Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Screenwriting News & Links! 12/12/07

I’m not talking about the strike today nor the new AMPTP website.

I’m just not.

But I will share this:

The Striking Writer Martini


The drink was created by screenwriter Nian Aster and first offered at “The Backstage Bar” (pictured above) then “La Campanile,” “M Bar,” and “Chan Dara” with a DISCOUNT for guild members. Woo hoo! "Cinespace” on Hollywood Boulevard is hosting a complimentary evening TONIGHT for striking writers with FREE beer, shots, and Striking Writer Martinis. (No, I won't be there.)

But here’s the recipe:

The Striking Writer Martini
2 oz vodka "to fortify against the cold Strike Winter"
2 oz cranberry juice "as the writers are seeing red"
1 oz sweet and sour mix "they’re grateful for solidarity in this bitter struggle"
4 drops vanilla (or use vanilla vodka) "to symbolize the 4 cent raise they asked for"
"There’s no cherry in this drink, as writers aren’t getting a piece of the pie. Garnish with a half a redvine, as they hope to be back on the set soon."

Okay, onto the links:

Are you on the
Black List?
This is a list that was started a couple of years ago by an exec at Leo DiCaprio’s prodco, Appian Way. This guy polled his 90+ peers to send him their 10 favorite, new, unproduced screenplays to read over the holidays. The list got e-mailed around and suddenly became a phenomenon. I didn’t see last years, but back in 2005, the top entries were Things We Lost in the Fire, Juno, and Lars and the Real Girl. Get the list

The Day I Met The Unknown Screenwriter
Hilarious! I’m sure articles like this will be written about me someday…

The Allan Weisbecker Interview
Last week, the L.A. Times had Screenwriters Stranger than Fiction, but they missed the strangest one of all – Allan Weisbecker. He’s a surfer, author, screenwriter, and former drug smuggler - a man who physically threatened John Cusack and to whom Sean Penn once wrote "I encourage you to stay (in Central America) until something that resembles death.” Here was Allan's taste of the biz: "One assignment I turned down was based on a studio executive’s idea that a great white shark befriends a young boy. The great white is severely misunderstood; in the end the boy saves his buddy from the evil shark hunters. Sort of a cold-blooded Free Willy. The exec’s solution to the problem of how to make this believable was the following: 'We just have to make the shark… you know… fuzzy…'"

They need screenwriters in Dubai
“For Nayla al Khaja, a central obstacle is the lack of good screenwriting. 'Forget about the [Hollywood] writers' strike,' she says, 'we don't have writers.' And freedom of expression is another issue.” Sounds just like Hollywood.

Chris Soth’s Very Common Screenwriting Misstep
It takes him 10 paragraphs to get around to his point, but he finally gets to it: “Almost everybody makes their first act 50% too long. The point I recognize as the first act is usually around the 45th page. So…to put it in the parlance of my website and practice…” Yeah, we’re way ahead of you, buddy. See Mahler’s Script-Beat Calculator.

Alex Epstein has a thing for Verbs
“But as you break down a script, you identify an action that goes with each line. ‘I am insulting her.’ ‘I am begging for forgiveness.’ ‘I am seducing her.’ ‘I am scaring her.’ Since the lines of dialog which the actors are breaking down are coming from you, the writer, you should also have an action in mind for each piece of dialog.”

Billy Mernit Interview
Billy: "So go write a great horror rom-com! Like say, SHAUN OF THE DEAD. That's the "little black dress" effect of this ever-hardy genre: you can combine it with just about anything, and if you do it well, it'll fly. I've seen a plethora of vampire romantic comedy projects over the past few years, and I'll wager one will break out and hit it big. But to answer your question re: the spec market more specifically, what I can tell you is: every studio in town is still looking for good romantic comedies. They're usually cheap to make, they have a built-in demographic (that's expandable), they attract talent -- and they're very good showcases for a fledgling writer's character-driven plot and dialogue chops." Also, find some strike-related comfort with his Quixotic Radicals.

John August talks about unfilmmables
"There are two kinds of 'unknowable' information you can safely slip into your script. Things that are inherently apparent on screen… Details that add flavor, but don’t provide crucial information." (By the way, the “evaluator” mentioned in the question and complained about a supposed “unfilmmable” is a retarded dingleberry. This is exactly how bad myths about screenwriting get their origins. Someone sends in a script, an “evaluator” sends feedback saying “you can’t do it like that” and this gets shared with all the screenwriters around town and suddenly turns into a movement of “can’t do that” when the problem all along is that the “evaluator” is a retarded dingleberry. -MM)

Bill Boushka says Atonement is a great example of layered screenwriting
“The screenwriting concept itself is fascinating: to mix imagination with 'reality' as if they were interchangeable because the writer himself or herself wants to change the world.”

More scripts take nonlinear route
"Forget Screenwriting 101. Some of the year's most audacious screenplays throw out the rulebook, jumping back and forth in time instead of unfolding in a linear, three-act fashion. Such experimentation is as old as the movies themselves, dating back to such storytellers as D.W. Griffith (Intolerance) and Abel Gance (Napoleon). But the tendency has become increasingly common in recent mainstream releases, from Michael Clayton's car-bomb opening to Atonement's fragmented, time-jumping intrigue."

An Open Letter To Robert McKee: The Hero’s Journey
“Robert, I like you. Don’t take this the wrong way.But in your book, “Story,” you give the Hero’s Journey barely a passing mention.OK, you do call it the “Quest” and on page 196 you do say that “all stories take the form of a quest.”Having admitted that, surely you should have devoted more than a paragraph to it. This is a screenwriting book, right?First, why not call it the Hero’s Journey? Using the common and well known frame of reference helps screenwriters, instead of confusing them.Second, calling it a “quest,” is misleading. It implies that it covers a particular genre - Lord of the Rings, Arthurian Legend etc…” I love you, Nabil.

Remember The Key To Reserva?
It's an ad, of course, and Brandweek tells the story behind the short.

David Benioff Interview
"One of the biggest challenges for Benioff was simply carving the sweeping, three-decade-long events of Amir’s story into a two-hour motion picture. 'Time jumps are difficult to navigate in a movie,' explains Benioff, 'and because the novel covers almost 30 years, figuring out an efficient screenplay structure wasn’t easy. The novel shows Amir at many different ages, but I decided early on that I wanted only two actors playing the role. Any more than that and I think you might lose the connection to this wonderful character. So the screenplay streamlines the novel’s narrative – it incorporates almost all of the major beats but simplifies the chronology. Luckily, the heart of Khaled’s story is so strong I believe it maintains its power even within the restrictions of space and time of the screenplay format.'”

Paul Schrader Interview to promote The Walker
Q: Your career as a screenwriter has been full of landmark films. Have you been able to have the directing career you wanted since "Taxi Driver”?
PAUL SCHRADER: I don’t know. Look, when you get lucky in life, hopefully, and you happen to turn and the wind of the zeitgeist changes direction and hits you square in the face, when that happens to you, all you can really do is be grateful and move on because there’s no reason that will ever happen again. You know Coppola makes "The Godfather,” right film, right time, right place, right everything. People have said to me, you know, "How’s it feel to be involved with such a famous film and then everything afterward sort of seems like a decline?” Well I take the opposite point of view. To get validation that early in life and in your career takes an enormous pressure off of you because I know people my own age who have never had that validation and probably will never get it in their own lifetime. I got it young. I was free to move on, make films, some better than others, some more successful than others and I’m thankful for "Taxi Driver” and obviously when you direct films, you would like more people to see them and on the other hand, when you make a film like "The Walker,” you know you’re making kind of a boutique film anyway. It’s kind of a chamber piece. It’s a character study. It’s a lot easier to finance and sell a movie about a 20-year-old with a gun, Travis Bickle, than it is a 50- year-old with a lavender kerchief in his pocket.

Painfully single American screenwriter says all British women are fat, frumpy, ugly, not obsessed enough about their appearance, unfriendly and dress like hookers.

Interview: I Am Legend Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman
Q: Are there a lot of changes you bring to it on set? Is there some sort of idea that comes around when you're working with them?
Akiva: Oh yea. I think that fundamentally movies evolve while you're making them. I think you have to be reasonably nimble as a filmmaking collaborative to try to process and incorporate new ideas. Because the movie teaches you how to make the movie. You don't really know until you're there what it's going to look like or feel like. So you sort of need all hands on deck all the time in order to do the best possible version of the scene you were going to do that day or a new scene that you didn't think you were going to do that day.

Laini Taylor tells us What writers can learn from The Golden Compass
"Now that my grief has subsided, I’m [almost] glad it was not awesome, because it creates a perfect case study of good storytelling vs. bad storytelling. It shows how two people can take the exact same story elements and one of them (Pullman) can craft them into something compelling and heartbreaking and filled with suspense, and the other (Weitz) can rob them of all drama and meaning, make you not care at all, and worse, make you not even know what you’re supposed to be caring about."

Who Strikes?
"The United States features a lovely quirk of copyright law known as 'work for hire.' The work-for-hire doctrine states that employers may commission employees to create certain works of intellectual property while still retaining authorship. In other words, when I write a screenplay in France for Canal Plus, I'm the author. When I write a screenplay in the United States for Universal Studios, Universal Studios is the author."

Diablo Cody! Diablo Cody! Diablo Cody!

"Juno" writer went from stripping to Hollywood
"It was easy for me," Cody said of the writing process, "but I like to say ignorance is bliss. I had nothing to lose. I lacked any formal knowledge of screenwriting. I just did it, it was that simple. When you live in the real world, you exist in the mindset of 'just do it.' You wake up every day and there are things that you have to do. So I just wrote the movie." She wrote it on breaks, in the evenings, at a Starbucks or in a Target store on the weekends. "I always felt so embarrassed and delusional. I even get embarrassed now if I sit in the Coffee Bean in Los Angeles and work on a screenplay. I always think everyone's looking at me with pity, like, 'Oh, there's another struggling screenwriter, another loser.' I don't like to reek of desperation, and at that point in my life I certainly did."

Interview: Diablo Cody
Q: Did you read screenwriting books?
DC: No. I've never read a screenwriting book. I'm really superstitious about it too. I don't even want to look at them. All I did was I went and bought the shooting script of "Ghost World" at Barnes and Noble and read it just to see how it should look on the page because I like that movie. So it was kind of a weird coincidence that the producers wound up producing "Juno" as well.

Interview: Diablo Cody: Dancing as fast as she can
"I loathe shopping," she groaned. In Nordstrom's shoe department, she said, "Look at this madness. My feet are so wide and these are delicate little European lady shoes." When the clerk suggested high heels, Cody shook her head. "I wish, I wish, I wish. No, I actually can't wear heels. I have nerve damage in my feet from stripping."

Unlikely Former Stripper-Blogger Goes Big Time: Diablo Cody Pens 'Juno'
HW: Did the script change a lot along the process?
DC: No, I feel like I was so lucky in this regard. There wasn't a massive development process. There was never a formal re-write from the beginning which was really weird. I feel like a lot of the editing was in post-production to be honest. I was on set, which I know is rare for a writer, so I was extremely lucky. Jason [Reitman] is a very collaborative person.

Diablo Cody, from stripper to The Screenwriter
In an interview for December’s Mpls.St.Paul magazine, Cody’s friend Steve Marsh asked her if “Juno” became a major success, would it mean Bye-bye Jonny (her husband)? “Are you kidding?” she replied. “That’s a ridiculous question. He’s not going anywhere. Everything we do we do side by side. I’ve got him tattooed on my arm, for God’s sakes.”

And on the Contest Circuit:

Screenplay Festival Announces Finalists

2008 PAGE Awards Call for Entries


Unk said...

Thanks MM... Can't wait to read the BOOK!


Mystery Man said...

And thank you for all of your help and suggestions for the book.

Means a lot to me.


Joshua said...


Diablo Cody just filed for divorce from her husband.

It's true, I shit you not . . . field's wide open for you, buddy.

Unk, you know you da MAN, right?

Joshua said...

I forgot -

I really appreciate the point you made on August's Unfilmable . . . you were right, the evaluator was a retarded dingleberry . . . the guy took the writer to task for introducing a character's wife and kids? WTF!?

That's insane.

Mystery Man said...

Well, we wouldn't know a character's first and last name just by LOOKING at him/her, either, would we? We have to wait until another character says the name before we'll actually know it, so technically, character introductions are unfilmmables, but we do them anyway because they're NECESSARY.



chris soth said...


I never thought people were READING my blog. Ok, sorry for the 10 paragraphs, (I'm hoping that's hyperbole?) the blog stuff doesn't get the rewrites that the screenplays do, or I would never post at all. I apologize for allowing the world to see unedited/unrewritten work.

That said, Mahler aside, MOST people know that the end of Act One has to come by p. 30 at the latest -- BUT -- as a reader, I'm always seeing what I'd call the end of act one of THIS story is NOT THERE, but later, somewhere around p. 45...

...they certainly THINK, they ended act one 15 pp. ago...but they haven't, not till now. So Mahler's device won't help them...because they can look and say "Yeah, something's happening on 25/30 got that covered."

But it can't just be "something". There are sort of important standards as to what the Act One "plot point" must do...and I'm consistently NOT finding that on page 30...

...and I AM finding an event that fits these criteria up around p.40-45. this points to a fundamental misunderstanding out there as to what has to be accomplished by the end of the first act and an act one turning point is...and thereby a tendency to overwrite or not hold the first act to a rigorous enough standard. And leads me to giving this note about 80% of the time.

So, guess I'm urging everyone to go back to every script they've written and ask themselves if that thing they go to by page 30 really DID what a "first act curtain" should do...and if that event up on p. 40 or 45 isn't really better to end the act on AND...

...hope this helps, congrats on the book, and you shall never beat me to Diablo!


chris soth said...


Oops, posted too soon, or hadn't saved or something...paragraph before the sign-off should read (after the capital AND...)

"if so, they should cut and rewrite till the more appropriate event is brought w/in the first 30 pages, toward the end."

whoops. like i said, I don't proof the stuff for blogs, just go quick and diryt...

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