MISSION IMPOSSIBLE TO UNDERSTAND

Anybody see MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT?

Everybody told me it was the best one.  I was excited to see it and came away disappointed.  Disappointed and confused.  I’m not a dim guy but I had no idea what was going on in the plot.  None.

Well, there was some plutonium.  And two women.

Who looked EXACTLY alike!  Same color hair.  Same unusual mouth.  I didn’t realize there were two of them until late in the movie.  Imagine my bewilderment!

Am I the only one?  I mean, I was able to follow TINKER TAILER SOLDIER SPY and that was a plot and a half.

They kept throwing twists at me until I had zero idea which people were on his side and which ones were on the bad guy’s side.  Every henchman had the same build, wardrobe and facial structure.  The plot, or my ability to keep the plates spinning, went flying out the window fairly early on.  After that it was just a ride.  A fun one with cool chases, but story?

I imagined the studio executive reading the script, thinking, “What the hell is going on here?  If I tell ’em I’m confused, they’re gonna say I’m stupid.  I’ll stay mum and pray they know what they’re doing.  But, whoa, this’s like following a single strand of spaghetti through an Olive Garden-sized bowl of pasta.”

Who was the bad guy?  He or she or they seemed to morph and change and waver, like a wisp of cigarette smoke in a barely lit room.  Hard to see or remember.

And, hey, read my book!  One bad guy’s name was LANE.  Another one was named, I swear, LARK.  I never knew which was which.  I’m old and decrepit and have two feet in the grave, but please:  LA** as two characters’ names?  Why not LANE and LAIN, to make it more entertaining?

Oh well.

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the Book works…

Got this email from a former student, working for a lit agency in Los Angeles.

“I cannot tell you how many times I wish writers would have read your book. We had one submission where the character names were Simon, Sarah, Mitch, Mikey, and Emily. Needless to say, we don’t rep that writer…”

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Top 5 Screenwriting Book of 2018! I blush.

I’m happy to report that Your Screenplay Sucks! has been chosen by EzVid Wiki as the #5 best screenwriting book on the planet.

Best Screenwriting Books

Founded in 2011, Ezvid Wiki was the world’s first video wiki. Their YouTube channel has over 300,000 subscribers, 175 million views since its founding.

Pretty cool.

Tell your friends.

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Get details right!

Why do writers submit work that’s not as perfectly perfect as they can possibly make it?

I often see the wrong word being used. Literally, the wrong word. Just because you ran your spellcheck doesn’t mean you’re done. If your sentence is about a hairy beast, don’t describe his hair as “course.”

Don’t use words you don’t actually know. You would not describe a fortress as “adamantine,” even though the word sort of means “unyielding.” Don’t use words you don’t know. Especially if not one other word in your piece is half as brainy as “adamantine.” A person can have an adamantine personality, but a fort can’t. You’re not trying to impress someone with fancy words. You’re not writing an English paper. You are trying to communicate a simple idea as effectively as possible. Or, horrors, a complicated idea. Do not attempt to impress the reader with knowledge you do not have. It will only make you look like you’re reaching.

Or dim.

Not just use of language, but events that have no set up or moments that seem important that have no pay off. Or dialogue at the end of scenes that just peters out into nothing, that should have been trimmed so the page is as tight as it possibly can be. Or characters names that change several times in the course of a script. Details that may bump with a reader.

“Everything matters.”
Jack Nicholson

Every teeny detail must be right, or they’ll think you don’t care and will move on to the next thing in their stack.

I hope you’re not sitting in your nifty little writing space thinking, “Well, that book I just read or that movie I just saw was garbage. I can do better than that!” Well, that garbage got published or got produced, so it probably wasn’t garbage when they wrote it. The odds of something, anything… a thing you wrote, getting published or produced are infinitesimal, which means “very, very, very tiny.”

Every detail must be polished to perfection or your work will die a grim death.

Imagine you’re running across a windswept battlefield clutching your draft, racing toward a producer willing to read it… and charging at your heels, an army of Lord of the Rings Orcs, each with a finished script or manuscript in hand. They think their writing is good. You think yours is good. If you’re going to win the race with that river of Orcs, you had better take the time to get your writing as perfectly perfect as possible. Otherwise, one of those ten thousand Orcs will get a check, not you.

Some of my clients understand the degree of difficulty of what they’re trying to do. Others live in La La Land (not the movie!) and nothing good will ever happen to their writing. I’m sorry to say that, but that’s the way it is.

I suggest my clients use Your Screenplay Sucks! to do three drafts, which is how many it takes to exhaust the book. That may take as long as a year, depending on what your work schedule and writing schedule will allow. The book only costs $20. Cheap, for what you can squeeze out of it. Free, if you steal it! That’s a lot less expensive than my consulting fee. Do three drafts. Use the book up. Then send your work to me for notes. I can talk about high end stuff like plot, character, tone, structure… important things… not your misuse of “adamantine.”

I recently told a client, “Take you time. Read the book. Do the stuff you agree with. Get it right. Then send it to me.” He said, “No need. I’m ready now.” False bravado will sink your lifeboat. Ignoring my my advice, he sent his “ready to go” script. After I finished my notes, his pages looked like I’d severed my carotid artery all over them. When I sent him the notes, he was terribly embarrassed. Rarely are people able to judge their own work. He was certain it was ready. T’wasn’t close.

It’s okay to be embarrassed when it’s a script consultant. It’s not okay to be embarrassed if it’s an agent ’cause that’s the last you’ll ever hear from her. Never forget, you only get one crack at someone “real.” They’re hard to find. Excruciatingly difficult to get them to read your work. You only have one chance at them.

Better make it perfect.

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Is what you think is there, there?

Once you have a draft, you have to go through every scene and ask yourself, with brutal honesty, “I know what happens in this scene, but that’s because I wrote it. Does someone who has no idea what is going on have the exact same idea I do about what’s going on?”

Just because you know what happens doesn’t mean a reader is going to know what happens. Ha ha, I see this happen all the time!

If you write a scene where a man wants to have sex with a woman, and he’s standing at the end of the bed, and she’s on the bed fully dressed… and that’s the scene out… the fact that you showed him unbutton his shirt doesn’t mean we know, for certain, that they have sex. You know they have sex. But no one else will know, for sure.

If you add a moment where he grabs her ankle and draws it towards him and she smiles, and you end on that image, we will know what happens in the scene.

You have to be ruthless. You have to figure out a way to remove your writer’s hat and put on your director’s hat, or, more importantly, your editor’s hat. You must get yourself in the mindset of your editor, sneering, saying, “What you thought was there, isn’t there. How do you want to do this? What story are you gonna tell now?”

Just because you think it means what you hope it means doesn’t mean an audience is going to understand it.

You are going from your mind to the page and on to the reader’s mind. A very crooked journey, fraught with peril. Easy for me to say. Hard for you to do.

But, you have to do it. You have to exercise rigor in the rewriting process to make certain that when the reader reads it, the reader is going to be in your head.

If you show a character running in one scene and, in the next, he enters his apartment… That is going to tell us that he ran all the way to the apartment. The next, perhaps unintended meaning, is that the apartment is very close to the warehouse. When, in fact, they’re five miles apart… That means you need to write an in-between scene of him walking, exhausted, down the sidewalk.

The reader is going to make it mean what you give them. From reading what’s on the page, they cannot figure out what is in your head unless you tell them: the correct story, the correct images, in the correct order.

This is brutally difficult to do, but, if you keep yourself aware of the problem, you can solve it.

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Online Screenwriting Resources

Websites

https://www.tv-calling.com/
http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/
TVWriter.com

http://kiyongkim.com/blog/
http://sheldonbull.com/blog/
http://www.janeespenson.com/
http://aspiringtvwriter.blogspot.com/

Go Into the Story
Bitter Script Reader
Sex in a Submarine

Done Deal Pro message board
Screenwriting subreddit

wordplayer.com
johnaugust
yourscreenplaysucks

http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog
cinephiliabeyond.org/
cinearchive.org/

a-bittersweet-life.tumblr.com/


http://screenwritingumagazine.com

https://thescriptlab.com/features/screenwriting-101/1608-writing-action-sequences-die-hard/
http://screenwritingumagazine.com/2017/05/08/5-favorite-youtube-bits-writing-dramas/

University of California Television
American Beauty – Alan Ball

The Hollywood Reporter roundtables

Eyes on Camera
Sam Mendez and Conrad Hall analyzing the American Beauty storyboards.

LA-Screenwriter.com

BAFTA Guru
Woody Allen: David Lean lecture

http://www.mtvu.com/shows/intern-confidential

south park writing lessson

NoFilmSchool.com
Screenwriting U

DGA.org – Visual History Interview
https://www.dga.org/craft/visualhistory

Podcasts

http://www.moviemaker.com/archives/inside-mm-bestof/more-essential-moviemaking-podcasts/

Scriptnotes… John August & Craig Mazin

The Nashville Public library has an amazing series, Legends of Film
Legends of Film
https://library.nashville.org/blog-series/legends-film-podcast
Michael Mann, Matthew Robbins, Tim Hunter, Gordon T. Dawson

The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith.
http://www.theqandapodcast.com/

Video Essayists

Every Frame A Painting
Buster Keaton – The Art of the Gag

vimeo.com/kevinblee
vimeo.com/davidchen
twitter.com/mattzollerseitz

Patrick (H) Willems
The Matrix: How to Begin a Movie (video essay)

Channel Criswell
The Social Network – Designing Dialogue

D4Darious D. A. R. I. O. U. S.
his 7 part series on writing the short film is very helpful.

STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE REVIEW
“Let’s Start at Moviemaking 101”

WGA — The Writer Speaks.
William Goldman

Billy Wilder Tapes… Billy How Did You Do It?

Filmmaking Channels

filmschoolcomments (https://www.youtube.com/user/filmschoolcomments)

FilmmakerIQ (https://www.youtube.com/user/FilmmakerIQcom)

Film Riot (https://www.youtube.com/user/filmriot)
Cinema Sins on YouTube

David Chen / Edgar Wright and the Art of Close-Ups

cinefix
5 Brilliant Moments in Camera Movement

Why Most Screenwriters Fail at Screenwriting – John Truby

Screenwriting’s #1 Rule – Show don’t Tell
http://www.flyingwrestler.com/2014/08/show-dont-tell/

Jen Grisanti
http://www.scriptmag.com/features/craft-features/creating-characters-craft-features/story-creating-transformation-understanding-void?utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=scr-jvb-nl-170413&utm_content=936085_EDT_SM170413+Thurs+Script+Mag&utm_medium=email

Film Courage / 29 Screenwriter Mistakes (1hr:04)

D4Darious / 3 Act Structure

Moviemaker Magazine
http://www.moviemaker.com/archives/interviews/werner-herzog-interview-salt-and-fire/

Opening Shots Tell Us Everything
Now You See It

Breaking Bad — intervention scene aka talking pillow
http://www.amc.com/shows/breaking-bad/video-extras/season-01/episode-05/the-talking-pillow-inside-breaking-bad

Talking Pillow scene… Great use of voice.

or



Lessons From The Screenplay.
ARRIVAL – EXAMINING AN ADAPTATION

Lessons From The Screenplay
Breaking Bad – Crafting a TV pilot

Nerdwriter
Mulholland Drive: How Lynch Manipulates You

Nerdwriter
PASSENGERS, REARRANGED

Filming ‘The Trial’ [1981] (Unedited) – Rare Orson Welles Documentary

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Kitchen Timer Method

A good way to make yourself write. Don Roos, the clever mind behind The Opposite of Sex and Web Therapy, gave me this.

“KITCHEN TIMER”

The principle of Kitchen Timer is that every writer deserves a definite and do-able way of being and feeling successful every day.

To do this, we learn to judge ourselves on behavior rather than content. (We leave content to our unconscious; experience will teach us to trust that.) We set up a goal for ourselves as writers which is easy, measurable, free of anxiety, and fail-proof, because everyone can sit, and an hour will always pass.

Here’s how it works:

1. Buy a kitchen timer, one that goes to 60 minutes.

2. We decide on Monday how many hours of writing we will do Tuesday. When in doubt or under pressure or self-attack, we choose fewer hours rather than more. A good, strong beginning is one hour a day.

3. The Kitchen Timer Hour:
No phones. No listening to the machine to see who it is. We turn ringers off if possible. It is our life; we are entitled to one hour without interruption, particularly from loved ones. We ask for their support. “I was on an hour” is something they learn to understand. But they will not respect it unless we do first.
No music with words, unless it’s a language we don’t understand.
No internet, absolutely.
No reading.
No “desk re-design/landscaping”, no pencil-sharpening.

4. Immediately upon beginning the hour, we open two documents: our journal, and the project we are working on. If we don’t have a project we’re actively working on, we just open our journal.

5. An hour consists of TIME SPENT keeping our writing appointment. We don’t have to write at all, if we are happy to stare at the screen. Nor do we have to write a single word on our current project; we may spend the entire hour writing in our journal. Anything we write in our journal is fine; ideas for future projects, complaints about loved ones, even “I hate writing” typed four hundred times.

When we wish or if we wish, we pop over to the current project document and write for as long as we like. When we get tired or want a break, we pop back to the journal.

The point is, when disgust or fatigue with the current project arises, we don’t take a break by getting up from our desk. We take a break by returning to the comforting arms of our journal, until that in turn bores us. Then we are ready to write on our project again, and so on. We use our boredom in this way.

IT IS ALWAYS OKAY TO WRITE EXCLUSIVELY IN OUR JOURNAL. In practice it will rarely occur that we spend the full hour in our journal, but it’s fine, good, and right that we do when we feel like it. It is just as good a writing day as one spent entirely in our current project.

6. It is infinitely better to write fewer hours every day, than many hours one day and none the next. If we have a crowded weekend, we choose a half-hour as our time, put in that time, and go on with our day. We are always trying to minimize our resistance, and beginning an hour on Monday after two days off is a challenge.

7. When the hour is up, we stop, even if we’re in the middle of a sentence. If we have scheduled another hour, we give ourselves a break before beginning again — to read, eat, go on errands. We are not trying to create a cocoon we must stay in between hours; the “I’m sorry I can’t see anyone or leave my house, I’m on a deadline” method. Rather, inside the hour is the inviolate time.

8. If we fail to make our hours for the day, we have probably scheduled too many. Four hours a day is an enormous amount of time spent in this manner, for example. If on Wednesday we planned to write three hours and didn’t make it, we subtract the time we didn’t write from our schedule for the next day. If we fail to make a one-hour commitment, we make a one-hour or a half-hour appointment for the next day. WE REALIZE WE CANNOT MAKE UP HOURS, and that continuing to fail to meet our commitment will result in the extinguishing of our voice.

9. When we have fulfilled our commitment, we make sure we credit ourselves for doing so. We have satisfied our obligation to ourselves, and the rest of the day is ours to do with as we wish.

10. A word about content: This may seem to be all about form, but the knowledge that we have satisfied our commitment to ourselves, the freedom from anxiety and resistance, and the stilling of that hectoring voice inside of us which used to yell at us that we weren’t writing enough — all this opens us up creatively. When we stop whipping ourselves, our voices rise up inside.

Good luck!

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