A scary good Q&A with Jimmy George

JImmy George

Jimmy George, aka Script Butcher, has been writing and producing films for over a decade. Along with optioning several screenplays, Jimmy has lent his name as co-writer/co-producer to six award winning feature-length films, garnering rave reviews, and boasting international distribution.

He has a talent for engineering fun and innovative productions on shoe-string budgets with few of the modern technological marvels used in major Hollywood blockbusters. Each of his films have been praised for circumventing their meager budgets, standing out through memorable storytelling.

Jimmy co-wrote and co-produced WNUF Halloween Special (2013), which won numerous festival awards, alongside national press from The New York Times, VICE, MTV, Birth.Movies.DeathFandango, and Red Letter Media, and is currently available on the AMC Networks’ streaming service, Shudder.

After tearing up the festival circuit, his most recent film, Call Girl of Cthulhu generated enormous buzz in the horror industry. Harry Knowles of Aintiticoolnews declared it “fun, better than it should be and quite splattacular.”.

Jimmy’s current project (and his seventh feature), What Happens Next Will Scare You, will be released next year.

In addition to writing and producing, Jimmy has a passion for helping creators succeed. As the Script Butcher, he consults with screenwriters, empowering them with the necessary tools to sharpen their scripts into dynamic stories that slice through the competition.

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

The pilot episode for GLOW. The world-building is excellent. It takes you into a sub-culture that’s mysterious and relatively unknown. The characters are memorable and entertaining. We meet the lead character at her lowest point. It leaves us with so much promise for what could take place during the series. Does everything a pilot should do and more.

How’d you get your start reading scripts?

There are many screenwriting gurus out there. I am not one of them. I’m just a guy who’s written a ton of screenplays, produced a half-dozen movies of my own, and learned a lot along the way.

Over the last ten years of making movies, I’ve become the go-to script doctor for a lot of friends and colleagues. I’ve been doing this for free for a decade and it became clear a few years ago that this was my purpose. So I decided to start this service and try to make a living doing what I love.

Telling stories is what I was put on this Earth to do. Helping others fine tune their stories is a close second. I’ve been in your shoes. I know the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to complete a screenplay. This isn’t a job for me. It’s my passion. It’s what I live for.

Where does the moniker “Script Butcher” come from?

Whenever someone would ask for notes, I always delivered their script covered with red ink. The pages looked bloody. I once joked with a friend that I was their “script butcher” and it just stuck. To this day, every time I finish a set of notes my hands are covered with red ink splatters. I have a background in horror so a lot of people assume those are the only scripts I work with, but I provide the same exhaustive notes for all genres. I’d say 75% of my clients don’t write horror.

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

Writing well and recognizing good writing are skills that go hand in hand. Both can be taught and learned. For me, recognizing good writing as compared to bad has come from reading thousands of scripts at all levels of the talent spectrum. Having my own scripts brought to life on a frequent basis, sitting in theaters watching what works and doesn’t has also taught me invaluable lessons most script doctors haven’t had the opportunity to learn or pass along.

Studying the work of pros is a must too, but a lot of scripts available to the public are shooting drafts which are different from spec scripts and teach new writers bad lessons. So much can be learned from script consultants as well. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the mentoring advice and guidance I received from my own trusted script doctors.

I didn’t go to film school. The notes I received from these professionals over the course of a decade and a half, became my film school. By failing time and again, by continuing to experiment with the form and seeking constant feedback, I learned the craft. I never stopped trying to get better. Growing thick skin and learning how to use feedback to improve your stories is an important skill set for a writer.

Sending my scripts for notes became a crucial part of the writing process and continues to be.

What are the components of a good script?

A good script should have an original, marketable concept.

With flawed relatable characters who are actively seeking something they care deeply about, that we can emotionally connect with and root for, and that deals with the most important events of these character’s lives.

It should present a visual goal for the character or characters to achieve which form the central story question, and present primal, relatable stakes for what will happen if they fail to achieve those visual goals with formidable forces of antagonism that cause never-ending complications, standing in the way of the character’s achieving their goals.

It’s properly formatted on the page, relies on visuals instead of dialogue to tell the story, with plausible surprises and reversals of expectation at every turn.

And it builds to an emotionally satisfying climax that answers the central story question of whether our characters will achieve their visual goal in a positive or negative manner.

Other elements such as a quick pace, character arcs, thematic resonance, and memorable dialogue are a bonus, but not absolutely necessary for a script to do its job.

(Some of this is inspired by Terry Rossio’s 60 Question Checklist, which every screenwriter should read here.)

What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

1) FAILURE TO DELIVER ON THE PROMISE OF THE PREMISE

A story is a promise. Imagine Mrs. Doubtfire if the story followed Robin Williams working as an accountant instead of following the trials and tribulations of trying to reconnect with his wife and kids while dressed as an old woman.

The audience is waiting for you to deliver on the promise of your concept. If your script is about killer beer, you better have a beer pong massacre scene.

2) TONAL IMBALANCE

If you’re writing Schindler’s List, there’s no room for campy comedy. Vice versa.

Even if you’re mixing genres, keep your characters’ reactions to the events around them and the events themselves consistent in tone.

3) LACK OF CLARITY EMOTIONAL OR OTHERWISE

Clarity of what a character is feeling in reaction to a situation or what is being conveyed in general is a common issue I encounter with client scripts. Because the story is alive in your head, it’s difficult to tell what is and isn’t conveyed on the page. It’s all crystal clear for the writer, but often muddled on the page.

There are many more common mistakes, but these are the big ones.

What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

UNDESERVED CELEBRITY STATUS – I see so many scripts that give their characters a level of celebrity status that’s unbelievable simply for the sake of telling the media-frenzied story they’re trying to tell. The paparazzi and press are very specific about the types of people they will follow. Make sure your characters are worthy of the celebrity status you’re giving them in your story.

USING NEWSPAPER HEADLINES AS EXPOSITION – Many of my clients rely on one newspaper headline after another to show the passage of time and relay important exposition. Media has changed. This is an antiquated story device that no longer holds weight with the audience.

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

1) REVERSE EXPECTATION at every turn in a way that feels organic to the story and not calculated or contrived.

2) FIND THE CLICHE AND THROW IT AWAY. If we’ve seen it or heard it before, find another way to show it or say it. This will ensure your story always feels fresh and unique.

3) MAKE IT VISUAL. If dialogue comes last instead of first when you’re crafting scenes, it will ensure your story is cinematic and not better suited for the stage.

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

I have once, it’s called BaSatai by my longtime client Suzan Battah. She’s in the process of turning it into a graphic novel. You can find out more here. https://www.patreon.com/suzanbattah

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

Not worth it. Writers put so much time, emphasis, and worst of all, money into contests. In my opinion they’d be better off spending that time improving their craft and spending their money on attending networking events and writing workshops.

While I understand the allure of getting a festival or contest win to stand out from the crowd of writers trying to break in, a contest win can be detrimental to a writer’s sense of skill level and give them a false sense of completion with their scripts.

I’ve worked with dozens of screenplays that were “award-winning” with multiple festival monikers to their name, that I don’t feel would get a RECOMMEND from a single studio reader.

Writers are paying money to contests, being assured their scripts are good enough, when they aren’t ready yet. There’s nothing more detrimental to your career than trying to shop around a script that isn’t ready.

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

My website has all the details you’ll need at www.scriptbutcher.com/services

You can also find me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/scriptbutcher

Instagram at www.instagram.com/_jimmygeorge

And Facebook at www.facebook.com/scriptbutcher

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

Offbeat answer here. My wife and I were passing through Intercourse, Pennsylvania, otherwise known as Amish country. There was a gift shop that sold Shoofly Pie with cartoonish construction paper flies advertising how fresh it was. We bought a slice. Needless to say, it was so delicious we left with two whole pies.

One curtain falls, another rises

stage
Don’t go far, folks. Next show is on the way!

Among the sizable slew of ongoing projects of which I’m currently undertaking, finishing the edit/polish/rewrite of the pulp sci-fi spec was pretty high up near the top of the list.

Mostly because it was something I felt I absolutely had to do; sort of a “get it out of my system” thing.

And for now, it is. Finished. At least until the next sets of notes come in and the whole process starts all over again. No big deal. Par for the course.

Overall, I like how it turned out. As has been the case before, it was also simply just fun to write. That helped. And some of my readers from the previous draft were quite enthusiastic about what a fun read it is. That also helped.

Even though the story’s pretty much set in place, every once in a while inspiration would strike, or a suggestion would be made, and I’d come up with a way to potentially improve a particular moment, scene or sequence.

So off it goes to some very savvy readers, and my attention redirects to the much-interrupted overhaul of one of my low-budget comedies, which has been a sizable challenge on its own.

Creating amazing tales of thrills, excitement, and heart-pounding fantastic-ness? No problem. Trying to craft a smart, funny story? A challenge, to say the least.

Then again, I do loves me a good challenge.

Just the tune-up it needs

eastwood engine
Clint knows what needs to be fixed

The latest batch of notes on the pulp sci-fi spec have been analyzed, some even incorporated, resulting in the latest draft.

Thing is, something still seemed a little off about it. But after having spent a good chunk of time on it, I opted to give myself a little break and skip jumping right back in, and instead put it aside to simmer while I focused on a few other projects.

A couple of weeks have passed since then. The time felt right. I opened it up and simply started reading in the hope that maybe the solution would simply present itself along the way.

A lot of it still held up. It’s still a fun, fast-paced action-packed story.

But what really stood out this time was how there was a lot of unnecessary text on the page. It wasn’t a matter of overwriting; more of a “maybe a little more than you actually needed.”

I went back to page one and started editing, line by line. A word here, a phrase there. More and more of my darlings were being lovingly obliterated from existence, creating a somewhat tighter story that didn’t sacrifice any momentum (so far).

Some of the notes also mentioned the occasional lack of information in terms of backstory. I occasionally have the habit of thinking I’ve included an important detail or at least allude to it, when it reality – nope.

Using this fine-tooth comb approach has also enabled me to identify and plug up holes in the plot. Sometimes I might stumble onto a minor issue I didn’t even realize was or wasn’t in there, and am able to take care of it. Again – tighter and continued momentum.

This draft continues to progress nicely, and I’m hoping to wrap it up soon – but still making a point of taking my time and thinking my way to each solution.

-I’ll be running the first half of the San Francisco Marathon this weekend. While a time of 1:55 would be great, as long as I beat the 2-hour mark, I’ll be fine.

-If you’re a screenwriter in the San Francisco Bay Area or northern California region, and want to meet other screenwriters, the NorCal Screenwriters’ Networking Shindig on Sunday, July 30th, might be just what you need. 2-4pm at Kawika’s Ocean Beach Deli (734 La Playa – a block from the ocean!). Cost – FREE! Drop me a line if you’re interested.

I refuse to be complacent

runner
The road gets tougher, you run harder

First-round results for two of the biggest, high-profile screenwriting contests have been released within the past week, and the pattern for my western’s performance in both has once again repeated itself.

Total whiff for PAGE, and top 20 percent for the Nicholl. (I’m not doing Austin this year)

I didn’t get notes from the former, and based on the ones I got last year for the latter, am not that curious as to why it placed where it did.

My initial reaction was, naturally, disappointment, but this year is markedly different in what came immediately after.

There’ve been days where the agony, frustration and just plain shittiness of things not working out was so strong I’d seriously contemplate just walking away. After all, that would be one less member of the competition, right?

But that’s simply not an option – for any of us. Our desire to succeed as writers burns too bright.

I may not have done as well as I’d hoped with these contests, so instead of shrugging my shoulders and saying “Oh well. Better luck next year,” I plan on doing whatever I can to increase my chances. With a vengeance.

Gone is the wallowing in a blessedly brief mindset of “poor, poor pitiful me”.

In its place – a reinvigorated drive to buckle down, work even harder and write scripts so fucking amazing those readers won’t know what hit them.

I don’t think I can. I KNOW I CAN.

Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead, chums.

-A new addition and a return appearance on the bulletin board this week:

-Filmmakers Caitlin Stedman and Kayla Ditlefsen have launched a crowdfunding project for their short film Unattainable. They’re around the 60 percent mark, so donate if you can!

-The crowdfunding for filmmaker Steve Davis’s No Glory continues, with about a month to go. Steve’s a talented guy, and this sounds like a fantastic project. Donate if you can!

The guides behind the guide to being truly Epic!

james & ann
Mssrs Moorer (l) and Kimbrough (r)

Writers James Moorer and Ann Kimbrough have teamed up to promote the Be Epic Journal, a guide to helping you set up goals and figure out what steps you need to take to achieve them.

Tell us a little about your writing backgrounds. How’d you get started? Apart from the Be Epic Journal, what else are you currently working on?

James Moorer (JM): I am a multi-optioned screenwriter and published author with several properties in various stages of development. I’ve been hired for numerous writing assignments since 2009 for a number of production companies. I got started writing for the screen while producing music for fitness competitors and bodybuilders under my company Jamesong Music, back in Ohio. I’ve always wanted to be a writer since I first read a Truman Capote story in Esquire magazine. Currently, I have two other novels in development as well as my two shorts I’m producing and a feature film which will be my directorial debut.

Ann Kimbrough (AK): I’m a working screenwriter, with my first paid gig in 2012. I currently have three films in different stages of development and do rewrite assignments on the side. As anyone on the screenwriting path knows, we have little control over the production side. I wanted to take on more control in some aspect of my writing, so between writing assignments I branched into books. First, I turned one of my spec scripts into a romantic suspense novel that was published with Short On Time Books, “Scarlet Revenge” under pen name Ann McGinnis. That gave me the publishing bug and I started to publish my own books. The first journal I did — “The 100 Script Challenge” — was to create a book I wanted but could not find. (It’s about reading 100 scripts, keeping your notes in the journal and having all you learned from reading the scripts handy to review.) Then I made “The Idea Journal for Screenwriters.” It’s another journal I wanted as a screenwriter. I don’t know about you, but I write little notes everywhere with story ideas. The journal keeps me from losing them by having them all in the book. I can then look over my notes, connect them with other little ideas and build them into high concepts. (It’s also full of idea building tips.) From there, I teamed with other creative friends like James Moorer to create fun and useful journals — like “The Be Epic Journal.” Presently, I have eight journals published.

What does it mean to “Be Epic”?

JM: To Be epic, to me, is to step into your TRUE SELF, completely and confidently aware of your God-given ability to become your greatest self, realizing that this is not a happenstance, but how you and you alone were given a specific gift to help move the world toward being a more incredible place, and to inspire others to do the same.

AK: Being Epic is being the best you. It’s cutting out anything that’s holding you back from your dreams and shining! The best part of the whole Be Epic movement that James started is how focusing on our dreams and making our life better eventually leads to making someone else’s life better. But it has to start within you.

What was the inspiration for the Be Epic Journal?

JM: For me, it has always been a way of combating the negativity, fear and doubt in my own life. When I began to realize that I had fallen into a self-fulfilling spiral, I recognized it was my own words and beliefs about myself that lead me there. But it would also take changing my beliefs and speaking to what I wanted to be was how I truly came to discover who I was inside. That lead me to understand this was bigger than one person. This truth was universal.

AK: James is the spark! I have enjoyed his Facebook posts about Being Epic for a long time. They really lifted me up, but then he didn’t post as many. I asked him about it and pretty much told him to get back to posting. (I’m certain I wasn’t the only one.) I also said it would make a great journal! Luckily, James agreed.

How does the Be Epic Journal work? What should a writer who uses it expect?

JM: The Journal works like a PLAYBOOK, helping the writer recognize and engage in daily practices that they can build upon in creating a confident approach not only to their work, but to their life overall. They set a single targeted goal and the steps by which they will accomplish them. The beautiful part is that there are no right or wrongs as everyone is unique, but the daily diligence leads them to greater performance, greater awareness of their own ability and destroying the doubts and fears before they take root. The reason it works is because these are steps that THEY THEMSELVES have created, so these steps have greater meaning to each writer, deeper significance, and opens their thinking to being even more creative.

AK: The Be Epic Journal is a 3-week process, and a writer should expect to pick a goal that can be accomplished in three weeks. So, it’s not about curing cancer. It’s about engaging in a goal you’ve probably had hanging around for awhile. For a writer that could be completing a book or screenplay. The 3-week process helps anyone breakdown their goal into three steps and work on one step each week, plus taking time to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t. It can be done around your normal schedule. It’s full of motivation from James and is very much a workbook to reach a specific goal. It’s set up to do one goal and then move onto another. The journal also includes a free 16-page download code for more instructions and goal setting tips. Soon — we will have a Kindle book that will be a great companion piece to the journal.

Is the Be Epic Journal specifically for writers, or can anybody use it?

JM: We created this journal for everyone. Writers are a community Ann and I are very familiar with, but the same lessons learned here can be applied to any aspect of life, any career, anyone who desires to embrace their most powerful self. The Journal is also meant to be a stepping stone; the first step in anyone’s Epic Journey.

AK: Anyone can use it. We are currently running a test group on Facebook for the journal, and while all of our participants are writers, half of them did not pick writer kind of goals. One person is cutting out sugar — yikes! But she’s doing it! Others are working on completing half-finished writing projects.

How can somebody get their hands on a Be Epic Journal?

JM: Amazon is our friend!!! They can order the journal here. We also have a 16 page pdf to give people an idea of what the program looks like for free.

AK: Thanks for asking! It’s on Amazon and if they’d like to know more about the whole process they can get the free 16-page download now. It also puts them on our email list, but we promise to only send out useful stuff — like when the Kindle is released and motivational infographics. The link to the 16-page download is

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

JM: Given my choice, I fancy a Peach Cobbler. But as you know, my love for pancakes has me searching for that perfect union of Cobbler and Pancakes. Just never ask me to choose between the two.

AK: My favorite pie is apple. But it has to be the one I make, which is from Trisha Yearwood’s recipe. Google it. You make it in a cast iron frying pan in your oven and it’s worth every calorie! Yum. Dang. Now, I’ve got to go make one.