Friday, February 29, 2008  

Novel to Screenplay: The Challenges of Adaptation


Brimming with confidence, you've just signed the check purchasing the rights to adapt John Doe's fabulous, but little known novel, Lawrence of Monrovia, to screenplay form. Suddenly, panic sets in. "What was I thinking? How the devil am I going to convert this 400-page novel to a 110-page screenplay?"

The answer is: "The same way you transport six elephants in a Hyundai… three in the front seat and three in the back!"

Old and very bad jokes aside, how does one pour ten gallons of story into a one-gallon jug?

In this article, we'll take a look at this challenge and a few others that a writer may encounter when adapting a novel to screenplay form.


Screenplays rarely run longer than 120 pages. Figuring one page of a screenplay equals one minute of film, a 120-page screenplay translates into a two-hour motion picture. Much longer than that and exhibitors lose a showing, which translates to fewer six-cent boxes of popcorn sold for $5.99 at the refreshment stand. It took the author of your source material 400 pages to tell the story. How can you possibly tell the same story in 110 pages, the ideal length for a screenplay by today's industry standards?

And the answer to this question is no joke. "You can't! Don't even try!"

Instead, look to capture the essence and spirit of the story. Determine the through-line and major sub-plot of the story and viciously cut everything else.

By "through-line" I mean, WHO (protagonist) wants WHAT (goal), and WHO (antagonist) or WHAT (some other force) opposes him or her? It helps to pose the through-line as a question.

"Will Dorothy find her way back to Kansas despite the evil Wicked Witch of the West's efforts to stop her?"

The same needs to be done for the major sub-plot.

"Will Dorothy's allies achieve their goals despite the danger they face as a result of their alliance?"

One workable technique is to read the book, set it aside for a few weeks, and then see what you still remember of the story's through-line. After all, your goal is to excerpt the most memorable parts of the novel, and what you remember best certainly meets that criterion.

In most cases, everything off the through-line or not essential to the major sub-plot has to go. Develop your outline, treatment or "beat sheet" accordingly.


Many novels are written in the first person. The temptation to adapt such, using tons of voiceovers, should be resisted. While limited voiceovers can be effective when properly done, remember that audiences pay the price of admission to watch a MOTION (things moving about) PICTURE (stuff you can SEE). If they wanted to HEAR a story they'd visit their Uncle Elmer who drones on for hour upon hour about the adventures of slogging through the snow, uphill, both ways, to get to and from school when he was a kid, or perhaps they'd buy a book on tape.

The old screenwriting adage, "Show, don't tell!" applies more than ever when writing an adaptation.


Some tribes of American Indians had a word to describe those of their brethren who sat around thinking deep thoughts. Literally the word translated to, "THE DISEASE OF LONG-THINKING". Quite often, lead characters in novels suffer from this disease.

"Mike knew in his heart that Judith was no good. Yet she caused such a stirring in his loins, he could think of nothing else. He feared someday he would give in to this temptation named Judith, and his surrender would surely bring about the end of his marriage!"

If adapted directly, how on Earth would a director film the above? All we would SEE is Mike sitting there, "long-thinking". That is not very exciting to say the least. And as mentioned previously, voiceovers are rarely the best solution.

When essential plot information is presented only in a character's thought or in the character's internal world, one solution is to give this character a sounding board, another character, to which his thoughts can be voiced aloud. Either adapt an existing character from the novel or create a new one. Of course as always, you should avoid overly obvious exposition by cloaking such dialogue in conflict, or through some other technique. Even better, figure out a way to express the character's dilemma or internal world through action in the external world.


Mark Twain is quoted as saying about Oakland, California, "There's no there, there". Similarly, some novels, even successful ones, are very shy on story and rely for the most part on style and character to create an effect. Some prose writers are so good at what they do, that their artful command of the language alone is enough to maintain reader interest. Such is never the case in screenwriting.

Successfully adapting a "no-story-there" novel to screenplay form is a daunting task. One approach is to move away from direct adaptation toward, "story based upon". Use the brilliant background and characters created by the original author as a platform from which to launch a screen story. In fact, if for any reason a screenplay doesn't lend itself to screenplay form, consider moving toward a "based upon" approach, rather than attempting a direct adaptation.

Congratulations! You're now an expert on adapting novels to screenplay form! Well maybe not an expert, but hopefully you have a better understanding of how to approach the subject than you did ten minutes ago. And if the subject still seems too daunting, you can always get professional help as outlined on our web page

Copyright © 2004 Lynne Pembroke and Jim Kalergis,

Lynne Pembroke and Jim Kalergis

Wednesday, February 27, 2008  

Screenplay Quickie – The Holiday (2006)

Have you ever found yourself flipping through the on-demand movie lists eagerly looking for that one special movie? You know, the one that makes you laugh, then cry etc.… and ultimately, has you running out to the store to buy it on DVD the next day. A couple of nights ago, my wife and me found that needle in the haystack. I can’t tell you how many times I flipped past it in the menu.

“The Holiday”, directed and written by Nancy Meyers, is a delightful romantic comedy starring Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet. One of the best I have seen in a long time. The film will capture your heart and quench your thirst for that never-ending need for romance.

I always try to stay away from explaining the whole story so that you can enjoy the movie. However, I consider the script to be fair game.

Here’s the screenplay quickie:

The script in general has a very simple premise and is well written. Where it fails in execution is in length. The setup takes awhile and doesn’t really leave you on solid ground as to where the movie is going. The beginning of Act 2 rambles on with no apparent direction. Many scenes are just to long. Then it hits you: ahhh… the romance. During the middle of act 2 you feel the script movement. The story builds and you finally connect with the characters. The time you have invested in the film begins to pay off. You long for closure. Act 3 will satisfy this need.

I would highly recommend this movie for couples. It will bring back the memories of when you first met and/or started dating. That goes without saying, even if you’re single, you will still enjoy this film. It presents hope. The hope that no matter how rough life gets, happiness is always just around the corner.

4 Stars from A Screenwriter’s View

U.S. Release Date: 12/8/06 (wide)
Running Length: 2:15
MPAA Classification: PG-13 (Profanity, sexual situations)
Director: Nancy Meyers
Screenplay: Nancy Meyers
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black, Eli Wallach, Edward Burns, Rufus Sewell

Screenwriting Success Secrets: How to Write Your Script

Screenwriting is a competitive trade. To distinguish yourself as a prize-winning writer you need to master organizational skills, take creative risks, and learn how best to present your final product. For the aspiring screenwriter, Tom Lazarus' book, "Secrets of Film Writing" is one of the best. An exceptional screenwriter with five produced screenplays, Lazarus developed this book for beginning writers enrolled in his classes at UCLA.

This article examines a few of the many techniques outlined in "Secrets of Film Writing" and provides examples of screenwriters who succeeded with Tom Lazarus' guidelines.


Master organization and you're closer to producing a stellar screenplay, not a mediocre one. Ask yourself these questions:

1) Does the screenplay have a clear beginning, middle and end?

2) Does the story drift aimlessly or does it make its point successfully?

These may seem like basic questions, yet many screenwriters grapple with organizational problems.

Lazarus addresses this issue in his book; he recommends writers use one of four organizational methods to ensure their screenplays flow smoothly: outlines, treatments, index cards, and scene lists. All four of these tools are equally effective. Writers need to be discreet to decide which organizational crutch best suits their needs.

In writing the screenplay for the Hollywood feature film "Stigmata," Lazarus chose to use a scene list for organizational support since he already had specific ideas about the chronology and action details of his story. To writers who have difficult organizing and prefer a different method, Lazarus says, "Go for it, because no one is going to see it. It's a process. There is no wrong way."


Writing is a process. Great screenwriters take creative risks. Without an interesting story, even the most organized screenplay will be unmarketable. The goal should never be to copy another writer's style; instead exercise your own imagination and experiment with different ways to spark your story.

When Warner Brothers hired Tim McCanlies to adapt Ted Hughes' famous English novel "The Iron Man" for the screen, he struggled with whether he should remain true to Hughes' vision or develop a new story based loosely on the original book's events. McCanlies chose to do something risky and wildly creative; he Americanized "The Iron Man" by setting the story in the 1950s during the Cold War terror and renamed it "The Iron Giant." His calculated risk proved worthwhile. American audiences related to the film and appreciated its examination of an unusual time in their nation's history. Also, English audiences embraced "The Iron Giant" despite its variation from the original English text and awarded it the 2000 BAFTA Award for best feature film.

McCanlies' success lends a valuable lesson: when you risk nothing, you gain nothing. McCanlies, Lazarus, and other successful screenwriters embroil themselves in chances, write creatively, experiment with different ideas, and raise their characters' stakes.


Once you have written an interesting, well-organized screenplay you need to submit your script neatly and according to studio standards. Lazarus warns his UCLA students about several technical errors in script presentation that annoy studio readers. Follow these guidelines:

1) A feature length screenplay should be longer than 95 pages and shorter than 125 pages when you submit it for studio consideration.

2) Don't include a synopsis or character biographies with your script as it gives studio readers an excuse not to review the whole screenplay.

3) Don't put scene numbers on your script until it is sold. This is a rule of the game; readers find scene numbers distracting and use them as an excuse to dub a screenplay "amateur" and unworthy of further consideration.

4) Studio readers prefer to receive scripts bound with circular metal brads. Using folders and binders hog office space and interns may discard scripts unintentionally during spring cleaning.

5) Finally, use one of the many screenwriting programs to help format your script, such as Movie Magic Screenwriter, Final Draft or Script Wizard. You can find discounted deals at (

Make sure you proofread your script several times before submitting a script for Hollywood review. Busy studio readers will not peruse screenplays riddled with basic errors like confusing "it's" with "its" and using "are" when you mean "our." Use a program like Style Writer (found at to remedy such embarrassing grammar mistakes. When you're ready to submit your script, grab a Hollywood Creative Directory (found at to find markets for your script.


Remember to take risks with plot and character development, and follow studio standards for script submissions. Studying resources like "Secrets of Film Writing" by Tom Lazarus, "How Not to Write a Screenplay" by Denny Martin Flinn, "Crafty Screenwriting" by Alex Epstein, and "Alternative Scriptwriting" by Ken Dancyger and Jeff Rush can be helpful for aspiring writers. Developing strong writing skills takes time, a willingness to learn, and perseverance. Writers who constantly improve their skills and experiment with new ideas will succeed.

About The Author

Brian Konradt is a freelance writer for ( and writes about screenwriting news, screenwriting software, and screenwriting contests.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008  

Learn How To Write A Screenplay That Actually Gets Made!

Almost everyone thinks they know how to write a screenplay. We’ve all heard someone watching TV saying “I could write a better script than that”!

The truth is that just about everyone does have a story worth telling. Unfortunately most do NOT know how to write a screenplay.

Most professional artists are very particular about their tools. The screenplay writer is no different. The key to writing is being organized. Before even writing a single word, you must have an inner road map that your characters are going to follow.

If you are writing a novel, you CAN take the time to ramble and develop your descriptive talents. A screenwriter cannot!

Just like any muscle, the writing ‘muscle’ has to be exercised on a regular basis. The simple process of sitting in front of a computer for set periods of time is critical in training the subconscious that THIS time is when you are going to call on your creativity. In order to learn how to write a screenplay you have to understand STRUCTURE. Unlike a novelist, you do not have the luxury of allowing your script to develop into 300 plus pages. It will not get read if it does not conform to an industry standard of around 110 pages.

The structure of most contemporary screenplays: 1) Establish the character and general situation, 2) force them up a tree and throw rocks at him and 3) get the hero down again.

Firstly: you get the audience to know something about the character and his situation.

Secondly: a situation must be created that goes against your characters comfort zone. He must have a nemesis trying to destroy everything he stands for. This ‘bad’ guy takes pleasure putting your hero up that tree and making it as uncomfortable as possible.

Thirdly: our hero needs to overcome all odds and ‘payoff’ the bad guy.

If it really is that simple, then why isn’t everyone a screenwriter? The answer is they do not know how to write a screenplay.

So let us say that you have a clear idea of what your three acts are going to be. Well now you begin to develop the characters. They have to play off each other and either support or destroy our main character. Any time the characters are neutral, the screenplay is dead. Just remember: conflict equals drama. No conflict, no drama.

So what does it take to become a screenwriter, besides learning how to write a screenplay? It takes discipline – to sit at your workplace, even when you are not sure what you are going to write. It takes having a thick skin, so that when the inevitable rejections come, you do not BELIEVE in their judgment as to your potential. It takes major BELIEF in yourself. But MOST of all it takes LUCK!

The film industry is littered with great scripts that never got made. - Directors fall out with producers. A great idea yesterday turns into a pariah today. The studio that WAS going to make your picture has changed hands and the new studio head wants to stamp his own directorial policy on his new position – and you were chosen by the previous head! There are a million legitimate reasons why Hollywood should not immediately fall at your feet – but YOU are going to overcome this. If you do not believe this, then do not even attempt to learn how to write a screenplay! If you DO believe in yourself, then hey – why shouldn’t you be the one that gets lucky?!

So yes, learning how to write a screenplay isn’t so difficult. The difficult part comes AFTER you have written the screenplay.

About The Author

Richard Patton is the CEO of , the UNIQUE system for pitching screenplays directly to Hollywood. Whether you are a writer looking for the best screenplay writing software or simply trying to learn how to write a screenplay, you will find all the information you need . Having worked on movies from "Cliffhanger" to "Max Headroom" , Patton has a unique insider perspective on what works!

Monday, February 25, 2008  

2008 Oscars - The Winners

Associated Press

The Coen brothers completed their journey from the fringes to Hollywood's mainstream on Sunday, their crime saga "No Country for Old Men" winning four Academy Awards, including best picture, in a ceremony that also featured a strong international flavor.

Javier Bardem won for supporting actor in "No Country," which earned Joel and Ethan Coen best director, best adapted screenplay and the best-picture honor as producers.

Accepting the directing honor alongside his brother, Joel Coen recalled how they were making films since childhood, including one at the Minneapolis airport called "Henry Kissinger: Man on the Go."

"What we do now doesn't feel that much different from what we were doing then," Joel Coen said. "We're very thankful to all of you out there for continuing to let us play in our corner of the sandbox."

Daniel Day-Lewis won his second best-actor Academy Award for the oil-boom epic "There Will Be Blood," while "La Vie En Rose" star Marion Cotillard was a surprise winner for best actress, riding the spirit of Edith Piaf to Oscar triumph over Julie Christie, who had been expected to win for "Away From Her."

All four acting prizes went to Europeans: Frenchwoman Cotillard, Spaniard Bardem, and Brits Day-Lewis and Tilda Swinton, the supporting-actress winner for "Michael Clayton."

As a raging, conniving, acquisitive petroleum pioneer caught up in California's oil boom of the early 20th century, Day-Lewis won for a part that could scarcely have been more different than his understated role as a writer with severe cerebral palsy in 1989's "My Left Foot."

"My deepest thanks to the academy for whacking me with the handsomest bludgeon in town," Day-Lewis said.

The Coens missed out on a chance to make Oscar history — four wins for a single film — when they lost the editing prize, for which they were nominated under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes.

"The Bourne Ultimatum" won the editing Oscar and swept all three categories in which it was nominated, including sound editing and sound mixing.

Past winners for their screenplay to 1996's "Fargo," Joel and Ethan Coen joined an elite list of filmmakers to win three Oscars in a single night, including Francis Ford Coppola ("The Godfather Part II"), James Cameron ("Titanic") and Billy Wilder ("The Apartment").

Cotillard, the first winner ever for a French-language performance, tearfully thanked her director, Olivier Dahan.

"Maestro Olivier, you rocked my life. You have truly rocked my life," said Cotillard, a French beauty who is a dynamo as Piaf, playing the warbling chanteuse through three decades, from raw late teens as a singer rising from the gutter through international stardom and her final days in her frail 40s.

"Thank you, life; thank you, love. And it is true there [are] some angels in this city."

A relatively fresh face in Hollywood, Cotillard has U.S. credits that include "Big Fish," "A Good Year" and the upcoming "Public Enemies," featuring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale.

With a heartbreaking turn as a woman succumbing to Alzheimer's in "Away From Her," Christie had been expected to win her second Oscar.

She won best actress 42 years ago for "Darling."

Heavies ruled the first acting prizes. Along with Day-Lewis' greedy oilman, Bardem played an unshakable executioner in "No Country" and Swinton played a malevolent attorney in "Michael Clayton."

"I have an American agent who is the spitting image of this," said Swinton, fondly looking at her Oscar statuette.

"Really, truly, the same shape head, and it has to be said, the buttocks. And I'm giving this to him, because there's no way I'd be in America at all, ever, on a plane if it wasn't for him," said Swinton.

Bardem won for his fearsome turn in "No Country."

"Thank you to the Coens for being crazy enough to think I could do that and for putting one of the most horrible haircuts in history over my head," said Bardem, referring to the sinister variation of a page-boy bob his character sported.

Host Jon Stewart joked that Bardem's haircut in the film combined "Hannibal Lecter's murderousness with Dorothy Hamill's wedge-cut."

Mickey Mouse gained a rival as Hollywood's favorite rodent as the rat tale "Ratatouille" was named best animated film, the second Oscar win in the category for director Brad Bird.

Bird thanked his junior-high guidance counselor, who expressed repeated skepticism over his desire to become a filmmaker.

"It went on like this until we were sick of each other," said Bird, who also won the animation Oscar for 2004's "The Incredibles" and shared a nomination for original screenplay for "Ratatouille," a $200 million blockbuster. "I only realized just recently that he gave me the perfect training for the movie business."

The ceremony's montage of photos and film clips of stars, filmmakers and others in cinema who died in the past year ended with a scene from "Brokeback Mountain" featuring Heath Ledger, who died of a prescription drug overdose last month.

Glen Hansard of the Irish band the Frames and Marketa Irglova, both non-actors who starred in the musical romance "Once," won the best-song Oscar for "Falling Slowly," one of several tunes they wrote for the film.

"What are we doing here? This is mad," Hansard said, recounting the low-budget history of "Once." "It took us three weeks to make. We made it for a hundred grand. We never thought we'd come into a room like this and be in front of all you people."

The song won over three nominated tunes from "Enchanted" written by composer Alan Menken, an eight-time Oscar winner, and lyricist Stephen Schwartz, a three-time winner, whose previous academy prizes included their song and score collaborations for "Pocahontas."

The sound-mixing win for "The Bourne Ultimatum" extended the years of Oscar futility for Kevin O'Connell, a nominee for "Transformers," who holds an academy record: 20 nominations, no wins.

Michael Moore, who assailed President Bush over the Iraq War in his Oscar speech for documentary winner "Bowling for Columbine" five years ago, missed out on a chance to take the podium again.

His health-care study "Sicko" lost the documentary prize to "Taxi to the Dark Side," a war-on-terror chronicle that centers on an innocent Afghan cab driver killed while in detention.

Box-office dud "The Golden Compass" scored an upset for visual effects over the blockbusters "Transformers" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."

Other early winners included "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" for costume design, "La Vie En Rose" for makeup and "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" for art direction.

The Oscar broadcast began with a fanfare and an effects-laden opening segment showing key characters and creatures from past films lining Hollywood Boulevard.

Stewart started his opening monologue with a wisecrack about the 100-day writers strike that ended just in time for the Oscars to come off as usual.

"These past three and a half months have been very tough. The town was torn apart by a bitter writer's strike, but I'm happy to say that the fight is over," Stewart said. "So tonight, welcome to the makeup sex."

Stewart joked about this year's crop of "Oscar-nominated psychopathic killer movies."

"Does this town need a hug? What happened? 'No Country For Old Men,' 'Sweeney Todd,' 'There Will Be Blood?' All I can say is, thank God for teen pregnancy. I think the country agrees," Stewart said, referring to best-picture nominee "Juno."

Thursday, February 21, 2008  

Screenwriting Classes - Writers University

The Right Course for Your Success

Where can you acquire all the knowledge you need to write your blockbuster screenplay or great American novel? Your destination is Writers University, a division of The Writers Store.

Our online creative writing school delivers -- in just four short weeks -- exceptional instruction by world renowned experts in their fields who guide you through the right techniques, followed by priceless feedback specifically tailored to your own projects. Writers University's customized feedback makes the difference between writing "just a story" to crafting work brimming with vivid characters, sparkling dialogue, and riveting action.

Writers University offers its creative classes online -- we are available when you are, anytime day or night. Learning how to write your way to success has never been easier or more affordable!

Our next session is scheduled for March 10, 2008 - April 04, 2008 -- Sign up TODAY!

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Here are just a few of our exceptional courses:

Write Dialogue that SIZZLES!

Best-selling author and former development executive, Karl Iglesias, custom-designed his course to make you a successful writer, now. In Writing Dialogue for Emotional Impact: Crafting Fresh Dialogue That Snaps, Crackles and Pops Off the Page Iglesias shares 50 specific, applicable, brilliant writing techniques to enable you to write authentic, sparkling, well-crafted dialogue that individualizes characters, moves the action, and entertains the reader, your reader! Get the clues for sizzle from reader-emotional response to the keenest story analysis you'll find anywhere with this very special class.


It All Begins with The Story...

Award-winning writer Tom Sawyer designed and teaches the perfect course for the novelist and short story writer: Storytelling: How To Write Stories That Will Grab And Hold Your Audience. You'll learn take-it-to-the-bank approaches to guide you through the fiction writing process, techniques for turning your ideas into a workable, gripping tale, and you'll acquire the necessary mindset of an effective storyteller whose stories are peopled with unique, fascinating, believable characters that tell -- and sell -- your story.


Write The New "Best Show on TV"

An inside look at the world of episodic television is provided with our Beginning Television Writing course, taught by William Rabkin and Lee Goldberg, responsible for popular entertainment from Monk to Diagnosis Murder. Analyze shows like the pros; develop franchise-friendly story ideas; polish your story into an appealing outline ready for the vital step to success: the spec script. Get insightful notes and careful, illuminating analysis, thought-provoking tips, and guidance from two of the best creators of TV stories in the business. All in four short weeks!


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Master the pitch that SELLS. Kathie will teach you how to deliver a pitch with POWER, how to click with decision makers, how to convey your passion for your project so they will ask for your script! The Princess of The Pitch, a woman with more than 25 years experience with story analysis and project development, will spend 30 minutes with you -- alone -- to practice what you've learned in Introduction to Pitching.


Our Screenwriting Basics course, the result of more than 25 years of helping writers succeed, will guide you from FADE IN to FADE OUT -- at your own pace, with ample opportunity to get answers to your pressing questions from the experts at Writers University. You'll be well on your way to a screenplay in four short weeks.


The Play's The Thing - Write on!

Another opening, another show -- and the next one could be yours. Oft- produced playwright and screenwriter Jonathan Dorf's' Introduction to Playwriting offers clear, step-by-step guidance in all the basics of character, conflict and structure, setting, dialogue, and formatting plus the direction you need to learn a dozen essential elements in the rewrite process that will really move your play to the next level. You'll gain fresh insight, fall in love with writing plays, and learn concrete steps for development and the theater's unique submission process.


Writers University's creative online writing courses are:

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008  

25 Steps to Becoming a Screenwriter

Screenwriter Richard Showstack provides his "25 Steps to Becoming a Screenwriter"—some tongue-in-cheek humor on making it in Hollywood.

There are about 10,000,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area. Of those, approximately 10 people have the power to decide what movies get made.

All the rest want to be screenwriters.

Why does anybody want to become a screenwriter? Is it because they love movies? Is it because they love the creative process? Or is it something deeper, something more sacred, such as the desire for the fame and fortune that go along with it? (Don’t forget the babes! They love screenwriters because they think screenwriters can introduce them to people who are really famous and make the really big bucks.)

As an “aspiring” writer of screenplays (translation: I’ve never actually sold one), I have learned a thing or two about how to “make it in Hollywood.” So, without further ado, here is my list of “25 Steps to Becoming a Screenwriter.”

1) Ask yourself: a) Is there anything else I can do? and b) Can I live with myself if I do not become a screenwriter? If the answer to either is “yes,” get a real job. If the answer to both is “no,” proceed to step #2.

2) Find a psychiatrist and get your head examined. (If he diagnoses you as an obsessive-compulsive with masochistic tendencies, that’s a good sign.)

3) Read as many books on screenwriting as you can. Then forget 99 percent of what you have read.

4) Pick any three subjects and, under the tutelage of someone who knows how to write screenplays, write scripts about them.

5) Throw the scripts away—they’re terrible. (But at least now you know the format and structure of screenplays.)

6) Check in with your psychiatrist and get a prescription for anti-depressants.

7) Write three scripts about the three things that are most important to you.

8) Whew! Good thing you got that out of your system! Now throw those scripts out, too—they are also terrible.

9) Write another script, this time focusing not on what you want to say but on what will entertain, emotionally move and transport an audience to a new virtual world, in the process helping them to learn (or relearn) something important about the human experience.

10) Send out 50 letters of inquiry to production companies. You will never hear from 40 of the production companies. Five production companies will return your letter unread, saying that for legal reasons they do not accept unsolicited inquiries. Three will write back and thank you for your inquiry but say they are not looking for any scripts at the moment. Two will ask you to send your script.

11) Send your script to the two companies and spend the time waiting for a response rehearsing your acceptance speech for the Academy Award® for Best Screenplay.

12) One of the companies will write back and tell you your script has great potential and that they will be happy to rewrite it for you for $5,000. You will never hear from the other company, but at least NOW YOU ARE IN SHOW BUSINESS!

13) Try to limit the amount of time you spend sitting alone in the bathroom banging your head against the wall to three days.

14) Try some interesting new combinations of drugs and alcohol to see if that helps you become more creative.

15) It doesn’t.

16) Find someone with an interesting story to tell, and write a screenplay based upon his/her story.

17) See steps 10 through 13.

18) Go to a writers conference and meet lots of other screenwriters (your competition). Discover that they are not only younger and more talented than you are but they all seem to know each other. In addition, they all have optioned scripts already.

19) Ask everyone you know if they know anyone who knows anyone in Hollywood. Find out that your mother’s dental hygienist has a patient who knows a "Big Hollywood Star."

20) Write a letter to the Big Hollywood Star, mentioning your mother’s dental hygienist’s patient. Introduce yourself to the BHS and suggest that the two of you get together to discuss script ideas.

21) Receive a head shot of the Big Hollywood Star in the mail with a photocopied note thanking you for being a fan.

22) Call a suicide hotline but have trouble talking because you suddenly get an idea for a script about a person who works at a suicide hotline.

23) Go see a lot of movies to remind yourself why you wanted to become a screenwriter in the first place. Only now you can’t enjoy any of them because you spend the whole time thinking about how the screenplay for the film would look on paper, and, after the film is over, you realize you could never write anything as good as that. (Alternately, the movie was terrible, and you can’t figure out why anyone bought that piece of crap when you can’t even get your phone calls returned.)

24) With the money you have saved from your “day” job (you weren’t crazy enough to give that up, were you?) start seeing a therapist.
The therapist will try to convince you that it is/you are crazy to keep pursuing a career in screenwriting. If you agree with the therapist, give up on your dream. If, however, you think the therapist is a boring sludge who is just jealous that you are doing what you really want to do and is secretly being paid by your parents to crush your dream and is probably writing a screenplay himself anyway, and that, no matter what anybody says, you are not going to give up that dream, then you are ready to become a screenwriter.

25) Tear open your heart and write the script you find there!
(Of course, you won’t sell it, but …)

Richard Showstack is a full-time writer/editor/screenwriter. He has had two scripts optioned. Two books of his “fables with moral lessons for teenagers” will be published by BeachHouse Books, an imprint of Science and Humanities Press. GiftoftheMagic.Com

Tuesday, February 19, 2008  

How to Find Weaknesses in Your Script

By Don Bledsoe

The new screenwriter tends to have a love affair with is/her "baby." He's married to every word and nuance he's carefully scripted onto each page. Often, it reads more like a novel than a screenplay and usually it needs a serious rewrite. It's time to get a divorce.

You must not be afraid to hack, chisel or cut-out ANYTHING that does not serve to push the story forward. Sooner or later, you'll write a scene that is just plain good. You're in love again and all is right with the world. Finally, you conclude that it doesn't serve the story as it should. You must get a divorce and hack it out of the script.

Remember: not every story is movie material. Not every story is as fascinating on the screen as it is in our heads. This is especially true of biographical stories. As interesting as someone's true-life experiences are, they rarely translate well to the screen. However, it often makes an excellent bestselling

In screenwriting, you only have TWO TOOLS to work with in a screenplay:

DIALOGUE: that characters say
ACTION: a visual description of what is seen on the movie screen

This does NOT include:

* Anything anyone "knows" (i.e. "Ed heard about Jennifer's problem at school.")
* Anything that cannot be photographed (i.e. "Mary loves chocolate ice cream.")
* Anything the audience "knows" (i.e. "This is the same woman we saw earlier at the bar.")
* Any background information (i.e. "John is Tom's best friend.")
* Any action description that uses '-ing' words. (i.e. "Sue is reading the newspaper." should be "Sue reads the newspaper.")

Here's a common sense approach to self-analysis of your own screenplay:

1. Read some FIRST-RATE scripts!

You need outstanding examples of well-written screenplays against which you can compare your work objectively. I recommend you read at least three, preferably nine, screenplays. Here's the catch: You MUST read them ALL in the same week. Agents and development executives read 35-50 a week on their own time so I know you can read at least three. Don't look at a single page of your script until you've finished reading the scripts you downloaded. Read one (or more) in each of the following categories:

* One in the same genre as yours,
* One that's been made into an OSCAR-winning or nominated movie, and
* One that's an all-time favorite movie of yours.

2. Now: read your script.

It might seem a little different now, but that's GOOD. You're becoming a little more objective.

3. Read yours again: OUT LOUD.

Isaac Asimov: "Either it sounds right or it doesn't sound right."

You might be amazed at how you'll spot those things you know need a little extra attention. They're those things that seem "odd" or don't feel "right" to you when you read it out loud. You might find yourself thinking that certain characters say and do things that don't seem to "fit" their backstory. You likely find this especially true of dialogue. Circle these dialogue passages so you can come back to them later.

4. Act it out.

This is also an opportunity to get actor friends to read your script. If scenes are awkward or don't come across as you intended, they need work. Stage a reading of the script. Make sure all of the actors get a list of the characters they will portray and have someone assigned to all of the lesser, incidental characters. Don't prep them! Let the actor get the information about the character only from the script. If he doesn't get it, neither will an agent, reader or producer; and you need to go back the set-up the character so he DOES get it. During the reading, mark scenes that don't work or have the intended impact and come back to
them later.

5. Read it through out loud again, but only the ACTION DESCRIPTION.

Movies are a visual medium. If your story isn't visual, maybe it shouldn't be a movie. Did you get lost? Are things vague? Are the scenes not visual? Can you tell what's going by the visual clues? Mark those scenes and come back and flush them out a little more.

6. One more time out loud, but this time only the DIALOGUE.

Do characters seem to drone on and on? Can't tell WHAT they're talking about? Do they talk about things not essential to the scene? Mark these scenes and come back and rewrite them later.

Rule of Thumb: Scenes and dialogue should start at the point where, if you cut out the start of the scene, what follows doesn't make sense any more. This also applies to movies. Many screenplays really start around pages 30-50, which means the writer spent way too much time setting up the story. How do you tell? As you read, it suddenly seems as though you've started a "movie in a movie" and you like it better than the one you started. Time to get divorced. Unsure? Write a second script and see which version you like best.

Writing is Rewriting

Ernest Hemingway: "Don't get discouraged because there's a lot of mechanical work to writing...I rewrote the first part of Farewell to Arms at least fifty times."

Paddy Chayefsky: "I'm not a great writer, I'm a great rewriter."

Good advice from two guys who ought to know.

Long wanting to be in "the business" Don Bledsoe started young producing a short film for NBC while still in high school worked in the Story Department at Paramount Studios at age 19 and later as an actor and makeup artist in film and television in Hollywood. A self-confessed computer geek he took up screenwriting in the early 90's and founded Script Nurse/b/a in 1999.

Read The 2008 Oscar Nominated Scripts

Follow the links below to read this years nominated scripts.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Atonement by Christopher Hampton (based on the novel by Ian McEwan) - undated, unspecified draft script in zip/pdf format (hosted by Focus features)

Away From Her by Sarah Polly (based on the short story The Bear Came Over the Mountain by Alice Munro)

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et le papillon) by Ronald Harwood (based on the novel by Jean-Dominique Bauby) undated, unspecified (probably shooting) - draft script in pdf format (hosted by Miramax Films)

No Country for Old Men by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy) - undated, unspecified (probably shooting) draft script in pdf format (hosted by Miramax Films)

There Will Be Blood by Paul Thomas Anderson (based on “Oil!” by Upton Sinclair) - July 25, 2006 final shooting script in pdf format (hosted by Vantage Guilds 2007)

Best Original Screenplay

Juno by Diablo Cody - February 6, 2007 revised pink draft script in pdf format (hosted by Fox Searchlight)

Lars and the Real Girl by Nancy Oliver

Michael Clayton by Tony Gilroy - February 11, 2006 Final Shooting Draft script in zip/pdf format (hosted by Warner Bros)

Rataouille by Brad Bird (original story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird) - undated, unspecified draft script in pdf format (hosted by Walt Disney Studio Awards)

The Savages by Tamara Jenkins - April 10, 2006 pink revised script in pdf format (hosted by Fox Searchlight)

Monday, February 18, 2008  

Screenwriters and Filmmakers - Pitching the Cold Heart of the Banker

by John Gaskin

Can a creative pitch alone get your script produced? Pitching the script is an art that is much talked about, put into college curriculums and lauded by the Pop Culture. But, there's a big factor missing from creative pitches. It's fundamental; but broadly ignored by key creative people.

For over 20 years I've been hired by Film Financiers (Studio Exec's, Bonding Companies, etc.) to watch over their investment during the film's production. I've also had more than a few independent filmmakers ask me for help in getting their film off the ground. So, I've been rubbing elbows with the elusive Film Financier (of one stripe or another) for some time.

Creative screenwriters, directors and filmmakers, especially when they're new at the game of film production, conceive that the money for wonderful scripts should be found - like apples dropping from a tree. 'Fraid not. Filmmaking is as much about the money as it is about the creative.

The person who you're pitching may be wearing blue jeans and topsiders, but he's still a Financier (or his immediate superior is). When pitching your script, think - I'm looking into the cold heart of a banker.

Learn to be familiar enough with the costs of your script to defend it in the language of money. Then, you'll be able to look any Studio Exec in the eye and mean what you say in his/her language.

But, you say, I'm creative! What do I know about money, and financing, and accounting, and, and..... Take heart. It's a heck of a lot easier than you may think.

Pitch the Script...But Don't Forget
The Money Independent screenwriters, directors and producers are fervently connected to their scripts and can pitch them anywhere, at anytime. But can a creative pitch alone get the film made?

It's very rare. Think about it. You're dealing with the M word....MONEY! So, yeah, pitch your heart out. But, hey, isn't it reasonable to learn some of the language of the person you really want to work with? To my mind, that's the only way to be credible in the eyes of the Financiers. Remember that we're talking about INDEPENDENT Film Financing and not about getting swept through the red carpet of the major studios.

There's a two step process going on here:

1. Pitch the script

2. Create confidence that the film CAN be produced within defined dollar limits.

Translate Creative Ideas Into 'Money Talk'
Being bright and creative is pretty much the norm in the film industry. But, being bright and creative, AND knowing how to translate creative ideas into 'money talk' elevates you way ahead of the pack.

To deliver a good pitch, have answers to these key questions about your screenplay:

- How you will achieve and produce your vision, yet still stay within a predetermined budget.

- What's important about money in film production, and what's not, and how to bring it up in the pitch.

- What are some of the 'Insider' secrets about film budgeting and reporting that YOU can use to your advantage?

- Regardless if you're a film director/ producer/screenwriter/ crew/ film student/ etc., film budgets and cost reports have something to do with you and your goals. Be prepared to bring this topic up when you pitch your screenplay.

You get the idea. Learn to be familiar enough with the costs of your script to defend it in the language of money. Then, you'll be able to pitch your script in a very powerful language - the language of MONEY.

John Gaskin is a 20 year veteran of the film industry. As one of the most sought after Film Production Auditors he's learned a thing or two about managing films and assisting creative people achieve their visions in film. Learn more about the driving force behind all film production.

Sign up for a series of seven articles - all only about 3 to 5 pages each which will give you insight into most of your 'pitch the money' problems, at

Saturday, February 16, 2008  

'Star Trek' pushed back to 2009

Paramount shuffles major releases for this year due to the Writers' Strike

By Pamela McClintock

LOS ANGELES -- Paramount is pushing back the release of J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" from Dec. 25 to May 8, 2009, saying the picture's gross potential is greater as a summer tentpole.

Move was part of a major reshuffling to the studio's release calendar, as well as to DreamWorks' release schedule. A second key change: DreamWorks' 2008 Ben Stiller summer comedy "Tropic Thunder" is moving from July 11 to Aug. 15.

That's likely to mean that another film will take "Tropic's" old spot on July 11, particularly since there is such a dearth of broad comedies in the May-July stretch.

Like Paramount, many of the major studios are likely to revisit their release schedules in the wake of the writers' strike as they try to balance out their 2008 and 2009 calendars.
Video: Watch the "Star Trek" trailer

"Star Trek" has no competition in its new slot -- at least not so far, although it opens one week after 20th Century Fox bows "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and one week before Sony is slated to bow sequel "Angels and Demons."

Paramount also dated two titles. Martin Scorsese's Leonardo DiCaprio-starrer "Shutter Island" will be released Oct. 2, 2009.

An untitled comedy produced by Marlon and Shawn Wayans will be released on Feb. 9, 2009. Their brother Damon Wayans is directing from a script the three co-wrote with two other family members. Par is keeping the logline under wraps.

Here are the other release changes to Paramount's schedule:

Eddie Murphy family pic "Nowhereland" is moving from Sept. 26, 2008, to June 12, 2009.

Renee Zellweger horror-thriller "Case 39" is moving from Aug. 22, 2008, to April 10, 2009.

David Fincher's Brad Pitt starrer "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is moving from Nov. 26, 2008, to Dec. 19, 2008.

In addition to the new date for "Tropic Thunder," DreamWorks and Par announced that Leonardo DiCaprio-Kate Winslet "Revolutionary Road" will be distributed by Paramount Vantage, and not the studio proper.

Copyright (C) 2008 Variety, Inc. All rights reserved

Thursday, February 14, 2008  

Sexiest Screen Kisses

We celebrate 10 of cinema's hottest smooches

By Kathleen Murphy
Special to MSN Movies

In "Bull Durham," while sizing up a potential bedmate, Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), sexy baseball groupie and muse, asks veteran catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) what he believes in. This baseball stud's been around the diamond a few times, so he drawls out a provocative list that includes everything from "the hangin' curveball" to good Scotch to soft-core pornography. But it's his last entry that hits a home run: "I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days." Crash's notion of slow-burn kissing requires time and expertise. In the lexicon of his libido, locking lips means a delicious slide into sensual meltdown -- not just a brief hiatus in the mechanics of hooking up.

When nightclub hottie Barbara Stanwyck takes her own good time savoring Gary Cooper's lips in "Ball of Fire" -- "I'm gonna show you what yum-yum is" -- she sends the novice's temperature skyrocketing so high, cold water must be applied. And who can argue with Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) when he growls at Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) with virile menace in "Gone with the Wind": "You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how." And then there's tough-guy Humphrey Bogart's romantic tribute to the woman he's loved and lost in "In a Lonely Place": "I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me."

But that was then -- and this is now. Despite the lure of Angelina Jolie's impossibly plush mouth, Julia Roberts' wide-as-all-outdoors grin and Reese Witherspoon's perky lips, not to mention the boyish charms of Brad and Leo and Colin and Jake and Heath, does it sometimes seem to you that there's an insufficiency of genuinely sexy smooching in the movies? For your Valentine's Day pleasure, we've compiled 10 silver-screen kisses that hit us where we live. Enjoy -- and don't forget to share your own favorite sizzlers.

10. "The More the Merrier" (1943)
Walking home through dark quiet streets, punctuated by embracing soldiers and their girls (it's World War II), lanky Joel McCrea keeps draping his hand over adorable Jean Arthur's shoulder. This move causes her to angle out from under her fur wrap, which he gallantly re-adjusts so that his hand can return to its happy position. While chatting away about girls he's "gone with," their voices lower into the languorous rhythms of mutual desire. After they practically collapse on her brownstone steps, Arthur babbles bravely on about the man she's engaged to marry (not McCrea), while he purrs at her as though she were a saucer of milk, fondling her hand, her arm, her waist, then leaning into her neck and placing his hand on her breast and throat -- she, of course, fending and lifting and re-adjusting and talking, until finally, just as we are about to melt down, they kiss. It's one of the hottest love scenes in the movies.

9. 'Notorious' (1946)
Signing on for some kind of post-World War II spy mission in South America, the party girl has gotten sober and fallen in love with the guy who recruited her in "Notorious." Now, in a Rio hotel room, the sleekly dark Devlin (Cary Grant) stalks around the radiant Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) like a hungry but wary cat. Their kissing is so passionate, she sighs with its intensity; what whispered words they can get out fall between the more important business of keeping the kisses coming. As they drift in off the balcony, she leans on him, turning him for another kiss as he phones his office. "This is a very strange love affair." Kiss. "You don't love me." Kiss. "When I don't love you, I'll let you know." Heartbreakingly luminous, deliquescent with love, Bergman exposes her very soul in those deep kisses, whereas Grant remains opaque, ramrod straight, a hard man not easily taken in. Director Alfred Hitchcock faked out the censors -- who forbade kisses that lasted for more than two seconds -- by interspersing conversation with lovemaking, thereby making the scene one of the most erotic ever filmed.

8. 'Vertigo' (1958)
In "Vertigo," former-cop-turned-private-eye Scottie (James Stewart) falls head over heels for Madeleine (Kim Novak), a mysterious beauty with a Mona Lisa smile. She's his platonic ideal of cool blond beauty, more illusion than flesh-and-blood woman. As he eyeballs Madeleine obsessively, it's clear that looking at her is all the carnal possession this loving voyeur needs. After her death, Scottie discovers her earthy brunette "twin" and proceeds to methodically remake Judy into Madeleine, his ghostly object of desire. Only when the transformation is complete can he embrace her -- locking lips with the new Judy as though he'd like to swallow this walking dream. Deliberately dizzying us Peeping Toms, Alfred Hitchcock's camera circles the kissing couple, locking them in their fatal fantasy.

7. 'To Have and Have Not' (1944)
When 19-year-old Lauren Bacall insolently draped her long, lean self in a doorframe, bottle of Scotch in hand, old-hand Humphrey Bogart grinned appreciatively at the newcomer's come-hither, keep-your-distance sexiness -- and promptly fell in love in "To Have and Have Not." Slim (Bacall) soon gets sore at something Steve (Bogey) says and sashays back to her own room, just across the hall. Moments later, he's at her door, with the same bottle, to further amp up their sexually charged chat. So heated is this coded exchange, they almost kiss, but he retreats. In good time, Slim turns up in his doorway again, toting that same fifth of Scotch. She kisses him this time -- admitting she's been wondering "whether I'd like it," then tries it out a second time, drawling huskily, "It's even better when you help." This room-to-room foreplay is some of the sexiest stuff in the movies, thanks to Bogey and Bacall's chemistry -- and it climaxes with that classic, no-holds-barred invitation to true love / lust: "You don't have to say anything or do anything. Not a thing. Or, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and ... blow."

6. 'Brokeback Mountain' (2005)
Cowboying up on "Brokeback Mountain," sheepherders Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) fall into unlikely love. Boys without fathers or friends, these two loners create a sustaining community of two in the high country. Trouble is, they must come down from paradise -- and like the lovers in "Wuthering Heights," their passion makes them unfit for any but each other, unsuitable as husbands and fathers. Now, four years have passed, with intervening marriages and children, yet at first sight, the two men come together as though magnetized, in a face-smashing kiss so powerful, it's like two halves of one soul, one body violently re-uniting. That kiss speaks volumes, the words these mostly inarticulate men could never say -- and Ennis' wife, looking down at that hot embrace, turns away, her face turned gaunt by a loss this green girl doesn't yet understand.

5. 'It's a Wonderful Life' (1946)
In "It's a Wonderful Life," George Bailey (James Stewart) has just learned that once again his long-cherished dream of leaving Bedford Falls to seek adventure must be shelved. He and Mary (Donna Reed), the hometown beauty who's always loved him, put their heads together, a phone receiver between them, to listen to a mutual friend's business proposition -- something about getting in on the ground floor in plastics. Vibrating between rage and desire, George finally explodes, attacking the woman he loves like a cornered animal. Shaking her ferociously, he sobs: "Now, you listen to me, I don't want any plastics, I don't want in on any ground floor, and I don't want to get married ever to anyone!" Then, raining hot kisses on his girl's rapt, upturned face, he surrenders forever his ambitions to leave her and hometown behind. It's the conflicted complexity of George's passionate violence that pumps up the erotic impact of this embrace.

4. 'Lost in Translation' (2003)
"Lost in Translation" catches the flavor of being slightly adrift and sleepless in a foreign city, done in by jetlag and culture shock -- that lost feeling you get sometimes even if you haven't been traveling. Movie star Bob Harris (Bill Murray), visiting Tokyo to make a Suntory commercial, seems to have been living this experience for years, while newlywed Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is at loose ends because her moviemaker husband's run off to hang with a starlet. These two castaways meet in a bar, play, talk, sleep (platonically) together, creating the kind of lovely human connection that gives life renewed meaning. When it's time to part company, he whispers something (we must imagine what) in her ear and then, embracing in the middle of a street full of humanity, they share a long, poignant kiss. A nowhere man and a nowhere girl just hours ago, these two "lovers" create their own private island, refuge from anonymity and loneliness.

3. 'Mulholland Dr.' (2001)
For awhile, David Lynch's far-out fever dream of a movie, "Mulholland Dr.," feels like "Nancy Drew in Hollywood," what with blond ingénue Betty (Naomi Watts) teaming up with a curvaceous, amnesiac brunette (Laura Harring) to solve the mystery of the latter's identity. After turning up a nasty "clue" in the form of a woman's rotting corpse, the girl detectives bed down for the evening, with cheerleader Betty assuring her pal that "Everything is A-OK." "Good night, sweet Betty," whispers Rita, leaning nakedly over her PJ'ed friend to brush her mouth gently. After a beat, that sweet-dreams buss heats up into hungry soul-kissing, and the two beauties -- Dream Factory icons of light and darkness -- passionately caress each other as though bent on erasing every boundary between them. Just one moment in Lynch's lubricious plunge into our movie-mad/movie-made unconscious, but it's a shocker -- like spying on Rita Hayworth in the hay with Doris Day.

2. 'Some Like It Hot' (1959)
Taking a break from impersonating a girl in an all-woman band in "Some Like It Hot," lothario Tony Curtis cross-dresses up in captain's cap and yachting jacket to make a play for luscious Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe). Doing an over-the-top Cary Grant drawl, he confesses that love leaves him cold ever since his childhood sweetheart fell into the Grand Canyon just as they were about to lock lips. Despite Freud, the Mayo Clinic, Balinese dancing girls, French upstairs maids and all the mineral oil that money could buy, this poor little rich boy can't rise to the occasion. All sweet sympathy, Monroe begins to work her magic, aided by champagne, soft music and dim lighting. As torrid kiss follows torrid kiss, the supine Curtis ever-more-weakly insists his libido can't be resurrected. Reduced finally to a simmering puddle of lust, he takes off his steamed-up spectacles and surrenders: "I've got a funny sensation in my toes, like someone was barbecuing them over a slow flame." Sugar, delighted: "Let's throw another log on the fire."

1. 'Spider-Man' (2002)
Science-nerd-turned-superhero Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) aches for firecracker Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), but Spidey's such a busy swinger, he never has time to hook up with M.J. One rainy night, Peter, stalking his lady-love from rooftops, obliterates a quartet of slavering hoods who've backed her up against a wall, threatening rape and worse. Afterward, M.J.'s gallant arachnid slips into an alley to get his mask on, then drops down -- head first -- the wall beside her. As good as naked in a wet T-shirt, the voluptuous M.J. moves in to carefully peel down Spider-Man's mask, so that his exposed mouth can receive her deep, adrenalin-charged kiss. Cute doesn't nail it -- M.J.'s "undressing" of bug-eyed Spidey to get at the warm human flesh beneath the mask generates a weirdly erotic charge. No shrinking violet, this redhead knows exactly how to handle a superhero who's just a wee bit conflicted in the clinches.

Kathleen Murphy currently reviews films for Seattle's Queen Anne News. A frequent speaker on film, Murphy has contributed numerous essays to magazines (Film Comment, the Village Voice, Film West, Newsweek-Japan), books ("Best American Movie Writing of 1998," "Women and Cinema," "The Myth of the West") and Web sites (,, Once upon a time, in another life, she wrote speeches for Bill Clinton, Jack Lemmon, Harrison Ford, Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, Art Garfunkel and Diana Ross.

Hollywood Punches Back in As Strike Ends

Euphoria over returning to work quickly gave way to workaday cold sweats as Hollywood writers resumed the daily grind of cranking out scripts after a three-month strike.

"I felt giddy," Craig Sweeny, a writer for the NBC drama "Medium," said about being back on the job Wednesday, a day after the Writers Guild of America overwhelmingly voted to end the walkout. "Then someone handed me a production schedule, and then I felt scared."

TV writers face tighter deadlines than usual to salvage what's left of the season for shows that went into reruns because of the strike that started Nov. 5.

On its first day back, the crew at CBS' "CSI: NY" scrambled to start pounding out two scripts from scratch in two weeks, about half the usual time, so new episodes could premiere in early April.

Executive producer Pam Veasey tossed out a story premise for one episode: "There's a fire, and it's clearly arson."

Under such a tight deadline, the writing crew had little time to readjust to work after so much time off.

"It was like we were all sent to a really weird summer camp for three months, but now we're able to come home," writer Samantha Humphrey said.

Added colleague Peter Lenkov: "We want to deliver something good to thank the audience for sticking with us."

Dates were announced Wednesday for some series to return to the air, among them CBS' "How I Met Your Mother" on March 17, NBC's "My Name Is Earl" on April 3 and NBC's "The Office" on April 10.

While many TV writers were back at work, their counterparts for big-screen films were gradually easing into it, pitching new scripts and resuming meetings on screenplays left in limbo because of the walkout.

"We got calls last night to our agents saying, `Let's get back to work,'" said Derek Haas, who co-wrote "3:10 to Yuma" and met Wednesday with the director of a summer blockbuster he and writing partner Michael Brandt had begun revising just before the strike started.

"Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" screenwriter Harris Goldberg said he was thrilled his phone was ringing again as development executives checked in with him on an idled TV pilot and movie script he wrote.

"After complete silence for three months, I got maybe six or seven calls from people saying, `Let's go, let's get together, let's get the ball rolling,'" Goldberg said.

The sudden collegial spirit was in contrast with the darkest days of the strike after talks between writers and producers broke down in early December. For more than a month, all both sides did was trade insults, until top studio executives stepped in and negotiations resumed.

Meanwhile, reality shows and repeats ruled prime-time TV, and most late-night comics had to come up with their own jokes. The Golden Globes were canceled because stars refused to cross writers' picket lines.

Film production went on generally unaffected because of the longer lead time for big-screen shoots. Yet a few major films such as Ron Howard and Tom Hanks' "Angels & Demons," a follow-up to "The Da Vinci Code" were delayed until writers could touch up scripts.

Even now, labor uncertainty lingers. Contract talks loom for the Screen Actors Guild, and while many in Hollywood are optimistic that actors will reach a deal, they could walk off the job after their agreement expires June 30.

Writers returned after guild leaders and producers came to terms on a key sticking point compensation for shows and movies distributed over the Internet. Guild members are expected to ratify the contract in voting over the next 10 days.

Along with the 10,500 writers who walked out, the strike immobilized thousands of technicians, makeup people and other production workers. The Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. estimates the strike cost the local economy $3.2 billion in lost wages and revenue.

New scripts are likely to flood studio offices in the coming weeks. It will be a buyer's market, so studio executives may not be in any rush to snap up scripts, said agent Toochis Morin, a partner in the Brant Rose Agency.

"They'll be able to sit back and have the pick of what they want," Morin said.

While writers put in long hours on picket lines, plenty of work presumably got done on scripts they hoped to shop around once the strike ended.

"The dirty little secret is, I suspect, people have been working much of this time," said Phil Johnston, who had just started writing a TV pilot for NBC when the walkout began. "I, at least, have been writing almost every day in the exact same way I was not necessarily on the studio projects I was paid to write, but I've been working on my own stuff all along."

Despite the financial hardship it brought, the strike was not all bad, some writers said. People who usually lock themselves in a room with a handful of colleagues or scribble away on their own at home were out socializing with one another daily as they walked the picket lines.

"There's a silver lining to it. It was a rare chance for writers to meet each other face to face," said Brian Sawyer, whose TV pilot with writing partner Gregg Rossen was on hold during the strike. "We made friends out there. But we don't know yet if they're real friends or just strike friends."


Associated Press writers David Bauder and Jake Coyle in New York and Sandy Cohen, Raquel Maria Dillon, Lynn Elber, Christy Lemire, Ryan Pearson and Solvej Schou in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Monday, February 11, 2008  

2008 BlueCat Screenplay Competition Deadline Approaching


* Winner receives $10,000
* Four finalists receive $1500
* Every writer receives a written script analysis of their screenplay

Now in its 10th year, the BlueCat Screenplay Competition has discovered more successful writers and provided more support through our analysis and feedback to more writers than any screenplay competition in the world.

We are the leading voice for the development and inspiration of the undiscovered screenwriter, and our community welcomes you to challenge yourself by entering your screenplay in the 2008 competition!


Who is BlueCat?

We are a writing competition founded in 1998 by a writer and judged by the same writer for its entire history.

We're not a film festival, an agency or media corporation, or the arm of a corporate studio.

We are for screenwriters only!

Who are the writers BlueCat discovers?

Andy Stock and Rick Stempson (2005 Winners) has a second script in production: THE GOODS: THE DON READY STORY, produced by Will Farrell and starring Jeremy Piven and Ving Rhames

Lance Hammer (2004 Finalist) recently won the 2008 Sundance Directing Award for BALLAST---on to Berlin!

Andy Pagana (2004 Winner) is directing for DIE HARD producer, BlueCat winner under second option after winning 2006 Austin

Young Kim's (2006 Winner) script HYUNG'S OVERTURE attached to HITCH producer Teddy Zee after development in Pusan

Ana Lily Amirpour's (2007 Winner) THE STONES slated for production this year

How does every writer who enters BlueCat actively change as a writer?

We provide over 600 words of analysis on every script we receive, carefully written by readers handpicked by our judge, giving the beginning writer and the seasoned pro an objective opinion on their work.

Over the course of our history, we have given over 7000 writers feedback on their screenplay for simply entering, at no additional cost.

Would you like an honest, unguarded reaction to your screenplay?

Does BlueCat have the largest award in the world?

We offer the largest cash prize ($16,000) for a screenplay contest that provides written analysis to every entrant than any other competition. There are no additional fees to get our feedback on your script.

We take pride in rewarding all writers for their commitment to their goal and their dream!


DEADLINE: MARCH 3rd ($50 entry fee)
LATE DEADLINE: APRIL 1st ($60 entry fee)

BlueCat Screenplay Competition
Hollywood, Ca 90028

THE BLUECAT WORKSHOP: Chicago, NYC, Rochester, Toronto
Workshop is limited to 10 and runs one day.
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Sunday, February 10, 2008  

Four Ways to Give a Crap

By Henry Jones

There are a lot of factors working against writers -- gaining access to the Hollywood system, finding representation, over 40,000 scripts registered at the WGA every year. But sometimes, a writer's greatest enemy is him- or herself. Henry Jones tells you four simple ways you can show a reader that you care about your script (and whoever's perusing your gem).

There're a lot of folks out there with all kinds of advice on screenwriting. You've got the seminars, the expos, the festivals, and competitions all telling you they've got the key to open the Hollywood gates. They don't, but man do they ever paint a pretty picture. If you follow this structural paradigm, you'll sell a script for a million dollars! Yeah, you might. One out of 45 million people won the lottery too; that doesn't mean every person who got a ticket made a good investment. Structure, story, character, dialogue, style, and tone are of vital import. They are things that every writer must learn regardless of ability. Almost every aspect of the craft can be taught. Almost.

The one thing they never tell you is the only thing that really matters: You can either write, or you can't. It's that easy. All the books, seminars, and conferences in the world aren't going to change that. Instinct cannot be taught. Writing is like any other innate ability. You can take all the drawing, painting, and sculpting classes every university has to offer, but you'll never be as good as the kid whose fifth-grade doodles looked like real pictures. Michael Jordan can teach you every single thing he knows about playing basketball and -- even under the weight of all this knowledge -- you'll never be as good as him if you don't have it in you already; not if you don't have the natural ability, the instinct.

This is not to say that every successful writer has this instinctual knack for the craft. Of the 30 highest-paid writers in the industry, ten would fail a freshman creative writing course. Another ten might rise to the dizzying heights of proficiency. Of the remaining ten, five or six are good, three or four are great, but only one or two are brilliant. And it's a sad detriment to this craft that you don't have to at least reach the level of good to succeed.

Am I promoting some kind of literary elitism where only the best of the best should be allowed to participate? No. I'm saying that those teaching the craft spend their time trying to teach something that can't be taught while ignoring the things that every screenwriter can and should know. This concentration on mapping the intangible has cast many a fledgling writer's script into the fires as a result of failure in the most rudimentary lessons.

But there's light on the horizon; all is not lost. Regardless of whatever innate ability you may or may not have, you can improve your skills. Most of us will never be brilliant, but with practice, perseverance, and dedication, you can at least be good. There are things every writer has control over regardless of skill level. Spelling words properly should be a no-brainer, so we'll skip that. It doesn't matter how many or how few years you've been at this, these bits of advice can be applied by any and all.

Lesson 1:

In the name of everything holy, don't put camera directions in your script.
But Henry, I read a bunch of scripts online and there were camera directions all over the place! Yeah? I once saw a guy pour a bottle of lemon Lysol through a loaf of bread and drink what came out the other side. That still doesn't mean that Lysol's better for you than whiskey.

The great majority of scripts you read online are shooting drafts, kids. The same goes for the scripts you buy at the bookstore. They call it a shooting draft not only because it's the draft they shot the film with, but because it has directions with which to shoot -- camera directions. And who is it that has the camera? Right, the director. Don't tell them how to do their job. Having this garbage in your script will mark you as an amateur before they get past page one.

Moreover, camera direction tends to be used by writers to avoid having to write. Angle on this, close-up on that, pan to this, wide on that -- this is hack work, all of it. Use your skills as a wordsmith to say these things without having to say them. An example? Ugh. Fine. But I want you to know my toaster strudels just dinged and they'll be cold by the time I get to them. That's on your head. Let's use some descriptive lines for this.

With camera direction:

CLOSE on the tip of a pencil moving against paper.

Without camera direction:

The tip of a pencil moves against paper.

Or, if you want to put a little sauce on it:

A pencil tip scratches a graphite trail
on white.

Looks easy, right? It is. Nine times out of ten, the answer to removing camera direction is simply that -- delete it. The sauce is a different matter, that's up to you. Okay, one more. We'll continue with this scene.

With camera direction:

PULL BACK to reveal TOM (30), a tall, skinny
man, writing in a ledger at a small desk. CLOSE
on the wall clock: 6:30. CLOSE on Tom's watch:
6:30. ANGLE on the ledger as Tom writes in it.

Without camera direction:

Tall, lean frame hunched over a child's desk,
TOM (30) eyes a wall clock: 6:30. He
crosschecks the time on his watch and notes it
in a ledger.

Not only should you not use camera direction, you don't need it. It takes the reader out of the story, removing them from the fictional reality you've created, and makes them think about cameras moving this way and that. While I'm at it, let's talk about reveal. Something moves aside to reveal something else; something blows up to reveal something behind; someone opens a Happy Meal to reveal a cheeseburger within. Do not overuse this word. As a guideline: Nothing is ever revealed unless it is, in fact, a revelation. When that guy in Total Recall opens his shirt and the conjoined fetus/mutant/speech-impaired telepath Kuato pops out, we've got us a revelation, people. You want confirmation? Okay. From the script:

George unbuttons his shirt, revealing...A SMALL

Considering four different writers had a crack at the script by this point, it's about as eloquent as a mute with lockjaw -- but you get the point.

[Ed. note: Total Recall's final writing credits list screenplay by Ronald Shusett & Dan O'Bannon and Gary Goldman; screen story by Ronald Shusett & Dan O'Bannon and Jon Povill; inspired by the Phillip[sic] K. Dick short story, "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale."]

Lesson 2:

Knock it off with the parenthetical dialogue directions already.
So often writers use these to convey a character's emotional state while they're saying the line: (angry), (happy), (worried), (sincere). All these and their wretched ilk do nothing more than add a line to the script that doesn't need to be there. The character's emotional state should be clear without any of this needless dreck if you've done your job setting up the scene and telling the story. Most actors cut them out like so much cancer the second they get the script. Once again, it's a matter of telling someone else how to do their job while the writer avoids doing theirs.

The only reasons to use parentheticals in dialogue are to clarify to whom a person is speaking if there're more than two people in the room (to Bob), or -- in rare instances -- how a person is speaking (whispers). It's just that easy. The golden rule: Show, don't tell. Again, this comes down to doing your job as a writer. Don't take the easy -- hack -- way out; let your prose do the heavy lifting.

Lesson 3:

Never use "we" in your description. Ever.
There are writers who will argue with me on this. I'll flat-out tell you: they're wrong. "We hear" this, "we see" that, and while "we" were writing it, our skills reverted back to a seventh-grade level.

Yes, it's easier. It's also easier to kill someone with a disease than it is to cure them. I could go off on a tangent and ask, "Is there more than one person reading the script at one time? Who constitutes the other half of 'we'?" But that's the back-door explanation to this. The beauty of this particular venue of the written word is that all you have to do is write it and -- bam -- there it is. There is no need to say we see or hear anything. Don't tell the reader what they're seeing, show them. Don't tell them what they're hearing, give them the damn sound.

With WE:

We see a MONKEY rattling the bars of his cage.
We hear a distant RUMBLE.

Without WE:

A MONKEY rattles the bars of his cage.
A distant RUMBLE.

There you have it, easy as Sunday morning. Just like camera direction, the cure is usually a matter of omission. As you go through your work to excise all these little tumors -- which, ahem, I'm sure you're doing at this very moment -- you'll come across some that require something more than just deletion. You'll find instances where you've painted yourself into a wee corner. You're gonna think, "Maybe I'll just leave it in. Just one. No big deal." Sweet mercy, kid, you sound like a recovering alcoholic taking a nosedive off the wagon. It's not okay to have just one instance of this in your script. Not one, not again, not ever. Got it? Use your skills as a writer to figure out the best way to write it without resorting to the use of "we."

Lesson 4:

There is a time and place for "-ly" adverbs; most often, it is neither the time nor place.
As with everything above, this is a problem that stems from laziness on the part of the writer. The great majority of screenplays -- and writing in general -- are rife with them. And, more likely than not, their effect is the very antithesis of what you're trying to achieve.

If you want to separate yourself from the cattle, this is the best place to start. Every time you feel the urge to use words like slowly, plaintively, slyly, quickly, happily, smoothly -- ask yourself this: "Am I adding detail, or avoiding it?" I got a dime to a dollar that says you're avoiding it. Not only that, but folks have a tendency to tack on the old "-ly" and make rather unwieldy bits of chaff out of solid words. Take "stalwart," for instance. A great word that, while it can mean physically strong, is most often used to denote solidarity of character. But when someone stands by their friend stalwartly, it softens the meaning and almost loses it altogether. Using the adverb in this manner is like wrapping a pillow around a crowbar before you hit someone with it. And what is it that "-ly" adverbs really do? They tell, folks; they don't show. To be precise, they tell how.

Avoiding these little devils is going to hone your craft. It's going to force you to think of ways to present information that you've never thought of before. To set it up a bit: Bill's on the ground and Jake's working him over with a baseball bat.

With "-ly":

Jake brutally beats Bill to death with a
baseball bat.

What does this sentence tell the reader? A guy killed another guy with a baseball bat. How did he do it? Brutally. Now it's time for the question: "Am I adding detail, or avoiding it?" This sentence is dry, it's bland as communion wafers -- they really should do sour cream and onion, or cheddar, mix it up a bit -- and does nothing to tell the reader what's really going on. Sell it, kids. Sell it.

Without "-ly":

Bone shatters, flesh bruises and
bursts, every wet thump of the bat
coming harder, faster. Jake wipes
blood spray from his eyes, lines
up on what's left of Bill's head and
swings for the bleachers.

Of course, not every description in every scene needs this much detail. Most shouldn't have this much detail. But the ones that matter should. The ones you really need the reader to remember should. An adverb used at the right time, in the right place can be just what the doctor ordered. These instances are rare. Let me put it this way: If you have three "-ly" adverbs in your script, you probably have one too many.

And there you have it, folks. Four really simple things you can do to improve your work in the craft of screenwriting. Dropping your adverbs will be the hardest of these tasks, as it demands more of you as a wordsmith. But if you're not in this to get better, then you shouldn't be in at all.

Can you sell a screenplay with camera direction, parenthetical dialogue direction, "we," and "-ly" adverbs? Yes, absolutely. There is no doubt. If you do (or have), it still won't change the fact that you're a poor craftsman. You don't need to follow this advice to succeed. Will it make your screenplays better? Beats me, you could have the worst story in the world. But it will make your writing better. That's where you have to start -- on the level of a single sentence, a word, a punctuation mark. They can preach structure, character, dialogue, style, and tone to you till kingdom come and your script's still gonna look like a chimp after a (*&^ fight if you can't string five good sentences together.

Writing well in this venue has become a matter of personal ethic. Being a writer doesn't mean you have to be brilliant, and it's not just the ability to form letters into words, words into sentences and so on -- it means that you care how you use your words and that you study how others use theirs with that same care. There're roughly 18,000 to 20,000 words in a screenplay. If you really want to do this, if you want to be a writer, then every word has to count. No one can make you write well, no one can force you to stop taking shortcuts and hone your craft. No one can lay down an edict to honor this lovely language and try to be worthy of her. No one but you.

Henry Jones is a working screenwriter and connoisseur of foods containing preservatives, carcinogens and cheese. His hobbies include smoking, cursing, and string theory speculation.