No, data cannot help you write a better screenplay

TypewriterWalt Hickey’s recent FiveThirtyEight blog post, “How Data Can Help You Write A Better Screenplay,” is flawed on so many levels, the key one being predictive analytics does not apply to screenwriting. Why not? Because, first and foremost, the screenplay is a blueprint for a film, and the process of interpreting text to a visual medium reflects a collaborative effort with multiple unpredictable variables — most notably, people: actors, directors, producers, editors, cinematograhpers, sound technicians, more writers, set designers, etc. Continue reading “No, data cannot help you write a better screenplay”

Why Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black deserve Emmys

Tatiana Maslany's HelenaYou already may have heard the outcry over the BBC America hit show, Orphan Black, not receiving any Emmy nominations, and I concur; Orphan Black has great writing, is well cast and very well acted, and has a high production value — all of which equate to compelling episodes week after week. So why no Emmy noms? Who knows, but my reason for taking to the soapbox in support can be condensed into one scene from this past season’s finale: the dancing clones. Continue reading “Why Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black deserve Emmys”

10 — no, 11! — reasons aspiring screenwriters must study screenwriting

10 -- no, 11! -- reasons to study screenwritingYeah, you’ve been writing since grade one or earlier. In college you pulled all-nighters effortlessly pounding out A-grade term papers. Your friends all trust your extraordinary proofing skills. So why bother learning screenwriting when you already know how to write well? Speaking from experience, I can think of a few reasons why studying screenwriting is critical to your success: Continue reading “10 — no, 11! — reasons aspiring screenwriters must study screenwriting”

Changing scene values and competing agendas

When you see an interesting scene in a film it immediately registers because by its end something about the story and characters is radically different–or at least the foundation has been laid to disrupt the world of the story that existed up until that scene.

Additionally, the scene itself likely had many ups and downs, wreaking emotional havoc for the characters. A scene that began in a positive way for a character likely did not end that way, and vice versa, or somewhere in between. The point being something altered the story’s landscape. Continue reading “Changing scene values and competing agendas”

Script coverage: a checklist to RECOMMEND – Part 2

script coverage at the BBC readers roomFollowing up on part one of the “checklist to RECOMMEND,” listed below are key coverage checklist items that, if well executed, will help you avoid the problems with more than 95 percent of the scripts out there. Remember, you are competing with established screenwriters as well as other up-and-comers, so what can you do to get your script closer to RECOMMEND? Continue reading “Script coverage: a checklist to RECOMMEND – Part 2”

Script coverage: a checklist to RECOMMEND – Part 1

Script coverage: checklist to RecommendScreenplay “coverage” and “analysis” tend to be used interchangeably, but there’s one key distinction:

  • Script coverage helps producers make business decisions; whereas,
  • An industry-level analysis of your screenplay helps you improve material before submitting to producers and screenwriting contests.

Additionally, coverage reports actually are more objective than subjective; therefore it’s important to understand how your writing affects coverage and the steps you can take to get your screenplay recommended to producers. Continue reading “Script coverage: a checklist to RECOMMEND – Part 1”

SMASH CUT TO: Another lame transition

Smash cut to a lame transitionScreenwriters are always told to write visually because film is a visual medium, and “SMASH CUT TO” somehow has emerged as a “technique” to convey a sudden cut to a new scene. As Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock would say — actually, he would rightfully dismiss you with, perhaps, a glare, if even that, and move on to higher intellectual ground, where you should be, because SMASH CUT TO, if anything, actually will get in the way of the dramatic transition effect for which you poorly are attempting to compensate. The key to a dramatically effective transition from one scene to the next stems not from terminology, but instead from Continue reading “SMASH CUT TO: Another lame transition”

Recommended comedy book: “The Hidden Tools of Comedy” by Steve Kaplan

Hidden Tools of Comedy by Steve KaplanComedy is the most challenging genre for one simple reason: what is funny to one person is not necessarily funny to another. But that doesn’t make it impossible to write a humorous film or sitcom, because if you understand the foundation of comic situations you can inject humor into whatever it is you’re writing, regardless of genre, especially if you read Steve Kaplan’s The Hidden Tools of Comedy: The Serious Business of Being Funny. Kaplan is a long-time comedy consultant in the entertainment industry who successfully has distilled his transferable knowledge into what is one of the best comedy books available. Continue reading “Recommended comedy book: “The Hidden Tools of Comedy” by Steve Kaplan”

What do you want to know about script coverage?

Tim Robbins in The PlayerMy alma mater, TheFilmSchool, has asked me to speak about script coverage and analysis and how screenwriters can improve their chances to receive a “Recommend” (Tues., Aug. 6), and to help me organize the discussion I thought I’d put the question to you: What exactly do you want to know about coverage?

Script coverage — a story analysis for producers that often includes grades of “Pass,” “Consider” or “Recommend” — is a critical step in helping producers determine whether a story is worth their investment of time and money. Likewise, coverage helps agents Continue reading “What do you want to know about script coverage?”

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”