Rather than looking at movies in terms of “two thumbs up” or “two thumbs down” Award Winning Screenwriter Jacob Krueger discusses what you can learn from them as a screenwriter. He looks at good movies, bad movies, movies we love, and movies we hate, exploring how they were built, and how you can apply those lessons to your own writing. More information and full archives at WriteYourScreenplay.com
Chernobyl: How to Write a Miniseries If you’re enjoying these podcasts and it’s helping your writing, then come study with me. You can join our in-person classes in New York City or stream them live online from anywhere in the world. You can also work with us one-on-one in our ProTrack Mentorship Program. We’ll pair you with a professional writer who will mentor you through every phase of your career, reading every page you write. It’s really an amazing program. If you’d like to learn more about ProTrack and our classes, please visit our website at www.writeyourscreenplay.com. Today, we’ll be talking about Chernobyl created by Craig Mazin. If you haven’t seen this new miniseries, you definitely want to check it out. For the most part, I will avoid any major spoilers. What we’ll be talking about is writing miniseries. We get so many questions from students who want to write a miniseries, or who wonder whether their project would be better suited as a miniseries. There are amazing things happening right now in the world of miniseries and Chernobyl is one of them. So, we’re going to talk about how to know if your project is a miniseries and how to think about miniseries, as well as some of the commercial challenges of selling a miniseries to help you make the best decisions when writing your own script. We’ll do that by talking about Chernobyl and looking at how this miniseries on HBO functions and what made it so effective and essential. Before we get into talking about miniseries, I’ll share a warning. Most emerging writers working on miniseries are working on them for the wrong reasons. They are doing so because they don’t yet have the muscle – the physical, technical skills as a writer – to tell their story efficiently. Many writers end up thinking they need to write a miniseries because they don’t actually know how to zoom in close on the part that represents the whole. They don’t know how to narrow their screenwriting down to the essence of the story that needs to be told, how to find their hook, or craft their character’s journey in an effective way. What happens for a lot of newer writers is their projects bloat. It seems like, “Wow, I could never fit this into a 100-page script or a 60-page series episode.” It seems so big because you simply haven’t learned the tools of efficiency yet. So, the first thing you want to do if you’re writing a miniseries is to make sure you’re writing it for the right reasons. You should be writing a project that really needs to be told as a miniseries. The other thing to be aware of when thinking about writing a miniseries is that it is harder to write a miniseries than it is to write a series. It is harder to write a miniseries than it is to write a feature. It is certainly harder to write a miniseries than it is to write a pilot. A miniseries, such as Chernobyl, is a huge investment. Unlike a series that can grow an audience over time or many years, with a miniseries you really just have that one shot to get it right. It’s a huge investment of capital, it’s a huge investment of time, and, as a writer, it is a huge investment of your time and energy in the writing. These things are hard to write and they are big. So, the first question you want to ask yourself is, “Does this need to be a miniseries?” If it does, then you better do the work and figure out how to do it, because you’ve got to tell the story in the form it wants to be in. But if you’re a writer early in your career, if your craft isn’t all the way there yet, you might want to ask yourself,
Game of Thrones Final Episode: The Case for Compression This week, we’ll be discussing the Game of Thrones finale. However, we’re not going to join in on all the negative feelings about this episode. Everybody knows the problems. Instead, we’ll take a deep look at the episode and ask ourselves the same questions we’d need to ask if the ending of our own script or series wasn’t working. Despite everything that’s wrong, all the problems and disappointment, what actually works in this episode? And how could we have built on that in a rewrite and transformed it into an episode that works? It’s important to remember that though everybody is now asking for David Benioff’s and D.B. Weiss’ heads, these are the same writers who gave you all the episodes you loved. They gave you The Red Wedding, The Battle of The Bastards, Hodor, and all those moments you fell in love with while watching Game of Thrones. So why did these same writers, who were able to give us those wonderful episodes we fell in love with, struggle in Season 8? What made this final episode feel like it fell apart for most of the people who watched it? All the elements needed to make Season 8 of Game of Thrones great were already there. But the experience of watching this final season was like watching a rough draft, a draft that hasn’t been through all the steps we need to go through as screenwriters. This is what makes the lessons of Season 8 incredibly valuable for you. Typically when studying great movies or a great series, you’re looking at scripts that are truly finished. You don’t realize even great writers have had to go through the same crap you do, that their early drafts don’t look perfect. In fact, their early drafts are just as much of a mess as yours! They have to do the same work as you to make those drafts effective. So, let’s discuss what that work looks like and how you do it. But before we do, I want to talk about the biggest thing getting in the way here. There have been issues with Game of Thrones before. There have been small problems, big problems we’ve forgiven, and the same leaps in character logic that suddenly everyone is up in arms about now. However, most viewers found this season very difficult to forgive. While I want to talk about what made everyone so upset, I also want to talk about what happened to the writers this season that changed everything. Although people are asking for a Game of Thrones Season 8 redo with good writers, I would suggest that, in fact, these are good writers. Unfortunately, they are just good writers who shot and showed you a draft a little bit too early. This is why it’s such a great lesson. I’ve seen so many of my students, brilliant writers, shooting drafts or sending scripts to producers, managers or agents a little bit too early. They take things that should have been moving and powerful, that everyone should have loved, but because they did it all a little bit too early and didn’t go through that final revision, they end up not getting the effect they wanted for their audience. Something else also happened to these writers. If you were watching Game of Thrones this season you probably noticed you were staying up later and later. That’s because Game of Thrones changed its format. Instead of short, hour-long episodes in a 10-episode season, Season 8 had fewer and longer episodes. I would suggest this was actually the biggest mistake Game of Thrones made, and potentially the main source of the negative reaction the audience is now having. When you allow yourself more pages in a script, as Game of Thrones did, you have to make fewer choices. When you give yourself fewer pages and try to do everything as quickly as you can, you have to make very strong choices differentiating between your great stuff and your good stuff. What is the stuff you need to include and what stuff makes you say,
Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 5: Three Levels Of Structure This week, we’re looking at Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 5: The Bells. Let’s set aside for now the question of whether or not this episode is actually good. This has been debated ad nauseum everywhere, and I’ve already waxed poetic for four episodes about some of the issues that have plagued the character development in Game of Thrones Season 8. Instead, I want to talk about what you can learn from this episode as a screenwriter or TV writer. I also want to discuss why this episode has sparked so much outrage and what you can learn from that when getting feedback on your own scripts or approaching your own rewrites. To talk about Episode 5, let’s start by going way back to Episode 1 of Season 1. If you’ve studied screenwriting with me in my Write Your Screenplay classes, you’re familiar with the concept of mirrors. This is the idea that elements of the structure of your screenplay evolve from reflecting back on moments that have already happened, but in a different way. Game of Thrones Episode 5 starts with a moment that is one of those mirrors, a reflection of something we saw back at the very beginning of Season 1. In the Game of Thrones pilot, we saw a king named Ned Stark execute a man named Will. Will was a ranger who went out beyond The Wall and encountered a White Walker, a creature Ned Stark believed had long since gone extinct. When Will comes back, Ned, as king, carries out what he believes to be his duty. Not understanding Will to be telling the truth about the White Walkers, Ned executes him. Not only does he execute Will, he brings his son to watch and learn what it means to be a king. Game of Thrones Episode 5 begins with a moment that is very similar, a reflection of that moment that launched us into the series. Except this time, it’s Daenerys pronouncing the death sentence and the person being executed is Varys. This time it’s Varys who is speaking the truth nobody wants to hear and it’s Daenerys operating as she believes a queen must operate in order to solidify her power. Thematically, what’s happening is the Game of Thrones engine is growing out of events that have come before. Yes, there are problems with how we got here. Problems such as Varys not acting like Varys, Daenerys not acting like Daenerys, the brilliant Tyrion suddenly becoming very stupid, and everyone being manipulated like puppets by the writers, which I discussed in my previous podcast. These issues with the path we took to get here do get in the way of what should be a very powerful scene being able to affect us in the way it should. There’s a part of us wondering, “Um, yeah, but wouldn’t she…? Um, wouldn’t he…? Didn’t they…?” So, to get the full value out of this podcast and analysis, imagine, just for a moment, the writers of Game of Thrones have found a way to believably get us to this point. Imagine they’ve rewritten the scenes in the previous episodes and found a believable way to chip away at Daenerys’ morality while still leaving her a living, breathing character genuinely trying to do good, and pushing the ever-manipulative Varys into getting caught in his own betrayals without simply being stupid about it. Let’s assume for a moment this all actually made sense. (For a deep discussion of one way to do such a rewrite, check out my Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 4 podcast.) Had that rewrite happened, you can imagine just how powerful this scene would have felt as a mirror of the scene that started it all and as ...
Game of Thrones Episode 4: Lessons in Revision Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 4: Lessons in Revision As you know, I’ve been doing a series of podcasts on Game of Thrones, Season 8. If you’d like to check out the whole series, including complete transcripts of each episode, you can find them out on my website: www.writeyourscreenplay.com/got. And if you can’t wait for the full podcast, then tune in for some instant analysis on Facebook Live each Monday at 1:00pm Eastern Standard Time by following @thejkstudio. Season 8, Episode 4 is a challenging episode. We’ve just experienced the battle of Winterfell, the most epic battle sequence in the history of Game of Thrones and the fight between the living and the dead we’ve been anticipating for eight seasons. Somehow, you’ve got to get that engine started again. You’ve got to create a journey people are going to pay attention to, connect to, and care about again. It’s hard because we’re all feeling a little bit let down. Where the hell are we going to go from here? How do we get excited again now that the Night King is gone? To make it even more challenging, the beginning of Episode 4, “The Last of the Starks,” is pretty slow. There is almost five minutes of saying goodbye to the dead and an incredibly boring speech by Jon Snow before we finally get to the image that matters: all those bodies lit on fire, with the final image being Jorah’s body consumed by flames. This is followed by another 12 minutes of celebrating the victory, with a couple of nice scenes of characters jockeying for power mixed in. It’s only once we’re one-third of the way through this Game of Thrones episode that anything of real consequence happens. Don’t get me wrong, most of the writing is good. Most of these moments are good and most of these characters are good. Plus, it’s nice to check in with all of these characters we know and love in the wake of their epic victory. But, we can also see the length of a Game of Thrones episode is quickly ballooning in this last season. This is a risk you can take on a hit HBO series, but not one you can take as a new writer. Almost always, new writers come to me deeply concerned about one of two things. One, they’re concerned about not having enough material, that their idea isn’t really a movie or television series. Or two, they’re afraid they simply can’t fit all their material into a single feature, television, or web series pilot. They wonder, “Maybe it needs to be a two-episode pilot? Or maybe it needs to be a miniseries?” No, that’s not what needs to happen. The truth is any idea can become a movie or TV series if you’re willing to push on it hard enough. By the time you get to the end, the concern isn’t going to be running out of material, it will be figuring out how to squeeze in all your great material. This leads us to an important lesson about revision. Many people think revision is about changing or cutting the bad stuff in your script. That part is easy. Great writers know revision is about cutting the good stuff in your script until all that’s left is great. Revision is asking yourself after you’ve seen, heard, felt and captured on the page every moment in all its specific detail, “What is this scene really about? What is this sequence or this act or this movie really about?” Then it’s about capturing the heart of your story into the bare minimum number of pages possible, squeezing your scenes down to only the very best of the best moments, until there’s no good writing left. Until everything is great. What is this episode about? It’s about Daenerys and Jon and the rift that’s growing between them, their people, and around what it means to be a leader and who should sit on the Iron Throne.
Game of Thrones Episode 3: The Poetry Of Violence This week we’re discussing Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 3, “The Battle of Winterfell.” I am so excited to talk about this episode. I haven’t had a chance to talk about a battle sequence of this length and consequence and poetry since my podcast on Mad Max, which you should check out if you’re into action writing. Today we’re going to talk about the poetry of violence, the poetry of writing action into your screenplays. We’re going to talk a little bit about how to build a battle sequence, but also about what makes a battle sequence special. And just a warning, there are some major spoilers ahead… Action sequences in TV shows like Game of Thrones are actually built just like drama and comedy sequences. They aren’t actually about the fight; they’re always about the interpersonal dramatic moment happening within a fight. It doesn’t matter how spectacularly you build the events or the plot of your action sequence. It’s the personal story, the drama underneath it, that’s going to make your action sequence succeed or fail. In fact, if you’ve done a really good job, you’ll be able to describe your action sequence as if it was a drama without talking about the action at all. You’ll realize the action is actually laid over the top of the drama, that it’s the structure of the character choices and the character changes giving us the drama and carrying us through the action. In a way, building an action sequence is similar to writing a musical. When you work on a musical, you write a dramatic scene and then your composers steal that scene and turn it into a song. They change it when they turn it into a song because songs work differently than dramatic scenes, but they are inspired by the dramatic content of what’s happening. It’s even true when you’re writing a TV comedy. As Jerry Perzigian, the Emmy Award-winning showrunner who teaches our TV writing classes here at the studio, says, “First you write it true, and then you make it funny.” It’s the same in action writing in TV and screenplays; first you write it true, and then you find the action. So, let’s start by talking about what’s true and how you find it. What’s true in Game of Thrones is that once upon a time there was a dagger and that dagger was intended for Bran. That dagger, over eight seasons, has passed from character to character to character to character, until it finally landed in the hands of Bran’s sister, Arya Stark. That dagger will finally drive home the ending of an entire engine of the Game of Thrones story, the epic battle against the dead. Over the course of Game of Thrones, we’ve watched Bran Stark transform from a child to an otherworldly being who is at peace with his destiny. We’ve watched Arya transform from a child into a trained assassin who has worn many faces and will find her last face here when she kills the Night King. This is the completion of Arya’s fate, her journey from child to assassin, just as it is the completion of Bran’s journey from child to Three-Eyed Raven, both of which we’ve watched over the course of eight seasons. It’s the completion of Theon and Bran’s journey when Theon, who has been a coward for eight seasons, finally finds his courage after Bran, the boy he betrayed, tells him that he is a good man. The truth is that the structure is built out of all these relationships: the relationship between Tyrion and Sansa, between Melisandre and Davos, between Jaime and Brienne, between the Hound and Arya, between Daenerys and Jon, and between Daenerys and Jorah. You can see all of these Game of Thrones characters are going on a ...
Game of Thrones Episode 2: How To Make Them Care If you’ve been listening to this Game of Thrones podcast series, you know we’re looking at each episode of Season 8 and talking about how it works in relation to the overall engine of the series, and what you can learn from it as a screenwriter. We’ve talked about the idea that an engine gives you a way to replicate a similar structure in each episode in order to create the same feeling in a different way. This is exactly what’s happening in Episodes 1 and 2 of Season 8 of Game of Thrones; they’re actually doing the same thing. These Game of Thrones episodes are structured the same way. Both are replicating a series of connections and reconnections of old characters we’ve known and loved who are finding the irony in meeting again. Each episode takes one step toward complicating the relationships between Bran and Jaime and between Daenerys and Jon. Episode 1 of Season 8 culminates in Jon finding out from Sam, “You’re actually Aegon Targaryen. You’re the heir to the Iron Throne!” Episode 2 of Season 8 culminates in Jon sharing that information with Daenerys, who is none too pleased about it. Episode 1 of Season 8 also starts to chip away at our belief in Daenerys as a capable ruler. In Episode 2, she is making even worse and more selfish choices. She almost fired Tyrion because he trusted Cersei, even though that was a move she backed. She is trying to manipulate Sansa, but doesn’t seem willing to give Sansa the one thing she wants which is the freedom of the North. Then, when Daenerys finds out her lover is actually her nephew, rather than being horrified about their relationship or happy that the rightful heir should take the throne or even conflicted about what to do, we see her immediately turn toward power. She’s upset because that would give him the right to the throne. You can see what’s happening, right? Episode 2 is a replication of Episode 1. We’re going on a similar journey. Episode 2 has a slightly different tone because it’s happening right before the culmination of the final big engine that has driven Game of Thrones through all eight seasons, and what we’ve been hearing since Season 1, Episode 1: “Winter Is Coming!” We have been waiting for winter to come, and waiting and waiting and waiting. Then we find out winter has come, and yet we’re still waiting for winter to come. We get a couple of battles with the undead, and we’re still waiting. But now the undead are here, they have a dragon nobody else knows about, and they’re headed toward the gates. We have one day left. It reminds me of that great song “One Day More” from Les Misérables. That’s the tone of this episode. Everybody is preparing to die. They know they’re going to die and they have their last moments together. Episode 2 isn’t especially dramatic, even though some wonderfully dramatic things happen in it. Arya is having sex for the first time, which is interesting on a couple of levels. For one, over eight seasons she has actually turned into a young woman, but we still remember her as a child. By creating a love affair in the middle of this, it feels extremely complicated because she’s having sex with a character we have come to understand is an adult while we still see her as a child. Once again, we have an ethically complicated love story happening, something that makes us a little bit uncomfortable. We have an absolutely beautiful moment with Brienne. She gets the wish she didn’t even know she had, to be a knight. It’s the one thing she could never do and it happens through Jaime, who has a long and complicated relationship with her.
Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 1: Save The Best For First If you listened to the first episode of the Game of Thrones podcast series, you know what we’re doing over the course of Game of Thrones Season 8 is a brief podcast about each episode to discuss what you can learn from that episode as screenwriters. In our first podcast, we looked at the engine of Season 1 of Game of Thrones. We talked about all those elements that created the engine and would end up driving eight seasons of the show. We also talked a little bit about the things that went wrong along the way as pieces of that engine, particularly at the end of the first season, were destroyed and then had to be recreated. As we start Season 8, there is one engine we didn’t talk about that started way back in Season 1: the Jaime and Cersei Lannister relationship and everything that happens to Bran out of that. If you remember back in Episode 1, there is a horrifying moment when brother and sister are making love and little baby Bran climbs up and sees them, and Jaime Lannister gives him a quick shove to what looks like is going to be his death. This is the moment we all get hooked on Game of Thrones. This is the moment we know we’re going to keep watching Game of Thrones, because the baddies are so bad and so complicated. That’s what Game of Thrones is really about: There’s this theme of incest, perversity, and twisted sexuality and power bumping up against the desire to be an ethical person in the universe. And this is another engine that has changed. By now Jaime and Cersei are not only no longer making love; Jaime has become a good guy. The engine of this very complicated love story, which has driven us through many episodes, seems like it has run its course. What’s interesting about the pilot episode of Season 8 is that this engine gets restarted. The loose end between Jaime and Bran at the very end of Season 1 is completed and restarted at the beginning of Season 8 when Jaime shows up at Winterfell and he and Bran lock eyes, both of them knowing exactly what happened. So, even though the relationship between Cersei and Jaime has changed in a way that no longer powers the engine the same way, we have a new engine starting here with Jaime’s relationship with Bran, an engine that I expect is probably going to play out over each episode to come. There’s another very interesting engine getting restarted here and that’s Daenerys, who has been wandering around as the perfect leader and, quite frankly, has become somewhat boring. Sure, we love watching dragons, but how long can you keep freeing slaves, doing good, and being the perfect person for the throne before things start to get a little boring? So we bring Daenerys to Winterfell, where Jon Snow is supposed to be ruling, and they come back as a happy couple. Remember, at the end of Season 7, he has “bent the knee” to her and has given up his claim in order to support hers and their battle against the White Walkers. A beautiful little love story is blooming between her and Jon and, of course, that love story is amplified through a beautiful CGI sequence when they fly on their dragons together. But none of the people of the North actually trust her; no one who agreed to be ruled by Jon is very happy about being ruled by some blonde lady with a bunch of dragons. And although we are watching Daenerys and Jon process this, all of it is pretty boring.
Game of Thrones Season 8 vs Season 1: Building A Series Engine That Lasts This week we’re going to be talking about Game of Thrones. But we’re not actually going to be talking about Season 8 of Game of Thrones. Instead, we’re going to go back and we’re going to look at Season 1. And the reason we’re going to look at Season 1 is that I want to talk about engine. I want to talk about how you build a series that can run for eight seasons, and I want to talk about how you build a pilot that can launch a series that can run for eight seasons. So I want to talk about the things that turned Game of Thrones into a successful series, that made it replicable, that made it a hit show, that started in the very beginning, in the pilot, and that were launched in Season 1. Then I also want to talk about some of the things that went awry over the eight seasons, as they do on every show, and how the writers of Game of Thrones overcame the issues that came up over the course of trying to replicate a specific kind of show and a specific kind of feeling over eight seasons. So we’re going to talk about that, and then my plan is to follow up with short podcasts that you’ll be able to catch on our social media channel where we analyze each episode of Game of Thrones Season 8, where we do a quick little breakdown to show you what you can learn from that episode. So, we’re going to have a lot of fun with this. But first off, let’s talk about the engine. Now, a lot of people think of an engine as an external thing, as something that you need to put into the series. Remember what an engine is: an engine is the thing that allows the series like Game of Thrones to run forever. The engine is actually what someone is buying when they buy a series, because without a great engine the series is going to peter out. A series is different than a feature film. A feature film is one journey that leads to catharsis, that leads to a feeling of change, that feels like a complete unit. But series, by nature, are incomplete. In fact, series, by nature, are designed to refuse us that catharsis, to force us to keep seeking it again and again and again so that we binge episode after episode, or so that we wait with bated breath for a week until Episode 2 or Episode 3 or Episode 4 comes out. So, when people come to watch a series, just like when you go to watch Game of Thrones, you’re watching for a specific reason, right? You want to get a specific feeling. And, of course, a big part of that is the beautiful fantasy world and the epic shots and the violence and the sex and the perversity and all the complications of Game of Thrones. But, there are a lot of series with those elements that don’t have anywhere near the success that Game of Thrones has. So, what actually leads to a successful series? Well, it’s the engine. But where does the engine come from? The engine is the thing that allows you to create the same feeling again and again, episode after episode, even as we watch characters go through different plots. In a syndicated series, the engine is very simple because each episode resets. If you think of The Simpsons, Homer and Marge and Bart and Lisa are the same every episode. Nothing ever changes; they don’t age, even if they go through a huge change in one episode it resets in the next. But when you get into a complicated drama series like Game of Thrones, the concept of engine becomes a lot more complicated. So, where does the engine actually come from? Well, the engine actually grows out of character. The engine actually grows out of the main character. Because even though Game of Thrones is an ensemble piece,
This week, we’re going to be talking about Roma by Alfonso Cuarón. Roma is an extraordinary film that harkens back to a different era of storytelling. It’s shot in black and white, despite having a substantial budget. It’s entirely in Spanish. And, in a way, the whole film is a love poem for Alfonso Cuarón’s real-life nanny from his childhood growing up in the Roma section of México City. The film harkens back to a different kind of filmmaking. An age where storytelling was slower, where the pace was different, where shots were longer without so many quick cuts, and where stories unfolded in a more symbolic kind of way. And that kind of structure is quite appropriate for Roma, because, in a way, it is a nostalgic look back at Alfonso Cuarón’s own life. We’re going to look at Roma to talk about how to write a screenplay from real life. How do you look inside of yourself and find those true stories that matter to you? How do you find the shape you want to put those stories into in order to communicate, not the literal experience, but the emotional experience to an audience? How do you use your real experiences to open up that little piece of your life in a screenplay? What’s interesting about writing from real life is in many ways these true-life stories are actually the hardest stories to tell. One of the gifts we have as screenwriters is the gift of metaphor. If you’re Alfonso Cuarón and you’re writing Gravity or Children of Men, you can look at those experiences from your real life through the veil of metaphor. You can convince yourself “Hey, this isn’t really me!” By using the technique of metaphor, using a work of fiction in order, to tell the truth, sometimes we allow ourselves to actually see the truth about ourselves and our lives more clearly. And, in doing so, we can also help our audiences see the truth about themselves and their lives more clearly. By abstracting just one degree, or two degrees, or three degrees, or twenty degrees from what actually happened, we allow our subconscious minds to start to give us the clues we haven’t yet processed in our conscious minds. We start to actually see the truth of our experiences, in a way that our conscious minds shields us from in our daily life. If you have ever been to therapy, you know what this is like. You come in for your first session, and you think you’re in therapy for one reason, and then you start to spend time and you realize you’re actually dealing with something completely different. This is exactly what writing a film is like. We start with some story we think we’re telling, or sometimes we think, “Oh, I’ve got a great commercial hook…” But then over the course of a year, or six months, or three months, or however long it takes you to write it, you start to realize, “Oh my God, I’m actually doing something very different. I’m actually telling a story about my mother. I’m actually telling a story about my brother. I’m actually telling a story about this thing that happened to me that I can’t make sense of.” That veil of fiction, the way we convince ourselves we’re using fiction, the way we convince ourselves this character isn’t really me, gives us a level of safety within which to play. That way we don’t have to deal with the entirety of our past until we’ve done the work to get ready for it. When you start to tell a true life story like Roma, things start to change. It’s just a fact of life that you are actually the one person you can’t see clearly. This is a physical fact. When you go around in the world, you’re looking at other people all the time, but it’s only when you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror that you actually see what you look like. In fact, most of us, myself included, have a vision of ourselves that’s from a different era of time.
From GoodFellas to Breaking Bad with Stephen Molton Jake: Today on the podcast, I have a special guest, Steve Molton. Steve is a mentor here at Jacob Krueger Studio, and he’s also just an extraordinarily amazing human being and writer. He’s a Bloomsbury Press Pulitzer Prize Nominee, he’s a former HBO and Showtime executive, he just did a movie with Frank Pugliese, and he’s a general badass. Today we’re going to be talking about not just how cool Steve is, but also about TV Drama. We’re living in a golden age of television, and Steve comes with vast experience. He teaches our TV Drama Weekend that’s coming up March 30th and 31st, as well as our ProTrack Mentorship program. So, Steve, I’d love for you to start by talking a little bit about how is it different today than it was a few years ago. Where are the opportunities now? Steve: That’s a great question. As you know, we’re in yet another golden age. I guess we could probably describe it as a third golden age, because there was the initial one in the ’50s, and then in the ’70s and ’80s, cable transformed everything. And then, there were suddenly a thousand different platforms, and that has given rise to an immense number of shows at any given moment. It has also given rise to web series, to the short form, which we hadn’t seen before. And that opens up a vista for writers, of a kind that no other form of writing does at this point, partly because the appetite is amazingly large for all these companies. Everybody wants to brand themselves, and the most secure way to brand themselves is to create their own series. There has never been more opportunity for original voices as right now. Jake: Yeah, it’s very exciting. Writing feature-length drama is much different than writing television drama. Steve: There’s the rub! That’s the fascination. And you and I have had experience in both worlds. I always like to position this process as who is the writer in society at this point? And one of the fascinating things, if we go back to our old Greek or Roman heritage, is that we discover pretty quickly this very intimate relationship between the law in a democratic society and the storytellers. And that all began, as you know, you’re sitting there smiling because you know all too well, it began with something that the Greek called the Agon. When the Greeks, 2,500 years ago, they were trying to train people in the system of jurisprudence, they’d bring all these people down to Athens once a year, and they’d talk to them about how you serve in a jury, and what the law was, and why this was a cornerstone of the free society, etc. But then, at night, they’d put on tragedies. And what we now know as, sort of, the origin of sitcoms. Strangely enough, we don’t think of sitcoms as being 2,500 years old, but they were! They are. In the middle of the dramas and tragedies– there are about 22 of them left to us for us to look at– but in the middle of each of these dramas there was something called the Agon, which was really like intermission where the people who had come down to learn about their judicial system would debate the kinds of issues that had been raised in the drama itself. And it was out of the Agon that the idea of the protagonist and the antagonist were born. What we often assume is that the protagonist is inherently the good guy. But the reality, all the way back to the Greeks, as it wasn’t really the good person. It was the moral contestant. It was the person who was sort of caught in between. One of the best evocations of that in older literature is Hamlet.
Beautiful Boy-Where Does Screenplay Structure Come From? This week we’re going to be talking about Beautiful Boy by Luke Davis and Felix van Groeningen. This is a particularly interesting film to discuss in light of our last podcast where we talked about Destroyer and the use of flashbacks in a movie, because Beautiful Boy is also built around flashbacks, but tends to earn those flashbacks in another way. So, we’re going to be looking at Beautiful Boy to talk not just about flashbacks but also about structure, How do you make those structural decisions in your film? Where does screenplay structure actually come from?” If you have seen Beautiful Boy or read reviews of Beautiful Boy, you know that the response has ranged wildly from those who think it is the most beautiful film ever made, to others who feel like it only scratches the surface of the addiction issue, who’ve even compared it to a beautifully produced PSA. Whether you were deeply moved by the film or felt like it only scratched the surface for you, there’s no doubt that the way the structure of Beautiful Boy is constructed grows out of its theme. Beautiful Boy comes at the issue of addiction in a much different way than a movie like Half Nelson or Requiem for A Dream. It is actually adapting two different books one non-fiction memoir written by David Sheff called Beautiful Boy, and one written by his son Nic Sheff entitled Tweak. What the film is basically doing is taking these two non-fiction works and squeezing them together. But it is still primarily looking at the issue of addiction through the eyes of the father played by Steve Carell. And in looking at the father, it basically makes the assumption that we see towards the end of the film when David and his wife Karen find themselves at a 12 Step meeting for parents of addicts, where the sign proclaims, “I didn’t cause it. I can’t control it. I can’t fix it.” The movie comes at the character of David Sheff from that point of view. This isn’t a movie about how the pitfalls of parenting lead to addiction, This isn’t a movie about how that empty space in Nic that he describes in the film got created in the first place. This is a movie about a guy who is a good parent, who has a son who is a good kid, who are both fighting the same issue and both failing. Whether you agree with the psychology and the sociology of this premise or not, that’s the thematic place that this piece starts from. We aren’t looking at bad fathers and bad sons. We aren’t looking at ugly people addicted to ugly things. We’re looking at a loving family torn apart by addiction. This doesn’t prevent the movie from getting deep or complicated in some places. For example there’s a wonderfully complicated scene where David Sheff smokes a joint with his son Nic, not knowing that his son is addicted to a whole array of drugs, thinking that he’s creating a special moment at his son’s request. There’s a very complicated moment when David buys cocaine himself and has a one night cocaine binge–he’s trying to feel what his son is feeling– or maybe just trying to escape. So, coming at these characters in this way isn’t limiting the ability to go deep, but it does cut a lot out. This is true whenever you’re using theme. Theme is a way of looking at your screenplays structure and saying, “What am I going to show and what am I going to not show?” “What am I going to dive deep into, and what am I going to skim over? Where am I going to get serious and where am I going to focus my attention?” The truth is in a two hour long movie, you can’t do everything, so you have to choose the things that you want to do. You have to choose where to point your camera and where to point your words so ...
Destroyer: How To Use Flashbacks In Your Script This week we’re going to be talking about Destroyer by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi. There are so many things that we can discuss about Destroyer, so many different ways that we can learn from this film. We can obviously talk about what a tremendous actor brings to a movie, looking at performances by Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Jade Pettyjohn and this tremendous cast, and how the specificity of a performance can amplify the quality of your writing, and bring your writing to life. And we can talk about how finding that specificity in your writing can allow these kinds of performers to find those nuances– how this writing and directing team created a role that allowed Nicole Kidman to put together such an interesting performance, the kind of performance we don’t normally see in a mainstream film. We can talk about, “Hey it is about darn time that we got to see ‘Dirty Harry’ with a woman!” How to update old concepts, like the dirty cop procedural, for a modern era, how you can look at films that were created in the past and think, “Okay, how would I update that?” And how sometimes you can draw inspiration from genres that have existed for a long time simply by asking yourself, “How do I make this genre new and relevant today?” One of the places Destroyer most strongly succeeds is in its use of images. So we can talk about how the writing team of Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi worked with Karyn Kusamato do a tremendous amount of silent storytelling. If you think of the first sequence of this film, we have a dead body, we have $100 bill with ink on it, and we have a strange tattoo of three circles. We then see Nicole Kidman, who plays Erin Bell, the” Dirty Harry” of this particular film, forcing her way onto the crime scene. Then we’re back at work with Erin and we see that she has her own ink-stained $100 bill, and immediately we know something else is going on. And finally, we see an image of three black dots on the back of Nicole Kidman’s neck, and we know that she’s tied to this crime in a way that we don’t understand. So another lesson that we could draw from Destroyer is how as a storyteller you can use images to deepen the story in the quickest and most efficient way possible. If your script is a mystery, like Destroyer, sometimes simply by creating images that even you don’t totally understand, you can start to create that feeling of that tangled web that you then have to unravel, and by doing it you can create a tremendous amount of excitement. Digging further into that specificity of images idea, there’s a really wonderful scene in which Erin Bell, Nicole Kidman’s character, after being in a big fight and another bender, wakes up on the floor. This is an image that we’ve seen a million times in movies—the drunk character waking up on the floor after a rough night. Whenever you have one of those images that’s “normal” or that someone could describe as normal, you want to look at that image and you want to think, “Okay, let me just keep looking deeper until I find something that I didn’t expect.” In this case that thing we didn’t expect is an ant walking across the floor. And that ant walking across the floor takes this image that could be a cliché, and turns it into a specific image. So we can talk about the power of visual storytelling and how to look deeper into your own images. Those are all things that I wish I could do in this podcast and that I’ll get deeper into in future podcasts. But the big thing that I want to talk about when it comes to Destroyer, is the use of flashbacks in a script. What Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi and Karyn Kusama are doing in Destroyer is really freaking hard. We have two parallel storylines happening in different times, with the same actors playing characters young and old.
Jake: I’m here with Linus Roache, a Golden Globe nominated actor that you probably recognize from Homeland, Vikings, Law and Order, Batman Begins, Chronicles of Riddick, Priest and a ton of other features and TV shows. Linus was just in Mandy with Nicolas Cage, so we’re going to be talking a little bit about that movie. And Linus is also a writer in his own right, so we’re going to be talking about his projects, what it is like to walk the line between being an actor and a writer, and how those processes are similar and different. Linus, after a whole career in acting, how did you come to writing? Linus: Yeah, well I think I’ve always had an idea or an ambition to write at some point. Even as a child, the idea of being able to write your own movie– everybody wants to write deep down, I think. And I’ve always had a great appreciation for writers. I have a theatre background. I love playwrights. I did all the classical work of Shakespeare, so I’ve always had a great love of writers and what they do. I’m slightly in awe of them, and I never felt that I’d really be able to write. I could get a script and see what I didn’t like about it and try to change dialogue and things, but I could never really craft anything. But eventually, at a certain point as an actor you do realize that you’re just a piece in a big, big puzzle, and you don’t really have that much power, ultimately (unless you’re an A list actor who’s controlling everything like Tom Cruise or something like that). And I’ve just reached that point where I’d like to be more creative. I’d like to bring more of the stories I want to tell to life. And, as you know my wife, Ros, who I co-write with, had a passion project that we wanted to turn into a screenplay. And I knew there’s no way you can just sit down and write a screenplay without some help. So, we looked around, and, you know, there’s all the usual suspects out there. And I think Ros came to see you doing a one-off little seminar and then we did Write Your Screenplay 1, 2 & 3 and then Pro-Track. You know just to say Jake it has been an invaluable two years that we spent doing that with you. Because, for me, for someone who has read– I don’t know how many thousands of scripts I must have read! And I can immediately tell you what’s a good one and what’s a bad one. But I couldn’t tell you how to make a bad one good or why something necessarily is that good. It is like taking the back of a Swiss watch and understanding how it all actually works. And it was the most humbling two years of work I think I’ve ever engaged in. In fact if I had known it was going to be that difficult I might not have done it! But I’m so grateful that we went on the journey and have learned something of the craft; it is a craft you never stop learning. Jake: Like acting. Linus: Just like acting, yeah. Jake: Movies get made when they’ve got great actors in them. And I think one of the thing that’s top of mind for all of our writers is, “What does a great actor look for in a script?” If you want a Linus Roache in your movie– what do you look for when you’re looking at a role? Linus: Well, it might be different things at different times but ultimately you’re looking for a journey. You’re actually looking for a journey of transformation that’s believable. You want to feel as you read like you’re being carried through that journey. In a sense what happens I think when you read a good screenplay is you do see the movie. And for an actor it is almost like what I call “...
This week we’re going to be talking about BlacKkKlansman by Spike Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott. When I first went out to see BlacKkKlansman, my hope was that I was going to be able to do a podcast about how to write a movie for a political change— to talk about the confluence of race and politics and storytelling and history. But, my experience of BlacKkKlansman led me to an even more important topic: the role of the truth in adapting a true life story, and how running towards (or away from) that truth can impact the overall experience of your screenplay. Like always, in his script for BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee has a lot of very interesting things to say about race and politics, particularly about how the white supremacy movement has taken off the hood and the robe, put on the suit, and made themselves frighteningly presentable to the American public. I think he has a scary message there that’s well told, and I think there are some really transcendent and wonderful moments in this film. But for all the power of its message, and the appeal of its true-life premise, the actual execution of BlacKkKlansman feels shockingly uneven, bouncing between moments of political insight and compelling storytelling that we expect from Spike Lee, and others that feel predictable, anticlimatic, heavyhanded, or downright false. What’s causing this unevenness in BlacKkKlansman is a simple problem that many writers fall into when adapting a true life story into a screenplay. So in this podcast, I’m going to be talking about how– whether you’re writing a political film or a non-political film– you can avoid falling into some of the traps that get in the way of a really tremendous premise. So let’s talk about BlacKkKlansman. The premise of a black undercover police officer infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan is just about as good of a premise as you can get. And the fact that this actually happened in the 1970’s is even cooler. The problem with BlacKkKlansman isn’t in any way its premise. The problem with BlacKkKlansman is that the writers make the most common mistake when adapting a true life story. Rather than running towards the truth, they instead end up running toward the same old Hollywood elements we’ve seen in a million films in this genre. They think this is going to create drama, but instead they end up creating cliché. If you’ve seen BlacKkKlansman, think about the moments that really stood out to you, the moments that really mattered, the moments that seemed too wild to believe but totally compelling… well, the truth is a lot of those moments were true. And if you think about the moments that felt a little cliché, a little “seen it before,” a little familiar… well, you probably won’t be too surprised to find out that a lot of those moments weren’t true. But there’s an even bigger consequence here. By running towards the Hollywood story, rather than running towards the truth, BlacKkKlansman misses out on the full potential of its premise, not only structurally, but also politically. And I’m not saying that BlacKkKlansman doesn’t have a powerful political premise at its center. I’m just saying that there’s an even more powerful way to deliver it. So, let’s start with the biggest most “Hollywood” moment in BlacKkKlansman. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie— Ron Stallworth is a black police officer in the 1970’s. His only dream is to become an undercover police officer. He’s the first black man to become a member of this police department, and of course he’s dealing with a lot of racism, and he’s dealing with the pressure of infiltrating both the Black Power movement and the Ku Klux Klan at the same time. So, there’s a lot of very interesting stuff happening here, and what makes it most interesting is that this stuff is actually true.
In the last podcast we looked at the engine of Succession. We looked at the way each episode was put together, and the way that all these characters come together in each episode to create the season. So today, rather than thinking globally, we’re going to think locally. Rather than looking at the big structure of the piece, we’re going to look at one little teeny-tiny scene from episode 7. And the scene starts, if you want to watch it, around 27:07 and ends at 28:20. So we’re talking about a scene that’s a total of one-minute thirteen seconds. What’s really cool about this scene is that it features all the secondary characters of Succession. These are secondary characters who are not only secondary characters for the audience but are also secondary characters within the social circles of their own family. These are the boyfriends and girlfriends, and wives and fiancées: Marcia, Willa and Tom. Marcia is the wife of Logan Roy, the Brian Cox character in this piece, the King Lear, the Rupert Murdoch, the great patriarch. And Marcia is a highly intelligent, complicated woman, and it’s pretty clear that she loves her husband. But it’s not entirely clear if she can be trusted or not. She seems to have her own agenda, and it isn’t clear how much of that agenda is about protecting the husband, and how much of that agenda is about solidifying her own power. Willa is Connor Roy’s…well, let’s just call her a girlfriend. Actually she’s his paid escort with whom he’s madly in love, and who is putting up with his affection and his desperate desire for her to play the role of his wife and move in with him in order to further her career as an actress and playwright. Then you’ve got Tom, discussed in detail in last week’s podcast, who’s the trickster character, the fiancé and soon to be husband of Shiv Roy, the scheming and politically savvy daughter of Logan Roy. And Tom isn’t the greatest person in the world. In fact, he’s the worst possible version of new money. He’s a person obsessed with the power and ridiculousness of being rich. He’s a guy who’s small in the family, so he throws around his power in places where he has it. But Tom is also deeply in love with Shiv, and deeply unaware that she might not be a person he can trust. And what’s happened in this episode is that the entire Roy family has convened for therapy. This meeting has been called by Logan, who has basically realized that if he doesn’t do something his share prices are going to fall. He needs to do something to create some kind of positive photo-op that suggests the family is coming back together after a big falling out between himself and Kendall that was way too public. So Logan has called for this reconciliation, and with the exception of Kendall, all the children have come willingly, a bit curious, surprised, and maybe even hopeful that dad actually wants therapy. And of course that isn’t what’s really happening. What’s really happening is dad wants a photo op. Even Kendall Roy shows up, and that’s a big deal because Logan just placed an article through his media sources suggesting that Kendall, who in the previous episode failed a vote of no confidence on his dad, was back on drugs. This article has not only cost Kendall his faith in his father, it has also cost him any chance of reconnecting with the one woman he loves, his ex-wife, who now thinks he’s back on drugs even though he isn’t. But Kendall Roy decides to show up, even though his plan to reconcile with his family doesn’t actually turn out well. He ends up at a bar instead, where he’s soon drinking and getting high with some locals. Regardless, everyone has descended on Connor Roy’s beautiful mansion in the desert for this big moment of reconciliation that isnR...
This week we’re going to be talking about Succession. If you haven’t already seen the whole season, don’t worry. We aren’t going to give away any major spoilers. What we’re going to be looking at this week is the structure of Succession: the way that this piece is actually put together and the way the season is created so that every single episode can feel completely different but also deliver the same emotional experience to its audience. If you haven’t seen Succession, basically here’s the premise: What if Rupert Murdoch were King Lear? That’s the structure of the piece. It’s looking at a modern day tycoon, a modern day king (in fact his last name is Roy, which means king). And this patriarch, Logan Roy, is sick and needs someone to take over the “throne”—to take over control of his company. Like King Lear, he has some children. Lear has three daughters; Logan Roy has four children. And he needs one of these children, or all of these children, to step up and take over the kingdom of his giant media empire. And of course, the problem is that all of his children are spoiled and also hurt and broken. There’s nobody who’s actually ready to succeed him. In many ways Succession is really a show about trust. It’s a show about what happens when trust—between father and son, father and daughter, husband and wife—gets violated. It’s about the kinds of choices people make in a world where they can’t trust each other—when the trust between corporations and people, between rich and poor, breaks down. It’s about what happens to our families, and what happens to our society. And the painful thing about watching Succession is that, because nobody trusts anybody, no one can feel the love that actually exists. All of these people are the product of a deeply dysfunctional family, run by a deeply dysfunctional patriarch, who of course has demons of his own and his own past that he’s wrestling with. And what they do so beautifully in Succession is to fully dramatize these characters. Everybody in the show is awful. Everybody in this show is selfish, greedy. They’re the awful, entitled 1%—the worst possible version of those people. Everybody has some inner awfulness that they wreak upon the people around them. And at the same time, every single character in Succession is totally human. Every time you think that you’re going to finally write somebody off, the show exposes some humanness in them, some little bit of love, some little flicker of what they could have been, some attempt to do the right thing… and suddenly your heart breaks for them again. Sure it’s loosely inspired by Lear and loosely inspired by Rupert Murdoch, and as the show creator Jesse Armstrong has noted, loosely inspired by every succession story through the ages from Shakespeare all the way to the royal succession in England. Even though it’s inspired by all these very serious stories, as a series, the engine of Succession is actually nearly the same as a series that you probably would never equate with it. In fact, Succession, the series, actually has the same basic structure and the same basic engine as Arrested Development! You could even pitch Succession as the black-comic-real-world version of Arrested Development. Like Arrested Development, the engine of Succession is a bunch of maladjusted 1% kids, who are victims of their totally narcissistic father and mother, who are struggling to do their best but don’t have the emotional means to do so even though they have all the money in the world. The main “kid” in Arrested Development is Michael Bluth, and in Succession it’s Kendall Roy. He’s the one kid who, in each episode, is trying his best to save the family business now that the “king” (that is, the dad) is deposed. In Succession, Logan Roy is deposed in episode 1 by a stroke....
This week we’ll be talking about Hereditary written and directed by Ari Aster. I want to start by talking about the first image of this film. So, if you’re worried about spoilers, we will get to some spoilers later, but you can listen to the beginning of this podcast without concern. The first image of Hereditary is the most important image of Hereditary. That’s because the first image of any screenplay is the most important image of the film. It’s the most important image of your film creatively. It’s the most important image of your film structurally and it’s the most important image of your film commercially. So, it’s actually the most important image on three different levels. I want to talk about how the first image functions on each of these levels. We’re going to start on the most external and then we’re going to work down to the most connected. Externally, as a commercial device, the first image is the most important image of your film because the first image is the only image that everybody is actually going to read. When your producer or agent or manager flips the script of the first page and takes a look, it’s actually that line that makes them decide, “You know what, I’m going to send this one out for coverage,” or, “Maybe I’ll read this myself.” Similarly, if you think about the math of being a coverage reader, you as a consumer are likely going to pay about $150 for coverage, but they’re actually getting paid $50 a script. And, if you think of what it would take you to write a logline, a commentary, and a summary of a film, you’ll realize that if they were actually carefully reading each film, and carefully writing summaries, log lines and commentaries, that they would be working for about 32 cents an hour. So that’s not possible. You can’t eat from that. Which means that coverage readers need to choose which scripts they’re going to fully read and which scripts they’re going to skim. And that’s true for festival readers and readers who read for production companies. They actually can’t afford to read every single script carefully. And even if the economic reason for skimming didn’t exist, there’s an emotional reason that’s even more powerful, which is that almost everything they read is bad. If you’re a coverage reader and you read a thousand screenplays and one of them is producible, you had a pretty good year. Most of the scripts they’re reading—and I’m not talking about scripts by student writers or beginning writers or amateur writers, I’m talking about scripts by professional writers with agents—most of what they read isn’t just bad, it’s actually un-producible. Many of these professional writers are just slamming out ideas, playing within a formula, trying to get something to throw against the wall to see if it sticks, rather than doing the real work of carefully mining their subconscious for the real story they want to tell. The downside of that is that there’s a lot of bad stuff that you’ve got to cut through in order to get your script noticed. The good thing about that is that if you start to learn some of the things we talk about here, and you start to do this real work, your script really will stand out from the pack. And that starts with the very first image. If you’ve got a great first image in your screenplay, it will actually change the whole perspective of the person reading. It will stop them from saying, “Oh… another bad script, okay let’s see if I can get through this,” and it will start them saying, “Oh wow! This is actually kind of cool!” Because the secret of every coverage reader is that even though they dread reading another bad script, they’re desperately hoping to find that diamond in the rough. So that first image is your place commercially to say, “You know what, pay attention. This one is going to be cool.”
This week, we are going to be looking at Deadpool 2 by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and a new addition to the writing team, Ryan Reynolds. If you missed my podcast on the original Deadpool, you might want to check that out as well, because one of the things that is exciting about Deadpool 2 is the way it manages to maintain a consistent tone, even over the course of a very different film. If you’ve studied TV writing in our TV Drama Classes, TV Comedy Classes or Web Series Classes, you know that every episode of a TV show should feel the same, and also feel different. that it should deliver the same genre experience to the audience, the same tone, the same feeling, the same experience while taking them through a story that also feels very new, and very fresh, and very different. But now, we’re seeing the same phenomenon in big action movie franchises, like Deadpool or Guardians of the Galaxy or The Avengers, where each installment needs deliver on those expectations of the audience. So, setting aside the questions all over the internet about “which is better, Deadpool 1 or Deadpool 2?” — rather than comparing these films in terms of which is a more successful movie, instead, what I want to do is I want to look at this question, which will be valuable for any writer, whether you’re working in features or TV. How do you maintain that consistent tone? How do you create one screenplay after another that has the same feeling that feels entirely fresh and also entirely consistent?” Learning how to control tone in your screenplay will be valuable for you in many different ways. If you are writing a TV Drama or a TV Comedy, or a Web Series, understanding how tone is handled in a script, how different elements can be brought together to replicate the same feeling for the audience, will be extraordinarily valuable for you, whether working on your own pilot, or replicating the voice of a showrunner as a staff writer on a series. If you are writing for feature films this will help you in a couple of different ways. First, a lot of the writing work out there right now is work-for-hire writing or rewriting, and to be a great work-for-hire writer, or to be a great rewriter or a great polisher of scripts, we need to do more than just create great stories and great characters– that is just a given of the basics of what we need to be able to do. We also need to be able to write characters that didn’t originate from us, we need to be able to create characters that fit effortlessly into a universe or a world created by other people, We need to be able to emulate the voices of other characters. So learning to control tone will help you in your career if you are interested in rewriting, if you are interested in being able to take notes from a producer and adapt your work, if you are interested in having control over your gift rather than just letting anything that comes out onto the page be what you end up with. And it will also be valuable for you even if you’re just working on your own script. Oftentimes, there is a big gap between what we imagine our screenplay is going to be and what actually comes out on the page. Many years ago, one of my very talented students was working on his first foray into comedy. He pulled me aside at one point and he said, “Jake, what do I do if I do all this work, and it comes out, and it isn’t funny?” And I said, “Well Bill, then you will have a really great drama.”
Jake: I am here today with Katie Torpey, our newest teacher. She is teaching our TV Drama Classes, Write Your Screenplay I, Write Your Screenplay II, Write Your Screenplay III, and The Writing Lab. Welcome, nice to have you. Katie: Thanks for having me, I am very excited. Jake: I would love to start off by talking a little bit about your background as a screenwriter. Katie: Perfect, so the first job I got out of college was at America’s Most Wanted TV Show. I was doing stories for them, and that is when I fell for storytelling in that genre. And then I left for LA, I lived on the East Coast; I went to LA and started working as a PA and stuff like that. But, I started taking some classes at UCLA Extension and I won some awards. I won The Diane Thomas award, I was a finalist in the Chesterfield. That got me going, and then I got into UCLA Film School and got my Masters in Screenwriting. And then from there, I sold a script out of film school, and I went started working with Power Rangers and wrote for them. Then I sold another script that got made called The Perfect Man with Hilary Duff and Heather Locklear and Chris Noth. I wrote and directed a movie that I shot in Ireland, starring Stana Katic who was on Castle, and that was awesome because I got to direct. From there I sold a TV show that got made on Hulu. It was one of Hulu’s first TV shows. It was interesting because we were like, “Online? We’re going to do a TV show online?” And now it is so huge online TV. And I teach obviously, I love teaching. My first teacher as a screenwriter was Valerie West and she was so inspiring. She helped me learn about storytelling, and I swore if I ever got to a place that I could teach and help someone and have them feel that way I would do it. And that is what got me into teaching. Jake: I had a mentor like that too. I had Peter Parnell, who at the time was a playwright, and Peter taught me what it meant to be an artist, which is something that often I think gets left out of screenwriting training. Katie: Absolutely, it tends to get so formulaic that it is like a math equation, and that isn’t what it is supposed to be. Jake: When you’re approaching a script, how do you help a student, or how do you help yourself find that balance between the art and the craft? Katie: Well, I spent so much time learning the craft in many different ways. I throw it out now, because it is really kind of ingrained in me. So I don’t even really think about it. For me when you know the character so well like you really make them rich, they write themselves, it is almost like you’re channeling. Jake: So if you’re a new writer, and maybe you’ve been taught a lot of like formula, you’ve been taught Save The Cat, or The Hero’s Journey, or three act structure, and now you’re looking to kind of get underneath and get to your authentic voice as a writer, like how do you do that? Katie: I would start with journaling. Just start to write, just vomit it out and see what comes out. And then you’ll see like some beautiful stuff. Jake: You have a really cool installment of The Writing Lab that you’re going to do with us called The Hero Writes Itself, and you were talking about how you actually use archetypes in that class to connect through a series of writing exercises, is that right? Katie: Yeah, I have people go into their life and the people who they’ve met in their life,
In the first installment of this podcast, we looked at A Quiet Place in relation to writing action and discussed how all of screenplay formatting really exists for one purpose: to isolate visual moments of action. By isolating visual moments of action we can hypnotize the reader into seeing, hearing, and feeling the story in their mind’s eye, rather than simply reading it on the page. We can invite them to tell themselves the story of the movie, rather than having it spoonfed to them. We explored the idea that each image in your screenplay, just like each image in your movie—every line, every comma, every period—is really a cut. An isolated moment that, when bumped up against another isolated moment, draws the reader into your script and allows them to make connections to tell themselves the story of what is really going on. So by now, we understand what the word “Isolate” means. But what about the other three elements of formatting: Visual Moments of Action? And how does all of this relate to theme and character and dialogue and all those other elements of A Quiet Place and screenwriting in general? Well, that’s what we’re going to cover in this podcast. So since we now understand the idea of Isolated in Isolated Visual Moments of Action, now let’s get into the concept of Visual. The next idea is Visual. Visual formatting in your screenplay means that there is something visually exciting about each image. Another way to think of that is that there is nothing normal in your script, and the reason there is nothing normal in your script is because there is nothing normal in the world. Everything in the world is really freaking weird. Your most normal friend is really freaking weird. You are really freaking weird. Your desk doesn’t actually look like a desk. Your desk has something weird about it. Maybe it’s a scratch, maybe it’s a toothbrush sitting in a pen holder, maybe it’s the way that your papers are stacked up with a little crystal on top of them. Your desk has something weird about it and you have something weird about you, and every moment in life has something weird about it, and if you don’t see it, you are just not looking closely enough. And if you aren’t looking closely enough, that means that your reader, or your viewer, has to do the work of seeing, rather than you doing the work of seeing. Visual means that you are going to do the work of seeing each moment. You are going to do the work of finding that little hooky thing, that little special element, that little thing that makes it just slightly cooler than normal. That every single thing you write is going to be something that is worthy of shooting. And here is why that is important: every single thing you write is freaking expensive. A Quiet Place had one of the craziest production schedules ever. It was released about 5 months after they finished production, and think about that. Think about how short that is. Post-production was the biggest part of this movie. You had to cut this whole film together and actually use sound almost like it was a character in the film. This movie was all about post, and its rush to release date was insane. In fact, they even had to reinvent the creature during the post-production process because John Krasinski wasn’t happy with the creature that ILIM had created; they actually went back to the drawing board and reimagined all that visual work. So that timetable is intense. Why were they able to pull it off? Well, actually Krasinski has talked about this. They were able to pull this off, and they were able to pull it off on such a low budget, because he wrote it (as did Bryan Woods and Scott Beck) to cut together in exactly the way they had written it. Unlike most scripts,
Please note, this podcast was recorded prior to the recent scandals surrounding Roseanne Barr. We have chosen to leave the podcast on our site because we feel it may have information that is valuable to writers. But the analysis was based upon what the show appeared to be after the airing of the pilot. As recent events have shown, rather than taking advantage of her unique opportunity to use her artistic platform to begin a healing for a torn apart America, as I had hoped when recording this podcast, Roseanne has instead used her platform to further fracture us through hate, reminding us of a darker side of what art can do when used in the wrong way. On my podcast I have always tried to separate the art from the artist. But this episode certainly reflects a mistake on my part in failing to note the difference between the real Roseanne and the character she plays on her show. This week we are going to be talking about two scripts that seem to have nothing in common. The first is Isle of Dogs by Wes Anderson. And the second is the pilot of the new Roseanne. Wait, what? Well keep listening, because as different as they are in every aspect of their execution, their style, their politics, their genre and their format, Isle of Dogs and Roseanne do have one incredibly important thing in common: They’re both a lesson in the power of movies and TV shows to grapple with real socio-political issues, and make real change in our society. And what’s so fabulous about both of these scripts is that they do so without sacrificing their political beliefs, without dumbing anything down for their audience, and without compromising their artistic integrity or their commercial or critical success. Isle of Dogs is a ridiculous movie about a ridiculous concept. And when I say Isle of Dogs is a ridiculous movie about a ridiculous concept, I’m not referring to the ridiculous concept of a Japan of the near future in which dogs are banished to a mysterious island by a cat loving corrupt leader… or the unlikely story of his adopted child’s flying a stolen airplane to the land of garbage save his beloved pet, Spots. When I say ridiculous story about a ridiculous concept, I am talking about the concept underneath: the real theme of this movie. Because this isn’t a movie about dogs. This isn’t a movie about the war between cats and dogs. This isn’t a movie about a closeted cat lover who wants to banish dogs from his corrupt future Japan. And this is not just a movie the power of the visual image– though Wes Anderson’s approach to Isolating Visual Moments of Action is at once a master class in how to write action in a screenplay, and a complete violation of every rule you thought you knew. And yes, I can’t help but wax poetic about how Wes Anderson somehow manages to fuse the rules of theatre and film, creating set pieces like a giant stage, and then populating them with oddly poetic images… or how he uses that poetry at once as an homage and a satire of a world that he loves, treating the ridiculous with piety, and the serious with ridiculousness… But that’s not what the movie is about either. Isle of Dogs is a movie about racism and politics. In other words, Isle of Dogs is a movie about America. And it is interesting because Wes Anderson has taken a lot of crap actually for this movie. Some critics feel that Isle of Dogs is guilty of cultural appropriation in its depiction of this future Japan; other critics have argued that having a white exchange student as a savior is degrading to the Japanese characters at the center of the movie, a recreation of the old white savior trope. And maybe these things are true. Maybe these things would be true if this was a movie about Japan. But,
Jake: Hi, I’m Jacob Krueger, and thank you for tuning into a very special episode of The Write Your Screenplay Podcast. This is our 100th episode. I’m so incredibly excited, proud and grateful to all of the listeners that have made this possible for 100 episodes. So, I was thinking, “What am I going to do for my 100th episode?” I wanted to do something special? So, I decided to go back to the source. And for that reason, today I’m going to be interviewing my mom, Audrey Sussman. I’m excited to talk to my mom on this podcast for a couple of reasons. First my mom taught me everything that I know as an artist. I have the only Jewish mother in America who found out that her daughter was going to be a doctor and responded, “Oh, my God, but you could have been an Opera singer!” So, I’m incredibly lucky to have had a mother who supports my artistic life, and that is something that a lot of people don’t get. in addition to that, my mom taught me everything I know about writing, and not because my mom is a writer, but because my mom is a hypnotherapist. Her work is about the stories that we tell ourselves, not on the conscious level but on the subconscious level, and how those stories take us on journeys of change– how we can actually change who we are by changing the stories. In this way my mom taught me how to induce a trance in a reader: how to allow a reader to experience a fictional story as if it was real. She taught me how to use image and sound and feeling, and the other modalities that allow writing to feel real and stories to feel real. She showed me how to build structure– how the human mind puts structure together. And she taught me how to do rewriting– not how to rewrite a script but by how to rewrite your life! How to change the way you tell yourself the story of your life—not by making it fake, but by finding different layers, and different values to the truth. Another reason I’m very excited to have my mom here is she teaches classes at the studio. She teaches two classes: The Inner Game which is our class about how to take care of the inner challenges to your writing—the subconscious challenges, the fears, the confidence, the procrastination, and also how to connect to your characters on a more profound level. And she teaches our Writing Lab, which is our experimental laboratory where we really push the edges of how writing works. So, thank you, Audrey, so much. It’s weird to call you Audrey– but thank you, Mom, for joining us here today. Audrey: I’m really delighted to be here. As I was listening you tell the story of how you learned from me, it is interesting because all I was doing was being a mom who knew how to listen. That just was natural––it was such a natural way of interacting where you are always looking for the good in the person. You are always figuring if a person is feeling a certain way, especially my child, there must be a reason for it. Looking for those stories that you might have been telling yourself– that was just how I parented and I was always looking for the good. And it sounds like you do the same with your students. I hear you when you teach. Jake: That is probably the most valuable thing that you can learn as a writer. It is so easy to find the bad, and a lot of us, as parents to our inner creative children– if we ever said to another child what we say to our little inner artist child, someone would be calling child services immediately.
This week we are going to be talking about BoJack Horseman, but we aren’t just going to be talking about the series, we are going to be talking about one very particular episode, and doing a really deep breakdown: Season 4, Episode 9 which is entitled Ruthie. A lot of the times when we talk about television, we talk about TV bibles, we talk about the idea that every show needs to have an engine, a structure that is replicable, that can be done again, and again, and again. Selling a series is like selling a franchise, like selling a McDonalds or Starbucks– you are selling not just the brilliance of your writing, or the brilliance of your idea, you are selling the replicability of it. You are selling the ability to do it again, and again, and again, even if the writing team changes, even if the showrunner changes, even if the directors or in this case the animators change, that you have the same engine again, and again, and again. And so, what is really exciting about this episode is that it shows what starts to happen, once you really understand your engine, once you really understand the formula for your series.You can start to play within it, and then you can also start to play against it. You can start to open up new avenues of what your series can be, especially, once you’ve established what it is for both your audience and for yourself as a writer. What is really interesting about this episode is, we don’t start in the present, we start in the future, we start with Princess Carolyn’s great, great, great, great, great, great, great granddaughter, who is telling a story about her ancestor, Princess Carolyn. Now, if you don’t watch BoJack Horseman, let me catch you up a little bit about how this series works. BoJack Horseman is both the most ridiculous and the saddest series that you will ever watch on television. It is an animated send up of Hollywood, in a world in which some of the people are people and some of the people are part animal. And, the animal-people are basically just people except they have certain animal traits… Pretty wild concept already for a series! And generally in the series, what happens is we watch BoJack Horseman, who is the ultimate narcissistic movie star, and we watch the funniest possible trainwreck we could ever watch as BoJack consistently makes his own universe harder, and harder, and harder. Princess Carolyn is BoJack’s former lover and former agent, and Princess Carolyn is a cat who is dating a mouse, and her mouse is pretty much the perfect man. And all Princess Carolyn has wanted for the whole season is just to get pregnant, and it is just not happening. Usually we would watch Princess Carolyn’s story as a B story in an episode. But in this episode, Princess Carolyn’s story becomes the A story. Now how do you get away with this, you aren’t supposed to just be able to reverse the whole structure of your series; you’re not supposed to just change up what you’ve been doing especially in a series as successful as BoJack, why did they get away with this? Well, what is interesting is they don’t just get away with changing the focus; they also get away with changing the structure, because we are actually going to the future. And we are going to start off watching Princess Carolyn’s great, great, great granddaughter tell the story of Princess Carolyn’s awful, awful, awful day. So the A story is going to be Princess Carolyn’s journey, the B story is going to be BoJack’s story, and the C story is going to be this unusual thread that starts in the future, and then flashes back to our present. And what is really cool is this is something that the series has never done before. There have been times where we flashback to the past into BoJack’s story,
This week we are going to be talking about The Florida Project, by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch. I am so excited to be talking about this film, especially a week after the Oscars, because this is a film that probably should have been competing for Best Picture. Bria Vinaite probably should have been competing for Best Actress, and Sean Baker probably should have been competing for Best Writer and Best Director. If you haven’t seen The Florida Project yet, I am going to try to avoid spoilers until we get to the end, and I’ll give you some warning first. What Sean Baker did in this film, like what he did in Tangerine, if you listened to my Tangerine podcast, is really quite inspirational for any writer and quite complex, in its structure and its form. Sean Baker shot Tangerine on about 600 grand. He shot it on an iPhone– a feature film shot on an iPhone! And he shot this movie in a budget somewhere around 2 million dollars. So these are extremely low budget films. Beautiful, successful, powerful, low budget films. Which is very exciting if you are an emerging screenwriter. As an emerging screenwriter, you can take the success of The Florida Project as a sign that you can do this yourself. You can do this yourself at a very high level, and you don’t need a lot of money. Here is Willem Dafoe, who has obviously done some huge movies, who isn’t doing this film for the money– who is doing this because someone has written a beautiful role that he just needs to play. And seeing the performances that Sean Baker, second time in a row, has gotten out of these extremely inexperienced actors—Bria Vinaite along with little Brooklynn Prince, who gives one of the finest performances you could ever ask for, and she is seven years old– shows you just how much you can do with very little if you have the right script and the right actors. I also want to talk about the form and the structure of The Florida Project. Because The Florida Project is not put together like most movies we see at the theater. Rather than hurling us into the action, or into the plot of the film, it just kind of drops us into a world. And lets us wander with the characters through that world, watching their lives as if we were living them. Watching The Florida Project is like watching Beasts of the Southern Wild in pastels. You might feel like you’re just drifting through a world, but you’re actually being propelled on an extremely powerful journey, into the experience of some extraordinarily compelling characters whose lives are changing forever, and whose journey will change the way we see ourselves and our world. The Florida Project is an incredibly hopeful film that takes place in a world that should be filled with despair. It takes place in a rundown motel just outside of Disney World, where a bunch of low income families are attempting to raise their children in these tiny little one bedroom motel rooms. The movie is primarily seen through the eyes of children, and it centers around a really complicated and beautiful relationship between six year old Moonee, who is played by Brooklynn Prince, and her mother Halley played by Bria Vinaite. Moonee is not quite old enough to recognize her mother’s problems, her destitution, her desperation, her drug addiction, her violence, her despair. Instead, she sees her mother through the eyes of any child– through these beautifully idealistic, Disney World, pastel eyes. This child who is having the time of her life, in her own private Disney World with absolutely no supervision, and absolutely no awareness of the danger that is all around her. And what is gorgeous about this film, what makes us feel connected to these characters, is not that these characters are perfectly good.
*Please note this interview was from 2018. The dates for this year’s Screencraft Writer’s Summit in Atlanta is April 5 – 8. If you want more information on who will be speaking you can visit their site at https://screencraft.org/atlanta/. Jake: This week, I am so excited to be doing something we’ve actually never done before on the podcast: we have two different writers, Doug Jung and Emily Dell. Emily tends to come at things from more of the independent film side, and Doug has been involved in some very famous blockbusters and big name TV shows like Star Trek Beyond and Big Love. And what’s really cool is that both of these writers have transcended a lot of the genre conventions in their writing– doing everything from really beautiful, personal, character-driven stories, to big budget action movies and sci-fi. I want to start by asking you both– when you first broke into the industry, what do you think it was that led to your success? And in the face of the commercial and genre demands of so many different kinds of projects, how do you hold onto who you are and continue to grow your voice as an artist? EMILY: I want to say this, I am still finding my way in, I think this is a long term process and in fact maybe that one of the biggest “aha!” moments for me being early mid-career but not quite mid yet. I feel like my writing has grown and expanded through the help of friends who are also mentors who have given me feedback and Doug has been one of those. And on the content side, always trying to write what I believe in and write what is connected to me, but also to see how that fits into an organic brand that maybe was part of my identity– never having a difference between who I am and what I write is a clear part of the way that I look at my art. And I think that is what makes people connect both to it and then to me, and then makes it easy for people to be like, “hey here is this Emily girl and she writes grounded emotional genre because that is also what she loves in life.” So that is one thing that I found to be really helpful lately. But also, as I have been in LA for a while more than a couple of years and I have developed friendships and working relationships, I really tried to listen as much as I spoke, learn as much as I can, ask questions from the people whose work I admire and whose work I seek to emulate, and use that to improve. But also if they someday become comfortable even me and want to form an organic working relationship, then that is something I am obviously very open and welcome to. Doug: I ended up in a very fortuitous way getting some work in television which you know literally like these sort of freelance things for weird shows, and that enabled me to quit my day job. At that time I also had a very lucky stretch where I managed to bank a little bit of money. But I was able to take this time and I wrote a script that ultimately was picked up, then optioned, and then eventually made. And I suddenly had, in a very lucky way, both a foot in the door in the TV world and a foot in the door in the feature world. And I have just sort of managed to stay in that position this whole time, which is great. But as much as I can say it was hard work and I applied myself, there is an element of luck. And for my case it took a long time, but I do believe that luck is a byproduct of other things that you are doing to put yourself in there. Jake: I feel the same way with my career, almost everything that ever happened to me that was good was luck, but I worked so damn hard to get to that lucky moment. And I think one of the places where I was luckiest was that it happened at a time where I had enough craft to actually back it up. Doug: There is this element that I always see with people in these kinds of panel discussions,
Jake: This week I am with Sebastian Stan. Many of you have probably seen I, Tonya and Sebastian’s performance in that piece. We are going to have an interesting conversation with Sebastian, looking at I, Tonya from the perspective of an actor and also from the perspective of a writer. And we’re going to be discussing something that is important to a lot of writers, which is understanding how an actor approaches a role, how a script develops beyond the point where you’ve sold it and then into the production side, and how a script evolves. And also understanding what an actor like Sebastian looks for in a script: how you know when that is the role I want to play. So, I wanted to just start off by asking you a little bit about when you first read Steven Roger’s script. What did you connect to about it that made you go, “I’ve got to play Jeff”? Sebastian: It was kind of a hard one, to be honest, because it was so controversial. He was such a hated character; he was such a hated person in real life. And in that aspect, it was really difficult– you start wondering whether that is something you could even do or you could even play. There was a lot of judgment there. But, looking at it just as a script, and then as an actor looking at it, it felt like a goldmine. It was always unpredictable. It was tragic at certain times and it was shocking and then it could be funny. And there seemed to be a very strong degree of honesty to it. You’re always looking for how authentic certain voices sound. And later I did find out a lot of the dialogue in the script came from the interviews that he had directly with them– not to take away from his genius writing– it just had a very authentic air to it, and I think you look for that. And then as an actor you’re challenged by that because you go, “I don’t know if I could do that… and I can’t stop thinking about it.” And I think, in that case, also them being real life characters had a lot to do with it. The whole thing was so sensationalized that you couldn’t really believe that these people existed or that they were capable of that. And it kind of led on a whole tangent of wanting to search for stuff. Jake: Yeah I think it is interesting because, in a way, all of our stories come from life; even the most fictional stories come from life. And there is an interesting theme in I, Tonya that there is no one truth. Sebastian: Right. Jake: And you know even like the breaking of the fourth wall, like, “Yeah, this didn’t happen like this.” Sebastian: Yeah, and it is interesting the fourth wall because that wasn’t in the script originally. That was the director coming in and suggesting that we break the fourth wall in the scenes. I could have seen Steven Rogers come up with that–but you know, the director just finished his sentence so to speak. So I feel like it is important to find that counterpart in your director. Jake: Yeah I think it is an interesting thing about process for writers in that we see a lot of bad movies come out of Hollywood. And so, a lot of people are under the impression, “Oh I will just give them the idea and then they will figure it out.” But you can see with a movie like I, Tonya when the writer has really done his job, and really built the movie around that theme. what it allows an actor to do with the role to make those kind of creative decisions about how you are going to perform it. Sebastian: I always think it starts with the writing. I think that is the most important and the hardest part. I’ve always thought that actors make better actors with good material, which is why the in plays that you go to at the theatre sometimes end up being such great characters– like those Tennessee Williams’ plays– and those writers who sort of...
If you listened to the previous episode of this podcast, you have probably developed a pretty valuable approach for how to revise your screenplay. And you know that approach focuses on these 5 simple tips for revision: #1 – Never Rewrite Without a Goal #2 – Follow Your North Star #3 – Concentrate on What’s Working #4 – Stay Away From Quick Fixes #5 – Beware Written Notes So this week, we’re going to work on taking your revision process to the next level, with five more helpful tips about revising your script. REVISION TIP #6 – Use Your Theme If you’ve ever been part of an unmoderated writing group, you already know what it’s like to lose control of your revision. Without a strong unifying voice to make order out of the chaos, it’s amazing how much turmoil even a small group of well-intentioned writers can bring to your screenplay, pushing and pulling your revision in so many different directions with their “brilliant ideas” that before long you don’t even know what you’re writing anymore! And as anyone who has ever worked professionally as a screenwriter can tell you, the more you grow in your career, the more challenging it becomes to maintain a point of creative focus for your revisions. Succeeding as a professional writer means learning to navigate the twists and turns in the development process, often balancing the demands of half a dozen different producers, all with their own (often conflicting) agendas for the project, without losing your own creative voice. Which means that, if you want to succeed in this industry and actually see your movies make it to the screen, you need to start building those skills in yourself now. That means not only developing the skills you need to navigate the often contradictory feedback you get from other people (friends, classmates, coverage readers, producers, teachers, agents, managers), but also learning how to steer the course through the shifting winds of your own feelings about your writing and the perilous waves of “brilliant ideas” that tend to crash across the bows of our own creative ships. The real terror of the blank page is that anything is possible; and the real terror of a rewrite is that everything becomes possible all over again. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort and just keep asking “what if?” you can develop Thelma and Louise until it turns into The Wrestler (think about it). But along the way, you’re going to drive yourself absolutely out of your mind. And if you’ve ever worked on a revision, you’ve probably found yourself going down that rabbit hole. So how do you make sense of all the thousands of ideas vying for your attention? How do you bring order to the chaos, wrangle all these crazy notes to the ground, hold your own in a development meeting, and feel confidence in each decision you make in your revision? That process always begins with theme. There are very few people in the world who are truly good at developing scripts, but those who are all have one thing in common. Before they start trying to come up with a single idea or solve a single problem, they always ask the same question about the script: what’s it about? And that doesn’t mean “what could it be about?” or “what was the conscious plan the writer had for the script when they first sat down to write” or even “what could I make it about?” That means seeking out what already has been built, whether consciously or unconsciously, in the pages that already exist, no matter how problematic they may be. What are the ideas that keep on coming up again and again, page after page?
This is a time of year when many of us are thinking about rewrites, both on our scripts and on our lives. So what better time for a podcast about rewriting? Everyone knows that writing is rewriting. But for many writers, the rewriting process can feel so overwhelming that it’s hard to hold onto that creative spark that made the script worth writing in the first place. So over the next two podcasts, we’re going to be talking about 10 things you can do to help make your rewrite great! (They work pretty well for your life goals as well!) Screenplay Revision Tip #1 – Never Rewrite Without a Goal A character without a goal is like a car without an engine. You can polish it up all you’d like, but it’s not going to go anywhere. And just like our characters, if we’re going to be successful in our revisions, we’ve got to make sure we’re effective in our goal setting, not only for our characters, but also for ourselves. That means setting a clear, objective goal for each draft of our screenplay, which allows no debate over whether or not it’s been achieved. For example, depending on what phase we’re in of a revision, we might set a goal like one of these: Make sure the main character is driving the action of every scene. Find lines of dialogue that feel a little familiar and either cut them or make them more specific to the character. Chart out the 7 Act Structure of the character’s change. Make sure the action on the page captures each image exactly the way you see it in your head. What’s great about goals like these is that you can know if you’ve achieved them. Instead of wasting your energy panicking about whether your script is good or not, you can watch it evolve in front of your eyes, knowing that each draft is that much better than the one that came before. Rather than feeling like you’re trying to juggle a million deadly chainsaws– instead of feeling like you’ve got a million different problems that you simply have to fix in your script all at the same time– you can devote all your focus to the one thing that is most important for the draft you’re working on right now. Rather than basing your feeling of success as a writer on things that are beyond your control, like having a good writing day, selling a script or winning an Academy Award, you’re basing it on a simple area of focus that will not only grow your script, but also vastly improve your craft as a writer, which will serve you on every script you write in the future. So if you’re working on a revision of a screenplay, revision of an act, or even just a revision of a scene, take a moment to clear your mind of all the things you’ve been told you have to do, all your fears about getting to the end, finishing, not finishing, selling your script, or having talent as a writer. Instead, think about what this screenplay is really about for you, and set a clear, objective goal for the one thing that’s most important for you to achieve to take the script to the next level. In early drafts, or early phases of your career, it may be hard to identify what the most important thing to focus on might be, or to separate the many conflicting things you’ve been told to do from the ones that really matter to you. Trust your instincts, and seek out the advice of mentors with enough real professional experience to point you in the right direction. What matters is that you choose one goal to focus on, and frame it in a way that you can know if you’ve achieved it, regardless of the shifting winds of your own (or anybody else’s) subjective opinions. That way you can know you are succeeding in each phase of your revision, whether this is your final draft, or just one of many along the way. Screenplay Revision Tip #2 – Follow Your North ...
COCO Podcast: Part 2 – The Power of Vignettes As we discussed in Part 1 of this podcast, sometimes it only takes one moment to find the structure of your script— the moment where everything comes into clarity and you understand where your movie is really going to live. For the writers of Coco, that place was the real meaning of Dia de Muertos. The real theme of the story. It was that theme that drove every creative decision they made, every structural turn in their character’s journey. But that structure didn’t grow from a big idea about Dia de Muertos, even though that big idea helped to guide the writers. The structure of Coco grew out of a single moment, and a single song: Remember Me. In fact, it’s from the execution of the very first performance of that song that the whole structure of Coco, and the whole structure, not only of Miguel’s journey, but also of Ernesto’s and Imelda’s and Abuelita’s and Hector’s and every other character’s is formed. You can think of writing as a process of excavation. It begins by searching for the right place to dig, (which often requires, as we discussed in last week’s podcast, digging in many wrong or seemingly unrelated places). And once we find that right place to dig, the place where the story really lives, it’s about digging as deeply as possible, right in that same place, so we can fully excavate every bit of beauty that lives there. There’s a great anxiety that often overcomes us as we seek the place where the story really lives— a fear that the script isn’t good enough or the idea isn’t good enough or that our craft isn’t good enough, or our structure isn’t good enough or that we aren’t good enough. And that anxiety causes us to look outside of ourselves for the answers— trying to find the right plot or the right characters or the right trick ending or the right idea for what the heck is supposed to happen! And as a result, rather than finding inspiration, we end up finding cliches. Rather than finding the story that only we could tell, we end up finding the story that everybody else is already telling, rather than finding the characters that already live inside of us, we end up finding the ones we’ve already met in other movies. Because ultimately, the real answers don’t lie outside of our scripts. They don’t lie in formulas or outlines or plans or plots. The real answers reside inside. Inside the scenes you’ve already written. Inside the scenes that resonate most truthfully for you. If you ever feel like you don’t know what needs to happen in your script, the problem is not “out there” it’s “in here.” If you don’t know where to go, it means you don’t know where you are. It means something is not fully executed, fully true, fully resonant, fully excavated in the pages you’ve already written. Because once you’ve got that one element of truth, that one thing that you know is right, it will not only show you everything else you need to do, it will also show you exactly how you need to do it. Which is why it’s so important to be fully present with your characters and yourself as you write each scene of your movie. Not to be serious with it or forceful with it, or heavens forbid to manipulate it toward the plot point you’ve planned for the future. Not to get it right in the first draft, but rather to look at the first draft as research— a place to find that crazy little detail (like the fact that a Xolo dog’s tongue tends to loll out the side of his mouth) that eventually is going to bring your scene totally to life. The goal is not to control the scene, but rather to explore it. To hold it lightly in your hand and simply observe it.
COCO Podcast: Part 1 – The Script & The Research By Jacob Krueger This week, we’re going to be discussing Coco, the new Pixar movie by Adrian Molina & Matthew Aldrich. If you haven’t seen this beautiful film yet, then you should run to the theatre immediately, because not only is it perhaps the most visually stunning Pixar film yet, but also one of the most structurally interesting for us to learn from as screenwriters and as filmmakers. Often, when you see a film that’s as perfect as Coco, you imagine that these writers must know something that you don’t. That maybe they worked backwards from their perfect ending, or started with the perfect idea. But the truth is, Molina and Aldrich’s approach to this film was a journey in itself– a journey they took with director Lee Unkrich of 7 years into research of Mexican culture, and the traditions of Dia De Muertos, into wrong ways and missteps. In other words, it was a process of rewriting. In fact, the first draft of the story was about an American kid with a Mexican mother, traveling to Mexico for Dia de Muertos and learning to let go of someone he loved and lost. As an early draft, the idea made perfect sense. They wanted to teach an American audience about Dia de Muertos, so what better technique to do so than to bring us in through the eyes of the main character who didn’t know his own culture. Because it was built around Dia de Muertos, they knew it had to wrestle with the theme of death, so what better idea than to tell a story about letting go of someone you’ve lost. They wrote the whole script, and even got as far as developing art for the project, before they finally realized they were telling a story that, as Unkich put it, “thematically was antithetical to what Dia de Muertos is all about. We were telling a story about letting go. And Dia de Muertos is about never letting go. It’s about this obligation to remember our loved ones and pass their stories along.” Writing is a search for the truth. A mining of our subconscious to find the real characters that live there, the real themes we’re wrestling with, the real structure that can take us where we need to go, the real meaning that makes our movies matter. In this way, it’s a process by which we find out who we are– just like the main character of Coco, Miguel, finds out who he is and what he believes in, by exploring his art and his voice as a musician. And sometimes that means realizing, just like Miguel does, that we are staring at half a picture, that our assumptions about our story or our character or our plot don’t match the truth, that we’re not telling the story we think that we’re telling. Sometimes we find the truth through researching the world of our screenplay– and sometimes that means digging in lots of places to find where the truth lies. It might seem obvious by the final draft that the theme of the movie and the structure of the character’s journey needed to tie together with the meaning of Dia De Muertos. But sometimes it takes writing that early draft, or even several drafts that go totally in the wrong direction, before you uncover the source of the feeling that “something is off” and start to discover what the story really needs to be. It may seem obvious by the final draft that an adorable animal character could generate some laughs for the audience. But who could have imagined that the fabulous dog in Coco, Dante, would spring from research about the Aztec traditions from which Dia de Muertos grew? The Aztecs believed that a Xoloitzcuintli hairless dog was necessary to bring a spirit from the land of the living to the land of the dead....
Stranger Things 2 Podcast Part 2: The Structure of Two Seasons By Jacob Krueger In last week’s Stranger Things 2 Podcast, we talked about the way a TV pilot starts up the engine of a series, and the challenges, especially in a TV Drama series like Stranger Things where everything changes at the end of the first season, of getting that engine started again in Season 2. Because the main structural elements that drive the engine of the show have mostly been resolved by the end of Season 1, the first episode of Stranger Things, Season 2 ends up functioning like a new pilot, trying to get the engine started again to launch us into the second season. But while the pilot of Stranger Things, Season 1 dropped us right into the heart of the action, and rocketed the characters into the story from the very first page, the first episode of Season 2 gets that engine started in a far less effective way. And that’s because the pilot of Stranger Things, Season 1 is built around a rock solid Primary Structure– the way the things the characters want and the choices that they make and the obstacles they must navigate, shape characters’ journeys and push them out of their normal world from the very first page. While the first episode of Stranger Things, Season 2 is focused mainly on the Secondary Structure– the way the audience experiences the episode. As a result, Stranger Things, Season 1 launches us into the engine of the series from the very first page, just as you must if you want to sell a pilot for your own series, or use your pilot to get staffed on an existing show. Whereas the first episode of Stranger Things, Season 2, for its many good qualities, starts us off with more of a whimper than a bang. It’s a problem that the Duffer Brothers manage to correct in a big way by Season 2, Episode 2, when they finally get that engine started. But it’s one which you, as an emerging writer, are unlikely to survive at this point of your career. Because until you’ve got a hit series on the air that everyone loves, the chances are that if your first episode doesn’t launch us into your series with the force of a rocket, no one’s ever going to read Episode 2. For that matter, if your first few pages don’t launch us into your series with the force of a rocket, no one is going to even finish the pilot. So what’s the structural difference between the Stranger Things, Season 1 pilot and the first episode of Stranger Things, Season 2? At every moment of Stranger Things, Season 1 the characters are facing obstacles and making choices that change their lives forever. And at most moments of the first episode of Stranger Things, Season 2, they quite simply are not. In the pilot of Season 1, the characters are living their lives for themselves. And in the first episode of Season 2, they are establishing their lives for the audience. So let’s break it down together. The pilot of Stranger Things, Season 1 starts with a bad ass chase sequence. We start by panning down from the stars, and find ourselves at the lab, a location that is going to end up mattering a lot for us. We’ve got the flashing lights, we’ve got the scientist running in the wrong direction, we’ve got that horrifying scene where the scientist finally makes his way to the elevator, only to be be snatched up and out of sight just as the doors close. And even though we’re dropped from there into the quiet, mundane world of the kids playing Dungeons & Dragons, even in that scene, The Duffer Brothers are not simply “establishing” that the kids play Dungeons & Dragons.
Stranger Things 2 Podcast: Part 1: Primary & Secondary Structure By Jacob Krueger This week we are going to be looking at Stranger Things, Season 2. And don’t worry if you haven’t seen the whole season, because for this podcast to be valuable, all you need to watch is the first episode. And I’ll save the big spoilers for the end and give you a little warning before we get there. We’re going to be looking at that first episode of Stranger Things, Season 2 in an interesting way– by comparing it structurally to that unforgettable pilot episode of Season 1, which launched the whole franchise. As I discussed in my two part podcast about Stranger Things, Season 1 the pilot episode of any series does more than just introduce great characters or tell a great story. It creates an engine powerful enough to launch every character in the series into a huge journey– and a replicable structure for the series powerful enough to last many seasons. But Stranger Things 1 has a particularly challenging structure to replicate in Stranger Things 2. That’s because the whole structure of the first season is built around a simple problem that’s completely resolved by the time we get to the second season! In Stranger Things 1, a little boy named Will is missing, and his merry band of friends friends need to come together in a real-world Dungeons & Dragons quest to find him. Wrapped around this very simple structure are a bunch of wonderfully horrifying elements– a creature that can only be seen in the shadows, a magical world called The Upside Down that’s only gradually revealing itself, a bunch of creepy-creepy operatives that are ready to kill to protect a secret that even they don’t understand, a mother communicating with her lost son through Christmas lights, and of course, Eleven, a little girl with magical powers who everyone seems to be hunting. But by the time we get to Episode 1 of Season 2, Will is back (at least mostly) in the real world, so there’s no missing boy to build a structure around. By the time we get to Season 2, the terrifying Demogorgon, which once was scary like the shark in Jaws, not for what we could see, but for what we couldn’t– has not only been flushed from the shadows, but vanquished from them (at least mostly). So we need a new fin in the water to build the terror around. By the time we get to Season 2, the world of The Upside Down, which we only barely understood, has now been entered and explored. So we need a new mystery in The Upside Down to build the world around. By the time we get to Season 2, the mother, Joyce, can communicate with Will while driving carpool, so we need a new spiritual component that no one else understands to build the relationship around. And by the time we get to Season 2, (at least as far as we know), Eleven is gone. So we need a new magical little girl to build the threat around. In fact, by the time we get to Season 2, the only major structural element we still have going for us from the engine of Season 1 is the creepy operatives. But even they are a whole lot less interesting, now that we have some sense of who they are and what they do… Which means the first episode of Season 2 has to do a lot more than replicate the engine of Season 1. It actually has to re-launch it. In this way, the first episode of Stranger Things, Season 2 becomes a whole new pilot for the series. Which is a big challenge for the writers. But is fortunate for us. Because it gives us the chance to compare a great pilot episode to a good one. It gives us a chance to compare the kind of pilot t...
MINDHUNTER: Writing For David Fincher Interview With Staff Writer & JK Studio Student Pamela Cederquist Live from ITVFEST By Jacob Krueger Jake: Hello everybody thanks for joining us. This is an exciting event for me for a couple of different reasons. As a lot of you know, we are up here at ITVfest in Vermont, hosting a retreat for our students, so we are doing a live version of my podcast. This is a special episode, because I am so incredibly proud of the woman sitting to my left. Pamela Cederquist is a student of mine, she is taking pretty much every class at the studio, she is part of our ProTrack Mentorship Program. And, she just finished her first stint in a real writer’s room on one of the most exciting shows of the year, Mindhunter, the new David Fincher series for Netflix. So first, I just think she deserves a round of applause. These are the kind of success stories that you want to see and that you want to remember. Because, so many people wonder, “Is this really possible?” Pamela doesn’t live in Los Angeles; she lives in Upstate New York. Pamela isn’t 22 years old. Pamela is a writer who worked her ass off and made it. And, so, I want to talk to you about what the process was for you. How did you become a part of Mindhunter? Pamela: Hi everybody. First of all, it is a pleasure to be here thank you for listening. I got the job by word of mouth, by knowing somebody and having worked with that person, and also having had a feature script that I had developed and that took 400 years to finish. I was able to show that script to one of David’s producers, and they read it, and I got notes back from that producer. They liked that writing well enough that, when David was looking for another writer, they were able to say to David, “Hey check this out.” I got a phone call and they said, “Hi, say yes to this phone call and would like you in Pittsburgh on Friday.” And I was like, “Okay, I don’t know what I am saying yes to, but I can be in Pittsburgh on Friday.” Then they said, “Good, you are writing for David Fincher,” and I went, “Okay, yes.” Jake: I think one of the things that is exciting about this is that often writers get hung up on the question of selling it– Is it this script? Do I have the right idea? Is the idea marketable? The title of Pamela’s spec script is Pyro, and I think Pyro is a good movie for David Fincher and it is a really extraordinary script. When you sent that script out, the real hope of course was that they were going to buy it, they were going to option it, you were going to make a lot of money, it was going to get made. And this is an example of a script that didn’t get bought, where you get a bunch of notes back, “Do this, change that,” and you don’t even know that months later you are going to get a phone call. Can you talk to me a little bit about the process of developing that script? Pamela: It started with an idea about an artist whose medium is fire. I actually saw a video on YouTube that was a light piece, where somebody had a dragon that was flowing across a wall, a building. And, I went from there to fire, which I think is an amazing thing, and started writing this script. And I had kindof come up with characters and kindof come up with the story, and I knew what the beginning was, and,
Mother! By Jacob Krueger Before we get started with this week’s podcast, I want to take a moment to remind you that you still have a few days left to register for our Annual TV Writing Retreat, October 11-15 in Manchester Vermont. This is our biggest event of the year. We bring our entire faculty– including Jerry Perzigian, former showrunner of Married With Children, The Golden Girls and The Jeffersons, our Pulitzer prize nominated TV Drama teacher Steve Molton, me, and of course the rest of our award-winning teachers–and we all head up to ITVfest, the second largest TV festival in the world. You get world-class TV writing workshops all morning, a VIP Content Creator pass that gets you into all the screenings, parties and events in the afternoon and evening, and a special one-on-one pitch consultation with one of our incredible teachers, so you can develop your show, get out there and pitch your heart out to everyone you meet. Plus, we team with the festival to get you hours of exclusive access to the producers, managers, and agents in attendance at our exclusive Secret Producer Pitch Party! It’s the best event of the year for TV writers, so I hope you can join us. You can find out more at our website: writeyourscreenplay.com/vermont. Hope to see you there! This week we are going to be talking about Darren Aronofsky’s new film, mother! mother! is probably one of the most frustrating movies of the year. It is frustrating because of its ambition. It is a movie that shoots so big, and attempts to do so much– filmically, thematically, visually, structurally, societally, politically, psychologically– that you desperately want to love it. It’s a movie with a first half that’s nearly perfect (at least for those of us open to magical realism in films)– an ending that should move you to tears… But it suffers from a sequence about ⅔ of the way through that makes you want to scream. And not for the right reasons. It’s a movie that, despite its profound message, is having a hard time connecting with the emotions of its audience– that often elicits unwanted groans and laughs at what should be it’s most haunting and disturbing moments– rather than the emotional and political response it’s shooting for. I would like to suggest that what’s brilliant and what’s problematic in mother! both come from the same source, and can actually be boiled down to three really simple concepts. So, I would like to walk you through mother! today. I would like to walk you through what is brilliant about the film, and I would like to walk you through where the film stumbles. That way, if you are ever working on a screenplay whether it is an experimental movie that is breaking the mold like mother! or something much more traditional– if these really common problems were to happen to you, then you can anticipate them and be aware of them and address them in an early draft, rather than try to explain them in interviews after the film is out. Now, I want to say that none of the issues I am going to raise with mother! have anything to do with the surrealism of the film. There are a lot of people who don’t like mother! because of what it is trying to do; there are a lot of people who don’t like mother! because it isn’t living in the world of naturali...
War for the Planet of The Apes Podcast with Writer Mark Bomback By Jacob Krueger JAKE: Today I’m really excited to be hosting my friend Mark Bomback as a special guest on this podcast. As you probably know if you are a listener, Mark is the writer behind the latest two installments of the Planet of the Apes trilogy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes. As well as a host of other hugely successful blockbusters including Insurgent, Total Recall, The Wolverine and Live Free or Die Hard. First, I just want to say thank you for joining us. MARK: Thank you Jacob. JAKE: The first thing I am curious about is a lot of our writers work in collaboration with other writers, or are thinking about doing those kinds of collaborations. And you’ve had a couple of different kinds of collaborations on the Planet of the Apes Franchise with Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and then with Matt Reeves the director on War. I am curious about what those processes were like for you. What is the difference between working with a partner, coming in to help out with a project like you did on Dawn or working on a script alone? MARK: Well, you know the thing is, other than Planet of the Apes, I have actually never co-authored anything. And truthfully the only film of the two that I co-authored was the last one, War, which Matt and I truly wrote together from beginning to end. So, how I came onto the Planet of the Apes actually when Rise was heading into production, Rick and Amanda, who were the creators of Rise of Planet of the Apes were getting a little bit—I don’t even know how best to put it– a little “written out.” It was a really, really intense pre-production, they were doing a lot of cutting edge things. There were just a lot of moving parts, and Rick and Amanda were also producers on the film. So they, along with the other producers, decided it would be great to get an extra set of eyes on this. And so I came on and did some pre-production, inter-production rewriting, and got to work with Rick and Amanda as producers. So, I would sort of vet what I was doing with them, but we didn’t actually write together. And, in fact, I don’t even get credit on Rise because the work was really surgical and had more to do with sort of finessing things. When Dawn came around, Matt Reeves wound up replacing Rupert Wyatt, who was the initial director of Dawn, and when Matt came in, he really had a lot of work to do. So, the studio asked if I would come on and help Matt sort of realize his vision. So, although Rick and Amanda had written a script for Rupert Wyatt that was the starting point of Dawn, when I came in again it was really me working as a writer alone– actually that isn’t entirely true in that Matt and I were sort of collaborating– but, Matt was really the director and I was the one doing the writing– although as we sort of got deeper into production itself, because we had such a crazy timeframe on that movie, Matt and I really were almost functioning like co-writers as well. So, when it came time to work on War, we both agreed “let’s just actually, now that we have the luxury of time a little bit, let’s write it together from beginning, from the very, very start.” And so, it is really the only time I have ever truthfully co-written. And I wound up loving it. And since the screenplay work on War, I am back to writing by myself. And while I do enjoy having the freedom– certainly in terms of my schedule and having a little more say as to where things are going, and not having to vet everything through my partner– I really do miss having a partner.
Annabelle: Creation & The First 10 Pages of Your Script By Jacob Krueger This week we’re going to be discussing Annabelle: Creation, directed by David F. Sandberg and written by Gary Dauberman. Normally, since this is a screenwriting podcast, I don’t talk a lot about directors. But this is a case of a good director taking a struggling script, and turning into something far better than what exists on the page. I’m not saying Annabelle: Creation is a fully successful film. The truth is it’s a pretty cheesy horror movie, full of holes, gaps in logic, violations of its own rules, crappy dialogue… But it’s also a movie whose director understands the demands of its genre, and capitalizes on that understanding to turn a script that could have been a total flop into a finished product that not only squeaked to a 68% approval ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, but also has generated over $280 million at the box office for a reported budget of $15 million. Not a bad return on investment for the producers. Now the truth is, Annabelle: Creation is a prequel to an extremely strong horror franchise, The Conjuring, with a dedicated fan base and a loyal following among critics and moviegoers alike. And the connection to that franchise, and the very strong script, The Conjuring, that launched it, certainly has a lot to do with its success. So if you’re a new writer, please don’t take Annabelle: Creation’s success in spite of its problems as a suggestion that all you have to do is hit your marks with your genre elements to succeed as a writer. For you to get noticed and get your script made and have that kind of success in this challenging business, the truth is you have to write better than the professionals. Because you neither have the connections in the industry, the track record on your resume, nor the fan base out there in your audience for producers to see the dollar signs unless your script knocks it out of the park. Nevertheless, studying Annabelle: Creation is not a bad return on investment for you as a writer. Because while you will certainly be frustrated by the way Annabelle: Creation fails to live up to what should be a very strong premise, you can also learn a ton about rewriting from the film. That starts with understanding the tools David F. Sandberg used to transform a weak script into a genre success. It means understanding the power of genre, and how to use it to your advantage, regardless of whether you’re writing a horror movie, action movie, romantic comedy, web series, or even a little indie drama. And it also means understanding how the writer, Gary Dauberman, fell into the most common trap in screenwriting and lost track of his own premise. So that you’ll know what to do if the same problem starts to happen to you. And it all comes back to one simple premise. Screenwriting Rule #1: You’ve got to nail the first 10 pages of your script! The first 10 pages in your script are the most important 10 pages in your script. And the first page of your script is the most important page of your script. Not your brilliant trick ending. Not that fabulous turn halfway through the movie. Not that moment that makes you laugh or cry or hurl on page 72. The first page. The first 10 pages. And why are these first pages the most important pages? For 3 very important reasons. #1 – The first 10 pages of your script are the only pages everyone is going to read! By the time your producer, coverage reader, A-list actor, director, manager, agent… hell even your great great great uncle who you’re begging to invest… reads the first pag...
How To Write A Web Series By Jacob Krueger Jake: This week we are on with Karin Partin, and we are going to be talking about Web Series, which is something I haven’t talked about yet on the podcast. Karin teaches our Web Series Writing Classes here at Jacob Krueger Studio and has a lot to say about Web Series writing and producing. We’re going to be looking at Web Series from a creative point of view, and also talking about how you can use a Web Series and very little money to actually launch your career and get noticed– how a Web Series can become not only a calling card, but actually something that brings you money or something that builds your career. So, Karin thank you so much for joining us. Karin: Yeah, Hi! Thank you for having me. This is exciting to be sitting in on the podcast. I know so many of my students are just huge fans of the podcast and listening to the podcast, so it’s very exciting to be on the podcast. Jake: When you think about Web Series writing, why do a Web Series? Why start with a Web Series? Karin: You want to make a Web Series to break into the industry. If you write a script, you can pitch that script to managers and agents for six months or a year. And then, you get that one yes or five yeses and all five of those managers and producers and agents are putting that script on their desk, and may take six more months to read that script. Once they love your script, let’s say of course you have the perfect script ever, it is the best script ever anyone has ever written and they love it, then it is going to take those people championing for you to get it made. And it can take a very long time and the chances of its momentum falling off is high. That is why it takes a thousand no’s and one yes to break into this industry. So if you make your own Web Series, you can send it to anyone you’ve ever met in the industry, and all of a sudden your chances just skyrocket of someone actually seeing your writing because it got made. You can just send it out and say “hey, here is my five minutes”. And the chances are much higher that they are going to see your work. And you can do it! You can make it affordable. You can make your Web Series affordable. That is the whole point: getting your work out there. it is a very short form content that lets you highlight your skills. So, if you can pull off character development and an A to B of storytelling so your character goes from point A to point B, they change in a very, very short amount of time. So, if you can change your characters in five minutes or less, people are going to be impressed. So it is a way to impress managers and agents and producers that you can do short form of storytelling, and that translates to long form storytelling very easy. If you can pull off a Web Series they will believe that you can write anything, because it is the most difficult thing to do: to tell a well-crafted, beautiful, impeccable story in five minutes or less. Jake: So, you feel it is a way of demonstrating a higher level of craft or a level of compression? Karin: Yes, making a Web Series that costs very little money with minimal characters in very few locations is constraint. And so, you want to be able to let these constraints work for you as a writer. And with all those constraints on your back as a writer, and you still pull off great storytelling, people are going to be excited about your writing.
The Big Sick: How To Adapt a True Life Story By Jacob Krueger This week we are going to be talking about The Big Sick by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani. I am excited to talk about The Big Sick not just because it was a successful film, but also because it allows me to talk about a topic that I have wanted to discuss for some time: How to adapt a story from your life. There is a wonderful scene in The Big Sick, one of the scenes that actually doesn’t get talked a lot. Kumail (for those of you who haven’t seen the film) is a Pakistani-American Uber driver who has fallen in love with a white American girl. And in one of the really lovely scenes in their romance, he invites her to this terrible play that he has created about Pakistan. It is meant to be a one man show but it comes out more like an extremely detailed and dry history of Pakistan. The scene has a lot of wonderful little jokes for the audience. But the joke for the character is that Emily shows up for her boyfriend’s show and it is the worst thing ever, and everybody knows it is the worst thing ever, and now she has to pretend that it is good. If you are an artist and you have artist friends, you know what that experience is like. You know that there is often a desire, when that happens, to protect the person whose work we have gone to see: to tell them things are good that aren’t good, to protect their ego rather than their art. Emily, in the film, does actually a much more loving thing, actually a much more brave thing. She doesn’t trash the play, but she does tells Kumail the truth. She says, “I learned a lot about Pakistan, but I didn’t learn a lot about you.” And this sets up a beautiful structure in the The Big Sick, which is really a story about Kumail learning what it is to tell the truth. In fact, in a way, it is a story about all these characters learning to tell the truth. Emily’s father, Terry, played by Ray Romano also has to learn how to tell the truth, how to not be a coward. What makes Emily’s mother, Beth, played by Holly Hunter, so wonderful is that she always tells the truth– even if it means that she is going to attack a racist heckler in the middle of a performance. So all these characters are eventually going to go on a journey about telling the truth. And the biggest journey about telling the truth is Kumail’s journey. Kumail is a character who is afraid to tell the truth. Kumail is a person who is trying to please everybody in his life. And because he needs so badly to please, he isn’t saying what is real. He has convinced his parents that he is going to accept an arranged marriage with a Pakistani woman, even though he isn’t taking any of his potential dates seriously. He has convinced Emily that they are in a relationship, even though he doesn’t believe he is ever going to marry her because he is afraid of being disowned by his parents. And as an artist he isn’t yet able to tell the truth with his writing. Ultimately, he is going to go on a journey in relation to his one man show, in which he learns to tell the truth about himself. And in that way earns his happy ending; he earns his happy ending by telling the truth. When we are adapting a true life story, our job, like Kumail’s job, is to tell the truth. And oftentimes we have a lot of different urges pulling against us. What is interesting is that Kumail and Emily’s story is based on a true story– is based on their true story– the true story of how they fell in love, how she fell into a coma and how, during the time that she was in that coma, he realized that he wanted to marry her no matter what his parents...
"...There’s no doubt that some of the most successful movies ever, from Dead Poets Society to Little Miss Sunshine, have more than one main character. And at the same time, there are genuine risks when we start telling a story from the point-of-view of more than one main character. In this podcast, Award Winning Screenwriter Jacob Krueger shows you how to write a script with more than one main character and how to avoid the pitfalls when building this kind of complicated screenplay structure..."
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"...For all its many structural problems, Atomic Blonde does succeed in its extraordinary fight sequences for the same reason that Iron Man succeeds: because the writer knows that guns are no fun.
If Iron Man is going to work, you’ve got to get him out of the all-powerful suit. And if Atomic Blonde is going to work, you’ve got to get the guns out of the hands of both the good guys and the bad guys. Because the guns are just too darn easy to use-- too darn easy to kill with-- if they’re used properly.
Exciting action sequences don’t come from having the all-powerful weapon-- but from having the challenging weapon; having the knife, having the high heel, having the hand to hand combat, having the object that isn't meant to be fought with.
So if you want to write a great action sequence you’ve got to make the most of every location and every object inside that location.
Look at the location of your scene and ask yourself; what are all the objects that are available to you? What are all the objects that have never before been used in a fight sequence? And how can you use those objects in the wrong way? How can you surprise the expectations of the characters?
How can you force the character to show who they are, to show their own ingenuity, to show their own badass-ness?
You almost need to think of each of these challenging locations like a video game set--where each location comes with its own unique challenges, own unique pitfalls, many, many exciting ways to die-- and where everything is either an aid or an obstacle to the character getting what they want. Where every object gets used in the wrong way in order to create the most exciting action sequences possible..."
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Dunkirk is a particularly interesting script to look at as screenwriters because it breaks pretty much every rule that you’ve likely been told about screenwriting.
This is a war movie that (for the most part) isn't about winning but about losing.
It’s a war movie in which planes don’t explode in spectacular fashion but rather disappear silently into the ocean. A movie in which fighter pilots are more concerned with running out of fuel than with bad-ass lines of dialogue.
It’s an action movie in which the “good guys” don’t always win, and in which the bad guys can actually shoot.
Dunkirk is a movie that flies in the face of every traditional notion of star-power and how it’s supposed to be used in a big budget feature.
In fact, it features an actor in a starring role that we have never seen in a major motion picture before-- who spends most of the movie, from the very first scene, simply running away!
So what is this screenplay built around that lets it break all of these rules and still succeed?
On the simplest level, it’s because audiences don’t come to movies for the things that so many screenwriting teachers, so many producers, and so many writers spend so much time obsessing over.
They don’t come for exposition. They don’t come for plot. They don’t come for nice “likeable” characters and memorable dialogue. They don’t come for formulaic structure or wrapping up everything with a bow.
Audiences come to movies to go on a journey. To experience something that moves them emotionally, and transports them into a different kind of world…
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"...and you can see, if you look at the structure of Spider-Man: Homecoming, that this isn't just the formula for creating a great bad guy, it is actually a way of creating an entire cast of unforgettable characters, and shaping the journeys they all go on in the script.
Because every single one of these characters is really just a person with a really strong want and a really strong obstacle that forces them to reveal their really strong “how”—the way that they pursue the things that they want differently from everybody else..."
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"...one of the cool things about movies and one of the cool things about life is that pretty much everybody in the world thinks that they are the hero and that other people are the bad guys.
And that means that if we want to learn to write bad guys, we need to learn to step into their shoes, and see the world through their eyes-- to empathize with the people that we hate the most, the people that we don’t understand, the people that we think are horrible.
There are people who I might feel exist only to antagonize me; there are people who might drive me crazy. But the truth of the matter is, if I stepped in and saw the universe through their eyes, they don’t think of themselves as the antagonist. They think of themselves as the hero...”
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"...As a screenwriter, you need to see, hear and feel everything.
And this is really the hardest part, because we have this urge to finish. And that urge to finish makes it really hard to actually see, hear and feel everything.
We want to put a band aid on it.
If you’ve ever had a fight with a loved one, you have probably had the same urge, “I want the fight to end.” And the desire for the fight to end doesn’t allow you to actually see, hear and feel what is actually going on. So you just keep glossing over it.
And what happens is our little A.D.D. minds want us to escape, “okay over here…no, no, look over here, no, no, no look over here.” Because the other thing about seeing, hearing and feeling everything is it is scary. It is hard and it is scary..."
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"...The process of writing a screenplay is different from writing a play in many essential ways. The first is the difference in the use of action.
For screenwriters, action is the primary tool of structure. But for playwrights, the primary tool is dialogue.
Don’t get me wrong. As a playwright, you need to visualize to some degree what is happening on the stage in order to really create your dialogue, in order to create the piece. But you don’t have to communicate that to anybody else. People don’t need to see your play in their mind like they do when reading a screenplay; they need to hear it, and they need to see the big elements.
You get to rely on the director, because plays have this thing called rehearsals.
It is crazy that rehearsals, for the most part, don’t exist in filmmaking. Even though some of the really great film directors do rehearse-- for example Francis Ford Coppola had a history of bringing the cast up to his estate to rehearse-- most film directors don’t rehearse at all.
That’s for a very simple reason: stars cost about $20 million bucks..."
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"...If you’ve been following my podcast, you know that I’ve been talking for some time about the desperate need for some smart people to start writing superhero movies.
Action movies and superhero movies are the mythologies of our time-- millions of people see them, and as much as we might like to dismiss them as pure entertainment, the truth is, they irrevocably shape our view of the world, our children’s view of the world, the stories we tell ourselves about how to be our best selves, how to solve our problems, and what it means to be a hero.
In this way, all action movies are political.
Which is why it’s so darn nice to see a movie like Wonder Woman kicking ass at the box office…"
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"...As Dan O’Bannon has noted in interviews, the idea that actually spawned the original Alien, was the horror of rape and forced pregnancy-- a horror that so many women have gone through in their real world lives, but that few men could viscerally understand. So instead of going after women in an exploitative way, as so many horror movies have done, he wanted instead to go after the men-- to make that horror visceral to men, in a way that would make them, “Cross their legs” and feel what that is like.
And you can see that the entire structure of the Alien franchise, from the structure of each individual script, to the horrifying visuals, to the rules of the universe, down all the way to the production design, the way the alien creatures burst from the chests (and later, in Alien: Covenant from the backs) of impregnated males, every single decision grows from that one simple idea. The deeply personal why that the writer is actually writing it.…"
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"...hidden underneath this little character driven drama is actually an adaptation of three different stories. The first is the true life story of Chuck Wepner, a down and out fighter who went 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali and was the inspiration for Rocky. At the same time, it is also an adaptation of the Rocky film. It is a reimagining of Rocky-- stripped all of Sylvester Stallone’s American dream sugar coating. And at the same time, it’s also an adaptation of a third film: an old movie from 1962 called Requiem for a Heavyweight. So here we have this unassuming character driven independent feeling little film, that looks like just a simple biopic, but under the surface, there is actually something very complicated going on..."
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"...If you listened to my podcast on Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 1, you know that I’m a huge fan of James Gunn’s writing. Not just for the brilliant execution of pretty much every moment of his scripts, but also for his overarching use of Theme to give real emotional resonance to these goofy action sci-fi comedies.
So, it’s interesting to watch Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2 to see James Gunn both succeeding and struggling in the places he’s most strong…"
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"...as anyone who’s written comedy professionally can tell you, comedy is not about making the audience laugh. Comedy is about looking inside of yourself and making yourself laugh. Looking inside of yourself and laughing at the things that have hurt you: turning pain into laughter. Or, to quote How To Be a Latin Lover, turning sadness into Salsa... "
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