Mega-shorty

April 24, 2015
Blink and you may miss this post

Blink and you may miss this post

It’s been a very busy week for me, so my writing’s slacked off a bit and I want to try and catch up, so not much to say today.

Positive: Got to the end of Act One for the low-budget comedy. Splitting time between editing/rewriting and pressing forward. May give the first ten pages a test run at the writing group next week.

Negative: Reading a friend’s script that is, simply put, really, really hard to get through. Lots and lots of problems with it, and I’m only up to page 20. Torn between throwing in the towel or forcing myself to make it to the end.

Potentially positive: Got some great feedback on the western, so reorganizing stage is underway.

That’s it. Gotta go. Have a great weekend, and try to get some writing in.


Ask a Helping-You-Help-Yourself Script Consultant!

April 21, 2015

Greg Rodgers

The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is on creative exec-turned-consultant Greg Rodgers of The Script Therapist.

A Southern California native, Greg Rodgers knew at an early age he wanted to work in the film industry, and he knew the best way to get there was through UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television. While completing his senior year at TFT, Rodgers was hired by award-winning director F. Gary Gray to assist him on the Paramount feature The Italian Job. Rodgers transitioned to the world of independent film, taking a job at Alcon Entertainment, working directly for co-presidents Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson. It was at Alcon that Rodgers discovered his passion for the development process. From there he became a Creative Executive at Mutual Film Company, where he was the Director of Development.

While at Mutual, Rodgers worked on such films as Snakes on a Plane, Jack Reacher, and the independently financed Deadfall. With the help of Rodgers, the company moved into the world of television, selling a pilot to Sony TV, and setting up miniseries at Entertainment One and HBO Asia. On the feature side, Rodgers played a major role in shaping the 2014 slate, including a contained action-thriller titled Dead Loss, an epic four-quadrant family film based on the Newberry Prize-winning novel King of the Wind, and the next entry in Paramount’s Jack Reacher series. He currently runs the popular website www.script-therapist.com, where he provides unique, in-depth script coverage for writers of all skill levels.

1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?

WHIPLASH. I just can’t shake it from my head. There were a lot of things that came together to make it work so well – Chazelle’s direction, the tone, the performances, etc – but none of that would have made nearly as much impact without such a great script. The writing is just so tightly focused and a testament to how important character is in a screenplay. We care deeply about Andrew and what becomes of him, not because he’s a nice guy – he’s actually quite selfish and anti-social – but because the script gives us reasons to become invested in him. Right off the bat we learn what he wants, how badly he wants it, we see his relationship with his father, we meet a girl he likes – all these things that make him feel like a real person. There’s a lot going on in that script, but when you strip it down, it’s a really simple story about this kid and his relationship with a teacher who changes his life – it’s all character, not plot, and that’s refreshing.

2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?

My first job was working as an assistant for a director on a big studio movie. Right off the bat I could tell that production wasn’t for me, but after the movie wrapped and we started looking for the next project, I started reading more and more and being exposed to what was out there. My next job was at a production company, where I really learned the nuts and bolts of development: what to look for, how to work with writers, etc. From there I was hooked and I knew it was not only something I wanted to keep doing, but something I had a real knack for as well.

3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?

Though there are things you can learn about screenwriting and what makes a good script – because it is such a specific medium – being able to evaluate the quality of creative writing is largely innate. When you come across good writing, sure, you could stop and dissect the technical reasons why it’s good and why it works. But if you have to stop and think about that kind of stuff when you’re reading, or if you find that you’re asking yourself those kinds of questions (is the character and his/her goal established clearly? is there an inciting incident? etc), then you’re not really “getting it.” Good writing is just good writing, and someone who can recognize it will do so right away without even thinking about it.

4. What are the components of a good script?

The #1 thing is character. You can have the most intricate, well-thought-out plot in the world, but if it doesn’t involve characters that people are going to care about, then it’s all for naught. And then does that character have an arc or clearly defined emotional journey – i.e. has the character we’re left with at the end of the script changed from the character we met in the beginning? Also, is there conflict? There needs to be some sort of clearly defined antagonistic force in the script that creates conflict.

5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

I feel like too many writers just starting out try and write a scrawling epic that spans decades and has three dozen speaking parts. I just can’t stress enough how much I advise writers to keep it simple. Better to tell a small story really well than to tell a big story poorly. It also seems like a lot of young writers try and write scripts in certain genres based on trends in the industry. You can tell when you read a script if it was written from a cynical place rather than being genuine, no matter how talented the writer is.

6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

It feels like the world-weary detective/cop with the haunted past has been popping up more than ever. I’m also pretty tired of the entire modern rom-com formula – that’s a genre that’s just exhausted and needs to be reinvented.

7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?

-“write what you know” doesn’t mean you should create a main character who is an aspiring writer and terribly misunderstood

-in every scene you should be thinking about how that scene is moving the story forward, not just in terms of plot, but the main character and his/her arc

-make sure that whatever you write is something that you yourself would want to see. i.e. don’t write what you think other people want to see.

8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?

I’ve read quite a few over the years, some of which went on to become movies, others which didn’t for any number of reasons. If there’s one thing those loglines have in common, it’s that they describe a movie about a character(s) and not plot points. I always encourage writers to strip their logline down to what the script is really about – is it about a boy losing his innocence, a man overcoming his grief, a woman starting over? . . not just what happens in the plot.

9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?

They can absolutely be worth it, in that it’s always a good thing to get as many eyeballs on your script as possible. I encourage writers to not just blindly submit their script to every contest under the sun, but to do a little research and determine what one or two contests might be the best fit for their script and experience level. For instance, the Nicholl is known for being friendly to historical dramas and the like, so your horror script might not be terribly well-received there.

10. How can people get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?

They can check out my website www.script-therapist.com, and/or email me at expert@script-therapist.com.

11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

Oh man, do I have to pick just one? I’m gonna go seasonal on you: in the fall/winter, I’ll take pecan pie. In the spring, strawberry pie, and in the summer (or anytime, really), key lime. Mmmm, pie.


No, I’m making all of this up

April 17, 2015
And here's another reason why you're wrong!

The louder I yell, the more you’ll agree with me

It’s probably safe to assume you’ve found yourself in this situation before:

A colleague asks you to read their material and give your thoughts on it. “Don’t hold back,” they say. “Be as brutal as you need to be. I can take it.”

So you read it, compile your notes (making sure to be critical, but fair and helpful) and send them off. Most of the time this results in one of two ways.

1. “These are great! Thank you so much!” or 2. “What do you mean ____? How could you miss that? Did you even read the script?”

Urgh. I hate, hate, hate when they say that.

Did you want notes or gushing praise? You asked me for the former, but it sounds more like you secretly meant the latter, and now you’re not happy with the results.

If I think your script is good, I’ll say so and tell you why. On the other hand, I also won’t hesitate to point out what I think needs work, or if there’s something I didn’t understand.

There’s no need to remind me how much you’ve slaved over this for months/years, but I’m not going to say it’s good just to make you feel better. You know every single aspect of the story. I don’t, and only comment about what I can (or can’t) see on the page in front of me.

This doesn’t mean I’m a bad reader. Have you considered the remote possibility that your writing just might not be the perfection you think it is? I’ll fetch the smelling salts while that one sinks in.

Believe me, I’m not saying these things to be mean. You asked me for my opinion, and I gave it to you. There are professional analysts and consultants who do the exact same thing, and you’d pay them for it. Not everybody is going to love your script or pick up on every intricate detail you think is painfully obvious to any moron with half a brain.

If you put your script out there for review, you’d better be prepared for the worst. It’s an unfortunate part of how this works.

And one more important piece of advice: getting defensive or arguing with me because I didn’t like your script or “just don’t get it” isn’t going to change my mind, and will definitely make me not want to do this for you again.


Ask a Master of the Ultimate Editing Tool Script Consultant!

April 14, 2015

Erin Whittemore

The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is on agency reader-turned-consultant Erin Whittemore of Red Pen Script Consulting.

“I have a B.A. in film and screenwriting from the University of Michigan, and am also the proud recipient of the Hopwood Award in screenwriting that boasts such alumni as Arthur Miller and Lawrence Kasdan. After graduating, I relocated to Los Angeles, where I worked for United Talent Agency as a freelance script reader. Two of my own scripts have been produced as short films and premiered at film festivals.”

1. What was the last thing that you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well‐written?

I loved Nightcrawler and The Lego Movie as scripts. Nightcrawler’s story was really lean and mean and practically seamless, and The Lego Movie was not only a great narrative in itself, but was also incredibly cheeky and self‐aware at the same time. In terms of TV, Marvel’s Agent Carter put other network shows to shame. In my humble opinion, of course.

2. How did you get started reading scripts?

After spending two arduous years as a pre‐med undergraduate, I finally became so miserable that I switched to film and never looked back. I learned to do coverage through screenwriting courses, and was lucky enough that UTA was hiring part-timers after I graduated. Full disclosure: I did know somebody in the story department, but even then I almost didn’t get the job due to the amount of competition for the position. It all comes down to your “test coverage.” (When an agency gives you a sample script to cover.) If you’re aiming for reading professionally, make sure you have your own sample coverage ready to go as well, preferably showcasing two different genres.

Eventually, though, I needed a better‐paying and more stable job, but I wanted to continue reading scripts as well. Having been a part of “the system” I knew it could take up to three months for writers to get any feedback on their submissions, which is kind of agonizing, especially if the writer ends up getting rejected. I figured, why not give writers a chance to see what a professional script reader would say about their material before sending it out to agencies and production companies? Thus, Red Pen was born!

3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?

I believe if you’re willing to be taught, you can learn. You have to watch a lot of movies and read a lot of scripts, and you have to learn to think critically about what you ingest. It’s not enough to say “I like this” or “I don’t like this,” you have to think about why. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, you have to ask questions like “why does this work” or “why doesn’t this work?” and “how could I make it work?” Some people naturally think this way, others have to train themselves to make it a habit.

4. What are the components of a good script?

A good script generally has an intriguing premise, strong characters, and an original and compelling execution. As a script reader, I look at character, story, theme, dialogue, visuals, and tone to determine what areas need work. In general, a great script knows exactly what it is and what it’s trying to achieve

5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

-Unlikable, uninteresting characters that do uninteresting things. This doesn’t mean your protagonist can’t be an unlikable character, but they must be at least be interesting and do interesting things. (See There Will Be Blood, Nightcrawler.)

-Exposition in dialogue. The golden rule of screenwriting is “SHOW, DON’T TELL.” A little exposition is usually necessary, but too often I see writers trying to cram entire backstories or plot elaborations into a talking scene. Firstly, we only need to know what’s relevant at the time, part of the fun of watching a story unfold is piecing things together. Secondly, remember, it’s a movie. It’s much more dramatic and emotionally immediate to watch a sequence about something important than to hear a character talk about it.

-Inconsistent tone. Is your script Silence of the Lambs or Fargo? Guardians of the Galaxy or Interstellar? 12 Years A Slave or Django Unchained? When a script yo‐yo’s back and forth between tones, or spends the first half of the movie a comedy only to turn serious drama it can be very confusing for the audience and takes us out of the story. Know what tone you want your script to have and stick with it.

-No structure. A story is more than just a series of events, it’s a series of events that influence each other. If you’ve ever had a friend who is terrible at telling stories, they most likely sound something like this: “So Jack and Jill fall down this hill. No, wait, sorry, first they go up this hill. Then Jack falls down. And then Jill falls down. And then they get married.” As opposed to someone who might say, “Jack and Jill grew up together as next door neighbors and they hated each other. They were mean and played pranks on one another until Jill left for school. Jill married an orthodontist, but got divorced soon afterward because life became too predictable for her. Jack had a string of girlfriends but nothing ever seemed to stick, especially since none of them seemed to appreciate his sense of humor. Having both moved back to their hometown at a low ebb in life, one day Jack spotted Jill on top of a hill while walking his dog in the park. Jack smacked Jill in the back of the head with a snowball. Jill yelped, slipped, and tumbled headfirst down the hill. Alarmed, Jack rushed to her aid only to slip and fall, himself. The two ended up in adjacent hospital beds and wouldn’t speak to each other, until they both started laughing. Soon after, they fell in love, and have been married for 35 years.” In other words, remember that each beat of your story should make sense and be relevant in the larger context.

-It’s a movie not a book. Give us just enough flavor text so we get the atmosphere and the characters, but don’t go overboard. I should be able to read your script in the same amount of time it would take to watch the movie, if not less. Don’t bog the reader down in unnecessary description. That doesn’t mean what you write can’t be poetic and evocative, but just remember to keep it lean and mean. If you’re lucky, the type of person reading your material will give it their full attention, but this is not often the case.

6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

Okay, first a disclaimer: most stories are tropes in one way or another. There’s an adage in Hollywood that goes “give me the same thing, only different!” What that basically boils down to is, “give me something I can latch onto, but surprise me!” It’s okay if you have an “everyman protagonist” (The Lego Movie) or if your story is about a rag‐tag bunch of people in space (Guardians of the Galaxy, or alternatively, Star Wars) – what really matters is the execution, or what you do with those characters and set‐ups. That’s where the originality comes in. That being said, here are a few that leap to mind:

-Women with no agency! Or alternatively, women who are portrayed with agency only to have it stripped from them at important points in the story by male counterparts.

– Actually, on that note: stereotyping certain genders, races, or sexual orientations into negative tropes like “the magical ethnic minority” or “token black person” or “exceptionally shallow and flamboyant gay best friend” at all. For a comprehensive list, Google “gender/racial/ethic/gay/transgender/bisexual tropes in media.”

-“You were really working for the bad guys all along.”

-Gritty for the sake of gritty, not because it actually works or makes sense.

-Teen love triangles.

-The ex (Marine, Army, Navy, etc.) whose family or significant other is kidnapped or killed, and must rescue them/seek vengeance. (Sorry, but I’ve read this script a hundred times)

-Scripts that are mostly music‐video segments strung together without much story.

-Manic Pixie Dream Girls

-Inexplicably bloodthirsty military males

-The scientist who knows everything. Ever.

-The brooding, emotionally unavailable romantic interest with no reason to be brooding or emotionally unavailable.

-The hacker who can hack into anything. Ever. Also, it’s probably a guy who lives in his parents’ basement.

-The magical cure‐all that can bring everybody back to life if they die, so there are no consequences or stakes!

-The love interest because there needs to be a love interest.

-The unnecessary cliffhanger, because it’s an unnecessary trilogy!

7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know? 

-Write.

-Rewrite. One of the most common things I hear is “I hate rewriting my material.” Nobody likes taking a chainsaw to their baby, but more often than not it’s a vital part of the creative process. Let’s face it, we’d all like to believe we’re capable of writing a perfect first draft, but in reality turning out something great takes a lot of work and usually a good number of drafts. As a script reader, I see that squeamishness about rewriting get in the way of some good scripts, and that’s a real shame when they could be great scripts. Just “polishing” your material is sort of like watering around a sick plant and expecting it to improve.

-For screenwriters: make every scene worth watching. Almost every scene should a) have some sort of conflict, be it internal or external, b) move the story forward, and c) tell us more about the characters involved.

8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without‐a‐doubt, “recommend?” If so, could you give the logline?

I have actually read several, but most of them were under an NDA, so unfortunately I can’t share any loglines. Sorry.

9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?

The Nicholl is definitely worth submitting to, as there is some fairly significant exposure in the industry the farther you make it into the competition. I would also recommend submitting a polished script to the Black List.

10. How can people get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?

You can get more information at www.redpenscriptconsulting.com or send me an email at redpenscriptconsulting@gmail.com. I also have LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. If you’re just looking to get your script proofed, though, I would check out my friend’s fantastic service at www.scriptproofed.com

11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

Strawberry‐rhubarb is always an instant win with me, but sometimes I like a good old-fashioned apple topped with vanilla ice cream. Am I allowed to have two favorites?


Just a few random thoughts…

April 10, 2015
typing Superman

…typed at super-speed!

-Work on the low-budget comedy spec is inching forward at a rate of about 1 1/2-2 pages a day. It may not seem like a lot, but it’s proving to be much more enjoyable than expected. A big part stems from going back and rewriting the jokes to make them better (and hopefully funnier). It’s difficult to be self-analytical about it, but I think I’m getting better. The big test will be if it generates some actual laughs when people read it.

I was originally hoping to be done with it by the end of the month, but mid-May may be a little more realistic.

-More notes and feedback coming in on the western. Lots of helpful and insightful comments, including some fantastic suggestions on how to make the logline better, and a few confidence-restoring observations about the material as well as my own skills. Those are always nice to get.

Already figuring out what to work on when the next rewrite gets underway.

-Had to give notes to a newbie writer about their script. There was a lot that needed to be fixed, and I tried to be equally tactful and supportive with my comments, but they still got more than a little defensive.

Apparently I can’t recognize the genius in anybody’s work.

-When I first started my “Ask a Script Consultant!” interview series, I had no idea it would: A) go on this long, or B) spark so much controversy about whether or not it’s a good idea to use one. It’s easy for professional writers to denounce it because they’ve got a much stronger support system than those of us trying to break in. A lot of us do what we can on our own to get better, but sometimes will still need help and guidance in order to improve, and do what we can to get it.

Sure, there are some really lousy ones out there, and you might get burned. That’s a chance you have to take. It’s up to you to do the work to find the one that’s right for you.

Caveat emptor, chums.

-Enjoy the weekend. Hope you get a lot of writing done.


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