Carson here.  Been feeling lousy all week, therefore I am, sadly, going to take a sick day today.  Luckily I still have something to post.  The other day when I was talking about the age-old screenwriting question of which kind of script you should write (something personal or something commercial), commenter Tom gave the best answer to the question I think I’ve ever seen.  So I’m re-publishing the comment below. — I like the idea of rewarding good comments so I’m thinking of making this a possible monthly thing.  Publish the 3-5 best comments of the month.  Thoughts?

From Commenter Tom:
The question of “commercial vs. personal” is not black and white. There’s a Goldilocks zone to it, and it’s one that some writers never reach. Ultimately, there’s an artistic side to your brain and a mathematical side to your brain, and unless you have unbridled raw talent, you have to find a way to get Pappa Bear and Mama Bear to play together.

I see a common progression in amateur writers.

1. The Sum Is GREATER than the Parts

Many writers start out with personal, artistic projects. Stories about their life experiences, or their high school friends, or some small article they read that sparked their imagination. And the scripts? Unreadable. The dialogue is stilted, the scenes are cliche, the conflict and pacing is scattershot. These scripts suck. But there’s an undeniable heart at the core of them. Although the individual components suck ass, there’s a purity to the overall story. But no one can bare to read more than 10 pages.

The writer then retreats. He/she reads other scripts, modeling the voices of those writers. They buy copies of Save The Cat and Story. They follow the industry and see what kind of scripts are selling, modeling their next effort on some of the trends. They log line, beat sheet, and outline. The result is:

2. The Sum Is LESS than the Parts.

Welcome to 95% of the Amateur Friday entries. Each individual scene is adequate, perhaps even exemplary. Dialogue is clean. Characters have flaws. Act I turning point hits exactly on page 25. The lead is a 35 year old male who has a mentor, a love interest, and a cat that he saves on page 4. The concept, while not “blow your mind” is solid. Yet, these scripts are… soulless. It’s all calculation. Commercial, yes. But forgettable.

A lot of writers never leave this stage. They marvel at how easily their early scripts flowed, and they can’t seem to replicate that old creative vision. Every time they start setting a script in an early period, or with a female lead they block themselves. These writers, while not hitting home runs, get a few singles or doubles. They get repped by baby managers who have them submit 10 log lines a week to determine their next project. They get stuck in this mathematical, calculating style of writing. Their projects never gain traction.

But after some time in this zone, a few finally say “Fuck it. I’m going to write what I want.”

3. The Goldilocks Zone

These are the writers who finally get noticed. The commercial side of their brain is no longer boxing out the creative side. The stories are personal, but with a larger, worldly-accessible twist. The story flows naturally, and yet subconsciously matches up with the 3-act structure.

The time spent in Zone 2 was invaluable because now they know and understand structure. They know how to bottle Blake Snyder and put him on a shelf, away from the process, but always ready to help. They can step back and see their story not as disassociated gears on a clock, but as a full living organism.

And the real key is they LIKE the stories they’re writing.

The Zone 1 scripts were hard to read. The Zone 2 scripts were hard to write. But these Goldilocks scripts are fun. And as a result, the writer’s voice begins to seep into the pages.

That’s the balance all writers have to find. You MUST know structure. You MUST know what’s commercial. You MUST be able to forget it all.

  • Robert Cornero

    In the spirit of reposting comments, I’ll repost mine from yesterday’s article because 1) it kind of got buried and 2) I think it’s so important and beautiful, in that it addresses the whole person instead of setting these different, for lack of a better term, “wills” against each other. A successful writer must be, I think, a unity of both passion and reason; they’re your sail and your rudder. So here goes the quoting of the quote from yesterday, in which I quote a quote:

    In regards to passion vs commercialism, I came across this poem by Kahlil Gibran (who is quickly becoming my favorite poet) two nights ago, entitled On Reason and Passion. It’s one of the most beautiful things I have ever read and speaks directly to this topic:

    Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite.
    Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul, that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of your elements into oneness and melody.
    But how shall I, unless you yourselves be also the peacemakers, nay, the lovers of all your elements?

    Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.
    For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.
    Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing;
    And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.

    I would have you consider your judgment and your appetite even as you would two loved guests in your house.
    Surely you would not honour one guest above the other; for he who is more mindful of one loses the love and the faith of both.
    Among the hills, when you sit in the cool shade of the white poplars, sharing the peace and serenity of distant fields and meadows — then let your heart say in silence, “God rests in reason.”
    And when the storm comes, and the mighty wind shakes the forest, and thunder and lightning proclaim the majesty of the sky — then let your heart say in awe, “God moves in passion.”
    And since you are a breath in God’s sphere, and a leaf in God’s forest, you too should rest in reason and move in passion.

    P.S. Hope Carson feels better soon.

    • Malibo Jackk

      Cool post.
      (Still don’t know what it means.)

      “Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul, that I might turn the
      discord and the rivalry of your elements into oneness and melody.”

      (Once worked for a company that received a letter from a patient in a mental institution. I had to write back and pretend to answer a letter that made no sense.)

      • astranger2

        I sincerely have no idea what you just wrote, or what it means… but I thought it pretty f*cking funny regardless… LOL

        • Malibo Jackk

          Drapes to match the carpet.

          • astranger2

            LOL… you’re a pretty funny guy, Malibo…

          • astranger2

            For some reason you make me think of Belushi and the acoustic guitar scene in Animal House… ; P

          • Malibo Jackk


      • Robert Cornero

        Essentially, what he’s saying is that there’s this idea that passion and reason are these two contradictory forces in a person, when really, they’re complimentary.

        He then gives a few illustrations to better get to his point. One is the illustration of a ship, where passion is the sail, and reason is the rudder.

        The next image is of two honored house-guests; if you spend too much time with one, you’ll anger the other and end up losing both.

        He also says that either one, unchecked by the other, is out of balance. Reason alone locks itself up; passion alone burns itself out.

        In other words, all us humans are a unity of these things; it’s synergistic, whereas the modern tendency is to be deconstructionist/reductionist; it tries to break down and split everything into categories and parts and pieces.

        Thus, I believe the conflict between passion and commercialism is overstated. A fully alive person will be able to employ both their passion and their reason in whatever work they undertake.

        • Malibo Jackk

          Some people like opera.
          Me — not so much.
          People are similar but different in many complex ways.
          The way they think. The way they view life. Their needs.
          The way they work. The way they approach screenwriting.

          (I have a sailboat. The rudder stays fixed most of the time.
          It’s the wind that changes — and the sails that constantly need trimming.)

        • Hadley’s Hope

          Like Kirk (passion & instinct) vs Spock (cold logic & reason), brought together by Bones (goddammit! Will you two pull your heads outta your keisters and focus on the real problem).

  • Stephjones

    Hope you feel better soon, Carson.

  • Amateur Professional

    “The concept, while not ‘blow your mind’ is solid. Yet, these scripts are… soulless. It’s all calculation. Commercial, yes. But forgettable.”

    I have to agree with this 100%. So often I read either an Amateur Friday script or review, and find the premise to be disingenuous. When Spielberg wrote Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it was inspired by a combination of witnessing a meteor shower as a boy, and a trendy appropriation of post-Watergate paranoia found in many American films of the 1970s. It was a total Goldilocks Zone script. Now scripts about UFOs or extra-terrestrials are inspired by Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Take a little from Zone #1 and a little from Zone #2. Do not just write a film because its like another successful film.

    For example: If you have a fascination with architecture, and American films today often are influenced by the recession (Bridesmaids, Magic Mike, etc.), then write a film about an architect trying to make a living in a luxury profession. There’s plenty of GSU in that premise. In other words, do not add zombies because its trendy.

    • gazrow

      “write a film about an architect trying to make a living in a luxury profession. There’s plenty of GSU in that premise.”

      Hmm… not really seeing the GSU in that premise tbh.

      How about a struggling architect has just one week to design and build his own safe house before the world succumbs to a zombie apocalypse?! lol :)

      • astranger2

        Lots of GSU, especially if the zombies are on steroids. ; )

        • gazrow

          Sshh. Lol. :)

    • kenglo

      Yeah, but an architect building luxury condos infested by zombies in Tahiti sounds so much cooler!

      • Hadley’s Hope

        I can totally see this working as a thriller. An architect, desperate for work, takes on a freelance job designing a building for a wealthy client. It has to be luxurious as well as self sustainable for up to five years (food and medicine storage, water recycling, hydroponic gardens, armed against intruders, etc).

        During the process of this mysterious job, the architect uncovers the knowledge that a zombie apocalypse is coming (or alien invasion, maybe a pandemic) and he is basically designing a safehouse for some wealthy but dangerous people. They find out that the architect knows, and he goes on the run as the zombie virus breaks out and spreads all over the world.

        • kenglo

          Heck yeah….

  • Panos Tsapanidis

    Great comment. Thanks Tom, and thanks Carson for reposting it. Wishing for a speedy recovery.

  • astranger2

    The ” Publish the 3-5 best comments of the month” is a great idea… and, oh, I’m sure you didn’t think about this — there’s an ancillary benefit of giving you an extra day off.. Just kidding of course… if you cull articles like the one posted above from Tom, it’d be a beautiful thing… ; v )

  • ripleyy

    Damn, that comment was so perfect I think Van Gogh cried in his coffin. Honestly, I’ve never touched “Save the Cat” or “Story” and I never intend to (my book is actually a very simple, yet astonishingly great how-to book I picked-up for a few dollars) because, like Tom said, I think far too many writers *rely* on those books. Keep them at arm’s distance, but use them if you feel stuck. Not sure how conflict works again? Read up on it (also, I find Carson’s past articles are a fantastic learning tool – hey, I’m not just saying that to please his ego!)

    The awful limbo between Zone #2 and the Goldilock Zone is a horrible, desolate place to be, yet it’s that untamed wasteland that gets so many of us ready to improve ourselves. You need it just as much as you think you do. Screenwriting is a mathematical equation but it’s a lot easier to figure out if you stop relying on books that contradict other books you might have. Figuring out your voice is probably the most important thing because that’s what will ultimately set you apart from everyone else. From there? Anything is possible. Continue to improve yourself even if you think you’ve reached your point.

    • Paul Clarke

      I agree you shouldn’t rely on the books, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read them. You just have to have an open but critical mind. You could read the entire book and relate to nothing, then find one morsel of advice that absolutely changes the way you think about things.

      I think Bruce Lee said it best:
      Absorb what is useful.
      Discard what is not.
      Add what is uniquely your own.

      • kenglo

        I read a story of Bruce whereas he was training Danny Inosantos and they kept going over this technique, and finally Bruce says, “Okay, you got that one, forget it for now and let’s try this.” And Danny was like, “I was just getting the hang of this , now you want me to forget about it??”

        I feel like I am nearing that Goldilocks zone. My last script, although great (in my mind!), was, as mentioned, lacking soul. The beats were there, the structure was there, it just lacked….something. How to fix it? I dunno…write another one??

        But reading the comment yesterday, I see and feel that progression coming on. When I first wrote scripts many moons ago, they were all martial arts ninja stuff, stuff I wanted to do in films. Only read Syd Field at the time, heck, I can do this! Learned the hard way of course, got to the point whereas I could write something, get some ‘buzz’ going with small Independents, but couldn’t write something anyone would just jump on. SO I read, worked, read, read, read….tried different genres, all the while improving, but just lacking soul. I feel like I am on the cusp!

        But bringing up Bruce always gets me going! Learn it all, study it, discard what is useless, add what is uniquely your own. People don’t realize, in martial arts, as in writing –

        “Before I learned the art, a punch was just a punch, and a kick, just a kick.
        After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick, no longer a kick. Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick.”

        I think this applies to writing, and to life. We’ve come full circle I think.

        If anyone is interested, here is a link to the first 12 pages of my latest! Comments are welcome!

        • Ange Neale

          “Jesus, Jesus…” – ha! Diving back in for more.

          • kenglo


          • Ange Neale

            I’m not half the analyst others are here, kenglo, but imho: engaging characters and quick read. Snappy, believable dialogue. The system’s completely messed up there if they really send kids that young down for that long for a manslaughter committed under extenuating circumstances. Feel for your protag and I’d certainly read on.

            One thing gave me pause: at the bottom of p3 – top p4 with them being, what 13 and 14? Maybe things are different in the US, but I’d think there’d be discomfort for a producer about what would come close to an indecent assault upon a minor, even if it is by another minor and even if it is just acting done with both young actors’ consent. Maybe I’m being a bit too PC, but a girl doing it to a boy and not the other way around still doesn’t make it right to me — not for kids that young. What does everyone else think?

          • kenglo

            Ange, thanks for the read and the notes. Yeah, glad you would read on… did I have enough empathy in there?

            I was going more for the girl doesn’t take any bull from anyone and try to show her head strong attitude, but I see your point. As far as ‘America’ is concerned, latest news has two 12 year olds stabbing their 12 yr old friend almost to death.

            I want to build on those themes in this particular story, dealing with killing your own father, the girl and her lost love, relationship with Mom….stuff like that….’personal stuff’ that I can mask in a fictitious manner…..:)

            (not that I killed my Dad or anything!)

          • Ange Neale

            Yeah, I thought there was sufficient empathy in there without degenerating into melodrama; very true that some kids never catch a break when their parents are f@%#-ups.

            Good grief re 12 year old girls stabbing their friend. I hadn’t heard, so googled it. The fantasy aspect to the attempted murder reminded me a bit of ‘Heavenly Creatures’ — early Peter Jackson flick based on the real life murder of one girl’s mother back in the 50s in NZ. They’d gotten caught up in a fantasy world, too. Kate Winslet got her big break in that.

            As for the other thing, obviously dropping the ‘F-bomb’ in yours a couple of times will give it a higher rating than PG. It’s not as if kids of that age will be seeing it and getting the wrong idea that if it’s okay in the movies, it’s okay to do it without consent to the girl or boy they like at school. I guess with actors of that age, you could only ever have such contact with both young actors’ parents’ consent anyway.

            Happy to read on when you get more done, kenglo. it’s gmail — neal0018 at, etc.

          • kenglo

            Will do!

          • Ange Neale

            South Australia: gateway to the Outback, and we make same spectacularly good shirazes and cabernet sauvignons, if reds are your poison!

          • Justsayin

            Being quite experienced myself and having written several screenplays I thought you always save the cat on page three-and-a-half? I have some story structure advice on my blog (note the ‘m’) I feel sure you will find very useful.

          • Stephjones

            Hey Kenglo,
            Disqus keeps freezing on me. Just wanted to make a suggestion, discard at will.
            I think to prime the audience for Tony killing his father you might intercut between Tony’s father beating his mother( keep it silent. Intense) while the kids are talking about killing and beating people. That way we get a graphic sense of where these kids come from and we’ll be primed and ready for Tony to do something once he sees the condition of his mother.
            It could be interesting to compare the kids running their mouths and threatening violence to the reality of actual violence being committed.
            I especially liked the line ” killing people is right up there with armed robbery and shit” it showed their screwed up value system and spoke volumes about these kids.

          • kenglo

            Wow, that is good imagry! Instead of ants ripping apart a lizard, show actual beat down…..thanks Stephjones!

        • astranger2

          I recall taking a class that reflected your statement about “a punch is just a punch, and a kick is just a kick.”

          It went on how we start most skills:

          — conscious ineptitude
          — subconscious ineptitude
          — conscious competence
          — subconscious competence

          I think Bruce’s says it better, and cleaner — lol. Look forward to reaing your pages. Thanks! ; v )

          • kenglo

            What do you study? (Maybe we had this conversation before….)

          • astranger2

            Oh, yeah… no big. I admire your continued devotion to the marital arts. And the class I was referring to was actually a corporate Franklin-Covey workshop, replete with group hugs, and passing a handball neck-to-neck…

            A lot of people don’t understand, like Bruce Lee and Asanto do, perfection of martial arts isn’t about kicking ass — it’s about “perfecting your craft,” or really, perfecting one’s character.

            The Art of War by Sun Tse, and The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi both rose to the top of the “NY Times Best Seller’s” list in years past — only, to be ironically embraced by MBAs and.. or was that Kobe Bryant and Lebron James — the NBA… ?

            “To be the master of anything, is to be the master of every thing.” — Miyamoto Musashi.

            And, I interpret that as if you are diligent in your study of anything, whether it be stamp collecting, cuckoo-clock building (although that seems God’s providence,) or like Booger’s mentor in the Revenge of the Nerd series — perfecting the longest, most foul burp — the same disciplines are involved, no matter…

            “If you don’t know yourself, and you don’t know your enemy, you will lose 100% of the time… If you know yourself, and you don’t know your enemy, you will win 50% of the time… If you know yourself, and know your enemy, you will win 100% of the time…”

            — Sun Tse

            And, Ange will tell you that 50% of statistics are made up on the spot. ANGE IS AN IDIOT!!!

            Any credible mathematician will tell you 90% of statistics are made up on the spot. I won’t even highlight the NINETY percent.

            Really Ange??? 50%??? … how do you support your supposition?

            The real point is, comprehending the nature of character, and the discipline of success. And understanding that regardless of your pursuits, the discipline and sacrifices needed to obtain them are exactly the same… not a lot of fun… wax on, wax off… paint fence, up-down…

            The real writers write like madmen day after day after day… and maybe, maybe, they break through… others hope to get some “up” votes on a website…

            This whole mess is really about the eternal struggle to become “one” with the universe… It’s about Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man… passing through a shimmering glacier while standing on the deck of his boat… where he — surprisingly, starts to shrink…

            … where he lives in a literal “Ken and Barbie” doll house, until a real-sized Garfield tabby ferociously tries to rip his head off…

            … and it’s also about how after shrinking to the size of a small field mouse, and his ribs agonized with hunger pangs, he has to battle a TARANTULA THE SIZE OF an APPLE, with… a sewing needle… you can see how watching that movie… was… at that moment in time… the single most terrifying moment in my six-year-old life…

            … don’t know how to say this to you HORROR genre writers… IF you can’t terrify me, building the slow burn of that suspense, as that Matheson film so seamlessly did… don’t bother…. I’m bored, and am infinitely more terrified by the utility bills in my mailbox since I live in the dessert… than any fucking stupid vampire… ; v )

          • kenglo

            Wow……love it! Besides film, I can talk martial arts ALL DAY!!

            “To be the master of anything, is to be the master of every thing.” —

            Jackie tried to get that across in the last KARATE KID – “Everything is kung fu.” Which brings me to kung fu. The chinese meaning of gung fu is mastery, as you mentioned, mastery of cooking, basket weaving, anything, not just fighting. Wu Xia is the correct term. When they dub and translate stuff it pisses me off because you lose the real essence of what they are actually saying – “Your gung fu stinks, who in the hell teaches you?” LOL But if you are good at something, excellent at it actually, then you have good gung fu.

            “Any credible mathematician will tell you 90% of statistics are made up on the spot.” and Ange said 50% – Well…..

            In college, the first thing my statistics professor stated was “There are lies, there are damn lies, and then there are statistics.” Nuff said about that, except Yogi Berra’s famous quote – “Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.”

            Extreme pleasure talking witcha!

          • astranger2

            I love yogisms… my favorite is, “that places is so busy nobody goes there any more.”

          • astranger2

            Oh, and more on point, before I went on an insanely tangential segue that was all self-realized… wow… that’s a lot of babble-babble — and I wrote it…

            Regardless, I’ve recently started new work and haven’t read Cake, or this or that, or anything, but the first pages I read will be your’s… as writers were are exceptionally anxious types… but, I haven’t forgotten… all the best…

        • Citizen M

          “Before Enlightenment chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment chop wood, carry water.”

          Keep writing.

          • kenglo

            “To find true enlightenment, one must sit in one’s own feces.”

          • Citizen M

            I think that’s a mistranslation. Be mindful of one’s poop, okay. But sit in it — ewww!

          • kenglo

            It’s kinda like a metaphor for “Know yourself.” If you can ‘sit’ and look at yourself and recognize how full of Sh$T you are..then you are enlightened… LOL

          • astranger2

            Unless I’m mistaken Bhudda said it, not Buddha… but like in most cases, I may be just late to the party. My elevator has never gone all the way to the top… but then again, I live in a one-story building…

          • Citizen M

            Well spotted.

        • pmlove

          Hey Kenglo – I’d give it a read if/when it’s ready.

          lovepeterm at gmail dot com

          Good character differentiation, hoping for a Sleepers type story to come out….

          • kenglo

            Thanks pm….not exactly Sleepers…but I aim to entertain…..on page 27 now…may be a while for the final!

      • A Tribe Called Guest

        Upvote x a billy.

  • Awescillot

    I like the concept of publishing killer comments.

    Haven’t you already started with this a while back? – I remember a comment from @driftinginspace:disqus being put on display, also giving him the chance to let one of his scripts be reviewed. So are you going to ‘reward’ these other commenters in a similar way? (even though making that promise to ~5 commenters a month might be a tall order)

  • Zapotage

    Feel better soon, Carson. Hope you know how much we appreciate you and your awesome articles.

  • Cuesta

    Perhaps structure-wise amateur friday screenplays are commercial, but not in theme.

    From the perpetual contained trend months ago, to period pieces, followed by the election of two very similar monster movies, by the same writer, in a row. It’s not like people here are trying to write the next summer blockbuster.

  • Randy Williams

    I don’t find the Amateur Weekend scripts “all calculation” in terms of I’m sensing the writer is calculating the story to hit certain beats if that’s what the comment infers. Personally, I find the main characters in the script, for the most part, to be too calculating.

    Life is much about others making decisions for us. In a lot of these scripts, I find, the characters are making too many early decisions which drive the plot instead of letting us get to know them well while others are making decisions for them.

    Then, when the characters do make decisions, those decisions should drive the plot in new and unexpected ways which often doesn’t happen.

    As for commercial with heart. I recall “The Harvester” AOW entry of April, 19th fit that bill.

    Carson, be well.

    • ElectricDreamer

      THE HARVESTER deserves a Second Chance read, just like COULD FACTORY.
      Both scripts generated a ton of comments in the AOW arena.

      • Chris Mulligan

        If we’re going off comments generated that 5/24 round had a couple scripts worth a look :)

        • ElectricDreamer

          One could say if you only had to pick one from that crop…
          It could go down to the wire. :-)

          • Chris Mulligan

            Ha! Well play, sir.

      • Kirk Diggler

        Could Factory? Right next to the Woulda Warehouse and the Shoulda Depository.

        • pmlove


          A lazy girl working in a factory that builds opportunities must make her own luck when, following a recession, the opportunities are rationed to the most worthy.

          Or something.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Set it in the past, present, and future with Tom Hanks playing multiple roles.


          • Kirk Diggler

            okay that was good.

          • astranger2

            … very.

        • Hadley’s Hope

          Is there a place to grab a bite to eat nearby? Maybe a Should I Eat This Even If I’m On A Diet. Or when you’re really famished, one of those new fast casual places, I Wouldn’t Eat That If I Were You.

        • ElectricDreamer

          Yikes. It appears my fingers had a Freudian slip. >.<
          Twas a nervous morning. Had to take my dog to the vets.
          No disrespect to the author.
          Ange's script brought a lot of passionate criticism to the SS party!

          • Ange Neale

            Infamous for too many of the wrong reasons, lol!

            Btw, is pooch alright?

        • IgorWasTaken

          Can’t say I get the full import of that, but still – You do turn a phrase.

    • Nick Morris

      Hey! Thanks Randy and ED for the kind words and for remembering THE HARVESTER as being “commercial with heart”. Made my day!

  • Randy Williams

    Oh, to relive the days when poems actually rhymed.

    • Stephjones

      Like limericks:

      There once was a chick on a boat
      Who worried the damn thing wouldn’t float
      When up popped the wind
      She tried to go zen
      But the mantra got stuck in her throat

      • Randy Williams

        Sorry, I’m a stickler for rhymes being I also write lyrics that adhere to perfect rhyming and “wind” and “zen” don’t rhyme.

        But that was good.

        • Ange Neale

          Entirely unoriginal, but hopefully you’ll get a laugh.

          Mary had a little lamb,
          She kept it in a drawer,
          And every time she took it out,
          It pissed upon the floor.

          Or better yet, because we like horror around here…

          Mary had a little lamb,
          Her father cut off its head,
          And now it goes to school with her,
          Between two bits of bread.

      • Ange Neale

        From Aussie cartoonist Michael Leunig:

        God bless this tiny little boat
        And me who travels in it.
        It stays afloat for years and years
        And sinks within a minute.

        And so the soul in which we sail,
        Unknown by years of thinking,
        Is deeply felt and understood
        The minute that it’s sinking.

        • Stephjones


          • Ange Neale

            Adorable, ain’t it! He’s my favorite cartoonist with soul and you can check him out at

    • Citizen M

      There was a time
      When poems rhymed
      And virtue love did hinder.

      Now verse rhymes not,
      And love’s begot
      By swiping right on Tinder.

  • gazrow

    I could never get through McKee’s ‘Story’. Way too dense for my taste. ‘Save The Cat’ was a breeze to read in comparison.

  • ChadStuart

    An independent manager, not part of a firm, who maybe has a few sales but isn’t a powerhouse in the industry. He/she usually has a few good contacts in their proverbial rolodex that are junior producers, but can’t get your script read at any of the majors.

  • Cfrancis1

    Yes! Totally agree. The “rules” have to be engrained in you so that you are writing them instinctively. But being aware of them is going to stall the creative process. Like the pro baseball pitcher who started over-thinking how he pitched and completely lost his abilities.

  • IgorWasTaken

    Yes, this is a strong post by “Commenter Tom”.

    Now, as for this:

    Publish the 3-5 best comments of the month. Thoughts?

    Yes. As long as one of them is mine.

  • witwoud

    I don’t disagree with anything Tom says. But just out of interest, how many people have gone through the stages in this particular order?

    Personally speaking, I’ve never been a free-flowing, No.1 sort of writer. Ever since I started, I’ve been the over-thinking, No.2 sort. For me, finding the Goldilocks zone would involve being less analytic, and getting more up close and personal. So, I guess I’m a 2-1-3 type. (Makes me sound like a locomotive.)

    I suspect that each of us veers naturally to one side or the other, and finding Zone 3 involves swimming against these inclinations for a while, until a sort of equilibrium is reached.

    Any other 2-1-3 locos around?

    • JakeMLB

      Reminds me of the Myers Brigs Test…

      • IgorWasTaken

        Then there’s the Oscar Meyer’s Brig Test – to see if you can get your wiener out of jail.

        “Please. Unless you tell me what I did, I can’t make it better. So, what did I do?”

        • astranger2

          LOL… you’re insanely funny… and it really has less to do with the content of your postings, but the rhythm and timing… ; v )

      • witwoud

        “Reminds me of the Myers Brigs Test…”

        Perhaps it might be useful to create a similar test for scriptwriters? Categories could include:

        1-2-3 (standard personality)

        2-1-3 (inverted personality)

        2-1-Z (inverted personality, is working on zombie script)

        1-Z-1-Z-1-Z (Split personality. Can’t decide whether to write coming-of-age drama, or zombie script.)

        T-T-T (Has severe Tarantino complex)

        &-@-$ (Writes extreme sci-fi with no human characters)

        1-2-1-L (Has given up and gone to law school)

        I bet there’s loads more …

  • Tom

    Oh hey, I know that guy!

    I’m glad the comment struck a chord. It comes from long earned personal experience. Even now I’m far too mathematical in my writing, trying to squeeze in love stories and tough male leads not for narrative sake but because “That’s what people want to see.” Throw-away comments from an ex-manager, or bits of advice from gurus have wormed into my noggin like some sort of creativity-blocking brain virus.

    And yet, I’m a stronger writer now than I was before. So, hey, all that shit must be good for something.

    In any case, I do like the name “Commenter Tom.”

  • Malibo Jackk

    JAWS is an action/adventure movie.
    That suggests that the pacing is going to be quicker.

    AMERICAN BEAUTY is pure drama.
    ROCKY is mostly drama.
    That, in itself, suggest that the pacing is going to be different.

    I would not presume to tell someone that an inciting incident can not
    take place on page one of a drama. But if it does, you may run the risk
    of the audience glancing at their watches during the long stretch to the end of a long, slow drama.

    Now take a look at a drama like ORDINARY PEOPLE. It could be argued that the inciting incident happened BEFORE the movie started. We are not shown
    what their life was like before the accident. We only know that there’s a problem.

    • Scott Crawford

      The best advice that the late Syd Field ever gave was “If it works, use it; if it doesn’t, don’t.” Whether it’s McKee, Blake, Hauge, Pilar, or whoever, it’s all just ADVICE.

      The strange thing is – and is it is strange – you’d think you could just take a successful movie, switch around the characters, locations, and so on and – BOOM! – you’ve got a new screenplay. But each screenplay is different. It sounds obvious, but each new screenplay has its own unique problems, and no formula beat sheet is going to be more than a guideline.

      There’s a great featurette on the “Wall-E” DVD with Roger Deakins teaching the guys at Pixar how to light a film set. He moves the lights into position so that the actor is perfectly lit, without a shadow. Then he tells his audience that he hates that! Having set it up perfectly he then moves each light, mostly by instinct, until he creates something much more interesting. Shadows. Lens flares.

      I think the same can work on a story. Plot your story the obvious way. Then move an event forwards. Add a subplot character. Surprise the reader. Good example: “Blue Steel”. The story keeps changing, catching the viewer off-guard, but the concept remains the same: rookie cop vs. psycho banker.

      • Malibo Jackk

        Well put.

  • mulesandmud

    Personal and commercial are almost always at odds with each other.

    That may sound like the opposite of what Tom’s saying, but it isn’t. The fact that they’re at odds is exactly why they play so well together.

    Thesis plus antithesis equals synthesis. Remember that. The interaction of two opposite ideas creates a larger idea than either one by itself.

    In stories, we call it conflict. One force at odds with another. Conflict isn’t just there so characters can keep busy. It’s an opportunity to test them, to learn about them, to reveal their capacity for change. It’s a crucible that burns out the impurities of a story until the only thing left is what the whole damn story was really about. The meaning comes from the opposition, which is why villains are better when they fundamentally oppose the hero somehow. The Joker’s chaos is only meaningful because of Batman’s order.

    Each scene should have conflict because the collision of opposing ideas (“I want the girl.”/”You’ll never get the girl.”) is what drives the story forward. Each idea by itself is static, but together they’re dynamic. The conflict resolves into momentum that takes us to the next scene, where more conflict arises.

    It’s the same way with screenwriting: conflict adds value. The marriage of personal and commercial in your work, even (or especially) if it’s a rocky marriage, allows one impulse to challenge the other, and that tug of war creates material that acknowledges tradition while defying expectation. The specific ways in which each writer melds personal to commercial is where their personality becomes most visible.

    It doesn’t really matter which comes first, the personal or the commercial. Tom rightly presumes that most people jump into this pool out of passion, more full of desire than knowledge, and so he starts there, but it works just as well the other way, with a cynical amateur who must learn to add sincerity. The point is, bringing the two together can accomplish things that neither one can do on its own, both narratively and professionally.

    Thesis plus antithesis equals synthesis.

    • kenglo

      :”It’s an opportunity to test them, to learn about them, to reveal their capacity for change.” ` Awesome…love it man….next Thursday’s article!

    • Awescillot

      Nicely put.

  • IgorWasTaken

    While I do like Commenter Tom’s post, I have not gone through those particular stages.

    Still, the back, forth, and then the Goldilocks space resonates with me because I have followed that sort of path.

    (BTW, every time I see Commenter Tom, in my head I hear Sojourner Truth.)

    Thing is, over a number of years, I’ve already written all sorts of stuff for various jobs. From technical reports, to speeches on tech stuff, speeches on general-interest stuff, jokes for speeches, and even speeches (with jokes) for a couple of big-ballroom charity industry dinners in LA. 99% of that was for other people to deliver. So I already had experience writing “in other people’s voices.”

    And yet, in each of those instances, it was rather straightforward (though not always easy) to know who the audience was. And what their points of reference were.

    So if I wanted to get a certain point across, I knew what words to use, and it was close to 100% certain that the audience would “get” the words I used. Then, all I had to do was put down those words, and tweak them to make it all entertaining. Or at least not-boring.

    But with scripts, sometimes it’s feels like the job is to entertain quantum readers. They may be here, or there, or both, or neither.

    I can write a killer speech for a roomful of industry executives, but writing a script that’s killer simply for two people, or even just one – that is tough.

    After all, if you’ve ever gotten a note that says, “Don’t have Joe leave; have him stay”, and so you do that, but then on that next draft you get note that says, “Don’t have Joe stay; have him leave” – then the quantum-ness of it all kinda hits home.

    I am NOT saying I’ve got everything else down pat, and I simply have to find a “stable” reader to give it to. But as I have developed my skills with dialogue and action, it’s all with the realization that there is no set target.

    Actually, it’s as if screenwriting is a game of pool, but every shot has to be a bank shot.

    And even then, you can work out the angles, line up your shot, pull back your cue, hit the cue ball, and then watch the action start to unfold – and, only then, suddenly discover the pockets on your table have all suddenly disappeared.

    • pmlove

      I think, as a general rule, notes on particular story choices aren’t that useful. By which I mean should A or B happen (like Joe, above). Maybe the pacing is off. Maybe the set-up doesn’t fit what follows.

      I firmly believe you can do whatever you want in your story. It’s all in the execution. So what ‘have Joe stay’ really means is – the execution of Joe leaving isn’t good enough. The story is all about building to that event. Whether Joe stays or goes is arbitrary, we just want to be invested in the choice.

      • pmlove

        OK, maybe arbitrary was the wrong word. But a product of the build up.

      • IgorWasTaken

        True. Though, the “Joe” story was also allegorical.

        Like, the issue could be – as discussed yesterday – whether the script must/need-not explain why the protag in Bad Teacher is a bitch.

        See, if it was clear that the “why” must be in there, then the writer can go about finding an entertaining way to do that. But unlike all the other sorts of media/areas in which I’ve written, with screenplays it’s often not clear even what needs to be expressed – apart from how it’s expressed.

        • JakeMLB

          I’m sure you’ve heard it said before but the most important think to take from notes is the spirit of the note and not necessarily the note itself. If there’s conflicting notes about Joe leaving or entering, the question then might not be “should Joe stay or should he go?” but “why is Joe there in the first place?”

          • IgorWasTaken


            Sometimes I’ll get a note that some character should be cut. And my take-away is: Cut him, or make him more significant (or make his current significance more clear).

            Though what gets me, sometimes, is that the conflicting notes are from a single person.

          • JakeMLB

            Hah yah, I usually chock that up to people having short attention spans and memories. But it also may indicate some deeper lingering issue that is difficult to pinpoint.

        • pmlove

          I think you’re right. It isn’t clear – but in a way that’s liberating. There’s a certain freedom. I just had a read through those comments re: Bad Teacher. A little like Jake’s comment below – I don’t think you NEED to explain why but see what purpose it serves. Here, I’d argue it is to give you the hope that redemption is possible for the character.

          Now, there might be other ways to achieve that that preclude back-story. Flipping it on its head – you wouldn’t necessarily include the why if your character is funny and charming, unless you wanted to demonstrate that they had violent / unpleasant history. Then it might be useful. Or, you might bleed the hint of violence through the story as it progresses.

          Either way, it’s the freedom of choice to go about the how, expressing whatever best serves your story.

    • JakeMLB

      Stephen King has famously said he writers for a single reader — his wife. Everything he writes, he writes for her and her alone. He advises to conceive a similar reader in mind when you write, even if they don’t exist because you can never write for everyone. He also gives another important piece of advice. Write the first draft for yourself (with the door closed). Write the second draft with your audience in mind (with the door open).

      • IgorWasTaken

        Well, Jake, I’ve posted a reply to this, but Disqus put it in the “Pending” queue. So, it might never show up.

        • Casper Chris

          Give it time.

      • Casper Chris

        Does it count if that single reader is oneself?

      • A Tribe Called Guest

        Oh, that’s great!

  • JakeMLB


  • IgorWasTaken

    Today I post a straight-up comment about 4 real stand-up comedians, and Disqus puts that in the Pending queue.

    Whereas yesterday, I posted a comment that we don’t need backstory for a character in a comedy if his goal is to give his dog a hand job… and with that one, Disqus had no problem.

    In light of my comments today, this is so meta.

    • IgorWasTaken


    • IgorWasTaken

      Louis CK

    • IgorWasTaken

      Ricky Gervais

  • Tom

    You want me to put myself out there and get JUDGED??? It’s waaaaay easier to hold the gun than wear the blindfold.

    But I guess it’s bad form to waste an opportunity.

    Sure, I’ll throw-down for a shot at AOW.

  • Malibo Jackk

    What spots?

  • mulesandmud

    Sounds like your issue is more with execs who force market mandates on writers than with writers who learn to deliberately marry their personal tastes to larger commercial sensibilities. For a working screenwriter, the first is a professional hazard, but the second is a necessary skill.

    And not that I’d hold Risky Business up as a paragon of much anything, but in the ‘downer’ original ending, I believe Joel also gets into Princeton. The fight with Geffen had more to do with the tone of that final scene.

    • Bifferspice

      i love risky business. one of tom cruise’s best films in my opinion

      • astranger2

        Risky Business MADE Tom Cruise. And he’s a franchise actor. It’s a brilliantly written comedic script, artfully nuanced, and your’s mirrors it’s sly charm in so many ways… Risky Business IS his best film… imho…

        • Bifferspice

          wow cheers man :) i confess that my teenage feelings for rebecca demornay may have done my opinion of the film no harm also…

          • astranger2

            One of the best things about movies is that if you say “this is my favorite film,” no one can disagree.. It’s an opinion… and great movies evoke wildly emotional and subjective images…

            But because of the L-Train sequence where her dress billows into the air like a Stevie Nicks clone, while Joel… expresses a physical interest in her, I remember searching all through Westwood, California for the Tangerine Dream soundtrack… that was curiously never made…. talk about lost revenue opportunity!

            Tangerine Dream helped make that movie the ultimate coming of age story… into manhood, not boyhood like Stand By Me, if you follow my drift…

          • Bifferspice

            i’ve just ordered the blu-ray – haha! what a blast from the past – hadn’t thought about that film in years. it had a realistic quality to it, even with a farfetched plot. like a john hughes film where all the safety switches were off. it was LIKE the films we’d all seen in the previous few years, like the breakfast club or something, but you felt just that bit further on, like you say, into manhood. it felt dangerous, like it might not end well.

          • astranger2

            Well, the film opens relatively quick with Joel’s friend ordering him a black call girl who turns out to be a transvestite with shoulders like Lawrence Taylor’s .. it’s not the most innocent beginning… and that’s why I feel Tangerine Dream’s airy jazz soundtrack helped ground it from having a darker tone… power of music…

      • mulesandmud

        Yeah, I was probably a bit too mean to RB just then. There’s plenty to love about that film.

  • Randy Williams

    I actually consider it one of my favorites. The basic story contains things I like and I’ve tried to emulate in the script I’m writing now. Contained setting, limited cast, a mystery box that will have people talking off the trailer, a character who turns the plot when decisions made for them by someone else no longer seem a healthy alternative. A world of hurt made whole by a simple bond between two people.

    The movie ends giving the main character the ability to fulfill one of the most basic yearnings of all mankind.

    The chance to say, “I told you so”

    • witwoud

      If only they could have dreamed up a better explanation for the mystery, I’d have been ‘all on board’. What they came up with was so absurdly far-fetched that it killed the movie stone dead.

      That’s the trouble with ‘mystery boxes’ — the more intriguing they are on the outside, the more likely it is that the contents will be a) implausible or b) non-existent.

      • Citizen M

        Agreed. Great movie ruined by the reveal.

    • tgraham22

      Admittedly it has been awhile since viewing it and I may need to revisit it and make sure my memory is correct.

      but if I remember correctly this was some well planned plot to make jodi foster’s character seem crazy and pay off big for the bad guys. there plan that involved a lot of pieces also relied on the fact that jodi foster and her kid would not be noticed by a single person who was also on that flight.

      Like they went to great lengths to formulate this plan with huge consequences and if just once, jodi’s daughter ran over to another passenger or dropped something and they needed help picking it up or had started crying before the flight or any number of small things that could not be planned for and another passenger or two recognized this and put the faces together, then the whole plot to make jodi foster seem crazy would not have worked.

      I actually will rewatch to make sure I am remembering it. As a overall idea for a movie I don’t think it was bad, they just missed one small but very important piece, I think.

  • Casper Chris

    The left brained people tend to outline, and read tons of books, and prepare for the journey to a fault.

    That sounds like Ange too.

    • Ange Neale

      It’s possible I just don’t know when to quit.
      But look on the bright side: no brain would be worse.

      • astranger2

        How incredibly condescending,.. you actually think you are the best at everything?? I know for a fact… both sides of my brain, are equally — worse…

        • Ange Neale

          Huh? Are you funnin’ with me now, or am I being a dumbass again?
          I didn’t mean to be condescending.
          By ‘just don’t know when to quit’, I mean I’m completely OCD when I’m researching and almost as bad when I write, which is a darned nuisance ‘cos I tend to push deadlines.
          Being born with no brain at all is an horrendous condition called hydranencephaly. Babies only survive if they’ve got enough brain stem left to control the basics like heartbeat, breathing and digestion. They can’t learn to speak or read, they’ll never appreciate music or pick a flower, laugh at a joke or walk along a beach at sunset.
          In that sense, it was condescending. I shouldn’t have made a (woeful) joke about it. It’s sad really.

          • astranger2


          • Ange Neale

            Don’t be upset — we’re good!

          • astranger2

            … just got home and read this… and in any situation, regardless… if you’re good, not only am I, but so is the world… ; v )

          • Ange Neale

            Oh, you haven’t seen what grendl’s been up to on Amateur Friday. The world’s not quite as well as one would hope, but it’ll survive. It always does.

          • astranger2

            I always leave grendl’s articles for dessert. i enjoy them. And most likely they’re longer, and would take more thought… so, i read them last… I didn’t even read ANY of the prior comments, have NO IDEA what was said prior… and tried to make, a SELF-DEPRECATING remark… here again, as a male, interacting with a female of ANY type — straight, gay, five-headed, alien, reptilian… I’ve FAILED again to communicate, without being WILDLY misunderstood… a joke… which I didn’t realize was that subtle… NOW I understand what the author of TCF feels…

          • astranger2

            Oh, in a later article, when I say Ange is an idiot, or whatever, I thought it patently an obvious joke — now I fully realize why my work is such crap … I think people understand dry humor… my apologies, my angel… sheesh…; (

  • astranger2

    Seems to work for him, whether his answers were feigned or not.. great comic. His humor is drier than Lipton’s Chicken Noodle — but much more palatable…

  • K.B. Houston

    Great writers know all the rules — so they can break them sneeringly.

    Honestly, if you begin your screenwriting career in the “The Sum is Greater than the Parts” stage, you’re foolish. Before you write, you need to understand. Before you tell one story, you must digest many.

    Most amateur writers are incredibly easy to spot because, as Tom mentions, they follow all the rules fastidiously. If you’ve done your research, if you’ve studied up and read all that you should be reading on the craft of screenwriting, you’d know that the last thing talent evaluators want is a regurgitated Blake Snyder blueprint.

    Cream rises to the top, always. Great scripts will be recognized no matter what, which is why I find this argument somewhat pointless. The “Goldilocks Zone” is nothing more than great writing — commercial, artistic, black, white, smart, dumb, whatever. If it’s good, it will sell.

  • astranger2

    Huh? … it’s almost as if you didn’t read the article at all… not sure where the vitriol is coming from, but maybe yesterday’s writer from Cake, could add it to Claire’s persona and dialogue, and do the Emeril bit, to kick it up a notch… not that it needs much kicking…

  • astranger2

    Mastered it? Please, you couldn’t even master Jack Lambert… ; )

  • Citizen M

    Reading Chandler’s description of Hollywood is about as relevant as reading Dickens’s description of London. Salaried writers for the studios were required to turn out a lot of drudge work, which we as spec writers don’t have to do.

    The fact is, a lot of movies get made and they can’t all be excellent. I searched IMDb for TV movies and Features from the US length 85 minutes and over.

    2013 — 1821
    2012 — 1555
    2011 — 1515

    They all need scripts. They can’t all be franchises. And if they don’t make a profit their backers don’t get to make more movies. So naturally they go for what they think are the sure things. Here are a few gems you might have missed…

    Rabid Love (2013)
    Five recent college grads go for one last vacation in the woods during the summer of 1984 and one of them is infected with a mad scientist’s synthetic rabies virus.

    House of Bad (2013)
    Three sisters on the run with a suitcase full of stolen heroin hide out in their childhood home, which is haunted by the ghosts of their parents.

    Arachnoquake (2012 TV Movie)
    An earthquake triggers a giant spider attack on the city of New Orleans.

    Sorority Party Massacre (2012)
    Sexy college girls endure gore galore when a psychotic killer with a taste for sorority sister torture arrives…

    Psycho Street (2011)
    Four Twisted Tales that lead to a Dead End.

    Ninja Zombies (2011)
    What do you get when you combine the deadly ninja with the horrific zombie? Amazing action sequences…

    • Malibo Jackk

      Your making those scripts sound like Amateur Offerings Weekend.

    • grendl

      A lot of movies get made and very few are excellent, and you’re not really reading with a keen eye, if you can look at just Bifferspices excerpt and not see how authority has trumped common sense time and time again TODAY, you are absolutely kidding yourself.

      Who said anything about franchises? Do you think Chandler was talking about monetary success. Citizen? He was talking about making quality movies, not franchises.

      And you’re listing horrible movies to make a point when you ignore mainstream hits like “Grown Ups 2″ so as to give the impression bad movies are simply an anomaly, part of the process is funny. It’s not accurate though.

      You deliberately list a few cheesy sci fi to say, yeah occasionally we see crap.

      No, I am saying at the highest level of filmmaking crap his being made, by the biggest studios with the biggest stars, time and again.

      Listen you can go into this with blinders on, I don’t care. Bifferspice gets it. You don’t.

      “The impulse to perfection cannot exist where the definition of perfection is the arbitrary decision of authority. That which is born in
      loneliness and from the heart cannot be defended against the judgment
      of a committee of sycophants. The volatile essences which make
      literature cannot survive the clichés of a long series of story

      The eloquence of Chandlers words not withstanding, this alone is relevant today, true as it ever was. You think Jerry Bruckheimer is a decent arbiter of storytelling? If you do, then you my friend are the problem…

      But grendl he makes so much money…

      You my friend…again, are the problem.

      But grendl its a business..

      No, Citizen, its a business based on the art of storytelling. And if you bring up ‘franchise” at the multiplex, you’re talking about money. A good movie is self contained and needs no sequels, other than to those who want to feed the public more Big Mac movies, to sate their insatiable appetite for characters and premises they like.

      The article is TIMELESS. That’s my opinion, you’ve stated yours, Biffer his.

      By my count the vote is 2-1 in our favor.

      • mulesandmud

        The now-vs-then lesson of the Chandler article seems to be the more things change, the more things stay the same.

        Sure, modern screenwriters have liberated themselves somewhat from the studios, screenwriting is aspired to en masse, and producers exert less monomaniacal control (they now prefer corporate fiat). But most of the movies still stink. And the final screenplays of those films are, on average, below average.

        Chandler has earned the right to call others writers hacks, but even he admits that the quality of Hollywood writers wasn’t the real problem. It still isn’t: the Hollywood process is designed to impede artistic vision and deprioritize story quality in favor of other goals. We know this. If a writer isn’t capable of working within that system, they should seek employment elsewhere.

        If one’s filmmaking priority is art above all, then the only viable option is to go the indy way. That world comes with its own frustrations and limitations, but the hand of the market isn’t pressing down on your chest quite so firmly. The flip side is, as Orson Welles said, you spend 95% of your time begging for money, and 5% making films.

        A major pitfall of this website is how often it conflates artistic quality with professional success. That’s just wrong. Both are essential concerns for a writing career, but they’re often mutually exclusive, and only rarely directly proportional. Creative muscles and career muscles must be developed separately, so as not to spoil each other.

        With practice, though, the two competing interests can learn to work in tandem, even to bolster each other. Most of the films that we discuss here, yourself included, are products of that kind of union. I don’t think Chandler would disagree; in fact, as a successful and highly literary genre writer, he’s living proof.

  • astranger2

    I have to smile and laugh. Because if your tale has any semblance to reality, it draws heavily, and somewhat mockingly from the classic Al Jolson’s Jazz Singer, or more relatably, the Looney Tunes tale, about an elderly owl family… that lives in the hollow of a high tree…

    The father, a cantor, trains his young fledgling with an iron wing… to sing these monstrously joyless, rigid hymns — but the young male owl’s heart burns bright to sing the jazz he has always wished to belt out — from the tree tops:

    “… I wanta singaaaa… in the mooonaaa and the juneaaaaahhhh and the springaghhhhh… cause it’s you and me, and baby makes three… ”

    What a richly cartooned life you’ve lived… I applaud, with one hand, as a Zen koan states — “We all know the sound of two hands clapping. What is the sound of one hand clapping?

    As your preceding article, that koan had me puzzled. Then it came to me — just ask the man Richard Kimble has been desperately searching for… ; )

  • Bifferspice

    love that chandler article. fascinating stuff. this is awesome:

    “The impulse to perfection cannot exist where the definition of
    perfection is the arbitrary decision of authority. That which is born in
    loneliness and from the heart cannot be defended against the judgment
    of a committee of sycophants. The volatile essences which make
    literature cannot survive the clichés of a long series of story
    conferences. There is little magic of word or emotion or situation which
    can remain alive after the incessant bone-scraping revisions imposed on
    the Hollywood writer by the process of rule by decree. That these
    magics do somehow, here and there, by another and even rarer magic,
    survive and reach the screen more or less intact is the infrequent
    miracle which keeps Hollywood’s handful of fine writers from cutting
    their throats.

    Hollywood has no right to expect such miracles, and it does not
    deserve the men who bring them to pass. Its conception of what makes a
    good picture is still as juvenile as its treatment of writing talent is
    insulting and degrading. Its idea of “production value” is spending a
    million dollars dressing up a story that any good writer would throw
    away. Its vision of the rewarding movie is a vehicle for some glamorpuss
    with two expressions and eighteen changes of costume, or for some male
    idol of the muddled millions with a permanent hangover, six worn-out
    acting tricks, the build of a lifeguard, and the mentality of a
    chicken-strangler. Pictures for such purposes as these, Hollywood
    lovingly and carefully makes. The good ones smack it in the rear when it
    isn’t looking.”

  • Bifferspice

    ground control to commenter tom: seems you really made the grade with that post. :-)

  • Darkline

    Great comments. You must go through stage 2. There is rarely a shorcut from 1 to 3. I see so many people who say ‘ I dont want to read Mckee because it’ll ruin my voice’. But Picasso didn’t just turn out Cubism. He’s so famous for it you’d be forgiven for thinking the guy couldn’t paint traditionally, But his early work shows he was very good at ‘the basics’.

    And I don’t see a huge difference between the personal and commercial screenplays. Not well written ones. To me personal v commcerial is like deciding to paint your room bright red or a subtle hint of meadow green. Structurally it’s the same room underneath, the foundations and support beams are in the same place.

    In one script Aliens invade, in another Mum comes for dinner. It’s all the same really.

    Unlike art film, which tears down the walls completely.

  • astranger2

    … thing you’re at stage one… : )

  • astranger2

    I love Something Wild. The scene where Griffith handcuffs him to the bed, calls his boss at the office where Daniels is supposed to be, hands him the phone, then proceeds giving him head as he tries to explain his absence is… unforgettable… that scene is… as the little head lacks one…

  • JakeMLB


    “If you have a connection, that’s all you require.”

    No. A million times no. And to suggest such is as “insulting and degrading” to writers as Chandler’s description of Hollywood’s then treatment of its writers. It’s also plain ignorant. Beyond that though, to be a successful screenwriting, you need to be part-entrepreneur. It’s an unfortunate but necessary reality. You need to be able to sell yourself and your ideas in a room. That’s the nature of any collaborative business, particularly one that requires significant capital investment. Some writers are better speakers than they are writers. Same is true in any industry. Let me say that again: most of what you rife about is the same in every industry. It’s amazing how many people don’t understand that. The smartest guy doesn’t always get the gig.

    “You’re not going to be able to prove that the SHOWMAN are not in charge of the multiplex, and the writers are simply their slavish toadies, doing the bidding of their masters like the hunchback Fritz in “Frankenstein” procuring for their bosses scripts with abby normal brains.”

    You clearly don’t own a television. I know they were sparse in the 1950s, that time period you seem to be stuck in, but they’re quite common nowadays. And yeah, you’re talking about film, so in that respect you’re right. But Hollywood isn’t just producing film. With the rise in excellence in TV, film will either follow or will lose relevance. Either way, there is an in fact a Hollywood medium in which the writer is king. It’s called television. But you seem ignorant of that.

    “Hollywood doesn’t deserve good writers and it doesn’t get many. Those that do break in can’t write novels worth shit because they’re not real writers. Some are, but most don’t have the intelligence to do so.”

    And how many novelists write good scripts? Maybe fiction writing and screenwriting are — gasp — different forms of writing! Or perhaps you liked THE COUNSELOR?

    “He tries to paint the business as a place of excellence, that’s the only way for his taunts to work, but that’s why they don’t work. They fall flat. Because crap gets made all the time, and some of it makes tons and tons of money.”

    Yes, crap gets made all the time. The question isn’t why but how. If you understand how, you’d be less focused on the why.

    “It’s not debatable. Quality is happenstance in Hollywood.”

    So ALL quality is happenstance? Uh… okay. There you go insulting people again. But let me rephrase this for clarity: you believe that the monumental task of making a quality film, a task that requires dozens upon dozens of smart people and almost always is born from a quality script is purely and utterly happenstance? So you therefore believe that the writing of a quality script is happenstance as well? Why do you revere films like Tootsie then if it’s just happenstance? Why do you incessantly preach their themes and character work ad naseum if it’s all just happenstance? In my experience, extremes are never true, and those preaching them should be ignored.

    Or maybe quality work is the confluence of talent, happenstance and dozens of other factors. Or is that making life a little too gray for you? This is true now as it was decades ago. Sure, it’s probably harder nowadays for the pieces to properly align, but filmmaking is and always will be a collaboration, and whenever you get more than one individual working towards a common goal, egos and opinions will clash.

    Yes, Hollywood is flawed. Deeply flawed. It will likely always be that way because it’s a business — a big business — and not a non-profit organization. But that doesn’t mean that moments of magic can’t be found. If you don’t like it, propose a solution or go write books, plays or poetry. Then we can look forward to your diatribes on those industries.

  • JakeMLB

    There really isn’t a right or wrong answer. You’ll often hear the phrase “write what you want to see” and that might work fine if others want to see what you want to see. But most prolific writers and performers understand that you’re creating art to be shared. King himself touches on this with the idea of writing with the door closed vs. open but also speaks to this when discussing concepts or premises. IMHO art is at its best when its universal.

  • A Tribe Called Guest

    I had a problem with that special. Gervais is a gifted comedic actor and a good story teller, but his live performances are mislabeled.

    Gervais doesn’t craft a fully-formed, traditional routine. He’s still pretty much a rookie (especially compared to those three) when it comes to stand up comedy, so him producing a special about stand up comedy, going on as an expert and then saying he doesn’t care about the audience is a bit insulting to the art form.

    If you look at the body language of C.K, Rock, and Seinfeld, his answers on stand up are sometimes dismissed (Seinfeld did a full body version of rolling his eyes at one point). The minute they start talking to each other (especially C.K with Seinfeld), though, they light up or are super respectful.

    I’ll bring it full-circle back to figuring out a writing style. I started out doing stand up comedy watching performances and writing habits of other performers (this was after years of improv). I always asked for and encouraged feedback from other performers on nights that I performed. In my eyes having someone who’s done 20 years of comedy give feedback would help me improve.

    90% of them refused. Why?

    It was always an answer to the effect of “you’ll figure it out.”

    You’ll figure out what works for you but you have to work at it. And the best way to measure that you figured it out is a) how much you’re enjoying the moment, and b) by the laughs. The reaction of the audience is the most crucial, and it takes time. A quick c) would be a colleague coming up and complimenting your writing/performance- that’s an unbelievable feeling.

    I understand writing is a different animal, but I’m just posting this to say nobody has perfect advice. After doing it for the better part of a year I’ve started improving and I realized that comes from the practice of just focusing on your work. I’ve slowed what sparse activity I had on these boards, so this is me wanting to reinforce that you’ll find what eventually works for you.