Image: Quentin TarantinoTarantino’s writing probably contains more exceptional elements than any other writer in the business.

The worst scripts in the world?  They aren’t the worst scripts in the world.  There are scripts even worse.

Make sense? Probably not. But it will be by the end of this article.

Consider yourselves lucky.  Here at Scriptshadow, we don’t let you see the bad stuff. The scripts you see on Amateur Offerings every week? Those writers have at least demonstrated an understanding of the craft. But the truly bad ones? Those don’t make it in front of your eyes. For that reason, you don’t know what it’s like to read something truly bad.

I remember a couple of years ago, I read this script where I had ZERO understanding of what was going on.  This writer had the ability to write pages and pages of story where nothing actually happened, so I’d find myself having read 10 pages, but not being able to remember anything that transpired.  If you put a gun to my head, I’d probably tell you it was about a goddess trying to blow up a volcano. But if the writer had told me it was about a Christmas tree who fell in love with a menorah, I wouldn’t have argued. It was that vague.

But look, the truth is, these “really bad” scripts are often the result of new writers who haven’t studied the craft and who have never gotten feedback. They write down exactly what’s in their head as they’re thinking it, believing it will make sense to us because it makes sense to them, not realizing that writing a screenplay requires a stricter kind of logic that takes some trial and error getting used to.

So to me, those aren’t the worst screenplays. The worst screenplays are the AVERAGE SCREENPLAYS.

There’s no emptier feeling I get than when I read an average screenplay. I mean, at least with a really bad script, you remember it. With an average script, it’s forgotten as soon as you put it down. It goes through you like fast food. And the sad thing is, I’ve been reading 15 of these scripts a month.  It feels like this huge collective of screenwriters has accepted mediocrity.   So when I see the spec market starving, it doesn’t surprise me.  Who’s opening up their checkbook for another average script?

Let me give you an example. I once read a buddy-cop script (I had to go back to it to re-familiarize myself) that had the two cops who hated each other, it had the standard “witty” back-and-forth banter, it had the familiar drug plot, it had the cop who was secretly one of the bad guys. This is the exact dialogue going on in my head as I read it (“Seen that before. Seen that before. Seen that before. Seen that before.”). I must’ve said that to myself 80 times. There wasn’t a single elevated element in the story.

I don’t know what writers expect after writing these scripts. Do they think they should be praised because they successfully gave us an average version of something we’ve already seen before?

With a script, you have to stand out somehow. A series of average elements isn’t going to cut it. Readers want to see original takes on elevated material. Which brings us to the term of the day: Exceptional Elements.

An exceptional element is any element in your script that’s better than average. You’d like to have as many of these in your screenplay as possible. But realistically, you probably won’t get past 3. Which is fine, because that’s all you need to write something noticeable, and definitely all you need to write something better-than-average.

To add some context, there are three scripts I really liked over the last few weeks: Hot Air, Cake, and Tyrant. Let’s see what the exceptional elements were in each. With Hot Air, the dialogue (especially Lionel’s) was an exceptional element, the characters were an exceptional element, and the plotting was an exceptional element (I never quite knew where things were going next).

In Cake, the creation of a severely unlikable protagonist who we still ended up caring about was an exceptional element, the unusual premise was an exceptional element (haven’t seen that before) and the unique voice (the offbeat weird way the writer saw this world) was an exceptional element.

In Tyrant, the intricate nature of the relationships were an exceptional element, the lack of fear in pushing the boundaries was an exceptional moment (a few uncomfortable rape scenes, etc.) and the ending was an exceptional element (in that it revealed something shocking about our main character that we never would’ve guessed).

Before we get into specifics here, I want you to think about the screenplay you’re working on now. And I want you to take off your bullshit hat. Put your critics hat on, the guy who can tear down the latest blockbuster in a 300 word paragraph. That’s the guy we need judging your script. Now ask yourself, what are the exceptional elements in your script? What can you honestly say stands out from anything out there? Need some reference? Here are a dozen of the more popular screenplay elements to choose from. If you’re exceptional with just three of them, tell us in the comments section, cause we’re going to want to read your script.

Clever or unique Concept – One of the easiest ways to elevate your script is a great or unique concept. Dinosaurs being cloned to make a Dinosaur Theme Park (Jurassic Park). People who go inside other people’s heads (Being John Malkovich).

Unique or complicated characters – This is a biggie. If you’re going to have only one exceptional element, it should be this, because a script is often defined by its characters. Give us Jack Sparrow over Rick O’Connell (Brendan Frasier in The Mummy). Give us Jordan Belfort (The Wolf of Wall Street) over Sam Witwicky (Transformers).

Spinning a well-known idea – Taking ideas and spinning them is one of the easiest ways to stand out. Instead of that same-old same-old buddy cop script I talked about earlier? Make it two female cops instead (The Heat). Or set some ancient story in a different time (Count of Monte Cristo in the future – a script that sold last year). This is what’s known as a “fresh take,” and Hollywood loves fresh takes.

Take chances – How can you expect to be anything other than average if you don’t take chances? Playing it safe is the very definition of average. So you’ll have to roll the dice a few times and get out of your comfort zone. Seth McFarlane made a comedy about a grown man who was best friends with his childhood teddy bear.  Nobody had ever written anything like that before.  That’s rolling the dice.

Push boundaries – This will depend on the script. But if you’re writing in a genre that merits it, don’t play it safe. Push the boundaries. That’s what Seven did when it came out. We’d seen serial killer movies before. We’d never seen them with kills that were THAT sick, that intense.

Plotting – A deft plot that keeps its audience off balance (with mystery, surprises, dramatic irony, suspense, setups, payoffs, twists, reversals, drama, deft interweaving of subplots, etc.) can put you on Hollywood’s map. Hitchcock’s big exceptional element was his plotting.

A great ending – A masterful ending is a huge exceptional element because it’s the last thing the reader leaves with. If you can give them something immensely satisfying (The Shawshank Redemption) or shocking (The Sixth Sense) and it works? You’re golden.

Dialogue – One of the hardest elements to teach and the most dependent on talent. There are definitely ways to improve your dialogue, but usually people are either born with this element or they aren’t. Don’t fret if you aren’t though, because you still have all these other elements to choose from.

Imagination – If you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi, you better show us something we haven’t seen before. For example, if you’re going to put your characters in yet another mech suit (Matrix sequels, Avatar, Edge of Tomorrow), why should we trust you to give us an imaginative story? These are the genres that demand originality. So if you don’t have anything besides what you’ve seen in previous sci-fi movies, don’t play in this sandbox.

Voice – If you see the world in a different way from everyone else, it’s one of the easiest ways to stand out. This is all about the unique way you write and the unique way in which you observe the world. Having a truly original voice is almost the anti-average, because if someone can identify who you are by your script alone, it means you have a unique take on the world.

Scene writing – Are you an exceptional scene writer? Are you able to pull readers into every scene? Read Tarantino’s scenes like Jack Rabbit Slims or the Milk scene at the opening of Inglorious Basterds. Or watch the scene where the detective questions Norman Bates in Psycho. The level of suspense in these scenes is off the charts.

A great villain – Typically someone who’s complicated and not just evil for evil’s sake (which is the case in almost every average script I read). I still can’t get over The Governor in The Walking Dead. The way he fell in love with a woman and cared so deeply for her daughter, only to set up a plan to kill women and children a few scenes later.

In general, to avoid writing something average, you have to be your harshest critic. You have to be self-aware enough to call yourself on your bullshit. Look at every individual element in your screenplay and ask yourself, “Is this unique?” In some cases, it won’t be. That’s fine. As long as you have exceptional elements to offset the average ones. The Heat had an average plot. But by putting two women in the cop rolls instead of men, it gave the genre a fresh take. Exceptional element success.

The truth is, readers really want to love your script. But you’re preventing them from doing so when every element in your screenplay is something flat, derivative, uninspired, or rushed. Writing a great screenplay means doing the hard work, and that means not being satisfied with a bundle of average components. Average dialogue, average scene-construction, average concept, average imagination, average characters. We’ve already seen all these things so what do you gain by showing them to us again? Get in there and raise the quality of your script by infusing it with as many exceptional elements as you can. I’m rooting for you because the better you get at this, the more good scripts I get to read. Good luck!

  • Casper Chris
    • Kirk Diggler

      Trigger Street has plenty of vomit drafts if you really want to read something bad. It hasn’t been fun reading bad scripts. At least the AOW writers have the basics down…you know, stuff like 3 act structure (most of the time)

      • Casper Chris

        No, it’s not fun reading them. But it was fun reading Carson’s reviews of them.

        First we start with this kidnapping of 14 year old Kristy. She’s running through a carnival, trying to escape, then hides in a “white room” which I think is supposed to be some kind of carnival ride. The room begins spinning, and it reads like she’s being pelted with stuffed animals until she dies.

        And it was even more fun when the writers of these abominations came on to vehemently defend their work.

  • Casper Chris

    By the way, I love this article Carson. It mirrors a little what I was touching on in my comment to the writers of Barabbas (which I voted for by the way). We cannot settle for average and passable at every turn. Push yourselves. Make it… EXCEPTIONAL. And how you do that? You pay attention to the elements of your script at a micro-level. Every line of dialogue. Every scene. Like someone said here recently, writing a screenplay is like making a sculpture. If all the individual elements are average, the script is most likely going to be average. Sure, everything should be working on a macro-level. Your plot should make sense. You need goals and stakes. You need a narrative that lends itself to conflict. Ideally an interesting concept and a theme worth exploring. But that’s only 10% of the battle. Now you gotta dive in and make things truly sing. Labor over the minutiae. Far too few writers push themselves here. They think when they have a beginning, a middle and an ending, they’re done.

    • Logline_Villain

      Of all the adages in this biz, are any more spot-on than “writing is rewriting” when it comes to producing exceptional work? Rewrites are where the set-ups and payoffs, character arcs, theme, plotting, etc. truly come into focus. That’s why a writer should never put a draft number on a script – only God knows how many drafts it took for that script to truly sing. Well-said, CC…

  • Sanjay Madhavan

    Hi Carson,
    I guess I am the only person from India on this site. :)
    Wonderful points.
    I agree with all the bullet points except plot.
    I have always felt that plot is overrated when it comes to screenplays.
    Create great characters, and they will pave the plot for you. Some screenplays are ruined by the writer in order to create plot points that seem out of place.
    Thoughts on this?

    • Casper Chris

      Saying plot is overrated is like saying the empty space between notes in music is overrated. That empty space is half the music.

      Some screenplays are ruined by the writer in order to create plot points that seem out of place.

      Some screenplays are ruined by the writer inserting a character that seems out of place. Remember this guy?

    • Casper Chris

      “Lame Dig” (in moderation) wrote:

      What about the empty spaces between your ears (yeah, you.) The girl makes a valid point. And what you don’t write is where the plot resides (you strike me as one of those writers who over-thinks); so it’s possible to write a story with active/reactive characters as active people live plotted lives: they get up and go. Jar Jar was a marketing too and a experiment.

      There is nothing valid about suggesting that character is more important than plot or that “plotting” should be stricken off Carson’s list. To continue the music metaphor, plot and character are like melody and harmony. They’re mutually dependent on each other and work in tandem. Some writers might start with character, just like some composers might start with a melody. Some writers might start with plot, just like some composers might start with a harmonic progression.

      • Linkthis83

        It won’t make it out of moderation. I received a similar message yesterday calling me a BOZO from somebody called bozo hater. You just gotta let them go. Don’t give them their day in the spotlight. :)

        • Casper Chris

          I see. Well, it was a lame dig anyway. At least he got that right.

          • Linkthis83

            Haha. Yeah, I refer to these posters as The Grays. Some of them I recognize that post quite a bit, but any of the others, I usually try to let them go. Plus, there are times when I believe they aren’t so random. An insider Gray, if you will.

          • paul

            How inside do you think it is?

      • gazrow

        There’s nothing more frustrating than watching a film with great characters but no plot IMO.

  • Citizen M

    I guess we’re really part of the fashion industry.

    “Tom Cruise in an action-packed drama featuring the latest in mech suits with a variety of weapon accessories. Featuring extensive CGI and a classic time travel plot, we’ll be seeing Tom again, and again, and again.

    “Next, Ellen Page in a quirky little coming-of-age drama. Teen pregnancy — it never gets old. Featuring a fresh take on sarcastic dialogue by newcomer Diablo Cody, I guarantee you will fall in love with this waif who is determined to stand up for herself.

    “Another one that never gets old — terminal illness. Shailene Woodley in a fetching oxygen mask will tug at our heartstrings in this bittersweet teenage love story. Featuring not one but two people with cancer, and with a Dutch douchebag adding a touch of novelty, this could be the surprise hit of the year.”

  • Nick Morris

    Great article, Carson. It’s tough to imagine how anyone could invest the time, energy and passion into this (or any creative endeavour) without believing that their work is, at least within reach of being considered, “exceptional”. But how do you KNOW it is?
    Going through this list, I BELIEVE that my script excels in at least half of these areas. But I HAVE to believe in it or I wouldn’t do this.

    • Casper Chris

      A great conundrum indeed. Everyone likes the smell of their own shit (especially comedy writers).

      The best way, aside from qualified feedback, is direct and rigorous comparison. Hold your script up against the best of the best. Hold your Barrabas up against the Gladiators and Bravehearts. When you finish your script, put it away for a while. A couple of months at least (as an amateur writer, you can work on something else in the meantime). Then when you’re ready to return to your script, sit down and read the cream of the crop of your genre first (don’t watch the movies, read the scripts). Then IMMEDIATELY afterwards, read your own script.

      One of two things is going to happen:

      1) You feel content.
      2) You feel a surge of indescribable terror.

      If 1), you either :

      1.a) Have a winner, or
      1.b) You’re delusional

      If 2), you either:

      2.a) Give up, or
      2.b) Work harder
      (both are better than 1.b)

      • Nick Morris

        Haha, exactly! I ask myself all the time if I’m delusional. Usually goes something like this:

        Me: “Self? Is this thing good or am I delusional?”

        Self: “Uh…why don’t you go have another butter tart and get
        back at it?”

      • witwoud

        I’m always amazed at how few amateurs seem to do this — physically put their script next to a professional script and compare the difference.

        Here’s Terry Rossio:

        “Good writers know the quality of their writing relative to industry standards. They know when they’ve come up with a clever plot twist, a good character entrance, an effective opening sequence. They can tell good work regardless of whether or not they’re the ones who came up with that work — something YOU don’t seem to be able to do.

        How can you possibly think that last spec you sent out is as good as BODY HEAT, or BROADCAST NEWS? Can’t you go buy a copy of a good script, put it side by side with yours, and see how bad yours is? And if you can see how weak yours is by comparison, why did you send it out?”

        The whole thing here:

        • Casper Chris

          Perfect. My thoughts exactly.

          • witwoud

            It is hilarious: the best kick up the pants I’ve ever read. Also, it’s strangely relevant to today’s post:

            Good writers have something to say. They observe life, recognize underlying patterns and offer insights into the nature of the human heart. So even if, by some stretch of definition, you do, occasionally, write something — the truth of it is, your writing is mediocre. You offer only the most obvious and common of themes, and so the competition from real writers will just blow you away. Even though you try hard, your writing remains shallow, meaningless, and so essentially worthless.

        • Nicholas J

          Speaking of objectively judging your own work, does anybody else have the following problem?

          Watch a great movie. Think about your own script. “Wow, my writing is great! Some really good stuff here!”

          Watch a terrible, awful, horribly awkward movie. Think about your same script. “God my writing is shit.”

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            My thoughts tend to be the opposite :)
            Great film/script : “Oh man, I’m just gonna quit and take up knitting instead…”
            Baaad movie/script : “Hey, I might actually be on to something here…”

          • witwoud

            Yeah, I’ve noticed this too. Especially on highly subjective stuff like whether dialogue sounds wooden or natural.

            I don’t know why it happens, except perhaps you get super-sensitized to the woodenness of wooden dialogue, or the naturalness of natural dialogue, and apply that super-sensitivity to your own script.

            I guess the lesson is, this is another thing you have to learn to be super-objective about.

    • JakeMLB

      You have to confidence and at least a touch of delusion/over-confidence to excel in almost any field, particularly one as competitive as screenwriting. It’s those who dare to dream who actually achieve them.

  • IgorWasTaken

    Carson sayeth: “Before we get into specifics here… I want you to take off your bullshit hat.

    Sir, that is not my hat.

  • Magga

    I tried this test, and I feel like I hit a lot of them:

    Plotting – My script contains something as old-fasioned as an unfolding story, where I would consider events from the first ten pages spoiler material. The story goes to unexpected places, yet I believe they feel inevitable once the read is finished.

    Ending – The last ten pages of the story feature sequences that put our everyday lives and rituals into an emotionally affecting new context while delivering a “what would you do?”-type BIG QUESTION that resolves itself in an unexpected, memorable and, unexpectedly for such a dark story, very uplifting fist-in-the-air last scene.

    Characters – The characters are big and memorable, the driving force of the story, including a star-making female lead, a male lead that gets to go to unusual places and several scene-stealing supporting roles.

    Theme – One big theme, many different explorations of it, I can’t think think of a scene that isn’t theme-heavy.

    Fresh take – No one has done this genre in this way before. The set-ups are familiar, where the story goes is not.

    Scenes – Some juicy confrontations, huge amounts of dramatic irony, the big scenes build suspense and dread before making unexpected turns.

    My main weakness is that I love to put camera directions in the script, and while most of it is gone now, there are places where I think something will be lost by taking them away, as they allow the story to be told visually in an original way.

    Unless I’m fooling myself I guess I’m getting close to submitting to Amateur Friday :)

    • brenkilco

      If you can trust your own judgment, sounds like you’re more than ready to put it out there. You’re a little stingy with details. Dark, richly textured, female centered. But it could be anything from a tale of war torn Somalia to a remake of Jane Eyre. How about a couple of specifics.

      Just personal preference but if there is any way to avoid camera direction and still get your point across, I’d go the other way.

    • Linkthis83

      Sounds ready for AOW. Although, I don’t want to know it’s your script until after AOW starts.

      However, you could just post it in the comments and hope for similar support like Biffer got recently.

    • Nicholas J

      The thing about articles like this is that everyone thinks their writing hits these elements. Is there anyone that submits to Carson thinking their script is average? I doubt it.

      I’m not saying your script is or isn’t. I have no idea. I’m just saying it doesn’t matter what you think, it only matters what others think. That may sound backwards, but it’s true. You can think your script is the best script in the world, but unless other people do too, it isn’t. The only people that decide whether a movie is great is the audience.

      So while articles like this are good to get us thinking about these things, it’s pretty much impossible to assess our own stuff using these elements. The best way to know if you’re fooling yourself is to get feedback from others. So have you?

      • Magga

        I have, but your point is well-taken. I read “If you’re exceptional with just three of them, tell us in the comments section” as encouragement to write your own thoughts about your script, but since no one else has done that I see how this comes across as bragging about unread work. I’ll try to submit it pretty soon and put it to the commenter-test, and there’s no need for anyone to take my word on any of this. I may be terribly wrong

        • Hadley’s Hope

          Your post didn’t come off cocky or as bragging to me.

  • brenkilco

    Good post. One gripe.

    “Hitchcock’s big exceptional element was his plotting.”

    I’d disagree. Hitchcock is the greatest director- go ahead and argue this, but you’ll lose- and the director with more classic, commercial films to his credit than any other not because of one exceptional element but because his films contain all of them.

    Unique concepts. A guilt ridden detective is hired to shadow and winds up falling in love with a woman who may have been possessed by the spirit of a dead ancestor. Not your typical thriller premise.

    Spinning a well known idea. How many brilliant variations did he run on the wrong man concept?

    Take chances. No one wanted to make Psycho. Killing off your star forty minutes into the movie. Crazy.

    Great Endings. From Mount Rushmore to an out of control merry go round to an army of birds stretching to the horizon. Who had more?

    Villains. An amazing gallery: Robert Walker’s boyishly charming but psychotic killer in Strangers on a train, Joseph Cotten’s beloved Uncle Charlie who’s hobby is killing rich widows, Claude Rains strangely sympathetic Nazi genuinely in love with and betrayed by Ingrid Bergman in Notorious.

    Could run through the rest but you get the idea. A great movie is one where many exceptional elements are present and they all mesh naturally.

    • paul

      Hitchcock was really great with innovative ideas and thinking outside the box. Of course, audiences now won’t realize that as much because he’s been copied so much by other filmmakers that people do not realize it. He also really thought outside the box.

    • gazrow

      I agree Hitchcock is a great director. That said, North by Northwest was written by Ernest Lehman. The Birds by Daphne Du Maurier. Psycho by Joseph Stefano based on a novel by Robert Bloch.

      Let’s not forget the writer’s! :)

      • brenkilco

        And he also worked with Thornton Wilder, Raymond Chandler and John Steinbeck. He was able to get and smart enough to request the best writing talent. Didnt mean to suggest that Hitchcock was a one man band. The Birds was actually written by Evan Hunter(Ed Mcbain) from Du Maurier’s short story. He worked closely with the writers in shaping the material though never a writer himself. A curious case is John Michael Hayes who scripted four superior films for Hitchcock including Rear Window. While he went on to commercial success after parting ways with the director he never did anything else that was much good. Hard to know exactly what Hitchcock’s contributions were at the script stage.

        • gazrow

          Yeah – I have no doubt that Hitchcock had some input in the writing of the scripts. Just wanted to point out that director’s get (take) enough credit already. And on a forum dedicated to screenwriting such as this – we should also honor the writer’s of those films IMO.

  • ChadStuart

    Anyone want to hear a fun story? My manager recently passed a script of mine to two producer friends of his. Basically, he wanted to get a little feedback for me on developing a new draft. One thought it was great (but had some notes), liking most elements of it. The other? Didn’t. Wasn’t something they would be interested in no matter how much work was put into it. One loved the main character’s “sass”, the other thought she was a stone cold bitch.

    What’s the point of my story? Everything is subjective. There is no golden standard. What one producer thinks is golden, another might think is garbage. Not even Tarrantino is universally loved throughout the industry.

    I’m not saying you should follow the rules in Carson’s post here, they certainly will help. But, even if you think you nail all of them you’re still going to be rejected. The secret to selling a script is you have to write something that the right person will think is awesome. It’s about getting your script in the right hand at the right time. You could have a script that is better than anything Tarrantino wrote, but never find a person who can write the check that thinks so.

    • Linkthis83

      Everybody we hold in high esteem today, has been turned away so many times before. Great post.

      I remember Kenglo saying what you have just said here: The right script for the right person at the right time.

      The truest words spoken on here at any given time.

      • kenglo

        Yes, I said that, BUT, as others have alluded, you still have to write great. I don’t really think a ‘crap’ script gets a person in the door, even with a ‘crap’ company, ‘crap’ producers. I’m pretty sure a ‘crap’ movie didn’t come from a ‘crap’ script. There are other variables that make ‘crap’ movies. I saw you guys talking about Black Dynamite the other day. It was ‘okay’, kind of a cult classic film, but it wasn’t great. I wouldn’t call it ‘crap’ (ok, I will, but the point is…) The point is, someone wrote an intriguing script, had a different vibe than anything else, followed on the heels of Grind House and Death Proof, someone got excited about it, and wala! Movie made.

        What kind of writers do we aspire to be? Straight to Netflix, Youtube gazillion hits dude, or Academy Award screen writers, or Blockbuster superhero guys?

        I just want to make movies.

        • Linkthis83

          Sorry, I wasn’t stating that you can write poorly and then use that as your mantra. I’m always under the assumption here that everyone is trying to write well. That’s why you should be here.

          • kenglo

            Oh no Link, I wasn’t saying you said that, others have said it.

            “After you..”
            “Oh no, after you!”

            “By all means, after you.”
            “No, no, after…you”


    • Casper Chris

      While there is some truth to this, it’s more useful as a convenient excuse than a helpful approach. Now the crap writer with his crap script can convince himself that his script isn’t bad, it just “hasn’t found its home yet”, and so instead of working on improving it (or improving himself as a writer), he’ll shop his crap around town like there’s no tomorrow. Hell, his script might even get picked up and produced, but it doesn’t make it any less crap. Crap is produced all the time.

      While Tarantino is not universally loved, he is almost universally loved.

      If you’re consistently getting wildly divergent opinions (positive-negative) on your script from competent people, your script is most likely in the vicinity of “average quality”. You can envision it as a coordinate system. Y axis is the divergence of opinion. X axis is the quality of your script. What you’re going to get is a bell curve with the highest divergence of opinion on the middle of the x axis (average quality).

      Admittedly, some works are simply ahead of their times.

      • brenkilco

        Your graph of course doesn’t measure the intensity of the reaction. Most of the opinion at the summit of the bell curve wouldn’t be wildly divergent. More along the lines of passable versus not quite good enough. Both sort of the tepid kiss of death. If you’re getting passionate reactions your script and deviation probably aren’t so standard.

        • Casper Chris

          True, but my graph was based on the hypothetical situation that “you are getting wildly divergent opinions” (consistently, from competent people). In other words, it’s a graph of those wildly divergent opinions, not any other opinions (e.g. passable, not quite good enough etc.).

      • paul

        It might have been his generous use of the “n” word and “f” word that alienated hm from some readers, intially. But, Tarantino did say that once he got out of the reader level and got it to the hands of the powerbrokers, they loved the material. He said that the cream will eventually rise to the top and be recognized. It just might take time to get past some readers who do not recognize it. He doesn’t care for entry level readers that much. Yes, I’ve read every Tarantino interview ever written.

        By the way, I was really surprised and disappointed not to see Dante Harper’s name in the credits for Edge of Tomorrow. He was the guy that wrote it on spec and got everyone excited….and then looking at the credits, there are like 4 writers, none of them Dante.

        • Casper Chris

          He [Dante] was the guy that wrote it on spec and got everyone excited….and then looking at the credits, there are like 4 writers, none of them Dante.

          That’s so fucked up. *shakes head*

          • kenglo

            Probably the ‘clique’ of H-Wood writers…..hire those guys you trust can make the best possible film. I thought Edge of Tomorrow was better then the original script. No offense to Dante, he wrote a hell of a script, and I’m sure he got well paid for it out of the gate. Those other guys got paid plus points maybe, I don’t know. But it is a shame.

        • Randy Williams

          Written on spec but adapted from a Japanese novel. Let’s not forget
          Hiroshi Sakurazaka.

          • paul

            But, Hiroshi got a huge credit, isolated from the rest. You can’t find Dante’s name anywhere.

          • Randy Williams

            I read that he did writing on World War Z but I don’t see him credited with any. Maybe he doesn’t want to be billed.

    • Logic Ninja

      It probably just boils down to statistics. Improving your script makes it more likely a reader will like it. Doesn’t guarantee he or she will. In other words, if you write a great script, and send it out to a hundred readers, ten will still think it sucks. If you write a sucky script, they’ll ALL think it sucks.
      Furthermore, “risky” scripts (like Tarantino’s) may polarize your readership. Instead of liking or disliking a script, your readers will adore or despise it. Which means, even if you write a great “risky” script, the ten-out-of-a-hundred readers who hate it, will REALLY hate it. Doesn’t mean the whole process is subjective.

      • ChadStuart

        Right, I’m not advocating not doing everything you can to write the best script you possibly are able to; I’m just saying that isn’t necessarily enough either.

        But, the reality is that some crap scripts do get through from time to time. Not every script sold is golden, either.

        • paul

          I do notice this. If people are buzzing or someone tells me oh that’s a f’ing great script, I’d kind of read it to almost validate that view….unless it’s just so terrible that it doesn’t. A lot of the gatekeepers are not always reading this stuff under ideal situations. They might be tired, their wife might have yelled at them, they’re hungry, have a headache….and now they have to read your stupid script. A lot of people that probably initially hated Tarrantino probably went back read it and now love him when he was the toast of the town.

          One script I absolutely hated was the F word…but looking at the trailer, it looks really funny (I don’t know if it’s been rewritten) but sometimes things change or someone influences you to change your perspective on something.

  • JakeBarnes12

    The reason we get these lame “Lethal Weapon” clones, tired werewolf scripts, etc. most Fridays is what I call “Deep Purple”syndrome.

    When you start off learning the guitar, all you want to achieve is something that sounds good coming out of the instrument. Nothing easier than power chords, no power chords more famous than “Smoke on the Water.”

    So when you can play that intro, you’re stoked because it sounds LIKE something famous. You’re just so happy that you’re playing something recognizable.

    Of course you’re years of hard work away from even getting good at the instrument never mind developing your own style.

    Same with us aspiring screenwriters. Holy shit! My script’s just like “Transformers!” I gotta start querying!

    Most of us need to go through that phase by writing a bunch of derivative scripts where we’re learning the basics of the craft through trying to make a copy of something else.

    Heck, most of us never get out of that phase.

    Only solution is to try to keep challenging ourselves and our choices with every new script.

    • Casper Chris

      Love that analogy.

    • Nick Morris

      Dun dun da
      dun dun da da

      • CJ

        Where’s our Misty Mountain Hop?! Where’s our Smoke on the Water?!

    • paul

      That’s a really good point.

      I actually kind of disagree with the article. It takes a lot of effort just to get to “not crap.” I remember reading a script from the “Brit List” that made my head hurt of how dumb it was—and I’ve since questioned the legitimacy of that list…. Sure, it might be funny and memorable to see how terrible a guy falls on his face like that movie “The Room,” but I’d much rather see someone further along in their development. To even get to the point of having solid plotting, a plot that makes sense, sound structure takes a lot of diligence and study–unless you’re a savant. Try to get to “Hey, this screenplay doesn’t stink that much first” before you get to the Mozart stage of exceptional.” I guarantee you that these gurus that dispense advice can’t even get to exceptional themselves. It’s really threading the needle and the equivalent of playing a great game in the NBA finals to write an exceptional screenplay that hits those 11 elements. Average is still better than 49% of other incredibly crappy screenplays.

      • JakeBarnes12

        I agree, Paul, but no prizes for average in this game.

    • Logic Ninja

      Nice! Perfect analogy.

    • Dale T

      Great response to a great article.

      One way for writers to take a stepback and discern between what’s great, good, or bad in a story is to become a critic. Review everything that you read or watch good and bad, but ESPECIALLY the good. A lot of us writers spend a lot of time critiquing the amateur work, but all we’re understanding is how to not write a story. Recently I had reviewed The Matrix, Source Code, Back To The Future, and Star Wars. Those scripts were amazing and I was in complete awe of them. And then when I reviewed them, it took a while for me to understand why they were so good, but when I got it it was like finding the buried treasure. I realized that it wasn’t the defining moments that defined it, it was that they were so good at keeping a brisk pace while unfolding the story into the landmarks they were.

      If we breakdown a story by what makes it good or bad, no matter how good it is, rather than viewing it as an all encompassing masterpiece (those movies certainly are though), we get a greater perspective of the parts that created them into the movies they became.

      • Hadley’s Hope

        You know you have gold when you have seen the film multiple times, yet the script is still a great read that sucks you in even though you already know all the twists and turns.

      • JakeBarnes12

        Well put. I absolutely agree, Dale.

    • JakeMLB

      Exactly this. Which is why I don’t take kindly to the folks here who compare every amateur submission to the greatest films ever made. You don’t need to write the next Godfather. You don’t. Full stop. But you need to show that you understand the craft and can execute a unique premise with the promise of talent and can take notes and improve. The majority of new writers didn’t break in by writing THE BEST SPEC SINCE DIE HARD. Most break in with a small script that somebody liked that got them representation and some meetings and they continued writing whether paid or otherwise. Just look at the slew of professional writers who started off writing B-horror movies and it was only decades later that they began to write blockbusters. If you’re aiming to knock it out of the park on your first try, you’re probably going to fail. Sure we live in the 24-hour news cycle world where everything has to GRAB YOUR ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY but writing is a craft which takes time. Give yourself room to grow.

      • JakeBarnes12

        I don’t think Carson’s talking about people doing average professional work.

        He’s talking about people like many of us doing average amateur work.

        • JakeMLB

          Yeah I was taking it a bit further. Wouldn’t you expect as much though? Carson probably gets a ton of scripts from first- or second-time writers so there’s a selection bias at play. As the individual writer progresses, Carson isn’t going to see those scripts. I’m coming it at from the individual writer perspective, not the population sample. If you’re still doing average work at script 10 then you’re certainly not pushing yourself or writing isn’t for you. But the point I was trying to make is that you can in fact succeed with average work, if you work harder than everyone else. Many professional writers have said as much.

          • Malibo Jackk

            All the pros I’ve heard talk — talk the same theme.
            You have to stand out. You have to be exceptional.
            My guess is — they’re talking about making it as a screenwriter at a professional level.

            They also talk about how you have to be the smartest guy in the room.
            Contrary to popular belief, studios are not looking for amateurs who know nothing about the business — and talk theory from Save The Cat.

            The professionals will also tell you that if you are expecting to make money from screenwriting — go home and find yourself a job where you can actually make money.

            NONE OF THIS MEANS YOU CAN’T START AT THE BOTTOM, get an agent and manager, write endless scripts that get rejected, write for producers who eventually lose interest, write for free, attend endless meetings that go nowhere, and work on low budget films that no one will ever see. All in the hopes that average will be good enough.

          • JakeMLB

            I guess I’m misrepresenting my point. Of course average isn’t good enough. You shouldn’t strive to be average. You shouldn’t be content with average. This is a business where the cream rises to the top. You have to be the best or among the best. You need to be a story professional. You need to instil confidence in a studio, a producer, a director or whoever you’re working with that you’re the only the fucking guy with the vision to deliver their story and without you they’re as good as fucked. You need to be a story detective, a surgeon and a wordsmith. You need to diagnose, propose solutions and execute. You need to be the best, particularly if you want to make the big bucks. All of that goes without saying.

            I’m talking about a growing trend I’ve seen around here that at the early stages of a writing career, you need to be some kind of savant and anything less than Godfather or Tootsie won’t do. I believe that kind of thinking, the “nothing less than perfection” attitude, is just as dangerous as coddling young writers and telling them it’s all rainbows and lollipops. Maybe I’m wrong here and I’m fine to admit that. But many, many professional (well-paid) writers started with a good (not great) script and built a career from there. The point is exceptionalism doesn’t strike overnight and it certainly isn’t the only way to get in the game. But it must develop for one to survive.

            Your definition of average may also vary. When I say average, I’m still talking among the best writers in the world. And I’ve talked to many pros to and that’s not exactly the sentiment I get. Writers are generally a self-deprecating bunch and many will cop to the fact that they aren’t the smartest guy in the room (at least when in a room with other writers, with executives it goes without saying). Again, maybe I’m looking at things a little too optimistically. So be it ;)

          • paul

            I know. Guys are preaching as if they need to be a prime Jordan right out of the gates. It takes a lot of honing to get to that level. Ironically Shane Black thought his script was crap and threw it away. Thank god his roomies didn’t empty the trash and black changed his mind and fished out his script. Shane spoke to some students and demystified the process saying just keep putting one foot forward each time on blind faith. For a writer that can kick almost everyone’s ass in screenwriting he certainly doesn’t carry himself like he’s so much smarter than everyone.

          • Malibo Jackk

            Love Shane.
            Great writer. Great style. And amazing first pages in Lethal Weapon.
            (Not the best example of someone who is not “prime Jordon.”)

            Didn’t he get his start when there was a buying frenzy for spec scripts?

          • paul

            I brought up Shane because his advice seemed to be really helpful on this topic. He was relating with the writers on what they were going through because he used to beat himself up…. He wanted to point out the moral of the story was to just keep pushing forward. Whether you’re god’s gift to screenwriting or something else, all you can do is keep pushing. His specs would still kick anybody on the blacklist’s ass the past few years. I think I enjoy reading his scripts the most.

      • paul

        You make a good point. Most of the writer’s making a splash didn’t break in with the perfect script…usually it was a smaller script that didn’t get made and had problems—but it showed promise. You’re not going to write the Godfather….in fact almost no one is going to write the Godfather as their spec. That’s like someone being able to play at the NBA finals MVP level before signing with their first agent. It’s a different perspective when you have to cover scripts for scripts that are represented by agencies and managers…. most aren’t really that great. I think the word average is being thrown around….but I think another word should be thrown in. Competent. They’re are some writers that show some competence or promise of being solid so they are represented and getting their start, maybe even making a living. Read the contest winners and some of the repped writer’s…they’re not that “exceptional.” It’s great to aim for the best, but you’ve got to also understand the realities and go through the hoops. Make the high school basketball team, then make college, than get into the NBA, impress your coach in summer league, then have some outstanding games, etc. It’s a constant climb to the top. So, a writer should take encouragement with every milestone to keep persevering up the ladder.

  • OddScience

    John: I think back to that Christmas morning and I wish I’d just gotten a Teddy Ruxpin.
    Ted: Say that again.
    John: Teddy Rux-fuckin’-pin.

  • cjob3

    I once read a guys first screenplay and one of my notes was “You have to describe the characters up front. I didn’t know the main character had a moustache till page 83.” The writer explained “I didn’t WANT the audience to know he had a moustache.” At which point, my head exploded.

    • Casper Chris


    • Logline_Villain

      That made my day. :-)

    • paul

      Hey. That was supposed to be confidential!

      Now, guys are going to be using my page 83 mustache surprise twist. Fuck.

      • witwoud

        Technically speaking that’s a twirl, not a twist. Readers notice these things.

        • Hadley’s Hope

          Twist within the twist… The moustache is fake!

          • Jim Dandy

            Massive mind-bending twist – the moustache doesn’t know it’s a moustache!

    • Hadley’s Hope

      M. Night Shyamalan’s THE SIXTH STACHE

      • Casper Chris

        “I see invisible moustaches.”

        • Hadley’s Hope

          Followed by UNSTACHEABLE

    • CJ

      Damn, this keeps getting funnier every time I read it. It wasn’t “Threat Level Midnight” was it?

  • successor

    “…Hollywood loves fresh takes.” Yeah, that’s why Hollywood is ramming yet another Transformers film and yet another Apes film down our collective throats this summer. Because they *so* love fresh takes. Guess again. They don’t care about being original; they just care about making money. If they could get away with literally releasing the same film over and over again to make more money, I’m certain they’d do it.

    BTW, this statement: “Seth McFarlane made a comedy about a grown man who was best friends with his childhood teddy bear. Nobody had ever written anything like that
    before. That’s rolling the dice.” Um, wrong. Check this link out:

    McFarlane can be accused of many things, but originality ain’t one of them.

    • Casper Chris

      Hollywood likes whatever audiences like. If audiences likes fresh, Hollywood likes fresh. Just because they like certain established properties that audiences also like, doesn’t mean they don’t like fresh.

      Besides, I thought Rise of the Apes was pretty fresh. A protagonist who’s an ape. A protagonist who doesn’t speak. Sure, it was “another Ape movie”, but it was pretty darn fresh, showing that it is possible to combine established property and fresh. Nolan’s Batman was another good example of this I thought.

      • klmn

        You’re right. It’s when the old patterns break down that the industry looks for something new.

        • Hadley’s Hope

          Star Wars, Die Hard, Batman ’89, Terminator 2, The Matrix.

          Looking back over the past forty years of mainstream Hollywood moviemaking, these seem to be key points that yanked hold of the wheel and turned the cinematic truck down a different road.

          Jaws pried open the maws of the summer blockbuster monster we are still being swallowed by year after year. Two years later came Star Wars, which was not only a blockbuster, but the movie that opened up the floodgates to all the sci-fi/fantasy/superhero extravaganzas that came throughout the 80s and 90s and which continue to be made these days.

          Think of all the genre films from 1979 on through the 1980s which were made possible because of the success of Jaws and Star Wars. Tron, The Road Warrior, Alien, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Conan the Barbarian, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner, Krull, The Never Ending Story, etc.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Okay, so Disqus is misbehaving, forcing me to continue in a new comment…

            Die Hard came in 1988, Batman a year later. Suddenly the action film took a sharp turn away from the larger than life antics of Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Here we had regular looking joes playing the action hero. Bruce Willis bled all over the screen as John McClane, while Michael Keaton was Batman/Bruce Wayne. I remember at the time thinking, Michael Keaton? As Batman? The guy from Mr. Mom, Gung Ho, and Beetlejuice? The wired and excitable comedic actor? That sounded nuts. Yet it worked out great.

            This lead to the whole Die Hard on a [bus, boat, plane, tricycle]. Not only was there an entirely new action sub-genre for Hollywood to play with, it lead to even more unexpected casting decisions. Skinny surfer dude Keanu Reeves in an action flick? Sure, why not?

            Speaking of Keanu, he starred in the film that capped off both the 90s and in some ways, the 20th century. This would of course be The Matrix. Whoa, hold on… We gotta backtrack bro.

            Before The Matrix, there was another machine apocalypse movie mega-hit that enthralled moviegoers. This was T2. Arguably the film which put CGI and digital effects on the map. Two years later came Jurassic Park, which basically solidified the new technology as the new standard. We wouldn’t have made it to all the comic book superhero blockbusters without this kind of tech. Right there on the precipice of that shift was The Matrix, teetering on the edge of a new moviemaking millennium.

            Okay, so after all this history, I am wondering where are things going? We’ve gone from big grand epics such as Ben Hur and Lawrence of Arabia in the late 50s and 60s to the gritty dramas of the 1970s, onto the genre and blockbuster explosion of the 80s and 90s, which gave way to the even bigger blockbuster era we are in now. An era where the mid budget flicks are like rare exotic birds. An era where super low budget sit one end of the spectrum, and mega-budget blockbusters based on previously established IP sit at the other end.

          • Midnight Luck

            It seems that after the explosions that happen there’s always a backlash and an even more impressive (to me at least) and grittier dark side of theater. There was the Deer Hunter / cuckoos nest / Taxi Driver / Apocalypse Now of the Seventies and the Indie 90s scene Reservoir Dogs /Sex lies videotape / Clerks /El Mariachi / Swingers etc.

            I fear this will no longer happen though in the new age of Cinema. There’s no room for it anymore in the theater. I don’t believe the Production companies will allow it to happen again. They have tied down all the theaters here and abroad. So the new age of Television is where we will and are seeing this grit and possible rebellion. I don’t think we will see the same kind of rebellion, but at least we are getting some great quality and grittier fare.

          • Malibo Jackk

            The good news:
            Movies will have to compete with television.

    • Citizen M

      Hollywood make 1,500 film and TV movies a year. How many are franchises and remakes? 10%? 20%? Can’t be much more than that. Anyway, they will be written by established writers, not by you and me.

      The balance will be mostly genre movies, and that’s the market one should be aiming for to break in with a spec. A fresh take or an original twist on a genre movie.

    • paul

      Wow. That Teddy movie looks a lot like Clovis…. as does that Village movie with that story.

    • drifting in space

      Usually how businesses work.

  • Nicholas J

    It’s not that the average writers have accepted mediocrity, it’s that they are average writers.

    That’s kind of like saying a college quarterback that never reaches the NFL is worse than Peyton Manning because he’s accepted mediocrity. Sure, Manning worked hard to get where he is, but so did the other guy. Manning just has the better combination of skills necessary to succeed. Manning is just better.

    It’s the same thing with writing. There’s a reason that a microscopic percentage of aspiring screenwriters find worthwhile success. Writing something great takes an exceptional combination of unnatural skills. But the most important skill to have is creativity.

    Creativity can’t be learned. Have you ever played a board game like Balderdash or one where you write photo captions? Some people, no matter how hard they try, are never able to come up with something good. Their minds just don’t work that way. Chances are their minds are better suited for something else like mathematics or memorization. I have a friend who is a genius when it comes to how things work. He’ll take one look at an HVAC system, tell you what makes it inefficient, and what possibly could be done to improve it. (Though I have no idea if he’s right or not since I don’t understand a word of it.) But ask him to look at a photo and come up with a funny caption and his brain short circuits.

    This is what results so often in those average scripts. It doesn’t take a creative mind to love movies. And it doesn’t take a creative mind to love writing. So a lot of people attempt to write movies despite not having an ounce of creativity. This is why you see so many knockoffs in the amateur pile.

    The writer loves mafia movies so they think, “I’m going to write a mafia movie!” They sit down to write and think of all the mafia movies that they love. They pull elements from each, whether consciously or not, and end up writing a paint-by-numbers version of Goodfellas. They’ve failed to put any actual creativity into it, and yet they don’t even realize it.

    On the other end, you have those crazy scripts that don’t make a lick of sense. I mean, it’s great that you came up with a movie idea about a dog that goes to shark heaven, but that idea is fucking stupid. You see this a lot with amateur scripts where the writer throws crazy elements at the page, thinking it makes their script original and awesome, but it just ends up as a confusing mess to everybody that isn’t the writer. This is a result of the writer forcing creativity when they have none, or having a lot of creativity but not knowing how to harness it into something sensible.

    So not only do you have to be creative, but you have to find the right balance of your creativity. You have to know how to fit it into a genre, or at least something that people will understand and want to see. You have to know how to dial it back and amp it up when necessary. You have to give it structure.

    And I’m sure there are plenty of pro writers out there that don’t have much creativity either. But chances are they won’t continue to be successful for long, and may find other opportunities in the business that suit them better. And once you’re in the business, as we all know, you don’t have to write the next ETERNAL SUNSHINE to make a sale. But if you’re still looking to break in, you better be on your A-game, and your A-game better come with a rollercoaster of balanced creativity. Nobody breaks in with paint-by-numbers Mafia Movie #253.

    Or, you could know somebody important. That works too.

    • Pugsley

      Great points, all. I’m reminded of Shane Black’s exceptional, unfilmed intro to his iconic character Martin Riggs in his groundbreaking Lethal Weapon script. Riggs comes across three goons tormenting a stray dog they’ve tied to a pier — so what does he do? He gets on his knees, of course, and starts conversing with the dog in Canine-nese, while the sadistic goons look on, baffled. Thinking, rightly, this guy’s outta his mind. So Riggs turns to them, says, “This Dog’s really pissed.” Then, he turns back to the dog, starts conversing with it in dog language again. The goons look on, puzzled, as Riggs says to the dog, “No, i couldn’t do that.” After which he turns back to the goons and says, “Get this, he wants me to beat the shit outta all of you.”

      Which he then proceeds to do.

      That’s what I call an exceptional character intro.

      • Nicholas J

        Great example of the creativity I’m talking about. I’ll always remember that scene, along with the girl committing suicide on page one: “Red car, blue car, yellow car…”

        So many writers would just have her jumping off or him beating up the goons and leave it at that. And then we’d immediately forget it.

        • Pugsley

          Agreed. You and I, my friend? We park our cars in the same garage.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            One question that was never answered. What became of Pugsley the pet iguana in The Terminator? Did the cops or EMTs who were likely called to the apartment adopt him? Did he run away? Did he survive Judgment Day?

          • Pugsley

            The way I heard it, James Cameron turned poor Pugs into a much needed money belt after T2 went through the roof.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Oh no!

            And here I thought he was all for preserving nature.

        • Casper Chris

          Where’s the suicide scene from?

      • Midnight Luck

        I always loved that intro and really wish they would have used it. One of the best intros ever, the best Save the Cat moment, long before Save the Cat was even a book. I believe i first read that intro back in the day when i read How NOT to write a Screenplay. That scene is forever embedded in my brain as one of the greats. Thank for the reminder.

        • Pugsley

          See if you can track down a copy of Shane’s THE NICE GUYS. Best. First. Page. Ever. In my opinion. Sets the tone, the wit, the story and the God-I-gotta-read-this! voice that carries you the next hundred and thirty-five pages, or so.

          Black is so good at hooking you, it should be illegal.

          • Malibo Jackk

            Two of the most amazing openings for a script:
            LETHAL WEAPON — (they didn’t film the best part of the opening)
            THE NICE GUYS — Wow.

            These are the gold standard when it comes to first pages.

          • Rick McGovern

            Okay, so I had to look up Nice Guys. Thought it was an old script that never got made. See it’s something new he wrote and is going to direct with possibly Gosling and Crowe acting in it.

            I have not read that version of Lethal Weapon… and I since I have never heard of Nice Guys until today, who can send me both those scripts? Thanks in advance!


          • Malibo Jackk

            Lethal Weapon should be available on the web.

            Don’t have The Nice Guys script.
            Shane hosted a ‘table read’ two years ago down in Austin.
            Peter Weber played the lead. The other actors were good but unknowns (I think).

            I’ve written some good opening scenes, but here’s the big difference:
            That opening of The Nice Guys had — heart.

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            Sent :)

          • ChristianSavage

            Hey, Marija. Would you be able to send Nice Guys my way? Much appreciated! My address is

          • andyjaxfl

            Hi Marija, could you send it to me? Thank you! amuller33 at the gmail dot com

          • Steex

            I guess I’ll jump on that bandwagon.

            Please and thank you! :)

          • charliesb


          • Rick McGovern

            Thanks to the three people who sent the script ;)

          • Midnight Luck

            If anyone has it, i’d love it.
            M at blackluck dot com

            Thanks for pointing it out. Haven’t read it.

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            Sent :)
            (NICE GUYS, I presume ?)

          • Rick McGovern

            Awesome. Thanks. You rocK!

            So it was a pretty old script. Glad he was able to do what Vince Gilligan was able to do after Breaking Bad and blow off the dust of a project he really wanted to do.

          • Midnight Luck

            Thank you Marija, you are the best!

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            You’re most welcome, happy to share if I can ;)

          • kenglo

            That IS a great opening….

    • Casper Chris


    • Malibo Jackk

      Comment of the week.

  • Midnight Luck

    Hollywood loves spectacle, hates taking chances, loves making money, and relies on repeat earners. As Hollywood went from child to adolescent to adult it realized the less work it had to do with the maximum payout was the smartest way to go. Just like anything else in the world. Just like anyone, it is basic human nature.
    Only when we get tired of the same things and stop giving our hard earned dollars to the boring and average and start rewarding creativity and skill will Hollywood consider those qualities of value. But again, only because they are making money, not because they are well done. Hollywood cares about money and fame, because they fuel each other.
    Everyone loves to read a good story, but unless we all vote in mass numbers with our dollars for them, we willl continue to see only what Hollywood knows to make money quickly, easily, cheaply and with the maximum payout.
    We want better movies? We have to vote with our money. Pay for smart quality work.
    We have been fuelling our own mediocrity.

    • JakeMLB

      I’m not one who subscribes to the “vote with your money” line of thinking. That probably works in smaller capitalist systems but not so much when you have mega-corporations which are so good at shilling their crap that they can effectively manipulate what people want. It’s like the Fox News of the worlds. Are they really just giving people what they want to hear or are they telling them this is what you want to hear? I tend to believe that life is more gray than black and white and it’s likely that we’re in a symbiotic relationship with the major media complexes of the world and so voting with our wallets isn’t always easy. When there’s no other option, you tend to gravitate towards what you’re given. And when what’s being given appears effective, you tend to gravitate away from providing other options. Hard to break the cycle.

      • Casper Chris

        When there’s no other option, you tend to gravitate towards what you’re given. And when what’s being given appears effective, you tend to gravitate away from providing other options. Hard to break the cycle.

        Luckily, there is another option. It’s called TV. And people are gravitating towards it by the droves.

        • Midnight Luck

          True true. My point exactly. And the money generated is influencing everything being made . Everyone is dying to be the next to get a Breaking Bad. Why? Because it was great, people payed for it, people came to the station and their choice and money made an influence.

        • Hadley’s Hope

          I wonder how much longer it will be until the TV miniseries becomes “the” big thing. The limited episode miniseries model seems to possess a lot of the advantages of both feature length films and serialized long form television shows. Writers and producers can plot out the end of a six to ten episode miniseries in a similar manner to that of a feature film. The ending can be seen and planned for to maximize its effectiveness (either tying it all up or leaving room for a sequel miniseries). Compare that to the make-it-up-as-we-go approach for long running serialized shows The X-Files, Lost, and Battlestar Galactica. With those, there was only so much they could plan ahead for. Plus, who knows when ratings might drastically drop, leaving the show runners and their audience with a season ending cliffhanger that is never resolved. This happened to Twin Peaks, which really bummed me out.

          I think we’ve seen some examples of this during the past decade. HBO is ahead of the competition on this having made Band of Brothers, The Pacific, and True Detective. CBS has Under the Dome, which was initially supposed to be a single season mini. There was Hostages more recently.

          I wager that Netflix will jump on this model in the coming years. Not for every new show they put out, but for some.

          • Casper Chris

            I hope you’re right. I’m a big fan of the miniseries format.

          • Midnight Luck

            I believe it already is THE thing. It is the only place taking chances foe sure. And it is where theya re scrambling to find the best work. Mainly for hpur long seasonal shows. Though Orange is making a half hour statement, so maybe there will be more in that arena as well.

          • Casper Chris

            He said TV miniseries, not series.

          • Midnight Luck

            Yes, sorry read it too quick and caught that after my post.

        • JakeMLB

          True that. TV will probably be the great equalizer.

      • Midnight Luck

        I disagree.
        I haven’t paid for a superhero spandex movie since the last Batman. It was enogh already. That movie sucked and felt like a pure money grab.
        All people have to do is choose selectively what they pay for. They do actually have power when using their money. It doesn’t seem like it because people are going in droves to X-men 9 and will make Transformers with Marky Mark the biggest one yet. People have decided they like and want all the bad shit being fed them and they are gobbling it up with a pitchfork, and then wondering why they arent happy and feel like shit.
        I get into the same argument over food. I dont eat meat and talk with others about the power of money to change how many animals are slaughtered. Well the highest amount of meat eaten for all time was 2011. But in 2012-2013 it fell at a massive rate. Well the Vegan and healthy eating movement has gained enormous traction since 2010. Over time it will make changes, but those who eat meat argue as you are that it doesn’t work.
        It is basic math and economics. Money follows the tiny individual person and their choices en-mass. Yes we wouldn’t know we want or love McDonald’s unless someone invented it, however each of us has all the power in the world to decide what to spend our money on. If we were in a Nazi camp we would eat what was forced on us, not now.
        We have free will, freedom to vote with our money and to make change with it.
        Even when it comes to choosing a movie.
        If 90% of the moviegoers who see superhero movies in droves, stopped going
        You can’t tell me they would still be shoving them down our throats.

        • JakeMLB

          That’s a bit of an oversimplification don’t you think?

          Sure, “if” 90% of moviegoers stopped going to superhero movies, they’d surely die off. But that’s a big “if” and you’re entirely ignoring why those films are successful, which speaks to my point: they have the largest advertising budget, pay for the most recognizable stars, are meant to appeal to the broadest audiences, play on the most screens and are typically built on well-recognized IP. In other words, studios are making sure those films get seen, they’re not just giving people what they want, they’re also telling people “this is what you want.” This too is basic math and economics (and marketing!). And you’re not the target audience.

          The argument easily extends to food. There’s a reason fast food became popular: it tastes good, is cheap to make and purchase, it’s everywhere and aggressively marketed. Pop music is no different.

          TV is a wildcard and will probably be somewhat of an equalizer but I doubt we see the death of blockbusters anytime soon. Sure the business is cyclical but there will probably always be a market for these films as long teenage boys and girls go to the theatres.

        • S_P_1

          I agree with you voting with your pockets. I also agree The Dark Knight Returns was subpar. What killed the trilogy and ended it on a weak note is the passing of Heath Ledger. Just like the death of Paul Walker will be the coffin nail for the Fast and Furious.

        • Ken

          The latest X-Men movie isn’t ‘bad shit’ (although I agree that Dark Knight Rises was)

          • Midnight Luck

            I didn’t say it was shit, I said Dark Knight 3 was.
            I just haven’t really had any interest since all the spandex movies seem to have decided to be written in a one note, cliched way. Avengers was atrocious, the first Thor really bad (didn’t see the second it looked even worse), didn’t see the 3rd Iron Man because it looked awful. I am mildly intrigued about X-Men though. But can’t really justify going to see it and paying $11 bucks when I know the possibility that I won’t like it is high.
            I am glad someone else on here agrees that Batman 3 was terrible. When it came out I voiced my opinion on SS and everyone else just LOVED it. Thought it was the greatest ever, and gave me a million reasons why I just didn’t “get” it.
            I did.
            I got that it was a meandering, overlong, boring mess. Didn’t help that The Dark Knight was one of the best Superhero movies ever (all because of Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker. That would have been hard to beat no matter what the storyline)

          • Ken

            I really like The Avengers. Can’t wait for Avengers: Age of Ultron.

  • NajlaAnn

    Wonderful article. However, I’d take Sam Witwicky (Transformers) over Jordan Belfort (The Wolf of Wall Street) any day. Same goes for the two movies. :)

    • Hadley’s Hope

      What if Jordan Belfort’s yacht was a transformer?

      Voiced by Matthew McConaughey?

      • klmn

        To me a transformer still means a device for stepping up (or down) voltage.

        • Hadley’s Hope

          Okay, then a morphing robot in disguise.

  • brenkilco

    Agreed. See above

  • carsonreeves1

    I’ll be the first person to tell you, screenwriting is hard. So hard that even people like myself, who know so much about it, find it difficult. The x-factor is “creation.” I’m really good at analyzing and breaking down what works and doesn’t work with a screenplay. But when you stare at the blank page and must create something original and fresh and entertaining, that’s a whole different animal. My strength may lie in helping others. But who knows? I may throw my hat back in the ring at some point. :)

    • carsonreeves1

      The Hollywood development process is its own beast. Getting rewritten into mediocrity usually isn’t the writer’s fault. Mediocre scripts do get through the system sometimes, but those moments are more luck-driven (right place, right time). Better to control your own destiny by writing something great.

    • Casper Chris

      In the Orbitals thread I posted further down, someone asked you if you still wrote yourself to which you replied:

      Picking away at something. I hope to finish it soon. :)

      So three years later, I ask.. did you ever finish it?

    • klmn

      Do ahead. I dares ya.

  • CJ

    Since I’ve ready (by Terrio Rossio, I think) that, “A script’s not final until the director’s in the room,” and we all see the numerous writers’ names that are attached to movies (indicating the numerous rewrites, punch-ups and polishes that are done), is it possible that all you really need to sell a script is a great concept/premise alone (as long as everything else is executed at at least an average level), since most everything else will probably be altered? Put another, way, does concept trump everything?

    • Nicholas J

      I think there’s a very good argument to be made that concept trumps all. Given the choice between a great script with a ‘meh’ concept and an average script with a great concept, I have to think the majority of people who make movies will take the high concept. You can improve the execution of a great concept, but you can’t really infuse a great concept into a script that doesn’t have one.

      The fact that people buy pitches for concepts that don’t even have scripts yet tells you how much a great concept matters in this industry.

      • CJ

        That’s a good point about the script-less pitches. I want a stack of Joe Eszterhas’ magical cocktail napkins.

        • Hadley’s Hope

          Are these high concept pitches common nowadays? As in leading to a sale? It is not the spec-crazy 90s anymore.

          • CJ

            I’m not on the inside, so I don’t know how often it happens. I have read about it, though. Even though it was an existing property, the story for Prometheus was sold on a pitch before the script was written (the fact that its universe is connected to your avatar is purely coincidental : ). In my initial post I was more talking about how the concept seems to be the “last man standing” once a script goes through the wringer, so maybe it’s the key element after all the other precious ones go by the wayside and a director has subjected your story to his vision.

          • Hadley’s Hope

            Concept as the “last man standing” makes sense. Mr. High Concept not only kicks down the door guns blazing, he also seems to survive the pitches. He’s our Rambo.

          • Malibo Jackk

            Many years ago a guy named Robert Evans decided he wanted to become a producer. He found a book and went to a studio and pitched the idea of making it into a movie. The studio loved the idea. And since Evans had not optioned the property, they went ahead and bought the property without him.

            In more recent years I’ve heard pros complain about how they are invited to pitch for studio writing assignments — only to have their ideas stolen and someone else hired to write the script.

            Not sure what chance an amateur would have pitching high concept ideas without a script.

          • Poe_Serling

            Several years ago, at one of those Fade In magazine pitch events, Evans told a similar story.

            He talked about how he meet with the check writers over at Paramount and dropped a 130 page script on the table in front of them. The title on the script? The Saint.

            According to Evans, the property had been a hot commodity in Hollywood ever since the 1960s TV series that starred Roger Moore.

            The head honchos at the studio jumped on the chance to make the film.

            Evans left the meeting with a deal and took the script with him. The twist?

            There was no script. It was just a cover page and 129 blank sheets of paper.

            Even though he eventually left the project, Evans still scored a producing credit when the film finally made it to the big screen in ’97.

          • Malibo Jackk

            Sounds like the four scripts I’ve been working on.

          • Poe_Serling

            lol. Maybe you should throw your hat into the producers’ ring.

          • IgorWasTaken

            Evans is a great teller of stories. I understand that some of his stories even include actual true facts.

          • Malibo Jackk

            Peter Bart worked as vice president in charge of production
            at Paramount Pictures. He was brought in by Evans when he was running the studio.

            Bart is the one who tells the story.
            (BTW — there’s nothing better than a good story.)

          • IgorWasTaken

            BTW — there’s nothing better than a good story


            I just wanna say, based on the time I used to spend out there in H-wood, any time someone tells a story, and the implicit or explicit source is Evans – “Evans told me this story once …” – the listener will expect the story to be interesting, but the listener will also discount the probability that the “facts” in the story are true. Or, maybe all the facts are true, but it’s really a story about something that happened to someone other than Evans.

  • Nicholas J

    “If the NBA starts drafting blind dwarves with faulty prosthetic limbs to play, see how many people show up for tryouts. Millions.”

    This is funny, but a little off. Basketball isn’t subjective. You can tell if you are good or not by seeing the ball go in the hoop or hit air. You make your shots or you don’t. In writing, someone can think they are good simply because that’s what they think. We don’t have black and white out-of-bounds lines to go by, we only have areas of grey.

    But yes, a summer lineup of shit makes it seem like anybody can sell a script, and contributes to a lot of amateur shlock. But outside of that I don’t see what you’re trying to say other than picking off low hanging fruit.

    You make my argument for me, which is that amateurs don’t have the luxury of being inept. So yes, there does exist a bar of excellence, but it’s only set for us, the undiscovered writer. Unless you’re best friends with a director or someone, you have to aim for that bar or you won’t make it anywhere.

  • Stephjones

    gonna steal the ” evading evolution” line.

  • pmlove

    lovepeterm at gmail

    hit me up!

  • drifting in space

    If you want to become a better writer, it’s very easy.

    Step 1: All of the time you spending jerking off, watching TV, playing video games, reading and arguing on blogs, etc… write instead. At the very least… read. Doesn’t have to be a screenplay (most of what I read are though). Could be a book. Lot of adaptations these days.

    Step 2: If you start drifting back to your old ways, repeat step 1.

    Step 3: Always do step 1?

    I think the primary issue, one which no one wants to admit, is that 99% of people writing screenplays do not devote enough time to it to become better.

    Look at your writing habits. How much time do you put into the craft? HONESTLY?

    There’s your answer. If you want to be rich and famous, it’s gotta be more than a hobby, y’all.

    • Kirk Diggler

      I almost thought you were going to go on one of your famous ‘article length’ rants. It’s been awhile, no?

      • drifting in space

        No time, man. Trying to pick out what color tile I want on my pool in the Hollywood Hills.

  • Midnight Luck

    I am sure u can post it here and get plenty of good notes. Just be kind and not post on friday with respect for the author who got chosen for Amateur Friday.

    M (at) blackluck (dot) com

    • Malibo Jackk

      Not sure I understand the rules.
      Are these Carson’s rules? Are they Hollywood’s rules?
      Would it be improper for someone to talk about a runner-up that he/she liked?
      Would it be a tragedy if someone posted an amateur script that was actually better than the AF script?

      • Midnight Luck

        Ha. There are no rules, and i have no interest in being a leader to enforce them. But i do believe in respect and the person who makes it to AmFri beat out the other 5, was one of them chosen by Carson, and landed the coveted Fri spot. Only seems fitting they have the day to chat with others about their script, without a hundred others posting theirs and hijacking the conversation.
        But, do whatever you will.
        People always do anyhow.
        Respect or no.

        • Malibo Jackk

          i guess I need to mention —
          Would never place respect for someone who beat out 5 others
          over respect for the profession itself.
          Respect for the amateur should not supersede respect for the profession. It’s comforting — but a losing strategy, IMO.

          It’s a difference of opinion.
          And it’s not popular.
          Ultimately, Carson sets the rules.

          • Midnight Luck

            Yeah can’t say that i agree.
            I have complete respect for all the writers at all levels, for the profession, for Carson, and for your opinion. But in this setup, and with Friday being called Amateur Friday and for it being designated as that specific writers coverage, it just seems a bit assholish to infiltrate their time.
            Maybe my perspective is the unpopular one.
            Who knows.

  • drifting in space

    Send out a logline. It gets the people going.

  • Randy Williams

    Congrats on the ratings!

    I’d love a shot. Three other members have requested notes from me off my comments and been pleased and I’m free!

  • pmlove

    I haven’t seen much of Walking Dead but The Governor sounds like a repurposing of The Judge in Blood Meridian. Talk about character intros, you’ll struggle to beat that.

    No spoilers, sorry.

  • Malibo Jackk

    Like the title.

  • Jaco

    Get rid of the industry ineptitude and ditch the nepotism and what happens to amateur writers out there who continually bemoan that Hollywood can’t see the genius in their writing?


    They’ll still write shitty scripts. They’ll still get rejected. And they will find some reason other than their lack of talent and creativity to blame for their continued failure.

    Plain and simple, the biggest reason why an amateur fails time and time again is because their work sucks. In my experience, you don’t get overlooked because you are not a known quantity – you get overlooked because you have a terrible concept, terrible logline, and/or terribly executed script.

    But, whatever. Rage against the machine. Maybe it makes you feel better.

    • Jaco

      LOL – what’s it liked to be trapped in moderation? A bit like preschool, Clarice?

      grendl: “Honestly, when I’ve heard of you. jaco and your career your words will mean something/

      I’ll just assume you’re one shitty writer until then.”

      Fine by me. I kinda feel bad I already have the advantage of knowing you’re one.

    • S_P_1

      Overlooking a script because of terrible logline is weak. The only thing the logline provides is the genre and tone of the script. I’ve read multiple articles of executives dispelling the myth of a bad logline isn’t a script disqualification. A bad script is its own disqualification. There’s a recent thread on stage32 concerning writers posting multiple loglines and putting more focus on that than actually crafting a script. I think a huge ploy is to get amateur writers engaged in meaningless minutia. The less you’re focused on quality storytelling the more you add to the job security of writers in the industry.

      • Jaco

        You put yourself behind the proverbial 8-ball if you can’t create a compelling logline. If you think differently – then prove it. Write a shitty logline and come back here and let people know how many reads you got.

        It’s a fucking sentence – not a quadratic equation. Nothing wrong with putting the time in – especially when you are on the outside looking in.

        • S_P_1

          If some writers want to be known for crafting a masterpiece logline, great for them. I’m not going to exert any extraneous amount of time wording a logline.

      • Midnight Luck

        I agree. The logline can be a mirage. There’s almost nothing about it that tells you anything. It was proven again in the SS logline contest. It has been proven in other contests. People choose the best ones then expect awesome scripts and it doesn’t work. There is nothing to indicate the script will be good by a good logline. A first page can tell you a ton, the first ten even more, and the whole script tells all.
        The problem is a one direction issue. The logline is only helpful if the script is good. Which no one can know until they begin to read the script.
        Now don’t get me wrong. Learning to write a good logline is important after you have written a script. And preferably a good to excellent script.

  • Nicholas J

    I did acknowledge that argument and I agreed with it.

    But I don’t think the rest is nearly as conspiratory as you make it sound. Do you really believe all that?

    People always refer to “Hollywood” like it’s some all powerful entity. I guess in a way it can be, but it’s made up of all sorts of different people and all sorts of different movies get made. It’s not like there’s one person controlling it all, deciding who they can “let in.”

    Obviously it’s a business and the end goal is to make $$, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that concept. That’s how any business works.

    The best way to get noticed is to write something that is both great and marketable. Something people will actually pay to see. And that doesn’t mean you have to write crap. 12 YEARS A SLAVE is marketable. THE KING’S SPEECH is marketable.

    If you do that, then you won’t be the 99%. I for one am glad the 99% is kept out. I mean, have you read the typical amateur script that the 99% writes? It may not be worse than some of the crap that’s out there, but it’s very, VERY rarely any better.

  • Midnight Luck

    It’s Amateur weekend, it would probably be fine, and the rest of the week should be as well. Carson actually encouraged people to post their scripts during the week at one point.

  • Javier Eliezer Otero

    Tried to send Hot Air, but there’s something wrong with your email address.

  • bex01

    I’d like a read!
    babelfish79 at gmail dot com

  • Mr. Blonde

    I worry about the fact that I am terrible with about six of these. Just going through the list, I can’t do a unique idea (high concept), unique characters, “taking chances”, dialogue, imagination, voice, scene writing or great villains.

    The issue is that I’m a logic thinker in a creative medium. There’s a few in the list I can do, no problem; plotting… okay, maybe only one. So depressing when I think about it. On one of my features, I know I hit it on the plotting and (I think) great ending beats. The others aren’t even close as I’ve been told by everyone who’s read it.

    I worry about that because those are the two things I can always pull off, but I never make any improvements in character or dialogue. I don’t know how to do one-liners, clever quips, whatever. The characters, as a result, come off as plain and two-dimensional.

  • Marc

    Hello, I don’t post much because as a screenplay writer I am barely out of diapers. ;o) To that end, what can I really contribute. I wrote a movie I wanted to see, in a genre I have loved since childhood. I have gotten a late start in life when it comes to my passion, whether it works out or not, time will tell. However, after reading this article I believe I have, at least, a few of what you speak of.

    In my screenplay Legacy I have created some very likable, yet complicated characters who deal with issues of their own, along with the over arcing issue of the story which is revenge. Issues like unrequited love with the hope of happiness, a very personal tragedy, and a marriage that may not make it because of a secret kept.

    The idea of werewolves is not new. We have seen many werewolf movies, and we all
    know the “Rules.” However, I have changed them up somewhat to suit the story. They play into the ending, and toys with the idea of where the Grimm Fairy Tales really came from.

    The plot lines in Legacy have some twists, turns, and a little mystery as to the characters motives, end games, and ultimate decisions. What you think is, is not – or is it? I don’t wait until the end to reveal how some of these come together, because I want to keep you interested while giving you something else to think about. I don’t know if that’s right or not, but there it is.

    For those (non-screen writers) that have read it, I have been told the ending is memorable, and from notes I received “was a great ending to the story.” The birth of
    Legacy started with the idea of how I was going to end it, and paved the winding road to that end. The ending ties into the history of the main character and her family, but also reveals what her true Legacy actually is.

    I imagine every writer “believes” what they created is good until they can truly get an objective viewpoint, and sometimes we have to spend the coin (several times) in order to find it. This is why I personally value this site so highly, and the advice from it. Thank you all for that.


  • Rick McGovern

    Sure. I’ll send it today.