One of this generation’s greatest screenwriters hits us with a new TV show on HBO. Does he deliver??

Genre: TV Pilot – Drama
Premise: “Here, Now” takes a Portland-based Brangelina-type family – a trio of multicultural adopted children – and asks how they approach life once they’re all grown up.
About: HBO’s golden child and Emmy award-winner Alan Ball (True Blood, Six Feet Under), who is also an Oscar winner (American Beauty) is finally bringing a new show to the network. But the family drama space is getting crowded. With smart well-written hits like Hulu’s “Casual” and NBC’s “This is Us,” can Ball still stand out in the space he pioneered?
Writer: Alan Ball
Details: 61 pages


Back in the late 90s, the game changed for spec scripts.

What happened was that, for the first time, people in Hollywood started utilizing chat-rooms to discuss screenplays.

The reason this was a game-changer was because, up until this point, the people who controlled Hollywood’s opinions on screenplays were agents.

As a writer came close to finishing a script, his agent would hype the script up to producers and studios. By the time it was ready to go out, a bunch of interested buyers were eagerly waving their checkbooks.

The pressure became so intense to get the new hottest thing that studios would make bids on scripts that they hadn’t even finished reading, just to beat the other guy. A great concept and a good first act could result in a high six figure sale.

When the chat rooms came around, however, the gig was up. Assistants would get on these digital information-sharing networks and they would blow through the hype. If a script was bad, this secret cabal would expose it.

Hollywood was never the same after that. You couldn’t bullshit anyone anymore. You actually had to write something good. And what these chat rooms exposed was the fact that mostly everything wasn’t good. Without hype to distort opinions, you’d be lucky to get a, “Eh, it wasn’t terrible.”

This new reality continued for a couple of years until one script arrived that blew all these impossible-to-please readers away. That script was American Beauty, by an unknown writer at the time named Alan Ball.

Every reader came back with the same reaction: BRILLIANT!

And that’s how American Beauty became the poster child for writing scripts in the internet age. No more bullshit. If you want to sell something, it needs to be good.

This is why, when Alan Ball writes something, everyone in town wants to read it. And I’m no different. I’m a monster fan. If I could only invite five screenwriters throughout history to a dinner party, Ball would be on that list.

So to say my expectations are high today would be an understatement. However, I have a funny feeling that Ball will meet them.

26 year-old Duc (pronounced “Duke”) is a life coach and member of a very odd family. Audrey, the mother, and Greg, the father, took the Brangelina route of building a clan. They adopted kids from all over the globe.

There’s Duc, who’s Vietnamese. There’s Ramon, who’s from South America. And there’s Ashley, who’s African. Completing the family is 15 year-old Kristin, a self-proclaimed pudgy pasty white girl who’s not nearly as hot as she wants to be. Kristin was an unexpected addition, the only biological child in the family, making her, ironically, the black sheep.

The plot for the pilot is built around Greg’s 60th birthday party. Greg, who fucks a Japanese escort every week, can’t handle how quickly life has gone by. And he doesn’t want to be reminded of it with some giant birthday bash.

But his problems aren’t as bad as Ramon’s. Ramon has enjoyed being a sexually adventurous gay man for the last few years of his life when he starts seeing the numbers “11:11” everywhere. At first he thinks nothing of it, but they appear so frequently (we watch as his treadmill inexplicably gets stuck on 11:11 for a full 30 seconds) that he’s starting to think something is wrong.

Meanwhile Ashley, who’s happily married (to the ideal white man), is secretly a coke-fiend who loves to play as close to the fire as she can get without getting burned. Case in point, she’s found a new boy-toy in 18 year-old Randy, a male model. She convinces him to join her at Dad’s party tonight, with the caveat being that he can’t tell her husband that she invited him.

Once the party gets started, everyone lets loose. Kristin, who’s decided it will be funny to wear a horse-head the entire night, takes a liking to Randy. Ramon brings home a coffee barista he’s been flirting with, and the two promptly sneak away to have sex. Greg is trying not to have a mental breakdown and, with a little alcohol, seems to be in better spirits.

But everything unexpectedly goes to hell when Ramon’s 11:11 vision takes a turn for the worse. So much so, that it will change his, and his family’s, life forever.

If you want to get better at creating rich interesting characters who pop off the page, there’s no one better to study than Alan Ball.

Ball knows that if we don’t feel the characters on the page, or on the screen, we won’t care what the fuck happens to them. And the thing is, he’s so focused on that, that he barely needs any plot to tell his story. Every single person here is so fascinating that THEY become the story.

It’s in stark contrast to yesterday’s script, which was so plot heavy that all the characters got lost in the muck. It’s a great reminder that proper character creation allows you to be less plot-focused. And since plotting’s always a bitch, that’s a huge advantage.

One of the nice lessons I learned with today’s script comes from something we were just discussing last week – SETUPS AND PAYOFFS.

Normally, setups and payoffs are done through plot. But Ball reminds us that you can utilize them through character as well.

The best example of this comes from Kristin, the 15 year old biological daughter in the family. Kristin hates how she looks so much that she creates fake Facebook profiles with pictures of beautiful women, just so she can get attention from men somehow. Kristin desperately wants someone but believes nobody would want her.

So later, during the party, when Kristin is wearing her horse mask, she runs into a dejected Randy, the model, who’s since been rebuked by Ashley, Kristin’s older sister. Kristin’s character has been so well set up at this point, that before she’s even approached Randy, we’re freaking the hell out, saying, “Oh shit oh shit! She’s going to get the model! She’s going to get the model!”

The ensuing interaction is one of those script moments that, without proper setup, would’ve come off as mundane. Instead, it’s a highlight.

This is the power of Alan Ball. He gets it. He has such a strength for taking potentially boring ubiquitous things – like Greg’s fear of getting old – and creating powerful characters to explore those things, that we feel like we’re dealing with it for the first time.

Here, Now is a pilot that achieved something unthinkable to someone who reads everything. It made me feel something. It made me think. It actually has something to say about the world and people and how we experience life. It’s quite the pilot and definitely lived up to expectations.

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

What I learned: When you write a TV pilot, really really really focus on character. People have to see your characters and say, “I want to spend time with these people every week.” If your characters are in any way bland or even “just above average,” we’ll have no interest in your show. So here are three suggestions to get you started in this department.

1) Give each character a great description. Don’t worry if it’s a little long. Again, characters matter more in television so the rules in regards to describing them can bend a bit. Here’s a description of a character in Here, Now: “Barista HENRY BERGEN (20) is behind the counter in BLACK PANTS, WHITE SHIRT and some sort of VEST with a NAME TAG. Beard, tattoos. Cocky, handsome, gravitates toward a simpler existence. Doesn’t need much, appreciates what he has.”

2) Within the limitations of your story, introduce each character with a memorable action that defines who they are. I see too many passive character introductions in screenplays. Within the context of the scene, make me interested in your character when I meet them. When we meet Ashley, she is berating an employee for an action that cost her company a huge chunk of time. It immediately sets the tone for the character.

3) Give your characters MOMENTS they shine in the areas they shine in. So if you have a character with a wicked tongue, give her a scene where a department store cashier shames her and she retaliates by telling her off in some clever way. If all you’re doing is serving the plot and not giving your characters these moments, they’re going to disappear on the page.

Bonus Question: Who would be the five screenwriters throughout time that you would invite to your dinner party?

  • Erica

    Don’t have much to say yet, just got into work. Had to take advantage of first comment.

    Impressive, interesting.

    • Scott Crawford

      Congratulations on first comment, Erica!

      I can’t commit to a long-running drama and I’m not interested in the endless soft sci-fi dramas they’re sticking on Netflix.

      Five favorite screenwriters (I’d guess they’d make good dinner guests)?

      Steven E. de Souza
      William Goldman (with some reservations)
      Peter Hyams
      Tom Mankiewicz
      Chuck Pffarer (I like his writing and, as a former SEAL, I guess he’d have some good stories)

      • Erica

        Interesting with the five dinner guest. I’m so bad with names I can never remember who’s who.

        I did work with the writer of “Good Morning Vietnam” last year and know him pretty good. I was so excited when I was going to work with him on a project, problem was, he really didn’t want to talk about writing. Still, was a fun experience. Maybe one day in the future we will get into a topic on writing.

      • Scott Serradell

        Chuck Pffarer would be interesting to listen to.

        • Scott Crawford

          Often overwrites. Makes all/too many characters sound the same – as in they all sound smart and funny, which isn’t true to life (similar criticisms about Joss Whedon and Aaron Sorkin).

          What I like about Hyams is he givez the smart, funny lines to SOME of his characters and not to all. Mankiewicz and de Souza too.

          • Scott Serradell

            I see your point. Though I find his body of work uneven (and who’s isn’t) I like listening to Goldman in interviews. He has that “I don’t give a shit” attitude that I think is healthy for writers to have.

            And is Joss Whedon the new Icarus? I mean, I can’t remember such a career rise and fall within such a short time period (though I’m sure there’s plenty others). I find him less charming and less clever the older I get; I really liked his older T.V. output but it’s barely watchable now. Even “The Avengers” is looking a bit counterfeit these days.

      • Andrea Moss

        Steven Knight.
        John Carpenter.
        Walter Hill.
        Dustin Lance Black.
        Aaron Sorkin.

  • jeaux

    Would love to read this if anyone has it. joe_lbp at yahoo

    • kevin thomas

      Same here.

      • Scott Crawford


    • JasonTremblay

      Me too please.

      Jasondiggy at hotmail

      • Scott Crawford


    • Scott Crawford


  • Malibo Jackk

    Probably should read this if anyone has it.
    (Need to hone those skills.)

    malibujackk at gmail dot com

    • Scott Crawford

      Sent! To avoid repeated uses of the word SENT, please contact me at

      if you want to look at this script.

  • Scott Serradell

    Sorry. You lost me at “Portland-based”; that’s every day I walk outside my house.

    Five screenwriters for a dinner party, eh? All right then:

    Tom Stoppard
    Bruce Robinson
    David Mamet
    William Goldman
    Federico Fellini

    • brenkilco

      Also harold pinter, Preston Sturges, Joseph mankiewicz, Paddy Chayefsky and Robert Bo!t.

      • Scott Serradell

        I considered Harold Pinter. I also thought S. J. Perelman but gathered from interviews he genuinely hated his time in Hollywood.

        True story: The first and only meeting between Stoppard and Pinter. A young Stoppard was sitting behind Pinter at a play opening during the late 60’s. Stoppard leans forward:

        STOPPARD: Excuse me. Are you Harold Pinter? Or do you just look like him?
        PINTER: (baffled) What?

        And apparently they never exchanged another word.

        • witwoud

          Actually, I believe they were good friends. They were poles apart politically and artistically, but had a shared passion for human rights … and cricket.

          Another story: Pinter, who wasn’t the most modest of men, spent ages trying to get the Comedy Theatre in London renamed the Pinter Theatre. Once when he was moaning about it to Stoppard, the latter pointed out it’d be far simpler to change his name to Harold Comedy.

        • brenkilco

          Not exactly the clipped, peerlessly witty exchange I was expecting. But thats real life for you.

    • Carmelo Framboise

      I thought of Fellini too. The guy said that he could only work in a tavern full of food and loud people!

  • Erica

    Damn, why is it when you edit a post it suddenly goes into moderation, this is getting frustrating as hell.

  • wlubake

    My 5 for dinner:

    Wes Anderson
    Donald Ogden Stewart
    Charlie Kaufman
    Quentin Tarantino
    Frank Nugent

  • lonestarr357

    William Goldman
    Ernest Lehman
    Billy Wilder
    Shane Black
    Daniel Waters

  • Scott Serradell

    Syd Field did a couple of interviews with James Cameron in the early 90’s (so around “Terminator 2″) and they really opened my eyes to the breadth of Cameron’s thinking. I was really taken aback. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever heard another screenwriter talk about ethics when discussing a character’s actions and motivations. He might make popcorn entertainment but there’s a real intelligence driving it.

  • Poe_Serling

    Pilot review…

    Haven’t had one of those for a long time, so thanks for changing
    things up a bit, Carson.

    A short time back, I saw Ball shopping at a Ralphs Supermarket. I
    guess even superstar scribes are looking for a bargain or two. ;-)

    Who would be the five screenwriters throughout time that you would
    invite to your dinner party?

    My first five invitations would go out to:

    1) Rod Serling – TZ creator/writer, Planet of the Apes, etc.
    2) Richard Matheson – Duel, Night of the Eagle, etc.
    3) John Carpenter – The Fog, etc.
    4) George A. Romero – Night of the Living Dead, etc.
    5) Sly Stallone – gets a seat at the table to discuss his
    forever-in-development Poe project.

    • Erica

      Oh Sly Stallone would also be on my list too!

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      Mind if I stop by for a drink? ^^

  • Carmelo Framboise

    Been busy lately, with a lot of work: a startup, a personal project and the rewriting of the documentary screenplay that seems to be on its way of being produced by a big company. (big for Greece, altough they are co-producers in Oscar nominated films) I can’t share more. :)

    Anyway, I am a big fan of What I Learned No. 2. Don’t just describe your characters but give them a great action-filled intro. Number 2 for the win!

    My five screenwriters could be Charlie Kauffman, Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Ingmar Bergman, Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock. That would be an interesting mix of people and styles.

    • Erica

      That’s awesome about the documentary, keep us posted on that. Congrats

    • brenkilco

      Hitchcock closely supervised his screenwriters but never claimed to be a writer and so far as I know never put pen to paper on anything. His wife, on the other hand…..

      • Scott Crawford

        I’ve read treatments written by him, quite long ones. He got writer credit on some of his early films. He left the dialogue for writers.

        He was a big fan of this book:

        Has anyone been able to use PLOTTO themselves? I never really have.

      • Carmelo Framboise

        I understand he wrote some scripts early in his career and that he worked really closely with screenwriters. With him and Ingmar on the table there would be an interesting conversation I bet.

        Don’t spoil my fantasy! :)

      • Marija ZombiGirl

        Indeed. But he sure knows how to visually tell a story and that’s enough to get a seat at my table :)

      • filmklassik

        One of the best directors of all time but yeah, Hitch wasn’t really a writer. But didn’t he do the (mostly lackluster) sceenplay for MURDER?

        • brenkilco

          He has the credit along with his wife who I’m betting did more writing than he did and an actual writer who probably did the most. Thought Murder started as a play but it was actually a novel. And yeah not very good.

    • brenkilco

      Dinner with Lazlo always lasts eight hours and the food is awful.

  • Mayhem Jones

    Alex Garland
    Christopher Nolan
    Aaron Sorkin
    Ben Ripley
    Max Landis

    Hope they’re all cool to meet at Taco Bell ’cause that’s about my budget. SUUUUPER excited to read Here, Now! (Thanks, Scott!) Is anyone else here working on a pilot? I’m currently attempting one. The process isn’t as bad as I thought… then again, I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.

    • Erica

      I’m sure if you brought some Tums or Rolaids, they would be fine with Taco Bell, mmmm, Taco’s

      I wrote a pilot a few years ago, but haven’t touched in since. Just sitting on it right now.

    • klmn

      The pilot death match is on.

    • -n8-

      All I write is pilots. They are tricky as fuck. But fun. You know, in a “why am I torturing myself” kinda way.

      Maybe it’ll be your jam too.

    • Marija ZombiGirl

      Another Garland fan, yes!! ^^ And I almost added Nolan to mine as well.
      Great list, love them all! And I’d add Christopher Borelli as +1 :)

      I haven’t tackled a TV show/pilot yet but it’s on my wish list. I haven’t yet gooten a series-worthy idea, actually. Maybe because it’s super intimidating?

    • filmklassik

      No one from a previous era?

      • Mayhem Jones

        I’d have dedicated my ENTIRE life to working for/with/near Rod Serling had we cosmically lined up!

  • RO

    I don’t know if they’d be the greatest screen writers, but ones I’d love to ask questions:
    Dan O’Bannon (oddly Zach Galifianakis based his whole life off this guy sense of humour)
    Leigh Brackett
    Harlan Ellison
    Tom Mankiewicz

    David Koepp

    • brenkilco

      Tom? Not his uncle?

      • Scott Crawford

        No, not his uncle or his dad. They didn’t work on James Bond or Superman (or every other script – uncredited – of the 1980s).

        In interviews Tom never forgot a name or an anecdote. He even did a commentary for his Dad’s Cleopatra. He’d make an excellent dinner guest, may he rest.

        • brenkilco

          He gives good commentary. I’ll give you that. But Herman, a hopeless drunk, was a legendary Hollywood dinner guest. After vomiting at one swank party he told the hostess not to worry. The white wine came up with the fish.

          • Scott Crawford

            “There but for the grace of God goes God.” As Orson Welles went past him.

        • RO

          I know, I loved watching his interviews and commentaries. I wished I had the chance to meet him because he was a true wizard of character and plot.

          • Scott Crawford

            He had a lot of time for people, I think, and he didn’t mind covering the same subjects of James Bond and Superman (some people freak when you only want talk about the same few things).

  • klmn

    The five I’d invite:

    Mel Brooks
    Buck Henry
    Richard Pryor
    John Milius
    Winsor McKay.

    • Scott Serradell

      Milius and Pryor would make for a wild fucking party.

    • Erica

      Oh that would be a fun dinner.

      • klmn

        Years ago Milius interrupted a transaction I was involved in. I was buying an old Winchester at Jaqua’s in Findlay Ohio, when Milius called the salesman from some trap or skeet shooting meet in Las Vegas. Evidently, he buys a lot of high end shotguns.

        • Scott Crawford

          He used to get a firearm as a gift for every script he wrote (plus his $200,000)!

          It was also his idea for Harry Callahan to have a Smith & Wesson 29 .44 Magnum.

    • brenkilco

      Had to look up McKay. Interesting choice.

      • klmn

        Here’s a little McKay.

    • Poe_Serling

      Several years back…

      I had the opportunity to meet John Milius. My experience with
      him: a very pleasant guy to chitchat with for a few minutes.

      For whatever reason we started to talk about his film Flight of
      the Intruder.

      What I remember from that conversation was his high praise
      of Willem Dafoe – how well-prepared he was for tackling his
      role in that particular flick.

  • Erica

    You ever get one of those idea’s that you believe is so big, so possible high concept you want to tell everybody! But if you tell anyone, they could just do the script themselves. Of course it would not be the same as yours but still the same premise. After all it’s all about execution.

    Now I feel like I’m building up the premise so much that I could see a bidding war on this one before I even finish it. It’s that big of an idea. Or is it? Sometimes our imaginations get the better of us and we all think we come up with a unique and super big premise only to tell someone and they says, oh, that sounds like _____. Back down to reality we sink.

    Seriously, I think I have a big premise of a movie that’s never been done, but it’s a tricky one to figure out the details. I’m hoping I can write the short version of it as a stepping stone to the feature.

    Sorry for the cryptic rambling, but I’m just so pumped on this idea I could scream! One of my co workers loved the idea – their words where “wow”, so I must be on to something.

    • klmn

      The big question is, “How well does your premise fit the marketplace?”

      You could have the best concept in history, but if it’s not what the suits are buying, you’re SOL.

      • Erica

        Great question. I think right now the idea reminds me of something like when The Martin, Interstellar, Inception came out. It’s different but people want different. I also believe the curious type would want to check it out.

        I also want to say the idea is not ground breaking, it’s just a really cool premise if that makes sense. Like when Carson always asked for original or what’s different about your story. I finally have an answer for him.

      • Jaco

        Respectfully disagree with your thoughts here.

        First, if you have the best concept in history – it will be bought.

        Second, unless you are tied in to the marketplace – i.e., not an amateur – you are better off writing what you want vs. trying to write something you think people will want.

        What “they” want changes all the time . . . I’ve shopped around a script that got passed on because it’s not what places were looking for . . . then some time passes and all of a sudden it’s exactly what they want.

        Just write something great. And, then, write more.

        • klmn

          Tell me more – what happened with your script?

          • Jaco

            Happening . . . not happened. ;)

            Just in the midst of the waiting-to-hear-back game at the moment. Could be script gets turned into a movie or I could be left holding a big fat pot of nothing soup . . . out of my control at this point.

          • Erica

            Mmm, stone soup.

        • Erica

          With my concept it’s not dated and isn’t the hottest trend right now. That’s what I think makes it unique also. It’s just a story that would be fun no matter what the market is doing.

    • Scott Crawford

      I’ve had a few ideas where I thought, man, that’d make a great movie – but I don’t feel like writing it!

      Even though I have fairly broad mainstream tastes, what i write still has to be personally satisfying to ME.

      So, my question would be do YOU want to spend three months, six months, LONGER writing this idea?

      It sounds like it.

      • Erica

        Let’s put it this way, The story combines 3 thinks I love maybe four depending on how you look at it. If this movie came out, I would have to see it period.

    • fragglewriter

      Yes!!! I felt like typing the above about three days ago, but didn’t, because I was too scared that someone would write a better script.

      Good luck!!

  • fragglewriter

    I love Alan Ball’s writing and have been hooked since Six Feet Under.

    Top Five Writers:
    1) Alan Ball
    2) Billy Wilder
    3) Mel Brooks
    4) Stanley Kubrick (hybrid)
    5) me…duh

  • BoSoxBoy

    Joe Eszterhas
    William Goldman
    Roman Polanski
    Nora Ephron
    Woody Allen

    (Sorkin would be banned from the table, but allowed to serve)

  • witwoud

    The more interesting question is which five screenwriters would you use for a jewel heist?

    I’d go with:

    Tina Fey to distract the guards
    Harold Pinter to provide the menace
    Woody Allen to crack the safe.
    Joss Whedon to supply the comic backchat
    Callie Khouri to drive the getaway car to Mexico.

    What could possibly go wrong?

    • Erica

      I don’t know about a Jewel Heist, but I dine and dash I think would work perfectly. :)

  • brenkilco

    Not a lot of Robert Towne love. here. The eminence grise of modern screenwriting. And he’s still alive. Isnt he?

    • Scott Crawford

      I’m a big fan of Bobby Towne. Shucks, I’m one of the few people to stand up and defend Mission: Impossible II (a script written, probably quite fast, using a list of predetermined action sequences).

      There’s a great interview here about him writing the film, gives an insight into how a WORKING writer takes on an assignment:

      He’s a fixer and a really good one.

      He also wrote the ENDINGS for Marathon Man, The Firm and the first Mission: Impossible film.

      And some neo-noir rubbish from the 70s. Little Tokyo? Koreatown? Something like that.

      • brenkilco

        His stuff wasn’t all gold. His eighties thriller Tequila Sunrise looks great, has some sharp characters and nice dialogue scenes, and is about the most pointless thing I’ve ever seen.

        • Scott Crawford

          He had trouble writing his own stuff, originals. Goldman claimed he was the fastest writer on assignment and the slowest on spec. Chinatown was a great idea, true story based on stuff his dad had told him, stuff the police had told him and some pretty good themes. But Personal Best? Tequila Sunrise?

        • filmklassik

          I dig TEQUILA SUNRISE but as many times as I’ve watched it (at least 5 or 6 now) the plot still defeats me.

          Huge fan of Towne’s though.

  • Kirk Diggler

    Paul Thomas Anderson
    Joel & Ethan Cohen
    Graham Greene
    F. Scott Fitzgerald (be sure to bring Zelda)
    Dalton Trumbo (or Bryan Cranston if Trumbo was busy)

    • brenkilco

      F Scott would have been interesting. Though not for screenwriting tips. Guy never got the hang of writing movies.

      • Kirk Diggler

        True. I approached it from the view of dinner party conversation. Which is why it’s best to leave people like Sorkin and Tarantino off the list, probably wouldn’t get a word in.

  • Ninjaneer

    1. Coens (They count as one, because… well they do)
    2. Nolan
    3. Tarantino
    4. Shane Black
    5. Rod Serling
    6. Shyamalamalamdingdong (Before he went off his meds)
    7. Sorkin
    8. Kasdan (For his first three years… wait nevermind, Dreamcatcher gets him kicked off)
    9. Kubrick

    You’re thinking there’s more than five… well Shyamalan would get shanked immediately by everybody and die. Tarantino would offend Kasdan for being boring after 1983 so he’d get up and leave.

    Now we’re down to 7.

    Kubrick and Serling are dead so they don’t really count but you’d be able to say you sat at a table with them. Plus Serling would get a kick out of someone hangin with his skeleton.

    Down to 5.

  • S D

    Does anyone have the script Here, Now?

  • ripleyy

    Let us pray this isn’t the case of “fantastic script, meh television show”. This sounds pretty fascinating and yet difficult to pull off. The description of the show is quite a mouthful, but somehow the story itself seems interesting.

    What’s more curious is how they’ll go from here. How long will a show like this last for?


    So glad someone mentioned Nora Ephron, Erica: ‘Silkwood’, ‘When Harry Met Sally’, ‘Sleepless In Seattle’, ‘Michael’, ‘You’ve Got Mail’, ‘Julie & Julia’.

  • blake011

    I would love to have dinner with Paul Thomas Anderson. He probably opens up more if he is not being interviewed.

    • Scott Crawford

      And he could bring along his wife, Maya Rudolph.

      Then again, Paul W. Anderson could come along and bring his wife, Milla Jovovich,

      I’d feel like a fifth wheel, though.

  • L. T. Truong

    1. James Cameron (genius, third act king)
    2. Andrew Niccol (criminally underrated)
    3. Quentin Tarantino (rule breaker!)
    4. Aaron Sorkin (masterful dialogue)
    5. Andrew Walker (se7en and 8mm; very dark material, want to know how he came across them).

    • PQOTD

      Love Andrew Niccol, too – ‘Gattaca’ is one of my fave sci-fi flicks ever. And Niccol co-wrote ‘The Truman Show’, too.

  • brenkilco

    Nobody needs undeserved credit less than Spielberg. And yes he does have screenwriting credits on Close Encounters and Poltergeist. Sole credit on CE3K in fact. But I always found this curious. Never struck me as a writer. And if he were one why didn’t he keep at it. So I did a little research. Can’t say what the deal was on Poltergeist but his credit on Close is a convenient fiction. Seems that he hired and fired and rehired so many writers on his dream ;project that by the end it was impossible to apportion credit at all. So he wound up a real life, credit grabbing Alan Smithee. Suspect his credit on Poltergeist is equally fraudulent.

    • Erica

      I think for me with Spielberg, it’s not so much the writing scripts as it the idea of tell a good story that I can learn from him.

    • filmklassik

      A lot of cooks on that stew, but the final production draft of CE3K was mainly written by Jerry Belson, who passed away a few years ago.

      Interesting that Spielberg brought in comedy writers to revise two of his most successful genre flicks: Belson on CE3K, and Carl Gotleib on JAWS. And the results were pretty great.

      • brenkilco

        Interesting. The guy did movies but was basically Mr. Sitcom. Dick Van Dyke, Odd Couple. On and on. I’m betting the scene where Roberts Blossom suddenly starts talking about Bigfoot was his.

  • brenkilco

    For what it’s worth, Pauline Kael liked to say that Jules Furthman wrote half the best scripts to come out of Hollywood and Ben Hect wrote the other half. Hect, from what I’ve read of him, would have been a hect of a dinner guest.

    • Mayhem Jones

      ::slow clap::

    • Scott Crawford

      I never liked Hecht for saying for every dead Britisher there’s a song in his heart.

      OK, he was talking about the war in Palestine and we weren’t doing very nice things. Still, I don’t think we’d get along at a dinner party.

      • brenkilco

        Perhaps if you’d stick to more pleasant topics like his attempts while a reporter to revive hanged criminals with shots of adrenaline in hopes he could make a a fortune selling exclusives stories on the’ walking corpse.’

    • filmklassik

      Bren, you’re terrific, a wonderful writer and thinker, but that’s the lamest pun I’ve seen all year. (Of course it’s only February)

      • brenkilco

        Not bad for a furth attempt. I’m here all week. Don’t forget to tip your waitress.

        • filmklassik

          Don’t forget to tip your waitress! She takes cash and Jules! G’night folks!

  • brenkilco

    Good old school call on Epstein. But throw Phillip in there too. Not his fault he died young. Would have been just as good as his bro if he’d lived. Had all the same genes.

  • Lucid Walk

    Right now? Off the top of my head?

    Joss Whedon
    William Goldman
    Quentin Tarantino
    Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely (MCU guys)

  • Randy Williams

    Throughout time?
    I would invite five screenwriters from the distant future. First thing after I take drink orders, would be to ask them. Have you ever heard of me?

    • klmn

      I’m the number one writer from the distant future.

      And – sorry to tell you this, but no, I never heard of you.

      • Randy Williams

        I knew I should have been more active on Scriptshadow.

  • Midnight Luck

    Really not trying to be argumentative, but I really don’t know if I agree with things like this:

    “You couldn’t bullshit anyone anymore. You actually had to write something good. ”

    So, if this is true, if the addition of chat rooms made it so you could call “bullshit” on if a script is good or not, why hasn’t the number of good movies and scripts gone UP since then?

    To my estimation, the amount of truly good and well written scripts since 1999’s AMERICAN BEAUTY has taken a phenomenal NOSE DIVE.

    So where are all these supposed GREAT scripts being written and vetted? If crap cannot get by because now it is called out as garbage so easily, why do we have an overwhelming amount of garbage out there?

    I think it is just a different way of getting scripts from author to manager to agent to producer to sale to market.
    I don’t think there are any new stop-gaps in place to weed out the bad scripts.

    I think what it has done is, once again, made it MORE likely that CONCEPT driven scripts, loglines, and pitches, are what get through and purchased. As long as you have a really High Concept idea, it can make it in.

    But that has zero to do with if the script is, or will be, well written.

    • Kirk Diggler

      In the line you quote, Carson is referring to spec scripts, not studio-sanctioned tentpole crap. Spec scripts sales HAVE gone down drastically. Carson is correct here.

      Maybe the line should be “you have to write something BETTER” rather than good, because good is a matter of opinion.

      Collateral Beauty may or may not be a good spec script, but it was probably worlds better than the shit that’s getting rejected. That’s the point, the bar had gone up, but that doesn’t mean it’s set at the level of Chinatown.

      And even better question would be, would “Lethal Weapon” sell in today’s market? My guess is that’s maybe where the bar is while 30 years ago it would have leapt over the bar with room to spare.

      “why hasn’t the number of good movies and scripts gone UP since then?

      I think you know the answer and it has very little to do with spec script sales.

    • Scott Crawford

      What Carson refers to can be summed up by the story of HEARTSTOPPER. This was a script written by a guy you’ve never heard of (I think he uses a pseudonym) and you’ll never hear of again.

      The script was about a woman who has to drive a replacement heart for the president across the United States. She has, i don’t know, seven hours to get the heart to the prez or the vice-prez gets a promotion.

      The script was shit.

      The script sold for $450,000.

      Nobody liked the script. But they were worried that someone else might buy it.

      Also, not everyone who bid for the script actually READ it.

      Here’s what happened (you may have heard this before – Pilar Alesandra, who went through this as a reader in the 90s, has talked about it). Agents would get hold of scripts from new writers. So long as they were written in English and LOOKED like a script – and had a good concept, especially one linked to another successful movie like Die Hard or Lethal Weapon or Fatal Attraction, etc. – they would take the client on. They would hype the script then put it “out there” on Friday.

      The readers would have the weekend to give their feedback. Bids would come in. Everyone was fighting to have the next Cliffhanger or Rock. The $450,000 was chicken feed. Many scripts sold for a million and writers with credits – like today – got millions (plural).

      When the Tracking Boards came in, with the internet, that weekend, that 48 hour time limit got longer and there was more time to… cool off. Only scripts with exceptional loglines like The Matrix or Tick-Tock began to sell for a million.

      That was stage one. Stage two has come with the rise of bloggers – like Carson – who can lead a Tick-Tock and say “Nice idea, not-so-great execution.”

      OK, bit longwinded. Many will have given up by now.

      What is “well-written?” What does that mean? in tribute to the president, I’ll put it in bullet points.

      * The screenplay is in English. All the pages are properly numbered. Indoor and outdoor scenes, day and night indicated in sluglines. Spelling and grammar checked.

      * Characters don’t start having a long conversation with the hero without being introduced. The number of unfilmables (“he can feel the sweat building up inside his rectum”) is kept to a minimum.

      * There’s no scene in the screenplay that shouldn’t be there (no fat). Scenes don’t go on for pages and pages with characters saying “by the way” or “while we’re talking.” The script is kept to a reasonable length, say between 100 and 110 pages.

      * Writing is evocative without being too flowery. Dialogue is memorable without all characters sounding the same.

      These would be, like, the MINIMUM requirements for a script and, in the 1970s, many spec scripts sold simply by meeting THAT criteria. Then in the 1980s and 90s things got a bit more tough.

      * Scripts must have a central storyline that can be explained in a sentence of less than 25 words (logline) and preferably conveyed in visual terms (a good poster).

      * Script must have memorable one-liners, catchphrases and strong, visual scenes (such as planes blowing up and helicopters crashing) that can be extracted and put into trailers and TV spots.

      * Script must have a good opening. Why? Lots of reasons but I think MAINLY to compete with the openings of other scripts.

      What’s changed now? probably it’s that you used to have lots of writers brought on to a project, like 20 writers to rewrite the one script and that still happens sometimes. But increasingly I’m reading, listening to writers say how they’re the only writers on a project. Cheaper that way.

      So in THAT sense scripts must be better written now.

      Why are so many scripts still so bad? i still come back to my bete noir, the lack of respect for story, especially the way some writers will write a script without an outline AND THEN not bother to rewrite the story just play with the dialogue.

      Fancy writing won’t cover for an uninspired concept and a mediocre story.

      Sorry, a lot of writing and I never reached a conclusion really. Still, maybe a few things in there for people to chew over.

    • filmklassik

      Don’t agree with Carson’s premise either. Because yeah, it’s axiomatic, gang, like day follows night, that if the spec bar has been raised so much in the last 20 years, the spec-based movies that’ve come out in that time would be better!

      But what have we seen in the last 20 years to compare to BUTCH CASSIDY, CHINATOWN, THE TERMINATOR and LETHAL WEAPON?

      And am I the only one who found AMERICAN BEAUTY to be wildly overreted? God but I hated that movie.

  • kidbaron

    Alan Ball was by no way an unknown writer. He was writing prime time TV –Cybill and Grace Under Fire — and used the connections that come with that. American Beauty probably wasn’t his first spec either, but if you keep at it…

  • Midnight Luck

    4.Cameron (because he’s brilliant at getting you to care about characters)
    5.0.David E. Kelley (because he’s done some intriguing TV work, before TV was the it thing)
    5.1.Andrew Kevin Walker (because I am fascinated with Se7en)
    5.2.Shane Black (because he blew open doors)
    5.3.Alan Ball
    5.4.Frank Darabont (because like, Shawshank y’all, come on)

    (ok, I cheated and went a bit over the 5)

    So, one caveat, with Alan Ball, I loved SIX FEET UNDER, and absolutely freaking loved AMERICAN BEAUTY, but what the hell is up with the 20 years worth of TRUE BLOOD?

    Maybe it is just me, but I found that show to be quite awful. Yeah, I’m not a big lover of Vampire stories, most of them seem like melodramatic slop, and then it added in all this “magical/witch-crafty” whatever stuff, but overall I found the writing to be pretty dismal as well. Anyone else feel this way about it? I really didn’t like the story, I thought the characterization was pretty boring and plain as well.
    This is surprising from someone who is so good at those exact things in his other work.

    So, this makes me a bit unsure about HERE, NOW, since his last work seemed to have lost much of his signature great heartfelt characterization.

  • Scott Crawford

    Netflix has no ratings – or does it? i guess they do keep checks on which programs are more watched than others. But ultimately it’s the number of subscribers they gain or lose that counts.

    However…. I still mainly have Netflix for the movies and they’re starting to lose those. i don’t watch a lot of TV shows and I didn’t subscribe to Netflix to have another channel of ‘em.

  • Buddy

    Coens (counts for 1 ?)
    Richard Curtis

  • Erica

    Hmmm, I see something here! Talk about one hell of a “speed dating” type of event.

  • brenkilco


    William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cormac McCarthy, Thornton Wilder


    Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Tony Kushner, Neil Simon, Antony Shaffer


    Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Daniel Mainwaring, Jim Thompson


    Walter Hill, John Huston, Joseph Mankiewicz, Orson Welles, Richard Brooks,

  • klmn

    You’ve gotta slot Oliver Stone in somewhere.

    • Erica

      He’s in the kitchen working on the menu. Planing it down to the finest detail. Sadly the meal is going to cost a little more then expected, but it will taste better then you ever imagined.

      • Scott Serradell

        Actually he’s in the walk-in doing lines of coke with the busboy.

    • Scott Serradell

      I know. I tried. Couldn’t decide between “Bad Boy” or “Raging Ego”.

  • klmn

    So, who are the five writers Carson would invite to In ‘N Out?

  • Marija ZombiGirl

    My dinner party writer guests:
    Alan Ball (to me, SIX FEET UNDER remains THE best TV show ever)
    The Coen Bros.
    Alex Garland
    Michael Mann
    And a Ouija board to channel Alfred Hitchcock :)

    • witwoud

      Careful with the ouija board! Instead of Hitchcock, it might summon the person who wrote ‘Ouija’.

  • kent


  • RO

    I’m rather surprised Carson enjoyed this script. I got 8 pages in and I’m finding the dialogue terrible; far too much exposition without any character. The whole Ramon turning his head to the clock and his monologue about having to look at it was painful to read. By page 8 between the mother and daughter spewing about pot and the mom’s experience felt very lazy; like this was a vomit draft or something. Couldn’t finish this.