“The Post,” fake news, democracy, and the war on journalism

Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep don’t always see eye-to-eye in “The Post.”

As a former newspaper reporter, I was happy to see “The Post” fast-tracked to production and wide release. Director Steven Spielberg has said the urgency was a direct reaction to the Trump presidency, but, from a screenwriting and journalistic perspective, the film resonates beyond cinematic confines. It speaks to the core problems plaguing the media today, and reminds us why democracy is at risk. Continue reading ““The Post,” fake news, democracy, and the war on journalism”

The best comedy writing starts with characters

Anna Chlumsky and Julia Louise-Dreyfus in "Veep."
Anna Chlumsky does her best to manage Julia Louise-Dreyfus in “Veep.”

Given the many flavors of comedy and personal taste, is it even possible to create something that is universally funny?

The Writers Guild of America’s list of the 101 funniest scripts ever written may be more definitive for some than others, but, if nothing else, the list reflects how broad comic appeal can be.

While the top five films appear to have little in common, at the heart of each lie shared elements of Continue reading “The best comedy writing starts with characters”

Censorship, net neutrality, and preserving the Internet

Online activist Aaron Swartz fought online censorship, championed an open Internet.

One week into the Trump Administration, did you ever think you’d be associating the phrase “rogue twitter accounts” with the U.S. National Park Service, NASA, and numerous other Federal agencies? In this odd new world, the free exchange of ideas once again is under attack. And with changes coming to the Federal Communications Commission, so, too, is net neutrality. Continue reading “Censorship, net neutrality, and preserving the Internet”

Humor for ‘unpresidented’ times: Political comedy “Dick”

Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Williams, Dan Hedaya (Photo by Phoenix Pictures/Getty Images)
Giddy teens Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams, with Dan Hedaya as Richard Nixon (Photo by Phoenix Pictures/Getty Images).

While it may be difficult to find humor in these “unpresidented” times, the last thing you may be in the mood for is a “political” film recommendation, but “Dick” is no ordinary political film. Continue reading “Humor for ‘unpresidented’ times: Political comedy “Dick””

Revealing key backstory in compelling fashion — Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Chekov caught in the wrath of KhanTo this day “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is widely revered for many good reasons — among them Ricardo Montalban’s memorable performance as well as a certain plot twist at the end — but in this post I’ll focus on the genius of the film’s second sequence and what screenwriters can learn from the well-executed screenplay by Jack B. Sowards. What makes a sequence filled with exposition set primarily in a confined space so dramatic and compelling? Continue reading “Revealing key backstory in compelling fashion — Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”

Indiana Jones and — the Story Development Transcript!

Harrison Ford and Karen AllenGrab a seat at the table with George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan during their 1978 story development conference sessions for “Raiders of the Lost Ark and the memorable characters who help and hinder Indiana Jones. As Lucas initially describes Indy: “He is an archeologist and an anthropologist. A Ph.D. He’s a doctor, he’s a college professor. What happened is, he’s also a sort of rough and tumble guy. But Continue reading “Indiana Jones and — the Story Development Transcript!”

Required reading — and listening — from Stephen Tobolowsky

You most likely remember him as Ned Ryerson from the brilliantly original “Groundhog Day” — bing! — but gifted actor Stephen Tobolowsky also happens to be among the world’s premiere storytellers, and if you are as yet unfamiliar with his increasingly famous Tobolowsky Files podcast, get familiar, now, before something happens to you. Continue reading “Required reading — and listening — from Stephen Tobolowsky”

Screenwriting setups and payoffs are best as cause and effect

Invariably the best and most entertaining films are dense with clever-yet-subtle setups and payoffs, and “War Games is a great case study in this respect because many of its payoffs not only are setups for more payoffs, but shift the plot in new entertaining directions. What results is a classic cause-and-effect structure that seamlessly Continue reading “Screenwriting setups and payoffs are best as cause and effect”

How to introduce your main character

How you introduce your main character not only affects how the audience perceives your character, but, more importantly, whether the audience is likely to be emotionally engaged with your character, and, therefore, your story. Without that engagement, your story is dead because Continue reading “How to introduce your main character”

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