The disappointing showing of Transcendence really bummed me out this weekend. Not because I had anything invested in the film. It was just one of the few non-IP properties that made it to the big screen. And for screenwriters who still believe in original ideas, it’s very important that these movies do well. Because if they don’t, we’re bound to turn into an all IP industry.

The thing is, right now, the studios would have a good case against the spec world for doing so. Nobody’s writing anything good, so why should they buy any specs or make any specs into movies?

I’ve thought about this a lot lately, and I’ve noticed some real problems in the system. One of the reasons I tell everyone to simplify their stories and make sure their GSU (goals, stakes, urgency) is strong, is because these are the only scripts that get past script readers. They’re the thrillers and the comedies that have clean easy-to-understand stories, and therefore they can pass up to their bosses without fearing the dreaded, “What the fuck is this?? Give me something I can sell!”

So what does that say to us? It says we can’t explore anything too complex. We have to stay in that little box. In many ways, specs are like the Big Mac trying to compete with the studios’ lobster. We’re not allowed to create something challenging or unique or with substance, so how the hell are we supposed to compete with projects like “The Wolf of Wall Street” or “Benjamin Button?” If neither of those projects were based on IP, they wouldn’t have sold. And that’s really hard to accept. That the playing field is so uneven.

Despite that, I don’t think writers are giving it their best. Even with that reasonable excuse, I’m not reading enough good material. And I’ve tried to figure out why. Part of me believes that screenwriting is SO much harder than everyone thinks it is. There’s so much you have to know how to do.

You have to create intriguing likable protagonists that don’t feel like every other intriguing likable protagonist we’ve seen. You have to know how to pace a script with act breaks and story beats. You have to know what conflict is so you can write entertaining scenes (I can’t tell you how often I see all 55 scenes in a script, and not a single one has conflict).

You have to know how to explore a character in a way that adds depth, and to create relationships with problems that need to be resolved. You need to know how to write dialogue that does more than simply allow two characters to speak. It must push them to speak in a way that ENTERTAINS US. You need to know how to apply suspense, obstacles, setups, payoffs, urgency, stakes. And after you figure all that stuff out, you actually have to apply it in a NATURAL way that doesn’t look like there’s any craft to it. You have to build a house that looks like it’s always been there.

And that’s hard to do.

Part of the problem is too many writers are trying for the quick fixes. They read a couple of things from this site, a couple of things from another site, and they think they’re ready to go.  You can spot these scripts a mile away. There’s just no sense whatsoever that the writer’s put anything into the craft.  A couple of months back I read an amateur writer’s script, and he wanted to know if his hero should secretly be the killer. I was like, “I’m not even clear what’s going on in YOUR FIRST SCENE.” Whether the killer is the bad guy or not is irrelevant. You need to figure out how to write a scene first (a scene is a story.  Start with some problem your characters have to deal with, and you should come up with something reasonably good).

And that’s something I just don’t think people do anymore. Actually WORK. I came across this short last week (The Long Game) which talks about all the geniuses throughout history. Da Vinci, John Coltrane, Stephen King, people of that stature. And what the director found was that there was this period in each of these artists’ lives that he called the “Difficult Years,” where they went through this self-appointed apprenticeship. This apprenticeship would last somewhere between 7-15 years, and would consist of them practicing and experimenting and writing and reading and playing and studying, and looking for any little thing that could make them better, that would give them an edge on, or help them catch up to, their competition.

Nobody talks about those years cause they’re not decorated with No. 1 hits or groundbreaking sculptures or Pulitzer prizes. But those are the MOST IMPORTANT YEARS of the artist’s life. Coltrane spent 15 years practicing relentlessly EVERY DAY on his saxophone until he got his first real gig. And this is the best saxophonist ever! It took him 15 years of practice!

In the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” about the best sushi chef in the world, this guy spent something like 10 years studying RICE! What region the best rice came from, the textures that worked best, how to store it, how to cook it. We’re not even talking about the fish. We’re talking about the RICE. That’s why he’s the best in the world. Because he dedicated himself to finding the perfect EVERYTHING for his food. What are you doing as a screenwriter that’s setting you apart from everyone else?

I think I know why this is such a problem for our industry. It’s because screenwriting DOESN’T LOOK THAT HARD. Why would anyone work hard at something that seems so easy? Everybody thinks they can write a screenplay. They look at what’s out in the theaters and say, “I can do better than that guy.” No, you can’t. That’s exactly WHY screenwriting is so hard, is because even the best screenwriters can’t come up with something “better than that.”

As a writer, you should be obsessively doing three things. You should be writing, you should be reading (scripts/books), and you should be studying. If you really want to have a shot at this, you have to outwork everyone else. So I challenge you. All those things I noted above (obstacles, conflict, etc.), I want you to MASTER ALL OF THEM. Work on them until your fingers bleed. That’s the only chance you have of writing something great, is if you master all the aspects of storytelling.

Now I realize that’s a tall order, so maybe I can help you focus a little. If there’s one thing I see botched over and over again – the biggest problem I see in screenplays by far – it’s boring characters. And derivative characters.  Or the worst – the combos: Derivabores.  So start there.  Learn how to write good characters. Look back through my archives. Google the word. Re-watch all your favorite characters and take notes about why you love them.

Because the more I read, the more I realize that it’s ALL ABOUT THE CHARACTERS. If you write a bad story, you can make up for it with good characters. A great place to start is by doing the PLOT STRIP TEST. Mentally strip your plot OUT of your script and just look at your characters all by their naked selves.

Now tell me, are these characters interesting without the plot behind them? Without the explosions or the twists or the killer concept? In a script I read awhile back, I did the PLOT STRIP TEST, and here’s all that was left: A hero that was afraid of heights and a love interest who was upset that her dad died. Do those sound like interesting people to you?

Where is the flaw (she’s unable to love), the vice (she’s a sex addict), the relationship problems (these two were together once until she made a mistake and cheated on him).  What’s their personality like (wise-ass)?  What do they fear (sleeping alone)?  What do they keep from the world (they once watched a friend rape someone and didn’t do anything about it)?  I don’t want to use the dirty words “soap opera,” but you almost have to think of it that way. Are my characters interesting on their own, without the story? Because if not, you need to build a lot more into them.

But characters are still just one piece of the puzzle. Sometimes I’ll pick up a script and I don’t know what’s wrong with it. I just know that it’s lifeless, that it’s missing something.

So maybe I’ll turn to you guys for help. What do you think’s missing from today’s scripts? A lot of you called Transcendence a “bad screenplay.” What’s missing from it and other scripts like it? What is that one thing that all these writers (amateur and professional) continue to ignore?

And hey, if you think you’ve done everything I’ve said above and that you’re ready, well dog gonnit, send your script in for Amateur Friday (details at top of page). Maybe you’ll get reviewed and blow us all away. I hope so. Because baby, I want to believe again.

Oh, and finally, I’m sending out a new newsletter late tonight, and it’s going to be a good one. I’ll be reviewing a script from one of my FAVORITE writers, as well as posting some short films for you to check out. Make sure to check your SPAM boxes if you don’t receive it, and add me as a contact so it doesn’t go to SPAM in the future. If you’re new to Scriptshadow and want to sign up, go here!

  • Matthew Garry

    “In general, each character should be exploring AT LEAST one problem in their lives separate from the plot.”

    That’s very general advice that could be interpreted as just ductaping random problems to characters and calling it a day. I’d rephrase that as “try and make every character deeper than what is strictly necessary to display them on the screen.”

    “What do you think’s missing from today’s scripts?”

    Maturity. And I don’t mean mature subjects, but a general sense of understanding a world and its people, whether it’s the real world or the fictional one you just created.

    The good news is: usually you automatically develop such an understanding once you age.

    The bad news is: intrepid writers are usually not at an age where they’ll appreciate the advice (“Grow old? Yeah, thanks for the great advice!”)

    The silver lining is: you can speed the process up, which brings me back to the article:

    “you should be reading (scripts/books)”

    Whenever you’re not writing, be reading. And don’t make it easy on yourself; it’s real work, not leisure, so treat it as such. If you’ve never read Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” you’re already behind those writers who have. Old stuffy literature may not seem relevant to modern screenwriting, but it is.

    Writing is not just putting words on paper; it’s reprocessing what you already know in interesting new ways. The more you know and the finer you can process this knowledge, the better your writing will become.

    90% of writing is really reading.

    • fragglewriter

      That’s what my English told me when I asked how do I improve my writing. By reading.
      Also, I would include reading a book or article on something that is not interesting (your cup of tea). I took an A+ Certification course just to see if IT Tech is what I would like to do as a career change. I realized no, but I did get a better understanding of the Matrix world afterwards.

      I agree with reading the harder material because it will push you analysis. I had to read “The Bhagavad Gita” (English Lit requirement) I hated the book because it was so difficult to understand in the beginning, but I compared it to Freud psychoanlaysis (Psych major) and was able to better understand the book.

      • Ange Neale

        The human brain is really the most wondrous thing. It isn’t a muscle, but if you push it and work it and challenge it, it behaves like a muscle. It gets better, faster, more agile, more creative. If it gets injured, other parts can learn to take over for the damaged bits. Reading’s a fantastic exercise, but challenge it with puzzles and Sudokus and whatever else you can think of, too. Brains love being pushed.

        • fragglewriter

          I’ll also include reading msytery novels. Guessing the who’s who’s and keeping track is definitely a cognitive exercise.

    • drifting in space

      Reading (novels, in my opinion, not screenplays) does more for honing my craft of writing than anything. Screenwriting is such a bare bones form of writing in most circumstances.

    • Linkthis83

      LOVE Crime and Punishment.

      If you ever find yourself playing Scattergories and you’re on the card with “fictional character” and the letter is “R” = Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov. Three points!! And you’re welcome.

    • JakeMLB

      Everyone should read Stephen King’s ON WRITING as it does more to address HOW TO BE A PROFESSIONAL WRITER than anything else I’ve read. And that’s key — learning HOW to write. I don’t mean structure, character, theme, plot or any other story element, but learning what it takes to be a working writer: vocabulary, style, developing routine, time management, the balance between reading and writing, and the balance between writing and life in general. This is, after all, the hardest aspect of becoming a writer. If you can learn how to write, writing well will soon follow so long as there is some talent to be had.

      It’s as Carson said, in most artists’ lives, particularly the profound, there is an unheralded period of experimentation and learning. And it’s usually long. Like really fucking long. We’re playing the long game here.

      Also… audiobooks. Listen to audiobooks. Not only can you read almost anywhere, but they stimulate a different area of the brain as compared with reading. It’s a far more cinematic experience. I highly recommend it.

      • Hadley’s Hope Remembers

        I’ve been wanting to try some audio books. The audio book of World War Z was much much, oh so much better than the big budget Brad Pitt movie.

    • Franchise Blueprints

      “In general, each character should be exploring AT LEAST one problem in their lives separate from the plot.”
      That’s very general advice that could be interpreted as just ductaping random
      problems to characters and calling it a day. I’d rephrase that as “try
      and make every character deeper than what is strictly necessary to
      display them on the screen.”

      As soon as a writer tries to explore that option within a script they get penalized for writing an unnecessary scene that doesn’t contribute to the story.

      In feature films its rare you get those moments. In independent films its expected.

    • David Arguello

      That’s funny that you mention crime and punishment because I’ve just started reading it and it really does wonders for helping you understand character and human psychology.

      What troubles me though I guess is that you’ve already read crime and punishment and you had a lot of insightful things to say and a lot of people on this site have insightful things to say but you guys still haven’t sold a screenplay… at least not yet. So how am I supposed to sell a screenplay if people who are smarter than me and have more experience than me can’t even sell one?

      I really just need to start writing. I’ve had this idea for a screenplay in my head for a year and it’s been like a seed that just keeps growing and growing and it really drives me crazy. But I can’t bring myself to start writing because I’m afraid it won’t be as good on paper as it is in my head and it would have all been for nothing. I don’t know.

  • ripleyy

    Or you can simply just cheat. Find a screenplay you like, adapt it into a novel, put it up on Amazon. If your novel sells, then your screenplay sells, but better yet there is always that one in a bazillion chance it will spark fire (like “Wool”) and catch the attention of the bigwigs who think “Damn, that’s a novel I want to adapt” – guess what? You already have the screenplay!

    Everyone has flaws and secrets, they have their fondest memories and they have vices and habits and mannerisms. It isn’t hard as Carson says it is, because all it needs is careful planning and being smart about it.

    One cheat you can use is the easiest when it comes to characters: base them on a starsign. Are they a Cancer (shrewd and insecure) or are they a Gemini (charismatic, crowd-gatherer) or maybe they’re a Scorpio (opinionated, stern). If you do that, then a quarter of your work is already done – you have the basic personality, you just need to fill in the blanks. Creating a likable character is not hard. There are so many things on the internet that you can use.

    Character Flaws:
    Link One:
    Link Two:
    Link Three:

    Creating a good character isn’t difficult, because there are so many ways you can do one. If it’s character development that is lacking, then it’s the writer not looking very hard.

    As with everything else, conflict, urgency, stakes – they take time. Perfecting them will never happen in a single day, because there are professional writers at this very moment who STILL struggle with the basics – so even if you make it, and you’re the new Joss Whedon, you’re still going to encounter problems.

    I think Carson likes to project this illusion that as soon as you make it, everything is suddenly okay but it’s not and even if he doesn’t project it, it sometimes comes off like that. Aaron Sorkin recently said he struggles with dialogue, Joss Whedon finds structure near impossible despite creating some of the most beloved stories. I’m sure there are many more.

    The difference being is, is by then, you will have a solution to remedy those problems.

  • Jim Dandy

    I finally ploughed through all of last year’s Black List screenplays. Only two stood out – Nightcrawler and Holland, Michigan. And even those two had problems (pacing mainly, along with some plot logic).

    The one consistent thing that stood out in all the other scripts was the awfulness of the dialogue. I’m not talking about clever ‘see if you can spot the subtext’ dialogue. There was no sense of rhythm or connectedness to the dialogue. It all just blurted out flacid information onto the page. Nothing sparkled. Nothing zinged. I re-read (for about the hundredth time) the script for American Beauty last night. I think it has the best dialogue of all time. Anyone want to disagree with me?

    The other thing I notice is an absence of consistent tone. For me, tone has a unifying effect. If you get the tone wrong and/or it wanders then it doesn’t matter what else is done right, because the story will feel like it’s held together with sticky-tape.

    I also don’t sense a great deal of intimacy in modern screenplays. By intimacy I mean the creation of unique, ‘otherworldly’ characters who occupy a finite, knowable world where the mundane world outside is not allowed to intrude onto their lives.

    • E.C. Henry

      Hey, Jim Dandy, ’bout a year ago when Carson made a callout to writers to compare their scripts to know entites, I sent him a copy of a script I’d written called “A Heart Built on the Sand”; my guautlet challenge to Allan Ball’s “American Beauty”. Too bad ol’ Carson didn’t post on that challenge.

      The reason I bring that up is because NOW whever I hear that movie be mentioned, either here or on Scott Myers “Go Into the Story” blogsite, where he recently had a post on that movie, my heart laments, as I rememer the guatlet challenge that never was, as Carson forgot me.

      (O, and yes, do shed a tear for me)

      • carsonreeves1

        I didn’t forget you! Re-send and maybe we can throw it up in the Amateur Offerings. :)

        • E.C. Henry

          I’m willing to re-send on ONE condition, the orignal offer that I sent you the story in the first place; a gautlet challnge. The script I wrote, “A Heart Built on the Sand” vs Allan Ball’s script, “American Beauty”, agree to that and I’ll send ya the script I wrote in a jiffy.

          Sorry it took me so long to respond, currently I work a 2nd shift job, thus I don’t get home untill after sometime after 11:30 p.m.

      • Linkthis83

        I think the title “A Heart Built on Sand” is a little more fluid. Or even…

        “Built on Sand”

    • Ange Neale

      Hear, hear on intimacy.

      I got a comment from a reader recently that for one character to say to another in the course of making love for the first time for their romance, but also for the younger person’s first time when she was at her most vulnerable, that it was ‘too on-the-nose’ for the experienced partner to say, ‘I’m so in love with you.’

      ‘Too on-the-nose’ being they couldn’t see the sub-text, like ‘Thank you for trusting me,’ ‘I’m honored you chose me,’ and ‘I won’t use you or hurt you.’

      Brene Brown in her TED talk on ‘Vulnerability’ gets it.

      And Lindsay Doran gets it. In her TED talk ‘Saving the world or kissing the girl’, she tells of the last moments of the first ‘Rocky’ movie, where he and Adrienne just hold each other after he’s been defeated, and say over and over again to each other, ‘I love you.’

      Of course, that would be ‘too on-the-nose’ to get past a reader today.

      Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, devoid of intimacy and lonelier than ever, here we come.

      • Linkthis83

        I’ve seen both of those TED talks. Very good stuff.

        I think the too-on-the-nose stuff really comes into play in WHERE it takes place in the story. So in the Rocky example, it happens at the very end, so it’s more acceptable to be on-the-nose. This is what everything has been building towards.

        I think if you think it works, and it’s the best way to handle that moment, then keep it as is. We can always defend our choices, but what matters most is “is it the best choice for the story at that moment.”

        I’d almost suggest you using one of the other lines you stated as subtext. That would then be subtext for “I’m so in love with you” ;)

        • Ange Neale

          Yeah, there are some real gems in those TED talks.

          I’ll see if I can get away with that last suggestion, Link — thanks!

          • Linkthis83

            Also Ange, I was recently watching Donnie Darko and there is a moment right away that the mother is “on-the-nose”. The family had just finished a dinner where Donnie had a bit of an outburst. The mom walks into the room, makes some tiny reference about a house being toilet papered and asks Donnie “What happened to my son?”

            That seems very on the nose to me. And I also don’t care that she said it. I LIKE when characters say exactly what they want and mean at CERTAIN MOMENTS in a film. And I realize I want them to say these things because I wish that’s how people operated more in real life. So if that moment is real for your characters, let it play the way you feel. If it’s a moment that could make or break your script, adjust accordingly :) The screenwriting world is full of experts.

            None of it is a science. Sometimes the characters should dance around their conflict and sometimes they should say it outright.

          • drifting in space

            I always find it funny when people say “Sorkin crafts realistic, clever dialogue.” Most of the real world’s population is not as smart or clever as him and rarely say anything layered with subtext. Sometimes we as a people ARE on the nose, so why can’t it be acceptable occasionally in film?

            Plus, there’s more to subtext than words on the page. A screenplay does not a finished film make.

          • Linkthis83

            Excellent point. I hate the critique “People don’t talk like that.” Really? Have you heard how some people talk?

            And you’re going to tell me that Sorkin is awesome? The thought there is probably, if you’re going to have them talk like people DON’T, make it interesting.

          • Charlestoaster

            I agree with you.

            I heard this conversation while writing at the park. (Which was so relaxing by the way) I couldn’t believe my ears so I wrote it down.

            (After a minute of silence)

            Man 1: I went to Micheal’s to get a picture frame because, you know, I have that picture I want to frame?

            Man 2: Oh yeah, you should totally frame that.

            (After a long pause)

            Man 1: I know right, but I couldn’t buy a gift card with my American Express card.

            (After a long pause)

            Man 2: Thank you Obama.

            Man 1: Do you live in a corner condo or the front?

            Man 2: Yeah.

            Man 1: It’s bullshit, I mean you know it is but it was a gift card.

            (Noticed me writing)

            Man 2: The crows are singing. Let’s fish somewhere else.

            I wonder if I put this down in a script if it would be read as realistic dialogue with an oasis of subtext or the fragmented nonsense I think it is?

            Sometimes I feel like a writer’s name elevates dialogue more than the dialogue itself.

          • Ange Neale

            Agreed! I don’t always care that sometimes dialogue is ‘on-the-nose’. If there’s a page of it, it’s a problem, but if it’s just a comment here or there in an otherwise engrossing story, then so what?

      • ripleyy

        I find the fine line between intimacy and melodrama is so fine it’s nearly invisible, but I don’t think anyone can really handle intimate dialogue correctly. It’s like writing dialogue for children – no one will ever get *that* right.

        But I do agree with what you said. Any real intimacy in films or scripts is hard to come by. I guess “on-the-nose”, intimate dialogue is more easy to digest if it’s in romance, but that’s a given. It all has to do with tone.

    • brenkilco

      Hm. Movies with the best dialogue. Well, of course, there are a lot of varieties of dialogue: comic and dramatic, natural and heightened. But my list of films with the best talk: Sweet Smell of Success, The Big Sleep, The Hustler, His Girl Friday, A Man for All Seasons, Network, Lawrence of Arabia and Chinatown. I’d give honorable mention to a couple of Mamets and I’ve always loved the dialogue in an obscure Harold Pinter scripted spy film from the sixties called The Quiller Memorandum.

      On the other end of the spectrum how about the greatest film with lousy dialogue. My vote would be Alien. The cast works wonders considering how little they have to work with.

      • Jim Dandy

        Good call on Sweet Smell of Success. It was written by Ernest Lehman after all, so it must be good! I presume Glengarry Glen Ross is on your list of notable Mamets? I love Pinter’s work with Joseph Losey. Billy Wilder’s dialogue also gives me a buzz. They just don’t make ‘em like they used to.

        This may sound odd, but another great source of flawless dialogue is the early seasons of The Simpsons. Not even Seinfeld can touch The Simpsons for precision and multi-layered complexity.

        • brenkilco

          While Sweet Smell is based on a Lehman short story and he was the original screenwriter, the final script is almost entirely the work of Clifford Odets, and is pretty Odetsian. Love Glengarry, esp that great seduction scene in the bar where Pacino talks a lot of pseudo profound gibberish to get the sucker to buy real estate (“your balls feel like concrete”) For some reason I greatly prefer Wilder’s serious films to his outright comedies. His comedies never jazzed me the way Preston Sturges’ did. But, God, how brilliant do you have to be to become a great writer in a language that isn’t your first?

          • fragglewriter

            I admired the work of John Hughes and Mel Broks growing up. Since I started the screenwriting process, Billy Wilder rounds out the top 3.

            My favorite movie is The Apartment but I do love The Front Page (I think it was better than My Girl Friday, IMO) and Kiss Me Stupid.

          • brenkilco

            Kiss me Stupid is probably under rated. Like most other people I consider Front Page Wilder on an off day. Just doesn’t have the non-stop energy of His Girl Friday. But the basic material is so strong it’s still enjoyable and they finally got to use the play’s last line. My favorite Wilder comedy is probably One Two Three. For some reason Some Like it Hot leaves me stone faced.

            Have always thought it odd since Wilder is basically a comic writer that so many of his movies use suicide or attempted suicide as a plot element: Sunset Boulevard, Sabrina, The Apartment, Buddy Buddy, Irma La Douce, The Front Page. Perhaps more.

            Would be curious to see his penultimate film Fedora, which has basically been MIA for three decades.

          • fragglewriter

            I tried watching His Girl Friday twice. I couldn’t get past the first 30-minutes because it was boring.
            I haven’t watched the other films listed except for Irma La Douce, Double Indemnity, The Long Weekend, The Fortune Cookie, Some Like it Hot and I taped Sunset Boulevard, which I wil try to watch over the weekend.
            It’s funny that you mentioned suice or attempted suicide. I read how Fred MacMurray was not well received in THe Apartment due to the nature of having an affair, but nobody seemed upset about the suicide.
            I think that’s what I like about Wilder. He would follow his gut and take the lead. He wanted to incorporate realism into his films which I think is why he is so highly regarded. I like watches movies with a little edge, and believe me, Wilder’s got it.

          • astranger2

            “Shut up and deal!” The Apartment is definitely a great film. Love the closing line. Ranks right up there with: “Oh, well… they gotta tell you somethin'” … or my very favorite, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

          • fragglewriter

            And Wilder said that he had to work on dialogue. It wasn’t easy and it took him a while.

      • lysdexicuss

        And anything by Preston Sturges. Truly naturalistic, & hilarious.

        • brenkilco

          What do they know in New Jersey?
          They know what they like
          If they knew what they liked they wouldn’t live in New Jersey.

    • leitskev

      Good points on dialogue. And capturing a rhythm is hard to do. Didn’t really understand your point on intimacy. You mean, for example, like the main character of House of Cards, where he occasionally turns to the audience in conversation? That’s extreme, but how do create intimacy without some kind of voiceover? Just curious if you want to expand on that point.

      And I’ll throw in Double Indemnity for the brilliant dialogue competition!

    • JakeMLB

      Very nice comment, and I can’t think of a better word than “intimacy” to explain what’s missing in a lot of scripts. And as you say, it’s not romantic intimacy, but an intimacy between reader and writer, between the characters and their world, between the characters and each other, a sense that this moment is real and this space is being occupied. Very few can create such intimacy as a young writer. It’s something that inevitably develops with age.

    • Midnight Luck

      agree, agree.
      most of the scripts, especially amateur, feel like a scattershot blast of dialogue, action, and some craziness or humor. It very rarely feels cohesive, or like it makes much sense. Also, rarely is there a consistent tone or a feeling of intimacy with the writer. like you are “In on It”. Like this was written especially for you.

  • brenkilco

    Screenwriting seems to be loaded with Catch 22s. The only way to get past a reader is with an in your face hook, a gimmicky contrivance that is simple to sell and will generate superficial interest. The whole dramatic structure of the thing may be a house of cards, may be non-existent. The hook may, in fact, make it much more difficult to create a satisfying story, but you can’t make it to the the next round without it. Would most readers recognize a great story if they read it? More to the point, do they have time to read carefully enough to appreciate a good story? Or do they only have time to get the idea, a sense of the plot and whether the dialogue contains any laughs before deciding to hold or discard?

    The whole emphasis on a character’s flaw is starting to give me a pain. When you meet an interesting person in real life do you wonder what his or her flaw is? E. M. Forster, one more writer every writer should read, described characters as either flat or round. Flats are defined by one trait. Rounded characters have the complexity of real people. They are believable yet retain the ability to surprise us. Fixate on a flaw and the odds against creating a 3D character multiply.

    • kenglo

      I know right? It’s like that’s one of the key questions that needs to be addressed, “But what is his flaw?” And another one is, “But what is the theme?” I didn’t know what Indiana Jones ‘flaw’ was upon watching that film for the umpteenth time. Until the third film, dude had massive Daddy issues, but that was not evident in the first two. What was Indy’s ‘flaw’ in the first film? And don’t say snakes.

      Actually it just popped in my head, never mind….

      • Linkthis83

        Did you see the episode of The Big Bang Theory where Amy ruins Raiders of the Lost Ark for the fellas? It’s great. And heart breaking.

        • kenglo

          It wasn’t until yesterday I discovered Amy was BLOSSOM…..I know…I am old…

          • Nicholas J

            I didn’t realize that until just this second. WhoA! (said in my best Joey Lawrence voice)

  • Cuesta

    Nice article, but I strongly disagree with this:
    “specs are like the Big Mac trying to compete with the studios’ lobster”

    To me, looks like the studios make Big Macs and the spec community usually tries to sell them fancy, elitist lobster.
    And, of course, they don’t want that. They want their big, stupid, action packed, summer Big Macs.

    You, we, maybe don’t like it, but it’s okay to recognise it.

    • Casper Chris

      Yea, that comparison tripped me up as well. I was also like “shouldn’t it be the other way around?”, but I think what Carson means is this:

      The studios will eat these fancy lobster dinners served by established IP writers, but only take Bic Macs from spec writers as there’s no “built-in audience”. So spec writers have to wow the lobster-eating crowd with Big Macs — which ain’t easy.

      • Hadley’s Hope Remembers

        Can we meet in the middle, say for a meal at Chipotle?

    • Mike.H

      recognise spelled with an “s” instead of “z” suggests you’re uk broad, I mean skirt, I mean lady, no dame… Meow and keep writing. :)

  • Ange Neale

    I feel your pain. I think I might take up drinking. I can’t write ‘simple.’ Probably because I can’t watch ‘simple.’ Make something foolproof and only fools will watch.

    I haven’t seen ‘Transcendence’ yet. I’m still in mourning over what ‘Elysium’ might’ve been, instead of serviceable but largely soul-less.

    • sigmund fraud

      “Simple” is the hardest thing to do well. Simple is not for idiots, it’s for masters. Too often people think they mean “simple,” but they mean “simplistic.” Simple is an illusion which hides the depth. Mediocre artists think the more complex the better, and the more indecipherable the smarter. But it’s the opposite. It’s just that it’s hard to do.

      • Ange Neale

        Perhaps ‘simple’ means something different where you’re from. According to the Oxford English Dictionary on-line ( ), ‘simple’ has four basic meanings (there are other meanings in mathematical terms, biology, etc):

        1/ Easily understood or done; presenting no difficulty. 2/ Plain, basic, or uncomplicated in form, nature, or design; without much decoration or ornamentation. 3/ Composed of a single element; not compound. 4/ Of very low intelligence.

        When I said above that I can’t write ‘simple’, or watch it, these definitions are what I referred to.

        Would I bother to write or watch something that presents no difficulty? No. I’d rather it be a challenge, because the greater the challenge, the bigger the (internal) reward.

        That’s the difference between ‘American Beauty’ and ‘Dumb and Dumber’. One’s a challenge to tease out all the subtleties and nuance, but, oh, it’s worth it. There isn’t a whole lot of challenge in a guy sticking his tongue to a frozen ski lift.

        Would I write or watch something plain, basic, or uncomplicated, etc? No. Again, the intellectual reward is commensurate with the challenge.

        Number 3. Single element, not compound. Imagine
        if ‘Castaway’ had been solely about the life of a guy surviving on a
        desert island. He sleeps. He wakes up. He collects firewood and
        coconuts. He weaves palm fronds into a grass skirt. He climbs to the top of the hill to look out for ships. He catches a few
        fish, maybe a crab here or there. He cooks a meal and sleeps again. I can’t speak for anyone else, but 2 hours of that? Pass.

        And I could never write for people who find pulling the legs off spiders amusing. Plenty of others do. It’s a crowded market place. They don’t need me.

        Writing a good screenplay is anything but ‘simple’. It’s bloody hard. And in order to get through what surely be a contender for the most infernal obstacle course ever constructed in human history, ‘good’ isn’t good enough. It has to be ‘great’, and to get to great, you have to challenge yourself. ‘Simple’ as per the above defintions just won’t cut it.

        You aspire to be a
        screenwriter, ergo you like a challenge. If you didn’t, you’d do something infinitely simpler to succeed in, like try your hand at Middle Eastern diplomacy.

        • kenglo

          I did not mean that “writing a screenplay is simple”, I meant that keeping the story simple in terms of plot will help producer/manager/directors/people who want your script to actually WANT your script. Most stories that do well, whether we like them or not, are simple, with a lot of CLARITY, so was can follow along. A convoluted story is hard to read, unless you clarify things, keep it simple. When you say to ‘I cannot write simple’, what exactly does that mean? Does it mean you want to write in novelistic terms? Does it mean you can’t keep your action lines down to 2-3 lines? Or does it mean you want to WOW us with twists and reveals? What does that mean???

      • kenglo

        AVATAR was simple. ALIENS was simple. DIE HARD was simple. LETHAL WEAPON, BOOK OF ELI, FROZEN. All were simple, but they had CHARACTERS that we can EMPHASIZE with.


        • Linkthis83

          YES. We empathize with them because of their EMPHASIS ;)

  • steveblair

    thanks for another stimulating challenge to write better.

  • fragglewriter

    I just wrote an entire article that was not uploaded. So below are the bulletpoints:

    -For a screenwriter to grow, treat every script as objective. Too many review scripts as subjective due to previous posts and vice versa, and that gets the writer no where. List the likes and dislikes about the script so a screenwriter can improve.

    -Research. I researched different channels (blogs, podcasts, TV, Films, Books, The Writers’ Room-Sundance)

    -Take a step back from your script. Be honest, is the story interesting.

    -Plot Strip Test. This will make an nice article to really breakapart the character, even though there are previous articles on this site dealing with it.

    -Get off the bandwagon. Just because it’s selling doesn’t mean that your story will be just as interesting and the market might be oversaturated (too much supply) by the time your story makes it way up, but Hollywood will continue to crank it out as long as it turns a profit.

    -Audience is fickle.

    -Studios are fickle (until it turns a profit)

    -Everyone in Hollywood is fickle (until you become hot shit and turn a profit)

    • kenglo

      “-Everyone in Hollywood is fickle (until you become hot shit and turn a profit)”

      EXACTLY!! I had a guy request one of my scripts, a highly charged, violent, sexual thriller. He read it, loved it, asked to change some things (for free, yeah I know…dumb me) and then turned around and said, you know what, I want to do a faith based script, but thanks anyway!

      Some people’s kids man!

      • fragglewriter

        Maybe he needed a deep cleanse after reading your script LOL
        But seriously, it’s not a good feeling.

        • kenglo

          LOL….like my daighter said about MAGIC MIKE…”Man, I need to go church this Sunday!”

          • fragglewriter

            Magic Mike was horrible. I watched the first 30-minutes and still couldn’t understand why the sister treated her brother like he was 10-yr old and why that stick was so far up his ass SMH

      • Ange Neale

        It might be just as well you did it for free as that way he couldn’t lay any claims to it down the track. It’s still your property, unencumbered. If I understand how the system works correctly.

  • ChadStuart

    Well, I sort of disagree with the whole premise of this article. Producers and studios have always put more faith in “known entities” than they have “unknowns”. And I don’t mean that with regards to stories that are IP’s, either. The reality is if you hand a producer a crap script from David Goyer, and a great script from an unknown, Goyer’s is FAR more likely to be produced. He’s a known commodity. They can go to their bosses and say they have a script from the writer of a few billion dollar grossing movies. The new guy? What has he done that will ensure a return on investment?

    And that’s the key to remember. Readers, producers, studio chiefs, investment guys – they’re all in it to make money and keep their jobs. Even back in the glory days of spec sales, the quality of writing didn’t count as much as the idea did. A fantastically written script about a father son relationship was less likely to sell than a terribly written script with a great concept was. They can always get someone else to rewrite it, writers are cheap in the grand scheme of things.

    So, now they’re more likely to bring their bosses IP’s over original specs for the same reason. It’s easier to sell their boss on a movie where they can say the book, comic book, video game, etc. sold a million copies than it is to bring them an idea that has nothing behind it. Why? Again, to keep their jobs.

    When you present a screenplay to a producer, you’re really presenting a business plan. You’re saying here’s a “product” that I think will make you money. That’s true even in the art film world. Woody Allen is very proud of the fact that ALL of his films have made a profit. He can continue to get funding because investors know they will make money off of him. A lot of that is him trading off the commodity that is his name, but don’t for a second believe his art trumps his investors profits.

    Now, if you don’t have an original idea as explosive as “The Purge”, there are still ways to make your business plan (screenplay) seem profitable, from attaching big stars to big directors; which means you do need to nail the writing. But you don’t get to those guys without going through the money guys first.

    Point being, whenever you write something look at it through a producer’s eyes. Who will you script make somebody a bunch of money and enable them to keep their jobs?

    • Casper Chris

      The reality is if you hand a producer a crap script from David Goyer, and a great script from an unknown, Goyer’s is FAR more likely to be produced. He’s a known commodity. They can go to their bosses and say they have a script from the writer of a few billion dollar grossing movies.

      The irony is that audiences don’t give a flying fuck who wrote what. They barely give a fuck who’s starring nowadays.

      • Ange Neale

        Certainly the younger ones don’t seem to. Judi Dench, Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock can still pull a crowd (I’m thinking ‘Philomena’, ‘Captain Phillips’ and ‘Gravity’.

        • Nate

          I’ll give you the first two but I think in Gravity’s case it was more to do with George Clooney starring in an SFX heavy movie. Sandra Bullock doesn’t seem like a huge draw these days.
          I think Melissa McCarthy was the reason why The Heat was successful along with the fact it was a female buddy cop movie.

      • ChadStuart

        But the money men still do.

        • Casper Chris

          But the audiences ARE the money in this case… so maybe they shouldn’t.

    • Soto

      The reality is if you hand a producer a crap script from David Goyer, and a great script from an unknown, Goyer’s is FAR more likely to be produced.

      This is just not true. The response to the crap David Goyer script would be, ‘this is a really crap script’. And the response to the great unknown script would be, ‘this is a great script! I want to meet the writer.’

      • Casper Chris

        Yea, I really hope so.

      • ChadStuart

        Nope, they wouldn’t. We’re talking investors here. They want a return on investment, and Goyer has proven he can do that.

      • Midnight Luck

        I think the crap script from Goyer is far more likely to get READ than the perfect script from an unknown, THEREFORE is more likely to get produced, if the perfect amazing script from the Amateur or unknown is never read.

      • Linkthis83

        Are you basing that off all the awesome movies that were penned by unknowns?

        They might “think” the Goyer script is crap, but they won’t say it probably. And if GOYER means you will line up money to make a movie, that might more likely.

    • Franchise Blueprints

      I don’t think film financiers are concerned with losing their jobs. They create the jobs, and even when the film is in the red they still get a return on their investment however diminished.

      Johnny Depp and M Night Shyamalan have pretty much burned their bridges as far as receiving a blank check to do whatever. I want to believe the unknown writer with the great script will prevail. But reasonable doubt tells me Hollywood discards talented writers regularly.

      • ChadStuart

        Everyone has a boss. Studio heads are replaced regularly after a few failures.

  • Linkthis83

    So I wanted to finish my 15 pages for the upcoming Industry Insider Competition before asking for reads, but this post today has spurred me to go ahead and post the first 5 pages of my entry. I’m not going to have 15 done by a reasonable time today and I don’t want to post them tomorrow on AF.

    Plus, if what Carson says is true, then I’m going to be no different and I’d like to know that now :)

    So here goes…

    IIC Logline by Sheldon Turner:

    A corrupt detective with one month left to live tries to make all the wrongs right in a wobbly road to redemption, becoming the cop – and the person – they always wanted to be in the process.,_Motherf#cker_-_SS_4.24.14.pdf

    My prefaces:

    -Yes, I used a curse word in my title. There is no strategy for it. I’ve had fun doing this and it completely encapsulates the entire story. So I used it. For fun only.

    -I loathed the logline. I wasn’t even going to try. Then I realized, this is one of those moments where I need to challenge myself to see what I am capable of. And I made a declaration; if I do this, I’m going to do it my way.

    -So my story is about an 8th grade hall monitor named Tommy Tucker. Let me have it!

    -And to any who do take the time, a sincere thanks.

    • Eddie Panta

      I would watch 25th HOUR by Spike Lee if you haven’t already seen it.

      • Linkthis83

        I saw it a long time ago. I remember really enjoying it. Why is it that you make that reference to me?

        • Eddie Panta

          Just based on the logline – which to me implies a story that takes place under a ticking clock, over a set amount of time, down a road to redemption.

          But hey look this LOGLINE is really BAD LIEUTENANT. The remake! Not the orig. But even in the orig. it is his own form of redemption. In his mind he is setting things straight.

          • Linkthis83

            Well, it’s Sheldon Turner’s logline, not mine :)

          • Eddie Panta

            No.. I know, I get it. I know how the contest works.

    • Casper Chris

      re: logline.

      It should be “he always wanted to be”, not ‘they’.
      Or ‘she’… if it’s a she.

      • Linkthis83

        THEY did it that way. I think it’s to cover “the cop he/she wanted to be”. So as not to make a gender decision.

        • Casper Chris

          I’m just saying.

          They should’ve written ‘he/she’ or ‘(s)he’ then.

          • Linkthis83

            I argued with people about that too. Lol.

    • Logline_Villain

      Wrote down initial impressions as read, so take it for what it’s worth —

      In general, I think you can condense some action lines and/or make them more clear.

      As it appears that someone is filming Tommy – would it be better to identify the cameraman – OR is this a Ferris Bueller breaking the fourth wall type of situation? That part is unclear to me…

      Positive note, Tommy is making an immediate impression as a distinct character…


      Go Blue Racers – out of curiosity, is “Blue Racers” on the G.M.S. flag?

      (motivated) in wrylie – a little leery of using a wrylie in first line of actual dialogue in any screenplay – moreover, it probably is important character trait which you have free reign to convey in Tommy’s initial description…

      Tommy Tucker (8th grade and 15) – probably should only use 15 since we won’t know yet that he’s in 8th grade – interestingly, he’s “motivated” but 15 years old and only in 8th grade?

      The camera zooms in a little more to highlight the HALL ENFORCEMENT BADGE and HIP-CLIP cell phone holder on his belt. (Could similar line you use be rewritten this way and kill a “widow” (one word action line) in the process…

      At the far end of the hallway Tommy comes around the corner with two other kids flanked to either side. A BOY and a GIRL.

      The girl is KATIE (6th grade) and…

      The school bell rings.

      As for the foregoing, we still see the BOY and GIRL, so I’m find it confused that you only mention Katie in subsequent description, despite fact that bell rung…

      p. 2

      Tommy Tucker (V.O./O.S.) – would avoid using dual V.O./O.S. designation here…

      p. 3

      Might be just me, but this line of dialogue sounds odd for a kid: “Why now? The bells have tolled. Perchance maybe you are the one who may be so ill.”

      LIKE Tommy’s dialogue ending in “this is not your locker”

      … are we supposed to know what the CHIRP CHIRP noise is?

      p. 4

      How exactly does he “command” Albert to sit?

      I know what you mean by “interrogation bulb” but it sounds awkward…

      Just as Albert sits, Tommy is right in his face. – maybe “As Albert sits, Tommy GETS right in his face.”

      A POLITE knock at the door. What makes it polite – is it a light tap, something like that?

      p. 5

      “And, Mr. Tucker, no detention for him. You’ve met your quota.” Seems odd that Vice Principal would immediately say no detention WITHOUT knowing anything else about situation?

      Albert’s face, however, is not happy. Think there’s a better description for why Albert’s face is not happy…

      Best wishes for your project, Link!

      • Linkthis83

        Hey, a big thanks for taking the time. To sum up the majority of what you highlighted, the majority of these are set ups to payoffs that will play out in the 15. And what isn’t directly answered will hopefully be set up well enough where the judges will be like “I’d like to know what’s going to happen next.”

        I should’ve added in my prefaces that what I’m mostly looking for is “does these opening five pages make you interested?” Or, at least entertained :)

        -I mention Katie and the school bell ringing interrupts the intro. It’s just me having some fun.

        -The line of dialogue that sounds odd, should. Tommy is referencing a poem. Maybe I should use a wrylie here?

        -The line about detention is supposed to imply that Tommy gives out way too much detention. Might need to make that clearer.

        -Albert’s face isn’t happy because the Vice Principal just allowed Tommy to continue. Darn, I thought that was done well.

        -And I was hoping that stating a POLITE knock would generate the sound for the reader. I guess I was ineffective here as well.

        Thanks a ton, LV. Seriously.

        • Logline_Villain

          You are welcome, Link… I initially included a disclaimer in my reply that you probably had set-ups in place but that wouldn’t be clear through only 5 pages, as is indeed the case.

          To answer your main query, I’d like to know what happens next so would be glad to read pgs. 6-15 when ready and that would likewise allow for more commentary as to actual story strength…

          I would polish the action lines a little more so that reader has no reason to stop and/or question the meaning of something (e;g., why ONLY Katie described – as you noted, you were having fun – no problem, but it was not clear what reason was for doing same (at least to me) – it stopped my read to question why it was written this way – for instance, is there a reason for withholding the mysterious BOY’s identity – or is he just a bit player whom we’ll never see again?)

          My interest is piqued enough to read on…

          • Ange Neale

            Yeah, I’d read on, too. Not much to add to what’s been said, but I hear some folks hyperventilate when you put numbers in dialogue. They’re supposed to be spelled.
            P. 1 — Three. Two. One. Not 3. 2. 1.
            P. 4 — Was it 408? Something like that. Should be ‘four-oh-eight’ or whatever.

          • Linkthis83

            Oh yeah, I forgot about that number dealio in in dialogue.

            Thank you very much. But if it adds lines, I’m going back to digits ;)

          • Ange Neale

            Subversive, aren’t you? LOL

          • Linkthis83

            Frankly, I get sick of all these “things” that affect people in scripts. I get and understand the preferences, but sometimes I’m just like “c’mon, really?” Like, had you blown up at me for 3, 2, 1 — I wouldn’t have cared. If you care more about that than you do my story, it’s doubtful I’d win you over anyway :) Plus, my character and my script will share the same type of attitude/mentality.

          • Ange Neale

            Whoa, down, boy!
            I wasn’t hyperventilating! I’m just saying there’s some out there who do.
            I don’t care if you put doodles of genitalia in the margins if you’re telling me a good yarn.

          • Linkthis83

            I swear that wasn’t an emotional reply. Just being “on the nose”.

            Lol. I get why some people call out the stuff too; it’s to help the writer from including something they might get dinged for. Let’s just say that on some stuff, I accept the risk and won’t lose sleep over it.

          • Ange Neale

            Good for you, Mike!
            Given your title, you could try going ‘All in’ in poker parlance, and doodle the margins as well.

          • Franchise Blueprints

            You know 8% (eight percent) of ALL AMERICANS sit around all day and draw pictures of penises. Its a proven fact.

          • Ange Neale

            Jeez, now you’ve got me thinking, FB.
            What do I do with my day?
            Oh, wait, I know… I write stuff no-one’s gonna want to buy because it scares the crap out of them. It’s not based on pre-existing IP.
            What was I thinking?

            It’s entirely possible that 8% (!) — that’s like 25 or 26 million people, isn’t it?! — have far too much time on their hands.

          • Midnight Luck

            or maybe they’re just frustrated scriptwriters.

          • brenkilco

            The really sad part is that only one in ten of the 8% draw them well.

        • Eddie Panta

          So the idea of what constitutes a “detective” is pretty broad then?
          And Tommy is going to have one month to live?

          • Linkthis83

            I don’t know if this way is acceptable, but this is the only way I was going to do it. I figured a detective is a detective. If my middle school detective angle disqualifies me, so be it. It’s the risk I took. One goal is to get an honorable mention and the other goal was just to have something else to focus on for a little while. If only a month. My other project is draining me.

            Yes, Tommy will be diagnosed with only one month left to live.

          • Eddie Panta

            Wait a second… If Tommy, 15, is diagnosed with one month left to live then he could be in the make Make A Wish Foundation and he could get to be a detective with a badge for one day. And everyone else at school would be forced to play along, kind of like Shudder Island.

            Anyway, I only read 5 pgs, don’t know where ppl are getting 12pgs.from.

            I would suspect that part of the contest is to see how well you would be at taking an assignment. But you’re definitely thinking outside the box. I would also imagine that camera direction is verboten in any of these amateur contests.

            To me — given 5 pgs, I appreciate the dialogue the most.
            It’s hyperreality, say like Heathers or Brick.
            But the scene descriptions and V.O. don’t seem to jive with the dialogue here.
            Stopping n Starting the scene in a redo w/ V.O. seems comedic.
            8th graders with marijuana is trumping your leads story.

            FLANKED by two kids implies both sides, unless you indicate which side. ( either way it turns out it doesn’t matter who is right or left )

            I would keep the Character dialogue name as just first name TOMMY

            I have a feeling what they’re looking for is a story that takes place over 24 – 48hrs. I’d start it with your character’s illness.

            That’s my two cents

          • Linkthis83

            If you think my camera direction is bad, you should read the winning script for the contest that just finished up. Yikes! Which just supports why I feel people should just make their story choices and embrace them. If I change things to appease people, then I’m losing my voice and adding their’s. But I’m not going to be dismissive of it either.

            -When creating Tommy, I had him saying dialogue addressing the very fact that he’s going to be the kid nobody asks to make a wish. He’s the anti-terminal disease kid.

            -Love the feedback and the suggestions.

          • Eddie Panta

            I see… Yeah, where did you find that link?

          • Linkthis83

            I can email you the pdf. The link didn’t work (well except for one guy who sent me the document).

            linkthis83 at yahoo dot com

          • drifting in space

            It’s tough to tell but there have always been exceptions. The part I find annoying about the logline is that it says detective first (so Link’s premise is totally perfect) but then says cop later. It’s also poorly written/constructed, as people have pointed out.

          • Eddie Panta

            Also it’s just plain as day Bad Lieutenant

    • Rzwan Cabani

      Hey Link — can you email me a pdf by chance — can’t open this up at work:

      • Linkthis83

        Sent. Hopefully you’ll still want to read the 15 too ;)

    • drifting in space

      I feel cheated on here. LOL!

      • Linkthis83

        And I thought I was giving you a much needed respite.

    • ElectricDreamer

      I’m reading something today for some regular contributors here.
      Hit me up when the fifteen pages are good to go.

      • Linkthis83

        Thanks. That was still my plan anyway ;) Unless you read the 5 and thanked me for saving you 10 pages of your time.

    • Eddie Panta

      I like the dialogue, even the V.O.

      But don’t underestimate the power of your position words. Leave the camera alone.

      Quick zoom down the hall to reveal TOMMY TUCKER

      Down the hall, an 8th grader, TOMMY TUCKER (15) comes around the corner.. he stops and we see he wears a badge prominently displayed on his belt. HALL ENFORCEMENT, right next it, an empty hip clip cellphone holder.

      2nd scene heading should indicate HALLWAY not just school.. Where in the school?
      Lined with lockers. Doors on either side, long and empty. All is quiet.

      Down the hall…TOMMY TUCKER, sneaking around the corner, with a watchful eye.

      I would drop anything that indicates left or right. Your descriptions of direction are already accomplished by Down the hall, At the far end, etc…

      notice how many times it says “around the corner”. or coming around the corner.

      Tommy turns around quickly and goes back around the corner.
      The camera zooms back it its original position. ( this original position should be marked by something) Perhaps you need a another mini scene heading OR simply – the opposite end of the hall.

      Tommy turns, goes back the way he came

      At the far end of the hall, Tommy comes back around the corner, flanked by a two kids.

      A girl – KATIE
      The school bell RINGS.
      ( not sure what happened to the boy)

      • Eddie Panta

        I’ll read the rest of the script later. I like what Tommy’s up to.

        • Linkthis83

          Awesome. That’s initially what I care about most, first. Do you even care what is happening. I also don’t want to format my readers out of the story. Thank you.

          • Eddie Panta

            I do care about what’s happening, the HALLWAY is what is happening. You’re setting up a passageway a road, and telling me who is journeying on it. It’s a intro.

      • Linkthis83

        Thank you, Eddie. I knew I was tackling a challenge with the camera stuff, but when I saw it in my head, I felt compelled to do it. Plus, like I said, I made a declaration to do it the way I wanted. So where I might be resistant to total change, I’m way open to trying to make more effective.

        I decided to describe the kids in (grade) and not (age). But I have to give Tommy’s age for VO reference, and because it’ll play a role in the story (later in the pages).

        Probably need to work on the “corners”.

        Looks like my school bell fun is tripping up the readers = not good. I wrote the school bell interrupting like it even interrupted me from writing. I was on the fence with that, but wanted to see if people enjoyed the fun or got confused. Confused 2, fun 0.

        • Eddie Panta

          Simply the sentences should a include what the subject is doing. In some sentences the subject is only positioned.

          Where are we, who are we, what are we doing. ( not necessarily in that order.)

          When the position proceeds subject in the sentences it implies the blocking and camera direction.

      • Linkthis83

        I’ve been thinking about this a lot since yesterday and I KNOW this way will work. In fact, I will probably make adjustments that keep the “spirit” of what I was trying to do with the camera, but will land closer to your suggestions.

        Thank you.

    • Randy Williams

      Consistent tone, some laughs, Minor confusions, others have touched on the same things that tripped me. Tommy is immediately well drawn and memorable. I’d read more.

      What I thought of in terms of suggestions.

      Page 3- the two kids are just standing there talking with several lines of dialogue at the locker. I’m more of a fan of slapstick when it comes to a comedy situation involving kids. Kids are naturally hyper to begin with. I also think you should use your set and props as much as possible. Maybe have Tommy hiding in the locker. He says the line, “show me your hall pass” in the locker. Bert places something through the air slats. Tommy tells him, he didn’t ask him to put it through the air slats and it’s not a hall pass anyways. Tommy stumbles out, all “Berts stuff” goes all over the place so Bert has to pick all this up while he’s answering to Tommy and the stuff doesn’t look like it would belong to him at all.

      Again, referring to a prop. I loved your idea of the interrogation bulb as something Tommy feels important to be close to Bert’s face as in interrogations in the movies. I think this should be milked with physical comedy or a joke. Maybe Tommy can complain along the lines that the school district is educating them all under low lumen bulbs so they all grow up to be pussies.

      By the way, Tommy has already said, shit, dammit, son of a bitch. Obviously this is not a family comedy so you can push it.

      Good luck with it!

      • Linkthis83

        Thanks for the read and the feedback, Randy. For right now, I hope it makes people grin, but I’m not really trying to get laughs. But if you did laugh, even once, I will take it :)

        I’ve looked at page 3 and thought “do I need more here? another set of actions?” But I think it works with the dialogue. meaning, I think the chat is quick enough that it doesn’t matter if I only have them talking.

        I thought of taking the interrogation bulb up a notch to where he turns the actual light off and then uses his phone as the interrogation light. But I feel that I might be dragging these firs scenes out by doing that. Once I get to 15ish, I will decide what to do there.

        Sincere appreciation all around. Thank you.

    • mulesandmud

      Am not going to bury you with thoughts; you’re getting plenty of notes already, and five pages doesn’t give much real story context anyway. One thing, though:

      The combination of that quick zoom and the opening voiceover is a confusing way to start. It almost seems like you’re using a found footage style for a moment, or else we’re looking at a movie-within-a-movie that Tommy is making for himself. But you don’t specify one way or another, and neither the zooming camera nor the voiceover make it past page one.

      Are you coming back to that handheld visual style later? If it’s just a one-time choice, drop it, it adds nothing. What about the voiceover? Is it just standard narration, no particular motivation, or is he telling someone the story? As of now, that also seems like it could go away.

      • Linkthis83

        That particular VO will come back around page 13. I wanted to do something different and bold. And it’s because of this logline. I wanted a way I felt showed my creativity while also conveying necessary information within these 15 pages. I know it’s a risk, but I’m cool with it.

        It’s not found footage, but just a moment of having camera movement emphasis. I saw it in my head how I’d like to see it in the theater and wanted to know if I could pull it off. It’s not found footage. The camera directions will only be used when I think using them helps what I’m trying to do.

        And thank you so much for the read and feedback. This stuff is so uber helpful.

        • mulesandmud

          Happy to help.

          That camera direction is neither meaningful nor motivated. It’s apropos of nothing and risks the stylistic confusion that I mentioned above. The fact that you saw it in your head ain’t enough. Make it relevant, or ditch it.

          The voiceover adds nothing pertinent on page one, then vanishes entirely for twelve pages. Hard to tell without reading the rest, but sounds sloppy. Make sure you have a plan in mind for that as well.

          Good luck with it!

          • Linkthis83

            Thanks. The plan was in place before typing. This writing stuff is no joke. I can sit a look at something and try to play everything out in my head story-wise. You have to be so thoughtful when constructing these things. No wonder it takes people a year or more to get one of these done effectively.

            I stuck with the camera choice because I didn’t like it the other way without it. It felt boring and “same ole same ole”.

        • MaliboJackk

          (Don’t mean to sound like I ganging up on you.
          When you mentioned the “camera” I wondered if a classmate was filming him. I think what you mean is something like — Close in on.)

          • Linkthis83

            Yeah, this is honestly where I feel I need the most help. If I’m going to be so stubborn as to keep the camera direction, HOW do I do it that it’s clear that it’s not somebody else holding the camera?

            HOW do I do the quick zoom in, and then zoom out, and not have people think the camera is being controlled by a person?

            I thought of using a MEDIUM SHOT of Tommy instead, and then use your suggestion of CLOSE IN ON for the badge and the hip clip.

            Thanks, MJ

    • kenglo

      Yeah, I had a hard time with the logline too, but whatcha gonna do? Some assignments are like that.

      I read your first five, and given the logline I can see you are going through with giving the backstory on how the guy gets from point A to point B, which is cool. It’s a unique angle I think can work. Should we be looking at a comedy, dramedy? Or what? How does an eighth grade hall monitor do any wrong that needs to be righted? Just the first things that popped in my head. I wasn’t sure of the ‘tone’ as they say. If we could read more, or if you could expound on where you think the story should go, then I can say, yup, headed in the right direction. Or not.

      One of the comments I get a lot it “it’s just not resonating with me”. I know it’s only five pages, and some folks (like people at DONE DEAL) seem to think that you should have the whole friggin’ story right there in the first five (me personally, I don’t think so).

      But I like where it is going, interesting slant. Good job!

      • Linkthis83

        Thank you….and thank you.

        Right now = dramedy. Putting a kid into a terminal situation is a heavy thing to do, but I couldn’t write anything else that fit the logline. I want nothing to do with the cop dramas.

        Well, I’m going to have the 15 done by Monday and I will repost. That way, if people do want to read the rest they can, and any more feedback I get I can implement by the deadline Wednesday.

        Like I said, if I was going to do this, it was going to be with my spin. Lol. Thanks, Kenglo.

    • gazrow

      Read the first 5. Gonna wait until I’ve read all 15 before commenting. That said, I’m interested to see where the story’s heading? :)

      • Linkthis83

        Am I supposed to answer if you are interested in where the story is going? If so, then I say “yes you are”

    • pmlove

      Hey Mike,

      I’ll be honest, I had a quick skim at work and the first page felt confused. I’ve just re-read it and it makes a hell of a lot more sense – feels like it’s going to be a British mockumentary style comedy (not exactly, but that tone –

      If you’re keen on the Katie intro being cut off, I think you should go with the tone of the script and talk to us directly. I know this is a bit ‘Shane Black’ etc but otherwise it does jar when you read it.

      Also, not sure if the V.O. is talking to me or whether it’s Tommy talking to Boy and Girl.

      ‘Where we started camera wise’ – I’d lose this bit.

      p4 – not sure what a Red Hot is (or if I should know…). Might just be a US/UK thing.

      At the moment, the VP interjection doesn’t really add much (obviously only p5). Not sure about the Phil Collins gag – feels a little too close to the Office Space/Michael Bolton joke to come across as original.

      Need the next 10 – I like the gentle style of the comedy (more in the UK vein I suspect).

      • Linkthis83

        It’s so fascinating to get these different interpretations. Thank you for reading it.

        -Not a mockumentary at all. The point of that opening is to highlight Tommy. Then to show that he does have sidekicks, but that they aren’t ready to be introduced yet. That’s why the zoom in on Tommy isolated, then the zoomed out view when they come around the corner again.

        I’m going to remove Katie’s interrupted intro. I added that in today to see how I felt about it and when I saw today’s article, I left it in just to see what kind of reaction it got. NOTED :)

        -If my humor is coming off Brit style, it’s not intended. Since the kid is only going to have 30 days to live, I wanted to emphasize the “fun” that’s in this kid, but that he also takes himself and his endeavors seriously.

        -The VO will make sense later in the opening pages, but I assume people will still say to take it out. And that’s cool that they feel that way. I like it.

        -I guess Red Hots are an American thing. I wanted something more specific than just “Where’s the candy?” To show that Tommy didn’t know what he thought he knew. Also to show that Albert has been known to peddle candy and that Tommy allows it and now he’s discovered something completely different.

        -The Phil Collins bit is going to stay as long as it enhances the story/relationship between those two characters. If it doesn’t, it’s gone. I’ve thought a lot about that choice. But I wanted a way for Tommy to degrade him, not just be insubordinate. The whole Michael Bolton thing never came to mind, but that is a great observation.

        And thanks a ton for reading and responding. So helpful.

    • Jaco

      A corrupt hall monitor with one month left to live tries to make all the wrongs in his young life right in a wobbly road to pubescent redemption, becoming the eighth grader – and the teenage boy – he always wanted to be in the process.

      Kudos on thinking out of the box with making your main character a middle school “detective”. But, I’m not sure it’s a very interesting story to tell, to be honest – feels like there’s an element missing. A hook . . . an interesting conceit . . .

      Maybe it’s a matter of challenging yourself to see how out of the box you can be with the “one month left to live” angle. I wouldn’t be surprised if 99% of the entries for this contest use a sudden diagnosis of a terminal disease in their story. How can you make yourself different? What if “one month left to live” was more referring to this guy going through puberty? Or “one month left to live” means he only has one more month of eighth grade before school gets out . . . I dunno . . . your story . . . just my quick two cents. Maybe it’s too late to try and do that.

      In any event, the writing’s actually not all that bad for someone just starting off on their screenwriting journey. I’m guessing that you’ll look back on this piece in four or five years and wonder what the hell were you thinking (at least if you are still at it and have improved, and I’m guessing you will). But, overall, it feels in need of six or seven more rewrites to make the pages pop.

      As it is, I would not be interested in reading on because:

      (a) The set-up in these initial five pages is kind of flat, derivative, and predictable;


      (b) I can feel the heavy hand of the writer behind the characters dialogue and actions . . . they’re marionettes, still tethered to your whims and wishes and haven’t yet found their voices or their raison d’être.

      All that said – the writing itself shows promise and you’ve engaged other readers on this site – so well done and good luck going forward. Work on that inner critic and don’t just settle for good on these pages . . . be better.

      • Linkthis83

        Jaco, much sincere appreciation for the read and the notes.

        -Missing the hook? Then I’m already screwed. To me, the HOOK is the 8th grade hall monitor (and the dying – and him going through it – and seeing what he goes through and how). However, I love my choice so that is what I’m going with for now. Besides, the whole point of this was to give me another opportunity to work on something and get better that I hadn’t done yet.

        -99% of the entries = I agree 100% about the terminal angle. But for Tommy’s story, terminal illness is the way to go. That’s one of the things I believe in and advocate for when it comes to story choices. If you are going to choose it, embrace it. And that’s what I’m doing here. But Tommy is not going to be tragic. He’s going to be the anti-terminal disease kid. Maybe that is what my HOOK is intended to be. With him being a kid in middle school, I wanted something to be realistic about this out-of-the-box premise. Something to ground it in reality. Like how we live our lives. We can go around telling the whole world who we THINK we are, then life happens, then we actually get to meet ourselves – or deny it.

        I appreciate the straightforward honesty. You do me no favors by being anything but direct. I appreciate the compliments you worked in there. Since I only have until Wednesday to complete these pages, I’m going to have to settle for “good enough” for now. But that’s the hope = Be good enough to get top ten, then I get 12 weeks of the grind that will hopefully elevate my abilities and speed up my growth. This isn’t something I’m just dicking around with. Thanks again, J.

        • Jaco

          Cheers – appreciate your conviction.

          Your deadline is Wednesday – that’s eons, man! Grind every second you can to make these pages better and don’t settle for good enough. Because, in my humble experience, it ends up not being good enough.

          Best of luck. The more you write the better you’ll get – sounds like you know that.

      • Linkthis83

        Hey Jaco,

        One of the critiques you had was that this story is “predictable”. I’m not trying to write anything with a twist, so would you be willing to expound upon your meaning of “predictable”? If not, no worries.

        • Jaco


          By saying this story – at least the first 5 you shared – is predictable, I’m trying to let you know that when I read this, your story didn’t differentiate itself enough from what I picture any other new writer doing with this idea (not just the generic logline – but your decision to make the MC an 8th grader). It felt like a sequence that the majority of the 1000s of new writers out there would probably come up with. There’s a glimmer of a “voice” in your pages – it’s just gets lost in a fairly banal start.

          This is not a put down in any way – it’s something very indigenous with most new writers. You’re only doing the best you can do . . . hell, we all are. But, what a lot of new writers don’t quite get (including at one time, yours truly), is that your best when you first start out isn’t very good. At least, for most. Heck – for some it never gets any better. But, as a new writer, knowing what you write isn’t going to be earth shatteringly good, well, it’s a reality that’s sometimes hard to face. It’s like sprinting up a hill, being proud you got to the top, and then being told that you still have 9,000 vertical feet to climb before you even get to base camp. And then, as you continue on, someone whispers to you, “Oh, and by the way, all spots are taken.”

          Hope that makes sense.


          • Linkthis83

            Yep. Makes sense. And…fair enough. Thanks.

    • Nicholas J

      I thought your opening pages were pretty good, but I’d just like to echo the sentiments in favor of cutting all your directing on the page. Just tell the story. For multiple reasons.

      If whatever spec script you write does get turned into a movie someday, one of the first things to go will be all your directing on the page. You know, so the director can direct, not the writer.

      It clutters up the page and readers LOVE white space!

      It detracts from the story. I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out what was actually happening on your first pages, having to sort out the camera directions and stuff. By being more specific you are making things more confusing. You want me concentrating on your story and characters, not the camera movements.

      It doesn’t add anything. What do your camera zooms on page 1 add to the story?

      IMO anything that doesn’t help add to your story or clarify what’s happening in the scene needs to be cut.

      And if it’s your thing and how you want to write, then go ahead and do it. I’m not saying you can’t, lots of people do, I’m just adding my two cents. Normally I focus on all story, but there’s only 5 pages of it here, so yeah. Good luck with it!

      • Linkthis83

        “If whatever spec script you write does get turned into a movie someday, one of the first things to go will be all your directing on the page. You know, so the director can direct, not the writer.”

        You know, Nick, this is the exact reason why I’m going to write the way I will at times. Not because I think I’m a director or anything, but this is the only time when I have COMPLETE CONTROL over my vision. And I’m going to try to tell it as I see it :)

        If it gets to the point where anybody else is involved, I already know it’s going to be changed. And whatever I change it to now, will still be changed. What I have to decide is if it’s worth possibly taking people out of the story to keep it. So…I will look at it and try and figure out some other ways of maybe keeping it, and I might come up with another way to tell it straightforward. It’s a PROCESS, right. If people loved the fun of the opening, then it may not be a discussion but a highlighted concern. Taking risks is going to be a lot of the fun in writing. I feel if my writing bores me, then it will bore others. If it’s fun for me and trips up others, that I can deal with.

        I do love and appreciate feedback like this though. I need it. So I know if what I’m trying to do is effective or counterproductive. Thanks, man.

        • Nicholas J

          Yeah cool, I just come at scripts from the reader’s perspective, and usually advise people to write as reader friendly as possible. But any good story should show through however you want to write it, assuming it’s not completely doused in vague prose, which yours is nowhere close to.

          • Linkthis83

            Yeah no doubt. In my other script I’m working on, I’ve argued with my cowriter about how we should write some things thinking of the reader, and not the audience goer.

            But with this character and this story, it’s just different. So I’m going on instinct and what feels right. I just want to make sure that you know I completely understand your perspective, and with most other scripts, I’d urge the same thing you did.

          • mulesandmud

            I notice that you keep defending this camera direction on grounds of creative freedom (it felt right, it’s the only time I’ll have control, the scene just needed something). That’s fine, but putting aside your loyalty to your own ‘vision’, you don’t actually seem to have any specific reasons for that particular choice aside from personal preference. This seems like a pretty arbitrary place to stand your ground in the name of art.

            Rewriting needs to be a ruthless assessment of what you’ve done, why you’ve done it, and how to do it better. If multiple people are confused and/or distracted by a choice you’ve made, it’s time to ask yourself “Does this choice mean the same thing to my audience as it does to me?”

          • Linkthis83

            “”Does this choice mean the same thing to my audience as it does to me?””

            I brought this up in a reply I made to someone else (or basically something very similar).

            The purpose of the intro this way is “fun”. Not my artistic stance on fun, but that’s what I want to introduce this character with – a fun style intro. Because of the subject matter and the heaviness that will be in the background once he gets diagnosed, I wanted to start out with Tommy having fun. And I wanted to enhance it with the camera and it’s style.

            Sure it’s really a one-off moment, but it’s specific to this moment. We get to meet him and I want people to forget about what’s to come in the next few pages and highlight the “SPIRIT” of this character. And doing it straight up wasn’t enough, for me, in my opinion. Which is also why I don’t want to bail on it immediately. Because it’s not arbitrary, it has meaning and purpose. I’ve given a lot of thought to all the choices I’ve put in these five pages so far.

            So hopefully, even though you and others disagree with its usage, this helps convey the WHY of it.

    • fragglewriter

      I read the first 5 and agree with Logline_Villian, but would like to add:

      – pg. 5 for Vice Principal Phillip Collins/Vice Principal Collins/V.P. Collins- choose one.

      I’m not sure how old the protagonist is, but going back to age 15 might slow things down, unless you’re going the comedic route. I don’t know, but just me.

      • Linkthis83

        Thanks, Fragglewriter.

        Good call on the VP thing. On his first line I wanted the readers to know his name was Phillip to get to the Phil Collins thing. I can just call him VICE PRINCIPAL COLLINS.

        This is not a flashback. This whole story takes place while he’s 15 and in middle school :) Appreciate you and your notes.

    • Kirk Diggler

      Late to the game here. I’ll try and point some things out others have missed.

      Your opening action line is a bit clumsy.

      “A two story brick building that still looks new.”

      The ‘still’ part doesn’t work, because it doesn’t tell us anything. Still looks new from when? Twenty years ago? 6 months ago? See what I mean?

      “The grounds are immaculate and pristine.”

      Redundant adjectives. Pick one. Or another one that has a different meaning.

      I don’t think I’m nitpicking. The opening lines of your script are super important. First impressions matter.

      Not the biggest fan of camera directions, but if you are going for a Ferris Buehler thing, I’m willing to see how well it works.

      I chuckled when Tommy dumped the bag of marijuana and then asked about the red hots, but at the same time I don’t understand what Tommy is up to. Is he a hall monitor who shakes students down? Better give him a ‘save the cat’ moment in the first 15 if that’s the case. And he has an unusual relationship with the V.P. The V.P. is asking Tommy to open the closet but Tommy seems to be dictating his own terms. Which makes me wonder what the tone is? Dark comedy? Light drama? Who is Tommy that he can tell the VP that he needs 5 more minutes and gets it?

      The Phil Collins reference seems an odd one for a 15 year old. Unless he enjoys what is now considered easy listening/ soft rock.

      You could use a mini-slug for the janitor’s closet if you want to.

      I’ll take a look at your 15 when it’s ready. Just make sure you have a little more clarity in that opening page or two. Writing a script about a 15 year old who is going to die is a bold move and tough sell, it’s important to nail down the tone of your piece in the first 10 pages or less. You hinted it’s not a comedy but it sounds like it could be a dark comedy and maybe you haven’t embraced that yet.

      Either way, good luck, looks like you got a lot of good notes today.

      • Linkthis83

        Thanks, Kirk. I will revisit the school description lines.

        Nitpicking is fine, even though you weren’t doing it ;)

        For me, I’m not really trying to be comedic, but I’m hoping that Tommy just being Tommy will amuse people. So, I’m not sitting there thinking “What’s funny here” but rather “What happens that makes Tommy react a certain way to show that he doesn’t KNOW exactly what he thinks he knows” That’s the whole point of the RED HOTS line. To SHOW that he doesn’t know what’s going on, he can be surprised, and that Albert had been peddling candy on school grounds that Tommy was allowing.

        The Phil Collins bit is a way for Tommy to degrade the VP while also being insubordinate. He has leverage on him. And degrading him directly with the leverage is “too on the nose” ;) And it’s to SHOW that Tommy might be willing to do a little digging for the Phil Collins stuff, not that he has to enjoy the music. I mean, if you wanted some dirt on somebody and some famous artist came up that you never heard of but would’ve existed in the generation of the guy you’re digging up info on, you might try to capitalize on it. Maybe. I view as a tool to enhance their relationship. If it doesn’t work, it’ll be removed. I’ve already decided that. But I’m willing to take the risk for now.

        -It is a bold move. But that’s the point. And in reference to you saying that I need a Save the Cat moment, I think I sort of disagree (shocking, right?). And here’s why, in the pages to come, you’ll learn more about Tommy and my hope is the OVERALL picture of Tommy will make you invest in him anyway. Also, if this was someone else’s script and another poster made that point, I would comment that I feel that because Tommy is a kid, he’s already redeemable. I mean, he’s not shooting up classrooms and stabbing people. He’s not evil, not even a bully. He doesn’t go after Albert in a violent way, but a playful way. Does that not show he’s redeemable already?

        And thanks again. I appreciate it immensely.

    • Midnight Luck


      reading the five pages my first thoughts are:

      1. What are you trying to accomplish with this introduction?
      2. Is this the ABSOLUTE best scene to open with?
      3. What is happening in these first scenes, and is what’s going on telling us what we need to know? what you want us to know?
      4. What is the Tone? Is it a Comedy? a drama? Something else?
      5. If you had 5 pages to sink or swim, instead of 15, is this what you would send in?

      So reading this, and finding my head filling with questions like this, I believe I know your answers to some of them, based on conversations we have had.

      I know you really want to do it your way. I know you want to buck convention. I know you don’t want to be beholden to “The Rules” (what others tell you you should or shouldn’t do).

      That is all well and good, and maybe as an exercise it has value. But ultimately, you have to ask: “Is this telling an interesting, exciting, entertaining story”?

      There is a bit of fun, a bit of charm, and a lot of, “This guy is a Dick” to me. Mostly, I come away feeling like he’s just an asshole, and I don’t actually feel that much of it is fun. Now is this an intro scene AFTER he has been diagnosed? if it is, ok, I can see that he might be pissed and acting out (but you don’t tell us, so there is no way to know how to approach is asshole-ness). but if it is BEFORE, well, where are you going to go from there? His diagnosis won’t set him off down the path of rebellion, it will just look like more of the same. That he is the same prick.

      I think that the first page, then the first five, and ultimately the first 10 pages have to set so many things down, so many things into motion. It is limited Real Estate, and it is so valuable. You seriously need to make sure what you are putting down in that first page, and those first five or ten tell us: The Tone, The Rules, Where we Are, Characters, The Genre, and then many, many, many more subtle things. Style is in there, but it CANNOT be so overbearing that none of those other things are taken in. I fear with the reasoning you have for writing it this way, your VOICE is obliterating your STORY. I fear your insistence that using Camera directions and such, along with V.O. and O.S. for most of the first page or two, are both confusing, and distracting from what you are actually trying to say and do.

      I hope some of this makes sense. I apologize if it is too harsh. I believe you want me to tell you exactly what I think, so I am. I just really feel like you haven’t reached down inside yourself and dug deep enough. You aren’t telling the TRUE story you are wanting to tell. It feels flippant and light. I think there is an anger in there, and it should be much darker, full of angst, and deep. Maybe it is coming, but I believe seeing a bit of it, even if it is only a shadow of it, early on will help substantially. I think we need to see the Good kid who becomes the Bad Kid, so we have a frame of reference and (if it is your intention) you can keep us on board still pulling for him as the story progresses.

      I like the idea you laid out when we spoke, and I think some great stuff can be done with it. I know you are working on a deadline for this contest, so rewriting is tight. Just consider though, that the very first page, the first word, the first intro, the first dialogue, carries so much weight (rightly or wrongly) it can kill a reader dead in their tracks, or it can lift them high above the clouds and make them want to follow you to the end of the earth.

      I am not sure this has gotten it’s claws deep enough in to the reader yet.
      Keep at it, I believe you can get there.

      • Linkthis83

        1) The first thing I want you to SEE Tommy doing is having fun. That’s important when he gives us his “exposition dump”. Also, we learn that even though Tommy is a bit of an asshole, he’s not alone. He has sidekicks. But we aren’t ready to meet them yet. So it’s important the audience know these things BEFORE Tommy starts being Tommy.

        2) I’ve thought a lot about the opening and for story related purposes, and my own instincts into it as well, YES, I feel this is the most appropriate opening for this story. Best? Well, that’s subjective to me and because I don’t have an opening I like better than this one, it will stay for now (with adjustments to hopefully at least make this opening easier to digest). I’ve also gotten praise for this opening from other writers – just not on here. They SAW it and GOT it. Which I feel is going to happen quite a bit with every word I ever type as a writer.

        3) YES. All this stuff in 5 pages is SHOWING who Tommy is right now and his effect on the world around him. We learn that he’s corrupt by allowing things to happen in the school as long as they are on his terms (the candy). We learn that he’s not alone even if he is an asshole. We learn that he and his team work well together. We learn the beginning of an important relationship scenario between him and the vice principal. We learn that even though Tommy knows his school, a new element has been introduced (marijuana). We learn he’s HALL ENFORCEMENT. We learn he his operating on his own terms. We learn that he has access to things he probably shouldn’t (locker assignments and keys to locked doors). We learn that he has some depth (the John Donne poem reference for No Man Is An Island). We learn that he’s either familiar, or gotten himself familiar with the music of Phil Collins just to degrade the VP even more. We learn about that he’s allowed to carry his phone with him around school. We learn that he just might be a good detective with his interaction with Albert. We learn that Tommy has the power to give out detention and abuses that power. We learn that he’s kind of comical about his approach, with wanting to have Albert closer to the light bulb. Also to SHOW that he’s still a kid and using his imagination along with reality. And we learn that he’s confident and persistent. So…for 5 pages, isn’t that really an accomplishment? I guess it makes me kind of an ahole, but I think it does. I’ve set all that up in just 5 pages. And I feel good about it. However, that doesn’t mean I delivered it effectively.

        4) More like a Dramedy. It has to be. The kids going to be sentenced to death. But it’s his attitude towards it, how he deals with it, and his determination to make things right that I HOPE people will want to INVEST in.

        5) I’d do more tweaking, but essentially, YES, this is what I would turn in for the STORY I see before me. Do I think it’s perfect = hell no. No script ever is. If readers and judges read things like a lot of people here do, then nobody ever really stands a chance. I think a lot of screenwriting beliefs around here aren’t the reality. And I’m willing to take those chances. I believe that people are looking for stories. And that they are looking for the potential in them. Why would they bother at all if they aren’t looking for something to buy or make or that might lead them to a new writer that has something they are looking for. I’m not interested in appeasing my peers. I understand where the criticisms come from and their purpose, but I also don’t feel like I HAVE to make some of these changes to be successful. That’s part of believing in yourself, right? I feel it is. I think too many writers are too quick to change things because of popular feedback. Just because it’s popular, doesn’t make it right. I will treat my script like I treat others. If I feel the need for change is strong, then I will most certainly do it. But I also advise any writer that asks me to read their stuff that if they feel it’s the best way for them to tell their story, then stick by it. Have some conviction and stand against the masses. After all, I am receiving feedback on an amateur website. And I appreciate the hell out of it. But just because I’m not quick to heed the majority doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. It helps me assess what I might be working against. It lets me know that I might be getting in my own way. But there are others who enjoyed it. I also want to come at it MY WAY not because Im egotistical, but because I want a fresher way of entertaining those who all sound so similar when reading scripts. If people are going to hold that against me, the person, that’s unfortunate, but I understand it.

        There is a dichotomy at work here. I want to write the way I FEEL is best for my stories, but I’m also trying to enter into a profession that requires my writing to also be popular. Well, that’s my challenge. I also believe that MORE writers should stand their ground for their work. It’s so easy to feel outnumbered, and by doing so, people will yield to that. I take it in, assess it to my work and think “Hmmm…what others ways could I do this? Should I do this? Does it really work against my story? Is this EFFECTIVE for what I want the story to do?” I don’t just do that standard post-game interview and give surface responses and tell everybody they’re right. I don’t think that helps me grow.

        If the awesome and gracious readers that have helped me on these 5 pages feel burned by my approach, then that sucks. But I’m not going to feel bad about it because this is MY TAKE on this stuff. I read and note scripts like I’d want mine to be read and noted. I’m consistent there. This is just what I feel about how I do this. It will suck if I lose people’s interest in wanting to read my stuff in the future. But I am ever so grateful anybody has taken the time at all. That stuff isn’t meaningless to me. It’s actually quite humbling.

        So sorry for the epic. You put a lot into giving me feedback on just 5 pages and I appreciate the hell out of it, and you. Many thanks, Midnight. I know you are a busy one and I like you challenging me and sharing your thoughts. There is so much value in getting people’s perspectives I can’t even quantify it or how much it means to me. So I just made sure to tell everyone thanks and address their issues. I tried to give them the time they gave me. Sooooo….Thank you.

        • Midnight Luck

          I have absolutely no interest in putting you in a box, nor am I putting you down with my critique either.

          What I am trying to do is push you. I absolutely 100% want you to succeed, and my responses are (hopefully) to that goal. If this is what you decide you are going with, if this is the best it can be from a story choice perspective, then great. Go with it. If you read something in what I have written and it makes you question some aspect, or some specific part that isn’t quite right, or doesn’t work, then tear it down and build it back up.

          I don’t feel the need to just nitpick this or that error in verbiage, or call out one tiny thing I see. Others have done that well. If there is a misspelled thing here or there, I think it has been found.

          I am trying to give large scope, overall pointers for what you are choosing to do. If you feel, in your gut, the approach you are taking is what is best for you and your story, then go all in. Not trying to stop you, nor am I telling you it “should” be done this or that way. That is the absolute best and the bitch about writing, there’s no actual WAY to do it. It is all by feel, instinct, and choice.

          So, I hope in some small way, some of the things I have brought up have helped you either solidify what you are choosing to do, or have made you rethink and rebuild something in your work.

          Hope you keep batting at it, and get what you want, how you want it.

          • Linkthis83

            You are simply awesome. And you are doing those things. I did a terrible job letting you know that.

          • Midnight Luck

            no, no you were fine. i wasn’t fishing for compliments either. just trying to help.

          • Linkthis83

            Okay good. I didn’t think you were fishing either.

            I feel that you and I misinterpret each others meanings quite a bit and always have the best intentions :)

  • Brainiac138

    Thanks for this article, Carson. It really rang true for me in a lot of different respects. Here are some of my own thoughts.

    1.) Movies right now are in a really strange, scared place. Sure they don’t want to put money into unknown properties, but also everyone seems very scared about what movies are going to be like in five to ten years down the line and no one wants to miss the boat. This is especially true with all the hype over immersive technology, and if the theater in the future will look more like an arcade, a virtual reality booth, or something completely different. Studios are finding it hard to justify spending money on something that may take five years or more years to be completed, if movies have radically transformed into something different than what they are today. Just the fact the threat is there, makes it hard to convince studios to green-light films.

    2.) Something I keep hearing over and over again from writers who have their first agent or manager is that if their feature script has some substance to it, the writers are encouraged to have adapt it into a tv pilot. It seems like some writers can’t make it to features if they even really want to because television is pulling any and every talented writer. One agent told me that the great American novel, turned great American screenplay search has turned into the great American pilot search and no one wants to miss out on the next big thing.

    3.) Writers who have no frame of reference, or even life experience, with what they are writing are going to write derivative characters, in boring, derivative stories. Why are some of the classic films from the 40s-70s still heralded as some of the best written? It’s because a lot of the writers came from journalism and had spent time with a huge, diverse expanse of people. Kids right out of college don’t have that experience, usually, and write stories that show it. I’ve taught so many students and read so many scripts that described drug deals gone bad, or gangsters, or other situations that the kids had no experience with other than movies. Now, that isn’t to say you have to write exclusively about what you know, but at least inform what you are writing with how people in your own experience have reacted to certain situations. This is equally compounded by the studio system that loves baby writers who are young and inexperienced, and tries to brand them before they have really written or done anything interesting.

    Okay, done now.

    • Ange Neale

      Re your first point, Brainiac138 — there are still two whole generations of people alive who grew up going to the movies once a week and who are generally slower than Gen X and Gen Y to adopt new technologies or illegally pirate stuff.

      The stupid thing is, Hollywood rarely makes movies for that audience any more — the Baby Boomers and their parents who turned out in droves for ‘Philomena’ – it cost US$12m to make, and I note it’s gobal box office ticked over US$100m this month.

      If Hollywood churned out a few dozen solidly good stories like it a year for this audience, the industry could easily have another two decades to run until the Baby Boomers have gotten too old to go to the movies anymore.

      • Franchise Blueprints

        Did Philomena actually do well because its a good movie, or because it was creative marketing counter programming? Similar to releasing “The Heat” starring Sandra Bullock during the summer blockbuster season. People were burned out watching one sci-fi / fantasy dud one after the other. Plus having a woman as a lead character was a breath of fresh air.

        • Ange Neale

          I can’t speak for anyone else, but I thought it was a good story. I saw it opening week in a middle-sized theatre in a multiplex (Australia, and Aussies tend to like British movies so that doesn’t hurt). Maybe 200, 220 seats, and all but a few in the front row were full. Audience demographic I hadn’t seen for ages: predominantly over 60s, lots of elderly women in particularly, elderly mothers with a daughter or two, older couples.

        • Nicholas J

          Not to mention the Oscar attention.

    • Franchise Blueprints

      Why are some of the classic films from the 40s-70s still heralded as
      some of the best written? It’s because a lot of the writers came from
      journalism and had spent time with a huge, diverse expanse of people.

      Reading that and thinking about movies from that era, a lot of the protagonists were newspaper reporters. And even further thinking that was a clever way to deliver exposition. You could be on the nose and it would work because your main lead was a news reporter. It seems like that’s the only role Peter Fonda has played. Below are two web sites of interest.

      • Ange Neale

        Probably, too, FB, because they came from generations tested by two world wars and the Great Depression. They’d seen hardship and known real fear and horror.

        • Franchise Blueprints

          Good point.

      • brenkilco

        in the thirties and forties and probably into the fifties too, a large percentage of screenwriters were either previously published novelists or playwrights. Yeah, there was a time people actually made a living as commercial playwrights in this country. Very few people back then started out as screenwriters. Now, that didn’t guarantee quality. The studios were an assembly line and these guys were expected to grind out ten pages a week and a lot of old movies feel that way. But a level of professionalism prevailed that is nonexistent today.

        And yeah, reporters were staple movie characters from the dawn of sound. In the thirties actors Lee Tracy and Glenda Farrell hardly played anything else. But these characters were more about wisecracks than exposition and seldom delivered dialogue that was on the nose.

    • kenglo

      ” Why are some of the classic films from the 40s-70s still heralded as some of the best written?”

      Because they could write a page of description and the filmakers ‘got it’. LOL

  • PoohBear

    I suspect that most (not all) amateur writers just don’t put the time and effort in required to have a great script that sells. It’s probably that we’re (I include myself) ignorant of the number of hours it actually takes to churn out a great screenplay. That’s harsh but think of the advantages of using IP. IP already has a built in audience. Others have put in the hours and hard work to develop those characters and storylines so by the time the screenwriter comes along, it’s not as challenging as it would be starting from scratch. If you’re not willing to put in that time and effort on your own idea then don’t bother. If you’re idea isn’t something someone would pay to see, then don’t bother. Yes there are always exceptions where a concept is so great that it trumps good writing or the time put in for a polished script.

    Just my “rambly” thoughts.

    • PoohBear

      To put it in perspective, I’m totally an amateur, weekend writer. I have a day job. I started screenwriting in 2004.
      I have 5 total feature length scripts under my belt. Can’t count how many shorts.
      My last script I was most proud and thought was ready to release into the wild went through ONLY two real drafts. I paid for 3 Black List Scores: 6 and two 4’s.
      I believe the concept is viable as it made an AF short list and I got some downloads from industry folks on the BL. I just didn’t put the time in that it needed, I know that or at least I’m realizing it’s not so easy.
      My current script is in it’s 3rd draft, the 2nd was a page 1 rewrite. I want to submit to Nicholls but I know it’s not ready and I’ll waste my money if I submit it next week. So I’m going to give it the care and feeding it needs. I can already see it needs at least 5 more drafts after this one just to fix different aspects.
      I guess my point is, screenwriting is not easy and it takes hard work and a great idea. (Plus luck and knowing the right folks).

    • Randy Williams

      I think most on AOW put a lot of effort and time and it sometimes makes me cringe that they get such a short window for exposure here and have to read sometimes aisinine reviews from people like me as Scriptshadow closes the door on them and moves along to something else.

      I think an important question is, would you invest your own money in your idea? Frankly, of the three scripts I’ve written so far, not a damn cent and I get more stingy as I go along. I really need to impress myself. It ain’t happening yet.

  • klmn

    Carson mentioned “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” Evidently, prez Obama ate there yesterday.

    “On the first day of President Barack Obama’s trip to Asia, he and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dined at a legendary sushi restaurant made famous by a 2011 documentary.

    …”Chef Jiro Ono, 87, is considered to be one of the top sushi chefs in the world. Ono prepares the sushi himself. His recommended special course — which features a rare, endangered species of bluefin tuna — starts at about $300. It includes more than a dozen courses served in about 20 minutes.”

    I kinda like the idea of the prez chowing down on an endangered species while pushing environmental restrictions on the commoners.

    OT: My new goal is to eat as many endangered species as I can. Get it before it’s gone.
    Tonight’s menu: California Condor.

    • astranger2

      You need to book a reservation at Carmine Sabatini’s restaurant from The Freshman — endangered species is all they serve.

  • leitskev

    “You have to create intriguing likable protagonists that don’t feel like every other intriguing likable protagonist we’ve seen.”

    Getting harder to do as readers seem to have become unusually demanding in this regard. If you go back and watch classic films from the 40s and 50s, I think you’ll find that certain character molds were used over and over, and to great affect. Audiences were satisfied with that. But those characters would never have a chance against today’s script reader, who expects something to break the mold every time and in every way.

    “Because the more I read, the more I realize that it’s ALL ABOUT THE CHARACTERS.”

    Yes, but the demand for simple, easy to understand stories works against the desire to build characters of depth. And the screenplay format, which in the eyes of many readers now is extremely rigid in its requirements, is not conducive to it either.

    It’s extremely difficult to write a good script. But it was extremely difficult decades ago, and contrary to what many film people suppose(IMO), those stories were also filled with flaws. I watch a lot of classic movies, and almost all of them have flaws that an audience has to be willing to look past. I don’t at all buy into the idea that stories were better written back then. Even many of the films we remember so fondly, if you watch them now, there are plot holes and contrivances that a modern reader would just not accept.

    It’s always been hard. I recently watched The General’s Daughter, where William Goldman was one of the writers. Watching the first half of the film, and listening to the snappy and witty dialogue, I found myself in awe at the writing talent on display. But the second half of the story, and in particular the dreadful third act, completely fell apart, leaving a story that was empty and dull. The bottom line: it really IS hard to write a great script, even for the legendary writers, so maybe we have to cut ourselves some slack.

    • kenglo

      Or how the heck did ET get away from his pursuers in the opening with those short stubby legs???

      • leitskev

        Too funny! Man, in high school I wrote only one article for the school paper. My friend was the editor and asked me to contribute something. That summer we’d sneaked into a bunch of movies, so my article was a bunch of quick reviews of all the ones we’d seen. And only one did I give a harsh review: ET.

        What bothered me about ET? The ending bike chase. They went through this long scene, barely escaping danger every step of the way. And just when they were against the wall, trapped without options of escape…ET raised his finger and flew them to safety. I couldn’t understand why the little guy didn’t do that at the BEGINNING of the escape!

        • Matty

          Hahaha, I thought the same thing when I rewatched it.

          Though that’s not exclusive to ET. Seems like 50% of films (of this type), the characters don’t go all-out until the end. They wait until shit gets really bad to actually do something about it.

        • kenglo

          deus ex machina ???

  • Panos Tsapanidis

    I’ve always wondered how Carson copes with reading all our awful screenplays and not losing it. Now I know; he is losing it.

    • Mike.H

      I have remote viewing, Ms SS does Ginsu massage on Carson’s swollen trapezoids with vanilla scented cookies baking in the O-ven.

      And 3 & 7pm scheduled treats of either Dove or Magnum double caramel bars purchased @Vons. Signed Heehaw. :) Keep Writing.

      Did I just make you have a hanking [ sp ] for Dove or Magnum bars?

      • Ange Neale

        LOL, Mike.H!

  • Panos Tsapanidis

    I think the studios make both the lobsters and the Bic Macs today, and we amateurs can’t make neither the dirty, cheap but oh so fun big Mac nor the pure, elegant lobster.

    • Hadley’s Hope Remembers

      Can we be taco trucks or friendly diners that serve awesome breakfast skillets?

      • Panos Tsapanidis

        You can serve anything you want. As long as it’s awesome. Now, HOW you make something AWESOME, that’s the conundrum.

  • Mike.H

    I’m eternally opinionated and annoying as I boldly state that Hollywood dabbled with A-I material three times and 3 times met with disappointed.

    [ Bicentenial man with Robin W. ]

    [ A-I with Haley Joel Osment. ]

    [ And now, Depp’s Transendence.]

    To me, A-I flicks present stiffness on screen. As if taking a shower with a slicker on, it’s no fun, it’s weird. Unless it’s lightning in a bottle script that gnaws at ‘you, don’t ever touch the subject for the next ten yrs when technology finally catches up.

    • PoohBear

      I poke hole in your theory… “Her”.
      Or is that considered lightning in a bottle?

      • FilmingEJ

        Her was genuinely great. I don’t know if anyone will be able to make a movie with an AI as great as that.

    • Midnight Luck

      Blade Runner, or Terminator, solid a.i.

      • Hadley’s Hope Remembers

        The Matrix


        • Midnight Luck

          Robot & Frank

          • Hadley’s Hope Remembers

            Good one with Westworld.

            I still need to see Robot & Frank.

  • Panos Tsapanidis

    When you start bitching about the Hollywood system and its tendency to only produce scripts from pros, remember: Pros started as amateurs.

    • Mike.H

      It’s a catch 22. Pros get stale and suffer from burn out. New voiceS will and must enter H-wood or the work material pool DRIES OUT.

  • Eddie Panta

    SS: ” Learn how to write good characters. Look back through my archives. Google the word. Re-watch all your favorite characters and take notes about why you love them.”

    Here’s The Secret:

    Yes, study use this site, read books/scripts etc…

    But most important of all, live a life, develop a philosophy.

    Anyone can learn how to structure sentences into suspenseful moments.

    IF someone has had a traumatic experience or an incredible life experience, their brutal honesty about it will trump your prose.

    When someone in Hollywood encounters brutal honesty on paper it irritates them because they aren’t capable of it, but that is also exactly what makes them want to obtain it. ( see Juno ).

    PLOTS are a maze of lies
    Your plot need not be realistic.
    But the CHARACTERS in the maze should be genuine, brutally honest.

    There is more than one way to skin a cat.

    Yes, you can never leave the house, sit in your room all day, read all the greats, develop a style and even steal from the right sources in creative clever ways. That is one approach that can work. You can do this screenplay thing just by obtaining an incredible knowledge base about how the biz works. We know this is true because lawyers have written successful screenplays.

    So, you can do this by being an incredible bullshit artist, essentially writing scripts about movies.


    You can dig deep and write down what is really bothering you.


    You can be a voyeur, a spy, someone who writes down someone else brutally honest moments, like a journalist. You want to hear great stories, go to an AA meeting, listen to 911 calls.

    • drifting in space

      I get a lot of inspiration from obscure articles I read while researching real people. Real life trumps imagination in scary ways sometimes.

    • brenkilco

      Dialogue, all drama really, is a con. it’s not just random events noticed or conversations overheard. A film should seem to be just that but it’s a story. A dialogue exchange may seem pointless or random but it never can be. Real life events, witnessed or experienced, have and should inspire a writer but nothing will come of them if he isn’t first a writer. Whatever the attendees at an AA meeting have experienced it’s not likely that any of them could transform those experiences into a story, a script or a novel. It’s also unfortunately the case that people experiencing emotionally overwhelming events may still express themselves in cliched terms or be unable to express themselves at all.

      I recently sat in a hospital waiting room and was involuntarily privy to a number of cell phone calls placed by an individual who was being discharged and who was apparently homeless. I felt that in those few minutes I obtained a view of the entire shape of her life. I don’t know that anything I overheard will ever find its way into anything I write, but if it does I would need to find a way to preserve the feeling while changing all the words.

  • Panos Tsapanidis

    This is the saddest article Carson ever written. I can sense so much disappointment in him. Can’t blame him though for feeling this way. :(

  • Howie428

    The biggest problem is that readers and us have become caught up in worshipping false idols. Even this article repeats the mantra of character development, jazzy dialogue, quality prose, and commercial wisdom. The key ingredient that’s not valued can be summed up in one word, viability.

    When we read screenplays we worry too much about what we get from the page. The skill that readers are short of is the ability to see that a good finished movie will be much more than what is written. Getting caught up in the smoke and mirrors of what’s on the page leads to movies that disappoint.

    Screenplays need to provide the skeleton to which others can add flesh. Typical readers don’t evaluate the bones. They get excited or negative about the frilly dress and slathered make-up.

    Script viability has two main aspects. First, does the script describe a story that will function as a movie? This is where GSU comes in. But more basic ingredients matter also, such as completeness, pace, flow, and momentum. Does the script welcome you in at the beginning and carry you through to the end in the way that a movie should?

    The second aspect of script viability is the practical side. It has to be identifiably a script, readable as one, and in our case it can’t alienate people. This is the craft of writing a producible document.

    What I’m describing here are obvious basics. But they are basics that get ignored too often in favor sophisticated ingredients that can be added by other collaborators or that the audience will not notice.

    Once you’ve got a viable script in place the development process will carry that script upwards. Refinements and talented contributors will flesh it out and build it up so that it becomes much more than it first appeared to be.

    The industry requires specs to be all things to all people at the point when they first see them. Since that’s almost impossible they choose the pigs in lipstick or the existing IP where the product is easier to picture. The missing skill is in finding scripts with the basics in place and developing them.

  • Gilx

    Loved this article, thanks. The kind of shot in the arm that makes me wish I had the rest of the day to write. (Instead of move furniture.)

  • Jim

    If you want a different perspective, one that stops trying to tell you how to write a story, try studying WHY we tell stories in the first place. What their purpose is. Where we find them (hint: they’re EVERYWHERE). Once you learn why we tell them, why we need them, you’ll get a better appreciation of HOW they work – from the inside out (I’m talking about neuroscience and how your brain works).

    If you don’t know where to start, you can check out my profile on Google+, Jim Barker, as I post a TON of articles I’ve collected over the years from Psychology Today and any other number of blogs that discuss the power of storytelling, its purpose, why we tell them, why they’re necessary, etc.

    Screenwriting is merely one form of storytelling, but the art of storytelling itself transcends all forms of media and the sooner people step back and away from plot points, inciting incidents, three act structure, etc., and take a look at the BIG PICTURE, the better off they’ll be in the long run. Those things are important, but it’s easy to get lost in the weeds and never see the purpose in what you’re doing/trying to accomplish.

    Understanding why people WANT to read stories, why they NEED them, and how they work on a psychological level is, I believe, fundamentally more important than learning storytelling out of a screenplay book.

    • brenkilco

      And if you think up a story and you write it down in script form and it actually is a story it’s going to have a three act structure. Whether you sweated the plot points or not.

  • PV

    I’m an avid reader of SS and I don’t post that often but I
    have to say I’m really happy you wrote this article Carson because I know
    exactly what you’re talking about.

    I’m a comedian. I have been for the last 10 years and it
    will always will be but that was my primary focus before I got into
    screenwriting. In reality, I’ve always been writing spec pilots because that’s
    what all comedy managers want you to do. Write a great pilot while you’re
    working the road so they have something to shop around while you’re gone. But I
    didn’t take the time to sit down and study the craft intently until about three
    years ago. I use to kick myself for not starting sooner, while I was on the
    road, because I feel like I would be much further ahead in my understanding of
    screenwriting if I had. But now when I look back, I realize, working the road
    and actually living life, seeing the bumblefuck nowhere of Middle America, and
    gigging for weeks straight while meeting people I would have never met
    otherwise, was a boon to my craft in ways I could not have predicted.

    One of the things I’ve always felt when I’m reading bad
    screenplays is that I feel like I’m reading a script. So much attention in the
    script-writing community is paid to the physical SCRIPT. How it looks, what
    script no-no you shouldn’t do. 10 things about your script that will make
    agents know you’re an amateur. In general, there’s so much obsession with all
    this pointless bullshit that it completely detracts from the real issue at hand
    which is, how do I visually convey a fictional reality that feels so honest and
    compelling that I can’t help but watch. That’s what draws you into films in the
    first place. Real people. Textured people. People that you can’t meet inside
    Save the Cat. And if you haven’t met those type of people or know they even
    exist, how could you possibly characterize them effectively in a script.

    The bullshit I’m talking about are the countless blogs (not
    yours of course :) )that focus on whether or not using “we” in scripts is bad. How many lines should my paragraphs be? Providing arbitrary character flaws to give your
    characters false depth. Providing arbitrary and unfounded plot turns as a last
    ditch effort to inject the script with some vitality. There are so many short
    cuts in the script community because there are so many learning materials
    providing short cuts. I mean part of the reason people don’t want to take the
    time to read The Scarlet Letter when they’re in 8th grade is because
    there’s a huge market for cliff-notes. The same applies to screenwriting. Every
    time I see a book that says, churn out a screenplay in 12 weeks with this
    guide, blah blah blah, I cringe so hard my soul crumples. In a lot of ways, those are the books that make people think they can do it more than anything. And that’s great because
    those books exist in the comedy community. They help inspire and give people a
    starting point which is wonderful! But when a green-comic comes up to me and
    says what do I do to get into comedy, I say read those books to get on stage.
    Finish those books. Get on stage some more. And then forget every fucking word
    of those books and re-learn your craft from the ground up because rule books
    for art are total bullshit. Screenwriting and even the book you’ve written
    Carson, is a guidelines that tells you pitfalls and enhancements that have
    statistically not worked or worked for previous moves that have successfully
    moved us and changed us as audiences. That’s the first thing McKee and all
    those guys say. Guidelines not rules. I believe in that. Like I do for comedy
    as I do for scriptwriting but I think the first thing that needs to happen
    refocus this emphasis away from the nuts and bolts of screenwriting. What
    margins should I use? Is it okay to use this font. Bullshit. Bullshit.
    Bullshit. And focus on the lives of the people you’re trying to portray. You mentioned
    this, Carson. Make your characters compelling. But I think I would like to add
    onto that and don’t even make them characters. Make them real to me. Make these
    people REAL. Because when I go to a movie, I get sucked in not because I’m
    going, wow these characters are compelling. I’m going, that SUCKS for that guy!
    Why did he/she do that to them?? How could they?! That backstabbing bitch! That
    two-timing bastard! *tears*

    The second you nail that down, no one’s going to give a fuck
    if the margins are appropriate. Okay, I mean they WILL but these cosmetic
    things are changes you can make with a few clicks in Final Draft.

    Sorry. I got a little worked up. Passion, not anger people. J I love films. And
    screenwriting is an avenue to films because we see real people. So let’s stop focusing,
    as an amateur community, on the cosmetic bullshit of screen writing. It’s all
    be okay as long as story and the characters and honest and true.

    (PS. I’m as guilty as sin of all the pitfalls I mentioned
    above. I’m not above them in any way. But since we are a community, a lot of
    the things I get mad at myself about in my own writing are things that I think
    could potentially help other people which is why I felt compelled to share
    today. That’s all.)

  • lysdexicuss

    Great post.

    Another problem could be….

    The Readers !

    ADHD type personalities
    tweeting texting in Coffee
    Shops multi-tasking out
    the yin-yang bung-hole
    with jealous animosity
    toward Writers because
    they can’t stay focused
    long enough to write their
    own name on an envelope
    but somehow retain the
    power to critique haha !

    I do not count Carson among
    this type, however. This site
    & his old blog have proven
    he’s the real deal. But, he
    did score Django highly &
    if ever there was a rambling
    script with too much descriptive
    narrative, unnecessary dialog
    etc… Had QT’s name not been
    on it I am sorry but it would have
    been shit-canned by page four
    for typos & poor-grammar alone.

    Hey Carson ! Maybe you could do a post
    about Writers/Directors as Brand-Names…

    You know what you’re getting with a Woody Allen
    script (every character is a variation of Woody Allen);
    you know what you’re getting with Martin Scorcese
    (polished style & substance); you know what you
    are getting with QT (violence, envelope-pushing
    etc.). So Readers tend to Buy into the Brand
    once it is established, giving these Creators
    an edge whereas Joe Schmoe who may be
    the next Charlie Kauffman has to suffer
    the misery of life without an Audience.

    Sometimes a screenplay doesn’t get good
    until after page 20… Which means alot of
    Readers have already bailed because
    they thought the set-up was too slow.

    Try reading the Hateful Eight and honestly
    tell me what the hell happens before page
    60 in that thing besides pure exposition ?

    Too bad more Producers don’t follow yer
    blog; maybe they would learn sump’n.

    The People have no choice about what
    Hollywood churns out, so, it sickens me to
    hear folks say things like “This is what the
    Masses wanna see” etc. but they are all
    disappointed by the formulaic GSUs that
    seem so contrived in the so-called Block-
    busters. I think tonal integrity & sincerity
    in storytelling should trump other
    considerations. I like Scott Frank’s
    summary on screenwriting: “Just
    keep it interesting. As long as it’s
    interesting and you are holding
    their attention, you have done
    something right.”

  • Maggie Clancy

    This article was the swift kick in the ass I needed. Thanks, Carson. Gonna write until my fingertips bleed tonight.

  • Midnight Luck

    An interesting book:

    “The Elements of Screenwriting” by Irwin R. Blacker.
    Published by the same people who made Elements of Style by Strunk & White, which is considered one of the best books out there on writing (as Stephen King says as well in his book, “On Writing”).

    It breaks down everything about writing a screenplay in very simple, basic forms. It is a small book. Has a very easy to read, and strong layout.

    Might be interesting for others to check out. Especially after an article like this. If anyone is struggling with something, or interested in learning more.

    • Kirk Diggler

      I’ve shockingly never read a book on screenwriting before. You make this sound enticing, because I like quick and to the point reads.

      • Midnight Luck

        Well, if you have never read one, I still stand behind “How NOT to Write A Screenplay” by Denny Martin Flinn. Every aspiring screenwriter should read it.

        This book is much more Nuts and Bolts, but with very interesting perspectives. The writer was a teacher who put on his own classes and was sought after like crazy for years. Turned his teaching into this writing. He says most of his learning and best knowledge came from the writers themselves as he was teaching.

  • Magga

    If you’re going to spend a year on a script you must write based on a concept that the stepford husbands who run things will like, so I have helpfully included some ideas that will get you through the door:
    Walking Bad – Walter white becomes a Zombie and sells red meth made from human flesh, while Zombie Hank, or better yet Zombie Hank Moody, chases him.
    Batman vs Godzilla – Batman is a franchise, Godzilla is a franchise, you do the math.
    Coca Cola, a sweet experience – Coke is a huge brand that everyone knows, and yet no one has turned it into a major blockbuster! This is where we come in.
    Ronald McDonald – Kids love him, adults have known him since they were children, yet have we ever seen him rescue a dog?
    Ronald McDonald vs Godzilla – Imagine the burger tie-ins.
    Supergirl – How come this hasn’t been remade? Girls want to be her, men want to be with her, and what was missing from the original was some real cleavage on the suit.
    Lawrence of America – Time to retell this story without all that exotic stuff. Instead of an intermission, just make two separate movies.
    Young Ally McBeal – Many grown women remember this series, and if you can get a teen audience as well, you’re golden.
    E.T – time to do this in 3D, and this time we get to see what’s inside the spaceship.
    The Bridesmaids – Time to reboot this franchise.
    The First Hangover – The teenage versions of our favorite group of amnesiacs go on spring break as kids, and guess how much they remember!
    Hannibal The Movie – This show is doing well on TV, so how about we turn it into a movie!
    7th heaven – Religious movies are greenlit these days, this is a brand, and we can have Jessica Beal in all kinds of skimpy outfits for an hour before concluding that this behavior is immoral.
    You’re welcome

    • drifting in space

      This. Is. Perfect! I’d also like to see Avengers vs. Transformers.

    • PoohBear

      I call dibs on The First Hangover, that’s borderline genius.

      • JakeMLB

        The First Hangover is actually genius… That should have replaced Hangover 3.

    • Franchise Blueprints

      Nooooooooooo you preempted my idea for Ally McBeal The Movie. I was gonna start a kickstarter campaign like Veronica Mars The Movie, and have it be the most funded kickstarter ever. One of the stretch goals would be to film people on the john kicking their feet up anytime someone started spreading gossip. It was gonna be this insanely funny blooper reel of people trying to kick their feet up but fall inside the toilet. RMAORTHO – Rocky Mountain Associates in Orthopedic Medicine. See how clever I am. The average scriptwriter would have used ROFLMFAO.

    • Matty

      Hannibal the Movie? You’re retarded, that would never work.

      I like Zombie Hank Moody ;-)

      • BSBurton

        Now you’re talking! You see much of season 7 so far? May be the strongest since 4.

  • Midnight Luck

    I am not sure though that Studios not buying spec scripts actually has to do with low quality.

    Seems this has been the argument since the 70’s (or possibly earlier). Everyone lamenting the sad state of writing. Invariably this song has been played over and over. Beat up the LOWLY SCRIPTWRITER. But I would bet, by percentages, that the amount of GOOD vs. BAD stories and writing out there is still exactly the same as it was in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 00’s, 10’s. I am sure the NUMBER of scripts which are trying to get noticed has gone up. So it may SEEM like there is a lot more garbage. That is only natural. But the ACTUAL PERCENTAGES are going to be the same.

    Also, if you look at the changes that have gone on in Hollywood, the reason Specs aren’t bought seems to be stemming from the Studios themselves. They are too scared to take a chance on anything. They NEED confirmation BEFORE they will commit. This is just a weak way of moving forward. Nothing would ever be created or made in the world if everyone just waited to see that someone else like something. Well, mostly we are already there. No one takes chances on ANYTHING anymore. It has to be Vetted by something else. It needs to have a HUGE audience who have payed for the BOOK or whatever. And I get the reasoning: it is ALL about money. So better to go with something that is sure to bring in an audience, rather than something unknown. Yet most of the best work out there, came from a completely different place. It was a Unique Creation.

    So the Studios are like scared little children who won’t take a gamble unless Mommy (the world) says it is ok. We need more people to stick their neck out and gamble on others, and on the work. If CLERKS was brought in today to a studio, it would be LAUGHED out of the room. Yet that was one of the most successful movies from MIRAMAX during that time. It was seriously hilarious. Had a heart. Yes it had its issues, but people loved it and went to it. No one would take a chance on something like that now. Sure you can say it was the Heyday of the SUNDANCE festival and that is why it was bought.

    The point is though, someone took a chance.

    • Ange Neale

      Imagine where we’d be if someone had decided the wheel was too bold and adventurous, or the printing press, or a horseless carriage with a combustion engine in it. Timidity hasn’t served us well over the ages. Fortune tends to favor the bold.

      • Linkthis83

        I’m bold :)

        • klmn

          Not as bold as me.

          • Linkthis83

            Nope. You are the boldest!

          • Ange Neale

            I, too, concede defeat. All hail klmn!

    • kenglo

      “The point is though, someone took a chance.”

      The right script….

  • Kirk Diggler

    I think more writers should take part in Amateur Offerings Weekend, reviewing scripts. I learn a lot from Carson’s articles, I’ve learned just as much IF NOT MORE by reading amateur scripts. It’s a crash course on what not to do. I don’t say that to be mean, because I myself have made the same mistakes in my scripts.

    Anyone can read a good script and see the genius in it, but that’s someone else’s voice, not your own. You can’t duplicate it, so i’m not sure how much you can actually learn. But I’ve learned a lot about structure, pacing and characterization on AOW…. because I recognize it when’t it’s not there.

    If you watch someone successfully walk across a mine field, you can repeat what that person did and then safely walk across on your own. But you still don’t now where the pitfalls are. Only when you watch many others get their limbs blown off do you actually learn where not to go, or more to the point, what not to do. Everybody has at least one good story to tell, the idea is to walk across that minefield by not copying someone else, but by carving your own path from what you have learned.

    • Linkthis83

      Breaking down amateur scripts has helped me a ton.

      My approach: I pretend I’ve just been given a script by a studio and I need to improve it.

      This way, I assume there’s already a story there. I don’t care how many times I’ve been let down by a script, I’m going to give this writer the benefit of the doubt right out of the gate.

      I note the things that trip me up AND what I like. I try to tap into the emotional core of the story/moment and write my replies with those in mind.

      The MOST HELPFUL thing I do = when I find a scene/moment that really doesn’t work for me, or doesn’t capitalize on the emotion weight, I challenge myself to solve it and suggest it to the writer. It helps me see the ripple effects and see things maybe I glossed over. This type of feedback is very time consuming, but it’s not only for the writer. It’s for me too.

      If you want to get better, go into reading each script like you still have stuff to learn. And that the story/script in front of you is waiting to educate you, not the other way around.

    • carsonreeves1

      Yeah, it’s hard for people to read through bad screenplays, but you’ll definitely start to see patterns in what not to do.

      • Nate

        I think we should read through scripts from start to finish on principle alone. The writer took the time to write it, least we could do is take the time to read it. I don’t have time to read all of the AOW scripts so I’ll just read the ones that interest me but I will finish them even if they’re terrible. I can understand why people don’t but I think everyone should take that approach.

  • bluedenham

    Amen, amen. Screenwriting is HARD. It’s deceptively hard. And it’s hard on so many levels that you don’t even know what you don’t know. And woe befall the newbie writer who lucks into a sale/competition win with their first or second or even third/fourth screenplay. That’s actually worse than not selling/winning anything, because they have no idea how to follow it up, but their name is out there now, and their next screenplays have to measure up. Chances are, they probably have no idea how to replicate their success, and before you know it, they’ve faded from hot hot hot to cold cold cold in the Hollywood firmament.

    And just remember that some of those instant Hollywood success stories we hear are lies – those people put in years of hard work – but Hollywood loves the fantasy of an instant star, so they are marketed as such.

    In addition to continually writing new scripts, here are some things every wannabe screenwriter should be doing:

    – taking screenwriting classes – EVERY year
    – getting detailed analysis/coverage of scripts
    – learning how to rewrite scripts based on notes
    – joining a writing group/network
    – reading the trades daily
    – watching movies and reading scripts
    – subscribing to various professional sites such as IMDb Pro

    And don’t submit your script to a producer/studio/agent/manager until a professional tells you it’s ready.

    Does this sound like hard work? You betcha.

  • kenglo

    I am, by no means, an expert. But in the last year of writing my own script, and getting script notes from those whom I’ve come to trust story wise, it all boils down to – EMPATHY. Why do we care? About the characters, about the story?

    It occurs to me the ‘major’ studios deal in CONCEPT. HIGH concept is king. Independent Productions (IP) deal mostly with character driven concepts. Characters drive films, not the concept, not the plot. CHARACTER. And if we don’t have some sort of EMPATHY for the character(s), we get bored. We tend to tune out. There is no one, or nothing, in TRANSCENDENCE we as normal folks, can emphasize with. I’ve only read the first ten pages, and yes, it was interesting, it draws you in. But I had no empathy for Will when he got shot. I didn’t care. The CONCEPT is HUGE. The concept for THE PURGE was HUGE. But both films, IMHO, had no one we could emphasize with. Thus, it dragged on and on. GSU was there in the PURGE, but it was rather lame, to me. Although it was ‘edgy’, they could have taken it to extremes, but that’s another rant.

    Carson stated it yesterday with FLOWER – could never be made (or could, by some warped IP) because who can emphasize with a girl who gets off on blow jobs? (Guys, we know we all can, but our significant others would beat the crap out of us!). They did that already with CRASH, not the award winning one, the other one where they got off on scars and car wrecks an stuff. WTF?? The thing is, WHO CARES??

    And the way we are being ‘forced’ to write – we have to spell it out for the producer in the first 5-10 pages!! Yes, I understand, this is for CLARITY(s) sake. This is to let you know what the story is about so you can lead these people who have no idea where ‘we’ as the writer is going with it. Everything has to be dumbed down for the reader/producer.

    ENDS OF THE EARTH, GOLD, THE EQUALIZER, were, IMHO, great screenplays. I CARED for the people in the stories.


    ET!! JAWS. Name a great FILM. It’s great because we CARED….EMPATHY.

    WE want to be up on screen. We want to be engaged. We want to feel like the hero. When I saw KICK ASS, I mentioned to buds that this film had more heart than IRON MAN 2 (released same year). It was gritty, it was cool, it took chances. I CARED about BIG DADDY and HIT GIRL. I didn’t care about Tony Stark dying because of his condition. Or his smarmy relationship with Pepper Potts. Not to sound wierd or anything – I WANTED TO BE HIT GIRL!!

    EMPATHY. EMPATHY. Make us care about these people we are creating, and you will have a script that will be sold immediately.

    Well, as soon as you get your logline tight, and your query tight, and your pitch tight, and …..well….you get it….

    • Linkthis83

      Yep. Kick Ass was great because of this. The scene with Big Daddy tied to the chair shouting out instructions to Hit Girl = invested. Stories are about relationships. How you write those will determine the likelihood of empathy being achieved.

      I think that makes sense…

      • drifting in space

        Empathy is key according to Hulk.

        • Linkthis83

          I’ve heard that guy has a really great approach to storytelling ;)

        • kenglo

          And I read that direct from the HULK, and he makes a hell of a lot of sense in his writing – I sent him an email thanking him for opening mine eyes…… thanks to you ‘drifting’ I have another website to peruse and another friggin’ book to read!!!

      • kenglo

        Yes, it actually brought a tear to me eye….. :( But the line – “Show’s over motherf^&$^$!!! s!” OMG!

    • PoohBear

      I COMPLETELY agree with you on EMPATHY (and really sympathy too). Have you seen the trailer for the Purge 2?
      In that 2 min trailer spot I’m already on board with the main character. He loses his child, decides to participate in the purge to get the inner demons out of his system to his wife’s dismay and when he’s out and about he sees innocent people getting purged and decides to take action help them. Boom, sold, I want to see him get through the night.

      • Nate

        I was already on board with that character when I saw that it was Frank Grillo. Love that guy. He’s certainly becoming one of my favourite actors.

      • kenglo

        Haven’t seen it yet, but if they can get it out of the house and into the streets, then I would be good with that. I know the first one was overly contained, and it just didn’t click with me. A lot of its money was made on the first weekend….

    • Franchise Blueprints

      I wonder do AOW writers like Mayhem Jones feels smacked in the face when everybody starts preaching memorable characters you care about. Her script was a 86 page character piece. She got a lukewarm response from the forum and a [x]wasn’t for me from Carson.

      The guidelines and rules to screenwriting are a tile floor trapdoor. If you’re standing on the wrong tile when it opens up – Oh Well. Thanks for trying. In Charles Bascombe’s script he had a scene where all the ex-boyfriends confront their former girlfriend. Ultimately they each found out they were only suitable for one or two aspects. In the end the trap is open and into the grave you go. Just so somebody else can shovel more scriptwriting dirt on you. When all along you thought you were on solid ground.

      End rant.

      • kenglo

        “The guidelines and rules to screenwriting are a tile floor trapdoor.”

        Yeah, that’s why I always say, don’t have to write a great script, just the right script.

    • Matty

      I didn’t want to be hit-girl, I wanted to be kick-ass. His girlfriend was hot.

    • Jim

      Empathy is much more about caring, though.

      It’s about understanding why you care. It’s about being vulnerable, understanding another’s perspective and the rational in which they make their decisions which, in turn, drives their actions. All of that leads to empathy’s overriding force: making a connection (which goes back to the “why you care” part.)

      Here’s a short film that describes it succinctly:

      • kenglo


      • Linkthis83

        That is fantastic. Thank you for sharing that! Oh…and I’m glad you told me ;)

        • Jim

          You’re welcome! Like I said elsewhere, I’ve got TONS of stuff like this posted on my G+ profile. I even have a film professor from Mumbai, of all places, directing his students there. Just trying to share the things I know and have learned…

  • Rick McGovern

    You can’t blame the screenwriters… you have to blame the studios for buying bad screenplays. I mean, Transcendence had to get a lot of yes’s to get made.

    A bunch of people must have liked the script. This is the director’s first movie… he must have found something he really liked to make this his first movie. I’m guessing he had Nolan read the script to get his thoughts (of course, the new Nolan movie looks boring in the teaser trailer), and he must have gave him a thumbs up that this was a good first project for him to direct.

    And Johnny Depp can pick almost anything to do he wants… so he must have found something in this he liked as well.

    And who really knows what was changed after it got into the director’s hand. Director’s have ruined good scripts… changing stuff that should be left alone, adding stuff that should never see the light of day.

    My friend’s (a married couple) wrote Pompeii, and only 60% of their script actually made it to screen, and most of the 40% that wasn’t their’s, they didn’t like. And for the most part, nobody liked the movie.

    But I personally don’t think it’s going to hurt spec sales. Or if it does, a script that kicks ass still kicks ass, and producers/agents/directors are going to see that, and it’s still going to get picked up by someone somewhere someday.

  • deanb

    Anyone else imagine Alec Baldwin’s character from Glengarry Glen Ross shouting this article at you? I fear for tomorrow’s AF submission.

  • Linkthis83

    Thanks for the read and the feedback, Adam. Almost everyone of your questions will be answered in the remaining questions, and the ones that aren’t should hopefully be set up well enough that you will be disappointed there aren’t more pages. That’s the goal anyway.

  • ASAbrams

    I think one of the first steps that’s overlooked in some of these scripts is evaluating whether the premise and story will resonate with the audience. For me, if I’m reading or viewing a story, and I feel I can’t learn anything–good or bad–or feel anything (good or bad) powerfully, I believe it’s a waste of time. I must connect to something. I want to laugh, cry, hate, love, fear, release, fulfill, grow.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking for profound dramas here. “Dumb” comedies will fit the bill, too. As long as I’m affected in some compelling way, I’m satisfied. Move me.

    Special effects don’t move me much. Big name actors don’t either. I don’t really care about the pedigree of the writer or the director or the producers. I guess I’m narcissistic that way. Yet everybody’s a bit selfish in that way when they’re sitting in a dark theater, forced to endure a boring movie with unrealistic characters spouting inauthentic dialogue in situations that no one cares about. Those experiences lead audiences to consider, “What’s in it for me?”

    So, what’s the point of spending all that time writing and rewriting and editing a story that nobody wants to read or watch? The ideas that are being polished have to be worth it in the first place.

    • kenglo

      Goes back to character and empathy…like your post…

  • peisley

    It may the impression some of the media is generating. There’s a lot of bs about the latest writer selling his very first script ever. Promoting him or her like they’re some kind of genius with all the secrets it take us minions forever to learn. The articles on new writers often leave out the very specific and important detail about how long it actually took and how they got it to that one person who made all the difference. Only later with some digging do you find out they went to a prestigious school, had family in the biz, worked as an intern for eight years at a prodco, etc. Too many impressionable young writers read garbage like this and expect it can happen to them. Granted, sometimes, rarely, it can. You don’t hear so much about how the really impressive scripts take on average between seven and ten years. They do a draft, go on to another project, then come back to it. Clint Eastwood talks about this with films like Unforgiven. All I can say, Carson, about Transcendence, is that you liked the original script. It got made. Then it got effed up by the director, other writers or whatever. We can only hope there are enough people still left in the industry who do realize it started with that impressive script. I’d like to believe there still are enough of these people and they are still looking for great original material.

  • brenkilco

    Very good movie. Despite the liberties quite faithful in its way to Conan Doyle. Touching, autumnal feel to it. But not quite the late masterpiece some claim. And based on what I’ve read not sure adding back what was hacked out would have greatly improved it.

  • shewrites

    Heart. Protagonists having true vulnerability. I think a lot of movies today favor incredible but cold technology (CGIs) at the expense of true emotions.

    A few examples of great movies mentioned by commenters today: The Apartment, Her, Philomena, Juno, to name only a few. I would add Silver Lining Playbook, Toy Story and Little Miss Sunshine. Those movies dripped with heart and vulnerable characters, in a good way.

  • MaliboJackk

    “I think I know why this is such a problem for our industry. It’s because
    screenwriting DOESN’T LOOK THAT HARD. Why would anyone work hard at
    something that seems so easy? Everybody thinks they can write a

    Anyone can call themselves an amateur screenwriter. It includes people who are serious about the craft and many that are not. It includes those thinking about writing a script as well as those who had written as many as 70 (Max Landis).

    It’s why amateur screenwriters will never get respect.

    And — it’s an excuse to treat screenwriters unfairly.

    In L.A. if you tell someone you’re an actor, they say–
    ‘What restaurant?’
    If you tell them you’re a screenwriter
    they don’t even bother.

    • Poe_Serling

      I once watched a show where a camera crew/interviewer just stood on a street corner in Hollywood and started asking random people ‘How’s your script coming along?’

      About 2/3 of the people had one or more in the works.

    • brenkilco

      William Goldman once observed that no one would ever dream of telling a cinematographer how to light a scene or a sound guy how to record it, or a production designer how to build a set. But everybody thinks they can write.

  • kenglo

    Off topic – I got an invite from CWA (Creative World Awards) to check out a new site – STAGE 32….anyone hear of it?

    • Casper Chris

      Someone mentioned it in the comments section a few weeks back I think.

  • Midnight Luck

    I feel for the poor writer whose critique follows this article.
    AmFri might be rough, as well as for the 5 AoW authors.

  • Hadley’s Hope Remembers

    Probably more like 10 years for VR to go mainstream. Oculus Rift needs a powerful PC to run on. Althougnoo r ownVR stuff for

  • Jonas E.

    If you strip the plot from The Matrix, what’s left other than a bunch of people who look really good in leather?

    • Jonas E.

      On a more serious note, one of the more thought provoking writing exercises I’ve been exposed to was in a writing class I was in a couple of years ago where we where told to write down the ten things about ourselves that we where the most ashamed of and try to develop a plot out of at least five of them.

  • Breezy

    Ofcourse, lest we forget, once you’ve read this article, and have read every book and document highlighted by SS commenters, and have read every script with great dialogue, great this, that or the other thing YOU’RE STILL IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING DESSERT ( thanks, Reuben).
    You still have the task of writing your own script.

    What you need to write a great script — it’s easier said that done. And I think it really varies from person to person. But knowing it and saying it is one thing, *doing* it quite another.
    And I believe a huge problem is people are bringing out scripts prematurely.

    Sure there’s the set of people who aren’t serious about the craft, hacking out something they think their friends would go wild over on the big screen, but forget that set. Let’s talk about us writers, taking the time to really study this, giving it a fair shot.
    That set is bringing out scripts prematurely.

    Everything a reader at a studio has read and said is “shit”(or close to), is just a premature script. The writer just didn’t know it. You didn’t need that reader to call your work shit, that’s what the one offering paid coverage is there for (Not your friends and family).
    You do your hair in front the mirror, dress infront of the mirror, you can tell what’s mismatched, what’s not working, what makes you look crazy.
    When we write, we need to hold our work up multiple times in front of many mirrors to make sure it’s right. And just like how you have tools to tell when your turkey is ready, we should utilize our tools to tell when our script is ready.

    Carson shouldn’t be complaining about “bad scripts” during his paid coverage, because he’s acting like a mirror for the writer in that regard. That’s how we keep fixing what’s wrong till the script is “ready”. But (and its been said multiple times) NEVER send out a script until its perfect. How would you know when it’s perfect? Use many mirrors. Not the kind from snow white who lies and tells you your work is the fairest in all the land (friends, family).
    Get good fucking mirrors.

    And mirrors shouldn’t complain either, you’re here to help, so shut the fuck up about bad scripts, I wouldn’t have known it was bad and how unless you told me, thank you. Ill be fixing it now.

  • Breezy

    And everyone saying you NEED to read this book, oh, you’re not ready to write until you purchase x y and z and go to Professor Know-It-All’s class… there is no one book or document or article or script that you MUST read for anything.
    I read scripts I downloaded for free (preferably those that everyone is saying is great), I read any good article that’s free on the internet, I utilize paid coverage and exchange work with writers who have offered some great feedback, always pushing me to do better. oh yeah, and I WRITE.
    I havn’t spent one dime on screenwriting books or classes. I need my dimes to buy bread.
    I learn and grow by doing.
    The only thing you need to do is “read a lot, write a lot” like everyone knows.
    And that teaches me.

  • Cfrancis1

    I do a few things, writing being one of them. I have been writing scripts on and off for the past 20 + years. And I feel like I’ve only gotten good at it in the past couple of years. Now, like I said, I’ve taken breaks from writing over the years, so perhaps it’s taken me longer because I haven’t been doing it consistently. However, even if you are doing it full time, breaks are good. It allows things to settle.

    The trick to getting good at anything is to absorb and study as much as you can. Fill your brain with information. Then forget about it. Don’t think. Just do. The information is still there in your subconscious but you won’t be over-thinking what you do. The danger of over-thinking is mental paralysis. Never a good thing.