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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

DVD Review: Million Dollar Screenwriting

This review is long overdue. Back in November, at the Expo, Chris Soth was kind enough to give me a copy of his 4-DVD set, Million Dollar Screenwriting: The Mini-Movie Method. I watched the whole 4:40 set over the next week, but never got around to posting a review until now. Sorry Chris!

Now truth be told, if I didn't like it, I wouldn't be telling you. Chris is a nice guy, and I wouldn't want to publicize that it was bad. But I also wouldn't lie to you. I'd just have not posted anything at all. So you can trust my comments here!

The set is actually a taped and edited version of one of his seminars, and packs a lot of info into the 4 plus hours. Let's talk first about the content.

This was my first introduction to the 8-sequence technique (or 8 mini-movies, as Chris calls them). I'd heard about it, but hadn't read or seen anything about it yet. And I'll be honest. It ain't as groundbreaking as I expected it to be. In reality, it is not much different than 3-act structure meets Hero's journey, with a healthy dose of pacing thrown in. That isn't, however, to say that it is bunk or anything. I think the method can be helpful both to those who are a bit more experienced, as well as more beginner types. I'm just saying that it isn't as original a concept as I expected. But why does it need to be? If it works for you, use it.

That being said, let's look at the DVD itself. As I understand it, this has been condensed down from a longer, two-day seminar that Chris gives. On the one hand, I thought that this was more than comprehensive enough -- what would be inserted in the rest of the seminar? But then I thought more about it, and I know that one of the things that is left off the DVD is looking at examples from actual films, scanning them via the Mini-Movie Method. I can see how this might be an extremely helpful aspect.

Learning something in abstract is never as effective as seeing it in concrete terms. Among other things that I do, I teach LSAT and GMAT prep courses. And its funny. When I took my LSATs (didn't end up going to law school though I got in and was offered a partial scholarship, and don't regret the decision not to go in the least), I did not take a course. I studied on my own, thinking that all a course offered was enforcement of the studying, and I knew I would be able to study on my own. Now that I teach it, however, I see that I didn't get the techniques as much as I would have if I had taken a class. I could have done even better than I did when I just prepped on my own. (Not that it mattered in the long run anyway!)

The point is, you just learn things better when they are taught to you, and when you have a good instructor who can illustrate points in different ways. So is Chris' full seminar worth it? I don't know, but I'd bet it is better than simply watching the DVDs, as comprehensive as they are. So keep that in mind.

To me the best, and also perhaps the most potentially worrisome, of the 4 DVDs is disc III, in which Chris applies the techniques of the Mini-Movie Method to 10 common genres. I found this interesting because it showed a fresh side to the 8-sequence structure, allowing us to see a bit of diversity within the paradigm. At the same time, I can see less experienced individuals following this as too formulaic a method. Of course, this is the major criticism of any work on screenplay structure, going all the way back to good old Syd Field. So this isn't a major concern, though with the added detail, it goes further than Field, for example, did.

Bottom line, I think this DVD set is good, interesting, and enlightening. Might not be good for absolute beginners, but generally a good technique to at least familiarize yourself with. And this is a good DVD set to learn it from.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

How'd you do on the lsats?


6:34 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Well enough! ;-)

Why do you ask?

6:57 AM  
Anonymous Phillip Vargas said...

I’m currently reading Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach by Paul Gulino. It’s a good read, but like you said, there’s nothing groundbreaking about the technique. However, the book does offer several examples of various films that help to illustrate the method.

Interestingly enough, I’ve examined an outline I started before reading the book and I recognize those eight sequences within my work. They naturally evolved from the storytelling and the structure. So I suppose, more than anything, the book helps to reinforce what’s already there.

8:19 PM  
Blogger mahlzeit said...

How about the Nine-Act Structure?

10:27 PM  
Blogger lad said...

I never want to hear LSAT again. I'm writing a new book called "No Structure." Just kidding.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Chris Soth said...

Hey Guys!

Thanks for the kind words, FJ. Maybe, I agree, not ground-breaking, but why hasn't there been a book that goes into detail until last year (Gulino's)? Why are there 100 books on 3-act structure and two (gulino's, mine, presently available only as an ebook) that go into this in step-by-step detail, when this is, IMO, the better, easier to apply, resulting in better stories, method? Why'd I have to spend (DAMMIT) 40K at USC to learn this? Sigh.

Phillip, yes, I think, if you've got a good story, you're doing this or something like it, naturally. It definitely naturally evolved from good storytelling...but where has it been recorded? Again, the three-act structure evolved the same way and is "the industry standard". If you don't do either naturally, what's your recourse? Where's the help for you? (I hope it's me, I hope it's me, I hope it's me!!!) Seriously, hope I can help.

Mahlzeit, I had stumbled across your site before, and I think our approaches are similar -- seems like you open with an image or prologue (a good idea) that turns my 8 into your nine, and thereafter, are fairly parallel, but would love to talk to you about it, here's my email -- chrissoth@aol.com. Or come on over and post on the blog.

LASTLY -- anybody reading this, I'll offer a special on the dvd set, but you'll have to contact me directly, that email again, chrissoth@aol.com...

...and will offer a full-money back guarantee!

Thanks "A Million", y'all!


11:31 AM  
Blogger mahlzeit said...

Heh, the Nine-Act Structure is not *mine*. I just linked to it as an alternative. ;-)

1:47 PM  

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