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So the other day I FINALLY decided to watch “Atlanta,” the show from Community alum Donald Glover that had gone on to win a Golden Globe for Best Television Show, a Writers Guild Award for best Comedy Series, and was nominated for an Emmy in writing. Personally, I thought it looked pretentious and unfocused, so I never got around to watching it. Until now.

Before I get into my thoughts on the series, I have to share something with you. I hate Donald Glover. There’s something about the guy that rubs me like a bad batch of poison ivy. Discounting the fact that he’s an egomaniac who must prove he can act, direct, write, produce, rap, and do stand-up comedy, all under the guise of an “aw-shucks-I’m-just-trying-to-work” persona. Discounting the fact that there are articles being written about him that tell everyone to “underestimate Donald Glover at your own peril” (Gag me with an Instagram like). There are things even beyond those issues that I despise.

Mainly, that his writing is just okay. His dialogue is decent at times. But his storytelling leaves a lot to be desired. And his acting vacillates between mini mumbling monologues and looking like he’s so stoned that he might fall asleep at any moment.

Worst of all, it’s impossible not to know you’re watching Donald Glover whenever he’s onscreen. The Martian basically stopped for 5 minutes mid-film so that they could include a random “Donald Glover Short Film” Scene. I thought an actor’s job was to disappear into a role. Glover goes in the opposite direction, always wearing the same hipster clothes, always sporting the same trendy haircut, always giving the camera the same Donald Glover hangdog expression.

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Donald Glover in The Martian.

Which makes it all the more perplexing that the man is one of Hollywood’s fastest rising stars. And it really bothers me. Not because I don’t get the love for the dude. But because every time a writer or an actor or a director (or in Donald’s case, an actor/writer/director/producer/rapper/caterer/surgeon) rises up, Hollywood is telling you something: THIS IS WHAT WE WANT. Which means you, the aspiring multi-hyphenate, must understand why this person is ascending so that you can take some lessons from it and use them to further your own career.

Yet here I stood with Glover, unable to figure out how he’d separated himself from the pack.
I’m sure Glover’s old fellow staff writers on 30 Rock (where he started) are asking the same thing. Why is this guy blowing up while we’re still trying to get staff writing jobs on The Goldbergs?
Powering down my television after that decidedly average pilot episode of Atlanta, I finally figured it out.

Do you want to know what it is?

Voice.

What Donald Glover has that all those other staff writers and bottom feeder feature assignment writers and aspiring amateur screenwriters don’t have is a VOICE. It’s undeniable. Glover is bringing something unique to the table that nobody else out there is doing. I don’t know what it is, exactly. But I do know that when I watch his shows or listen to the dialogue he’s written? It’s different. And the reason this is so important is that VOICE is the equivalent of GOLD in the artistic community – the most valuable commodity there is – to the point where it can propel someone like Glover to stardom.

Think about it. How many people in this business truly have a unique voice? Very few. The majority of Hollywood’s army are cogs in a machine, regurgitating or helping to regurgitate the same old movies and TV shows over and over and over again.

When someone emerges from that glut of sameness to give us something unique, they stand out like a punch at a cuddle party. In fact, the very reason I hate this guy is tied to his voice. That’s what voice does. Its unique point-of-view incites passion one way or another. In my case, it’s “or another” but for a ton of people, it’s “one way.” He’s got something unique.

As artists, there is no bigger fear than being bland. Wondering whether we’re one of those also-rans who doesn’t have anything original to say keeps us up at night. Don’t get me wrong. You can still work in Hollywood without a voice. If you can perfect form and technique and craft and understand how the storytelling and character creation mechanisms work, you can work in this town. But you’ll never be special. You’ll never stand out like Donald Glover.

So today, I’m going to help you find your inner voice. The bad news is, voice isn’t something you can construct through pure force of will. Your voice is who you are at your core and therefore emerges naturally. When you look at someone like Bill Murray, his unique persona isn’t calculated. It’s just him. On the flip side, there are clearly celebrities who enhance their voice in a calculated manner. Lady Gaga, for example, does a lot of calculated things in order to enhance her “voice.”
With that in mind, here are seven things you can do to find your voice so you can be more like Donald Glover and less like those journeyman staff writers on The Goldbergs.

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1) Identify what your world view is – What is the operating thesis by which you see the world? Is it John Lennon-esque, that everyone should put aside their differences, hold hands, and find peace with one another? Or is it Machiavellian, where everyone’s backstabbing each other and looking out for number 1? Is it idealistic, like Spielberg? Or is it fatalistic, like Kubrick? One of the key reasons for a writer lacking voice is that they don’t explore underlying themes in their work. Without a point-of-view, a lot of what we write is empty.

2) Write stories that exploit that world view – A big mistake writers make is not writing the scripts that explore the world view they’re so passionate about! For example, if you have a Kubrickian world view, but you’re writing Das Chimp, you’re not taking advantage of your voice. Every script you write where you’re not exploring your world view is going to feel lacking in some way.

3) Break rules – Following the rules allows you to write something good. But breaking the rules is how you write something great. Writers with voice don’t make sure their inciting incident happens on page 12. They’re too busy telling a unique and unexpected story. There’s a balancing act here. You can’t ignore rules completely. They’re what keep your story focused. But if you come across a rule in regards to your script that, by breaking, makes the story come alive in some way? That’s a sign that the rule is worth breaking. In “Room,” the Screenwriting Rule Nazi would’ve encouraged the writer to either get them out of the room at the end of the first act, giving them enough time to build a storyline post-Room, or in the third act, crafting the escape as the climax (like you’d see in a traditional thriller). Instead they placed the escape at the midpoint, allowing them to explore a devastating question: Where was life better? In the room? Or out?

4) Be raw and honest – To have a voice, you have to let us into your soul. It’s the only way we’re going to get to know the true you. And the deeper down you take us, the more ‘you’ we’re getting. The majority of writers write as fanboys. They re-write their favorite horror movies, reshape their favorite action set-pieces, mimic their favorite dialogue writers. They think that’s writing. That’s not writing. Writing is baring your soul through your characters. Be truthful. Be honest. Get into the nitty gritty of how you endure the human experience. This is why everybody 30 years later is STILL trying to write John Hughes movies and failing. They don’t realize that those movies don’t work because of the fun parts. They work because of the darkness, because of the way Hughes explored human psychology during one of the most confusing times in a person’s life – adolescence.

5) Be brave – Tarantino, one of the most voice-y writers ever, once said (paraphrasing) “You should always be a little nervous to let someone read your stuff because of how fucked up some of it is.” That’s not to say everyone should include a Gimp-Rape scene in their script, especially if you’ve been hired to write The Nut-Job 3 (on second thought…..). But a good writer explores those messy areas in life and in human interaction that aren’t usually talked about openly. Embracing those awkward moments brings truth and originality to your work.

6) Evolve The Genre – We all have our favorite genres to write in. So I’m going to give you advice that’ll place you ahead of 90% of aspiring screenwriters out there. Before you write your script, ask yourself, “How do I plan to update this genre?” If you’re writing a horror film, maybe you’re infusing race into it (Get Out). If you’re writing a heist film, maybe you’re infusing time manipulation into it (Inception). If you’re writing a Western, maybe you’re bringing a level of violence to the proceedings that has never been seen before (Bone Tomahawk). I consider this tip, more than any other, a ‘cheat code’ in the game of voice, because without much work up front, you can make a script feel totally unique.

7) Make sure there’s at least one character in your script who’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before – Audiences rarely remember the plot to a movie years later. But they always remember the characters. I’ve found that voice-y scripts always have at least one character who’s totally and completely different. Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Miles in Sideways. Wade in Deadpool. Juno in Juno. Unique characters go hand in hand with voice. So don’t write your script without one.

8) BONUS! – A non-traditional narrative – I went back and forth on whether to include this tip because there’s nothing more that I hate than a rambling narrative, a vague plot, or unclean structure. But the proof is in the pudding. The artists with the strongest voices tend to sacrifice plot and structure for character and situation. Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, Sophia Coppola, Aaron Sorkin, Christopher Nolan. I’m not a fan of this tip. But I can’t deny its presence when it comes to writers with voice.

Carson does feature screenplay consultations, TV Pilot Consultations, and logline consultations. Logline consultations go for $25 a piece or 5 for $75. You get a 1-10 rating, a 200-word evaluation, and a rewrite of the logline. All logline consultations come with an 8 hour turnaround. If you’re interested in any sort of consultation package, e-mail Carsonreeves1@gmail.com with the subject line: CONSULTATION. Don’t start writing a script or sending a script out blind. Let Scriptshadow help you get it in shape first!

  • klmn
  • Malibo Jackk

    Watched the first 30 of A CURE FOR WELLNESS.
    Love the art and photography.
    Surprised how quickly everything is setup
    and numerous revealing tid-bits in short order
    — excellent screenwriting skills on display.
    Not sure if it will hold up.

    • carsonreeves1

      it’s so icy cold. hard to connect to the characters, imo

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      I went into this not knowing anything about it and in my opinion, yes, it holds up. I absolutely loved it but you will need to be pulled in otherwise, it will feel long and tedious. The coldness that C mentions was unexpected but is explained via the story’s conclusion. Also, it forms a nice contrast with the feelings on display. Just my opinion, of course, hope you enjoy it :)

  • BMCHB

    Did somebody report my Pete Sampras post?

    WTF?

    • andyjaxfl

      Maybe disqus ate it? Or do you know someone reported it because you received a notice? Either way, I’m curious to read it.

      • BMCHB

        Nah, it was a photo of a topless [hairy] Pete Sampras and declared that Klmn’s tennis-playing chimp was neither an ape or a tennis player.

        **Got an email from Disqus that it was reported.

        • andyjaxfl

          I just saw it above (got a good laugh out of it), so I think it was unblocked (by Carson?). Maybe someone hit the flag by accident? I sure hope that’s the case…

  • BMCHB

    BULLSHIT! Whomever reported my post is a fascist. Burn some books you prickle.

  • Scott Crawford

    OT: Sorry, I can’t quite get my head around today’s subject. Just me. So I’d like to talk about REWRITING. Because it’s something I’m going through right now.

    I’ve been REWORKING my Die Hard at Fort Knox script (on and off) for many months now. The first draft was last December and although I intended to put some time between the first draft and the rewrite to gain perspective, I was sidetracked by other script ideas and personal problems like homelessness (thankfully now sorted, I should move into a new place in a couple of weeks).

    The first draft was fun with plenty of action but the plot didn’t make enough sense to me and the tone came off as TOO cartoony. So I started coming up with new plot ideas only to realise just the other day that the story I originally wrote was FINE… not PERFECT because there’s no such thing as perfection.

    Ok, more in GENERAL… rewriting. I’m starting to think more that you should start with the big things, get the big things… not PERFECT but above satisfactory. The plot, the setpieces, characters (in broad terms) and settings… figure out something that works well for the idea you’ve come up with… then, on the rewrite, focus on the LITTLE things. The little bits of detail that help sell it.

    Is this such an amazing revelation? I think it IS. I and probably a few other people spend TOO long trying to come up with the perfect story (in broad terms) when in fact the messier and more peculiar the story the better. Those oddball choices you’re probably not sure will work, they probably WILL work because their unique choices. They’re different.

    But ultimately (apologies for rambling) at some point you HAVE to shift from working on the big things to working on the small things (character quirks, dialogue, little moves, setups to payoffs). So I think the KEY to rewriting is to accept that you’re not going to change more than say 25% of the big things, but you’re going to be working more on the small things.

    Anyway, I open the floor to discussion, as Will did yesterday. How do YOU approach rewriting a script? What is the secret to a successful rewrite?

  • James Michael

    I don’t know Carson. It’s easy to hate on Donald Glover – his stuff is different and unique enough that no one will blink twice if you do. But I think his success comes down to a very simple factor that enough people don’t consider — the dude is a fucking workhorse.

    The other day I was lamenting that I haven’t ‘made it’ yet and then I sat back and realized that I haven’t exactly earned it. We all complain about how shit movies get made and we can’t believe some of the people that are in the industry, but so many get there because they put the effort in (excluding a few examples obviously)

    Max Landis is an excellent example. He writes dozens of screenplays a year. A YEAR! he probably writes more a year than most of have our entire lives. Sure, 99% are shit, but he only needs the one hit. And when that one hits, he has another fifty he can pull out and say ‘look, I have this idea and this idea and this idea…’

    this goes for a lot of successful celebrities too. I don’t want to mention Ed Sheeran or T. Swift – but they started writing and making albums when they were like 10. Sure, they broke in at a young age – -but that was 10-12 years after they started honing their craft. And I bet that in those 10-12 years they spent more than an hour or two a night at it.

    So, yes Donald Glover has a unique voice and yes this is probably a huge reason why he is where he is. But you can’t exclude his work ethic. He writes shows, films, albums and acts. He is everywhere and it is because he is everywhere – -and worked to make himself so — that he is a success.

    The lesson I take from Donald Glover — put the work in, put it out there and keep going at it.

    • scriptfeels

      I have similar thoughts. Tbh, I really enjoyed Glover in the Martian. I’ve only watched an episode or two of community while browsing tv years ago, so I’m not super familiar with his entire background. But I do remember reading some interviews with him discussing his work process for Atlanta and discussing his experiences. I would like to watch atlanta at some point, I had forgotten about it actually I meant to check it out last year. Even though I don’t hate Donald Glover, I still enjoyed today’s read because of the topic of voice. #4 and #6 stood out to me from the article today. For me, number 1 is the hardest, because I understand my world view, but I don’t think I could single it down to a specific vision like fatalistic or idealistic. So I would like to do #2, but I need to pin point number 1 first. Also, maybe I don’t have a strong world view, I don’t think about it that much.

  • You Can’t Disappoint a Photo

    “I thought an actor’s job was to disappear into a role.”

    Not necessarily. We embrace certain actors because of a persona.

    Honestly, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Jack Nicholson, Woody Allen, Samuel L. Jackson, et al. never really convince us that they’re someone else, per se, but that doesn’t really detract from their overall worth.

    Also, semi-unrelated fun facts: According to Tina Fey’s book, Bossypants, Donald Glover basically invented the 30 Rock character Kenneth the Page, and Community boss, Dan Harmon, has sung Glover’s praises for turning the character of Troy from a stereotypical jock into a sincere nerd through sheer force of personality. Both seem infatuated with what this guy accomplished in their employ.

    • andyjaxfl

      Time to visit the IMDB and see what episodes of 30 Rock Glover wrote and rewatch. I think he’s pretty damn funny, and I loved him on Community.

  • gazrow

    OH… MY… GOD!!

    Carson, how many more times are you going to plug Das Chimp?!!

    There wasn’t one original joke or comedic set piece in the opening ten pages of the script! Not a single one! Everything was “borrowed” from other films/TV shows… Everything! Sure, the writer’s might have come up with a fairly unique premise but if that’s all they’ve got then god help them!

    I’m going to try and read the rest of the script later but I originally bailed after the opening ten because there was nothing I hadn’t seen before… NOTHING!

    So to credit these guys with “VOICE” when nothing about the first ten pages is original is not only wrong but pretty worrying from a screenwriting perspective.

    AOW/AF is about helping writer’s improve their scripts and that is my only motivation for this minor rant! I sure hope the rest of the script gets better and contains some never-seen-before comedic moments but as it stands, the writer’s of Das Chimp need to rewrite the shit out of beginning at the very least. I wish them luck! :)

  • andyjaxfl

    If I didn’t know it was Sampras from your post below, I would have sworn up and down this was JFK Jr.

    • BMCHB

      Camelot… or chimpalot!

      • BMCHB

        I stopped going to my last gym after I saw a guy dry his chest and belly hair with a communal hairdryer. Naked. At least 250lbs.

  • -n8-

    Man, interesting take CR on Glover. I mean, i dont think hes necessarily super star status but when you look at how hard it is for Hollywood in gen to come up with new stars this decade then it kinda makes sense.

    I mean Armie Hammer, taylor kitsch, even the dude who plays superman etc are all misses in the superstar deptartment but aint any other options so they keep gettin cast.

    I will say that the pilot shot was really diff than the 2 drafts of the pilot i read. Like waaay better what they put on screen then what was written imo. I honestly loved the moment when he talks to the crazy dude on the bus about “losers (like his character) being put on earth to help winners win.” That shit struck me at my core. Thats like real talk. Fears i try not to think about everyday.

    Maybe its a young black male thing. But i was a fan of that show from that moment.