31 March, 2008
Everything you need to know on how to write a screenplay is available free online or, putting all modesty aside, free on my blog. Heck, if you have watched enough stories you might not even need anything. After all Diablo Cody won a screenwriting Oscar for Juno - which passed the 100 million dollar mark - without reading a book or doing a course.
But the best screenwriting is a mixture of craft and art and you can't always get by on art alone. We need to develop techniques so we can find problems and resolve them. - which is perhaps where books can be useful.
There happens to be some really good and useful stuff that isn't given away free online and while not a prerequisite for a successful career, I still highly recommend the following:
"Writing Drama" - Yves Lavandier
I was given a review copy an embarrassingly long time ago but I have finally written a review which will be posted tomorrow.
"Story" - Robert McKee
The dude does get a bad rap for advocating formulaic stories but he can't help it if his disciples take things to extreme. The first thing he says in the book is:
"Story is about principles not rules. A rule says, "you must do it this way." A principle says, "This works... and has through all remembered time." The difference is crucial. Your work needn't be modelled after the "well-made" play; rather, it must be well made within the principles that shape our art. Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master the form."
"Writing Television Sitcoms" - Evan S Smith
The only sitcom writing book you will need which is lucky as there isn't any other ones. Recommended to me by a TV comedy exec.
"The Comic Toolbox" - John Vorhaus
The only comedy writing book you will need although there are other good ones out there. Recommended to me by everyone.
"Creating Unforgettable Characters" - Linda Seger
A practical and simple guide
"How to Write for Television: A Guide to Writing and Selling Successful TV Scripts" - William Smethurst
Written by a veteran TV writer/producer this is especially good for a beginner. He name-checks my website as an important resource so the guy clearly knows what he's talking about.
"500 Ways to Beat the Hollywood Script Reader: Writing the Screenplay the Reader Will Recommend" - Jennifer M Lerch
She boasts that the book has been checked by real script readers who have become highly paid working screenwriters.
It's split into five sections. The first is about presentation of the script, including how to introduce characters, and also tips on creating a good concept and characters. The next three sections go through the three acts and deal with common problems such as with setting up a goal or the second act story stall or getting a good ending. It's especially good as it is in bite size chunks and entirely practical.
30 March, 2008
"If you’ve researched your topic, you understand your audience and you know what you want to say, then moving to action and starting to write should be utterly straightforward and require no particular effort. Right?
Not so. All writers, whether scribing for books, blogs or whitepapers, know only too well that sometimes this just isn’t the case. Getting down to the physical act of writing can take a herculean force of will.
Distractions crowd in. Secondary objectives suddenly become appealing. Shall I place that grocery order? Read my email? Clear out my desk drawer? All of these suddenly seem more attractive than just logging on and starting to write.
How can we get ourselves to stop procrastinating and move straight to action?
I’ve just started a blog and recently finished writing my first book. Here are a few ideas that have worked for me:"
"I've often said I'd rather have someone who will take action—even if small—every day as opposed to someone who swings hard once or twice a week. Seinfeld understands that daily action yields greater benefits than sitting down and trying to knock out 1000 jokes in one day."
Black Kids - "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend"
Cage the Elephant - "In One Ear"
The Envy Corps - "Story Problem"
29 March, 2008
BBC Writers Academy
Deadline: 16 May 2008?
Details of last year
Red Planet Prize
Deadline: 1 September 2008?
Details of last year
Danny on the common problems in last year's scripts
The Cottage is a comedy-horror from the hyphenate of
In an interview Williams says: "I’m always one for when I’m working on it – writing it and getting it into pre-production – saying: “Let’s not put this into a box or a genre.” Let’s just say we’re making a film about two brothers. Of course it’s horror, bearing in mind what happens to them. But it’s always on the story and not trying to pick a genre because then as soon as it’s made then everyone will obviously put it into a genre and compare it to other films that are in that genre."
I understand his point of view in not wanting to be pidgeonholed and just writing the story you want but the audience for genre films will tend to know the genre inside out and are seeing the film because of the genre. What makes The Orphanage such a must-see classic is because the writer and director are so sure of the genre.
This film actually started off as a thriller and then changed into a horror during the writing of it. It was decided to keep it as two separate halves rather than making the first bit more of a horror. That's a valid artistic choice but it only annoys an audience who have been led by the publicity to expect something like Severence.
Williams also says: "It’s an homage to all the clichés that are in all those films. I hope we haven’t spoofed anything because I don’t think it’s a spoof movie. But we are aware of those other films, what they do with machete, the lighter and the “don’t go out there or you’ll die” kind of thing. One interesting thing I’ve noticed, though, is that loads of people are finding loads of nods to loads of films. Now I’ve got some that I’ve tried to do but there are so many that I don’t even know all of the films and I don’t know why. But it’s great if an audience thinks you’ve picked them out specially to do something with them."
In another interview he says: "Hopefully it's an ironic, subtle piss-take of the whole genre."
The problem is that, whatever our intentions are, clichés outside of a spoof are just clichés, and calling them an homage or a piss-take doesn't really change that. Clichés are used in the first place to save having to think of something original and so the same things will be in other films even if you haven't actually seen them or deliberately copied them.
The first ideas from the best writers' are going to be ones they've seen before or the most obvious ones but what what makes them the best writers is their attitude to those ideas. Rather than keep those clichés they filter them out or twist them to make them original. It's hard to do but we can at least aspire to do it.
However there are genuine genre tropes which are perfectly valid to use - you just need to use them in a fresh way and that's best done by writing fresh characters the audience can believe and identify with. The mistake some people make is taking a check list of events from successful genre films and putting them in another film, thinking that would be enough to replicate the success either from a ripping off kind of way or an 'ironic' 'homage' kind of way. Another quote from the interview:
"It’s hard to come up with an original idea of any genre. I’m so aware that almost all of the things that happen in this film are just not original because there’s been so many of these slasher/bogeymen/“he’s going to catch you and cut your head off” kind of films that I’m just kind of trying to let everyone know that I know."
Williams understands about the importance of characters as he explains here but I think we need to go the next level and allow those characters to drive the story and remain psychologically true to get original ideas. The only original thing in The Orphanage were the characters. In retrospect I have seen the same sort of the ideas and events in other supernatural horrors but I didn't think of them when watching The Orphanage because I was so emotionally involved.
The Cottage begins with a kidnap of a woman who turns out to be violent and sweary – not the typical passive female victim which is a good thing. The problem for some in the audience was the swearing. Yes, she’s a confident strong woman but she’s insulting people by calling them ‘cunts’ and ‘pussies’. Leaving aside the irony of that, it was used excessively.
We all know people who swear a lot and we may even swear a lot ourselves but it is different in the context of a story. It’s not so much the words but the frequency and how natural it seems. People walked out - and they weren't old codgers - at an early sweary scene. Swearing can be funny if done properly but it needs to be gauged really well, which will come with experience.
Adrian Reynolds discusses writing strategies here and mentions that Williams' previous film was written in a few days. But you could tell. I have no idea about this latest script but again the lack of work on it is obvious. I don’t want to piss on anyone’s writing method but I can’t help wondering - once you have written that first draft in days – if it wouldn’t, perhaps, be worth spending a few extra days correcting what doesn’t work.
Films are about the characters primarily so why not spend time just checking each character? You might not have noticed that one character, for instance, just disappears half way through for no reason. It’s a simple matter to add a line or half a page to explain it.
You might realise that having your characters choose to wander about randomly in the woods rather than follow the road into the village and certain safety is difficult to get away with. Yes, woods are scarier than roads but why not just think of a reason why they can't use the road?
With other characters you check you might notice that they don’t react to impending death like a normal person would. The comedy death may look good but if it happens because a character does something out of character or stupidly unlikely then the impact is reduced. You end up with neither comedy nor horror.
The most annoying thing about
The bottom line is that the generous critics and some fan support wasn't enough to overcome an underdeveloped script. It should do well on DVD rental - and maybe even sell-through - but The Cottage had unrealised huge potential.
28 March, 2008
Anyhoo, at the end of each show he writes a little message for viewers to read if they pause their VCR/DVD/Tivo. They are archived here. This was his pre-strike card:
And I was very curious what his first post-strike card would say:
"About a year ago I received a phone call from a mid-level CBS exec who began the conversation by saying he wanted to give me a head's up. Having been in this business a while I knew that "head's up" is code for, "we've decided to screw you, but didn't want you to hear about it from your agent... or urologist."
In this case the head's up was that CBS was going to stream several episodes of Two and a Half Men on their web site. When I asked how they intended to pay the writers, actors and directors of those episodes, I was told that the streaming was considered "promotional," therefore no residuals would be forthcoming. (He didn't really use the word "forthcoming," I just think it's better story-telling if the bad guy is articulate.)
I took a moment to let his words sink in, to let the moment play out, if you will. Then, for no reason whatsoever, I switched to a phony southern accent and asked, "Is there paid advertisin' on that ol' internet site you fellas are runnin'?" The exec was completely thrown off-balance by the utterly surreal quality of my good ol' boy act and blurted out, "Yes! I'm sorry! I know it's wrong, don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger!" (Actually, all he said was "yes," but once again I think good story-telling demands a panicked confession from the running dog of evil corporate bullies.)
Anyhoo, this was the first time I knew a brutal strike was coming -- if you don't count the day, four and a half years ago, when I sat in Patric Verrone's backyard and listened to him lay out his plan to bring justice and fair play to show business."
"Filmmaker Judd Apatow has been very busy. He's produced four films that are being released this year (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express, Step Brothers, and Drillbit Taylor, which opens this Friday), and he's also one of the writers of You Don't Mess with the Zohan. But he was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about which movies have really influenced him as a filmmaker."
27 March, 2008
On Monday 14 April the BBC writersroom is pleased to present a Q&A with Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharaoh of Monastic Productions.
They'll talk about their work including Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes, and upcoming series Bonekickers in a Q&A session with Kate Rowland, BBC Creative Director of New Writing. You'll also have a chance to ask them your own questions.
The event will take place on Monday 14 April from 5pm - 6.15pm at the Soho Theatre in London, and tickets are free.
Soho Theatre 21 Dean Street London W1V 6NE To add your name to the guest list email email@example.com.
Eerie Horror Film Festival Screenplay Competition
"Only Horror, Sci-fi, supernatural, and suspense genres will be considered"
1 April 2008 (early)
1 June 2008 (intermediate)
1 August 2008 (final)
Imagination Theatre Radio Script Competition
Deadline: 30 April 2008
"Are you one of the many writers who would like to try their hand at writing a radio script? If so, have we got the contest for you. Jim French Productions has been producing commercial radio drama for decades; our contributing writers come from the United States, Canada, England and Scotland and we'd like to add you to that list.
Scripts can be in any genre and must be between 24 and 26 pages in proper format. (That's a little longer than last year.) Scripts can also be a pastiche of one of our current series. Proper format for radio scripts is very important so please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for complete instructions, application forms and information.
First prize: The Phil Harper Award, is $150 plus production and other goodies First Prize will be awarded to the script that can be produced "straight out of the envelope."
Second Prize is $100 plus production plus other goodies. Prize will go to the script that is very good, but still needs a little work.
Third prize receives $50. Third prize is awarded to the script that has good writing and inventive ideas, but needs more work.
Three honorable mentions receive CD.
Fee is $15 per script. All scripts must be postmarked no later than 30 April 2008. Winners will be announced 6 June "
The Broad Humor Film Festival
"The festival is accepting applications for comedic screenplays by women. That's it. We are looking for humour created for the screen generated by women. Women writers. Women directors. It is our goal to showcase the female comic vision."
11 April 2008 (early deadline)
2 May 2008 (final deadline)
European Film Concept Competition
The Brussels European Film Festival (FFFB) is proud to announce the third edition of its Film Story Competition.
In line with the FFFB’s general mission to promote first and second films from Europe, this competition draws its attention to the basis of all filmmaking: the story.
This unique competition aims to attract filmmakers with strong film concepts or ideas. The purpose of the European Film Concepts Writing Competition is not only to promote excellent story ideas but to also encourage authors and to assist them in the development of their scripts.
Deadline: 1 May 2008
Tilt is a new topical sketch show that takes you behind the week's news. And then mucks about with it a bit.
It's being recorded live every Wednesday night from 26th March till the 1st of May and it's broadcast on BBC7 the following night at 11:30pm. The first show will be recorded at 'Up The Creek' in Greenwich, the remaining shows at the BBC Radio Theatre.
We're looking for topical material from new writers to support the core writing team.
The people behind Tilt want to make a show that is playful and witty. We don't want to take the obvious angle on any story - and we'd rather not have to do impersonations of Gordon Brown. So we're looking for sketches that go beyond obvious topical satire.
The big stories of the week will be told in running sketches written by the core team. Around that we want stand alone topical sketches, headliners, monologues, spoof ads, spoof trailers, news parodies... Tilt isn't a spoof news programme, but it's hard to poke fun at all things topical without turning an eye to the ways in which we receive news. And for that matter, sport, weather, or celebrity gossip.
The cast is three male, three female - Olly Maltman, Simon Brodkin, Nick Mohammed, Isy Suttie, Margaret Cabourn-Smith and Katy Wix. There's no presenter, so it's entirely 4th wall, and it's being linked by bits of realistic sounding news that's made up, or bits of real news that we've monkeyed around with. Gordon Brown saying "I'd like Tony Blair to wear more foundation". That kind of thing.
Between now and 14 March the core writers, plus a few invited non-commissioned writers, are creating recurring characters - pundits, news anchors, journalists, hairdressers with precognisant knowledge of governmental affairs. Also strands, completely spoof news etc.
Once the series is up and running there will be the opportunity to pitch in one liners in the shape of headlines (real or fictional, but funny in either case), and of course that's the time to submit the proper stand alone topical sketches.
The producers will also start sending all their promising non-commissioned writers the weekly Tilt email which will tell you which stories to avoid (usually because the core writing team are working on them) and what we need more of. That will start circulating on 21st March.
So in summary – if you fancy writing on a non-commissioned basis for Tilt, email some stuff to email@example.com
The deadline for being considered in each week's show is Tuesday by 3pm.
Tilt looks back over the week in chronological order.
The big UK politics story of the week will be told in a running sketch written by the core team. Around that stand one-off topical sketches, headliners, and our recurring characters. We break at half time for some spoof ads, and look ahead trailers to forthcoming TV, Radio and Films
And it’s hard to poke fun at all things topical without turning an eye to the ways in which we receive news. And for that matter, sport, weather, or celebrity gossip. So there’s a healthy dose of news parody using fictional stories to send up the way our news is served up.
The people behind Tilt want to make a show that is playful and witty. We don’t want to take the obvious angle on any story – and we’d rather not have to do impersonations of Gordon Brown. So we’re looking for sketches that go beyond obvious topical satire – very gag led, and less arch.
There's no presenter – the show is entirely 4th wall, and is being linked together with bits of realistic sounding news that we've monkeyed around with. (partly using authentic audio from news conferences etc, and partly using the Headliners supplied by the open door writers.
The runner each week is set in the fictional Ministry without Portfolio – a Whitehall task force that firefights trouble whichever Government department it happens to affect. The team is led by Charlotte – a force to be reckoned with, she recently worked up a proposal to rebrand the Queen as Queen version 2.0 – an interactive model. Charlotte is supported by former tabloid journalist Dominic and academic Ruth.
The runner takes care of the major UK politics story of the week – be it Speaker John Martin’s expense woes; the u-turn on supercasinos or legislation on 24 hour drinking.
These stories form the background to the runner – but the humour comes from the characters themselves – and the way in which they deal with whatever Westminster throws at them.
-----------------------------------------------------------Dave Cohen's Advice To Non-Commissioned Writers
Writing Sketches For Tilt
British Sitcom Guide discussion thread
26 March, 2008
"Each film genre – horror, thriller, comedy, etc - involves a set of conventions that mould the story in such a way that it meets or bends the expectations of the audience in a satisfyingly unexpected way. A genre isn’t supposed to be a rigid formula, more a sort of framework. But you’re not just working with a neat and tidy genre framework known only to writers – your whole potential audience has an intrinsic knowledge of this genre – this kind of story – gained from their entire film viewing history, meaning that they are very hard to please. Think of genre as being more like a torch in the dark – the audience should see enough to recognise the path, but not be able to see the perils up ahead or where the path ends."
"Does your script stay final or does it change on set?
It never changes. I tell every actor: listen, this is my film. Your fancies and whims are not going to happen in this film. This is what it is, you want to do it, do it."
25 March, 2008
I've put back "Every 1's a critic" as they have sorted their site out.
Total Beast has extended their deadline to 25 May.
Lianne has updated her excellent list of competitions and opportunities.
The first one on this list is possibly doable as they don't require full length works. It's an opportunity to write freely without editing and then see what we've got when the deadline approaches
International Playwriting Monodrama Competition
31 March 2008
Every 1’s a Critic
15 April 2008
WriteMovies/Talent Scout Writing Contest
15 April 2008
Asian WomenTalk Back Festival
24 April 2008
26 April 2008
Total Beast Company: Six Minute Theatre
25 May 2008
The Bruntwood Playwriting Competition
13 June 2008
The McLellan Award Playwriting Competition
13 June 2008?
New Works of Merit Playwriting Competition
30 June 2008
The Alfred Fagon Award
31 August 2008?
24 March, 2008
"Imagination is a powerful tool. It can carry us into areas that no one before has ever conceived of, it can solve problems, it can pull beauty from nearly nothing. Imagination is essential to a writer. So why then, are new writers so often admonished to "write what you know?"
The truth is, for a writer who knows themselves, there is no contradiction."
"I'm watching all this, here at my computer, while struggling to write a script, a film adaptation of my book and play. The autobiographical tale is sensitive and complex and I am finding the task of transforming the material into yet another genre daunting if not impossible. This accounts for all the looking out the window."
23 March, 2008
Lozenge has a form letter for us all to use, which might just work...
And Don't Even Get Me Started On The Standard Of Parenting In Coronation Street
John Soanes hilariously, and usefully, dissects dialogue in EastEnders.
By the way I was forced to watch Easties and Corrie at Xmas and surprisingly I'm still finding the time for Corrie. Easties put me off when the incriminating video was playing in front of everyone and the bloke featured in it looked for the remote control to stop it, couldn't find it, shrugged and decided to just let it keep playing INSTEAD OF JUST SWITCHING IT OFF AT THE MACHINE. They've used that story beat for their love triangles more than once over the years and that was the least convincing.
Adaptation: What A Publisher Says
Lucy gives encouraging news from her adaptation workshop: writers seeking rights isn't a waste of time after all. I knew writers could option but I just assumed everything was snapped up at galley proof stage by the studios.
Potsy posts a sweet beat sheet template which although familiar in a lot of respects emphasises theme and visuals which tend to be neglected.
Don't Look Back
Alex Epstein gives some advice for Script Frenzy
Write What You Know
English Dave justifies what we do
Spitting on Expectations (Expectorations)
How do you make things clearer without dumbing down and being too obvious? Lady Jane (and Crafty Alex) explain.
How to explain quantum mechanics
John August discusses taking the exposition thing into more difficult territory
The Case AGAINST Character Arcs
Mystery Man: "to say that every protagonist in every story must have a character arc is madness, my friends. It's a two-faced lie from the pits of hell." I guess it's no mystery which man has just been given character notes he disagrees with...
Goals, Motivation & “Use The Force, Luke”
Joshua James uses the Star Wars franchise to explain and explore setting goals for characters
Hugo Awards Nominations
Props to Jane Goldman and Matt Vaughn for their Stardust nom. They battle with Enchanted, The Golden Compass, Heroes and Harry Potter in the the long drama category.
In the short drama category Stephen Moffat and Paul Cornell were nommed for their Doctor Who eps and Catherine Treganna for a season 1 Torchwood. Making up the numbers were Battlestar Galactica's Razor movie and Star Trek: Phase II (an online subscription series).
Finally the acclaimed album by these Canadian twins is released here and it is pure power-pop perfection. It really is. Sample the tracks at Amazon, if you don't believe me. Each album improves on the last but their first one is still better than most things.
Cryptacize - "Cosmic Sing-a-long"
Cute Californian couple. This track is actually available as a free download from the record company website to tempt you to buy the album "Dig That Treasure". It's only a fiver so it's not going to need much tempting.
Born Ruffians - "Hummingbird"
Similar to Vampire Weekend but there's nothing wrong with that - you can't have too much of a good thing. These Canucks will be touring here from May and worth checking out.
Tullycraft - "Georgette Plays A Goth"
It's catchy with obscure references to 70's punk bands - what's not to like?
22 March, 2008
"AVC: What would you say are the hardest episodes to write?
MS: Sometimes they're the ones where we start with a point and then we try to shoehorn a story around a point, and it doesn't come out of the story organically. Those just kill us. Or when we try to put two ideas into one episode. You'd be surprised—"Oh, it's about this." "Oh, wait, what's it really about?" "It's about that and that." "Okay, it needs to be about one thing."
We've learned that the hard way over the years. I don't know about the easiest, but the best episodes come from "This is a great story with actual emotion in it." And then all of the sudden, when you have a real good story with a real emotional centre to it, it actually makes its point. And the point may be what you started out wanting to make, or different, but it will make sense, and it'll be cool. Whereas the ones where we go, "Oh, we want to do a show that rips on this." "How do we do that?" "Okay, how about Kyle gets a letter—" And you just start talking—they always suck that way. They're so hard. We don't make that mistake as much any more, but we do every once in a while."
"“I grew up across the street from Woody Allen,” Penn says. “He was to me like a god, a secular god.” As a Sleeper-loving kid, Penn wrote an absurdist play about a deranged ice-cream man, but these days, Penn most respects Allen for still making movies on his own terms, regardless of budget.
“If you want to do only what you want, be prepared to make no money,” says Penn, who supported the recent writers’ strike, with some reservations. “If you want to get paid, you’re going to have to do something that people want to see. And I’ve tried pretty hard to balance those two things without getting angry. It’s not like, ‘I’m an important artist so I deserve to be rich and do whatever I want to do.’”"
Script Frenzy is an international writing event in which participants attempt the daring feat of writing 100 pages of scripted material in the month of April. As part of a donation-funded nonprofit, Script Frenzy charges no fee to participate; there are also no valuable prizes awarded or "best" scripts singled out. Every writer who completes the goal of 100 pages is victorious and awe-inspiring and will receive a handsome Script Frenzy Winner's Certificate and web icon proclaiming this fact.
Even those who fall short of the word goal will be applauded for making a heroic attempt. Really, you have nothing to lose—except that nagging feeling that there's a script inside you that may never get out.
The 5 Basic Rules of Script Frenzy
- 1) To be crowned an official Script Frenzy winner, you must write a script (or multiple scripts) of at least 100 total pages and verify this tally on ScriptFrenzy.org.
- 2) You may write individually or in teams of two. Writer teams will have a 100-page total goal for their co-written script or scripts.
- 3) Script writing may begin no earlier than 12:00:01 AM on April 1 and must cease no later than 11:59:59 PM on April 30, local time.
- 4) You may write screenplays, stage plays, TV shows, short films, comic book and graphic novel scripts, adaptations of novels, or any other type of script your heart desires.
20 March, 2008
Guest blog by David Freeman
'Juno' - Script by Diablo Cody
"Juno" won the Oscar for best original script for 2007. And Diablo had a multi-picture studio deal inked even before the script was shot, based on the screenplay.
She must be doing something right. And she is. A lot.
I won't be focusing here on the script's comedy, which relies on the Gilmore Girls' approach of quirky characters and "keep the funny lines coming and keep 'em coming fast."
Instead, I want to look at something else that Diablo does extremely well: create memorable secondary characters.
This article presents 6 separate techniques for accomplishing this, which can be used by themselves or in combination.
Note of Caution: Techniques Are Not RulesI've noticed that as soon as a writer learns a great new technique, the writer sometimes feels the technique needs to be used in every piece of writing he or she creates from that point forward.
Please don't regard these techniques that way. They're nothing but new colours for your writing palette, to be used when they're appropriate.
Technique #1: "Private Drama"
This means: When we meet a minor character, we're immediately introduced to his or her private drama(s).
This makes a character seem more real, for we get a feeling that person has a past, ongoing dramas, and a network of relationships.
This isn't done much in Juno (although it is done in places, as we'll see below). Where I've seen it taken to its greatest height is in the TV series "24." One woman at CTU (the intelligence agency) is, even as we first meet her, angling for a promotion; another one is trying to hide the fact that she was once institutionalised. One man is trying to get back his true love.
And these private dramas are thrust upon us usually in the first scene in which we encounter the characters. It's an A+ technique -- which still doesn't mean you need to use it with each minor character. For instance, it's not used with Rollo, a character from "Juno" who we'll examine in the next section.
Technique #2: "No Bland or Cliché Dialogue"
One sign of a masterful writer is the lack of cliché characters and cliché dialogue. You'd think that these are the same thing, but not necessarily. There are no cliché characters in "While You Were Sleeping," yet little of the dialogue is particularly memorable, compared with "Juno."
"Juno," however, takes "No Bland or Cliché Dialogue" as an anthem. Here are some lines from the convenience store clerk Rollo (Rainn Wilson), who's watched Juno take three pregnancy tests in one day.
I've extracted his lines out of context, presenting them here one after another:
ROLLO: Well, if it isn't MacGuff the Crime Dog! Back for another test?
ROLLO: This is your third test today, Mama Bear. Your eggo is preggo, no doubt about it!
ROLLO: You pay for that pee stick when you're done! Don't think it's yours just because you've marked it with your urine!
That certainly is dialogue which is neither bland nor cliché. In the school lab, we have this sequence:
JUNO: So, who's ready for some photomagnificence?
GIRL LAB PARTNER: I have a menstrual migraine, and I can't look at bright lights today.
GUY LAB PARTNER: Amanda, I told you to go to the infirmary and lie down. You never listen.
GIRL LAB PARTNER: No Josh, I don't take orders. Not from you and not from any man.
Now, if you were an actor, wouldn't you just love to play these parts? Amanda's first line of dialogue, and all of Rollo's, is certainly not cliché.
The above little interchange actually exhibits two techniques, for when we meet Amanda, we're also introduced to her "Private Drama" -- her ongoing power struggles with her boyfriend Josh -- which is Technique #1.
Because this script is a comedy, the minor characters are funny. But this technique of "No Cliché Dialogue" would work with serious characters and dialogue just as well.
Technique #3: "No Cliché Characters"
If a cliché character is one who has a combination of familiar traits, to make a character non-cliché, make sure that he or she has, at his or her core, a combination of traits that we aren't used to seeing in combination.
Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) has what might be the least colourful (most bland) dialogue in the script, but is anything but a bland or cliché character.
If he was Genuine, Loving, and Shy, that would be cliché. Add Musical,and he's a little more original. Add Athletic, and he's totally original.
But Bleeker's not alone in his uniqueness. None of the characters in the script are clichés.
Technique #4: Characters with "Internally Divergent Attitudes"
Will (Matt Damon) in "Good Will Hunting" would like nothing more than to be invisible. He's got a blue-collar job, and asserts to anyone who'll listen that he's nothing special.
Yet the first time we meet him he's solving incredibly difficult maths problems on a blackboard at MIT -- and is almost caught when he does it a second time. Obviously, part of him wants to not be noticed -- yet part of him craves to be recognized for his talents.
He's got Internally Divergent Attitudes. This technique makes him memorable.
Juno's mother is Bren (Allison Janney); her father is Mac (J.K. Simmons). Of course they're shocked when Juno breaks the news to them that she's pregnant, with her friend Leah standing by to offer support.
Bren's first comment is "Oh, God." And Mac says "You're pregnant?"
But things are a bit more complex than they simply being shocked. This interchange happens a little later in the scene:
MAC: Who is the kid?
JUNO: The baby? I don't now anything about it yet. I only know it's got fingernails, allegedly.
BREN: Nails? Really?
MAC: No, I mean the father! Who's the father, Juno?
JUNO: Oh. It's, well, it's Paulie Bleeker.
Bren and Mac burst into shocked laughter.
MAC: Paulie Bleeker? I didn't now he had it in him!
BREN: (giggling) He just doesn't look, well, virile.
LEAH: I know, right?
Let's focus on Bren here, and her attitude toward Juno's pregnancy. She's:
1. Shocked, horrified
2. Curious about the details (the nails)
3. She finds the situation funny. And she's also --
4. Knowing and wise, as we see in her last comment to Mac in the
MAC: ...And I'm going to punch that Bleeker kid in the wiener the next time I see him.
BREN: Oh Mac, no! He's a sweet kid. You know it wasn't his idea.
Mac shrugs in agreement.
In short, Bren has got quite a variety of attitudes toward Juno's pregnancy. While her Internally Divergent Attitudes might not be as dramatic as Will's, the technique used is the same.
People are complex. Often we feel more than one way about something. If you can present this in a minor character, it's yet another way of making that character stand out.
USAGE NOTE: In Will's case, his attitudes are not just divergent, but in conflict. Not so for Bren. So "Internally Conflicting Attitudes" would be a specialized subset of "Internally Divergent Attitudes."
Because conflict has so much energy inherent in it, this is one of the reason's Will's divergent attitudes seem so "dramatic". The second reason is the stakes: he wants to be invisible (unnoticed by others) as a result of the torture he suffered as a kid -- yet his only hope for a future free of pain is facing that torture and coming out from hiding. His entire life rests upon this. Nothing this big is at stake for Bren.
Technique #5: Characters Who Are neither Good Nor Evil
As we get to know Venessa Loring (Jennifer Garner), she's not very appealing. She seems cold, controlling, and there¹s a buttoned-down lifelessness in her personality, which is reflected in her starkly tidy house.
But later we see other sides of her -- how great and loving she is with children, and her pain at wanting a child so badly.
She is, like many people, a mixed bag.
When we first meet her husband, Mark Loring (Jason Bateman), he seems fun, creative, and oppressed by his controlling wife.
But is that the whole story? As the story progresses, and he flirts with Juno. And when he breaks away from Venessa to pursue his dream, is he an admirable free spirit, or a guy who simply will never grow up and take on adult responsibilities?
Like Venessa, he's a mixed bag.
Our inability to easily "peg" these two helps make both of them memorable.
Technique #6: "Idiosyncrasy"
You can give a minor character an idiosyncrasy to help make him or her memorable. It can be big, and/or it can be funny -- but it doesn't necessarily have to be either. Some examples:
-- A housewife who complains about and tells off other drivers as she
drives (with her windows rolled up so that they never hear -- it's her own
-- A cop who only eats health food.
-- A junior high school science nerd who shoots perfect free throws on
the basketball court in the dusky silence of encroaching evening, when no
one is watching.
-- A little girl with an ugly, scrawny dog -- but she loves it.
-- A business woman with an unusual shade of lipstick, like dark maroon
or even black.
-- A pilot who cracks his knuckles.
SUMMARY: You can use any or all of these 6 very different techniques to ensure your minor characters help grab the attention of actors, producers, and agents.
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"The posters for the movie say "A Film By Jason Reitman." To wit: Jason has rightfully assumed public authorship of the finished flick. And yet, people seem to be able to accept that it’s a movie-- just a movie-- that Jason made (and made well). But with me, they conclude that Juno must be a quivering chunk of my soul that I excised with a hot knife and laid bare for the world to judge. Yes, I wrote a very personal script, and yes, I won a fucking Oscar for my trouble, but when you get down to it, it’s a movie. More accurately, it’s A Film By Jason Reitman."
I don't want to get too enraged about the vanity credit, it's a fact of the industry which isn't going to change anytime soon. It makes the directors who refuse to use it, like John August, Scott Frank, Kevin Smith, Steven Soderbergh, all the cooler and at the top of my list when choosing who should be allowed to direct my screenplays.
I used to not mind too much if writer-directors should get it but in a discussion with Oli in a previous post, I realised that ideally no-one should get it because it is a collaboration involving lots of people who make creative decisions. Over her Dead Body, written and directed by Jeff Lowell, had the credit "a film by" at the end followed by everyone's name scrolling upwards. Writer-director Craig Mazin explained why he's refusing the vanity credit.
I do see the benefit in terms of marketing with star names being prominent. When I have a screenplay directed by Steven Spielberg then I bloody want his name in big letters at the top of the poster but as "a film directed by Steven Spielberg". He might be able to make my script better - if you can improve on pure perfection - but calling it his film is darned silly. And that's a movie-making legend, how many people saw the poster of Juno and thought:
"Nah, I don't fancy seeing that. Wait, hold on... it's ...it's..IT'S A JASON REITMAN FILM! I need to see it NOW! Oh. I've wet myself with excitement"?
Not many, I'd guess. If it was Ivan Reitman, maybe.
I notice that the writer is increasingly used to promote a film. 27 Dresses is from the writer of the Devil Wears Prada, apparently. But it's not "a film by Aline Brosh McKenna". What are the odds Jennifer's Body will have Cody's name on the poster twice like Reitman's?
It makes sense for screenwriters to just be professional and not publicly slag off their director for taking the vanity credit but a screenwriter publicly supporting the vanity credit and devaluing the importance of her own "very personal script" and the contribution of the actors and the cinematographer and the editor and everyone else involved is very sad to see.
Diablo Cody is a marketable brand name in her own right and she should stand up for herself and other screenwriters.
19 March, 2008
Five is reviewing its drama and comedy output after a string of flop programmes failed to make an impact in 2007.
In a review printed today about its performance last year, Five said it was reconsidering its “whole approach” to drama and would be ditching scripted comedy in favour of new entertainment formats in 2008.
Outlining its plans for drama going forward, the broadcaster said it was reviewing its approach to the genre after shows like Kitchen, a two-parter about a celebrity chef starring Eddie Izzard, attracted an audience averaging less than 500,000.
It said: “Over the last two years we have invested significantly in a number of single dramas and mini-series, but irrespective of their merits, none has gained a significant audience. We concluded that viewers will not come to Five to watch one-off original dramas, because we are not able to establish a reputation for them on the basis of occasional productions.”
The broadcaster said it was looking to commission long running drama series instead of single dramas and mini-series, claiming these will have “sufficient shelf life to attract and build and audience over time”.