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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.

Friday, July 31, 2009


Teaching screenwriting at UCLA Extensions on and off and a student, overwhelmed with facing the blank page, asked for help.

Some of her concern - and it's something that everyone feels, whatever level you're at:
I am having a hard time starting my 10 pages. I have read the
chapters you listed, but am still having a hard time. I have never written in this style and format and it is nerve racking. What do I do to even get started. I think most here have already done this by looking at their work. They have some idea of what they are doing. And, how am I suppose to critique some else's work when I don't even know what I am doing, much less them. I don't know if they are formatting correctly and if they are doing their story correctly. I don't feel qualified to correct their work -
I think anyone can relate to that feeling, to that concern - to just feeling clueless sometimes. But what the hell to do with the feelings of cluelessness?
Well, all I can tell you is even the professional writers, when they sit down with a new project, feel much like you do. "What the hell am I doing? And what the hell do I know?" are things I hear from my friends who do this for a living. So in that sense - you are doing just fine!

We are all story tellers, our lives are stories and what compels us about stories that we love is that they speak to some deep inner place our ours that knows about struggles, dreams, disappointments, hopes and failures. We've all had them in our lives - and we've all had mentors, allies and enemies.

So I think you're very much qualified to tell a person that something rings true in their work, or doesn't, that a piece of dialogue is emotionally moving, or perhaps should be looked at again to nuance more emotion out of it (we must critique gently after all), etc.

As to starting - the first page is always the most difficult. And yes, there is a specific structure required for the modern screenplay. No way around that. however, if it feels all too much at first to do structure and creative writing, abandon structure for now.

Write everything out in single line format, like a play. Character left margin, with a colon after it, followed by dialogue - then space inbetween next character, space inbetween your next narrative/description of action.

That way you can get into the flow of the talking and the action without having to worry about structure - you can always structure it later, that's mechanical, but creative writing needs to flow and we have to serve that as best as we can (I do this kind of writing sometimes, by the way. when an idea comes fast and I don't want to have to worry about structuring it...)

So - go for it. Sit there. Something in you wants to do this, or you wouldn't have signed up. Give it some time at the desk to manifest, sit there even if it's not coming, because it will. Pace around the room if you need to, jog, stationary bicycle while thinking - come back and sit down again - walk around with a tape recorder and act out the lines as they come out - they don't have to be perfect, you'll take the ones you want later, or sit and over-write knowing you can edit later, or if you dictate come back and transcribe, there are as many methods as writers, find yours. (Rod Serling, supposedly, dictated EVERYTHING and had someone else write it up, how about that?)

And remember to be a bit light about it all - after all, it's something you chose to do, something you want to do - that's pretty cool. (As opposed to being in a flood or being chased by angry bulls in Spanish streets, you know?) This is something you're doing for you.

You shall prevail.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tony Gilroy Master Story Teller

Check out the Bourne Ultimatum at any free script site for style and brilliant economy of words - particularly Gilroy's descriptions and actions. But, needless to say, his dialogue is sparse, succinct and emotional.

I have read it several times, merely for my own enjoyment, and came away accidentally with an education.

Whether or not you are in the same genre, you can take inspiration from Gilroy's craft. When the action hits - it's easy to over write and try to explain it all. What a mess.

The real trick is being the 'eye on the page' and leading us - important/crucial image to important/crucial image - and leaving a lot out believe it or not. Fragments, half sentences, hanging words match the breathless cutting of visual action.

You're the poet placing drops of paint on the canvas, that's it - let the reader fill in the rest. That absence - that vacuum inbetween the description - pulls them irresisttably along.

Prexy of Production

Meeting with a President of Production carries a certain weight to your time spent, in that you feel it's time well spent. To get where he is the guy knows what he's talking about and has experience making movies (more often than not).

So when you discuss theme, tone and casting you know he's not play acting - he's really done it.

Upside - he knows the dollar value of each sequence, the drawing power of a certain name, what story beat will appeal to what age group (quadrant) and are you making a 'four quadrant picture'? (Getting every demograhic into the theater - sort of neccessary in the 200 Mill and up club.

Downside - he'll want your picture to be four quadrant, may insist on a certain name to drive a film, get stuck on story points he's worried won't play for a mass audience.

I was in such a meeting today, discussing a script I'm writing and getting feedback. What comes at you -

1) What's the tone of this story? What are we going for here - is it broad, or is it real? (This is when you supply the films that this story is like, still a very tried and true Hollywood requirement, so they can feel it. "We're shooting for Pirates here, National Treasure say, not a Will Ferrel movie."

2) Who do you see starring in this? (More than likely he's worked with him.) Have your names ready in your head, often the list isn't long, and you'll know right away if you're both thinking of the same film. If you say Nicholas Cage, and he says Chris Rock, you're making different movies in your mind.

3) Fight for your characters, they will be what's remembered. The quirky and quixotic in the midst of major set pieces - they are what's remembered.

4) Is the hero emotionally tied into the ending - ? I got that question - and it's a good one. The people who have it together ask that note - as often act three becomes very situational, driving and intense but not emotional.

5) And what's the theme? It's really not an academic, or student film class question only - it is deeply important to good story telling. Know your theme - it often indicates the emotional drive.

Bones is Back

After a long hiatus, I have returned to the web to share my extremely personal and peculiar experiences in the Hollywood.