Featured in number 8!

When you start out as a screenwriter, it’s a bit like being dropped into the middle of the Atlantic on a life boat. You have a vague sense of how to survive for the time being, but you have no idea how you’re going to get to shore.

When I started screenwriting, I remember spending an endless amount of time on things that I would find out, many years later, weren’t nearly as important as I thought they were. If only I could go back and communicate with that young man, I could’ve opened up 15 hours a week for him. 15 hours that could’ve been used for, you know, having a life.

Luckily, I’m going to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes I did. Here are 10 things that you need to stop obsessing over.

1) Agents – While agents will be important later on in your journey, they’re not important now. An agent won’t be able to do anything with a beginner’s script. They won’t even be able to do anything with an intermediate script. Agents are mainly built to manage the career of writers who have one. You don’t have one yet. Focus on getting better. Enter contests. Try to get your script reviewed here. Get a consultant who can tell you where you need to get better. Self-publish a book. Write and direct your own short. When you’re ready, the agent will come. I promise you that.

2) Description – I used to spend hours – fucking HOURS – trying to get one descriptive paragraph just right. I got news for you. Readers don’t care about poetic description. They just want a clear sense of what’s going on in the scene. I have yet to see a script sell “because it had great description.” All that matters is that you have a compelling story unfolding. So focus on that.

3) Flashy writing – Damn you Shane Black. Anybody who got into the game in the 90s knows how Black’s flashy writing inspired countless screenwriters to try and break in with a coked up self-referential writing style. Who cares about story when you’re writing lines like, “Joe shoots his gun like he’s fucking your wife, a one man wrecking crew who’s so cool he’s probably reading this script right now while taking a shit.” No. Just no. Flashy writing is the essence of screenwriting insecurity. You’re scared your story and characters aren’t enough, so you try to distract everyone with a bunch of pixellated fireworks. Every once in awhile a writer comes along who makes this style work for his script, but usually it’s just a prelude to screenwriting embarrassment.

4) Action, action, and more action – I used to think that whenever your script was getting slow, you could add an action scene and immediately you’d have the reader’s rapt attention. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. What keeps readers interested are compelling characters that we care about and want to root for. If you do that, you don’t need a single action scene to keep the reader invested.

5) If you have a great concept, you can phone the execution in – Pay attention because this one runs a little deeper than you think. I don’t believe any writer purposefully phones a script in. However, when you have a great idea, you don’t hold yourself to the same standards as you do when you have an average idea. I used to write these high concept scripts that ended up being so bad because I didn’t put enough into the execution. I always went back to, “Well, I don’t have to be perfect because they’re going to love this idea so much.” A good concept is only a starting point. It gets you in the party. But it’s still going to take some work to get that beautiful girl’s number. The name of this game is, and will always be, keep the reader’s interest from page 1 to page 110. They may jump into your script excited as shit. But if you’re half-assing it, they could be bored out of their mind as early as page 10.

6) Outlining is for idiots – I’d say 90% of new screenwriters believe this. I’d also say 90% of working screenwriters outline. You tell me which segment has it figured out. The number one reason you run out of screenplay by page 50, 60, or 70, is that you don’t outline. Like it or not, screenwriting is the most mathematical of all the long-form writing mediums. A script is 110 pages long and 3 acts, which means you have to space things out proportionately to hit the requisite plot points at the right time. Outlining is the most effective way of doing this.

7) Dialogue is the most important thing about screenwriting – Dialogue is just the easiest thing to discuss, laud, or criticize. So it gets the most mainstream attention of all the screenwriting elements. That’s not to say dialogue isn’t important. But the underlining levers and pullys that are moving your story or your scene along are way more essential to writing something good. Take the Big Kahuna Burger scene in Pulp Fiction. Wonderful dialogue. But the dialogue wouldn’t have mattered if we didn’t have the suspense of whether they were going to kill this guy or not. If similar dialogue would’ve been used while they all sat around and enjoyed playing a video game, nobody would be talking about how great the dialogue was because they’d be bored by the scene.

8) Your main character has to have a flaw – I thought this for so long. Why shouldn’t I have? It was taught in all the screenwriting books. The truth is, a flaw is just one thing you can add to a character to give them dimension. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing. As long as your hero has some kind of unresolved inner conflict – like not being able to get over the death of someone (Manchester by the Sea), or they’re consumed by a vice (Flight) – that may be enough to create a compelling hero. I will say that SOMETHING should be going on underneath the surface of your hero if you want to make them compelling. But a fatal flaw is not the only option.

9) Sadness is the best way to extract emotion from the reader – I always thought if a character was sad or depressed, that the audience would feel the same way. It doesn’t work like that though. With enough sadness and depression, the reader gets impatient, eventually cracking: “For the love of God! We get it! They’re sad!!!” The best way to produce emotion is to take the reader on a ride. Bring them up (character experiences a high) then bring them down (characters experiences a low). Make them laugh. Then make them cry. Pixar is wonderful at this, which is why their screenplays are so well liked. A screenplay should work as an emotional rollercoaster.

10) Break lots of rules cause Hollywood’s movies suck – Everyone who’s at least 5 scripts deep in their journey knows what I’m talking about. Everyone’s written that 150 page behemoth, INSISTING that every page is necessary. Everyone has ignored the 3 act structure or defied every convention they could locate. If Hollywood makes movies like 9 Lives and Paul Blart, they argue, then there’s obviously a way to do it better. And you (the screenwriter who’s never written a script before) knows the secret sauce. Unfortunately, because you don’t even understand why these rules are in place, all you’re breaking is the reader’s trust. They see that you have no plan, no concept of how to write properly, and they immediately know (I’m talking within 5 pages) that your script will be terrible. Do not break any rule until you understand why it’s there in the first place. Otherwise you’re just flying a big flag over your head that reads: “BEGINNER SCREENWRITER HERE!”

Today we look at an old Blade Runner 2 script and get an idea of what the sequel to the cult classic might look like.

Genre: Science-Fiction
Premise: When an old blade runner flies into Los Angeles to find someone who can save his dying soul mate, he’s targeted by a young breed of blade runner who’s tasked with taking him out.
About: If there is a project that more exemplifies “Development Hell” than Blade Runner 2, I’d like to know what it is. Over the past 25 years, the project was happening, then it wasn’t, then it was, then it wasn’t. Harrison Ford was involved, then he wasn’t. Ridley Scott was involved, then he wasn’t. Well the project has finally come together with one of the flashiest packages Hollywood can offer. You’ve got Harrison Ford reprising his role. You’ve got Ryan Gosling playing the young blade runner. And you’ve got Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) directing. It should be noted that this is a 1997 draft of the script so I have no idea if they’re using the same plot or not. A novel for Blade Runner 2 was written, which is what this draft is based on. The writer, Stuart Hazeldine, has been pretty absent in Hollywood since he wrote this draft, until recently when he just got a huge directing gig with The Shack.
Writer: Stuart Hazeldine (based on the novel BLADE RUNNER 2 by K.W. Jeter)
Details: 126 pages (November 1, 1997 draft)

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Okay, real talk.

Blade Runner is a visual and aural masterpiece and one of the greatest science-fiction films ever made. There’s no disputing that. The iconic shot of a car flying towards the giant exterior television with the Vangelis soundtrack playing in the background? Magical.


From a screenwriting standpoint, the film leaves something to be desired. Narratively, it starts out strong, then wonks around through a casual second act, before sort of coming together at the end. The reason given for why Blade Runner was never popular with audiences was that it was too “edgy” or too “dark.”


In reality, the screenplay wasn’t very good. A stronger story would’ve meant stronger word of mouth which would’ve meant more people seeing the film.

Look at Arrival (ironically directed by the same person who will be directing Blade Runner 2). Offbeat sci-fi film that’s been a box office bonanza built entirely on word-of-mouth.

I guess that’s what makes the movie unique though, and like an obscure band, it’s always more fun to prop up what others don’t like. Will Blade Runner 2 change the narrative, or keep the offbeat sensibilities of the first film?

It’s been a decade since we last saw Deckard, our former LAPD blade runner who’s now hiding in the countryside with Rachael, the replicant he fell in love with. Replicants are only supposed to be able to live four years. But Deckard has built a cryo-chamber that’s extended Rachael’s life.

Unfortunately, even with life extension, Rachael’s going to die soon. That is, unless, Deckard can find someone who knows how to hack the “life limitation” code inside replicants. So he heads back into dangerous Los Angeles to visit an old friend who may be able to point him in the right direction.

Meanwhile, Deckard’s old boss learns that he’s back in town. Since aiding a replicant is illegal, he tasks a snazzy new blade runner, Andersson, to find and kill Deckard. In case you were wondering, the extra ’s’ in Andersson stands for “slick.”

Deckard’s journey leads him back to the Tyrell corporation, the place that makes the replicants, where a new woman named Sarah is now running the company. Sarah tells Deckard she wants him to finish the job he started a decade ago – find and kill the sixth replicant. If he does that, she’ll give him the key to extending Rachael’s lifespan.

And so the race is on. Deckard has no idea who this replicant is or what he looks like. But he must find and kill him before a determined Andersson finds and kills him first.

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Blade Runner 2 has a traditional story setup. Deckard’s “wife” is dying. So he agrees to “one last job” in order to save her. What’s unique about Blade Runner, though, is the replicant twist. The person our hero is trying to take down could be anyone. Hell, he could be the guy staring back at you in the mirror.

Also, as with every good story, you want to add urgency if possible. Deckard running off and trying to find a replicant unimpeded is fine. But not as exciting as if Deckard is being chased by a cop who’s trying to kill him as well. Every moment is heightened when there’s someone on your heels.

A lot has been made of Blade Runner’s unapologetic darkness. As we all know, the word “dark” gets geeks more revved up than an IMAX preview of a new Christopher Nolan film. It is the operative word for cinephiles getting hot and giggly. It doesn’t matter if a sci-fi film is TERRIBLE. If it’s dark, there will be geeks who stand by it til the end.

One of the distinguishing characteristic between a dark and a “light” movie is the goal of the protagonist. If the protagonist is attempting to KILL someone, the overall tone of the movie will be dark. If the protagonist is trying to SAVE someone, the overall tone will be light.

What’s the goal of the original Blade Runner? – Go and kill some dudes. What’s the goal of this new one? – Go kill the final replicant. We even have a SECOND blade runner being tasked with trying to kill our hero.

Hollywood knows that darkness equals less box office, so they’re always fighting back against these narratives to give them some light. For example, Deckard is doing all of this to SAVE SOMEONE’S LIFE. This offsets the darkness a little, improving the chances that more butts show up in seats.

I think that’s why one of the darker movies in history, Silence of the Lambs, also made a ton of money. Yes, Clarice was tasked with (essentially) killing a man. But she’s also trying to save someone as well. They found the perfect balance in that story.

In comparison, did any of you see that 2010 movie, Edge of Darkness, starring Mel Gibson? You probably barely remember it if you did. That’s because the movie is about a dude who wants to kill the people responsible for killing his daughter. It’s dark and sad because it’s solely about killing. There is no light.

And therein lies the quandary. You get “street cred” as a writer for going dark. But you get money and jobs for going light. It’s why writers are obsessed with straddling that line to find the perfect balance – writing the next Silence of the Lambs.

Getting back to Blade Runner 2, this script, from a storytelling perspective, is actually stronger than the first film. It has more going on. But that doesn’t mean the film itself will be better. Blade Runner is one of the top 5 directed sci-fi films of all time, maybe top 20 directed films of all time period. From a DIRECTING perspective, it’s amazing.

So if Denis is able to capture that same magic, and he rides this more active plot (assuming they’re doing something similar) he may achieve what Scott could not – a dark movie that also breaks through to the popular masses.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: If you’re struggling with a tone that’s too dark, add more saving!

Note, to read Monday’s script review, scroll down or go here.

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Genre: Historical Biography
Logline: The incredible true story behind one of America’s founding myths. After being kidnapped from his lands as a child, the Patuxet Indian Squanto spends his life fighting impossible odds to return home, setting in motion a series of events that changes the course of history.

You can download and read the script yourself here:


For those coming across this tournament for the first time, I wanted to try something different. Instead of doing the traditional screenplay competition thing where you send a script out, wait four months, and desperately hope to get that e-mail that says you’ve advanced, I wondered what it would be like to play the competition out publicly. Not only that, but to have real people vote on the scripts. Not a couple of overworked screenplay competition readers.

A little over 500 scripts were submitted. I then chose 40 of those to partake in the competition. And via tournament-style elimination, the scripts fought against each other one round at a time. The Savage, which went in as the top ranked script, came out as the top ranked script. That’s better than Andy Murray can say at the Australian Open.

I want to take a moment to congratulate the runner-up, Billie Bates, and her script, The Bait. Billie had a strong showing all the way up the final, winning all her rounds soundly. And I want to thank and congratulate everybody who participated. This was such a unique experiment. I know it got bumpy at times. But overall, I had fun with it. I’m actually curious about what kind of changes you would make if we did the competition again. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

I will be reviewing The Savage this Friday. One of the hardest things about this contest was not getting too caught up in the script discussion. I knew I’d be reviewing one or more of these scripts eventually, so I didn’t want to know too much going into the reviews. FINALLY I get to see what all the hype is about.

Once again, congrats Chris. Amazing job. And, oh yeah, start getting those short scripts ready people!

We have a Scriptshadow first. A What I Learned section where the lesson we learn is explained not by me, but by the writer himself within the script!

Genre: Drama/Comedy
Premise: (from Black List) Tasked with finding a game changing take for the sixth Jason Bourne movie, Tom Milton goes deep down the rabbit hole of cracking the story. With the guidance (and abuse) of a professor from his past and Bourne himself, Tom begins workshopping scenes that begin to bleed into real life in unexpected ways.
About: Mattson Tomlin is a writer/director born in Romania who’s been active on the short film circuit. But this Black List entry (at 8 votes) is the first thing that’s put him on Hollywood’s map.
Writer: Mattson Tomlin
Details: 103 pages

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Jason Schwatzman for Tom?

Before we get to today’s script, can we take a moment to acknowledge that M. Night’s latest film just made 40 million dollars on its opening weekend? What year is this, 1999? I thought “Split” would make half that if it was lucky.

The new narrative on Night is that he’s financing his films himself so there’s no studio interference, the idea being that all those Night misfires you had to sit through weren’t Night’s fault. They were the studio’s fault!!!

Hmm, I’m not sure I buy that. There isn’t a filmmaker on the planet who had more freedom than Night after Signs (which, despite being an average movie, made huge box office). He had three movies there where they let him do anything they want.

Anyway, did anyone see Split? Was it any good?

Moving on, I chose today’s script for one simple reason. I secretly think all Bourne movies are exactly the same. Not in the way that all Star Wars movies take place in space or all Bond movies have Bond traveling the world. I mean like, they all have the same plot, they all have the same cinematography, they all follow the same narrative. I’m not sure there’s a franchise that’s squeezed more mileage out of its one-trick pony than this one.

So the idea of a writer trying to crack the next Bourne film is funny to me. I mean, seriously, how do you make one of these movies different?

29 year-old Tom Milton finds himself in one of those ‘battle-it-out’ writing assignments. Him and another writer have been separately assigned to write drafts of Bourne 6, and the writer who writes the best script gets the job.

But Tom is struggling. Everything he writes comes off as (surprise surprise) the same boring action stuff Bourne always gets caught in. Specifically, Tom’s stuck on a scene where Bourne walks into a building and is attacked by two henchman, just as the cleaning lady walks into the room.

The scene is so difficult to write that Tom goes to his grumpy old professor, Ron Sparrow, at AFI and asks him for advice. Sparrow, who’s as no-bullshit as they come, notes that Tom’s not finding the truth of his characters. He wants Tom to dig deeper, to figure out the lives of every single character in his screenplay.

As Tom descends into the madness that is writing a screenplay that isn’t working, he begins placing himself in the scenes along with Sparrow. The two then interact with the characters, even Bourne himself, to figure out how to solve the script. But will the executives dig a Bourne script with actual character depth? Or will they go back to the tried and true formula that’s made them billions worldwide?

I feel like every writer, at some point in their career, writes at least one of these scripts, where you’re deconstructing screenwriting, a la Charlie Kaufman, to the point where the writer himself is including himself in the story.

But there’s a precedent here. Kaufman used to write these scripts in his sleep. And Sam Esmail, before Mr. Robot fame, used to love writing these kinds of screenplays. And, of course, Woody Allen used to do this. So you can’t just roll up and say, “Look at how creative I am.” Just like any genre, you have to find a fresh take on the formula.

To “A Deconstruction’s” credit, it didn’t go where I thought it would go. And there are a few moments in the middle of the script where it shined. But this never felt like anything more than an experiment. Whenever I feel choices are being made right there on the page (the writer is figuring out a plot point as he’s writing), I lose confidence in the story.

For example, late in the script, (spoiler) Tom looks directly into the camera and we back up and see all of the crew shooting this movie in which Tom is the star. That seems like something you write when you’re out of ideas. It wasn’t in alignment with the rest of the script, which was a simple but fun movie about deconstructing an action franchise to find the truth in the characters.

With that said, “Deconstruction” had this really nice sequence that all screenwriters should read. In Tom’s first draft, he keeps getting stuck on a boring scene where a Henchman tries to shoot Bourne before Bourne dismantles him. He asks Sparrow, “Why is this scene so boring?” And Sparrow says, “It’s because you’ve named this guy ‘Henchman.’ You need to find out who this guy is. Once you do that, the scene will come alive.”

So Tom goes back through the henchman’s life, learns he had a really tough upbringing, followed in his mentor’s criminal footsteps because it was the only option he had, and before his mentor died, he gave Henchman his switchblade. And the henchman cherished that switchblade. It was the entirety of his memory of the only man who ever cared about him. In many ways, he was his father.

So now we go back to the Bourne scene again. But this time, instead of pulling out a gun, our henchman pulls out that switchblade. And instead of going down easy, he fights with the zeal of a thousand henchman. And he brandishes this switchblade like he was born holding it. Because that switchblade is his life.

It’s not just a fun moment. It’s a valuable lesson on how to improve characters and scenes. A character comes alive once you actually know something about him. If you know nothing, they will offer nothing.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the rest of the script is there yet. There are a dozen little messy things about it that keep it from reaching its potential. For example, I didn’t understand what kind of professor Sparrow was. I think he was an acting teacher. So it didn’t make 100% sense why he was helping Tom with screenwriting. There were a lot of little incongruent things like that that threw me.

With that said, the script is different. It’s not a biopic or a true story. So if you’re tired of suffering through those, Deconstruction is a nice change of pace. It wasn’t for me in this iteration. But maybe future drafts will help it reach its potential.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Every character has a history. Even characters without names. I’m not going to tell you to write backstories for every single character in your script, even the waiter. But I can promise you this – THE MORE YOU KNOW ABOUT A CHARACTER, THE MORE THEY’LL BRING TO THE SCENES THEY’RE IN. If you look at the henchman example, the scene DEFINITELY became better once the henchman attacked with that switchblade as opposed to a gun. So if you’re stuck in a scene, the answer may be to get to know the characters within that scene better by separately diving into their backstories. Their past may hold the key to unlocking the scene.


Come one, come all, to the finals of the Scriptshadow Tournament! The day has finally arrived. After 500 entries, a first round of 40 chosen participants, a quarterfinal round, a semifinal round, and a whole lot of controversy, the checkered flag is just 48 hours away!

The Scriptshadow Screenplay Tournament is the only tournament that tells competition know-it-alls and Hollywood “gate-keepers” to screw it. That’s because you – yes YOU! – the readers, choose who wins the competition.

Here’s how voting works. Read as much from each script as you can then vote in the comments which script you think deserves to win. Please explain why you voted for the script. This is the finals and we want to make sure everyone is voting for something they loved.

Today’s face-off isn’t unexpected. These two scripts were ranked number 1 and number 3 going into the tournament. They were expected to do well. The Bait has basically cruised into the finals, winning all of its rounds easily, whereas The Savage had an incredibly close Quarterfinal round, barely squeaking by Divide and Connor, before rebounding with a strong semifinal win.

These scripts are so different, I have no idea how the final will play out.

If you are a frequent or just a casual Scriptshadow reader and you have time this weekend, please read these scripts and vote. Your vote could determine the winner.

Voting closes at 10pm Pacific time Sunday night and the winner will be announced in a separate post Monday morning.

And with that… GOOD LUCK YOU TWO!

Title: The Savage (new draft)
Genre: Historical Biography
Logline: The incredible true story behind one of America’s founding myths. After being kidnapped from his lands as a child, the Patuxet Indian Squanto spends his life fighting impossible odds to return home, setting in motion a series of events that changes the course of history.
Writer: Chris Ryan Yeazel


Title: The Bait (new draft)
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Logline: An untrusting woman, employed to test men prior to marriage for concerned wives-to-be, has her world upended when she falls for her latest target while he remains rocksteady in denial of their mutual attraction, and she must reconsider her beliefs on love, trust, and what it means to tempt fate.
Writer: Billie Bates