Wednesday 31 August 2016

Tricks of the Trade, by Scott Rosenberg

Scott Rosenberg is a screenwriter who wrote ten spec scripts before he sold one. It was his fourteenth spec script, Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead, that put him on the map. Since then he's written Beautiful Girls, Con Air, Disturbing Behavior, High Fidelity, Gone in Sixty Seconds, among others.

In this interview he talks about how he got started and how he goes about writing a screenplay.

First posted: 4 November 2012

Saturday 27 August 2016

Lifeswap Episode 1

The first in a series of animations about a German and a Kiwi who swap lives. We witness Joerg and Duncan's delights, frustrations and misunderstandings as they discover the idiosyncrasies of life in the other’s culture through the lens of their own.

Friday 26 August 2016

Who Has the Power?

A video essay using a scene from Neil Jordan's 1985 film Mona Lisa to show how, in psychological conflict, the power between the characters shifts on the action.

Thursday 25 August 2016

Sympathetic Doesn’t Have To Mean Likable

A video essay refuting the notion that a character must be likable to be sympathetic.

Wednesday 24 August 2016

The Truth about filmmaking

The film industry is pretty simple to break into if, first, you understand some basic concepts. The basic concepts can be learned pretty quickly, despite what industry moguls tell you.

However, there is some basic bullshit that surrounds the industry that keeps first-timers away from writing, directing, producing or starring in a movie.

1st Lie: Filmmaking Is An Art

If filmmaking was an art, you would go get some film stock, rent a camera, make your 'art', and then line up on Piccadilly on a Sunday morning with the other buskers and try to sell your art to a passers-by, or give it away for free for others to enjoy. But we both know that it doesn’t work like that.

To make a movie you need to write cheques—and lots of them. When your movie is finished, you will want to negotiate the best possible deal for the greatest amount of revenue. Therefore, filmmaking could be discussed as writing cheques, negotiating and revenue potential. To me, that sounds like a business. And everything in the British film industry is about business. The sooner you realise this, the sooner you are likely to succeed.

2nd Lie: Filmmaking Is A Filmmaking Industry

The film industry spends more money marketing a film than making it. You have probably heard about the way a distributor 'opens', 'releases' or 'markets' a film. So if it costs so much to open, release, or market a film, then surely the film industry is more concerned with this, than with the actual making of a movie. Technically, in the film industry, the marketing budget is called 'the P&A budget' (prints and advertising). And the two elements of a movie that the industry markets are: Who is in the film, and What is the budget.

When you make your first independent feature film, you should know what it costs to strike a print and what ads (print, radio, TV, etc.) cost. At the very least you must know this to market your film to distributors at a film festival. But please, always remember that the film industry is a marketing machine that creates perceived values every weekend.

Hint: You’ve made a film. A film has no value. No one pays for a film.

Everyone pays for a movie. When does a film become a movie? The answer is, “when it’s in a cinema”. When it’s in a cinema, you see newspaper ads and movie reviews in newspapers. When you see a newspaper ad you think "It’s a movie." It’s in a movie theatre. Are movie theatres free? Answer, “No!” Thus, movies cost money to see. Films you can see for free.

When your film is picked up by a distributor and they put in their “P&A” money, it now has a value of $10. This is the normal cost of buying a ticket at a movie theatre. In America there are 280 million people. If only 1 out 100 people see the movie it translates into 2.8 million ticket sales, times $10, for a GROSS of $28,000,000.

Distributors and filmmakers don’t see that $28,000,000. That’s what cinema owners collect. Box Office Gross! Do filmmakers see Box Office? Of course not. But the moviegoer has now been taught that your free film is now worth $10. W
hat do the other 99 out of 100 potential ticket buyers now do? At least half of them, when they see the newspaper ads, say “I’ll rent it”. Is it free to rent at Blockbuster. No, that costs money too. When you walk into a video store and see a piece of plastic you know you could buy blank from a stationer for 40 cents, yet now with the wrapper on it it is worth $10-20.

That’s how Hollywood works. Hollywood takes a film that has no value, puts in newspaper ads, and gives it a $10 value, knowing that, at the most, 1 out of 100 will see it at the theatre. However, the other 99 people—thinking it’s worth $10—will now rent it at the video store where it only costs $4. The Film Industry is a film marketing industry, not a film making industry.

3rd Lie: What The Budget Is

Is there any industry that tells you the cost of manufacturing the product you want to buy? Why is it that in the film industry we always seem to know what the budget is? Do you think the film industry really tells you the truth? And if anyone asks you what the budget of YOUR film is, tell them to mind their own business!

There are only 4 budgets in the movie industry. (1) the Blockbuster Budget, (2) the Hyphen Budget, (3) the Million Dollar Budget and (4) the Micro Budget.

The Blockbuster budget is a budget so big that it is marketed as the most expensive film in the history of cinema. The first was Gone With The Wind, the next one, the first million-dollar film ever, was Cleopatra. Films like the Titanic, Waterworld, etc., are marketed as hugely expensive so we, the punters, will go to see what 100+ million looks like on the screen.

The Hyphen budget is marketed as between 40 and 45 million, as if the anal accounting department can't remember what happened to five million dollars! Can you believe that? It is the budget of a standard Hollywood film, and the actual production costs on a thirty-to-seventy million dollar film are at most a few million, with the balance spent on stars and promoting the film.

The Million Dollar budget is your typical entry-level independent film and the budgets are expressed as: 1.4 mil (sex, lies and videotape) or 800 thou (Lock Stock) 1.1 mil (Shallow Grave) 1.1 mil (Blood Simple) These films don’t usually have stars, and are story driven.

The Micro budget is broken down into three sub categories:
Under a million = Low budget
Under 500 thousand = Micro Budget
Under a hundred thousand dollars/euros/pounds = No budget. Films like Pi, Blair Witch, Clerks, and the brilliant Following by Raindance alumni Christopher Nolan, fall into this category.

The budget of your feature film is going to be one of those four
categories. For more information and details on how to make a $1,000,000 Feature Film by spending $200,000 then check out the Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking book offered by Raindance. But stop thinking that you know what the true budget of a film is. The film industry lies!

4th Lie: The Film Industry Makes Deals With Filmmakers

The problem with all filmmakers that want to make a film is that they are perennially attempting to Make-a-deal to get the money to Make-a-film. This will never happen. You are putting the horse before the cart. You must first Make-a-film to Make-a-deal. I know this is confusing, so allow me to use some numbers to explain the concept.

If you desire $20million to make a feature film, you must go to one of the seven major distributors (Warner, Paramount, Sony, Disney, etc.). And all they ask you to do, to get their
$20million, is to first Make-a-film with a $2million budget... that makes money. Because Hollywood (Lie #2) is a film marketing industry and the distributors want to be able to market "From the Producer Of," "From the Writer of," "From the Star of," on the poster and ads.

Thus, if you want $20million, make a $2million Feature Film... one that makes money. Now, how do you get $2million to get started? It’s simple. First Make-a-film! Make a $200,000 feature film... that makes money. Are you getting the point? And how do you get $200,000? You first make a $20,000 Feature Film!

First, Make-a-film! And, if that film makes money, then you’ll get to make a deal!
The Truth about filmmaking first appeared as "Hollywood's 4 Biggest Lies" by Elliot Grove, on the Raindance website.

First posted: 2 November 2012

Tuesday 23 August 2016

Coen Country

This short video-essay examines various themes present in the work of the Coen brothers. While other essays have assembled several recurring visual tropes: elevators, dogs, dream sequences, bathrooms etc., this essay has the characters talk to one another across the films so we can more clearly hear the Coens’ dominant concerns: identity, miscommunication and morality. Taken as a trinity, these elements indicate that the Coens’ true subject is the search for value in a random and amoral universe.

Wednesday 17 August 2016

Video Review: 'Screenplays That Sell'

Allison Burnett is an L.A.-based novelist and screenwriter. He has written numerous Hollywood movies, involving people such as Richard Gere, Winona Ryder, Joan Chen, Heather Graham, Josh Hartnett, Diane Lane, Samuel L. Jackson, Lara Flynn Boyle, Morgan Freeman, Radha Mitchell, Kelsey Grammer, Kate Beckinsale, and former Adelaide boy Anthony LaPaglia, among many others.

I first noticed his name when I watched the romantic drama Autumn in New York on DVD, while undergoing chemotherapy back in 2007. When I heard he had released a video detailing the secrets of his amazing success, I wanted to see it.

Here's the point: Allison Burnett has written a dozen movies, including a run of seven consecutive spec scripts, every one of which sold to Hollywood. Well over 99% of all spec scripts written never sell. The odds of being in that less-than-one-per-cent that do sell, seven consecutive times, are beyond my memories of the Probability Theorem, but they would be astronomical. There has to be something more than luck at work here.

His background is that he was a theater-geek in high school, who then spent ten years writing plays, short stories and novels
in New York, while working as a high school tutor and proof-reading at a law firm. At the end of that first ten years he had earned just $100 from his writing.

He moved to L.A. in 1990 to write screenplays.

The first significant fact he tells us, in his video Screenplays That Sell, is that he didn't approach screenwriting while thinking romantically of himself as an artist; he was comparing screenwriting with proof-reading legal documents and tutoring high school kids. It was to be a business, a way of earning a living.

Soon after, he went bankrupt. Desperation brought a sharper focus. He was writing spec scripts that producers agreed were well-written, but that they refused to buy. Allison began to observe the patterns of his failures-to-sell.

In the struggle between you and the world, back the world. —Kafka
Allison Burnett and Alan Watt (LA Writers' Lab)
From there he recounts the process by which he learned the rules of How To Sell a Screenplay in Hollywood. It's a great story, well told.

Here are just a few of the pointers from the video.

  • Producers will not buy your script, if they cannot sell your script.
  • Even when a studio can make a movie for $5million, they still have to spend $35million around the world to market that film.
  • You have to write for movie stars.
  • There's no green light in the studio world without a movie star saying 'Yes.'
  • You want your lead actor to have speeches, you want them to have an Oscar clip, you want them to have big emotions, you want them to have set pieces where they can really act.
  • What's 'in' and what's 'out' changes over time, but the genre in which you choose to write is absolutely crucial. 
  • It's becoming harder to sell romantic comedy. 
  • Beware of writing anything about grownups. 
  • Spec scripts need to have a youth element.
  • Do not offend.
  • A lot of writers try to get approval and love way too early. Get the script right first.

This is a 90 minute video in which a successful spec script writer explains the things which moved him from consistent failure to consistent success. It is solid with information. I couldn't get through the entire video in a single sitting; there's too much to think about. Allison Burnett is easy to listen to: nice voice, clear diction, well organised.

The thing is, it's going to cost you US$10, give or take, depending on exchange rates, etc., to get hold of the video. I wondered why he didn't go the traditional route and turn it into a book, but that's becoming a crowded field. And there's the other question, of whether people learn better via their eyes or their ears. I do better if I can see the material written down, which is partly why I take notes. For some people, having someone tell you the information is more effective.

I recommend this video to anyone aiming to crack the Hollywood spec script market.

If it were a book, I'd say it was a steal at $10. The information is 2012 current. I was surprised by some of the things he shared on what genres are currently selling, what to avoid, how movie stars think, the difference between a star and a character actor, his theory of pitching, and (my favorite) how a writer can plunder a studio meeting.   I especially enjoyed the sense he gives of how things really unfold when writers negotiate with producers/agents/studios.

Screenplays That Sell is worthy of your time and money. Here's a short clip so you can see for yourself.

First posted:29 October 2012

Tuesday 16 August 2016

David S. Goyer - Tricks for Screenwriters

David S. Goyer has a deliciously twisted mind. (They don't call him "The Prince of Darkness" for nothing.) And he knows how to bring comic book characters and superheroes to kicking, screaming, vengeful life, as he did in The Crow: City of Angels, the Blade series, and Batman Begins. His intense Batman screenplay, written with director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia), resurrected the moribund Dark Knight franchise and confirmed his writing voice as a go-to source for a green light. Here, in this wry and surprising dialogue, Goyer reveals his tricks of the trade for how to intimidate a room full of studio executives, when to stand on principle, how to hook an actor's ego with killer character descriptions and dialogue, and why fear can pay the bills.

Monday 15 August 2016

Irish Olympic Sailing commentator

The Olympics are dead boring. Except when you have the right commentators on the job. And in that spirit, I have to say, 'Thank you' to Ireland.

Sunday 14 August 2016

Boston's poems in the rain

Boston's sidewalks are covered in secret poems you can only see when it rains.

Saturday 13 August 2016

Ask the Screenwriters

BAFTA ask a bunch of screenwriters some questions relevant to the art of screenwriting. And they come up with some great answers.

Thursday 11 August 2016

My First Job In Los Angeles - Justin Trevor Winters

Justin Trevor Winters talks about the start of his career as a screenwriter.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

Shane Black interview

You should know, but in case you don't, Shane Black is an L.A.-based screenwriter and director. He wrote Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, amongst others.

His influences as a screenwriter were Walter Hill, William Goldman and Raymond Chandler.

Here are a few Shane Black quotes:
  • Dialogue can be fun but most people don't study it.
  • The feeling of finishing the script, the first draft, was the high. Everything that followed—though of interest, and sometimes slightly exhilarating— could never match the idea of having just taken your story and racked your brain, finally having it on paper in a version you're willing to tolerate and ready to try to sell. I remember Joe Eszterhas calling me and saying, "Woo hoo! I just sold another one!" You know, there were fun times, but I didn't get into that whole money thing with Joe or the competition. It just seemed a little phony to me. Because ultimately, I like making money, but it's not exclusively what I'm trying to do. It won't make my life fulfilled. Directing comes closer than anything I've found yet to providing me with a good reason to get up in the morning that goes beyond just getting some money. Because all the money does is buy the bed. Getting out of it is the problem.
  • Books were my hiding place. The library was more comforting many times than going home after school. I would just go to the library instead. It's amazing to me that to this day, how many screenwriters or aspiring screenwriters you talk to and you say, "What do you like to read?" and they say, "Well I don't really read that much." I say, "You don't read, but you want to be a writer!?" They say, "I like movies, I just want to write movies." They don't read books. I think that's virtually an impossibility. Mostly it was being trapped in a library for any number of years finding tremendous comfort in books.
  • Unforgiven (1992) is seminal in so many ways. Whenever I write something, I'm always saying, "Oh, that's from Unforgiven. Or The Exorcist (1973). The other one that I find myself referencing—hopefully not copying, but certainly referencing—is All That Jazz (1979), which isn't even an action movie but it has such a power to it, such a melancholy. It's such a wild combination, a musical comedy about death.
  • I loved detective stories, and I devoured them. I've literally read hundreds of them. I wasn't allowed to read them when I was a kid because they were racy, so I would sneak them. I'd save my lunch money—I wouldn't eat for three days so I could buy the new Mike Shayne book, or the new Shell Scott, or Chester Drum. The racy scenes were great but I loved the mystery. There was a real kind of masculine, rough-hewn rhythm to those caper novels, and I acquired an even deeper sense of them that was emotional and powerful. If I hadn't read those stories, I wouldn't be writing movies.
  • The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) sold for just a sinful amount of money. People were angry that I took the money. People offer you $4 million for a script - what are you going to say? "No, I'd rather sell it for $100,000? But it engendered so much anger, I lost friends over it. And no one talked about the creative content of anything I did any more. They all just assumed I was this guy with a formula, a hack formula. So the spotlight was on me. I pretended it wasn't, but it was, and for every wrong reason. It was all about money, it was all about my supposed competition with Joe Eszterhas over who'd be the highest paid screenwriter. I didn't care. I just wanted to to write stories, try to become a better writer, improve my style, change genres, even try new things. I didn't like action so much any more. But I wanted out of the spotlight, so I subtracted myself for a few years. I tried to do a couple producing projects. Of course, the problem is, in getting out of the spotlight to feel safe and invisible again, I overcompensated and went too far into the darkness. And now I come back and go, "Wait, I didn't mean to go that invisible. Hey, come on, I'm here, I want my voice to be heard.

In the video which follows, Shane Black talks about the relationship between private-eye movies and westerns, catharsis, torturing yourself, making choices, and some of his personal philosophy.

First posted: 21 October 2012

Tuesday 9 August 2016

Getting Into Screenwriting - Danny Stack

The great Danny Stack talks about how he started as a screenwriter, his two top tips for reading scripts, and the importance of professional feedback. This is Part 1 of a 4 part series.

Monday 8 August 2016

"Show, Don't Tell: Visual Screenwriting" - Philip Eisner

Philip Eisner, screenwriter, talks about conveying visuals through dialogue, "writing visually" vs. "directing on the page," and "externalizing the internal" of a character on the screen.

Sunday 7 August 2016

Developing Characters - Steve Kaplan

Steve Kaplan talks about how screenwriters can develop characters.

Saturday 6 August 2016

How To Write Compelling Loglines

Loglines are a great marketing tool for screenwriters and filmmakers alike. A logline is a one to two sentence synopsis of a screenplay or film. Here are a few tips and guidlines for writing clear concise and compelling loglines from Darius Britt.

Thursday 4 August 2016

Dance of the 1000 robots

New world record in robot mass dancing.

Wednesday 3 August 2016

Steven Spielberg - advice

Here's an interesting talk by Steven Spielberg.

He tells his own story from age six, when he was living in New Jersey. It's about circuses and train wrecks and the limits of parental tolerance.

And how these things led to certain choices, and fed an appetite for collective feedback and affirmation.

First posted: 7 October 2012

Monday 1 August 2016

Coast 2 Coast

This is Pascal Heiduk's declaration of love to basketball.