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Stories from a seasoned screenwriter. Take heart! Your creative source is infinite and un-ending. Sometimes Hollywood just rips up the roadmap back to it. The bottom line is that Hollywood is not at all as bad as it sounds. Additionally, it's worse than you can imagine. Remember to pack a sense of humor.


I am a screenwriter living in Southern California. I've written screenplays for most of the Hollywood studios over the past 20 years. One of the uncredited writers of FANTASTIC FOUR, I wrote FIRE DOWN BELOW starring Steven Seagal, and the TV Movie 12:01 PM starring Martin Landau and MANEATER with Gary Busey. I have directed short films. I have written on numerous Hollywood studio assignments, some for big shot actors, some for small shot nobodies.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

When Agencies Collide

It was revealed Thursday night that Broder Webb and ICM are merging, and Broder Webb is going away, as are some ICM agents, so that the two agencies will now be one. And it will be ICM, run by the chairman of Broder with many agents from both. Though it seems that Broder is coming in to run things while some things stay the same.

So I was repped by Broder, but I'm now repped by ICM, as Broder won't exist anymore. The odd thing is, I was at ICM years ago, then went to Broder. Now they've mixed like some science fiction creature.

More to the point - the business consolodates again. What does it mean? a lot of people are suddenly out of work. Many agents took the hit in one day, unexpectedly. Hopefully a lot of writers will be suddenly in work. The concern of course, fewere buyers, fewer agencies...

On the other hand, hollywood seems to need more product.

Workshop Still On - but moved

We're still on, but moving it to another weekend. Please let me know what works best for each of you in the next few weeks and we'll pick it!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Workshop On!

My Screenwriting Workshop is on for this Saturday! There are still places available. Come hear solutions to problems, tools for moments of confusion, techniques for wrestling the bear (writing). I'll talk about character, structure, taking pitch meetings (the pitfalls and preparations), how to deal with notes, pressure on deadline, or your own pressure to just finish a draft! What makes a good scene, what are the different arcs needed in long form story telling, where do plot and emotion collide, and the secret to the page turner.

And ,of course, any and all questions answered.

Noon to 5pm. $85. This Saturday, July 29th.

Monday, July 24, 2006


There's more craft and rich story telling in Pirates than in many films that have been out there this year. And at the same time, I think the narrative is the least 'tight' of the films these guys have written.

Does that matter? No, and I'll tell you why.

And - by the way - you'll read plenty of reviews that try to toss the bucket of water on the bonfire, pointing out the lacking of this or that in the structure, or too much of this or that in the structure.

But what the reviewers don't understand, is that these guys get to the heart of a story like no other. The team of Ted and Terry start their story with lovers torn from a wedding, jailed and separated. Their only hope of reunion is in Will finding their opponent and securing his compass, if he takes too long his love may be executed, and when he returns empty handed so will he. And in the next moment we meet their opponent, the pirate, using the compass to secure some profound treasure, and then given a black spot on his hand, the mark of instant death from an immortal ocean demi-god fixated on reclaiming his soul. Brilliant immediate triangle - stratospheric stakes, they are all doomed to die unless they can help each other. There isn't even a clock - the clock has run out before their first meeting - so it's a race to beat the executioner on all sides. That new obstacles and characters crowd in like rush hour at Grand Central Station matters little, the gunshot has started the race, the catapult has released the stone, the arrow has been released - emotionally. The emotional through-line starts immediately. That is the brilliance in Pirates.

That all of the myriad characters that pour in for brief or long stays are each fun, clever, witty, and all emotionally grounded in the midst of the hysteria - keeps the emotional reality of the potential loss of each character extremely vibrant, and therefore gripping.

That the director knows how to stay in close to his characters and capture looks of longing, defeat, fury, wanting, panic, while getting every other dazzling angle in every impossible set piece - is his genius. And I think in terms of effects, it has to be as deft a handling as Spielberg or Jackson.

So yes, I liked it.

And who the hell needs lean story telling after all that?

Did it take me a little time to warm up to it? Yes. I was amused for the first 45 minutes, and then something happened, and they had me.

I won't spoil the moment I was hooked by telling scenes for those who haven't seen it yet, but by the box office count, it seems like everyone already has seen it.

Suffice it to say, I feel all story telling has at it's core the family, how we fit in it, live with ourselves in it, try to change our own, or escape our own, or make new ones, re-shape the ones we find, or suffer in the ones that we can't stand up to and can't change.

That this idea of family, re-uniting with old, trying to for new and how that's threatened, was used quite deftly in this film made it all the more engaging.

The epic story at its heart, needs heart, and loss - loss - loss - fighting with one's life if only to gain one fragile moment of togetherness at the end - and lose that as well as the sands of time threaten to rise up around the hero(s) and vanquish them.

And of course, keep it light and funny. Have Captain Sparrow and bit players react with endlessly inappropriate moments as hell is raining down on everyone. But every other lead plays it real so you know each of the 150 minutes is deadly.

They really get it.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

When in Doubt, check the Undertow

When you ram through act one, and it's full of tension, drama, a real page turner, and then you suddenly find yourself doing a lazy backstroke swimming through act two and can't find the edge of the edge of the pool - - you go 'what the - F?'

Whenever I do this to myself, and check the wording, because it is me doing it to myself, I realize I missed orchestrating my structure correctly. There isn't enough opposing force for my hero (villain, force of nature, force of man), there isn't a sufficient clock he's working against (his own death, a city's death, a bomb, a terminal loved one, a loved on leaving town), and most importantly - he's not rushing toward an inevitable end that is destructive and will inspire rebirth.

Or rather, that ending isn't rushing towards him.

Pulling at him through a series of events unseen, a primal, unbeatable and titanic force that will make sure the hero has no other choice than to face his ending, like an undertow that pulls you out to sea.

Whatever direction your hero thinks he's in charge of splashing about on the surface, the undertow is the Jovian force that works on a cosmic scale, the fates, karma, kismet, what have you - pulling him towards his worst nightmare. And as he heads towards it like a freight train, and it comes crashing towards him like a meteor - it should delight you.

As much as the hero will try to toss and turn his boat, Poseidon must make sure the hero will face his worst most crushing test. And you have to know it, see it, and delight in orchestrating it.

Face Act 2 with delight as you check the undertow.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Don't Carry the NO Out The Door.

I've said this before, but one of my favorite things said to me in this business about this business was buy someone I know who's achieved great success. He said the only difference between his being a struggling writer and a successful writer was that he drove a nicer car.

I laughed until I stopped. And then said - wow. It was eye opening, kind of like a bit of wisdom as a two by four cracking me in the head. Because he's worked with Spielberg, other directors, directed his own film, worked with heads of studios, and has dealt with just as much frustration, bad manners, incoherent notes and unpleasant behavior at every step of the process, all the way to the top - just like have we all at every level we're at.

And I found that idea incredibly freeing.

Because it laid bare the point of the whole process. If you don't enjoy what you're doing at your desk when you're writing, and if that isn't the place where you live, come alive, channel the universe, suspend reality and drop your personality, leave your body behind, expand your consciousness into the universe, and let what's up above and come down through you, and find that one of the greatest things you can do, the rest of it won't matter anywhow.

Because they're not going to make it any easier for you anywhere on the ladder.

So that's what I mean by the point of this post. The crap will always be in play at some point from someone about something. But you don't have to let that stick to you when you walk out the door of whatever meeting, phone call, memo, email or fax you got that day could potentially harsh your mellow.

Point of fact: I just left a meeting yesterday pitching to the head of a large movie company. It wasn't an easy meeting to get to. It started with me six months ago being asked my take to adapt a book, yet to be released, with Dreamworks and this other big Co. in co-production. My pitch goes over very well. But two teams of executives ask for tweaks. We do that. More meetings with great promise follow. Four months of meetings later at Dreamworks and then they're SOLD to Paramount and the new regime passes on the book. Nice. But this thing is still in play at the other big shot Co. So I meet with top executives there, twice, over two months, adjusting and tweaking pitch specifically just to this place - and they LOVE it more now by the way - so they all approve it, pitch it to their boss, but he wants to hear the full out thing from the writer. That's good - that's the room you want to get into. Sell the top dog. That was yesterday. Pitch goes great. Executives are laughing along with me all the way. They all turn expectantly to the boss. The Pres. pauses. He doesn't like it. Gives notes as to why. Some notes are good notes, that are intelligent. Some notes are 'what the F?' 'Were you in the room?' The three other execs in the room are a bit stunned - and all come to my support, they want to hire me. He won't pull the trigger. Thanks for coming in. I could come back and work it up again based on his notes, however, if I like. I suspect that beating a dead horse will not get it to gallup, trot or even start smelling less bad in his eyes. But I'll let my agents say that.

Some things happen after he leaves which will go unsaid.

Stars couldn't have been aligned better than for this one, so boy was I bummed out. Lot of time and energy invested in that one. But his lack of a clue doesn't stick to me when I walk out the door. Let myself feel bad about that one for a few hours. Then let it go. And you have to let yourself feel it - whatever it is - before you can move on. That goes for anything.

Back to the original, the other meetings, the other pitches.

We shoot many arrows into the air in this business as pitches, spec. scripts, conceptual meetings, what have you.

Let them fly and get the next quiver ready and restring your bow.

In Production in Canada

The Hallmark movie starts principle photography. Considering that I've written some scripts at studios that five years later are still referred to as highly regarded projects, with the ever present unspoken promise of production...someday...but I'm not holding my breath any longer...it's amazing to think I wrote this one in April-May, finalized in June and they're shooting in July. A bit head spinning.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Everyone Has a First Act

A friend of mine says he has 30 first acts in a drawer of his desk. I have about the same. Just because you have an idea, and a first act, doesn't mean you have a movie.

Try to write past page 31 and you'll see what I mean.

Some ideas are explosive, full of fire and life, and come hurtling out of the gate with such force that you can't imagine that you DON'T have the whole movie.

It's very exciting ina new world with a new character, hurtling toward the wall that will change their life forever and send them on an adventure.

But sitting in your chair you will quickly reveal to yourself just how deep one has to send the roots down, to support the tree.

What the hell is the adventure, and how does it tie in emotionally to your character?

Know your character's history, their loss, what they hope to gain, and what part of them has to die that's holding them back from completing that desire, so that a new part of themselves can be born to grab the sword - be ready to let go of their own life - and make the selfless act that raises them to a higher level. (in a drama, of course, all this works on an interior level). either way, only then can they become worthy of the prize they seek.

Who is the villain, who are the friends? And will a friend turn against them, or a villain become an ally? What wound does your hero need to heal and how does this story get them that?

Otherwise, you may just have a great act one.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Pirates Steal the Treasure of Box Office

Nothing like good story telling. $132 million clams. Talk about head spinning. The biggest opening, ever.

A lot of things have to come together for this kind of success. But if it ain't on the page on the first day of pre-production, the road is less traveled.

Congrats to the maestro's of wit and light-hearted adventure tales of doom and triumph!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Writing Workshop Audio CD

Some of you (out of towners) have asked me for, and I have now put together an audio CD of my writing workshop! The one day workshop is five hours, which I wouldn't subject anyone to on CD. But the CD is over an hour, and highlights everything crucial in the process that I've learned over my twenty years doing this lunacy and getting paid for it.

Good tools, tricks and the way to keep creating inspired screenwriting, which is the one topic I see little written about.

If you're interested, it's $25.00. This was for a time available as a hard CD and mailed, but this proved complicated and too difficult with postage to different countries, so it is still available but only as digital download.

I would ask the favor that if you purchase it, and enjoy it, you keep it for yourself and don't transmit it to others but instead direct them here. Thanks.


Creation is king. Creation is messy. Torn pages, multiple drafts, first tries, second tries, 100th tries. The artist endlessly hurls, tosses, throws, gently applies, punches, spits and lovlingly caresses - endlessly.

I hate hearing the whine about what someone isn't getting.

Like they're waiting for an executive in a Rolls to drive up to their door with a contract.

You make, you ache, you create, you manufacture, you build. You keep throwing it out to the universe - because you have to. You keep throwing it out into the universe until somone has to take notice.

Two great stories:

1) Several years ago I was working with a director on a Paramount project. We were doing re-writes on a script of mine based on studio notes, and his notes, notes that got him the job and everyone was very excited to change the script. We got along fine. He was eventually fired and I was kept on to undo his notes and put my stuff back in - and the film is still not made. Anyway, that's not the story. The story is that he was talking about a friend of his. A writer who had had major success in his career. But the guy had just penned a film that opened - and bombed. In a big way. It was an embarrasing bomb. It had screwed up the writers' other projects and immediate job prospects. So the director told me the guy had pulled back and was writing an idea he'd always wanted to do. Something he really cared about. He was hoping it would turn his career back around. The script was A Beautiful Mind.

2) I know two guys who wrote script after script in their twenties, thirties and forties and got nowhere. They were met with moderate to zero response and success over almost 20 years of writing. In their late forties one guy bailed the business. Gave up. He's in real estate. He's fine about it, realized it wasn't for him. Maybe deep down it wasn't. The other guy took other jobs, he had to as he had kids. But he always wrote. He wrote at night, or on weekends when he could, or in the cracks inbetween. Didn't stop. In his late forties he finally sold one, then another, then another, they were made, and they did very well. And he has an academy award in his bookshelf.


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Here Today Gone Today

You know, this is a nasty business. It will never fail to deliver in that regard. I had a 'phone meeting' with an executive two weeks ago at a good company, big players are partners. I.e. one player is a director of several boffo blockbusters over the last several summers. Keeps churning them out - bang - bang -

So this company's got some serious cache.

So I'm pitched on idea from a book by a top executive there, 'but throw the book out do what you want' which is a classic line I love when pitched an adaptation. Isn't that like going to a restaurant and they say 'hi, here's our lunch buffet, or just throw it all out and go into the kitchen and make anything you'd like?"

Anyway, he goes on about how this director loves this book, thinks it's a great movie idea, how he and the director were chatting, very good friends, very close, this guy is very invested in the idea of this book, would love it because his kids love it...etc.

I get it. I say. I'll think about. I'll call him back in a week.

The book by the way is idoitic. But that's it's own story. Can you mine something interesting from something that doesn't seem inspiring? Usually. Scrape away enough stupid and you can usually find a gem that has been obscured.

Or just throw the book out and keep a few adjectives.

So I call the guy back last week (7 days have passed from our chat now, remember?)

He's fired. Gone. No forwarding address or phone.

"So, he's really not in," I say to the receptionist. "No, he's really not in."

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Meaning of Life vs. Feeling Alive

We are endlessly directed to identify a characters' purpose, what his need is, his lack, his desire. You may have been asked the question "why does this story happen to this person?" (I hate that question).

The answer - "because I fucking thought of it."

Okay, the answer in the meeting - "his background makes him the only person who can survive it, yet his own inner turmoil may block his own ability - and he may not survive."

But all of that is also very mindful, a very intellectual excersize. Of course, it has to be. In many ways we build a swiss clock when we construct a screenplay and the craft is crucial.

But a mind only excersize sometimes is light on emotion. And when you feel this happening a good trick is to think not so much about what is 'meaningful to the life' to the character, but what they do to 'feel alive'.

Do they race cars? Sing? Shoot drugs? Shoot a gun? Heal an animal? Heal a person? Ski? Sex? Win at gambling? Extreme sports? If you construct the scene with this element, you may be telling yourself more about your character than 10 pages of any character dosier you may assemble as an intellectual excersize.

Sometimes what they do to feel alive may fold into their secret or a secret life, which is particularly interesting, and creates added complications for your hero. Maybe they don't feel alive - and that's an issue right there. They use to, and now they're dead inside. What shakes them out of it?

We all want to feel alive. We all go to different lengths and extremes to feel it. When do you feel alive? What do you have to do to get there?

Make sure your character is alive in your story, and figure out what they need to feel it - and what that implies about what's lacking everywhere else.

Saturday, July 01, 2006


We all have them. Some burried so deep we probably can't remember some of them until the right moment triggers against our memory and the secret surfaces. A song, a smell, a number, the trigger may be unexpected, but the secret is a deep part of our reality.

Deep enough to help make us who we are?

That's the question when it comes to character. What is their secret that helps define who they are.

And if your character doesn't have a secret it's awfully flat.

I've been in search of secrets lately for a new character I'm writing.

And I was asked to put one in for a script I just wrote, adapted from a book, where the hero didn't really have a very complicated character. He needed a secret.

You can work the secret card different ways. It plays well when it's opposed to the action the hero has to undertake for his adventure. Sheriff Brody in Jaws was afraid of the water, after all.

Or it can work against the internal landscape in a drama - as with a character who has major family issues, hasn't worked them out, and his secret is that he's dying.

Ultimately, breaking through ones limits is the most painful awful thing we can do, and we only do when forced to, and when we do it's thrilling and awakens us to a larger view of ourselves and the world. Best if the secret is part of the limiting problem and shattering through it is required for breaking the limit.