Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Greenberg's Hot Tub is Outta My League!


So we've been out of the loop for a while. Mostly just watching movies.

This is what we've seen lately:

She's Out Of My Leage - Ugh. This had potential, but ultimately fell short in the meatiest dramatic moments. Contrived conflict WILL sink a comedy script - and this movie is proof. Up until that 'all is lost' scene, I was pretty much on board, floating happily along, getting what I expected. So lesson: Don't underestimate the importance of getting your DRAMA right in a comedy.

our rating: 2.8/5

Hot Tub Time Machine - Better than League, by a lot. Realy good bits in this movie. And this movie is also an example of a good concept that is executed relatively well. It's not perfect, and there are some definite holes in the plot (especially towards the end) but it was a lot of fun.

I don't have the catalog of john hughes movies memorized, but I'm not sure if an expertise in them would have helped or hurt. on one hand - it's nice to really get references. On the other - I doubt this lives up to the standard Hughes set.

our rating: 3.4/5

Greenberg - It has quite a nice look to it, but the main character, as you've probably heard, is SO UNLIKABLE. That, and he really does not have any redeeming characteristics. Thus, the love story does not really make any sense. Why does this friendly, sweet girl keep returning to Greenberg? Clearly, good girls go for shitty guys all the time, but there is always some sort of reason! And here - no reason.

That, and it really can be a challenge to watch someone so unlikable for so long.

All that said, it was a pretty nice character study once you get past all that. Interesting enough, and one conversation about the problems with the emerging into adulthood GEN X was particularly riveting (cough cough...hate myself...cough cough).


So perhaps that will do as a blog post for now.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Screenwriting and March Madness

Watching March Madness, I realized that there is a really huge connection between this tourney and good screenplays.


For every one of these teams, the stakes are high in every single game. Thus, teams always try their hardest to win.

but the really brilliant part of the tournament is THE BRACKETS. NCAA brackets are to tv sports what an active protagonist, or tons of conflict are to a screenplay.

The Brackets are what make otherwise uninteresting everyday events completely riveting. Normally, we wouldn't care which of two random teams won a game, but because the tournament stakes are so high, and because we have our little brackets to KEEP TRACK of progress, we are watching all weekend long.

So in your screenplay, keep the stakes as high as possible, and always give your reader a way to KEEP TRACK OF PROGRESS!

If your hero is breaking the girl out of a prison, then let us know exactly what that will take before he does it. "okay, take out guard one, blow a whole through the ceiling, drop down on wire, deactivate alarm, and free the girl." That way we're there with him all along, we can feel exactly how he's feeling. "Nice...this is going smoothly or...FUCK there are three guards, not one!"

Alright, I've gotta get back to CBS. I could be missing something!

Thursday, March 18, 2010


When you’re working on something, anything really, but in this case a script, a way to know that you’re doing it right is to write and revise every scene until they click. And I mean really click, and right away you can totally feel it. It’s not imperceptible in any way, like maybe this works now. No, you know that something works because you’ve ratcheted up to it by building tension, and story, and character and then CLICK. It’s immensely satisfying, like the sound it makes when there’s a crick in your neck and you turn your head and your vertebrae pop back into place. Or the sensation of shaking the water out of your ear after being in the ocean.

I guess kind of what I’m saying here is that as a writer, you don’t feel right until you have that CLICK in your writing. It’s like there’s something off balance in your world, and you can’t feel normal until you know you’ve fixed it, until you know you’ve really written something to its full potential. In a way it’s almost like being an addict…you have to have that feeling of satisfaction in your work or you’ll go crazy with frustration. Feeling that click is knowing that you can write, and write well.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Screenplay too long?: What to cut...Part Deux

There are tons of posts around (including on this blog) about how to shorten a screenplay that's too long. After recently being told our 101 page comedy should be 90 (YES. 90. Things are getting that short) I've embarked on a shortening journey.

There are certain inalienable truths of shortening: It's a pain in the ass. It's not fun. It takes a lot of concentration and determination. But finally, it has to be done.

So I thought we could share some tips that I haven't seen around the internet and maybe also comment on those tips.

First and foremost: Don't use the TIGHT feature on Final Draft. That's cheating and you'll end up looking like a total noob.

Here are some common practices:

1) Clean up widows and orphans. Don't let any one word of dialogue get a whole line.
2) Look for big chunks of dialogue. Reword thing so they are shorter.
3) Same for action paragraphs.

Here's what I've found useful while scanning our screenplay:

1) Look for blocks of action tacked onto the end of your scenes. Do you need this at all? Probably it is too detailed. We don't need to know how someone walks away. just that they walk away at all.

2) Look for LONE lines of action between dialogue. Can this be tacked on to earlier action paragraphs or deleted all together? Each of these takes 3 LINES in your screenplay. And it's probably not worth it.

3) Look at ALL YOU WRYLIES. And delete them. Then read through again and see if you needed them at all.

4) CUT FREELY. Cut broad swaths from your screenplay. Don't be afraid. If you miss a joke, you can always put it back in, and chances are you'll forget it was ever there. Make them scenes trim and fit, yo!

5) Look for ellipses. Are they really needed. Are they the character hesitating, or you hesitating as you wrote?

6) Do you have really long character names? Comb through and see if maybe characters are referred to by name too often (either in action or in dialogue).

That's all we can think of for now that isn't covered in depth elsewhere.

Oh! And it's been said so many times before, but it needs repeating - get into your scenes as early as possible, and get out as late as possible!

Dick and Jane

Monday, March 15, 2010

Screenwriting is Simple...right?


So you’ve got an idea. Say your logline is, After nuclear warfare destroys much of existing society, mutant rabbits must battle with mutant turtles to determine the future leaders of Earth. You’ve got a hilarious ending planned, in which the lead mutant rabbit challenges the lead mutant turtle to a foot race, and the whole script is going to be brilliant.

Then you start to run into some little problems. You want to have a character that acts as a spy, but you can’t come up with a unique ‘traitor-villain’ on either the rabbit or turtle side. So you invent a Wall-E inspired cockroach character who passes information for food. Why, though, is this cockroach the only cockroach survivor? It doesn’t make a lot of sense, so you create a whole army of mutant cockroach survivors. So, then there’s the problem of for whom the cockroaches are fighting? You figure that logically, the cockroaches would have their own agenda, so you create a separate rebellion subplot, in which the cockroaches are trying to sabotage both sides of the war.

Okay, so that’s still simple enough right? Cockroaches vs. turtles vs. rabbits. Fine. But then you start to think about relationships, and you realize you don’t have any real character bonds, let alone a romance. So you ask yourself, what if one of the rabbits likes one of the turtles? And in comes your romantic subplot. You figure you can add a lot of tension if the lead rabbit’s daughter loves the lead turtle’s son, but when one of the cockroaches spots the lovers intertwined, disaster ensues.

You’ve got a lot of conflict going on now. But that’s fine. It’s good to have a lot of conflict. Until you come to the problem of resolving it. Unless everybody dies, somebody has to win this war. And defeat the cockroaches. And reunite the separated lovers. And the cockroaches have really weakened both sides, but you can’t have the cockroaches win! So you decide that the turtles, who really are the good guys, find a mutant plant that gives them impossible strength, so they can defeat the rabbits. But…what’s to keep the rabbits from getting a hold of the same plant? How can you make it exclusive to the turtles?

So…you make it an aquatic plant that the rabbits can’t get to. But…what about the cockroaches? They may not be excellent swimmers, but they could survive underwater long enough to steal some plant from a turtle. My god, this is getting complicated. And what if the turtle and rabbit versions of Romeo and Juliet both eat a ton of the plant so that they can put an end to the war once and for all and make freakish mutant rurtle or tabbit babies together? What language will the turtles and rabbits speak so they are able to understand each other? Will there be subtitles?

This is a problem we often encounter: in setting up a lot of conflict, we set up a need for many, many solutions. And when the solutions don’t come easily, we create a new element that comes with its own set of difficulties to make the solutions work. But then we have to solve a new problem, and so on…So, the key is, simplify. Make your rabbits fight your turtles, make the turtles have the obvious defense of their shells, and so they win. The teenage mutant turtle and his teenage mutant rabbit girlfriend run away together and live happily ever after, and a giant shoe falls from a telephone wire onto the cockroach camp, so they’re out of the picture. The end. Sounds simple enough. Right?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Getting In the Mood: How Screenwriting is like Sex

It occurred to me recently, while I was staring in boredom at a flashing cursor on my computer screen, that writing is a lot like sex. Sometimes, you’re really into it, and it feels great, and satisfying, and you don’t want to stop. But sometimes you’re not. Sometimes there’s just this limp hunk of dialogue glaring at you, and you cannot bring yourself to punch it up. It’s not turning you on. It’s making your head hurt.

So then you have a couple of options. Either you can scorn your lover, put on Judge Judy, and eat a bag of chips…or you can try to make it work. And here’s the thing… maybe you’re not aroused, but if you let it happen, if you let the script touch you in some new kind of way…is this getting weird?...then usually it starts to feel pretty good. And you start to get in a rhythm. And you feel close to your writing.

This is not to suggest that writing always has to be a sensual experience to be gratifying. Only that the two practices are analogous. And if you’re open to letting yourself go a little, if you get out of your own head, then sometimes you discover it’s not about being in the mood, but about releasing yourself into some other reality.

You’re probably thinking this sounds pretty cheesy. Or that it’s easier said than done. Or that you’re a virgin, so this is all pretty foreign territory. Well, okay. Valid assertions. But think about it this way: When you’ve finished a great scene, don’t you just want to throw your head back and revel in the glory of this moment? Don’t you feel ecstatic? And isn’t that feeling worth pursuing, even if you’re not all revved up from the start?

I don’t dispense this advice because I always dive in, no matter how blah I may be feeling. I dispense this advice mostly to myself. Because I am almost never in the mood to do good writing. And when I am feeling somewhat inclined, it requires a lot of foreplay to get me where I need to be. But when I make myself forge ahead, it’s rarely a mistake. What’s the worst that can happen? It’s mediocre, and later on, I go back and try again. And in the end, every time you give it a go, it’s a learning experience. Have I sufficiently confused my discussions of fornication and composition? Good. Then I’ve made my point.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Donnie Darko Screenplay: Awesome Set Up and Pay Off

I spent my teenage years being something of an emo kid. I was in a bunch of bands and watched Saved a lot. But, unlike many of my cohorts, I never ‘got’ Donnie Darko (well…to the extent that anyone can get that movie, I certainly didn’t understand what the big deal was).

The gang huddled together nearing a dozen times throughout my high school career, and watched that movie. But all I remembered was the fuckin’ weird rabbit and that I would rather be doing almost anything else. I barely paid attention.

Until last night. I rewatched the movie with Jane and was FLOORED.

Holy shit. The whole thing is, as the title of this post suggests, an incredible exercise in set up and pay off.

I’d have to re-watch and take notes to cite examples, but that’s not even the point of this post. There is no reason to cite specific examples, b/c it’s as simple as FIRST HALF and SECOND HALF.

The first half of the movie you’re kind of sitting there like…wtf is this movie? What’s going on? Why do all of these things keep happening?
Who is this old woman?
Why am I watching bizarre inspirational videos with Patrick Swayze for two pages of script?
What’s up with the jet engine?
What’s with the rabbit? The gun?
Is that really Seth Rogen?

But in the second half ALL OF THIS IS PAID OFF. So well. It’s seriously mind boggling. The end result is a movie that is so RICH and satisfying that it really is awe inspiring at times.

I’m an arrogant jackass, and don’t like to admit when things make me jealous, but the writing in this movie made me really, really jealous.

Waking up this morning I reasoned that we can definitely do that. Better, even (okay...maybe not...no...fuck it! we can too!) And so can you.

Comb through your script looking for references, locations, clothing, lines, throwaway jokes, and see if you can pay them off.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The LA Conundrum: Favors and Screenwriting

One of the hardest things to adapt to as a screenwriter in LA is that your future success depends on asking people for things. And, if you’re anything like us, you HATE asking people for things. Maybe it’s pride, maybe you have issues with giving up the reigns to your own destiny, maybe you don’t want to be a pain in the ass. But you hate it.

We’ve been trying to convince ourselves to just shut up and do it, thought We look to born and bred Angelenos for inspiration. These people will contact their entire email address book for the smallest of favors! They have been incubated by validation in a world that runs on it.

Dear Everyone I know,

Will you pick which head shot you like best?
Will you pick the carpet in my living room?
Do you think my bio is too ‘new agey’? (YES)
What is the best way to get to Santa Monica from the Valley?

These questions are seriously common for a lot of people around here. Asking for help and validation in every life decision. And we’re not advocating that you BECOME this way. HELL NO. But emulate them in the smallest way. As a screenwriter, you’re going to have to.

Don’t be afraid to ask people you know to give you notes on a script. And don’t be too apologetic about it either. THIS PLACE RUNS ON FAVORS, AND THEY’LL BE HAPPY TO ASK YOU TO RETURN IT SOON ENOUGH!

Plus, the people you reach out to for help will certainly ignore your request. At least at first. And that is where PERSISTENCE comes in. It is quite possible that the royalty of Hollywood writers/actors/douchebags are unremarkable in every way, except for there ability to be PERSISTENT without being ANNOYING.

How do you do this?

Fuck if we know. We tend to retreat much too often to be considered annoying.

But it’s something you have to do. Don’t be afraid. Charge ahead, bravely into the world of favor asking and willing reciprocation. Take people to lunch. Pick brains. Make real connections, and maybe you'll meet some not-so-flaky people (let's face it, that's as good as it gets, in any city...)

Lead by example! Volunteer to read your friend's scripts. Write good notes in a TIMELY FASHION. Make yourself invaluable to the people you know, and maybe they’ll pick up your call or return your email next time.

Until then…keep trying.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Walk the Walk

Sometimes, when we’re reading (or writing) a screenplay, the action gets a little dull. And it’s easy when you’re writing to settle for making the action as simple and straightforward as possible. You want to tell us what’s happening economically, and that’s a good thing. Still, a well-written screenplay doesn’t just consist of snappy dialogue. Action that’s descriptive and specific enhances character, setting, and story.

A simple way to punch up your action is to scan your screenplay for words that tend to be overused like ‘walk’ or ‘laugh’ and replace them with more accurate verbs. Especially in instances where you have a character ‘walking slowly’ or ‘laughing menacingly.’ Try ‘ambling’ or ‘cackling.’ A screenplay that doesn’t repeat dull verbs reads well. Also, the particular way that one of your characters walks or laughs can say a lot about him or her. So keep this in mind when you’re re-writing. Don’t go too crazy, and have everyone stride and strut and chortle all the time, but think about your verb use.


Jane rushes in, harried and panting. Dick emerges from the kitchen, drying his hands on a dish cloth.

Where have you been? Dinner was ready hours ago.

Well, don’t blame me. You’re the one that had to have fresh Italian parsley.

Fast Mart didn’t have it?

No, Dick. Fast Mart didn’t have it. So then I walked over to Grab N’ Go, and they didn’t have it either, so I walked to the bus stop, caught the bus and walked to Fresh N’ Fast, and they didn’t have it, so I walked to like three more places that didn’t have it, then I walked to the Farmer’s Market, and I walked all over looking for it there, but I couldn’t find anything but apples, so then I walked to an Italian restaurant, and finally they sold me some. Then I walked home. And that’s where I’ve been.


Yeah. It was crazy. I hope you appreciate the things I do for you.

No, it’s just, man you did not tell that story well. There are other words for walk, you know.

Oh, yeah, Dick? What do you suggest?

Well…saunter, stroll, amble, march, pace, hike, toddle, totter, stagger, move, go, mosey, meander, ramble, wander, promenade, step, run, rush, hurry, stalk, swagger, advance, parade, shuffle, hobble, scuffle, trundle, shamble, waddle, trek, tramp, scramble, trudge, slog, traipse, trek plod, lumber, tread, clump –

Jane slaps Dick in the face and strides away. She looks over her shoulder at a stunned Dick.

You said trek twice.

Well, there you have it. We don’t mean to sound like a dick, but spicing up your verbs makes your story more interesting.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Along the lines of our "free notes" idea, we've decided to do the same thing with loglines. Not positive if we'll have time to read and give notes on three scripts this week, so instead we're gonna check out some loglines!

So twitterers, man your twitter stations, and prepare to retwitter for free logline help sometime today!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

emergency post

be totally aware of what you are thinking at all times.

for instance, i just got back from a trip. took my first home shower. had the thought "huh. i kind of forget which way is hot and cold at home."

then i thought...these are the thoughts that make a screenplay rich. this kind of dialogue. in movies that i love, the dialogue is peppered with incredible anecdotes, or surprising realizations. this stuff tells you so much about a character.

i thought everyone forgot how their home shower works.

but jane never forgets.

this has to say something about CHARACTER.

this was an emergency blog post. i'm gonna start doing this now. when things come to me, if i have time, instead of jotting them in my note book, i'm gonna post about them.

clearly i guess this means there will now be a lot more rambling, odd posts that are often stupid or irrelevant.

but i think things like this are really what's worth sharing and what i wanna blog about.

then again, maybe i'll never make another post like this again.

Screenplay too long?: What to cut...

Recently, I saw a link that said “How to Make Your Screenplay Better.” And then I realized, that that is really the root of all our problems of screenwriters. We always have to strive to make our work better. I also realized that that is really what this blog is about. Cataloguing all the ways that works for us, so these tricks and tools get indoctrinated in our heads, and maybe sharing it with whoever reads this.

So I asked myself that question, and the first thing that popped into my head – the one piece of advice that has stuck with me possibly more than any other – is to get into your scenes as late as possible and get out as early as possible.

We always ask ourselves this question. With literally every scene. Is that “Hello, how are you?” really necessary? No…probably not. And if you cut it, it might help solve some pacing or page count problems or any number of other issues you might be faced with.

Here are our top 5 pieces of extraneous dialogue:

1) Hi. – we don’t need to see our characters greet each other. If you do this a lot, that could be five or ten pages of purely useless dialogue. Also, see number 2.

2) Any response to hi. See number three.

3) Salutations in general – Yes, this basically got three spots because it is the most frequent culprit. There are some really interesting ways to incorporate salutations, but they must be used sparingly. (when salutations are acceptable…future post?)

4) Opening with a question – Scan your work for scenes that open with question, and see if you could achieve the same effect by opening with the response. Or even the response to that response. But be careful not to rephrase the question in the response, it usually comes off as sloppy. “What do you mean rephrasing the question in the response comes off as sloppy, John! I want a divorce!” SEE!!! Open with the demand for a divorce and work backwards, and I’m hooked.

5) Any aside. At all. Especially to end a scene. Especially if the scene ends on a joke. Don’t deflate your punch by having one character comment on it before you cut away. No matter how clever that comment is…you want to get out of every scene as quickly as possible, and on a high note.

This kind of cutting is what a lot of people refer to ‘cutting the fat’ in a script. Often, these mistakes come in early drafts, but they also stick around far too long after that.

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