.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

My Photo
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.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Getting a Move On

Taking a break from my final packing, and figured I'd knock out this quick post. I bet you've been asking yourself what it is actually like to have sex in a submarine, right? Close quarters and all. Well, that relates to this post. How? I wanted to let you know about another new blog on the block.

Check out Sex in a Submarine, the new blog by pro scribe and good guy Bill Martell. I first came into contact with Bill via his famed Blue Books, two of which were among the first screenwriting texts I ever purchased (after Syd, of course). Since then I've gotten to know him via scr(i)pt magazine, for which we both write (he's the West Coast Editor).

In addition to writing 18 produced films (he's known as the king of cable TV movies), and a number of unproduced theatrical features, he is also the author of a book on Action Screenwriting. Plus, he's a very accessible guy.

So go check out his blog, and enjoy (plus find out, via post #1 why it is named Sex in a Submarine)!

Tags: , ,

Friday, April 28, 2006

Trust the Reader (and yourself)

And now, from the bad writing files, the following paraphrase (to protect the guilty) from a script I read last night:

  • Often times, people can be just like those field mice -- while everything exciting is buzzing around them, they scamper off and hide in their holes, missing out on all the fun because they are too scared.
  • He's obviously talking about himself.

Okay, people. It is bad enough when your dialogue almost entirely lacks any subtext. But when you finally put the tiniest drop of it in there, please don't destroy that miniscule bit of positivity by spelling out for the reader that you put it there!

This script contained action statements similar to that last line on at least (no exaggeration) 15-20 different lines. And to have it on even one line would have been inexcusable!

Trust the reader. Trust the actor and the director. Trust your own writing to make the point! You don't need to put directions in there to say, "Hey idiot! Make sure you understand what I'm really saying here! There is more going on that is written on the page!"


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

For Your Reading Pleasure

The packing proceeds, and thus the in depth posts still must wait a bit. But I did want to tip you off to two other blogs.

First, there is "How to Write Screenplays. Badly." This is one damn funny blog, and somewhat instructive in its own sarcastic way. If you haven't seen it yet, go check it out. Entertaining shite.

Then, the other day I was checking my stats, and came across a clickthrough from THIS. I have no idea what it says, but how cool is that anyway? Getting a link from a blog in yet another foreign language. Let's see, there was already the French half of Martine's blog. And I vaguely remember seeing a blog with some Gaelic in it. I definitely came across a screenwriting blog in Hebrew (or maybe half and half), from Israel. And though in English, I still thought it was cool to see that blog from Liechtenstein! (And instead of my digging around to try to find them, thereby defeating the purpose of a quick blog post, speak up if you fit the bill here.) We're really everywhere!

Anyway, if anyone speaks Greek, enjoy that second one, too!


Monday, April 24, 2006

Adverbially Speaking

We often like to offer up hard and fast rules for screenwriting. No flashbacks in the first 10 pages. Voiceovers shouldn't directly match what we're seeing on screen. Don't write things that can't be seen or heard.

Some of our rules also apply to the specific words we choose when we write. Use active verbs, for example.

And the truth is, most of these rules are perfectly intelligent bits of advice (though of course there may be times where they may be broken, willfully, to good effect). The one that I hear a lot, however, that I've never really taken to heart as a writer or as a reader is that we should avoid all adverbs in our descriptions.

Via Kristen's blog, I recently learned that Stephen King wrote about this in his book On Writing (which I've yet to read). I don't know whether he was the first to mention it, but either way, it has grown into an oft-stated hallmark of good screenwriting.

More likely, it can be traced back further, to Strunk and White's famous and enduring Elements of Style:

Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place. This is not to disparage adjectives and adverbs; they are indispensable parts of speech. Occasionally they surprise us with their power, as in

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren't go a-hunting
For fear of little men...

The nouns mountain and glen are accurate enough, but had the mountain not become airy, the glen rushy, William Allingham might never have gotten off the ground with his poem. In general, however, it is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give to good writing its toughness and color.

Okay, points well taken. But they didn't give an example of adverbs. I can't ever remember ever consciously reading a screenplay and taking note that the adverbs in it weakened the descriptions. Plus, we don't warn developing screenwriters to avoid using adjectives as well. Why not?

Is it not possible that adverbs can add color and toughness to our verbs much in the same way that adjectives can do for our nouns? I'm not suggesting that there are never stronger ways of saying things without using adverbs. Clearly it is better to write that a character "storms" from the room, or even "tears out of" it, rather than saying he "walks angrily" from it. But is that always the case? Is there something wrong with saying "Alexis stares hungrily at her plate" (or at Tommy, for that matter)? Is there a stronger and/or more evocative verb that delivers the same action, emotion, and tone?

I'm not convinced that adverbs definitively indicate weak writing. Undoubtedly, we should be aware of them, and always see if we can think of a stronger and more evocative way of writing the same thing. But I don't think we must automatically excise them all.

Did the adverbs in those past three sentences detract from their strength? Were they empty words that served little purpose? (Perhaps -- you tell me.) Could the same information have been delivered with more active and well-chosen verbs alone?

Tags: , ,

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Future or Nothing New?

Y'all may remember that before Passover I mentioned a cool discovery that I wanted to post about. This is that post.

Now let me start by saying that I'm of mixed feelings about what, if anything, this means. But whatever we make of it, it is still pretty cool, and worth discussing and thinking about.

I've long been a member of various online communities, but never was one to fully immerse myself in them. I've got a page up on MySpace. When I first started on the internet, back around '93, I started on AOSmell, like so many others have. I was certainly active in chat rooms and bulletin boards on there back then. Even before then, I used to log on to plenty of local BBS's when I was in jr. high or high school. So I guess you could say I'm no stranger to the online community, even though I've always been more into my "real" life than in any "virtual" one.

But Second Life is like nothing I've seen before. I guess part of it is that I've never been much of a video gamer, and I've also never played The Sims. Basically, it is an online community that is a complete world of sorts. Participants create avatars to represent their online personae. They meet each other and socialize, and participate in "parties," games, and other types of entertainment.

But one difference from previous online communities is that there is also commerce. According to something on the site a few minutes ago when I looked, it said that there was over $204,000 spent on Second Life today! And that's in real money. There are just under 200,000 "residents" currently (meaning over $1/resident spent today, of course). This also blows the mind somewhat.

But what does that have to do with us? (And yes, I'm aware that this is the third consecutive paragraph I began with the word "but.") Well, one of the hallmarks of Second Life, and a source of income, is that residents can "do anything" on the site. They are supposedly limited only by their imaginations. And they seem to treasure and value creativity. From one of the pages explaining the Second Life Creations:

Second Life is a place dedicated to your creativity. It’s about dreaming of something one moment and bringing it to life the next. Everything in Second Life is resident-created, from to [sic] the strobe lights in the nightclubs to the car (or spaceship) in your driveway.

And one of the relatively recent developments in Second Life has been the development of short films, entirely created within the Second Life "world." There have been a few "trailers" to promote Second Life. And then there is Silver Bells & Golden Spurs, the first original film "shot" in Second Life. The makers have no misconceptions about what they have really done:

Silver Bells and Golden Spurs is an exploration of the movie making capabilities of Second Life. It serves as a proof of concept for doing such, as well as the need for certain technical improvements.

And improvements it certainly does need. There are a number of awkward images, and/or rough movements. On a technical filmmaking level, the film also suffers on both directing and screenwriting counts. The camera's restless and repetitive spiraling moves are more distracting than anything else, and the poem that forms the film's voiceover narration is trite and silly.

Still, I am not here to discuss the weaknesses of the film, for they are not what I'm interested in. Rather, I want to talk about what Silver Bells means to us as screenwriters.

I've found that the internet offers numerous means for screenwriters to promote themselves, and most of us are not taking enough advantage of the opportunities. There are cheap and easy ways to build websites of our own. There are also blogs, MySpace, the upcoming StoryLink (now in beta testing), podcasts, and numerous other tools. But we also need to remember that we are screenwriters. So what better way to promote ourselves than with films of our writing?

We can create short films or trailers of our work (and if you, like me, don't want to also direct, find someone to partner with). There are plenty of outlets for showing the work. MySpace recently launched a film section, akin to its popular music section that has worked wonders to promote bands. We can upload our videos for free to YouTube and/or Google Video. You can even get them up on Atom.

Still, making a film can cost money. Even if you shoot on DV. And the money isn't always there in return. So what about a film "shot" without using actors, sets, film, DV, or anything else? And in an environment that fosters commerce in exchange for creative acts? Can Second Life offer a potential outlet of self-promotion for the developing screenwriter, and possibly be a source of a small amount of income at the same time?

I don't know. And in fact, I'm not even convinced this is such a new thing. It looks like it very easily could be something old dressed up in new clothes. I mean, digital animation has been around for a while, and that's essentially what Silver Bells is. I think that the "new clothes" here are a ready market for consumption and (perhaps) an easier means of production for the animation unitiated. Which in a way is just another step in the democratization of fimmaking, and the arts in general. DV, ProTools, FinalCut, PhotoShop, etc. These have all been things that helped level the playing field of arts production by removing many of the economic barriers.

So does it mean that there will just be much more crap getting made? Or does it mean it will be easier for creative people to get their visions before the people that they want to see it? I think both, probably. And though I am unlikely to invest much time in developing a film on Second Life, I still find the possibilities intriguing.

What do you think?

Hat tip to Jesse at The Writers Store.

Tags: , , ,

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Another "Only in LA" Moment

You may remember a little "only in LA" story I told recently. I saw a similar one today, but I figured I'd mention it also, since it shows a different aspect of LA car culture, I think.

I was walking past a strip mall in my neighborhood, on my way to the local CBTL. This particular strip mall has a Laundromat in it (why isn't it called a laundrymat?). So, as I'm walking past, I see a late middle aged couple walk out of the 'mat with a hamper full of clean clothes, and walk towards their car. What car's trunk do they squeeze their laundry basket into? A nice BMW Z4 Roadster!

Yep. Spend $35-45 K on your car, but no laundry in your home! Reminds me of a story someone once told me. They had a client who had a house in Beverly Hills, but there was only furniture in the front room. The rest of the house was empty. They wanted to address and image of B.H., but couldn't really afford to live there. Sad, in my opinion. But who am I to judge, right?

I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Their washing machine was probably just on the fritz. But funny to see anyway! And I'll say it again: you have to be aware of these quirks of life, so they can add color to your screenplays.


FYI, posting over the next week will be light, though not non-existent. I am moving again on 4/30 (found a better place for me, so worth the hassle of the second move in a few months), so I'll be busy with packing, writing (hopefully), and working. But I'll try to squeeze in a few more posts. I still owe you one that I mentioned before Passover began, so I hope to get to that by tomorrow night.

Tags: ,

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Another Good Offer

I've only recently come across Emily Blake's blog, but I did want to publicize a great offer she has made over there. For a mere $50 ($30 for a teleplay or short), Emily will proofread your script for "grammar, punctuation, and comprehension" (that last one is going to present some interesting challenges, I'm sure). This is not an offer of coverage or comments, just a readthrough for technical linguistic flaws.

You all know how frustrated us readers get when we see these things, and how amateurish such errors can make you seem. So this is money that is wisely invested. I have no idea how good a proofreader Emily is, but she is a high school teacher, so I've got to assume (and hope) that she knows her stuff. I've also done this sort of thing on occasion, and it is tedious work, so be thankful that she's offering the service, and at a very reasonable rate.

Tags: ,

Snakes on a MotherFriedman CNN

On my Yahoo homepage just now I saw a video from CNN about the growing hype online surrounding Snakes on a Plane (love that logo, by the way). And there in the middle of it all was a brief one-line interview/reference to the Scribosphere's own Josh Friedman.

The reporter credited his made up line "There's motherfuckin' snakes on a motherfuckin' plane!" with sparking the entire online groundswell of support. And then they cut to him saying the line itself. The story went on to say that the line was not originally in the script (since Josh made it up), but New Line added the line due to fan support, actually changing the rating from PG-13 to R in the process. I have no idea if this is true, but if so, it is pretty cool.

Anyway, I just wanted to say congrats to Josh. Hope you're getting a cut of the publicity money! And maybe you should go to arbitration for partial screenplay credit!

Tags: ,

Monday, April 17, 2006

More on Unshootables

I'm in the middle of trying to catch a few writing deadlines, so I can't post for long right now, but I didn't want to leave you all totally hanging. So instead I wanted to follow up on my post from last week about writing description into scripts that cannot be seen or heard.

I actually posted about this very topic at least once before, HERE. In that post I mentioned that there were certain times when it was okay to break the rules, as long as it doesn't become a rule, and it serves a good purpose.

In the last couple of days I've discovered that a few of the luminaries of the Scribosphere have weighed in on this very topic as well. So to further the discussion (though I think most of the opinions are generally the same, with simply better examples and the like), check out the following:

John August - "Writing what can't be shot"
Alligators in a Helicopter - "Not Overdescribing, and Trusting Your Reader/Audience"
The Inside Pitch - "The Forbidden Zone"

Let me also take this opportunity to point you over to Christopher Lockhart's new blog (hat tip to Warren): The Inside Pitch. It is brand spanking new, and is excellent so far. I guarantee this blog will be required reading for many of you in the months and years ahead. Lockhart is the Executive Story Editor at ICM, and a founder (I believe) of the awesome TwoAdverbs.com, which is also worth checking out.

Okay, back to work with me!

Tags: ,

Thursday, April 13, 2006

One More for Passover

Okay, I don't typically post these "viral videos" on here. But since this one stars my former roommate, Simon Feil, an actor in NYC, I figured I'd post it.

To add a bit of writing content: There seem to be a bunch of these (shorts or animations) that pop up around each Jewish holiday, and I'm sure it is the same around specific events in other subcultures. The problem I've noticed about most of the recent Passover themed ones is that people were forwarding them not because they were good or funny, but just because they found them and they were about the holiday.

This one, entitled Passover Noir, is not amazing but at least is a bit more clever, and has some decent writing and production values. For those not familiar with the customs related to Passover, scroll down past the video and I'll explain!

So basically, on Passover, Jews avoid eating "chametz," which means leavened grain. Hence the whole Matzoh thing. Matzoh is a kind of bread that was baked before it had time to leaven, or rise. We also have a tradition to remove all chametz from our homes. The night before Passover begins, we traditionally search for any remaining bits of chametz that we did not find previously. This is often done by candlelight, using a feather and spoon to sweep up the little bits. Then on the following morning, we burn what we found the night before, symbolically (and literally) destroying the remaining chametz from our homes.

This film was a cute and enjoyable take on the ritual. Probably more so to those who didn't need to have it explained, but still...

Talk to you all again on the weekend or Monday. (I've got a cool discovery to post about! Ooooh, suspense!)

Tags: , , ,

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Don't Go Anywhere, Okay?

You won't be hearing much from me over the next few days. I may try to throw up one more quick post tomorrow, but not sure if I'll have time. And after that, I'll be on hiatus until the weekend or Monday. Celebrating Passover, and then I have some writing deadlines to meet over the weekend.

So don't go anywhere! I'll be back in force after that. :-)



Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Who U B 2?

Through a bit of fortuity (a search landed someone on this old post of mine), I'm reminded of a post I made back in August last year. I asked readers to identify themselves and tell me, and the other readers, a little about themselves.

Considering that the blog has continued to gather steam and readership, I'd love to do that again here, as an update.

If you responded the first time around (click that link above to check), no need to comment again here, unless you want to update us! It also might be fun to reread that and see how your life may have changed since then.

But for those who didn't respond then, I'd love it if you spoke up now. Give us a name or pseudonym. What is your favorite drink? What is the most embarrassing thing you've ever written? Any distinguishing scars or features? Tell us whatever you think we should know! As I said then, this is your post.


Tags: ,

Smells Fishy

This should go without saying, but apparently it needs to be spelled out. So here goes:

In movies, if we can't see it or hear it, it ain't there!

I'm not even just talking about the little things in the action description like, "Bob has just gotten out of a divorce and is depressed." The one that irks me most is when a screenwriter tells us how something smells.

I mean, yes, I know that it is meant to be a clever way of evoking a mood and look, but it still fails. If you say something like "the room reeks horribly" we might be able to envision an actor translating that (though I'd still argue there are better ways of delivering the same description). But, "the room smells like decay" is not filmable! So why are you telling me that? What would you like me to do with that piece of useless information?

Most you might be able to get away with, if you're going to get all Shane Black about your style, might be to say something like, "If we could smell it, the air in here would present a surprisingly homey mix of cigarette smoke, days-old sweat, and whiskey breath." But you need that "if we could smell it" in there. Because we can't!

Okay, rant over.


Monday, April 10, 2006

The "First Ten Verbs" Meme

Don't know whether or not I've been tagged, and don't feel like waiting. So since I like this, I'm going to answer the meme right now.

This was started by Brett of A Bucket of Love and the idea is to list the first ten verbs in your current or most recent writing project in order to see how active or passive they are ("are" being a passive verb indicating a state of being, which is what these verbs actually are).

Here are the first ten (or so) from Hell on Wheels, my vampire western.

1. glints (Y)
2. glide (Y)
3. tips (Y)
4. end (Y/N)
5. is (N)
6. are (N)
7. play (Y)
8. rise and fall (Y)
9. fights (Y)
10. move (Y/N)

So I think I did pretty well there, the idea being that active typically works better than passive verbage. The "is" and "are" at 5 and 6 were in the same paragraph, establishing the setting, but I guess I could make them even more active. Also the "fights" was actually followed by "to be heard" so it is a mixture, but fights is the primary verb in the phrase. Others ("glide" or "tips") that I marked as "Y" (meaning yes, they are active) indicate a slow or tentative action, but are still active verbs nonetheless.

Now go on and tag yerselves!

Tags: , ,

Scriptwriters Showcase Recap

As you know from my previous posts, this will not be a recap of the entire showcase, but rather the two seminars that I attended on Friday.

First I went to "Pitch Perfect," moderated by John Scott Lewinski, and featuring Bob Kosberg, Bettina Moss, and Michel Shane (credits, etc, for all speakers in previous post). This was an entertaining session, and somewhat informative, but I wouldn't say I learned a hell of a lot. Here is some of what was said.

Michel stressed the importance of knowing your audience and market when you pitch something. He also pointed out that while scripts are fixable, and thus might get bought with flaws, pitches are just the bare bones, so things need to be in tighter shape. He spoke a bit about the lengthy process of getting Catch Me if You Can to the screen.

Bettina's greatest point was that when you are pitching, you must listen to those whom you are pitching. Too often, she felt, people just get lost in their practiced pitch, and keep plowing ahead, instead of reacting to the reactions of the audience. She tied this in to the idea of pitching yourself as well as your project. On numerous occasions, she said, she'd seen either a good pitch from a person they absolutely would not want to do business with, or vice versa. The latter is more important to us, in that the idea is that if they like you and the way you think/act/carry yourself, they may be interested in working with you on other projects, even if they don't like this specific pitch.

Bob, the so-called "Pitch King" (a term he decried, claiming he is neither Pitch King, Queen, nor Prince), was quite entertaining. He's a funny guy, though he does have a tendency to cut off other speakers, and/or answer questions that were directed to others. Still, he did have quite a good amount of value to contribute. He's probably sold more pitches in Hollywood than anyone else, and he (like Michel) was on the side of "high concept" being the best way to go with a script. He told stories of numerous occasions in which he or someone else found a newspaper or magazine article and used them to sell a pitch. A story that is not only original but also true is, he indicated, a good sell.

On the mechanics of the pitch, he suggested keeping it short (certainly under 15 minutes, and better 5-10 minutes). Structure the pitch in three acts, and feel free to mention where Act breaks are. It is better to keep the pitchees on the same page with you. Use very little or no dialogue, and few details, but do mention the big set pieces. Everything else can be spelled out if you've won your audience over with your sharp pitch.

He said that the best (though obviously very difficult) type of a pitch would be something that no one has ever heard before. That might be a simple phrase or a great concept. He mentioned one pitch (based on a true story out of Parade magazine) about a guy who lived in the Statue of Liberty. Another simply combined the words "alien puberty" (and he mentioned that aliens are automatically high concept, by definition). In brief, a good pitch is one that presents "a good idea, in story form, well told." As a way to practice pitching, he suggested we practice by pitching movies we've seen.

I asked about the importance of titles and/or movie posters to a pitch. The panelists seemed to agree that a good title goes a long way. They didn't suggest bringing in a poster (and in fact I actually meant just having the concept of a poster, more than actually bringing one in), but a good tagline can also be a good selling tool. Someone else asked a question lamenting the fact that pitches are not selling well in Hollywood these days. The response was that while many producers won't listen to pitches, there are still some who do. Another suggestion was to focus on talent-based (actor, writer, or director) prodcos, since good attachments open a lot of closed doors.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the second session I attended was by far the stronger of the two. Equally entertaining, and quite informative. Entitled "Element of Surprise", it was moderated by Bill Martell, and featured pro scribes Stephen Susco, Simon Kinberg, and last minute fill-in for Shane Black, John Cox.

Before I go into specifics, let me give a shout out to Susco, and recommend that you all go check out his site. Of the pro scribe sites out there, his is surprisingly undertouted and unknown. I will be adding to my sidebar soon. So go check out www.stephensusco.com, and/or his affiliated blog.

Okay, on to the panel. It began with a discussion of The Sixth Sense. I'm still not a big fan of this film, but after the praise heaped on it by all these guys, I'm going to have to give it another look. The writers discussed how it was a masterwork of misdirection and obfuscation. Everything you'd need to be able to figure out the big final plot twist was right there in front of your eyes. The guy gets shot in the first scene, and the kid tells us he sees dead people. And yet, we still don't see it.

Kinberg in particular (and I believe the other writers to a similar, yet somewhat lesser degree) were less pleased with The Usual Suspects, since they felt there would be no way to have seen the wool being pulled over our eyes. As they saw it, it was technically masterful, but it was really just a trick in which we couldn't see his hands.

Some other random points...
Kinberg spoke of burying set-ups for plot surprises within character scenes (mentioning Sixth Sense again). He also spoke about character, rather than plot, surprises. I can't remember the specifics (not having seen the film yet) but he mentioned a change in subsequent drafts of Mr. & Mrs. Smith where the second act had the characters reacting in equally believable, but much less predictable fashion than in an earlier version.

Cox mentioned a monster movie he wrote with a demon, in which the prodco liked it, but wanted him to remove the monster (in stereotypically Hollywood fashion). Still, he realized that by doing so, he improved the film. By extending the build throughout the film, the audience believed they were watching a psychological thriller, and then when at the very end a demon is revealed it created a satisfying surprise.

Susco mentioned the "unreliable narrator" as a great way to create surprise. He also mentioned how the big surprises work best when they are obvious in retrospect, but we never see them coming. For example, he mentioned that the name Darth Vader actually means "Dark Father" in old German, and we know that Luke has been searching for his father from the beginning of the first film. And yet, we are still surprised when the Dark Lord tells Luke "I am your father," we are utterly shocked. Cox explained this was because the best surprises express a deeper truth, and in this case made "horrible logical sense." Susco also discussed how the big surprises work best when they are in scenes that hit all sides of the "Grand Triangle" -- plot, character, and theme.

Kinberg spoke of the opportunity to use genre conventions in surprising the audience (noting that all three writers on the panel primarily are genre writers). Since audiences these days are quite savvy, especially within genres, he mentioned the ability to occasionally break some rules to defy expectations. He was impressed with the way Sixth Sense was able to bring tears to some eyes in one scene in particular, which he felt was unheard of in a psychological thriller. He also suggested opening your film with a scene that is not typical of the genre (bringing an example from Mr. & Mrs. Smithwhich started with the couple in marriage therapy, rather than opening with a big action sequence as would be typical of the genre). He felt that a good surprise makes the film emotionally bigger.

The panelists discussed the challenges of creating surprise in a big action film in which we know the hero will survive (such as Mission: Impossible 3 or a James Bond film). They discussed how the surprise can sometimes be in the "how" more than the "what." Susco mentioned that stakes can be raised so that jeopardy is at least ratcheted up higher. Cox said stakes can be about things other than life or death. Kinberg used Memento as an example of this; we already know the hero killed the guy that supposedly killed his wife, but the question is whether he killed the right guy or not. In the M:I 3 script Kinberg said he read, the writers supposedly increased the tension by making it less about whether Tom Cruise's character would die, and more about jeopardy to his love interest. Thus we begin to believe that Cruise might be willing to die for this. This is emotional, rather than physical jeopardy.

Kinberg also mentioned the pilot for Miami Vice in which we meet Don Johnson's character along with his partner, played by Jimmy Smits. Then, Smits character gets killed in an explosion. From that point forward, he always knew there was true jeopardy to the two true main characters.

Lastly, Kinberg also suggested adding or subtracting an element in each scene to see what types of surprises it creates.

So that was some of what I learned, and I hope you guys take a lot from those summaries as well.

On an unrelated note, I just wanted to thank everyone who contributed to my MS Walk yesterday (though if you didn't, and still would like to, you can still go to the website and donate, for about a month or so). I am proud to say that in just 2 weeks time I raised over $2500 to fight this disease, and I look forward to doing even better next year when I have more time!

Tags: , , ,

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Showcase - Brief Follow-Up

I will post more specifics later in the weekend, hopefully, but I wanted to say that I really enjoyed the Showcase when I was there this morning. I was only around for about 4 hours, but caught two good panels, with some solid speakers, learned quite a bit, met some new cool people, saw a number of familiar Scribosphere (and other) faces, and got some good schwag.

The first panel I went to was about pitching and featured Michel Shane (producer of Catch Me if You Can and I, Robot), Bettina Moss (former development exec with HBO films), and "Pitch King" Bob Kosberg, and was moderated by John Scott Lewinski. Unfortunately, Craig Mazin was absent, though he'd originally been scheduled for that panel. I was looking forward to meeting you, Craig! Oh, well.

This panel was certainly entertaining (Kosberg is quite funny), and relatively informative, though I'd have liked to get more solid information. Not that there wasn't any, just a bit less than I'd have liked. Of course, Kosberg did his typical "Here's my number and email, I listen to anyone's ideas" routine, which is certainly valuable.

The second panel I attended was called "Element of Surprise," and was a truly excellent session. It was moderated by Bill Martell, and featured Stephen Susco (The Grudge, The Grudge 2) and Simon Kinberg (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, X-Men: Last Stand). Shane Black was originally supposed to sit on the panel as well, but was AWOL, so John Cox (Sgt. Rock) filled in. (I've also just discovered that I covered one of John Cox' scripts back in August '03. Huh!)

This panel was not only entertaining, but also extremely informative. What I really appreciated about it was that it was very clear how knowledgeable these guys were about the craft of screenwriting. And in fact, that was largely the impetus for the entire showcase -- offering a chance to learn about writing from the professional writers themselves. Not only have these guys done it successfully a number of times, but they also clearly read scripts a lot, and are experts on writing in general.

I will definitely write more about the specifics later on, but I just wanted to get this short post out there now. Have a good weekend!

Tags: , ,

Friday, April 07, 2006

For My Jewish Readers

(Others will hopefully enjoy as well.)

So, Passover is coming next week, and I have two Passover related items to post about. One is an article I've written that is appearing in the current issue of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. It is about non-traditional seder foods, and includes three recipes. Any of you, Jewish or not, who enjoy cooking might want to check it out.

I've been making my own seder for about eight years now (though I ironically will not be making one this year), and I never really enjoyed cooking the "same old" foods. So I've always experimented with other good dishes that still remain within the bounds of what is kosher for Passover. The article is HERE.

Also related to food, eating, seders, and Passover, the film When Do We Eat? is about to open this weekend, in a platform release. I saw the film a number of months ago, and I really enjoyed it. Plus I have a few friends who were involved with it (one has a song over the closing credits, and a few others appear in a scene or two). It is not the greatest film ever made, but it is definitely a fun and funny film, that should appeal to Jews and gentiles alike. Here is some info that I'm simply cutting and pasting from an email I received from my friend:

From the director:

First, a mighty THANKS to all the folks who are spreading the buzz about WHEN DO WE EAT? Our website is currently receiving 40,000 hits/day....

Friends in the LA area can join us on Saturday, April 8 at the Music Hall in Beverly Hills for the 7:30ish screening (exact time and ticket purchase info will be available at www.laemmle.com in the next couple of days) followed by drinks at the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills.

Theater locations for first (April 7) and second (April 21) wave cities available at www.thinkfilmcompany.com/schedule/films/when/

Latest news at www.whendoweeat.com/news...

Click here for theaters showing WHEN DO WE EAT?

So, check it out! It has something of the tone and style of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and it features the inimitable Jack Klugman! Enjoy.

And now, for both the above reasons, it is time to eat!

Tags: , ,

Showcase Starts Tomorrow

The Scriptwriters Showcase begins tomorrow, and runs through Sunday. Just wanted to remind y'all. I know a number of Scribospherians will be there in various capacities and for varying lengths of time. In particular, I know that at least Warren and Bill will be pretty involved, so get out and support them!

I am not able to be there for the bulk of the weekend, for various reasons, including the MS Walk on Sunday (which I will again ask that you be kind enough to sponsor me for, by clicking HERE). But I do intend to be there for a good part of the day tomorrow (Friday). So keep a lookout for me. I'd love to see and/or meet any of you!


Tags: ,

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Hot Chicks Aren't Funny

Fans: "Just Shut Up and Look Good"

April 5, 2006
LOS ANGELES - In a joint news conference this morning in downtown Burbank, executives for the major television networks announced a startling revelation: hot chicks simply are not funny. This in the wake of last night's weak debut for Pepper Dennis, a new sitcom starring certified hottie Rebecca Romijn. Execs blame viewers, claiming this is just the latest in a season-long trend. They conclude that only men and a few fat women are capable of carrying a sitcom.

"We've tried to expand viewers' options," said Riley Doolittle, head of development for The WB, the network that aired Pepper Dennis. "Apparently, however, supermodels and other beautiful women are incapable of making fans laugh."

Pepper finished fifth among the coveted 18-34 demographic and lost 38 percent of its lead-in audience from Gilmore Girls. This follows other poor showings on babe-centric sitcoms this season. Heather Graham starrer Emily's Reasons Why Not met a similar fate. And despite a second season push by Fox sitcom Stacked, with uber-boob Pamela Anderson, it still is struggling to stay on the air. Most recently, CBS' Courting Alex, starring Jenna Elfman, was put "on hiatus" after a 74th place finish.

"Courting Alex is not a very good example of this trend," said media analyst I. M. Single. "Elfman is less universally recognized as a hottie. While many guys find her sexy, others just think she's kind of funny looking. But those other babe bombs illustrate a clear trend among viewer tendencies."

Comments on fan websites support this discovery. One fan on HomeTVCritics.com, identified only by his nickname "Scum," posted the following: "Tell these babes to just keep their mouths shut, and show us their tits. Alpha Tau Sigma rules!"

The sitcom discovery follows a similar revelation in the feature film biz. Following dismal box office showings of Elektra, Catwoman, and Aeon Flux, studio execs concluded that viewers don't want to watch hot chicks kicking ass. While there have been a few such successes (e.g. Tomb Raider), more often than not, fans want to see their hot chicks kicking ass in support of men who are doing the same. Trend spotters point to such examples as X-Men (also featuring Romijn) and the addition of Rene Russo to Lethal Weapon 3. Even the Catwoman character worked great when hottie Michelle Pfeiffer was sexily supporting Michael Keaton in Batman Returns.

Film Producer Norm Allipour claims there are other factors involved. "It's all about the story, isn't it? Those movies underperformed due to weak scripts, not because they featured hot women kicking ass."

Studio execs dismiss this notion, claiming that market testing has indicated that viewers love to look at hot chicks, but don't want to see them "looking too tough." They point to the most successful segment of the film industry -- pornography.

Still, Allipour's ideas may be gaining some momentum in the TV biz as well. Showrunner Bjorn Genius is currently retooling a sitcom starring Jessica Alba. "We were going to have Her Hotness playing a single mom forced to move in with her ex-boyfriend and become a professional dogwalker to pay her bills. After Pepper fizzled we've decided to invest a bit more time and try to find a funny concept and some writers who actually know how to write a strong comedic role."

Upon hearing this, Scum responded, "I'll watch anything with Jessica Alba! She's really hot. Still, does she really have to try to make us laugh? Woooo! Alba Tau Sigma!"

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Shouting Out

Here's a post specifically for you TV fans, and TV spec writers, as well as a big shout-out to a buddy of mine.

This Friday, my old friend Andy Wallenstein will begin co-hosting a show all about the television biz! I, of course, don't have cable (and actually don't even have TV reception) in my apartment (just DVDs and VCR), but I hope that all of you will tune in to educate yourselves, and also to support another FoFJ.

Here are some details from the press release:


"Square Off" Premieres Every Friday Night at 8:00 p.m. Starting April 7, 2006 with Hosts Brian Lowry (Daily Variety) and Andrew Wallenstein (The Hollywood Reporter)

LOS ANGELES - (March 27, 2006) - TV Guide Channel®, a leading entertainment network providing original programming to nearly 80 million homes, today announced a new one-hour weekly series "Square Off" that will immerse viewers in the business of television with a lively debate hosted by Brian Lowry (Media Columnist, Daily Variety) and Andrew Wallenstein (TV Features Editor, The Hollywood Reporter). Created by Peter Bart (Editor-in-Chief of Variety), Peter Guber (Chairman/CEO of Mandalay Entertainment Group) and producer Scott Sternberg (Emmy®-Award winner and President of Scott Sternberg Productions) - "Square Off" will premiere on the TV Guide Channel every Friday starting on April 7 at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT.

The series will feature the entertainment industry's top power players in front of and behind the camera, including actors, agents, managers, network executives, producers, directors, television critics and reporters. Just like the genre it celebrates and investigates, "Square Off" will offer a rapid fire, responsive and timely discussion of the state of TV today....

Lowry and Wallenstein, both well-respected journalists in the industry, will debate hot topics in the television world and interview an "A-list" roster of in-studio guests in an up-close and personal format. Each episode will feature guests with a different area of expertise, who will come armed with opinions, controversial ideas, and powerful arguments over what TV viewers watch and why.

So I hope you all watch, and hope it turns out to be both informative and fun for you, and successful for Andy!

Tags: ,

Monday, April 03, 2006

Dialect Question

I've been getting a lot of hits lately from people searching the term, "V for Vendetta dialogues." Not dialogue, but dialogues, plural. So I'm just curious...

Is this the way y'all refer to it in the UK and other parts of the world? Can any of my overseas readers help me out? I've never heard that term here in the States. We usually refer to "the dialogue" as a collective noun. Is it typical to refer to it all as dialogues?

As I said, just curious.

Tags: , ,

Life Before Screenwriting

Brief and to the point:

I will be walking in the MS Walk this coming Sunday (April 9), to benefit the National MS Society. I'd appreciate any donations, of any size. To visit my personal page, read more about my reasons for walking, and make a donation, go HERE.


Tags: , ,

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Show Don't Tell Revisited

You know I like to pull out examples of bad mistakes I read in screenplays, and here's another one. I hope this is only more prevalent in neophyte scripts, but I've seen it enough that I figured it was worth mentioning.

We all know the adage that in film writing we should show things, rather than telling the audience about them. Well, this relates to that concept but in a slightly different way.

Often I'll read a scene in which a man and woman meet for the first time and trade a bit of banter. Then the action description tells us that "there is obvious chemistry here" or something of that ilk. Similarly, I might read a scene with some gags in it and then be told "it is very funny" or "everyone finds this hilarious."


If two people are supposed to be clicking, your dialogue should be strong enough to convey that. And if it isn't, and is more subtle, then there are other actions you can write to more professionally convey your point. How about, "She catches his eye while casually brushing her hand against his arm?" That should do the trick, no? Same thing with comedy. If your dialogue, or description of the gag doesn't make the reader laugh, you simply have not done your job. It probably isn't really that funny, and telling us it is won't make it work on screen.

There is one other reason why writers might do this sort of thing, and if this applies to you, than recognize it and just cut it out. Sometimes, the writer may have actually done his job and conveyed the proper tone, but still writes something like this. That indicates a lack of trust, both in one's own skills as a writer, and in the reader or audience. Learn to trust and respect your readers and viewers. Don't talk down to them.

And more importantly, gain confidence in your own skills!


Saturday, April 01, 2006

Brief Brick Follow-up

I didn't go to the midnight showing last night. Instead, I played poker and made more than enough money to pay for my ticket today (which ain't cheap at the ArcLight). (Sorry, Scott, I should have invited you to poker last night.) Went to the 1st showing this morning, at 11:20.

Excellent. Was everything I expected, and then some. It was so wonderful to see the culmination of this journey for Rian. Getting great reviews nearly across the board, and there were a decent number of people in the theater for a Friday morning screening (I'm terrible at estimating numbers of people, so I won't even try).

What I really loved was that the movie was better than the excellent script I'd read. Everything I loved about the script was there, but on top of that, the acting spotty but very good from a number of the actors, the music worked very well, the costume design also added a lot, and the direction was really solid over all. I could not have gotten any of those things from the script. I've mentioned before that there are plenty of easy ways to ruin a good script. Thankfully, that wasn't the case here.

One interesting thing I noticed. I had only seen a bit of the ad campaign for this film, but I noticed the posters now, and oddly, one of them actually gives away a plot point! I won't say what, so as not to offer any spoilers, but strange nonetheless. I guess they figured it would not stand out enough to be memorable, and wouldn't ruin anything for anyone. Still, I do think it is strange that the ad campaign for the movie itself would offer a spoiler, albeit a minor one.

Anyway, that's that. More posts to come later and over the weekend. I have a few things to say on non-Brick related topics, too!