including this one -- "The audience experiences the film through Jack Torrence’s point of view."  

None of the above is close to an accurate reading of Kubrick's movie.  
Why should I bother to respond? 
I believe that any company attempting to get fledging screenwriters to enter their contests (which is how blucat makes money - via the entrance fees and other add on purchases that contest entrants are offered during the online process) should at least demonstrate a basic understanding of the standard principles of screenwriting when they are judging screenwriters and their efforts. 
For the record, I have never entered any of my screenplays in a blucat contest, nor do I know any of the people who are, or in the past, have worked at the company.   

Let me begin my response to blucat's piece stating the obvious -- Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining was designed with the character of Jack Torrance as the Antagonist from the very beginning of the narrative. There are reasons that this might have proved to be a mystery to the staff at blucat, but anyone viewing the film for some pointers on screenwriting can proceed forward without any concern that this is an ambiguous issue.  

We'll start our support of this position by attacking the ridiculous statement in the blucat piece cited earlier — "The audience experiences the film through Jack Torrence’s point of view."  
Kubrick's film is definitely not shot with the P.O.V. of Jack Torrence. If the story was seen through his character's P.O.V, we would not be experiencing scenes separate from anything involving Jack, which are objectively shot to depict the real protagonists in the film - "Danny" and "Wendy". There are a lot of scenes spread throughout the three acts that don't include Jack's character (let's mention three, all in the first act -- Wendy's interview with the Social worker / Danny talking to Tony in the
bathroom before he faints / Danny talking to Hallorann about his gift). And every scene is treated as if Jack is not privy to how any of the content of those scenes affect his character or the overall narrative. The filmmaking also handles these scenes with an objective P.O.V., with every scene consistent in style, tone, and plot development with the rest of the film.

Indeed, the filmmaking ends up also being consistent with almost every other movie Stanley Kubrick shot in his career. Similar to the films "Barry Lyndon" and "2001," Kubrick utilized a narrative style that was essential and equal to the content of the material, a omniscient P.O.V. that almost seems to be looking down at the folly of humankind's existence in a cold, detached way. Take for example, the opening credit sequence of The Shining, shot from a helicopter, with Kubrick's camera tracking a small motor vehicle making its way on the long winding road toward a destination (which turns out to be the Overlook hotel), completely surrounded by an open expanse of nature, not just mountains and surrounding bodies of water, but as the car drives to a higher elevation, the sequence depicts a change in the surrounding environment, similar to seasonal changes - sunny turns to snow covered mountains. The entire credit sequence is show with an omniscient P.O.V. a technically flawless tracking shot that would end up being employeed by the director (in some form) again and again (think of Danny being followed by the camera as he drives his big wheel through the hotel hallways) throughout the rest of the film.  

The original book by Stephen King depicted the character of Jack Torrance in a way that one could see him (when reading the novel before Kubrick's adaptation) as a "protagonist," along with the other protagonists clearly defined in the book, Wendy and Danny. The book's clear definition of these three protagonists is at the heart of the many problems King had with Kubrick's adaptation. From the beginning of the film's narrative "Jack" (played by Jack Nicholson) is clearly depicted as a man wearing a mask to hide the emotional desperation he's feeling in his life. Nicholson has a likable, charming persona on screen (one of the reasons he was cast), which can mislead viewers who might buy into the charming mask he is wearing like the hotel executives who hire him. However, this is all part of the film's creative construction (and another aspect of the adaptation that King believed was wrong with the film -- the way Nicholson plays Jack reveals he's a nut waiting to crack from the very beginning), that Kubrick wants audiences to witness -- how someone like Jack is given opportunities of responsibilities that count on his mental soundness to succeed. 
The character we watch at the beginning of the movie is not our "hero." He's the villain of the movie. Jack Torrance is a seriously flawed human being, with "pre-offense behavioral indicators," facing a "precipitating situation" (two phrases grabbed from the verbiage used by profilers to describe violent offenders) that will push the character from being someone who in the past has hurt the ones he loves to someone who will end up trying to kill his family.  

There is no doubt that the film has a completely different creative take than the original book. The changes Kubrick made in his adaptation of the two characters, Jack and Wendy, end up informing many of the other creative liberties he took with the source material. The book is essentially about three characters battling the supernatural forces haunting the hotel. Eventually the dark forces lure one of the characters to change sides. This is completely different than the movie adaptation which opens with Jack as the antagonist as he takes on a new job that he hopes will allow him a new start in life, but ends up being the final catalyst to a darker transformation. What is fascinating about watching Kubrick's take on the dynamics of a family unit is how a terrible member is excused time and time again for his behavior by his loved ones, until their is an finally escalation that threatens their lives. 

From the blucat piece -- "Kubrick chose to portray Wendy in the way her husband felt about her: disturbing, creepy, useless and annoying." This statement was written to support the wrongheaded opening premise ("The audience experiences the film through Jack Torrence’s point of view. "). Whatever audiences of the Kubrick film think of Wendy, her character (depicted objectively, not through Jack's P.O.V.) is one of two main protagonists in the film.  
Not that it really matters, but those who don't "like" Wendy as a protagonist should know the depiction of her character in the film actually is consistent with some traditional beats in the standard horror template (a "weak" protagonist who becomes stronger by the end of the movie and survives the ordeal and/or helps another protagonist to survive) which Kubrick was trying to immulate so he had some of the trappings of a typical horror genre film while at the same time expanding the creative scope in other ways. 
The character of Wendy couldn't be more different in Kubrick's movie when compared to King's book (where Wendy is depicted in a much stronger way regarding her self-esteem and personal attributes.) Kubrick chose to go with his creative take on Wendy's character because he believed that anyone who would stay with a husband like Jack was inherently weak in some crucial way, or she would have left the marriage when Jack had violently abused their son (an act of violence that is a back story element in both book and film adaptation). Perhaps Kubrick would portray "Wendy" differently if written today. We now know more about the dynamics of abuse between a husband and wife, and the more nuance view is that there are complicated reasons females stay with an abusive male spouse that might not have anything to do with a personality flaw that is broadly visible from anyone looking in from the outside.  

The other main protagonist in the film, Danny, is a character faced with a true protagonist challenge — how does he overcome the antagonist who threatens his life... and who also happens to be his father. This set up is the key to understanding how Kubrick's film continues to resonate over generations of new film watchers. Discovering that the bad guy who wants you dead is your own flesh and blood, family... a parent, is truly horrifying whether it is set at a resort hotel or in a suburban house, anywhere, USA.  And every new generation of young viewers who see the film tap into this fear. 

The maze in the film's hotel is a swap for what King depicts in his novel as a park of hedge animals that come alive and chase after Danny at the climax of the book. The change for the movie adapatation was made for FX reasons (Kubrick was convinced the state of 1980's FX technology was not up to the task of rendering scary Hedge animals for the big screen). Regardless of the motivation behind the swap for Hedge animals for the maze, the change ended up being consistent with Kubrick's thematic take on the material he was creating. Danny is still running from a killer in the third act, but not hedge animal manifestations conjured up by the evil spirits haunting the hotel. The boy is trying to stay one step ahead of his own father who wants to kill him.  

Kubrick depicts Jack as the Antagonist from the very beginning of the film. But like any great writing, the best way for audiences to connect with the story is for the creator to depict the "human" side of both the protagonist and the antagonist. The Shining spends time with the antagonist in a way that we are entertained by his complete crossover to the dark side of his human personality... which allows us to fear for our protagonists and their prospects for survival. There is no "growth" in the way Jack proceeds through the narrative (one potential indicator of a true protagonist and his journey through the three acts of the story). On this one point, Wendy and Danny do change, both grow as the storyline plays out. They are different... smarter, by the conclusion of the story due to their ordeal. Their growth emerges from a fight with an enemy, not so much the hotel spirits, but a family member hell-bent on killing the ones he loves.   

This is the First of Many Future Posts about how Indie Theatrical Films can be revived in an Era where -- 

The Major Hollywood Studios have focused on Producing Big Budget Franchise Comic Book Movies 

And Audiences satisfy their entertainment needs by choosing from a slew of programming options during the 
Neo-Golden Age of TV

Cast a Legendary Actor in a Role Guaranteed not only to Showcase his Immense Talents...But is a Character the actor would never commit to if he were contractually obligated to play the same role for three to five years on a TV series.  

The Positive Reviews For the New Indie Film HELL OR HIGH WATER all mention the great performance by Jeff Bridges. The great notices help to make this indie release special. I'm opting to record the Olympics and catch the movie tonight in the Theatre. 


VARIETY Raves about how "HELL OR HIGH WATER" -- ...'The Best Movie of the Summer, But Is There an Audience for It?

I knew this would be one of the movies that will be discussed/used to illustrate how Indie Filmmakers can Strike Back in the theatrical marketplace. Check out Owen Gleiberman's piece because he understands some of the issues in play...  

UPDATE: Today I read (on Medium) a really great piece on the subject of writing -- 7 differences between professional and amateurs written by Jeff Goins. His list has insightful info regarding the topic of creativity I was attempting to explore with this post.

I also have the link to the piece written by Goins listed on my blog sidebar - RECENT POSTS THAT I READ YOU MIGHT FIND INTERESTING

I'm really looking forward to watching the new series "The Night Of..." premiering on HBO this Sunday. 
I'm also using the premiere of the series as an opportunity to write about — the difference between the way a fan of good TV/Film thinks, and the way a professional Screenwriter / Filmmaker thinks when watching the same Show/Movie.  

The Evolution from being a Fan of Entertainment to becoming a Professional is a tricky and complicated process. It’s a journey filled with numerous obstacles, so many, that most people who really love movies and TV, end up never becoming a professional who creates entertainment. There are logical reasons behind this fact, some are obvious, but the critical ones are more complicated. One of the complicated ones is how a person ends up viewing entertainment -- the mindset of one who enjoys is profoundly different than the one who creates.  

One of the projects I'm working on is a Film Noir thriller. And in reading the review of "The Night Of" recently posted in Variety, I naturally began marking it up with notes. Making notes in the margins is often what I do out of habit, usually a warm up before I work on creating later. 
I now share with you two of several notes I wrote while reading the review. 

The Variety Review of "The Night of" is on the Left.
My Margin Comments are on the Right.

Theatrical movies look bigger, bolder, and in many ways, more beautiful than at any time during its one hundred year-plus history as an art form. 
And yet, what we often now see up on the big screen is... less. 
Less variety in subject matter/genre. 
Less substance in the storyline/themes that are worthy of discussing with friends/family/online. 
For at least the last ten years, the theatrical movie has fallen out of favor as the number-one place to stir the passion of the entertainment public. 
When we now talk about what we’ve seen, or solicit advice from others about what we should watch, the conversation is inevitably about TV, not theatrical movies. 

If you’re too young to remember, you’ll just have to trust me when I write that there was a time when a hit movie could dictate fashion changes; unleash brand new trends, and often times lead the way in the public discussion of controversial subjects. 
The Film world’s influence in modern society began with the European New Wave filmmakers in the 60’s led by Lester, Godard, and Truffaut. That movement inspired the 70s filmmaking reformation in this country where the major studios had been producing big-budget disasters that were no different than the same kind of movies they had been producing for the last three or four decades. Young filmmakers like Spielberg, Coppola, and Scorcese ended up shooting movies that were produced and distributed by the major studios. Their films appealed to younger audiences that became excited about movie making as an art form. “Taxi Driver,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Apocalypse Now” became movies not only tackling new subject matter, but doing it in a way that was driving the public debate as well. 
Somehow, all of that influence has largely vanished and feels now like ancient history. 
Today, when the discussion about theatrical movies occurs at all, its mostly along the lines of die hard comic book enthusiasts exchanging their views on such topics like whether actor Ben Affleck is worthy enough as an actor to play “Batman.” 

This is not the first time that theatrical movies have lost their connection to the cultural zeitgeist. And there are experts who believe what has happened is just part of an “historical cycle,” a common and predictable event, which often ends up repeating itself over and over again. Those who believe this theory (I was once one of these true believers) caution that there is nothing to worry about. The natural forces will balance everything out eventually. What was once up will come down. What goes down will often rise up again. All the creative power we now see on TV will eventually migrate back to the production of studio films. We just need to wait until the cycle plays itself out. 
But I'm afraid. 
Not everything in history ends up repeating itself. 
What was once thriving can actually go extinct. 
Specifically, I fear that the Theatrical movie as an art form has lost its way. 
At one time Theatrical Movies were the perfect blending of art and business in delivering entertainment to the mass audiences. And the combination inspired the best and brightest minds for the last fifty years to seek a career in Hollywood.  

Not so much anymore. 



Hollywood has made it difficult in the past for artists to break into the bubble. The invent and accessibility of good affordable cameras, gear and online classes has paved the way for a new wave of mavericks. 

Truth be told, these mavericks do not need Hollywood. Hollywood needs them -- but they're going to have to take a chance. Since it all starts w the script Hollywood needs to find fresh global voices -- voices that are outside the bubble. Voices that can bring fresh stories instead of revamped remakes and blockbuster formulas that don't always work. 

- Deb Havener is a Producer/Writer at Pretty Eggs Productions

Theatres in LA aren't posting what films are even playing on their signs or show times--giving up on casual movie goers as an audience. Stand alone art house theatres are virtually gone. 

- Jay Woelfel is Mangaging Member at Season of Darkness, LLC

Make new, original movies. Make movies for the world, not America. Make movies that have substance, like anime. Make movies that expose truth. Make movies that show how to create a new system. 

- Sean Browne is a Filmmaker at Atoms Movie, LLC 

I agree most of the interesting storytelling - and storytellers - have moved into TV. 
I'm not sure how to resurrect the "theatrical, David Lean" type production. (It's just so expensive to do a wide release now that the project has to be bland and bullet-proof.) 

- Michael Rogan is a Screenwriting Instructor, Screenplay Reader, and Author

I just answered my first question on the website earlier this month. The question felt like it was right up my alley! Here's the original question and my answer below -- 

Q: What are some facts movie directors know that common people don't?

A: A good or great director knows how to manipulate an audience watching a film. The director knows how to use every aspect of moviemaking – the script,the acting, the music, the photography, and other “mood” enhancers such as production design, lighting, costumes, makeup, and editing. All, and much more are used in the creation of a film. 

Every step of the way the final goal is to have a film that manipulates the viewer into feeling, thinking, and experiencing the screen story in a way that is purposeful and carefully designed. Every decision is meant to manipulate the audience to laugh; feel afraid; or cry, while the story plays on the big screen.

The medium of Film has proved to be a very powerful way of impacting a mass audience. Before movies there was live performances, books, and music. All had a significant impact on audiences when the work engaged their audience. The artist behind the work was able to connect with the audience by using their talent, skills, and techniques, to manipulate the reaction to their story.

Movies became the “Perfect Storm” of audience manipulation when the medium was able to achieve a symbiosis of all the arts that had come before –performance, the narrative storyline, music, and projected images. Collectively the new medium allowed a perfect simulation of the way people see the world, if not in their everyday world… then in their dreams, a subconscious vision of life played back during R.E.M induced dreams and nightmares.

Film directing is shooting a movie with a clear understanding of how the audience experiences the world, experiences movies, and how the two combine to construct a mental process that takes in the world around them, awake and asleep.

Everyone is different. Every generation sees things differently. 
A film director must figure out how to manipulate his audience when watching his movie so that his work will endure. 

Not just over the weekend, but years, or even decades from now.

What is the DNA of a Successful Creative Artist?* 

One of the areas I’m working on with the next Professional Screenwriting book is helping artists achieve self-awareness while they pursue their craft. 
To that end, I believe much can be learned from studying creative artists, past and present. Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time looking for patterns that might reveal the answers to key and relevant (meaning 2016) questions concerning creativity. 
I’ve come up with more than 20 compelling elements worth considering if you are wondering whether you have... the right stuff.  
With this post I want to share 10 of those 20+ attributes I believe many successful artists have in common. With the exception of the first attribute, none of the other 9 are ranked in any special order of importance: 

1 Most successful creative artists have a history of being able to demonstrate their innate creative/artistic talent to third parties able to judge such attributes.Even "late bloomers" (those who end up successful late in life) will almost always have a history of showing innate talent early in their life. Natual talent for a particular art or craft is always a huge factor in profiling successful artists. 

2 The successful artist usually has a lifelong passion for the creative arts. 

3 Even though there may be a lifelong passion for the creative arts, the successful artist has a history of progression from being a fan of Movies/TV/Books/Media to being part of the creative process.  

4 Many successful Creative Artists have spent a lot of time, (sometimes years), thinking critically about the art and craft of movies/TV/books/media. Their thoughts are intended for public consumption and often times are paid for by a third party. 

5 Successful artists often create without any guarantee of financial compensation. Sure every artist will dream at times of a huge payday for their creative efforts, but such fantasies are often not what fuels their effort. 

6 The successful creative artist usually has an extensive early history of creativity. It doesn't have to be a prodigy situation, but we are most likely talking about an early childhood passion — shooting home movies… charcoal sketches of friends… acting in Junior high school plays… learning a musical instrument, etc. 

7 The successful creative artist is self-driven. This often times leads to becoming the originator of a movie/TV/books/media project (which involves other Creative Artists the artist may not know before the project ;and is not a vanity project meant to be seen only by family /close friends). This is all about the successful creative artist at one time refusing to wait for others to grant him/her entry into the creative club, but instead acting independantly to control their own creative fate. 

8 We’ll call this the Malcom Gladwell 10k Rule - Creative Success is achieved by spending 10,000 hours of learning a specific craft - screenwriting... directing... acting... writing.. or performing music in Hamburg, Germany until you've learned your trade. 

9 There is a distinct pattern shared by many Successful Creative Artists that demonstrate the ability to learn their craft (as an apprentice/ with the help of a mentor/ by real time experience), usually over a long educational process. The successful creative artist then has the character trait to expertly apply what has been learned to enhance their talent and creative skills. 
The ability to learn/grow/evolve as a creative artist is a key factor if an one is to eventually succeed. 

10 Strong social skills are often a very important component to achieving creative success. This is more an existential reality in the modern world of entertainment and the arts than ever before.  What do I mean by “Social Skills?” Here's one key example — the ability to express a creative vision to the other artists who will be able to help a specific project become a production reality... and a success.  

* It's fair to ask the question, what is my definition of “a Successful Creative Artist?" For this list only, I define a successful creative artist as one who has achieved positive financial and/or positive critical and/or positive audience reaction to at least one creative work, specifically created for a commercial/mass audience.

Handling Rejection in the Entertainment Industry as a Professional… and Non-Professional. (Part 1)  

How one handles REJECTION while pursuing their Professional dreams as a Screenwriter / Filmmaker can be a key factor in how long your career lasts in the Entertainment Industry (“EI”). I would rank it up in the top three factors impacting a career (even above "talent") and probably the number-one factor in deciding the success of someone who seeks to break into the EI.  

This is a big, complicated subject and I plan on devoting more than one online post addressing the subject. I kick things off by laying the ground work for why rejection is such a huge factor in the EI.  

Five Entertainment Industry Truisms regarding Rejection as a way of doing business. 

1 Working in the Entertainment Industry is perceived by the rest of the world as sexy, glamorous, and the way to become rich and/or famous. This is why the EI attracts the best and brightest people from all over the world who hope to become part of it. And of course it also attracts (from all over the world) the far-from-the-finest, the not- so-smart, and the people without any talent. This explains why there is a massive amount of people who want to be part of the club. 
It also partially explains why professionals have a difficult time maintaining their status in the EI. Everyone has a script they’ve written… or wants to be an actor… or wants to direct… or wants to be a hyphenate and do all three. Most will do anything they can to become connected with a successful movie or TV show. 
Very few professions invoke such passion and obsession. I would claim that no other profession even comes close (even though my use of the term EI is specifically referring to the Movie and TV industry. If I was writing also about Music... forget about it. There's no other profession in the world that is at the same level.) 

2 The systemic way the EI largely weeds out the wannabes from those who end up becoming professionals is through Attrition. And one of the main weapons used in this system is... Rejection
Everything having to do with getting a foothold in the industry seems hopeless or next to impossible in the way business is conducted daily.  

3 The system of attrition / rejection leads to most people attempting a career in the EI to quickly give up in their effort. This is why the system has been part of the EI since working in movies and TV became a life goal. 

4 Those who do end up becoming Professionals often struggle and have short careers because of this system of attrition. Sustaining any kind of success is problematic over the long haul when one (especially a "creative artist") must go up against a system that is grounded in the concept of rejection.  

5 The Attrition System employed by the EI is still the most common way of welcoming newcomers and nurturing artistic talent.  
Under the Attrition System, rejection, in one form or another, usually occurs regularly, even for a Professional working in the Entertainment Industry. Those who want to break into the EI will likely face even more rejection until they become a Professional.  

The above Truisms are why how one handles rejection, Professional or non-Professional, is critical to eventually succeeding in a profound way when going up against the E.I. attrition system.  

Are there exceptions to the above Truisms?  
You bet. One obvious example is "money." If a person has money, especially enough money to finance movies, the attrition system doesn’t apply. But what’s the point of going into the exceptions.  
Mostly everyone who attempts to break in or succeed in the Entertainment Industry will suffer rejection.  
So let’s proceed on that path.  
The next post will deal with how some people handle rejection badly and how others use the attrition system to their advantage.   

Below are some Excerpts taken from Screenwriters (no names, just their real words) responding to their scripts being rejected by me (evaluating their screenplays as a Film Producer).

"From everything you said in your email, you had your mind made up."  

"I hate to be put in this kind of position where someone like you lacks merit and is a poor, very poor judgement of character."  

"You are literally the only person, whether actor, writer, or professional note giver (and two have read this script), to say that my characters all sound alike and are one-dimensional."  

"You don't pull any punches. You sound like you’re attacking me personally. I guess that's your role and part, to exclude, degrade, and insult an innocent person like me."  

"I’m a nice person by default, but this doesn’t make me a pushover. I don’t see any reason to destroy another person’s work."  

"I challenge you to eat some of my truth as I admit to eating some of yours. Understanding and admitting I have started to climb, but knowing I still have room to always improve, I do hope we can continue from here. That's all up to you. Perhaps we both can learn."

Let me contrast the above quotes from wannabe screenwriters with how I handled rejection at a critical point in my career.
This story takes place years ago, when it was still possible as an uncredited screenwriter to sell pitches.

The executive was Jason Hoffs, a VP at Dreamworks SKG. We (my writing partner at the time was James Bonny) had been pitching to Jason for three years running, at least four different projects during that time. However, every pitch ended with the same result – rejection. A pass from him and his studio.
Now we had a new pitch for a project titled, “Alien Zoo.”
The producer who was shopping the project with us, Robert Lawrence, asked us if we could pitch a different executive at Dreamworks, someone who he had set up projects with before. But I insisted on pitching Jason Hoffs, the same executive who had turned down our previous four pitches. Why?
Why go back to the executive who rejected me?
Here’s my answer — Even though Jason had rejected our previous pitches, I honestly felt he loved what we were doing. He couldn’t sell what we pitched him to the higher ups, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t being sincere with his enthusiasm. And perhaps more importantly, I believed I had learned something new about Jason (and
Dreamworks) every time we pitched to him. All four times, after hearing the rejections from him, I had the same reaction – the next time I pitch Jason, the result will be different. And I certainly felt this way about the latest pitch, “Alien Zoo.” In many ways, the project was developed with his sensibilities in my mind.
We pitched to Jason Hoffs on Day Two, of a Two-Day campaign where we hit all the major studios and production companies with our pitch for “Alien Zoo.” Jason heard our pitch in the morning and called our agent immediately, telling him that he loved the project and was going to pitch his boss… Steven Spielberg. 
At the end of the day, our agent got another call from Jason telling him that he had pitched Steven our project and Spielberg wanted to hear the full pitch the next morning. By this time, “Alien Zoo” had already gotten a wonderful offer from Disney Studios. We decided to put off closing that deal so we could pitch “Alien Zoo” to the top director in town. The next day, after a pitch meeting with Steven Spielberg, we closed a writing deal for our project, “Alien Zoo” with Steven Spielberg’s studio, Dreamworks. The payday was $350,000. We would have made a lot more if the project got made as a movie, but to date it still has not happened. 

Do I have regrets looking back? Yeah, for sure. 
I wish I was as smart and creative then as I am now as a screenwriter. I firmly believe I would have gotten a movie made from my pitch.  
Complaints? None. 
I ended up working with some huge people in the entertainment industry on that project, an experience that ended up influencing my entire career. 
And I got paid a lot of money allowing me to keep on going as a professional screenwriter; and become a professional producer as well.

But here’s the point in relating this story – my success with “Alien Zoo” began with a choice to pitch to Jason Hoffs, a movie executive who had previously “rejected” my work. 
The guy who rejected me four times ended up being my hero. 
My life changed because of Jason Hoffs.

This is what handling rejection the right way can do for your writing career. 

The Next Post: Rejection - Pt. 3 

Four Basic Ways to handle rejection 

Over the years there have been specific ways of handling rejection that I believed has allowed me to have a thriving, longlasting career in the entertainment industry. I recommend them all for anyone really serious about working in the entertainment industry; or as mantras for the professional screenwriter hoping to keep a career moving forward. Here's what I might say to myself after something I've worked on is rejected -- 


Rejection is a system. Attrition is still the EI systemic way of dealing with the multitudes who aspire to be a part of the industry. It is 100% in practice to this very day. Therefore, one should respond to Rejection in the Entertainment Industry as part of a process that is meant to weed out those who do not “deserve” to move forward to the level where the real games begin.

And if you don't want to look at this point in such totalitarian terms, then see it as a matter of statistics. There are only a few people who are in the position to say "yes" in Hollywood, the only answer that leads to your project moving forward in a significant way. Everyone else has to say, "no." So unless you are the hottest writer, the biggest star, a whale with a ton of money to spend, you will hear "no," 99.9% of the time.


For instance, if you want to play the game of writing big-budget movies, then you should know that your choice means you will be playing the long game with your career. If you win, you win big. But you will almost always lose with a big budget (spec) screenplay because, now, more than ever before, maklng movies is about the money (& Branding) Not just the production budget, but also the marketing expenses to launch a big studio franchise movie. Both are stacked up against the worldwide gross of a project and if the numbers don’t add up… you won’t get traction on your script/project. 
There are ways to hedge your bets, ways to make your project sexier and enhance the chances of it getting produced, but a big-budget spec script will always be about the long game strategy. 
Can you handle that as a writer? 
In the long game, facing rejection becomes a familiar beast best handled with patience and persistence. 
Or don’t bother.


Naiveté allows too many doors to remain open, inviting too many people the opportunity to take advantage of you along the way, telling you what you want to hear rather than the truth.

Bitterness closes too many doors. It generally is a result of not being able to handle the truth about your work. 
Bitterness typically takes the form of blaming everything and everyone but yourself for career disappointments — the messenger, the system, the people in your past.
You should only be striving to succeed in this industry with eyes wide open... to everything that might and probably will happen. But never let your eyes end up bloodshot from what is happening to you. If you can't consistently stay in the middle of these two extremes, then walk away... before people need to help carry you off the field. 


Yeah, I know, everyone wants to believe they are learning from every rejection they receive. But here's the thing -- most people would like to believe they are learning from feedback, but most never do. They usually pay all their mental attention to the good and explain away the bad. They don't have the confidence in their ability and their craft to believe that what comes their way negatively will only make them a better writer.

This is the way most feedback begins when one is talking to a real writer hoping the feedback will help their work get better —  

ME: Do you want me to go into how great the first act is, how the main character is wonderful... 

PROFESSIONAL SCREENWRITER: I appreciate the kind words, but let's skip that and get to the second act, when the main character discovers the truth about his past. What do you think I can do to make that entire sequence work better?  

Learning from Rejection means questioning your talent and ability as a Professional Screenwriter.  
The ones who get better are the ones who doubt what they are doing on some level of their effort.  
The best writers I know, no matter what they've already accomplished, are always questioning what they are writing. Usually, this is how they ended up with something they've accomplished to look back on.  
This is the real reason that the good writers are generally not pleasant people to be around.  
And its the reason those who write as a hobby, are always happy about what they are working on. Ignorance can be bliss when know one is telling you you're an idiot.  

When one gets rejected, do what you must to remain standing, but don't draw on the power of saying the person who has rejected you is wrong about your work. 
Indeed, I believe in your contemplation of the work you should always start here — 
Assume they are right. 
I promise you — You'll have the best chance of learning from the rejection if you start there.   


As an Independent Producer, I’m Pitched Projects all the time. 
There are three methods to Sell your Script that I believed should be retired forever. I call them the Red Flags to getting my attention because they only make me run the other way when I see them as a producer. 
As an Independent Producer, I’m Pitched Projects all the time. 
There are three methods to Sell your Script that I believed should be retired forever. I call them the Red Flags to getting my attention because they only make me run the other way when I see them as a producer. 

1 - A Writer brags about how many scripts they’ve written. 

This is the most common Red Flag I receive. Something along the lines of – 
“I’ve finished writing Eleven Screenplays!” 
“I wrote three screenplays during my senior year in college!” 
“I've only recently turned my attention to writing screenplays, and I’ve already completed four scripts!” 

I get why this sales technique has become popular – the person pitching their story is trying to establish their writing ability by reassuring the producer/agent/industry executive that they are not a “beginning” writer. 
The problem is that this query line is usually only effective if it is followed by more information — which of the projects has been – optioned... are in development (with a producer/production company/studio)... got the writer an agent... or is actually in production. 
Even a “semi-final” ranking in a screenplay contest is better than allowing the total number of screenplays written to stand alone.  
However, my advice is to get rid of how many scripts you’ve written and concentrate on the one script you’re hoping I read. Get my attention with a great description of the storyline along with why your background, especially if it relates to the subject matter of your project, makes you the one person best qualified to have written the script. 

2 – A Writer boasts about how fast he can write.  

Hard to believe to believe that writers do this, but they do it all the time. 
Perhaps because everything is supposed to be better when its done faster, people fall into the trap of thinking that this is a selling point concerning their work. 
The latest NaNo Writing Challenge was just completed (write a novel in 30 days, etc.), and I hope all the participants met their goals. Personally, I believe challenges like NaNo do encourage creative writing, but my fear is that this has led many to believe that finishing a script in 30 days is an accomplishment that industry professionals will appreciate. 
Not so. 
Within the industry, Professional Screenwriters don't need a writing challenge to motivate them to work. 
I’ve always claimed that those who write professionally pretty much go crazy if they don’t write.  
And if a Professional Screenwriter isn't writing pretty much every day the entire year to finish their projects, they won’t be writing professionally for very long. 

So anyone who tries to sell me on the concept that I should be reading their script, or respect their ability as a writer because they wrote the script in less than 30 days is pitching to the wrong producer. 

3 – A Writer Claims it took years… and years to complete the writing of a screenplay.  

The pitch with the longest declaration was “fifteen years to research and eleven long years to write.” 
Most screenwriters who use this technique mention three to five "agonizing," "tortuous" years, almost as if they were describing doing time in prison rather writing a script. 

Here’s what you should you know – a lot of producers, and I’m one for sure, have a pathological fear of screenwriters who come off as mental cases about their work. To begin with, many (if not most) Professional Screenwriters (at least the ones with talent) usually are a bit mental in some way or another, which is probably one reason why industry scribes tend to have the short career span similar to linebackers who play in the NFL. 

This is why I’m always on the lookout for any proof that what I'm being pitched concerning the longevity of the writing makes me reluctant to pursue the work. For instance, a writer should never sound like he's describing a child who’s been part of the social service system rather than a screenplay they’ve written – “I found this project in the forest, close to death. It took me years of care and attention, but finally last month she was able to speak in complete sentences. I believe you could be the one I entrust to see this delicate flower the rest of the way." 

Wrong. I'm not the right choice for your project. For starters, it's impossible for me to read a script when I can't stop rolling my eyes.  

How Putting the Possibility of Failure in Play Everyday should be the MJ Strategy for Professional Screenwriters

I've talked about the Michael Jordan "Success through failure" example/philosophyto other creators. Here's what I believe is the most important take away from the above. 
Michael Jordan achieved confidence even when he missed at the end of the game because he knew he was going to get the ball the next game with only seconds on the clock; and he would get it again the game after that; and the game after that... EVEN IF HE MISSED.
The key to this philosophy (which I do believe is profound) is that when you have talent, and work hard at your craft, one of the best ways to get better at what you do is to every day assume you will have the ball at crunch time.
Of course, you will fail, but you’ll also succeed a lot, and you will quickly discover that failure is not something to fear, but learn from — and the first lesson is not to be afraid to fail and allow it to destroy your confidence.
The chances of succeeding the next time are enhanced if you can mentally learn the right lessons from the failure, and not let the wrong lessons screw with your psyche.
Again, the key is to call for the ball every game at crunch time, so your chances of success will end up reducing the fallout of any missed shots.

What the MJ lesson in Success/thru Failure Philosophy perhaps says to Professional Screenwriters is that the best way to control your creative and professional fate is to ask for the ball, every game.
Put the possibility of failure in play every day. 
When this happens, you will fail a lot, but you will also succeed in ways that are critical to your evolution as a writer. Failure has important lessons, but as long as don’t let it destroy your confidence about how to create, taking the shot every day and expanding what you know you can do with the attempt at what you might be able to achieve is a critical step in an artist’s life.
And it’s not something that can be done just once, twice or more than a few times.
When you have talent, and you work extremely hard at your craft, the goal should be to see the limits of what you are capable of doing, and only then will you perhaps work toward achieving your finest work.

Michael Jordan hit more than he missed. However, he also hit more when it counted, because MJ eliminated one aspect that often holds back artists, athletes, creators… the fear of failure.


An Unproduced Screenwriter posts a piece – 
“Time for a quick refresher course on…”
And then he offers some Bad Blog Advice… 

On "Plot Points.”
He breaks down a couple of classic movies in an outline format using page headings to mark off “plot points.”
The only problem is that he doesn’t have a clue what he’s writing about!

My comments follow each of the excerpts from his post. 
Note I've altered the "Excerpts" in a way that protects the site and writer of the blog. My goal here is not to spotlight the blog writer and his bad advice, but to save other screenwriters from following his bad advice.

Page 3 – statement of theme. What’s the overall message of your story? The theme should also be incorporated in some fashion into each scene throughout the course of the story.    

RSF: If what our blogger is writing about in his piece is about “plot points” why is he raising the issue of “Theme?” A successful plot point has almost nothing to do with theme. 
This is typical of many would-be screenwriters who have no idea what they are doing but think they can teach others about how to incorporate theme into a primer on plot points hoping that this will show they have a clue about the craft of screenwriting.

Page 10 – inciting incident. The event that shakes up your protagonist’s world…

RSF: Inciting incident is a term that I can’t figure out where it came from originally (I’ve checked on line a few times). Here's what I suspect -- some Screenplay guru (who probably has no credits for screenwriting; not a member of the WGA; and has no history of actually working with a real professional screenwriter/production company/studio) has trademarked the phrase and uses it all the time hoping that everyone who soaks up his words during seminars (rather than writing) will quote it online. I feel like an idiot right now using the phrase because I probably put some money in his pocket. 
The term I.I. is in no way a reference to what is classically considered a “plot point.” Maybe Inciting Incident is "plot beat," but not a plot point. And certainly should not be mistaken for a first act plot point.

Page 17 – a twist to further complicate things for the protagonist.

RSF: So the blog writer calls it a “twist.”
But he doesn’t define in his own blog post what he means by a “twist.” All he does is cite a line of dialogue from one of the classic movies he uses throughout his post.
Again, it only proves, he has no idea what he’s talking about concerning “plot points.”

End of Act One (page 25-30) – Your protagonist leaves behind their old world and enters a new one to achieve their goal.

RSF: Sometimes the above happens, but often times, in screenplays, the main character stays in “the world he is in” and attempts to achieve a goal. The clarification I make would be very important if you were writing a straight ahead drama that takes place over a short period of time, and generally the same location.
Once again this shows that the writer of the blog has no idea what plot points are.

FOR THE RECORD -- what is traditionally understood to be (the first) plot point in a screenplay occurs at the end of the First Act. 
And I call this plot point a “Plot Spin” whenever I’ve written about it or described it during professional interactions for a very good reason.  Understanding what a First Act Plot Spin is (and is not) often times makes or breaks your screenplay.

The plot twist on my blog piece is that the guy I write about I know because I read one of his scripts. 
And it was bad.
No surprise -- he had no clue about plot points!
To my credit, I wrote about this specificially in my feedback to him. 
I also wrote about all the other problems with his script hoping he would go back and learn some critical points about the craft.

But the main thing that should matter to anyone reading this --
Be weary of BAD BLOG ADVICE.


Dec. 5th, 2015

J B (via one of the google+ screenwriting communities) writes:
I'm inspired, but could use some help. I've started this script about a detective that corresponds with a serial killer in prison. The problem is I haven't developed much beyond the initial idea. Jack gets one of his letters then goes into a flashback to a prior victim. What dos the letter say after the flashback? Does Jack's wife become a victim. Does his daughter? Does Jack lose one, but fight to save the other? There is a killer on the loose if I take this route, and the serial killer (etc.)...

My Response to this plea for creative help is for all who would write such a message, consider that Professional Screenwriting is probably not for you to pursue as a career vocation.

Never mind the legal copyright issues that will ensue if anyone answers JB and he uses their response, which ends up transforming the script, that then gets produced (or even optioned)… ,
The entire query crosses the boundaries of creativity – it is one thing to ask for feedback on something you’ve created, but what are you if you can’t even create something without throwing in the towel and asking for help?
Not that I really fear any of the above will add up to a professionally written script (though I stand by my opinion that a lawsuit is possible; and a furious debate is likely between people who have different opinions about what “the letter says after the flashback”). 
Here’s why we'll never see the above in a movie theatre any time soon – when someone like JB writes on line about what he should do, those who respond are inevitably his peers.

Definition of “Peer” - 2. A person of the same age, status, or ability as another specified person. Origin: Middle English; from Old French peer, from Latin par ‘equal.’

November 29th, 2015


PROBLEM: I'm trying to wrap my brain around screenwriting again after some time off and it is challenging.

Think about exciting images. 
Write them all down. 

Now go back and look at all of your media interactions and take note of the things that you posted or re-posted. What was so exciting for you to take the trouble? 

Let's go back to all the images you wrote down, hopefully you have a dozen or more. 
Move to one side the ones that are (you believe) original. 
And on the other side would be the images that seem more inspired by works from other creative artists/filmmakers/storytellers/etc. 

Now take everything above and look for a pattern… 
If you see one… this is where you should be thinking more about because your creative brain is already in this space. And what you are passionate about is what you'll be excited to get back to day after day. The passion sustains you through the long process of writing a quality screenplay. 

Next, look at the two columns of images (that were part of the pattern). 
If it’s from the original side, then proceed to the next step below. 
If it’s from the inspired image side, then just know you will proceed below, but you must answer all the questions with this in mind – somewhere I’m going to need to make a left turn when thinking of the story. 

Choosing an image from above answer these questions – 
What is this about? 
What happened right before this image? 
What happens after this image? 
What happened one hour/one day/years before the image? 
What happened one hour/one day/years after the image? 
What image comes to mind when I think of this image and have started answering the questions above. 

In your answers, there should be no restrictions — use dialogue, Descriptions, Character stuff to respond to the questions. 

Step away for a bit... at least overnight. 
When you come back, if something from above still feels exciting, then move to trying to come up with what the story could be about based on the pattern, images, answers to the questions and any new images or thoughts. 
If the above doesn't get you going... then start all over with a new image that is connected to the social media pattern. 
And do all the steps again. 

One way or another, the next step is to end up writing (or outlining) a scene or two based on the image. 
Your passion should propel you to write (and Rewrite)  these couple of scenes to the point that you end up loving them enough that they will serve as your inspiration for most of the project. 

At this point I strongly suggest you resist the temptation to keep writing more scenes. 
It's time to think about the three acts of your story. 
And believe the most important thing is really to focus on the First Act and the First Act plot spin. 
If you can come up with enough exciting ideas regarding beats in the First Act and then a killer First Act Plot Spin... you’ll be sitting pretty. 

And certainly by this point, you’ll be fully engaged in the craft and art of screenwriting once again.   


Constructing the Main Character 

originally posted on October 18th, 2015

I started out in the entertainment industry writing plot/story drivenscreenplays. Enough years have passed that I will confess — 
Characters in my scripts were an afterthought.
My ideas/stories were original, and I was a good storyteller, allowing me to make a big splash in the industry. I set up several movie pitches for lots of money and I become a Professional Screenwriter. 

However, as time went on, many of the scripts based on my sold pitches weren’t getting made into movies, and I ended up facing a major challenge in my career as a screenwriter. 
I either needed to grow creatively as an artist or end up with the reputation of a hack who had a knack for great concepts/plots, but nothing else. 
My self-diagnosis was that I had a “Character” problem. 
I was writing screenplays where the main character(s) didn’t stand out, despite a strong plot/storyline. And this problem was impacting my chances of getting a movie produced from one of my screenplays. Here are just three of the many consequences I was inviting by my creative failure: 

- My lack of a strong main character(s) worked against getting interest from a "bankable" actor (or an actor whom the studio wanted to work with) to play the lead role. 

- The protagonists in my screenplays weren't emotionally engaging the executive(s) at the studio level, a necessary part of the production process. Every screenwriter with a studio project needs someone championing their work among the suits and bean counters. 

- Having well-written protagonist(s) often times inspires a hot director to take on the project. And a director whom the studio wants to work with excited to tell your story often drives a project to get a greenlight. 

So what did I do?
I went on a writing spree. 
I wrote three period piece scripts, one after another, before I touched anything similar to the SF-Action screenplays, I had become known for within the industry. 
My thinking was along these lines - if I wanted to get better at writing characters, I should turn to writing period piece scripts rather than screenplays set in the future/present. I believed there was something about setting a story in the past that demanded the writer develops deeper, more three-dimensional characters to headline the plot. For the record, as I've matured as an artist, I no longer believe this to be true, but at the time this is the way I was thinking. 

At the end of my period piece writing spree I came away believing I had definitely improved my ability to create better main characters in the screenwriting format. Though I would not recommend my method to everyone (or anyone) out there, I did end up with success in the marketplace. All three of the period piece scripts were optioned several times over the next decade. And two of the three projects were almost produced. 
My agent often used one of the period piece screenplays as a script sample which allowed for me to explore another side of the business I had never been able to tap into — being hired to rewrite projects in development at the studio. And the irony was that I was being hired because the project needed... “character” work. 

Lucky for me I was able to figure out the keys to this area of the art and craft because it allowed me to improve my work. However, it’s never been a part of the craft I take for granted. 
Writing memorable characters within the screenplay format is tough. I believe it is actually harder than what prose writers face during the course of telling their story in a novel. 
This is not the space to adequately defend my statement above, but I will point out that often times the best novelists have been/are washouts as screenwriters. This would definitely suggest a different skill set is involved when telling a story that a movie audience will follow with interest from opening to ending credits. 
Perhaps depicting an interesting main character in a one 110 page screenplay is more problematic than having 250 prose pages/or more to achieve a similar goal. 

While working as a Professional Screenwriter I have developed a lot of complicated ideas about creating compelling characters for a feature (or TV) screenplay. 
Attempting to round up and make sense of everything I know has left me in mental knots. The biggest issue is that the creative process is filled with hundreds of variables that are in play when constructing a screenplay... or developing a main character(s). 
Frankly, I have felt like a fool in my earlier attempts to describe what has worked in this creative area with my own writing, and/or the methods utilized by other screenwriters I’ve either known or collaborated with in the past. 
Nevertheless, if I were to force myself to attempt this foolhardy errand, I’d probably begin like this –

I believe most professional screenwriters conceive of ideas or stories in one of two ways when they dream up original screenplay projects –

The Idea-Story-Plot first / Character Second 


The Character First / Idea-Story-Plot Second 

Here’s a test – when you pitch your new idea to another person, how do you begin?

A) “This is a story about…"
B) "This is about a woman who…" 

If your natural inclination is to start your pitch with “a,” you probably have a creative pre-disposition to create stories that are plot/story driven.

If you begin your pitch with the “b” description, you may be a writer who develops their screenplays from the character first perspective. 

The next blog on this subject will include more details on these two general approaches. And from there, I'll be able to introduce some complicated concepts and methods that a professional screenwriter can use to achieve a synthesis between a strong storyline and compelling main characters.



JACOB STUART runs a screenwriting job search website, Screenwriting Staffing

An original blog post he authored appeared on Linkedin with a very provacative title -- "Why SCREENWRITERS may be responsible for the global EXTINCTION of SCREENWRITING as an art form…" 
You can find Stuart's ORIGINAL POST HERE 

My response to Stuart's Post

I think there’s some valuable advice in Jacob Stuart’s original post. 
Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of problems. 

A big problem is the apocalyptic-like title he employs for his post. 
On the one level he probably intended, he has succeeded -- people have made comments. And I'm now posting my reaction to a blog that lured me in with a provocative title.
Unfortunately, after digesting the content of his post, there is no level the title of his post truthfully resonates except as an exploitative tease. Just to cite one counter fact -- Screenplays are also teleplays, and the quality of TV writing/production has never been better. Therefore, the idea that screenwriting as an art form is on the endangered species list is wrong, total hype. 
If the intention by Stuart was to have the rest of his post taken seriously, his title doesn’t help his cause. 
But I'm now setting aside the ridiculous, over-the-top title because I did take the content of his post seriously. 
And I found even more problems with the content of what Stuart writes. 

I begin with something he is right about, but its a concept he never actually writes about, only infers in his post.
It is the perception amongst a lot of (non-professional) screenwriters who believe their lack of a breakthrough/and/or/success has much to do with “access.” Or to be more accurate, the lack of access to the entertainment industry and how it generally does business (in the United States) to this present day. 

What Stuart writes about in his post can be summarized as the frustration he feels (and apparently a lot of his producer contacts share his frustration) with non-professional screenwriters who don’t have access to the status quo in the entertainment industry, but won’t do what it takes to get that access. Stuart infers that access to people who work in the industry (which he is offering through posting adverts by producers, which he features on his online service, Screenwriting Staffing) is being squandered by non-professional screenwriters who are normally denied access to the status quo. Stuart goes on to infer that the “Access,” he provides is something the average, undiscovered screenwriter has not had previously, but does now have (through his services/and other similar connection opportunities via the internet) and should be taken seriously by would be non-professional writers looking to get a break and expose themselves to industry professonals.

So, as far as what I’ve outlined above, I agree with a few of the issues he raises, including this specific one (which, again he doesn’t actually write about, but I believe he implies)  -- there are tradeoffs in return for the potential “access,” or opportunity to contact industry professionals. And this opportunity is newly available to the undiscovered screenwriter.

Access to whom? Stuart believes those who submit the adverts he features on his site, and also the producers he quotes in his post are industry professionals -- Film/Tv/Media Producers… or Film/Tv/Media Production companies… or some variation of the former and latter. He believes those he is helping in the search for scripts/IP properties/written material are reputable and industry professionals.

In reference to the above, what I write is an indirect response because I simply cannot say if what Stuart implies is 100% true, or partially true. But here’s my indirect response --  there have been writers that have applied to the adverts featured on Stuart’s site that have found a place on the map – meaning they’ve found a place on the entertainment industry map, and are working in some capacity with professional filmmakers in some way.  
And I believe this is great. In general (there will always be exceptions), anyone who was once an unknown screenwriter that is able to land on the entertainment industry map in some way, if it comes via an advert that they responded to, a social network outreach that Jacob Stuart is responsible for, then this is a good thing. 
The next question I naturally ask is -- could the landing on the map have occurred in other ways? If the answer comes up as... "No," as I believe might be the case, then one must keep this under consideration, which I ask the reader to now do, at least until you finish reading my entire post.

Back to Stuart: In his original Post, he believes there is a problem, and his post seeks to highlight these problems, but it mostly comes under this general point -- The interaction with the non-professional screenwriters submitting material to industry producers/production companies (via his online adverts) falls very short in meeting the requirements of the producer/production company needs.

But rather than following up his problem with tips about how to succeed, Mr. Stuart, makes other claims, attempting to expand his throughts into something grander, citing a bigger picture with the process he has been able to witness first hand. And’s its when he proceeds on this path in his post which is where he runs into huge problems. 

Here’s the first problematic quote from his post -- 

“Most screenwriters will admit that writing the actual screenplay was the easiest part of the process.”

Stuart's first mistake is his use of the phrase “most screenwriters." 

Earlier in my post, I could have chosen to write "most," but I went for the word, “many,” because that word captures all the screenwriters I dare to speak for. 
In response to Stuart's quote above, I now speak only for myself, (a professional screenwriter, member of the WGA). 
Actually writing a creative, entertaining theatrical/TV screenplay is the hardest part of the writing process.  This is true if you were paid to write it, whether it was produced, and probably more true if what you write ends up getting produced. 
It's not even a close race between first and second place (assuming coming in second is selling the screenplay, which I'm not sure I believe is true). 
And here I go venturing out there, speaking for other writers -- I believe there are many professional screenwriters who would agree with me.

So why does Stuart write such an absurd statement?
The answer could be where Mr. Stuart and I find common ground.
I think he believes his above quote to be true because many screenwriters he comes in contact with (in the daily course of operating in his business) are writers, perhaps some are professional, but I'm presuming, many more are non-professional, many who are having trouble getting a foothold in the entertainment industry. 
And because Stuart's daily contact with these non-professional writers might be much larger than the professional kind, it's reasonable to assume his views on the matter have become skewed. Many who write scripts (and are not paid as professionals) end up with screenplays of very poor quality. Therefore, trying to sell a badly written screenplay is indeed probably the hardest part of what they will do in the screenwriting process. 

Here’s another statement written by Mr. Stuart from his post – “Every time a screenwriter doesn’t follow simple submission instructions, it pushes the producer a little closer to the edge.”

As well as being a professional screenwriter, I’m also a professional film producer with nearly a dozen films to my credit.
And as a producer, I can tell you what producers like me are like --we are always close to the edge (“Edge” being defined with a multitude of possibilities that might apply – the producer is on the edge of the mental spectrum; is close to being over-stressed; Is a person by profession that is Risk embracing; There is a pattern of moral and ethically impaired decisions).

My point is this – being close to the edge would be the norm standard for any industry professional producer (which Stuart is inferring he’s dealing with). So when Stuart insists that there's a serial situation of many unknown screenwriters testing the patience of producers by their haphazard material submissions, and that this behavior needs to be red-flagged because it is responsible for pushing producers in mass to be closer to the edge... I think of a quote from a script written by John Milius, (and I’m paraphrasing here) -- we might as well be giving out speeding tickets at the Indi-500.

Back to Stuart’s original post: "Now, the screenwriters who DO follow instructions, and have exactly what this specific producer is searching for, will NEVER get the opportunity to submit to THIS producer directly via their website – all because of a few knuckleheads."

I sympathize with what Stuarts writes above. 
I’m a first born (but part of a mixed family, which perhaps makes me a rule follower, as well as someone who is equally tempted to break the rules); I’m a producer, and have often operated with the premise that if I put something down in writing, the intended reader should be able to follow through with an understanding of my intentions. But as I’ve learned, its naïve to believe this to play out consistently.

And similarly, what Mr. Stuart writes comes off not just as misguided, but wholly inconsistent with what is actually empirically visible every day in the entertainment business  – rule breakers in the industry are rewarded. Those who take risks, and/or ignore what was asked of them, they succeed.
Yes, there are plenty who crash and burn because they break the rules, take risks… and ignore what was asked of them; but its even just as likely that those who failed are the ones who played by the same rules, as if those rules were never going to change; or did what they were told  to do, all the way up to their last order - now fall on your sword.

Stuart writes: “If a producer is seeking a screenwriter to re-write a script, this means the producer already has a script – a script they like. Now all they need is someone to re-write it to fit their personal needs, budget, and cast. They are NOT looking for a new script. All they want is to bring on another writer to compliment their project. Simple. Easy.”

The fact is that there are plenty of projects in active development that have nothing to do with what Stuart describes above. For example, someone optioned the original script/source material not realizing how hard it would be to produce and they need a complete, radical/“page one rewrite.” There are a dozen other very common reasons why a screenwriter would be hired to do a complete reworking on a project. 
Actually, what is less common is what Stuart describes/and infers -- a reputable producer/production company with a greenlight on a project looking for a polish or minor rewrite to proceed forward to production… and seeking someone answering an ad on the internet to perform the job.

Stuart writes: “If I’m wrong, then why on earth would a screenwriter submit a project, or a different genre, that wasn’t requested? I’m still stumped.”

Jacob Stuart is a smart guy.
I’m not smarter than him.
But perhaps I have more experience in this industry and that’s why I was able to come up with the answer --
Because they are desperate.

Again, my answer comes from experience in this industry.  
My answer is something that ends up being the go to answer to a lot of similar questions about the entertainment industry --

Q: Why did the actor get that horrible face surgery?
A: Because he/she was desperate.

Q: Why did the executive green light that piece of shit movie that cost the studio two hundred million dollars?
A: Because he/she was desperate.

Q: Why didn’t the screenwriter walk away from working on the 5th sequel of that bad B-movie.
A: Because he/she was desperate.

Q: “Why on earth would a screenwriter submit a project, or a different genre, that wasn’t requested?”
A: Probably because the writer was desperate.

That’s what trying to break into this industry will do. Or trying to succeed in this industry will do. It makes you desperate.

Honestly, Mr. Stuart needs to turn his castigating eyes in the direction of the producers who place adverts on the internet looking for screenwriters or scripts. This is not the way it has ever been done before. And I believe there are two reasons this is happening now (and on the rise).

One reason is that the producers who do this… are desperate.

The second reason, is that the ways things are being done regarding the outreach for creative material is changing.

I will now go full circle, and reiterate what I wrote in the beginning of this post. What Mr. Stuart offers in his post is some valuable information -- if you apply for an advert from a producer – Follow the rules of what is requested. Don’t act desperate, because it won’t get you anywhere.
And who knows, you might be answering the ad from a desperate producer whose career is going up in flames.

I go to the trouble to write the above because…
I believe Mr. Stuart, (like RB at Studio 52), are on the forefront of a new shift in the way things will be done in the industry regarding acquiring material for production.
Access has always been an issue, and the Internet has, for a few years now, been the promise of becoming the great equalizer.

I certainly hope this proves to be true, because I’m haunted by this one unshakable, consistent situation that seems to have always been true, not just about Hollywood, but about creativity in general, and the pattern seems to go back hundreds of years  –
The pool of creative talent, capable of professional work in any field of commercial art has always been about the same size... extremely small.
How do we enlarge this pool (if indeed it can be enlarged?).

If people like Stuart succeed, it will only be by truly, deeply understanding how the game was played before they walked into the cage. And what's truly, deeply happening right now.

I'm rooting for them to succeed if their methods end up increasing the quantity of quality art going out to the masses... and more artists are rewarded with Fame... Glory... and at least enough money to get them to the next project.

Posted on 05-12-15

My Response to a wonderful Post by Greta Heinemann, which is excerpted below. The original post was on Scripts and Scrbes   

10 Things I Have Learned on My Way Into Two TV Writing Fellowships

(that may or may have not made a difference on getting in)


Greta Heinemann

My partner in writing-related crimes, writing coach, Lee Jessup, recently asked me if I would be willing to volunteer as source of information for Kevin at Scripts & Scribes. Kevin was looking to find somebody who could offer an inside POV on the TV Writing Fellowships and who ideally was right in the thick of it. I’m currently in the incredibly lucky position to be a fellow in not only the CBS Writers Mentoring Program, but also one of the Humanitas New Voices winners. I firmly believe that information is the true holy grail of our business and I constantly find myself wishing that paying-it-forward was higher on everybody’s agenda, especially because I am the lucky beneficiary of some of those rare amazing humans who went out of their way to let me learn. Naturally I was excited to pass some of this on to you, in hopes you can make use of it.

Before I dive in, a disclaimer: Everything in this article is based on my personal experiences and takeaways and by no means is it meant to answer the question of how one gets into a fellowship. That’s something only the people behind the fellowships can truly answer (and they do so every year on countless panels, so go hear them speak there). I’m just a writer unable to resist the temptation of putting my own experiences into written words.

As I said, I believe information is the holy grail of our business. Consequently I make it a point to read all the books and articles, listen to the podcasts, go to the panels, do the Googling, do the watching, have the coffees; in short, do everything to learn, no matter how little the takeaway seems. But while knowledge is amazing, if it is not translated into easy-to-follow instructions or lists, it’s often intimidating. Fine, maybe it’s not intimidating to you and it’s just because I’m German that I need rules and lists in my life, but either way, I have compiled a list of things that I have learned along the way and that I try to hold myself responsible to.

5.  Be as interesting in person as your material is on the page

I just recently went to a fellowship panel where Jeanne Mau, VP Current Programs CBS Entertainment and part of the CBS Writers Mentoring Program selection committee, stated the obvious and was quickly backed up by her counter parts at ABC, NBC and FOX: Your letter of intent is incredibly important, so don’t half-ass it. (Jeanne probably found a more elegant way of paraphrasing the half-assing part, but you get the idea.)

My first job in America quickly taught me that the entertainment industry is more a “people business” than it is a skill set based business. If you have to choose between a handful of excellent people, you will pick the most memorable and relatable one. The one you won’t mind getting stuck in an elevator with. Please don’t misinterpret this as nepotism. I will never get tired of telling the world that I almost didn’t apply to the Humanitas fellowship because I had several extremely talented friends who were recommended to the program by very important showrunners or knew somebody in the selection committee and I assumed my chances were zero-times-zero because I had neither. I did it nonetheless because I’m stubborn, and was brought in solely based on my material and my letter of intent. A lot is about who you know, but gladly that’s not always everything. Back to the letter of intent.

This letter is your opportunity to explain why you are special and different than the other extremely talented writers (and there are plenty) who are competing with you. Keep in mind that most of the fellowships are also attempting to fix the diversity problem in this town by nurturing diverse and traditionally underrepresented talent. While that doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you have to be of color (I’m German – we’re famous for being rather un-diverse to say the least), it means you have to have a unique, diverse life story. And I may go as far as to assume, given the selection committee has to read thousands of applications, that you better catch their attention in the first two sentences if you want them to read on.

I can’t tell you what exactly the magic mustard is that goes in a perfect letter of intent, but I can tell you that if you’re drawn to this crazy career there must be something off enough about you to spin an attention-grabbing story around it. (If not, you can always start eating only potatoes to finance your writing education, get starch poisoning and use that as story – it might work. I haven’t tried it yet.

6.  You can’t control the outcome of a meeting but you can influence it by being prepared

In retrospect this is one of the biggest lessons learned while going through the quite nerve-wrecking interview process for the Humanitas New Voices program, later the CBS interviews and now every workshop in the program, general meeting and hopefully soon staffing meetings.

If you’re in the incredibly lucky position of getting called in for an interview you have to be prepared. You need to know whom you’re meeting with, you need to know how to talk about yourself and what you want out of the meeting.

I was incredibly lucky because my first make-or-break-it interview (for Humanitas) was with Carole Kirschner, who – after Googling her twice – I learned had written a book about how to break in and how to give good meetings along the way (Hollywood Game Plan, I wouldn’t push it if it didn’t save my ass). Now, as a good German, I appreciated Carole’s lists and rules so much, that I (obviously) read the book and prepared myself meticulously by following it step by step. Last but not least, if you’re set to meet with a woman who wrote a book on how to give good meetings she’ll likely be impressed seeing somebody do exactly how she laid it out herself. If you’re smart, you’ll go buy that book now, but in the meantime here are some CliffsNotes from my end:

* Make a personal connection with the person you are meeting (more on this in a moment)

* Be able to tell your unique “how did I get here” story in less than a minute and in an entertaining and memorable fashion.

* Be able to talk about your writing, your life, the other person’s work, little stories, the specific opportunity you’re talking about, etc.

* Direct the conversation in a way that allows you to (in a Slick-Rick-non-pushy-way) slip in why you’re the right person for this opportunity.

* Have questions or a specific “ask” prepared. If delivering a specific “ask” always present it with an easy out for your counterpart (No I won’t read your script!)

* Have shows to talk about (you’re writing for TV, dude – the least you can do is watch a lot of it)

* Have some new projects up your sleeve to talk about (nobody likes a one-hit wonder. If you can’t say what you’re currently working on, you’re not working enough (see point 2 – Writers Write.)

* Be fucking grateful! (More on this later).

A word about nerves: I’m in the incredibly blessed position of having pretty good ones because I’ve gone through nerve-wracking interviews during my immigration process with the Department of Homeland Security and consequently am not as afraid of Hollywood Execs. If you’re incredibly nervous A) try to remind yourself that they want you to succeed (they think you’re talented otherwise they wouldn’t have brought you in) B) be well-prepared so you know what to expect (if you listen to podcasts featuring the people you’re set to meet it almost feels like you know them walking into the room) and C) take a chill-pill (a non-drowsy one please!

9.  There’s no shortcut or overnight success. With or without fellowships.

This is a two-parter. One: When Lena Dunham broke out with GIRLS, I briefly made the big mistake of comparing myself to her. We’re the same age and both made an ultra low budget feature hoping to break in. How come she’s now the awkward, naked female Woody Allen of HBO and I’m not her bad-ass, blazin’ guns, completely not neurotic counterpart at FX? Well, tough shit.

Hollywood keeps telling tales of overnight success because they make for a good story and nobody wants to talk about hard work. Yes, THE IMITATION GAME was Graham Moore’s first screenplay. Yes, Nic Pizzolatto went from novelist to TRUE DETECTIVE practically overnight. Yes, Mickey Fisher’s EXTANT was discovered through a writing competition (or at least I think so) but they are the exception. For every YES out there, imagine how many NOs there must have been and how hard these lucky ones mentioned above had to work to maintain their reputation. This counts big picture, but also small picture – for every selected TV writing fellowship  fellow, there are hundreds if not thousands of writers who didn’t make the cut. Chances are, they’re you and me. When that happens, I remind myself of Ron Meyer and of how many people turned down Vince Gilligan and Breaking Bad – see if it works for you.

The second part to this: One step after another is still forward. I try to remind myself of that, as I am preparing myself for what’s to come. I’m pushing for staffing this season and my reps and support system are pulling hard (which I am incredibly grateful for) and I’m ready to do everything it takes, but yet the stars may not align and it might just not be enough. There’s always a good chance that by the end of April I’ll be done with CBS and by June I’ll have completed my Humanitas pilot and that will be the end of my current adventures. What then? I don’t know the exact answer, but what I do know is that I’m preparing pitches for development season and a second script (alongside my Humanitas pilot) to be roll-out ready by June. I’m lobbying for assignments and after Sundance and HBO I’m also back speccing and prepping my submission materials for another round of fellowships. It all goes to say that no matter what opportunities are given to me, I know I have to keep generating more.

10.  Be humble and grateful. Be good to each other.

Let’s go back to the Gen Y issue I mentioned earlier (and I’m not excluding myself)—Don’t be an entitled, fucking idiot. Be grateful and be humble. Know that everybody giving you the time of day, no matter how low or high up on the totem pole, is doing you a favor, so be appreciative of that. Send a Thank You note. Send cookies. If you can’t afford to send cookies, send potatoes or a hand drawn post card. I don’t care what you do, but please, please be grateful and never be above things. Don’t refuse to pick up that coffee. Lend a hand where you can, even if it’s just to clean the office after lunch or wipe that whiteboard.

There’s nothing more soul-crushing than seeing somebody who has been given an unbelievable opportunity be entitled or complain about something while somebody who’d truly appreciate it is waiting on the sidelines.

Also, get ready for this insider tip: There’s not a single ungrateful person in the CBS workshop (everybody there is awesome – shout out!!!), so I suspect being humble and grateful might appeal to the decision makers. Got it?

Lastly, be good to each other. Life is too short to backstab and while the good ones do not always succeed in the short game, we will in the long one, especially if we stick together!

If you made it all the way through this article and the 10 fellowship related questions (hyperlinked) A) congratulations I’m impressed and B) Find me on Twitter if you still have questions. @ImmersiveG

I really believe there’s some great things that Greta Heinemann writes that will benefit everyone making their way through the entertainment industry. 
I especially found points #5 and #6 original and insightful. 

(#5) Many creators forget that what they are selling is not only their work, but themselves. 
It’s not just projects connected to the fellowship Ms. Heinemann talks about, if you write in the entertainment business, working with people is part of the process. If this is something that proves to be difficult, then one should figure out how to do better; or channel their creativity in a different direction… like writing a novel because such a pursuit will limit how many people you need to deal interact with in a respectful and productive way. 
(#6) This point is a nice blending of the old affirmation about letting go with the parts of life you can’t control, but also emphasizing the essential aspects you should seek to control to be successful.
I often run across people who are too caught up in the spiritual aspect of “letting go,” in lieu of not doing their homework/or the hard work that enhances the chances that what you can’t control breaks in your direction. 

My only critical note would be a single sentence Ms. Heinemann used in her introduction --  

I believe information is the holy grail of our business. 

I actually disagree with this one line. 
I believe information in the entertainment business is the exact opposite meaning of the term “Holy Grail.” 
If I was to throw out a basic definition of the term, I would use something I just grabbed from wikipedia -- “A grail, wondrous but not explicitly holy.” 

Information about the entertainment business, even useful, trustworthy information, is out there, not hidden, and can be had by those who make even a nominal effort to find it. Therefore, even though it might appear to be a bridge to success in the entertainment industry, I don't belive it to be the Holy Grail.

The Holy Grail in the entertainment business is -- Creativity
This is why there are fellowship programs like the one Ms. Heinemann is participating in. 
The hope is that what will be discovered with such programs is the one thing that is impossible for companies to mass produce, like a DVD, or an iphone. 
The Holy Grail that has a hundred knights searching across the land is the discovery of the rare talent for Creativity. So it can be nurtured, celebrated, and sanctified by being transformed into creative content...
On a DVD... or streamed on an iphone.  
Not information. Creativity 

Regardless of my critical response to the one aspect of Ms. Heinemann’s post, I implore anyone interested in the entertainment business to read her insightful words. There’s a lot of wisdom in what she has learned and what she is sharing with the rest of us! 


A Documentary Series and  a Movie
Both focused on the Same Man
Both Shot by the Same filmmakers
One made history, and the other sucked

Now that the dust has cleared on the media stampede to write about “The Jinx,” the documentary series recently aired on HBO, I wanted to write out about a completely different take I hope professional screenwriters (or aspiring ones) will find interesting.

I want to compare the HBO documentary series to the theatrical film, “All Good Things” released in 2010, which was a “fictional” take on the same events depicted in “The Jinx,” but with completely different creative results. Both the documentary series and the earlier theatrical film were created by the same filmmaking team. This factor alone allows us to focus on exploring some significant creative questions that are inherent when a filmmaker embarks on a project that is based on a real person or a real event.

The basic question I started with was this – How could “The Jinx” documentary series be so successful while the theatrical film based on the same story fail so miserably? 

“The Jinx” ended up being a huge success, both commercially (over 1 million people watched the final episode of the documentary series), and with critics (who almost universally agree the series was a notable achievement in TV history). Viewers reacted positively, with online comments about the documentary series reaching the kind of volume normally associated with fictional drama series.

This was in stark contrast to the reaction of the theatrical film, “All Good Things,” released five years earlier. The fictional take on the same events depicted in “The Jinx” was a no-show at the box office, with a total box office gross of $578,000 (The modest theatrical release was a “burn off” by the distributor to fulfill the contractual obligation to the filmmaker). The reaction to the quality of the film was similarly underwhelming. Both critics and viewers generally agreed the movie was professionally produced, but also a by-the-numbers genre feature that was boring and even confusing at times in the way the plot was constructed. Even the one sheet for the release of the theatrical movie reveals key art that is a total disconnect with the tone and content of the movie. Usually this is a clear sign that even the distributor’s marketing department was confused about how to sell the film.

I am no different than the thousands of people across the country who were transfixed by the six part documentary series focusing on Robert Durst, the real estate heir to a billion dollar fortune. Despite (or because of) his wealth he ended up leading a very troubled life. The final episode of the series (which aired on March 15th) ended with Durst, in a bathroom, talking to himself, his final recorded words -- “Killed them all… of course.”

Whether Durst was actually caught in a confession of murdering three people or was simply rambling like a mentally ill person (or both), the dramatic moment was the conclusion to a only led the talking to himself, audiences could walk away from the documentary series satisfied that their investment in the program was not going to end in a frustrating circuitous dead-end.

When Durst was arrested in New Orleans a few days before the last episode aired on HBO, the filmmakers would end up being able to celebrate their accomplishment -- creating a TV event that not only made headlines, but might be the impetus behind a guilty man finally being brought to justice.
Every hour of the documentary series was impeccably produced– cleverly constructed narratives, skillfully edited, with superbly conceived and executed recreations of the events depicted/examined in the series. In fact it's the quality of the series that makes it almost shocking when one considers that the director, Andrew Jarecki, and the producer, Marc Sperling of “The Jinx,” were also the same filmmakers behind the theatrical film, “All Good Things” (Marc Sperling was also one of the screenwriters of the theatrical film, sharing credit with Marcus Hinchey).
If one was unaware of the actual timeline both projects were produced, you’d probably be tempted to believe that the theatrical film came second, the bad rip off version of the same story shot after the success of the HBO documentary series.

“All Good Things” plays like a bad Lifetime TV movie, with boring major characters and a fragmentary storyline that ends up being formulaic and confusing at the same time.
There are actually a lot of reasons that explain the obvious abyss that separates the two projects in terms of quality. Yes, of course at the heart of it all is a bad script, but there’s so much more including miscasting of the lead actor.
Unfortunately, in the context of this post, I will primarily focus on just one factor, leaving the other issues for a larger chapter in a forthcoming book on adapting real lives and real events into a screenplay.

The main character of “The Jinx” is Robert Durst and his “performance” in the documentary ended up being the power that held audiences glued to each of the six parts of the series.
Despite the documentary format, the lesson is still one that all professional screenwriters should never forget When writing a professional screenplay one of the basics is creating a main character audiences will be interested enough to follow through the course of the story. But a screenwriter is not restricted to only writing about a main character that people like personally sympathize with. The creative obligation of the screenwriter is to have a story that features a main character who will end up captivating, fascinating, and inviting enough interest from the  reader/viewer that they keep reading/watching until the end of the movie (or TV series; or Documentary Cable Series).
Examples of main characters in past movies/TV who aren’t necessarily likable but are very watchable are Tony Soprano, Travis Bickle, Melvin Udall, and Neil McCauley.

Setting aside the final two episodes of “The Jinx,” the most noticible difference in quality between the documentary and the film treatment of the same subject matter has to do with the main character.
In “The Jinx” there was no one to write Robert Durst’s lines for him when he was being interviewed. No one directed him how to “act” or behave in front of the camera.
However, the filmmakers in creating the documentary series ended up showcasing their main character in a way that held our attention, kept us guessing about what he was really about, what he was hiding, and what he was being honest about when he was answering questions on screen. Ultimately, the real Robert Durst proved to be charming, vulnerable, and “likable.”
Real character traits that were probably consistent with what enabled the real Durst (along with his access to money) to get away with murder.

Prior to shooting the documentary, the filmmakers had never met the real Robert Durst. This lack of access to the real guy who was inspiring their theatrical film was at the foundation of what is all wrong with “All Good Things.” Without any contact with the real Durst, the filmmakers were forced to create their movie using their creativity and imagination. 
And they came up empty.

The main character (for legal reasons, the character based on Durst is named “David Marks”) in the movie seems to bear no resemblance to the real Durst. David Marks is quiet, brooding, and boring. We now know that the real Durst can be charming, outrageous, and definitely not boring, at least not to anyone hanging around him. I’m seeing everyone who ended up being part of Durst’s universe as a relationship that was always spent on the edge, because if nothing else, Durst has an unpredictable persona (or two).

Somehow at a point in the development of the movie script, the filmmakers convinced themselves it was all right not to base the main character on the real Robert Durst because they were doing a fictional movie. But when they rationalized their failure to get inspiration from the real Durst as being all right because they didn’t need it, what they probably said was something along the lines of – the events of real life in the story we’re telling will be all the energy we’ll need to drive the narrative of this film.
Watching “All Good Things” is the proof that they rolled the dice and ended up being wrong. The story they had researched for years leading up to the writing of the screenplay did not lead to creative excitement on the page. There fascination with the case, with the real character of Robert Durst never became a compelling part of the story they ended up telling. 

Once they went into production, director Jarecki’s impulse was to shoot a movie that had the tones of some of the plot beats of a film in the “serial killer” genre, but the script couldn’t support that choice (to list just one compelling reason to support this statement -- the movie does not show the Durst/Marks character performing two of the three killings that comprise the film; clearly a huge short fall if someone was attempting to live up to the conventions of the genre).

Worse, because the script failed to provide a showcase for the lead character based on Durst, or offer an original and exciting alternative fictional version of the main character, “All Good Things” ends up being a well-produced, bigger budgeted Lifetime movie. Here is the formula generally used in all of the “woman-in-jeopardy” storylines :

- Female lead meets a guy who seems too good to be true.

- Despite everyone telling the female lead not to move forward, the female lead advances the relationship with the guy.

- The female lead starts to develop her doubts about her guy, but tries her best to make it work, rather than simply breaking away.

- Female lead finally decides to fight back against the male beast.

- Female lead either survives or dies by the end of the story.

The above is pretty much the plot beats that drives “All Good Things,” through the storyline… until it abruptly ends… halfway through the movie. The fact that this part of the story needs to restart might have actually allowed the filmmakers to convince themselves that they were making a different kind of movie. Something original.

But when the plot shifts to how Durst/Marks deals with his next victims the change ends up now exclusively focusing on the main character, the Durst Marks protagonist/antagonist? who we don’t know how we should feel about him, because we neither understand really what happened with his wife, nor are we really carrying about how his family has treated him. Worse, it’s all boring stuff. Yes, even when the main character shows up wearing a wig and women’s clothes… still boring. 

One can easily imagine the endless development meetings about the storyline with lawyers that restricted what they could or could not use as part of the narrative without getting sued by the real Robert Durst. If that is the case, what is needed is someone who is part of the filmmaking team to realize that if the movie they were going to shoot has any chance of resonating with audiences, it will only happen when they move beyond a vacuous, paint-by-court transcript version of a screenplay.
Once you realize what kind of movie you’re about to shoot, no matter how you got there, you better figure out how to make what you shoot rock. The story about what you were trying to do when you were developing the project…  
No one beyond the production will care.  
Unless, of course, what you end up shooting includes footage of a killer confessing.  
Yes, then people might take notice. 


Conflict is one of the key elements to any scene, any act, any plotline of scripted drama (and comedy as well).
I was reminded of this when I was going back and forth recently with a film director as we discussed collaborating on a project together.
He wanted me to check out the storyline that he had originally worked on and used this lure to get me to read -- From minute one it has conflict in every scene.”

It was a fantastic lure on his part because I did indeed read the work and found that the story had exactly as he had advertised -- 

“Conflict in every scene.”

I know it sounds obvious, but its amazing how many screenwriters take in the word “conflict,” and say to themselves something along the lines of, “duh, of course.”
Only to then move on to write their scripts in a way that is shockingly short of any conflict in the storyline, plot, between the characters, etc.  

When professional screenwriters fail in their efforts regarding “conflict,” they often fail by not making the conflict “organic,” which means they emerge with a screenplay where the conflict on the page reads/plays like it is often times written to satisfy a part of the storytelling process they know they must fulfill. 

Professional Screenwriters also fail when the “conflict” is interwoven into the storyline in a way that involves only the major character and has nothing to do with the other supporting characters beyond who the protagonist interacts with throughout the plot. This problem leads to stretches in the script where the reader/viewer is often bored because they don’t feel the same undertow of emotional tension, anticipation, and excitement running beneath the other parts of the screenplay/movie associated with the conflict focused on the main character.

But at least the professional screenwriter knows enough of his craft to maintain a level of conflict for the main character, even if at times it comes off as a token effort. 
Non-professional screenwriters are often mystified when the reader of their screenplay doesn’t want to go forward after reading the first twenty to thirty pages. 
Or the producer was bored reading their script and asked their assistant to read it first and provide coverage… before turning it down.
Obviously there are several factors why the above scenarios occur, but I definitely will put my money on the lack of conflict being one of the issues that is involved in almost all non-professionally written screenplays.

Professional Screenwriters know that any script should have a ghost haunting much of the plot of any story that keeps the reader wanting to turn the pages, and the viewer wanting to see what happens next. If that ghost had a Latin name it would be – 

Lex loci 
Latin. A legal principle, of whatever origins, now found in the English Common law, 
roughly translated as  "the law of the land."

In screenwriting terms, Lex Loci reminds all screenwriters of two goals when writing –

1 - Establish the rules of the screen story being told.

2 – Establish the main character, who is in conflict with the law of the land.

The above is where even the most celebrated professional screenwriters go off track when their stories fail to resonate with readers or audiences. 
I’m exactly like the producer I cite above, reading so many scripts from “unknown” screenwriters who want to become known, but don't write in a way that at least satisfies the two points above. 
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read scripts that have the main character doing the most mundane things, like for instance brushing their teeth. 
And that’s it. There’s nothing else attached to the choice of having a main character brush their teeth in the script.
That’s not to say that someone brushing their teeth can’t be a scene that ends up intriguing the reader.

In an episode from the brilliant series “Black Mirror,” titled “Fifteen Million Merits” ( written by Charlie Brooker and Konnie Huq) the main character wakes up and brushes his teeth and we see in this daily activity there is a decision, a challenge to what he will do. Here’s a link to the entire show, and the scene I’ve written about occurs at the 1:40 mark of the show. 

Even in the most mundane seeming actions in a script, Conflict is something that should permeate every aspect of a writer’s mind when constructing their story and executing the scenes in a screenplay. 
Conflict should be the ghost haunting the writer’s every creative step as he/she creates a screenplay that ends up being work that people will not only start, but end up finishing because they have to know how it all plays out. 

If you don't agree with me, that's fine. Maybe we should take it outside and talk about it some more...  


The End of the Three Act Structure????

I was trying to finish my work on two projects when I came across an email with the headline -- The End of the Three-Act Structure

I couldn’t resist following the link where I discovered the article was posted on a website run by Write Brothers Inc, a company that specializes in selling software products to screenwriters. I applaud WBI for supporting their sales effort by featuring posts written about different subjects related to the craft of screenwriting. 

With that said, the content of this particular post was so objectionable I decided to break away from what I should be doing and write a response. 

The End of the Three-Act Structure, was written by James Hull and can be found hereHull modestly describes himself as “an animator by trade.” Actually he has many impressive credits as an animator including the big studio movies, "The Crood" and "How to Train a Dragon." Unfortunately, the subject of his post is not on the craft of an animator.  He chose to write about an important, fundamental area in the craft of screenwriting.

The main point of his argument is –

“The time has come to obliterate Aristotle's stranglehold on narrative fiction. With the amount of information and different perspectives available to Audiences today, a simplified beginning-middle-end approach simply doesn't cut it anymore. Complete stories consist of four major movements, not three.” 

A few sentences later, he attempts to support his opening statement – 

“The standard in modern screenwriting paradigm calls for splitting up the Second Act into two halves, labeling them 2A and 2B. For all intents and purposes, as long as everyone on the production agrees with this naming convention, there isn't anything about this approach that could prevent the successful conclusion of a film. The question becomes if the final product finishes with a glorious and well-celebrated run or peters out over the first weekend, adding weight to the already great discarded landfill of pointless stories.”

Perhaps Hull’s motives in writing his post was to be provocative and/or to come off as creatively progressive. Regardless of his motivation, his words, (not only the ones I’ve included, but other passages throughout his post) and ideas are flat out wrong. For starters, what he specifically perceives as the three-act structure seems to be written in almost complete ignorance to the way professional screenwriters use the three-act structure in approaching their craft. 
For example, I have no idea where he gets the notion, “the standard in modern screenwriting paradigm calls for splitting up the Second Act into two halves.” 
I am a professional screenwriter, and I have worked with dozens of professional screenwriters on studio projects as well as independent movies. I’ve also been involved with over fifty different film projects as a producer, working to develop the screenplay with the writers. And with all that experience, not once have I ever come across any professional screenwriter or any industry professional who believes “the standard in modern screenwriting is to split the second act into two halves.” 

There are several different approaches to the three act structure, but anyone who has experience in professional writing is aware that the second act, like the first act has different creative markers along the way that are used to signify creative shifts in the storyline or plot. These markers are usually perceived as guides to the screenwriter as he makes his creative choices. I use such terms as “First Act Spin” and “Second Act Tent Pole” to define these creative markers or guideposts. And nothing I’ve come across creatively resembles “splitting the second act into halves.” 

In his post, Hull goes on to write –

“Don't assume that both halves are dealing with the same thematic stuff. Don't assume that this "Special World” somehow carries with it some intrinsic meaning because of its position between the beginning and the end.”

His reference to thematic stuff and a special world clearly reveals that Hull has completely mixed up story structure with other aspects of storytelling. Both creative areas he cites have almost no meaningful bearing on the rhyme or reason associated with the approach to story structure. 

As well as being an animator by trade, Hull apparently also teaches classes on "story" at Calfornia Institute of the Arts (CalArts). So I presume his writing on this subject is being taught to fledging or beginning writers who are attempting to take up the craft of professional screenwriting. Despite what Hull writes online, the three-act structure in writing professional screenplays has not been retired. In fact the creative standard for a storyline/plot continues to be the three-act structure. 

Even when one examines screenwriting rebels who have been produced, and whose work has been celebrated as ground breaking in the area of storyline/plot structure, close scrutiny reveals a rebel with a deep understanding of the traditional three-act structure, not a rebellion borne from ignorance.

One example of truly a different approach to the three-act structure would be Stanley Kubrick, and the film “Full Metal Jacket.” Kubrick was one of the screenwriters, as well as the director of “Full Metal Jacket,” (the other screenwriter was Michael Herr; and the screenplay was  based on the book, “The Short Timers,” authored by Gustav Hasford). 

I can’t comment on the structure of the screenplay developed prior to production, but the final version of the movie released to audiences has a storyline/plot which unfolds in a way that is very much a different, atypical approach to the traditional three-act structure of modern professional screenwriting. 

That’s not to say that “Full Metal Jacket” can be used by Hull as an example of a movie with “Four Acts.” In fact, the uncommon approach on display in “Full Metal Jacket” is a storyline that still falls under the traditional three-act structure, but is creatively distinctive by the elongated duration and creative conclusiveness to the film’s first act. It was Kubrick’s unique approach to unfolding the storyline in “Full Metal Jacket” that was at least partially responsible for the lukewarm, critical response to the film upon its initial release in 1987. Of course, the critical standing of the film has risen in ensuing years, which has been the typical pattern of almost all of Kubrick’s films. 

Professional Screenwriting continues to push the boundaries of narrative structure and there is no reason to believe the three-act structure is on the endangered species list. Nor should the three-act approach be threatened out of existence by the notion that it is out of date or no longer is the best approach to constructing a screenplay for a commercial audience. What Hull apparently is not aware of is that the three-act structure embraces many creative elements that push a storyline forward, not just what he sums up as the “beginning, middle, and end.” 

****For the record, I would have responded to Hull’s post on the site of his posting, but it did not allow comments.****

In Celebration of the first three Professional Screenwriter Books landing on the Best Sellers List,  I'm posting an excerpt from an upcoming PS Book:

Write your screenplay like a snake eats its own tail…
Eventually winding up where you first began…
Leaving the audience sensitive to the circular space devoured between head and tail.

Resist the temptation to compare your accomplishment with other writers.
Such an effort is similar to tracking the maturation of two babies born on the same day. 
One may end up speaking at an early age, while the other may talk years later. 
What is important is to observe if either baby ends up with something meaningful to say. 

A screenplay is not a house. 
A script is similar to blueprints one designs to build a house.
Remember this when you interact with those who wish to help you build your house. 
You cannot eat, drink, and sleep, in the blueprints of a house.

Check out a piece I wrote featured on FRESH VOICES, a screenwriting website.

The subject of pelicula veritas is addressed in my latest screenwritng e-book -- "16 Secrets Revealed by Professional Screenwriters" -- but the piece featured on the website is very different than what is in the book... 

In many ways the piece highlights a concept that will be a running theme as I progress in the Professional Screenwriting Book Series.

I'm proud to have an excerpt from 16 Secrets Revealed by Professional Screenwriters at FRESH VOICES SCREENWRITER'S SOURCE. 

It's definitely a different take on how creating a screenplay story can be affected by the structure of something most of us enjoy all the time -- SPORTS

Check it out!!!!!

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. 


Welcome to the city of woe.
Welcome to everlasting sadness. 
Welcome to the grave cave.

- Dante's Inferno, Canto III (1-3)

Welcome to the World of Writing Screenplays. 
Those who play around in this art and craft have no idea what happens when you really work hard in an attempt to make this a full time professional trade.  
Everything changes.

If you are a professional... or want to be a professional, it might be necessary to seek some guidance...
A veteran of the trade who can help with the writing. 
This might lead to a question -- AM I IN THE SCRIPT CONSULTING BUSINESS?
The Answer is… No. 
And yet there have been several times over the last few years I have ended up consulting on a script and the effort turned out very well for both parties. 
I believe the results were positive because I chose carefully the projects that I felt my effort could potentially make... a huge difference in the quality of the work.

So, am I in the script consulting business? No.
But the window on the blog is here because there might be a project out there... Written by a screenwriter that I can help. 
If you have a project that needs guidance...
And you believe I might be able to help...
Send me an email with your email address.
I will send you back a form that asks you some questions about your project. Your answers will help me decide if I can help you. 

The form will include a non-disclosure paragraph which I have signed and dated, meaning all the information you include in the questionaire is/will forever be kept in the strictest of confidence even if we end up not working together. 


Let us go then, you and I...
--Dante's Inferno, Canto IV (13)