Sunday, August 31, 2014

MY 1st GRATITUDE DAY: I Will Read Your 10 Pages for Free* (*See Stipulations)

Recently, I received several kindnesses out of the blue.

I was floored.  I didn't expect them, didn't deserve them, and each one came at the exact right time.

As I look back though, I wish I'd passed the kindnesses on.

So in honor of those persons, I've decided to offer my two cents and troubleshooting skills to 30 writers in the next 30 days.

I will read any 10 pages of your scripts for free.

Here's the fine print:

1.  I will take the first 30 writers to email me with their attached 10 pages.

2.  I have sole discretion who makes the cut.

3.  I will send an email to you if you made the cut. 

4.  I will read the scripts in the order that they arrive.

5.  I will read whichever 10 pages you choose, but ONLY those 10 pages.*

6.  I will send you one (maybe two) paragraph(s) of feedback.

7.  You e-mail must include:

- 10 pages (PDF format).  Do not send the entire script.
- One specific question on which you would like my input.
- Acceptable question: "I'm having trouble with the dialogue. Suggestions?"
 - Unacceptable question: "Why doesn't this make sense?"

8.  If you've read any of my posts, you know this blog is about LEARNING.  

At the end of 30 days, I plan to blog about what I'm learning/seeing in these scripts, i.e., trends, mistakes, problems, etc. 

I will not talk about your script in particular, but may discuss it generally:

ex.  "The most common mistake I've seen in the sci-fi scripts I've gotten..."
ex.  "One writer did X; other writers did Y."

If you're uncomfortable/weirded out/suspicious, DO NOT submit.

9.  If you submit, you agree to all the stipulations above.

Got it?

I look forward to meeting you on the page.

* Do not keep sending me updated or revised pages, like a client I once had.

Monday, August 25, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Following (1998) - Well-Rounded Characters in a Small Budgeted Film

[Quick Summary: A man follows thief and is drawn to criminal life, with unexpected consequences.]

I liked hearing what Christopher Nolan learned from his first film.

(What DO you do when your lead actor decides to shave his head?)
(What does a $6000 budget allow/not allow?)
(What's the US film festival circuit like?)

I was surprised at how this doesn't read like a small budgeted script.

One reason is that the well rounded character interactions kept me "wanting to know more".

(Well-rounded = Characters are three dimensional, with clear agendas, goals, traits, conflicts.)

I could not predict where they would go.

ex. "THE BLONDE glances out of the corner of her eye towards BALDY. BALDY is watching them.

THE BLONDE (looking back to Young Man): Say something to me.

YOUNG MAN: Such as?

THE BLONDE slaps the YOUNG MAN hard across the face. He looks shocked.

THE BLONDE (turning to her drink): I'll be outside in ten minutes."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: These well-rounded characters are driven and create such conflict that I hardly missed the lack of special effects, guns, or car crashes.

(In fact, too many stories are driven by the latter, and not the former.)

Following (1998)
by Christopher Nolan

Monday, August 18, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: The Long Goodbye (1973) - Pacing That Relies on Suspense (vs. Surprise)

[Quick Summary: P.I. Phillip Marlowe helps a friend escape to Mexico, then is suspicious when the friend "commits suicide."]

4 Things I Learned about Leigh Brackett:

1.  A friend owned a bookstore and snuck one of Brackett's sci-fi novels into a stack of books that Howard Hawks bought.  Hawks liked it so much that he hired Brackett for the Big Sleep.  He was surprised she was a female!

2.  She started out as a sci-fi novelist.  (Suddenly her co-writing credit on the Empire Strikes Back makes sense to me.)

3.  She never wrote a western, but still tackled Rio Bravo.

4.  She describes the Long Goodbye as "start[ing] off with a bang and never quit moving." 

She's not kidding.

This script is a must read for amazing pacing and fluidity.

Here's the first 30 minutes:

p. 1-2 - Marlowe helps his friend Terry get to Mexico.
p. 3-12 - Marlowe is arrested, questioned, released, and off the hook.
p. 13-14 - He doesn't believe Terry committed suicide.
p. 15-19 - He goes to Mexico to see for himself.
p. 20-24 - He gets call from a new client, Mrs. Wade. Her husband is missing.
p. 25-35 - He finds Mr. Wade held at a "spa" and gets him out. Mr. Wade is an unpleasant man.

Also read this script for its precise detail. Just enough, not too much.

ex. "The front door opens, spilling light across the driveway. Eileen stands in the doorway."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: This script's sublime pacing/tempo is due to great suspense, i.e., truly interesting things happen in every scene.

I like that the script avoids the cheaper method of surprise, i.e., "drop a bomb and leave".

The Long Goodbye (1973)(1972 draft)
by Leigh Brackett
Adapted from the novel by Raymond Chandler

Monday, August 11, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Sabrina (1954) - Light as a Visual Stand-in

[Quick Summary: After loving David for years, a chauffeur's daughter now falls for his brother Linus.]

I bang my head against the wall much of the time asking one question:

"How do I write so I make the reader FEEEEEEL?!"

In this script, I saw a very unusual way that I'd not seen before.

Watch how the writers make you feel using LIGHT in this pivotal scene:


The room is in semi-darkness, lighted only by the magic of a late summer sky already fading into twilight.  [Late summer = dying light = dying relationship.]

The door opens and Linus enters with Sabrina.... He is a large figure dominating the foreground. Sabrina faces him from deep in the background, a very small figure.  [She is in shadow = uncertain.]

LINUS: All right, Sabrina. What is that perfectly good reason why you shouldn't be seeing me?

Sabrina stands silent, just looking at him.

LINUS: What is it? What's bothering you?

SABRINA: It's...(She hesitates. Then:) It's me that's bothering me.

Linus looks at her across the dimness of the vast room. Then he presses one of the many buttons on his desk and the office is flooded with light. [His action signals he is ready to shine a light on the situation.]

SABRINA: Please don't.

LINUS: I'm sorry.

He presses the button, and they stand in semi-darkness again. [She can't take the brightness = She's not ready to face the truth yet.]

SABRINA: I know I'm not making much sense, Linus..."

I was truly impressed because:

1) The writers  use physical light as visual stand-ins for unspoken emotions.
2) The scene is completely visual.
3) There are no metaphors ("light is a barrier") or similes ("light is like a sword").

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  I was surprised how much the use of light affected me as I read.

I didn't realize how subconsciously I absorbed "semi-darkness" or "flooded with light".

Sabrina (1954)
by Billy Wilder, Samuel Taylor, & Ernest Lehman
Adapted from the play "Sabrina Fair" by Samuel Taylor

Monday, August 4, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007) - Delaying the Reveal Gets the Reader to Participate

[Quick Summary: Two brothers rob their parents' jewelry store, but it goes very wrong.]

I find that Sidney Lumet scripts pull you in without you knowing it.

They get the reader to participate.


Gina and Andy hurry down a long corridor to...


They turn into it and both stop. A lone man sits hunched over in a chair with his face buried in his hands. Andy runs to him as Gina hangs back.

ANDY: Dad!

The man looks up and we see it's Charles."


- This scene does not reveal who the man is right away.
- It makes us wait to discover his identity WITH the other characters.
- We're curious about the "lone man", so we keep reading.

(Also, I like how the scene is uncluttered, i.e., not overloaded with adjectives or description.)

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Don't tell the reader everything immediately.

When possible, let the reader discover things with the characters.

P.S. If you're looking for how to segues into a flashback, this script has several excellent examples.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
by Kelley Masterson
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