Monday 30 September 2013

JJ Abrams: The Mystery Box

TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world's leading thinkers and doers are invited to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes.

Here J.J. Abrams traces his love for the unseen mystery—a passion that's evident in his films and TV shows, including Cloverfield, Lost and Alias—back to its magical beginnings.

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Sunday 29 September 2013


Here's a surprising new webseries called "Investments."

Investments was written and directed by Shashone Lambert, who was on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit last year. It stars Shashone Lambert, Kaetlin Perna, Jarred Solomon, and Anastacia L. Tucker.

Saturday 28 September 2013

"The Scarecrow"

With thanks to Anne Lower: This has kicked off some heated discussions about food.

I'd never heard of Chipotle before, so the ad does something right.

Friday 27 September 2013

50 Woody Allen Films - Ranked From Worst to Best

Jordan Hoffman wrote an article last month in Film.Com called Ranked: All 50 Woody Allen Films From Worst to Best.

Allen has directed forty-five feature films, and written fifty-three. I'll leave it to Hoffman to explain how he came up with this list of fifty.

I haven't seen all fifty movies, so there's a limit to what I can say. However, I was disappointed to find Bullets Over Broadway listed as low as #25. Annie Hall at #1 was no surprise, though Stardust Memories at #3 and Love and Death at #6 certainly were. 

Annie Hall (1977)
But everyone will have a different opinion, and that's half the fun. Here's the list, ranked from #1 to #50.
1.  Annie Hall (1977)
2.  Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
3.  Stardust Memories (1980)
4.  Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
5.  Manhattan (1979)
6.  Love and Death (1975)
7.  Radio Days (1987)
8.  Sleeper (1973)
9.  The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
10. Zelig (1983)
11. Deconstructing Harry (1997)
12. Bananas (1971)
13. Shadows and Fog (1991)
14. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
15. Husbands and Wives (1992)
16. Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
17. Everyone Says I Love You (1996)
18. Another Woman (1988)
19. New York Stories (1989)
20. Play It Again, Sam (1972)
21. Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
22. Take the Money and Run (1969)
23. Blue Jasmine (2013)
24. Interiors (1978)
25. Bullets Over Broadway (1994)
26. Hollywood Ending (2002)
27. Midnight in Paris (2011)
28. Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
29. Match Point (2005)
30. Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008)
31. Wild Man Blues (1997)
32. Whatever Works (2009)
33. The Front (1976)
34. Don't Drink the Water (1994)
35. Celebrity (1998)
36. Small Time Crooks (2000)
37. Anything Else (2003)
38. A Midsummer's Night Sex Comedy (1982)
39. What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)
40. Antz (1988)
41. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (1972)
42. September (1987)
43. To Rome With Love (2012)
44. Melinda and Melinda (2004)
45. Scoop (2006)
46. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)
47. Cassandra's Dream (2007)
48. Alice (1990)
49. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)
50. What's New Pussycat? (1965)

See the full list here, with explanations as to why each ended up where they did on Jordan Hoffman's list.

Thursday 26 September 2013

How to Write a Screenplay

Hey, there's a formula to writing screemplays. Seriously. And it's pretty simple. Yeah, even you could follow it...

Have a look at this educational video. It was made using Powtoon, which is free. But before you make your own amazing Powtoon presentation, have a look at this amazing presentation. With thanks to D. Bogut (@GodBlessAchoo).

Wednesday 25 September 2013

The history of CinemaScope

If you have any interest at all in cinematography, even if you're only wondering about alternative ways to frame a particular shot, you'll find this helpful.

Some terms you'll come across include:

The word "anamorphic" and its derivatives stem from the Greek words meaning formed again.

anamorphic widescreen process
The film is essentially shot "squeezed", so that the actors appear vertically elongated on the actual film. A special lens inside the projector unsqueezes the image so that it will appear normal.

CinemaScope was an anamorphic lens series used for shooting wide screen movies from 1953 to 1967.
David Bordwell is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He holds a master's degree and a doctorate in film from the University of Iowa and has written thirteen books on the subject of film. What follows is a fascinating lecture on the history of CinemaScope.

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Tuesday 24 September 2013


ReadThrough is an online program which provides voices for your screenplay characters. The program was created by Guy Goldstein, a software engineer based in Austin, Texas, who wants to be a screenwriter. He also wanted to hear the screenplays he wrote read aloud by appropriate voices. No existing software would allow him to do all the things he wanted to do. So he wrote his own program.

And gave it away for free. Here. (Same as with WriterDuet. The dude keeps busy.)

I had played with Speech Control in Final Draft, and Speak Text in Movie Magic Screenwriter previously. Neither appealed to me. American accents on voices that were too young or too old for the Australian characters I had imagined... No thanks. I'd stick to my imagination, or live reads.

ReadThrough is different, though. It allows for voice actors from across the world to volunteer their voice skills. Screenwriters can listen to voice samples of hundreds of people and select ones that would suit the characters in their scripts. Professional actors looking for work have signed up, as well as many amateurs.

I listened to all those who claimed to be able to do an Australian accent. All the usual half-baked cockney sounds emerged, but zero genuine Australian accents. That's a problem that can be solved over time, especially once Australian actors hear about this opportunity.

I decided to test
ReadThrough by uploading a screenplay I had written for a short film. At the same time I would volunteer my reading skills and select myself as one of the readers. How hard could it be?

Once I'd worked my way through the registration process, and selected some other people (and myself) as readers, I attempted to record my role in the screenplay. The script opened on page nine, even though my character had lines on page one. Nothing I tried would get me back to page one. Very frustrating. In the finish I gave up.

A few days later I received a flurry of e-mails informing me of the progress of one of the readers I had invited to participate. When she had completed the process I went to have a listen, but discovered that the entire screenplay had been recorded, mostly by computer voices. I had a quick chat with my reader by e-mail and she reported that she'd taken part in several recordings and never had a problem, so we can assume that I made a blunder somewhere.

Funny thing is, even though I didn't like the voices, I learned a few things. Like, I have a lousy voice for radio; and I speak too slowly for movies; and I had left one of my characters with but a single line of dialogue. That line consisted of just one word, which was butchered by the computer reading.

Anyway, give ReadThrough a go, you might be surprised by what you learn.

P.S.  One of the nice things about ReadThrough and WriterDuet is that the creator of these programs is both accessible and helpful. After this post appeared, Guy Goldstein responded with the following explanation of my difficulties in using ReadThrough.

About it opening at page 9 - I suspect the issue is that ReadThrough opens up to the most recent page you were on, regardless of what role you're recording (though if you've never visited before, it'll start you on the first page you have dialogue). You should definitely be able to get to other pages, though - were the slider and arrow icons not working? In the recording box you can quickly arrow through all your lines, and in the main script you should be able to get to any page.

As for most of the roles being recorded by computers, I can understand how that's confusing/not good, but I'll explain what we do. Since actors don't perform the script instantly, we always fill in roles by computer voices to start you off. As actors finish and you select them (plus click the button to perform the read-through), the computer voices are replaced.

Monday 23 September 2013

'Breaking Bad' POV shots

Kogonada is a largely anonymous Korean filmmaker. He knows plenty about filmmaking, and is willing to share his insights via the occasional video essay.

This is a compilation of POV shots from the TV show Breaking Bad. (And thanks to Michael Zeitz for turning me on to that show way back when.)

Breaking Bad is one of the best television dramas ever, and it showcases some effective POV shots, with the camera looking at the characters through a grill, refrigerator, gas mask, etc.

Watch this:

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Sunday 22 September 2013

"Escape My Life"

Okay, TV ads for cars don't work any more, what should Ford do? How about a cute commercial, disguised as a webseries?
Finding herself in need of a new car, wardrobe designer Skylar Browning learns from a friend about a Ford marketing program in which high-profile entertainment peeps can try out brand-new cars for free. Skylar meets the head of the program, John Vernon, who seems eager to help out, but when she gets home with her new 2013 Ford Escape, Skylar is shocked to find that it comes with its own babysitter—a strange man named Barry.
The show stars Natasha Leggero and Joe Lo Truglio.

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Saturday 21 September 2013

Neorealism vs Mainstream (American) filmmaking

Kogonada is a largely anonymous filmmaker. We know he was born in Seoul, Korea, that he knows plenty about filmmaking, and that's about it.

His offering today is a practical examination of the differences between mainstream (American) filmmaking and neorealism.

In 1953, Vittorio De Sica (director of Bicycle Thieves) made a film in Rome called Stazione Termini
(known in the US as Terminal Station). The film starred Jennifer Jones and Montgomery Clift. 
Prior to leaving by train for Paris, a married American woman tries to break off her affair with a young Italian in Rome's Stazione Termini.
At the time, Jones was married to David O. Selznick (producer of Gone With The Wind). Selznick was the executive producer of the film. He took control of US distribution, but first he recut the movie and renamed it Indiscretion of an American Wife.

What follows is an examination of the two approaches to filmmaking, sometimes employing a side-by-side display.


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Friday 20 September 2013

How to Get Your Script Read

Back in March, ScreenCraft presented its panel discussion, “Trailbrazers in Independent Film: Screenwriting and Producing Outside the Studio System,” featuring Cassian Elwes (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, former head of William Morris Independent for 15 years), screenwriter Adam Simon (The American Nightmare), Matt Miller, producer Sean Covel (Napolean Dynamite) and Chris "Doc" Wyatt. Inevitably, an audience member asked the age-old question about how to get a referral in the industry, i.e. How do I get my screenplay read?

Check out the video for their responses:

Thursday 19 September 2013

Advice on screenwriting - Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel

Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel have been writing television and film scripts for decades. Starting with Happy Days, they followed actor-turned-director Ron Howard into feature films like Night Shift, Splash, Gung Ho, Parenthood, and Edtv.

In total, Ganz and Mandel have written eighteen, yeah eighteen, produced feature screenplays, including City Slickers, A League of Their Own, Mr. Saturday Night, Forget Paris, Where the Heart Is, Robots, and Fever Pitch, while also maintaining a "secret career" of un-credited rewrites on studio comedies. Oh, and they never wrote a spec script.
Have a listen to these guys as they reminisce...

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Free screenwriting software - updated

We talked about free screenwriting software back in February 2013, and mentioned products such as CELTX, Rough Draft, Free Film Project, Page 2 Stage, Plotbot, and Trelby. Now there's another one, called WriterDuet.

It was created by Guy Goldstein, a software engineer based in Austin, Texas, who wants to be a screenwriter. He also wants to collaborate online, in real time, with other screenwriters. No existing screenwriting software would allow him to do all the things he wanted to do. So he wrote his own.

And gave it away for free. Here.

I've played with it and, apart from having to look in different places for familiar controls, it seems to work just fine. The other plus is that the guy writing the program is accessible and responsive. Contact him:

WriterDuet. Give it a try.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Interview with Paul Zeidman

Paul Zeidman is a screenwriter, radio reporter, blogger and a maker of baked goods. He lives in San Francisco. His fantasy-adventure script Dreamship was in the top 15% of all entries in the 2013 Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.
     Paul is one of the people who make the international screenwriting community so warm and accepting. He was among the first to include me. 

    Thank you, Paul.

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

I was born and raised in the suburban metropolis of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, a bedroom community of Philadelphia.

What kind of a family did you grow up with?

I’m the youngest of five, so I was always considered “the baby”. I suspect my parents were used to dealing with the varying personalities of their other four children, so they were very tolerant of my interests (comic books, sci-fi, etc). I wouldn’t say we were a close family, but we got along.

Where did you go to school?

After surviving the public school system, I attended the University of Pittsburgh as an English Writing major. I love to write, and relished the idea of going to school in a big city. (Another of my criteria was to not go to the same school as any of my siblings. I’ve always embraced individuality.)

When did you first take an interest in films/stories?

I’ve been crazy about both as long as I can remember. In terms of stories, my parents tell me I taught myself to read when I was three, and I’ve never stopped. Despite now living in the digital age, I think losing yourself in a book is still pretty cool.
     As I mentioned, I’m a longtime fan of comic books. It’s a great medium for telling stories. I enjoy a good superhero comic as much as the next person, but there’s something to be said about ones that are more slice-of-life. That being said, I’m also extremely impressed with the assortment of webcomics that are out there.

    But films have always been something I’ve absolutely loved. When you see something you really enjoy, it’s an almost magical sensation. It doesn’t matter if it’s a work of genius or a piece of crap, the important thing is you were entertained. Which

is what it all comes down to—telling a story that entertains.
    I’m very fortunate to have married somebody who enjoys movies just as much, and we’ve made a point of trying to slowly introduce our daughter to all kinds of genres. She loves Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd just as much as The Avengers (2012) or Despicable Me 2 (2013).

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

Technically, my first paying job was mowing lawns for my mom. She was in real estate, and yours truly had to go to her different properties to cut the grass. My first non-family-related job was working at a Wendy’s.

How did you get to work in radio?

My senior year in college, I got an internship at an Oldies station with their promotions department (since I had aspirations of becoming a copywriter). It was okay, but a lot of what I had to do involved working with the on-air staff, and I developed a good rapport with a lot of them. When the internship was over, the program director asked if I’d be interested in being a board-op (board operator) for the weekend overnight shifts. A board-op plays the music and commercials, but no talking.
     At the end of the summer, my girlfriend (now wife) and I moved to San Francisco. I got another internship with an ad agency, but realized I’d enjoyed the radio aspect more than the advertising, and was able to get another board-op job. Over the years, I’ve worn a lot of hats, including producer, DJ, and most recently, traffic reporter. 

The ever-vigilant traffic reporter in his natural habitat...

Given that “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” what prompted you to relocate there?

My girlfriend and I knew we wanted to be in a big city after college, and there were certain criteria we each had. San Francisco met a lot of those, and there have been no regrets whatsoever. It’s wonderful here, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
    A lot of people ask me “If you want to be a screenwriter, why don’t you live in Los Angeles?” A great thing about writing is you can do it anywhere, and if I’m fortunate enough to establish a career as a screenwriter, it’s not a big deal for me to hop on a plane and fly down there.
     I don’t have anything against LA, but I like it here more. 


Tell us a little about your baked goods business.

Ha! I wouldn’t call it a business. I just really like to work in the kitchen. There’s a certain coolness factor to serving up something you made yourself; even more so when people like it. I especially like to bake (pies, cookies, etc), and have gained quite a reputation for it. Pecan pie is one of my absolute favorites, and I make it whenever I can.

What was your first spec script about?

My first script was a mystery-comedy set during the
Golden Age of Television called The Crimson Cloak. Looking back now, the amateurishness is glaringly obvious. Amazingly, it was a top 10 percent finisher in the Nicholl that year—although I have no idea how. I guess the readers liked the material enough to overlook the flaws.

Who was the screenwriting teacher who had the biggest influence on you?

I didn’t take any screenwriting classes in school, but attended a lot of seminars and conferences. I’m mostly self-taught. I don’t know if anyone’s had a huge influence on me, but I’ve picked up a lot of great tips over the years.
     One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard, and one I always give to other writers, is from Richard Walter at UCLA: “Write as if ink costs a thousand dollars an ounce.” I think that sums it up perfectly.

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

1. Things always take longer than expected. Be patient.

2. Even when you think you’re done, you’re most likely not. Get feedback from people whose opinion you value and embrace the rewrite.

3. Every writer fears rejection and failure as much as you. The only way to conquer it is to keep trying and keep trying to get better.

If you had to suggest just one screenwriting book to a newbie writer back in Adelaide, which one would it be?

I don’t know if it’s still in print, but I highly recommend Story Sense by Paul Lucey. It really lays everything out in a clear, easy-to-understand way. 


What are your ten favourite movies of all time?

Back to the Future (1985)
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Citizen Kane (1941)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Star Wars (1977)
Singin' in the Rain (1952)
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
The General (1926)

What’s next for Paul Zeidman?

I was fortunate enough to get a manager earlier this year, so hopefully that puts me one step closer to my ultimate goal: to be a working screenwriter.
    Until then, I’m keeping busy with writing scripts and my blog, and trying to get a podcast going.

When I was a kid in high school, this Scott MacKenzie song played on the radio all the time.
Now when I hear it, it reminds me of Paul.

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Monday 16 September 2013


Yes, it's a commercial, and, yes, it's made in Thailand, but this short film will touch your heart.

Sunday 15 September 2013

Five tips for cleaning up your script

Julie Gray lives and works in Tel Aviv. She is a screenwriter, story consultant, writer's coach, director of a Screenwriting Competition and publisher of the Just Effing Entertain Me blog.

Julie has taught at the Oxford Student Union at Oxford University, The West England University in Bristol, Wilmington University in Delaware and San Francisco University in Quito, Ecuador. She also teaches writing classes at Warner Bros., The Great American Pitchfest, The Creative Screenwriting Expo and the Willamette Writer's Conference in Portland, Oregon.

She is a volunteer at the Afghan Women's Writing Project, she blogs for the Times of Israel, and is working on a memoir.

I'm hoping to set up an interview with Julie down the track. Meantime, here's a simple but valuable piece of advice she posted on her blog recently.


Five Tips for Clean Pages

You know that feeling you get when you receive an email from someone – someone you love and care about, and yet the email is one long, dense block of type? And your shoulders slump a little? Why can’t they just use paragraph breaks? This is going to be a slog.

Script pages that are cluttered and have “too much black” give readers the same feeling. And they frequently get put at the bottom of the pile if not rejected entirely. Which is a crying shame because your story might be GREAT. But your pages are off-putting. Listen, if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, real human beings read your scripts. They might have read three other scripts that DAY alone. So you want to make your pages very clean and easy to read.

Here are five ways to clean up those pages.

1. Avoid Camera Directions

Do not use camera directions of any kind. No “tracking shot”, no “angle on”, no “smash cut”. These instructions do not belong in your spec script and definitely muck up your pages. Don’t do it.

2. Limit The Number of Consecutive Action Lines

Try not to write more than five lines of action in one block. If you have more action because you are writing an action scene, simply use a paragraph break. Break up those big blocks of action lines.

3. Avoid Lengthy Dialogue

Avoid dialogue that is more of a monologue and is longer than ten lines. Monologues that take up half a page or even a whole page instantly put a reader off their feed.

4. Keep Sluglines Simple

Simplify your slug lines. Do you need:


No. Many writers include in sluglines what should actually be in the action lines below it. Long detailed sluglines are very off putting.

5. Learn About and Use Mini-Sluglines

Use mini-slug lines. If you are in the same location (one house, many rooms, as one example) instead of slugging every mini-location within your location, you can use a mini-slug which looks like this KITCHEN, or OUTSIDE ON THE DECK. 

Taken from Michael Clayton (2007), by Tony Gilroy

Go through your pages today and look for EVERY opportunity for there to be more white on your page and less black. It’s okay if you have a long sequence or two – but it’s all in how you present it. Simplicity and brevity are your very best pals in screenwriting.


Saturday 14 September 2013

Tarantino's influences

If you've read the original script for Reservoir Dogs, you will remember that the second page held a list of eight names. In the following video, Quentin Tarantino talks about who those people are and how they influenced him.

This clip is ten minutes long and well worth your time.

Some good news...

These days it is mostly doom and gloom, but I heard this morning that my old friend, Ed Love, just sold his first screenplay. Not for a lot of money, but enough to feel appreciated. Mazel tov, Ed!

Friday 13 September 2013

Book review: "The Hidden Tools of Comedy"

For more than a decade, Steve Kaplan has been a sought-after expert on comedy writing. In addition to having taught at UCLA, NYU, Yale, and other top universities, Kaplan created the HBO Workspace, the HBO New Writers Program, and Manhattan Punch Line Theatre.
     He has served as a consultant to such companies as DreamWorks, Disney, Aardman Animation, and HBO. Steve has taught his Comedy Intensive workshops to thousands of students across the globe. Now the guy has written a book, The Hidden Tools of Comedy: The Serious Business of Being Funny (Michael Wiese Productions, 2013).
     I have read other books on aspects of comedy—constructing a standup routine, and how to tell a joke, in particular—but this is the first book I've read that uncovers the secrets of making movie or TV comedies work. If you're a funny person, and you've made a comedy short film or webseries, then had no one laugh at the screening, hurry out and buy this book. I think you'll find the solution to your problem in there.

As usual, here are some favorite quotes from the book to give you a taste of his style.

  • What's funny is whatever makes you laugh.
  • Comedy is the art of telling the truth about what it's like to be human.
  • Drama helps us dream about what we could be, but comedy helps us live with who we are.
  • The art of comedy is the art of hope.
  • That's how you can shape the arc in a romantic comedy: in the romantic moments, the heretofore clumsy or obnoxious Hero becomes more sensitive, more mature.
  • The first tool in comedy is do what you need to do in order to "win."
  • You don't need to invent a conflict in comedy. Comedy is conflict, because people are conflicted. 
  • Story and character first and comedy will follow.
  • Comedy demands that you show a person at, if not his worst, then at his not so good.
  • When your characters give up hope, that's when you have drama. But until they do, they're bumbling around creating comedy.
  • Your characters have to be the master of their own disaster, the cause of everything bad that happens to them. Your characters have to create their own dilemmas.
  • Oftentimes writers try to find the most original turn of phrase, the brilliant bon mot. But comedy is based upon quick recognition and telling the truth about life.
  • Writers, please watch out for your parentheticals. (laughs hysterically) Just write it and trust that if it's well-written, the actors will get to where you need them to be.

In the following video, Connie Martinson talks to Steve Kaplan about writing the book.

Thursday 12 September 2013


Pockets is a short film by the team DANIELS (which includes Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan). It was part of the Channel 4 Random Acts series.
Pockets may be handy for storing stuff, but they can become a battleground when the wrong paws try to cop a feel.

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Wednesday 11 September 2013

Heroic movie posters

Did you know that most blockbuster movie posters are based on a 19th century painting? This one:

“Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog,” by Caspar David Friedrich, 1818

MaryAnn Johanson's FlickFilosopher recently ran an article highlighting some of the film posters that have been based on this painting. It's an interesting read.


Tuesday 10 September 2013

"Ikea Heights"

Ikea Heights is a melodramatic webseries shot entirely in the Burbank California Ikea Store during the day, and without permission.

Created by Paul Bartunek and Dave Seger, Ikea Heights is a town. A bunch of soap characters lie, cheat on each other, find lost siblings, search for buried treasure, and get murdered, all whilst confused shoppers wander around trying to ignore them.

Stars Matt Braunger, Randall Park, Whitney Avalon, Tom Kauffman, Jess Lane, Wade Randolph, Abed Gheith, Delbert Dean Shoopman, and Dean Pelton.

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William Froug: 1922-2013

William Froug, 91, has passed away. He worked as a radio playwright, short story writer, screenwriter, and teacher of screenwriting.

Born in Brooklyn, New York,
he was adopted by a family in Little Rock, Arkansas, graduated from the University of Missouri, before enlisting in the U.S. Navy in 1943.

He is an Emmy award-winning American television writer and producer. Shows he worked on include: The Twilight Zone, Gilligan's Island, Bewitched, The Dick Powell Show, Charlie's Angels, and The New Twilight Zone.

Froug has also written numerous books on screenwriting, including Screenwriting Tricks of the Trade, Zen and the Art of Screenwriting (I and II), The Screenwriter Looks at the Screenwriter and How I Escaped from Gilligan's Island.

Froug founded the writing program at UCLA film school, and finished his teaching career with screenwriting workshops from 1994-1995 at Florida State University's film conservatory.

Read a review of Screenwriting Tricks of the Trade here.