Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Ken Burns on Story

Documentary film maker Ken Burns talks about his formula for a great story, 1+1=3.

Monday, 29 September 2014

ROYGBIV: A Pixar Supercut

Tony Zhou pointed this one out. A minute and a half supercut examining (and celebrating) Pixar’s use of color.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

18 ways to prepare for an industry meeting

Dan Mirvish is a screenwriter, director and producer, and co-founder of the Slamdance Film Festival.
     Mentored by Robert Altman, Mirvish wrote, directed and produced his first feature Omaha (The Movie) (1995) on 35mm for $38,0000. The film went on to play at over 30 film festivals. Later, he found a unique way to distribute 350,000 units of the DVD by getting them stuffed into every Pioneer DVD player sold in North America.
    Prior to getting an M.A. from USC's graduate film production program, Mirvish was a Washington-based speech writer for U.S. Senator Tom Harkin and a freelance journalist for such publications as The New York Times and The Washington Monthly.
     The following article first appeared in Filmmaker Magazine under the title The Top 18 Ways to Become a TV Director. I've read a lot of advice on preparing for a meeting with execs, but this clobbers them all.

Here’s my simple distillation of how to turn your burgeoning lifestyle as an indie filmmaker into a lucrative and creatively fulfilling career as a TV director. And even if you’re still looking down at your nose at TV, most of these lessons will come in handy prepping for any Hollywood film meeting.

1. Recut your reel.
If you’ve directed one or more reasonably decent indie films, you’ve got plenty of material already for a killer reel. Remember, the execs who will be watching these have limited time and even shorter attention spans. They’re like teenagers with expense accounts. So keep your reel under three minutes, or shorter if you can. Show as many recognizable “name” faces as you can. Show you can use movie toys: cranes, dollies, green screens or drones. Show explosions and guns. Use cool swish-pan sound effects and awesome music. And zombies! Remember: You’re going to be competing with veteran TV directors who cut their reels with footage from actual TV shows they’ve already directed. So your reel has to at least look like you know what TV looks like. When you’re done, stick it on YouTube/Vimeo.

2. Redo website.
You know how you spent three years begging thousands of people to “like” the Facebook page for your last Canon 7D mumble-slasher epic? Forget it. You need a simple, clean, easy-to-find website about you. It literally should be www.FirstnameLastname.com. If you don’t have your own URL, get it now. And then find an elegant web design for it. Not a blog – a website. So forget WordPress. I used something called CargoCollective – it’s meant for visual artists, but works well for filmmakers and handles Vimeo embeds nicely. I’m sure there are plenty others. Whatever you do, just make sure you can control, design and update your own content. Don’t farm it out if you can help it. And if you really can’t do it yourself, find a cool web designer in Eastern Ukraine who’s already motivated to finish jobs quickly.

    Once you have a site, keep the main page elegant: the first thing people should see is your reel. Make sure it works well on mobile devices, too (since chances are someone will be seeing it in the toilet). Something that will make you look like real TV director is to have extended scenes or clips that are grouped by genres that “sound” like familiar TV genres: Drama, Comedy, Multi-Cam, Sci-Fi, Docu. It doesn’t matter that all those clips could have come from your one and only movie. Deconstruct your film (or films) and recut them into these genre-specific reels. These can be a little longer than your main reel, but also consider what would happen if an exec stumbles upon your Comedy reel first on Vimeo or through an email link from a colleague, without seeing your main reel? So make them all graphically and stylistically consistent, and don’t reuse the same material much, if at all. Make sure there’s a graphic with your web URL at the end or beginning of each reel. Finally, your website should have your basics: a bio (a short one), photo and contact info.

3. Update your IMDb and Wikipedia pages. 
The first thing any exec will do is check out your IMDbPro page. (Sometimes you can even hear assistants typing it in based solely on your caller ID… before you’ve even said hello!) So make sure it looks impressive. You’ve won awards! You work nonstop! Your StarMeter number is better than theirs!

    Anything you can do to goose your page, you should. Did you loan a boom pole to a friend for her film? Then make sure she puts you in as a “production consultant”! Just optioned a script from your cousin? List it in development! Do the photos of you look like you’re standing next to a big camera? They should! Make sure your contact info looks impressive and will actually let someone contact you, even if that means it’s your own cellphone and email. Put your reel up on IMDb, too. As for Wikipedia, make sure you have a page. Trust me — the execs won’t, and they’ll be impressed that you do. Make sure your Wikipedia page or IMDb bio have at least something cool in there that humanizes you: you ran for the state senate in Utah, you survived Ebola in Liberia, or your grandfather invented cream cheese. 

4. Make a list.
Whether you have a stone-cold agent at CAA, or you’re cold calling yourself, start making a personal list today. Do it in SimpleText or TextEdit: This is a list you will keep long after your cracked bootleg of Word 11.1 has ceased to function on your Apple Watch. Organize it by network, studio, production company (or “pods” as they call them in the TV biz) and individual shows and showrunners. Write down every assistant’s name and email: an assistant today will be running HBO in 10 years. And she will be flattered that you remembered when she was an assistant. (And then she will call security about the stalker.)

     Execs in the TV world move around a lot – so write down any identifying notes that will refresh your sense memory (“obsessed w/ Dunkin Donuts,” “red hair / went to Wellesley,” “awkward silence / don’t stare at nose!”). Most of your research you can do through a combination of IMDbPro (which usually has phone numbers but rarely emails) and Variety (which often says what shows execs are working on). If you know one name at one company and you search them on LinkedIn, it frequently will tell you other names at the same company or people with similar job descriptions at other companies. But all these sources tend to lag, so Google the trades to see who’s been upped, nixed, or ankled lately. And remember that CAA agent you have? When they dump you in a year, they’re not just going to hand you their digital rolodex. So develop your own contacts and relationships personally.

5. Whom to meet with?
You need to realize that in order to get a job as a TV director, you have to be approved and hired by a holy triumvirate: the showrunner, the network and the studio. Most people will tell you that the showrunner (or on some shows it’s the “producing director”) has the most say, but even they need to get approvals from the suits at the network and the studio (and/or production company). Even if you have a personal relationship with a showrunner, you’re still not a shoo-in. I had one showrunner friend tell me point blank that he’d never stick his neck out for a friend because if the friend screws up the episode, it’s his own ass on the line. So, by all means, get in touch with your old film school or festival buddy who’s now running a show. But know that the first thing they’ll tell you to do is get cozy with the suits and then come back to them.

    Speaking of showrunners, if you can find a directing producer on a show or a regular director, it might be worth “shadowing” (essentially standing around eating craft service). But if you already know how to direct, then shadowing really only leads to an actual job if you’ve already laid the groundwork with the suits and the showrunner. Otherwise, you’re putting on 10 pounds for nothing.
     And which execs to meet with? At some companies they’ll divide their ranks between development execs and “current series” execs – in which case, you want the “current series” ones. They’re less sexy than their development counterparts, but they’re also more likely to hire you. In other companies, though, they may divvy up their staff by genre. Comedy or Drama execs might handle both development and current. And the bigger companies and networks will divide into both comedy/drama and development/current.
    By the way, there’s been a lot of talk about diversity in TV directing lately. One manager told me that you can’t book your first job “unless you’re a woman, minority or friend of J.J. Abrams.” So I talked to an award-winning Latina director friend, and she said it’s still impossible to break in. And skinny white Jewish guys? Forget it. I talked to an indie film director friend of J.J. Abrams. He said try as he might, even J.J. couldn’t get him hired on one of his shows! In other words, everyone’s looking for an excuse to say no. You just need to give them a reason to say yes. (And if that means hinting strongly you’re a post-op trans so they meet their quota, then so be it. What are they going to do, look under the hood?)

6. How to get the meetings.
Remember, part of these execs’ jobs is to hire new directors. Not often, and probably not you. But they have to meet directors somehow, and they rarely go to film festivals (they’re prepping for pilot season during Sundance and shooting by SXSW). Also, when a director saunters in, these are simple, low-stress meetings that all execs like to have in their schedule from time to time. Make sure they know you’re asking for a “general” (exec-speak for “general get-to-know-you meeting”) to meet as a director, rather than being there to pitch a show. Essentially it’s a first date, and neither of you are expected to put out.

     By and large, TV execs are inclined to hire (or at least consider) indie film directors: We know how to work on a tight schedule, shoot 9 pages a day and do it on a budget. I asked one exec on the Fox lot if they ever met with commercial directors and she just laughed. She said she’d even rather have an indie director than a successful studio one, who only knows how to shoot a page-and-a-half a day and demands a fresh latte with every take.
     One secret is to know what time of year is least stressful for them to take meetings. Summer turned out to be great for this – a lot of people are on vacation, but it’s usually the senior execs. So if the person you want to meet with is in the office, then it might mean that the boss who’s usually breathing down their neck is in the Hamptons. By the time fall rolls around, many suits are too busy taking pitch meetings for new shows to meet with directors. By winter, they’re all obsessed with pilots. And by late spring, they’re busy meeting with writers who are all scrambling for staff positions. But as many of the cable networks and production companies go on a year-round schedule, it’s hard to predict who’s going to be ready when.
    You just have to be patient and persistent. You’re never going to be a top scheduling priority for them. Your meeting will get cancelled. Sometimes with only an hour’s notice. Don’t get mad. Just contact the assistant (or have your people do it) and calmly ask for their boss’s next “avails”. And give your “avails”, too. But don’t look desperate. Never give the impression that you’re just sitting around in your underwear all day playing Minecraft just waiting for Hollywood to call. Instead, hint that you’re meeting with other, more powerful networks or getting your next feature made. I had some meetings this summer that were rescheduled over 20 times over the course of three months. But by the time you get in the room, no one will remember.

7. Research their shows.
No matter whom you meet with, make sure you know what shows are on their company’s slate. So if it’s a network, look up their schedule. If it’s a production company, check IMDbPro and google the trades. While you don’t have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of all the shows (that’s more for when you’re up for a specific job on a specific show), you do need to be able to fake a passing knowledge of all of them. So watch a few episodes on the company’s website, or Hulu, or your favorite Russian piracy site. Or in most cases, just watching season trailers or “best of” scenes on YouTube will give you a sense of the shows.

8. Research the people.
Spend some time researching the exact person you’re meeting with. Check them out on IMDb, Variety, LinkedIn. See if you have any mutual friends on Facebook (but DON’T friend request them… that’s just creepy). Google them to see where they worked before, when they got promoted to their current position, what school they went to and if they’ve been involved with any scandals you should avoid making reference to. And then do the same with the assistants who helped set up the meetings. (When you walk in: “Hey, don’t I recognize you from ‘SC? Go Trojans!”)

9. Go early.
Plan to go early to your meeting. In L.A., we all know traffic can be a nightmare, so plan accordingly. But it’s more than just not being late (a definite no-no). When you get to the building, take a quick photo of the building directory and staff directory if there happens to be one. Later that day, zoom in and I guarantee it will give you other ideas of people to meet with, and sometimes their direct extensions: “Hey, I was just over at Sony and your name came up.”

     Once in the office lobby, make nice with the receptionist – she (or he) will be an important assistant next week, and an exec by year’s end. When you walk in, chances are you’ll literally be looking down at them. Resist the Seinfeldian temptation to stare down their shirts, or smirk at their stress-induced receding hairlines.
    Of course, if you get a meeting with Warner Brothers TV, try to schedule it for “smooth jazz Friday.” The receptionist/security guard is an amazing guy named Ron who’s worked there for 24 years. He’s also a professional musician who’s got his sax tucked under his desk. He’ll serenade you in the waiting room and wish you a hearty good luck as you go to your meeting. Ron is awesome! (And what does it say about Hollywood when the most talented person on the lot is the security guard?)

10. The pre-meeting meeting.
If there’s a couch and a chair in the waiting room, sit in the middle of the couch. Why? So when a team of four or five people comes in, they’ll have to sit around you, and talk over you. This is perfect for eavesdropping. By virtue of the fact that they’re a team (often carrying some kind of presentations, paperwork or scripts), they’re pitching a show. Which means they haven’t hired a pilot director yet. Introduce yourself. Talk to them. They’ll be more nervous than you. By virtue of the fact that you’re meeting with the same company as them, you’ve naturally got enough credibility to meet with them, too. Exchange cards and wish them good luck. Over the course of the summer, I met studio heads, Silicon Valley investors, award-winning screenwriters and showrunner friends of mine in lobbies. In most of those cases, the lobby meeting wound up more productive – or at least more interesting – than the real one. 

11. Check for breaking news.
You want to make good use of your early arrival time. It’s easy to get distracted by the glossy Hollywood magazines on the little tables. Chances are, you haven’t seen a real honest-to-God paper version of the Hollywood trades in a long time. Some of these could be collectors’ items!

     Instead, whip out your iPhone and do a search limited to the last 24 hours. If there’s breaking news, you want to know it. Did the company just get nominated for 15 Emmys that morning? Did the show you binged on overnight just get cancelled? Did one of their lead actors just get busted for mescaline possession on a transatlantic flight from South Korea (she swore she thought it was kimchee)?
    When you congratulate them on their good news, or commiserate on their bad, you do more than just break the ice. It shows them that you pay attention to, and respect, both TV as a medium, but also the TV exec lifestyle as a career choice. No exec wants to hire a pretentious indie film snob, and you’ve got to dissuade them of that preconception even if you are one.

12. Do you take the water?
There is an ongoing debate among my filmmaking colleagues who have faced the age-old dilemma: Take the water or don’t take the water? Every assistant in Hollywood will make you this Faustian offer. Are you so low on the Hollywood totem pole that even the most basis sustenance of life has to be doled out to you in six-ounce plastic bottles of contempt? If you take it, do you give up your soul? Have they won already? And if you don’t take the water, is that a sadistic way to exacerbate the already tense relationship between the exec and the assistant? (Wait, did my assistant offer you water? Kelly, did you offer him water?!? Kelly, goddammit!!!), or is it a keen trick to expose the inner dynamics of a fraught office staff and find their weaknesses? Sun Tsu, I’m told, never took the water.

    Another solution is to take the coffee. For me, I know I do better in a meeting if I’m overly caffeinated. I have more energy, I talk faster and I look more excited to be there! But, if I start drinking the coffee when the meeting begins, the caffeine will only kick in when I leave the parking garage after the meeting.
    The trick is to drink your own coffee an hour before the meeting. When you first arrive, the assistant or receptionist will offer you water, but they’ll always have coffee if you ask. Keep it simple and ass-kickin' black, no sugar. That way you and the assistant don’t have to deal with stir sticks, sugar packets or creamers, and the uncomfortable moment of looking for a little trash can just as the executive wants to shake your hand.
    Because there’s no cream, the coffee will be hot – if you’re a wussy like me, probably too hot to drink. But fake a couple sips in the meeting. Then, when you’re rattling off humorous bon mots and indie film horror stories a mile a minute, the exec will think it’s the coffee talking and you’re not just a crack addict or have unmedicated ADHD. TV execs like to know that you’ve got a lot of energy – especially if you’re pitching yourself for comedies. If you look listless and bored, your episodes will be, too.

13. Choose wisely where to sit.
The exec may give you a cue to sit in the least powerful seat in the room. Don’t take the bait. Instead, walk in the room like you own the network and sit with your back to the window (if there is one). In an ideal situation, you want the exec squinting at your backlit visage, not the other way around.

    If they lead you to a conference room (especially if you’re meeting with more than one person), go to the short end of the table that faces the door. Make the execs sit on one of the long sides, or better yet, with their backs against the door.
    Whatever you do, never sit with your back to an interior glass window, unless the blind is pulled. Otherwise, the assistant is going to be signaling non-stop to their boss that they have an urgent phone call or their next appointment just got there. But if the exec’s back is to the interior window, you can always nod-hello to random people who walk by the hallway. The exec will think you know their rival colleagues in the office – or worse, you’re squash buddies with their boss – and they will respect and fear you more.

14. Wear or do something memorable.
As I’ve learned, most shows aren’t going to hire a new TV director for its first season. They want the seasoned veterans for the first and even second years. And if a show’s been on the air for four or more years, then all the episodes will either be directed by cast and crew members who were promised episodes. Either way, they’re not going to hire fresh meat. So maybe, just maybe, a show in its third year will have one available slot!

     So why do these meetings at all? Because in a year or two or five, when you’re buddies with a showrunner, they’ll try to get approval from the network or studio, and the suits will say, Oh, yeah! That guy with the hat, the goofy shoes and the funny Oscar story? I kinda remember him. Sure, give him a shot!
     You’re playing the long game here, so the execs you meet with have to be able to visualize you if they’re going to remember you. At the profound risk of sounding like a douche for calling it “personal branding,” that is kind of what you need in order for people to remember you. All those IMDb credits melt together with everyone else’s. But a strong photo on IMDb that looks like how you looked in the meeting could make all the difference in the world. Then again, spilling your scalding coffee on their lap and wiping off their crotch with your clammy hand will also make you memorable.

15. Tell funny stories about yourself.
TV is looking for “storytellers.” I’m convinced someone in suit school taught them this. So, tell them some stories! Beginning, middle, end. One or two good personal anecdotes will show them you understand basic story structure and that you’re fun to be around. They like that.

16. Ask them personal questions.
Let’s face it, no one ever asks some of these junior execs how they got into the business. And like everyone else, I’m sure they have an interesting story – working in the mailroom at Gersh, getting yelled at by Scott Rudin or doing stuntwork on a kickboxing movie in the Philippines. Laugh at their stories! Look impressed that they went to CalState Northridge for film school! Nod appreciatively when they tell you they really want to go to Sundance one day! Remember, their parents have very little understanding or respect for what they do, so at least you should.

17. Get something out of each meeting.
You will not walk away from any of these meetings with a job. You know it. They know it. And that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean you should walk out empty-handed either.

    So, if you’re at a network meeting, ask them if they have any colleagues you should meet with at their partner studios. If you’re at a studio, ask them about network execs you should meet. Maybe this was a comedy meeting, but you also want to meet with their drama person? Maybe there’s a director they think you should shadow? Get names! It’s not a bad idea to have a pen and scrap paper handy to write these down – either while you’re sitting there, or as soon as you duck down the hall to use their restroom. (Trust me, after all this coffee, you’re going to want to use the restroom before you get back in your car.)
     Finally, make sure you have some actionable followup when you leave: You’re going to send them a screener link to your last film. They’re going to send you a pilot script that’s kicking around. You’re going to teach them how to play squash over the weekend. Whatever it is, just make sure that the meeting isn’t the last time this person ever hears from you. They may not know it yet, but you’ll be back.

18. The parking garage meeting after the meeting.
Like Bob Woodward’s cryptic liaisons with Deep Throat, sometimes your best experiences are in the parking garage after the meeting. When leaving Nickelodeon, I ran into a successful director friend who was on his way to meet the execs I’d just met with. He put in a good word on my behalf, and I secured an even better follow-up meeting a few weeks later. And after an altogether dispiriting meeting at HBO (they rarely hire directors outside of their showrunners’ inner circles), I was surprised to actually get an offer! Mind you, it was the parking valet offering to buy my 2003 Mazda minivan, but an offer is an offer. Now, if I could just get Showtime to make a counter-offer, I will have made it in the TV biz!

Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Hollywood Sound

Konstantin Mishchenko is a prolific provider of interesting movie-related videos. This one gives us the history of Hollywood sound.

John Mauceri, conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, explores the music behind such classics as Gone with the Wind, Laura, Bride of Frankenstein, Casablanca, Adventures of Robin Hood, The Song of Bernadette, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Johnny Belinda, How Green Was My Valley, and Red River.

Music For The Movies: The Hollywood Sound (1995) is part of a 4-DVD documentary series chronicling the influence music has had on the making of movies. The series explores the complex relationship between image and music in cinema, takes us behind the scenes, onto the sound stages and mixing rooms, to bring the story of movie music to life.


Friday, 26 September 2014

John Steinbeck - Six Tips on Writing

John Steinbeck was an American author. He is best known for The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden and the novella Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

The following six tips on writing were culled from an interview published in the Fall 1975 issue of The Paris Review.

Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.

Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.

If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.

Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.

If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Robert Rodriguez 10 Minute film school

Robert Rodriguez, he's the guy who made El mariachi, Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Spy Kids (and the sequels), Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Sin City, Machete, and a bunch of others.

He also wrote the book Rebel Without a Crew, which deals with his adventures as a filmmaker, although it also has a bit to say to writers.  

Here is a 1993 video in which Rodriguez explains his approach to filmmaking.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

"The Unknown Marx Brothers"

I first came across the title The Unknown Marx Brothers on a list of recommended films some ten years ago. I've looked for it ever since, but it seems to be out of print. 

Then I found it on YouTube. Wacko!
Leslie Nielsen hosts this retrospective of the Marx Brothers, from their early career on stage to their post-film career in television. their children and co-workers are interviewed, and numerous clips and rare footage are shown.
The narration follows much of the family story as outlined by Harpo Marx in Harpo Speaks!, one of the truly great showbiz books. That is highly recommended, but in the meantime, enjoy this:

Monday, 22 September 2014

How to get a script read In Hollywood

Thunder Levin was born and raised in New York City, received a BFA in Film from NYU, then moved to Los Angeles at age 23. Amongst other things, he wrote both the Sharknado movies. Thunder is his real name. 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Royal Tenenbaums

Here's an interesting analysis of the opening credit sequence from The Royal Tenenbaums, with titles by Matt Zoller Seitz. (Be prepared to sit on the PAUSE button; there's much to read.)

If you're having trouble seeing the video, try clicking on this link: http://www.movingimagesource.us/flash/mediaplayer.swf?id=11/767

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Kids react to old computers

Watch kids try to figure out how to use a 1970s era computer in an episode of the Fine Brothers Kids React web series.

My first computer was an Intel 80286-based machine, with 1mg of RAM and a 40mg hard drive, so I relate to the machine in use in this show. It's interesting to see kids wrestle with the technology; I remember more then a few moments of frustration myself.    

Friday, 19 September 2014

High Five New York

It's Friday (at least in Australia). We need something light. 

What do you do if you want a cab in New York? Stand on the side of the road with your hand up, like a dork. Here's one high-spirited soul who saw an opportunity to turn that basic pose into something humorous.

Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments of Writing

Henry Miller (1891–1980) was an American writer, best known for developing a new sort of semi-autobiographical novel that blended character study, social criticism, philosophical reflection, explicit language, sex, surrealist free association and mysticism. His best known works are Tropic of Cancer (1934), Black Spring (1936), Tropic of Capricorn (1939) and The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy.

In 1932-1933, while working on what would become his first published novel, Tropic of Cancer, Miller devised and adhered to a stringent daily routine to propel his writing. Among it was this list of eleven commandments, which can be found in Henry Miller on Writing.

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to ‘Black Spring.’
  3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5. When you can’t create you can work.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

Part of his outline, titled Daily Program, featured the following blueprint for writing, but maintaining a balanced life.


If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.
If in fine fettle, write.


Work of section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.


See friends. Read in cafés.
Explore unfamiliar sections — on foot if wet, on bicycle if dry.
Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program.
Paint if empty or tired.
Make Notes. Make Charts, Plans. Make corrections of MS.

Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafés and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for references once a week.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Interview with Devin Watson

Devin Watson is an American screenwriter and filmmaker who lives in Tennessee. He is the author of A Practical Handbook for the Screenwriter and Horror Screenwriting: The Nature of Fear. He also publishes The Dklon Daily, a filmmaking/computer programing/general interest digest of current events. On top of that, he helped build and run several other websites, including Screenwriter’s Utopia and SoldierStudies.org, a Civil War history site. He is a screener for the Seattle Shorts Film Festival and, with a less obvious claim to fame, a descendant of Wilhelm of the Brothers Grimm

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

I was born in Brunswick, Georgia. Spent the first ten years of my life there, then moved to Vermont, then Maine, then Virginia.

Where did you go to school?

I went to school at University of Vermont. My course of study was Computer Science, something about as far removed from the English Department as you could get. The geeks were segregated away in the Electrical Engineering building on the other side of the campus.

When did you first take an interest in movies?

I'd been interested in movies since I was very young. A good portion of my childhood was spent ill and confined to the house, and there was cable in the living room and a nice couch for me to recuperate on. It's also what introduced me to horror; I can remember quite clearly having a fever and watching Poltergeist for the first time. 
    Around the time I was fifteen I started wondering about the process and what went into it. Bear in mind that this was before the time of the Internet as we know it, and I was living in a small town in Maine. If I was lucky I'd find a newspaper clipping here or a magazine article there that helped raise the curtain up just a little bit. When I got to college, that's when high-speed Internet access came into play. This was 1996, which is difficult for me to imagine being eighteen years ago. That's when the first bits of real knowledge about the whole process were out there. That was when I said, "By the time I'm thirty I'm going to make a movie." I was eighteen. We shot The Cursed, my first movie, shortly after I turned twenty-nine.

What was your first paying job (in any field)?

My first paying job was as a short order chef at a local arcade/restaurant. I'd make pizzas, philly cheesesteaks, and french fries. Not the most glamorous job in the world, but it helped me buy a used car so I could drive to high school.

What do you do to keep the wolf from the door?

I've made use of my degree to build sites for people, and the occasional desktop software job comes along. I recently built the latest version of Screenwriter's Utopia, which launched back in January. That's something I've been working on since the early 2000s.

You’re a screener for the Seattle Shorts Film Festival. How did you land that job and what does it entail?

Daniel Hoyos
A few years ago I'd connected with Daniel Hoyos on Twitter. At the time he was running the shorts festival for
Seattle True Independent Film Festival (STIFF) and I was one of the screeners for that. Fast forward a little later and Daniel is now running Seattle Shorts. He asked me if I'd be interested in screening again and told me his big plans for it. How could I say no?
    We spent the first part of this year screening entries, all the way up to the final deadline. It might seem like it's a fun idea: watch a bunch of short films for fun. It is fun but not in the same way most people think. There's a strict set of criteria set forth early on by the festival director. When you're screening, you're analyzing the film to make sure it meets the criteria, including aesthestics and story. In fact, story is one of the biggest criterion you weigh against. Telling a complete and engaging story is especially challenging in shorts because of that tight time limitation.
    You're also taking notes. You have to justify why you think that something is either good or bad. Those notes would then go to Daniel with the up or down vote. Rather than take the notes at face value, Daniel would also screen them just to make sure. And then we would have meetings over Skype to discuss the current batch we'd watched. It's an arduous process, but it guarantees that everyone gets a fair shake, especially for such a competitive festival.

You’ve written books and screenplays, but you also publish an internet newspaper. What was your inspiration for setting that up?

That came about almost purely by accident. It turns out that I had been following a lot of other fellow screenwriters on Twitter, which ended up dominating the stories that got pulled out. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing. If it had been 1996 I would have killed for that kind of access to the information that is now so easily found and shared.

We’ve had a saturation of horror movies over the last few years. Do you think that trend is coming to an end?

Horror tends to follow about a three-to-five year cycle. Right now I think we're on the downward slide of one of those cycles. It will pick back up, but when it does it will be some other subgenre that gets mined. Witness the supernatural films like Paranormal Activity, then slashers made something of a modest comeback. Then vampires and zombies were huge. All it takes is one big breakout hit in that subgenre and all of the other studios will be dusting the scripts off their shelves looking for one of their own. 
    I think the recent reboots of franchises has left something of a bad taste in many people's mouths. The one thing studios forget when signing off on these enormous budgets is that many of the original horror film's elements were born out of necessity. They had little to no budgets, the actors were just starting out, and darkness made up for the lack of any money to put in front of the camera. That's what made them fun and scary. Of course there's always going to be the hardcore fans that want to see more. And for that there's always the independents, struggling every day to make their films and get them out there. For that you have to dig around a little deeper to find those hidden gems.

Why are you so interested in the American Civil War? Are you involved in reenactments?

One of my friends, Chris Wehner, is a huge American Civil War buff. He has a degree in History and it's his personal obsession. One year I was quite broke and Christmas was coming around. So instead of sending a gift I made Soldierstudies.org for him. It was a good match because I'm a data hound and he has the historical background. 
    It ended up becoming one of the larger free resources online now cataloging the people, places, dates, and events on the war, much to my surprise. The site helps feed the data hound in me. I don't do reenactments myself, but I have seen a few. It's hard not to where I've lived. It can be fascinating to watch how close to accurate they try to be, right down to the buttons on the jackets and who gets shot when. It's like watching a live-action movie unfold right in front of you.

What are three things you wish someone had told you about screenwriting when you were starting out?

1. Your first few screenplays are not going to be good. Don't give up because of that. Learn from them.

2. Go lean and mean in your writing: Use verbs that are descriptive to show intent without long descriptions. Introduce the Big Problem in the first five pages.

3. Get in on a local film production. Volunteer some time and hold a boom. See how films are made from scripts. This will inform your work more than any class or book could ever hope to do.

If you had to suggest just one screenwriting book (not your own) to a newbie writer in Adelaide, which one would it be?

Screenwriting 434 by Lew Hunter.

The material is easily accessible for anyone and it's a fun read. It was the first and, for the longest time, the only book on screenwriting I had read. I still go back and reference it sometimes when I'm stuck. It always has an answer you're looking for.

What are your ten favorite (favorite, not ‘best’) movies of all time?

In no particular order:
Alien (1979)
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
Hellraiser 1 & 2 (1987)
Jaws (1975)
The Warriors (1979)
Poltergeist (1982)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The Exorcist (1973)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil (2010)

What’s next for Devin Watson?

We're currently mixing sound for a web series pilot called Asphalt She-Wolves, which I co-wrote and produced. It's a different take on werewolves, with an all-female ensemble cast. Whether or not it finds an audience remains to be seen, and won't be answered until October 8th.
     I'm also finishing up a book on Short Films You Can Watch for Free Online. Having watched so many of them, I felt it might be helpful for someone else to have not just another list with links, but reviews and interviews with those filmmakers. 


Wednesday, 17 September 2014

How to Talk Australians, Ep.5

The Delhi College of Linguistics presents How to Talk Australians, an introduction to the Australian vernacular. This episode places particular emphasis on Australian nicknames. ‘Chopper’ the talking cockie takes over the class with his incessant foul mouth. The students adopt some anglicised names and then Australianise them with varying levels of success. And there's a clumsy re-enactment of a Ned Kelly hold-up.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Susannah Grant: Screenwriters Lecture

The writer of Erin Brockovich shares her experiences as a screenwriter as part of the 2013 BAFTA Screenwriter Lecture series.

Monday, 15 September 2014

In Memory of Richard Attenborough (1923-2014)

From Press Play, a video essay In Memory of Richard Attenborough (1923-2014).

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Making magic

David Anderson wrote:
I really appreciate everyone who has taken the time to view this short montage. I casually uploaded it for a friend to see and, to my surprise, it's been viewed by many others! I made it as part of a personal project. It is the conclusion to a private film history class I taught. I felt the best way to end the class was to evoke just a bit of the magic that the movies have brought to us.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Creative Process

Explore what it means to be human as we rush head first into the future through the eyes, creativity, and mind of Tiffany Shlain, acclaimed filmmaker and speaker, founder of The Webby Awards, mother, constant pusher of boundaries and one of Newsweek's "women shaping the 21st Century."

Friday, 12 September 2014

David Ogilvy - Tips on Writing

David Ogilvy was the 'Father of Advertising' and founder of Ogilvy & Mather, the original “Mad Man.” In 1982, Ogilvy sent the following internal memo to all agency employees, titled “How to Write.” This appears in the 1986 book, The Unpublished David Ogilvy.

The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.

Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.
Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:
  1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
  2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
  3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
  4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
  5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
  6. Check your quotations.
  7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
  8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
  9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
  10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

How to win a screenwriting competition

Gordy Hoffman is a screenwriter, the founder of the BlueCat Screenplay Competition, and the guy who wrote the script for Love Liza, which starred his brother, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.
     The BlueCat Screenplay Competition has been around for about fifteen years. It has seen the number of entries rise from 384, in 1999, to 3391, in 2013. At the same time, total prize money has risen from $2,000 to $43,000. Which is nice, but the big deal is that BlueCat provides written feedback on your screenplay, prepared by experienced professional readers. All for $25. That's hard to beat.
     Gordy has agreed to share some of the many articles he's written over the years with Adelaide Screenwriter readers. Here's one that might help you improve your screenplay.

How to win BlueCat, by Gordy Hoffman

Are you preparing to send in your screenplay to the BlueCat Screenplay Competition before the deadline? What can you do before you enter to increase your chances of advancing, placing and perhaps winning BlueCat?

The first thing you should know is BlueCat is very hard to win. Our readers are incredibly tough on our submissions because I have handpicked them, and my standards are very high. We work very hard, and writers who work as hard as we do stand a chance in the competition.

Maybe you just want our notes on an early draft and have no expectations of winning anything. (You’d be surprised how many people have done very well with new screenplays!) Thank you for using our readers to help you develop your work. We welcome your submissions.

But what if you’ve been diligently working on your screenplay in hopes that you could take our top prize? Well, if you think you’ve gone over it a hundred times, and you’re ready to submit, here’s a list of a few things to consider:

Grocery List
Go through all your description and get rid of all the style and texture and loveliness that calls attention to your wonderful incredible abilities as a Writer. We don’t care what kind of writer you are. All I remember from the scripts that won is what the story was and how much they made me laugh or cry. You know what a grocery list looks like? Make everything simple, straightforward and clean. Grocery list your description. Clarity is the most overlooked element of screenwriting.

Benjamin Franklin
What if someone gave you a hundred dollar bill for every word you removed from your screenplay? I think some of you might be able to buy a house. Go through your screenplay and remove enough words to buy a nice car or boat. You cut words from your script and your chances with BlueCat improve, it’s that simple.

Read Your Writing
When’s the last time you read your script? I know you’ve been looking at it and looking at it, but when’s the last time you read it all the way through? Just read it and reestablish your intimacy with what you wrote. Don’t be a stranger, check everything out again, and watch how all the light bulbs go off again over what it can be. It’s a new day. If you’re going to spend money on a screenplay contest, actually read your screenplay, without stopping to play with it.

Take The Stand
Stop lying to yourself. When we write a screenplay, development is a process of resetting an honest awareness of what we have in front of us. Look for jokes that actually aren’t funny and dialogue that actually doesn’t sound real. For real. Listen to your gut and get honest about what you have in front of you. I often find I’ve left a placeholder piece of dialogue or comedy in there and it became a part of my screenplay. Remove the below average choices you made a long time ago and even if you don’t have something to put in their place, it’s better to cut it and move on. Bad dialogue and bad jokes end your run with BlueCat very quickly.

To the Bone
Even after you’ve taken out all your bad jokes, bad lines and extra words, cut 5 more pages. See if it’s possible. If your script is over 89 pages, it’s very possible. Do it.

Forgive Your People
Do you love your characters? Which ones don’t you have compassion for? If you don’t like some of your characters, they probably aren’t written very well, trust me. With all the extra space, write 10 beats to support your family of characters. I’m not talking about saving animals. I’m talking about adding new moments to your story that come directly from your own admiration and respect for the human dignity in everyone you write about. Think about it. You might hate some of your characters. Shakespeare never did.

Writer not Screenplay
Now stop and set your alarm clock for ten minutes from now and write for ten minutes about a completely different idea just to remind you that after BlueCat and after this screenplay, you are a writer who will write forever and that’s your life, not screenplay contests or one story you made up.

And write tomorrow. I’m gonna try.

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