Wednesday 29 November 2017

Thanks for all the laughs, guys

I've fought, I've struggled, I've laughed at it all, but I just got home from my longest straight stretch in hospital, and it's time to admit I've run out of puff.

I won't bore you with details. It's just "Thanks," and see you on the rebound.

All the best,

Henry Sheppard

Thursday 23 November 2017

"Alice's Restaurant"

Woody Guthrie was a folk singer from Oklahoma, who wrote protest songs during the Dust Bowl era of Okie migration to California. Woody had a son called Arlo Guthrie, who wrote protest songs during the Vietnam conscription era. One of his songs, one that cheered me through high school back in the late 1960s, was Alice's Restaurant. I had the LP and I played it a lot.

One aspect of the song which failed to leave a lasting impression on me is the fact that it is a Thanksgiving song. Probably because we don't have Thanksgiving in Australia and I was never quite sure of the significance.

Now it all started two Thanksgivings ago, was on - two years ago on Thanksgiving, when my friend and I went up to visit Alice at the restaurant...
Anyway, it has become a tradition in the USA for classic rock stations to play Alice's Restaurant, in full, on Thanksgiving. I say "in full" because the song runs for 18 minutes. A four minute version was released as a single, but, hey, why bother?

So here it is, a Thanksgiving present to us all.

IMDb    Website    Wikipedia

First posted: 30 November 2013

Monday 20 November 2017

Ken Burns on Story

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

First posted: 30 September 2014

Sunday 19 November 2017

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 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!

First posted: 28 September 2014

Saturday 18 November 2017

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.

First posted: 26 September 2014

Friday 17 November 2017

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.

First posted: 24 September 2014

Thursday 16 November 2017

"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:

First posted: 23 September 2014

Wednesday 15 November 2017

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. 

First posted: 22 September 2014

Tuesday 14 November 2017

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.

First posted: 19 September 2014

Monday 13 November 2017

Susannah Grant: Screenwriters Lecture

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

First posted: 16 September 2014

Sunday 12 November 2017

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.

First posted: 14 September 2014

Thursday 9 November 2017

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."

First posted: 13 September 2014

Wednesday 8 November 2017

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.

First posted: 12 September 2014

Tuesday 7 November 2017

Brian Helgeland: Screenwriters Lecture

Writer Brian Helgeland (42, Robin Hood, Green Zone, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Man on Fire, Mystic River, A Knight's Tale, Conspiracy Theory, Payback, L.A. Confidential) explains what it feels like to win an Oscar and a Razzie on the same weekend, why he thinks writer's block is a myth, and reveals Clint Eastwood's unique powers of persuasion.

First posted: 9 September 2014

Monday 6 November 2017

How to Write a Logline

Writing a logline is a vital part of the screenwriting process and one of the most effective ways of selling your script. A logline is the essence of your screenplay (character, want, and obstacle) written in a clear, concise and creative way - ideally between 20-30 words.

In this video, Michael Schilf uses the Oscar award-winning film, Argo, as an example.

After watching this video, continue on to their website for more instruction and hundreds of examples.

First posted: 6 September 2014

Sunday 5 November 2017

Advice on writing - Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut was an American writer. His works such as Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Breakfast of Champions blend satire, gallows humor, and science fiction. He was a lifelong supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union and a critical pacifist intellectual. He was known for his humanist beliefs and was honorary president of the American Humanist Association.

Here are Kurt Vonnegut’s eight basic rules of writing:
  • Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

  • Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

  • Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

  • Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.

  • Start as close to the end as possible.

  • Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

  • Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

  • Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

First posted: 5 September 2014

Saturday 4 November 2017

Friday 3 November 2017

'The Big Chill' - Heard It Through the Grapevine

This clip is the opening sequence to Lawrence Kasdan's The Big Chill (1983). Thirty years on the cast look incredibly young. The dead body being dressed by the undertakers belongs to Kevin Costner, who was edited out of the film due, I suspect, to time constraints.

First posted: 1 September 2014

Thursday 2 November 2017

Richard Curtis: Screenwriters Lecture

Richard Curtis (About Time, War Horse, The Boat That Rocked, Love Actually, Bridget Jones's Diary, Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral) delivers the last of the 2013 screenwriting lectures for BAFTA, in which he discusses style, inspiration and creative control.

First posted: 26 August 2014

Wednesday 1 November 2017

Coen Brothers and Roger Deakins

Coen Brothers and Roger Deakins have worked together on a lot of films. Here is a tribute to that work, with some of the greatest shots of their filmography.

First posted: 14 August 2014

Tuesday 31 October 2017

Joss Whedon talks about screenwriting

Here's a three-part interview with Joss Whedon, recorded by BAFTA.

Part 1:
The creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer explains how writing became his "favourite thing ever." He was working in a video store, finished up on a Friday and started the following Monday as a staff writer.

Part 2:
How did Joss Whedon bring together all the Marvel superheroes? And why does he come up with his funniest lines at funerals? Find out in our second Whedon interview!

Part 3:
In our final part, Whedon talks about the challenges of directing, how he "treats film like the military" and his advice to new filmmakers. 

First posted: 23 August 2014

Monday 30 October 2017

David S. Goyer: Screenwriters Lecture

David S. Goyer (Man of Steel, The Dark Knight Rises, The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Blade, Dark City) discusses his first script, writing for TV and why persistence pays off.

First posted: 19 August 2014

Sunday 29 October 2017

How a boy became an artist

Jarrett J. Krosoczka is a children's book author and illustrator who created the Lunch Lady series of graphic novels - and he has a powerful story of his own.

The child of a single-parent heroin addict, he was brought up by his grandparents, and his best friends, he says, were characters in books. 

His story about how he became an artist and an author was performed at TEDx. It's a powerful tale of the importance of creativity and imagination. 

Watch it, and keep a box of Kleenex handy.

First posted: 15 August 2014

Saturday 28 October 2017

The J.F.K. Assassination: A Cast of Characters

A trove of documents about the killing of President John F. Kennedy is about to be released. For those too young to remember: The New York Times Peter Baker walks us through who’s who in this American tragedy.

Friday 27 October 2017

Jacques Tati - The runaway bicycle

Here's an extract from the 1949 film by Jacques Tati, Jour de Fête. The runaway bicycle segment of the film is sometimes described as an homage to the 1926 Buster Keaton film, The General, which deals with a runaway train. 
   In Jour de Fête, Tati is a postman who struggles to complete his rounds due to the generosity of the villagers who ply him with wine at every stop. A similar scene occurs in the 2008 film Welcome to the Sticks when Philippe Abrams, a post office administrator, tries to set an example of efficiency for his postman.
   Meanwhile, this extract shows a Chaplinesque exercise with a bicycle.

First posted: 12 August 2014

Thursday 26 October 2017


At the end of his greatest adventure, Skillman has vanquished his nemesis, recovered the priceless artifact, and saved his latest lover from certain doom. But as he struggles to figure out what comes next, his lady begins to realize her confident, capable man hasn't the first clue what to do once the guns are down.

First posted: 11 August 2014

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Story vs Plot

Jon Favreau interviewing Martin Scorsese for the third season of Dinner for Five - in this excerpt Jon asks him about story versus plot in filmmaking.

First posted: 10 August 2014

Tuesday 24 October 2017

5 Things I Learned About Selling Films from Selling Fashion on eBay

The following article, written by Tina Poppy, first appeared on Ted Hope's blog. A former Director of Development at a film non-profit, Tina currently consults on gender-related issues within the film community. She earned her Master’s degree in Humanities from the University of Chicago and founded as a successful commerce vintage clothing boutique in 2004.

If you asked me how I came to the film world and I told you I essentially started by selling vintage clothing on eBay, you would probably think I answered the wrong question. This myopic line of thinking is exactly why you might think it’s hard to make, sell, and distribute a film. When I started selling on eBay 10 years ago, it was like the Wild Wild West – there were no instruction manuals or established models for success. I was trying to figure out how to sell something that my customers couldn’t touch or feel (or even see that well, as I still had no idea how to operate a camera).

The new world of independent film is looking more and more like this uncharted territory everyday. With existing consumption patterns becoming outdated, crowdfunding emerging as the new normal, and myriad new digital distribution models developing, there’s really no *one* right way to get your film made, sold, or seen.

Here are five things I learned from selling on eBay that might help:


Whatever your limitations – be they time, budget, or resources – consider them guideposts towards focusing on what you have the ability to control. Having too many choices can paralyze the decision-making process. Working with the resources you have available rather than focusing on the “if only” of what you think you need will help funnel your efforts in an efficient way. Work with what you’ve got. Decide, and move forward.

When I first started selling clothing, I made a game of it with myself. I would take $20 to the local thrift store, fill up my cart with cool things, then figure out which few things would allow me to turn my $20 into more than $20. That attitude resulted in buying a dress for $5 that sold at auction for $750. We shouldn’t always be cheapskates, but it’s helpful to consider that great things can be accomplished with very little.


The crumbling parts of the film industry suffer from a severe case of narrow-mindedness. Clinging to the way the industry has historically worked isn’t as helpful as observing even minor successes in the current landscape. If you can neutrally observe what works and what doesn’t in terms of presenting your film, you might uncover creative solutions and be able to make changes more fluidly.

When selling online, I would maintain some regularity to how and when I would list items for sale, but within that framework I would make small changes to the way I photographed and described items weekly. I tried listing auctions on different times and different days of the week, changed my vocabulary, used more or less enthusiastic punctuation, etc. You can definitely overdo it and never realize what’s really helping, but if you observe and explore, small modifications can make a huge difference.


Forget “friend rates” and working for free. If you pay people a decent fee for their work, they’ll be invested in your work. You’ll gain their support both during the project and after, when you’ll need people posting on social media and helping promote your film.

The first freelance photo editor I hired was also one of my best friends. But as a freelancer she went where the money was, so after deciding on a friend rate, I found she’d place my work squarely at the bottom of her to do list. After angrily deciding we couldn’t work together, we took a break, spoke a few months later, decided on a reasonable fee, and we’ve been co-existing as friends and colleagues ever since.


Part of what bothers me about overdependence on CGI is that I’m a real, live person. And while anthropomorphized robots as a concept *sounds* humanistic, the requisite visual perfection of CGI somewhat dismantles our ability to feel for Optimus Prime in the same way we might for R2D2. Feeling for, relating to, and caring about characters engages your audience. Engagement breeds attachment not just for the characters themselves but for the film itself and consequently for you as its creator. So just as you would develop a character for a film, you can develop the character *of* the film. Personality and engagement matters across every level and at every step.

When I was first figuring out how to photograph and present clothing online, I used a cheap half-mannequin barely resembling a body – it was more of a hanging triangle. Clothing would droop on it like some sad sack. Clipping a dress to make it look more shapely helped slightly, but ultimately a human body became necessary. At first, I’d crop my head and feet out of the photos as unnecessary, but I quickly realized people responded more to my face than to anything. My face isn’t special, but it’s more memorable than a hanging triangle, and when you see it every day you will likely respond to it if for no other reason than it’s familiar to you. Give your project an identity, a face, a character – someone human to respond to.


Everyone who has a stake in anything online talks about content. As filmmakers, you have a stake in the online world because that’s where your audience begins (and ends!). You can create content before and beyond your film, and you can share it online in an accessible and engaging format. Constant, creative digital marketing will help build the community that will bolster your projects.

After realizing I had become a digital representation of my brand of vintage clothing, I began developing a personal online presence through every available platform. Social media often seemed like a colossal waste of time – if you’re anything like me, you admonish yourself for spending too much time on social media as though it’s time that could be better spent “working,” i.e. contributing to the bottom line and focusing on “getting things done.” But I found then, as I do now more than ever, that even seemingly trivial interactions with people online can forge connections, relationships, and a larger sense of community that’s indispensable to everything I want to create.

Etsy    Facebook    Instagram    IMDb    LinkedIn    Twitter    Website

First posted: 7 August 2014