Monday, January 31, 2011


In response to a reader's question re: what type of scripts are best now, the 2010 Spec Market Roundup reports the top 3 genres are:

Comedy - 27%
Thriller - 27%
Action/Adventure - 26%

YOU: So I should ONLY write to the market?
ME: No.

YOU: Then I should ONLY write my passion.
ME: No.

YOU: Then what the hell should I write?
ME: A passion-filled story that is informed by the market.

YOU: Isn't that the same thing?
ME: No.

ex. In "The Town," Ben Affleck tried to see if he could "get a drama to succeed more commercially by introducing genre elements... Heist elements wrapped around a drama."

If your passion is drama, first pack the core full of high dramatic EMOTION. Then step back & see if you can add elements of action. Or maybe some comedic moments.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Don't let "conventional wisdom" that drama is dead limit you.

But don't ignore it. Work around/over/with it.

Friday, January 28, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #98 WGA Script of All Time - Grapes of Wrath (1940)

[Quick Summary: A poor Oklahoma family loses their farm during the Depression and treks to California in hope of finding work.]

I don't know much about Steinbeck. 

Heck, I'm far from a literary genius, so I'll be honest: I just didn't care for this script.

However, I did admire the details that make you feel the Depression up close & personal.  You begin to worry about your empty belly. You'd get upset too if you couldn't feed your family on 2 1/2 cents an hour. 

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Too many details can create a wall between you & the reader. 

The right ones can win over a skeptic.

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
by Nunnally Johnson

Friday, January 21, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #99 WGA Script of All Time - The Wild Bunch (1969)

[Quick Summary: Aging outlaws try one last run as the code of the Old West crumbles, & a new impersonal era begins.]

This was a head scratcher.

I didn't get the senseless killings. Nor connected with characters who betrayed each other.  And maybe that was the point.

So why does Roger Ebert call this:

- "one of the most controversial films of its time--praised and condemned with equal vehemence" AND
- "one of the great defining moments of modern movies"?

I think it was the first of its kind.

The first to show that much violence.

The first to cause that violent of a reaction (whether you agree with the film or not, it does stir up discussion).

In the confusing age of the 1970s Vietnam War, it might actually have been a wistful longing for an Old West with a code.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I don't understand all the scripts on this list.

I probably would've passed if I were reading this today.

The Wild Bunch (1969)
by Walon Green & Sam Peckinpah

Friday, January 14, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: #100 WGA Script of All Time - Memento (2000)

[Quick Summary: A man who has lost his short term memory tattoos clues on his body, & wakes up each morning hoping to solve the mystery of who killed his wife.]

Um, this script is gut-wrenchingly raw.  For that reason, I found it hard to read. 

Yet I powered through because:

1) It's told backwards, which is risky, & I wanted to see how it's done; and

2) On p.3, Leonard (the lead) reminds himself to kill Teddy (who seems to be a friend, but maybe not). I couldn't shake the need to resolve this conflict. 

For the rest of the script, this conflict builds & builds.  I had to finish the script to find out what Teddy did to Leonard.

I can't say I understand Leonard 100%, but I did see his reasoning & that was satisfying.

WHAT I LEARNED:  To build conflict, hand out bigger & bigger pieces of the puzzle.

Especially give glimpses of WHY a character makes the decisions he does. 

Memento (2000)
by Christopher Nolan
Based on the short story, "Memory Mori," by Jonathan Nolan

Friday, January 7, 2011

TODAY’S NUGGET: #101 WGA Script of All Time – Notorious (1946)

[Quick Summary:  Daughter of a convicted traitor reluctantly goes to Rio to infiltrate a group of her father’s friends, & falls for the recruiter who doesn’t trust her.]

Someone (me) reads your story. 

Someone (me again) suspects the story doesn’t build suspense enough.

Someone (me, now grouchy) struggles to explain to you the building blocks of suspense.  

Enter “Notorious” and Hitchcock.  (Someone (me) is relieved.)

The key to suspense is that she must always be at a fork in the road. 

Ex. Alicia must seduce Sebastian (a bad guy & the man who wants her), but she’s in love with Agent Devlin (the man who has put her with Sebastian). 

How to keep her at a fork in the road:

1 – Increase stakes by increasing the consequences.

Alicia can only access the secret room if she marries Sebastian.  Will she marry him and doom herself to a life without Devlin?

2 –The love triangle keeps see-sawing back & forth, so we’re never sure who’s won.

Alicia & Devlin clearly have chemistry (Devlin wins). Alicia must placate Sebastian (Sebastian wins).  Alicia longs for Devlin (Devlin wins).

3- Every decision seems to extinguish conflict, but actually creates two more.

Alicia steals keys to the secret room & takes Devlin there.  When Sebastian spots them, Devlin kisses her deliberately to distract him. Now Sebastian is furious at Alicia, & her heart breaks even more over Devlin.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED:  If it’s done right, the suspense arc should  not end at a fork. Suspense forks and forks and forks again.

Notorious (1946)
by Ben Hecht

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

TODAY'S NUGGET: I Am Lazy, i.e., Goal for 2011

Reading scripts is like a diet.

I don't want those deep mysterious greens, and scary orange looking vegetables.  But they're good for me.

I get lazy. I try to survive without the discipline.

And that's how I end up uninspired, i.e., in the safe zone.

I look back at November when I was on a crazy schedule of one script (plus analysis for this blog) per day. 

I loved it. I hated it. I went places I'd rather not go.

But for the first time, I understood why these films were "classic," "unforgettable," and "stirring."

So here's my goal for 2011: To read the remaining 71 scripts on the WGA's Top 101 Scripts of All Time. 

This breaks down to one a week, sometimes two.  I'll start with #101 Notorious and work backwards.  Postings will be on Fridays (& the occasional Tuesdays).

Won't you join me?  It's dashed lonely reading all alone.
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