It's important to utilize consultants and their expertise as often as you're able. There are experts in this field of screenwriting and their knowledge of how a script breaks down and what creates an entertaining piece of media is priceless. It's necessary to test out each consultant in order to see if their individual process works for you, however they each have something quite invaluable to add to the screenwriting process. In today's live podcast, I spoke with Jeff Kitchen. Jeff has been one of the top screenwriting teachers in the film industry for twenty years, and is a sought-after script consultant. He worked as a dramaturg and taught playwriting in the New York theater scene at the outset of his career, and is the author of Writing a Great Movie: Key Tools for Successful Screenwriting. Jeff has taught development executives from all of the major Hollywood studios and they consistently say that he teaches the most advanced development tools in the film industry.
We specifically talk about layering your story so that you understand the CONFLICT that occurs throughout your story. Even though we use the word "plot" quite a bit in this interview, it's necessary to remember that conflict is always character driven. Dramatic action is always character driven. The story stakes are raised due to the dramatic action TAKEN by the character. You can't have plot without character, but Jeff was also careful to note that "plot", in this sense, is not the same as the general industry usage of the term "plot". Plot, by way of Jeff's definition, is much more related to the conflict and drama that occurs due to the characters' motivations, needs, wants, desires, etc. By first exploring the very specific yet broad action that occurs from scene to scene and sequence to sequence (and through his reverse cause and effect technique), you will be able to see how that character evolves through the so-called plot because of the actions that character takes. This is all done without needing to write the actual script pages. It is instead layered throughout the outlining process. It's all connected.
There is an immense amount of material in this live podcast recording, and we hope you have a pen and paper handy. You can find out more about Jeff at his website DevelopmentHeaven.com, and we thank you for taking part in the ISA's Curious About Screenwriting Podcast. We have an exciting new year ahead of us, and we look forward to supplying you with quality content and material. Thanks and enjoy the interview.
Historical fiction will always be a challenge for writers since your audience walks into your story with expectations sometimes centuries in the making. Most, if not all, of your characters may have died years ago, some of them so famously that your audience already has opinions on how they looked, acted, and spoke. I spoke with Giacomo della Quercia about this very issue, among many other strictly dialogue-related challenges. It's the first live podcast that we've have hosted where we focus primarily on dialogue and how best to deliver the words on the page.
We packed this hour and a half with answers to questions such as, How do you live up to the expectations of writing for historical or famous characters while also being true to yourself as a writer? And what can a writer do to research such historical figures in order to remain accurate?
We tackled these questions, plus many more, with the writer, educator, and historian. Della Quercia is a scholar for the New York Council for the Humanities and a novelist for St. Martin's Press. His novels have been praised by museums, historians, and literary critics for his profound use of history. And his Cracked.com articles are also among the most widely-read on the Internet. He was an impressive guest to have on and his insights on dialogue and research are priceless.
You should check out Giacomo and his newly released book, "License To Quill" - a James Bond-esque spy thriller starring William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlow during history's real-life, Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot. You can find what Kirkus calls, "An erudite tour de force" at all major booksellers and, as always, you can find our Curious About Screenwriting podcast on iTunes or through our website via the Resources section of the homepage. Enjoy the interview, and cheers to a successful 2016.
Whether you love him or hate him, Quentin Tarantino isn't going anywhere. And, truly, his style and filmic attitude is stronger than ever. In the most recent installment of The ISA's Page 2 Screen podcast, Jeff York brings on ISA Development Program writer, and recent Nicholl Fellowship quarterfinalist, Kent Williams, to break down Tarantino's eighth film, The Hateful 8.
Kent and Jeff discuss how the film could be considered old school in a number of key ways. It was shot on film and is being shown in select theaters throughout the country on 70 millimeter. It plays like a cross between the classic dramatists John Ford and Agatha Christie. And he even persuaded Ennio Morricone, the legendary Italian film composer to do his first original film score in years. Yet, because it's Tarantino, it has that unmistakable dialogue and violence that he's so famous for. Jeff and Kent agree that it does manage to be both honoring the old westerns, as well as playing around with their tropes and conventions.
Tarantino films are always fun to debate and review, because rarely are they loved across the board. So listen in to two of your fellow writers tackle the not-so-lovable Tarantino and his Hateful 8. For more information on the ISA's Development Program, stay tuned throughout the early spring of 2016. We have some very exciting news to share, and look forward to growing the program as we move through the new year.
The ISA's Page 2 Screen podcast is gaining in popularity! It's the height of the movie-going season with the Oscars in full force, so in today's podcast interview, Jeff York chats with ISA up and comer, Farahday Morgan, about the Eddie Redmayne starrer, The Danish Girl.
Jeff and Farahday break the movie down to its essentials, and say that while it has received four Oscar nominations, the story of Einer Wegener, the 1920's Copenhagen artist who became one of the first sex reassignment patients, struggles to fully illuminate the woman inside the man. But they do comment that Alicia Vikander, who plays Grace, Wegener's wife, truly deserves not only her Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, but that she is the more fully realized character on screen.
We're loving these reviews, and from the ongoing feedback of our listeners, so are you! So feel free to share these podcasts with your friends, and we're happy to hear what you personally thought of The Danish Girl. Filmmaking is an art form, and every art form is up to personal debate and opinion - we would love to hear yours. So follow the ISA on Twitter. Find Jeff York @JeffYorkWriter as well, and let us know how we're doing! More quality content is on the way, and 2016 is shaping up to be a big year for The International Screenwriters' Association.
Andrew talks about his new indy art house drama, 45 Years.
Dan talks about his days working as a development executive and how he transitioned over to being a screenwriter.
As I was watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it occurred to me that in many ways, this movie is just a rewrite of Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back with a little spattering of Return of the Jedi splashed in there.
And like any effective rewrite, the structure and the approach of Star Wars: The Force Awakens focuses on two vital concepts: Compression and Amplification.
Compression begins with identifying the very best elements of your early draft, and cutting out all the boring, average, or even good stuff in between, so that you're left with only the very best of the best.
And Amplification is about "turning up the volume" on those vital elements, visualizing them even more closely, exploring them even more deeply, and pushing them even further than you knew they could go.
On a creative level, this brings the essence of your script to the surface, allowing you to get right to the heart of what really matters, without distracting yourself, or your audience, with all that stuff in between.
On a commercial level, this makes every page a heck of a lot more compelling to read (and worthy of the thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars it's going to take to shoot each line you write).
But most importantly, on a story level, this means you can tell more of your story faster, allowing you to take your character, your audience, and even yourself further than they (and you) were expecting when you first sat down to write.
In this way (and in true Star Wars fashion), rewriting isn't just a mechanical process of making your script better or following a bunch of suggestions from coverage readers or producers. It's also a spiritual journey towards connecting with yourself and with your voice as a writer.
It's interesting that The Force Awakens came to the theatres just as we were talking about the concept of "The Engine" of so many successful TV series on this podcast. Because every movie also has an engine. And once you've identified that engine, both structurally and thematically, the process of compression, and amplification, and revision, becomes much easier.
What the heck is a TV Series Bible anyway? How do you write one? And why do you need one?
The truth is, the idea of a Show Bible, as many people talk about it today, is total fiction. But like many fictional ideas, it's become a reality that we now need to deal with as TV writers.
If you ask Jerry Perzigian, who teaches our TV Comedy Classes, he'll tell you that in his entire thirty-some year career as a showrunner on The Jeffersons, The Golden Girls, Married With Children, and about a dozen other hit shows, he never once made a bible.
Wondering if it's different in TV Drama? Ask former Showtime Executive and Pulitzer Prize nominated writer Steve Molton, who teaches our TV Drama classes, and he'll tell you the same thing.
In fact, on these shows the bible's weren't made by the writers at all. The show bibles were made by the assistants. And only after the show was up and running for a good long time, when the old staff writers were moving on, and the new staff writers started coming in to replace them.
Since new writers joining the writers room likely wouldn't have had a chance to see every episode, and even if they had, they certainly wouldn't know them in the same detail as the original staff who wrote them,the assistants would compile old episodes into a document which could be given to new writers on the staff. It was a quick way to acquaint them with what had already been done, what will never be done, the kinds of things that generally happen in an episode, and the rules of the show that make the show's engine run.They called this document The Show Bible.
What ended up happening was, people who weren't in the industry or had never worked in television (the people who all too often end up teach TV and screenwriting classes) started to hear about this thing called a bible, and realized there was money to be made teaching people how to write bibles. So a whole new field of TV Writing teaching bubbled up about creating your Show Bible.
At the time this started, it was especially ridiculous,because at that time you couldn't even sell a pilot unless you were already showrunner. You could really get someone to read a spec episode for an existing TV show, and hope that it got you staffed on this show. But you could never get anyone to read a pilot from a new writer in those days.
So, this was craziness. But in an interesting example of the tail wagging the dog, what happened next was that festivals started popping up for TV Writing. And hearing about this thing called a bible that everyone was talking about, a lot of them started to require writers to submit a bible along with their show.
To me this is a fascinating example of having festivals who are run by people not in the industry, who are getting their information from teachers who are not in the industry. And somehow that all coming together to change the actual industry!
Because it's gotten to a point where now a big change is happening in the industry. And,this is actually a very exciting change, as far as I'm concerned. Today, producers, agents and managers are asking for pilots. They're excited to sell pilots, because we're having a renaissance in TV Writing right now, and there are a lot of new markets with Amazon, and Netflix, and other internet based networks with a huge demand for content in television.
Suddenly, we're finding ourselves in a market where we're not only seeing great writing is happening in Television, but also a market in which you can sell a pilot, or get staffed on a show based on a pilot, even if you don't have showrunning experience.
Agents, managers and producers who used to insist on spec episodes for existing shows, are starting to ask for these original pilots instead. And along with them, they're actually asking for Show Bibles.
So, it's an interesting situation in which something that completely fictional turned into something that was real. Where the teachers and the festivals, many of whom didn't even know what they were talking about, actually changed the industry.
When it comes to creating a bible for your original pilot,it's important to remember that bibles are bullshit. That in the real world of Television as it's existed for generations, you would never make up a bible at random, before you'd even written a single episode. That a bible is supposed to develop naturally from producing a show for years, until you get to a point where you've got to bring new writers on, and you need a shorthand for explaining it to them. So, in that context, when a producer asks you for a bible for your brand new show, what are they actually asking for?
I recently had the pleasure of talking to producer, Blye Faust - it was a great way to kick off the new year with not only an informative and inspiring interview, but to focus on a producer who found a story about writers and felt the need to tell it. Because at the heart of her movie, Spotlight, is a story about investigative journalists following their instincts, believing in the story they were telling, and the "why' such a story needed to be told. The obvious moral implications of "Spotlight" are numerous, but I love that the film is more focused on the now rare art of investigative journalism. Her film could have very easily swung toward the shocking and the extreme (and in case you don't know yet, Spotlight focuses on the devastating news story about the rampant child abuse issues inside the Catholic church), but Spotlight didn't go that route. In this interview we discuss her journey of bringing Spotlight to life, and get her invaluable advice for aspiring producers and filmmakers even beyond her Spotlight journey.
It's a new year, and with the calendar flipping over, the ISA is motivated and determined to bring you the most helpful and supportive content in the industry - not just through our podcast series, but by way of individually supporting writers. There are so many exciting things happening with the ISA, and I myself am thrilled to be a part of it. We're very thankful that Blye was able to take some time out of her busy award season schedule, and we're all cheering her on as 2016 begins. Stay tuned to all things ISA through our website, or via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook - there are plenty of ways to stay in touch, so we urge you to do so. You can find me on the same social media channels as well as I look forward to my novel's release in April - and yes, that is a little plug of self-promotion.
Thanks for listening, everyone, and we're excited to get 2016 started. Enjoy the interview and happy new year.