In this interview, I welcomed one of my favorite people. It was a blast talking with DJ, and he spent more time with me than my usual guests do. It's just a testament to his attitude and willingness to inspire.
D.J. MacHale is a writer, director, executive producer and creator of several popular television series and movies. As an author, his ten-volume book series: PENDRAGON: JOURNAL OF AN ADVENTURE THROUGH TIME AND SPACE became a New York Times #1 bestseller. D.J. attended New York University where he received a BFA in film production and began his filmmaking career in New York where he worked as a freelance writer/director making corporate videos and television commercials. But MacHale broke into the entertainment business by writing several ABC AFTERSCHOOL SPECIALS. Putting him on the map was his work as co-creator of the popular Nickelodeon series in 90's called, ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? He produced all 91 episodes over the 8 years that show was on the air - seriously impressive. D.J. also wrote and directed the movie TOWER OF TERROR for ABC's WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY which starred Kirsten Dunst and Steve Guttenberg.
"Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice" doesn't do any justice to DC comics.
It may be the first ginormous tent pole film of 2016, but "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice" bores and depresses when it should soar as high as the guy in the red cape. Director Zack Snyder's misbegotten sequel to his 2013 film makes too many of the same mistakes that his origins story did. "Man of Steel" was dark, dank and spent a lot of screen time and dollars on the destruction of Metropolis. Same here, only now he pairs Superman (Henry Cavill) with the Dark Knight (Ben Affleck) and their battle is even moodier and more brutal.
What should be rollicking entertainment is instead too long, too serious, and a downer from first scene to last. The movie also shoehorns in way too much story with multiple villains, Metropolis and Gotham settings, and the set-up of the DC characters who'll star in next year's "Justice League." Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman is the one saving grace here, providing a breath of feminist fresh air to counter all the testosterone. Snyder and his accomplished screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer struggle to make their clash of titans meaningful, logical and cogent. It may slay at the box office, but this superhero movie just doesn't fly.
So you’re rumbling along on a road trip with your girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse, whatever. Let’s just set that stage for a second. You’ve been on the road for a few hours. The high and excitement of hitting the open road has kind of dwindled, though there is still some eagerness there…but you’re starting to get annoyed by your girlfriend’s choice in music, maybe a little bickering over which highway to take or which hotel to stay in that night. Nothing really bad or enough to have the two of you decide to never speak to each other again, but…there has been a few sideways glances and increases in the volume of the radio in order to drown out the other person. You’ve just finished up sequence 4 of your trip! You’ve hit a couple setbacks – maybe you hit some snow in Iowa or heavy rain that you didn’t expect. Maybe even a flat tire forced you to stop at a gas station or something, but you’ve plowed through. You’ve gone through it together, helping and assisting each other. The trip is building toward something, even though you don’t quite know what yet (and I don’t mean the final destination). There is a level tension at the very least and you’re realizing that if you continue to bicker, if you continue to dwell on the flat tire, that you’ve actually fixed, the trip will be disaster…it’s time to move forward and move forward together. Whether it’s a conscious choice or not, you both know this to be true.
You’re easing into sequence 5 of your trip. And sequence 5 is the topic of today’s episode, and like I said in the previous episode, sequence 5 is kind of a continuation of sequence 4, but with a very important distinction.
The stories that last forever have certain things in common. Mythic Themes and ArchePaths.
In this recorded teleconference with script consultant, mythologist, author, and screenwriter Pamela Jaye Smith you’ll see how you can follow classic Mythic Themes yet maintain your own personal style. You’ll also gain a powerful paradigm for writing stand-out, yet globally relevant characters using the ArchePaths of the Warrior, Clergy, Scientist, Magician, and Lover. Hosted by the ISA's, Max Timm.
Writers strive for originality. Producers always ask for "something different, something new"... yet keep making and remaking the same stories. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. What makes the difference? What stories are the biggest hits and become classics? The ones that tap into the timeless myths - those captivating, meaningful stories we keep telling ourselves throughout the ages.
Are you stuck on that Hero's Journey? Your story not fit that pattern? Then you're probably not telling that story. That's okay. There are dozens of other powerful Mythic Themes: The Wakeup Call, Lost Love Rescued, Search for the Promised Land, Don't Ask - Don't Tell, Stealing Fire From Heaven, and many more. Learn how to align your inspiration with one of these classic themes understood around the world, and still maintain your own personal style.
Sometimes subtext just doesn't do it. Use the 3 Mythic Statements of Theme, Mission, and Lesson to create memorable, quotable lines.
Want to write characters actors want to portray? Use the ArchePaths of the Warrior, Clergy, Scientist, Magician, and Lover to craft dynamic, believable characters. Learn the hopes, fears, strengths, weaknesses, styles and more that guide each Path. With 3 levels and 3 approaches of each Path, there are plenty of combinations to keep your characters unique and provide dramatic conflict within their relationships and situations.
Use the Mythic Themes and ArchePaths to tap into our collective unconscious and create what we all yearn for in stories: familiarity and surprise. The familiarity comes from using these inherent universal patterns. The surprise comes from telling the stories and crafting the characters with your own unique style and vision.
And, these rich resources can also help you adapt all aspects of your storylines and characters for multiple platforms: features, TV series, webisodes, mobile games, graphic novels, fan-generated stories, and - who knows what's next?
As an added bonus, you can find insights into your own ArchePath and your own personal myths.
Proving the promise of your premise - fun and games - trials and tests:
Imagine that I'm planning a trip. I'm headed to a place like London, or Paris, or Edinburgh (all places that I would love to visit, by the way). I select the dates, I pack accordingly, I have a hotel reserved, the flight is taken care of. The usual stuff we do when planning a trip. Any of those three places, for me anyway, hold some semblance of familiarity for me. The English language is prevalent in each of those cities, though I would happily try and remember what I learned in my high school French class when going to Paris. All three cities are culturally similar in most ways to what I'm used to here in the US, and I basically know what to expect before visiting.
Now imagine that I'm sitting quietly in my living room, maybe watching an episode of House of Cards and hating Frank Underwood more and more every minute, and suddenly my front door bursts open, three men wearing black suits and sunglasses grab me, put a bag over my head, force me into their car, shove some sleeping pills down my throat and...the next thing I know, I wake up in the middle of a crowded street in Beijing.
I've heard Beijing is a beautiful city. I've heard that the Asian culture is amazing and something that everyone should experience...but compare this trip to the one I had previously described. The trip I would have taken to, say, London. Not only is this Beijing trip unplanned and, to put it lightly, a kidnapping, but the cultural differences are extreme in comparison, I have nothing packed - no suitcases, change of clothes, or toothbrush - and the language might as well be alien. I don't know where to go, who brought me there, or why.
Now what? That question - "now what?" - should be something that you have in your head when brainstorming not only your sequence 4, but the experience of your main character as she is experiencing her 2nd Act.
Oftentimes, when we’re developing the story of a film, developing the plot of the film, we’re afraid that we’re going to run out of story, that we’re going to run out of the right story. We worry that we don’t have enough story, or a good enough story, that our idea doesn’t work, that we don’t have the right ending, that we don’t know what we’re building, and we get scared.
We start to look outside of ourselves for structure. We start to look outside of ourselves for plot. We start to look outside of ourselves to figure out what happens. Maybe we look at another movie. Maybe we look at a screenwriting book. Maybe we look at a hero’s journey archetype. Maybe, heavens forbid, we look at a software program that pretends it can tell us what happens in our story. Maybe we look to our friends for advice, but none of these places are where we really want to be looking.
Where we want to be looking is inside the content of the screenplay itself. We want to be looking inside of what we’ve already written to figure out where we need to go.
All of the answers for where we need to go in your story already exist in the initial pages of your screenplay. The structure of your movie can grow organically simply by looking at the things that exist in your story, and saying, “If this is true, what else must also be true? And if this is true, what else must also be true? And if this is true, what else must also be true?”
In this context, by the time we make it to the end of the movie, in some way, everything possible must happen..."
So often, as screenwriters, we lock ourselves in our own little rooms. Like the main characters of Room, we get bound up by other people's rules, by our own comfort zone as screenwriters, by the movies that we have seen before. And we forget that every wall has another side, that there is actually something out there bigger than the story we know how to tell, than the movie that we've seen before, than the structure that we've been handed down, than the rules that have been imposed upon us.
And, Room, in its execution and its subject matter, really shows us what it is to transcend those rules, to transcend our expectations as we write, and to transcend the expectation of our audience for what our film is supposed to be.
Now, a lot of people who have studied the rules of screenwriting might look at a screenplay like Room and say "is this even a movie? Shouldn't this be a play?"
After all, nearly half of the film takes place in a single room. And, even when we get out of that room, most of the action still takes place in a single location: in the living room of a home.
And though this is certainly wonderful from a budgetary perspective, this is not something we see very often in movies. In fact, the dogma tells us this is impossible.
And, of course, there are reasons for that dogma. Movies are visual medium. By using the power of dynamic visual action, and the power of our cuts, we draw an audience into our stories. There a lot of reasons why these rules exist.
The problem happens when we start letting the rules rule the script, rather than the other way around. When we try to follow all the rules in a vacuum, rather than figuring out the rules we actually need for the story we want to tell...
...this week we're going to be looking at two Oscar Winners, Spotlight and The Big Short. And we're going to be discussing at them not only as good screenplays, but as examples of very different kinds of screenplays. We're going to be looking at them in terms of the difference between plot and structure. The concepts of plot and structure are ideas that get mixed up all the time. They are words that are often used interchangeably, but that in my opinion actually mean very different things. I like to think of plot as "the crap that happens in your movie," or, for that matter, in your life. And I like to think of structure as the choices a character makes in relation to that plot: the choices that change their lives forever. Plot is the stuff that happens, but structure is your character's change.
And if you think about your own life, you'll probably realize that the difference between plot and structure matters to you as well. You've probably met the person who gets a hangnail and it destroys their whole day. And you've probably also met the person who gets cancer and gets a whole new lease on life. You have probably met the person who finds beauty in the most horrible situations and the person who creates horror into the most beautiful ones. And this is the exciting thing about the difference between plot and structure.
Plot, as much as we obsess about it, is pretty much interchangeable. We spend so much time as writers, and in our daily lives, thinking about plot, worrying about "what happens next, what happens next, what happens next," that we forget to think about what it all really means. We forget that what really matters is not just what happens, but what the we do in relationship to what happens. And how we allow that to bring meaning and change to our lives. Having said that, I want to start with a script that flies right in the face of all that. A script that focuses mainly on plot rather than structure. And that script is Spotlight..."
Today's topic - sequence three - is a big one. It marks the end of your first act, propels the reader on the journey and gets the main character prepped for the 2nd Act...and most importantly introduces the secondary character, or as I sometimes refer to as the Dynamic Character. The sidekick. The mentor. The best friend. The guy behind the guy.
Lots to cover here, so grab something to write with, turn on your thinkin' caps, and let's get to work.
SYS Podcast Episode 114:
Director / Screenwriter Afonso Poyart Talks About His Film Two Rabbits
SYS Podcast Episode 113:
Screenwriter Gabriel Campisi Talks About His New Horror Film Little Dead Rotting Hood
SYS Podcast Episode 112:
Screenwriter & Director Agustin Talks About His New Film Badge of Honor Starring Martin Sheen
SYS Podcast Episode 111:
Screenwriter Brad Mirman Talks About His New Western Forsaken Starring Kiefer Sutherland.
SYS Podcast Episode 110:
Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch Talk About Their Sundance Comedy / Drama Tangerine.
Sequence 2, the Set-Up Event.
The Set-Up is kind of like the first impression on a date. It all hinges on how you present yourself right out of the gates. If I were to start babbling on about witchcraft and black magic on a first date, I would assume the girl would probably motion for the waiter to bring the check. But let's think about that for a second, because as strange as that example may be when trying to bring it back around to writing a screenplay, it does fit. It kind of makes sense, actually. Why does it make sense? Because that set up is completely involving the main character at the moment. The main character is setting up future events - whether he knows it or not, he's presenting the beginning of a story. Even though the story will likely come to a quick end because your date is going to run out the door after the black magic comment, it still instigates the beginning of something - a reaction.
When circling back to a screenplay, and if you wanted to simplify this as much possible, your 2nd Act of your movie (or middle episodes of a serialized TV show, for example), is a reaction. That's pretty much all the 2nd Act is if you boil it down to the most basic element. A reaction to an event. That event is what sets up everything that is going to then happen in the middle of your movie, but...and here's the important point to remember...from a character perspective! I'll say that again: the set up event is what sets up everything that is going to happen in the middle of your movie from character perspective.
"Zootopia" animates a world of animals dealing with modern society's ills.
Anyone who thinks that animated movies are just kid stuff, needs to see "Zootopia." It's one of the most sophisticated, layered and intelligent entertainments to play at the Cineplex in years. And while it may seem like the easiest movie on the planet to pitch - It's a world of people, jobs and a caste system, only everyone is an animal! - it has far more on its mind. This family movie has a lot to say about our current culture of fear and prejudice. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), an intrepid newbie cop, may be a rabbit but she's got the eye of the tiger here. She's on a missing person's case, er uh, make that otter's, and along to help is a con artist fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). Together, their investigation will lead to the corridors of power in Zootopia, and force all the residents to confront the nature of its beasts and how any species can evolve. It's a message movie, sure, albeit one that never preaches because it's so cleverly co-written by animation veterans Jared Bush and Phil Johnston and co-directed with such visual imagination by Bryon Howard and Rich Moore. This is the 55th film from Disney and an instant classic every film fan should run or hop out to see!
The single most powerful thing in all of Hollywood is a great idea. It's the Big Fish all the industry is hunting for and it's the best possible way for an aspiring writer to break in. We love the old commercial that Barri Evins, in this teleconference, references, and like the good folks at Starfish tuna, not just any fish will do. Hollywood doesn't want tunas with good taste. Hollywood wants tunas that taste good!
During this teleconference with producer and consultant Barri Evins, we talk about how to target and develop the captivating concepts that Barri calls "Hooky Ideas." We help you discover what the industry is looking for and how to deliver it without selling yourself out. We go over, in thorough detail, the tools for generating ideas and identifying those ideas that will succeed. You need to find the idea that will lure in industry interest and catapult your career. We're all looking to get noticed, right? Barri and the ISA's, Max Timm, talk about the best ways to do so in this live podcast of Curious About Screenwriting.
Thanks for listening everyone. We love our fans and members, and you can find more podcast interviews at networkISA.org under the resources section. Keep working hard, keep writing, and keep believing in yourself.
"Eddie the Eagle" takes comedic flight as an eccentric underdog story.
Sports movies are often rife with clichés but this one, about 80's ski jumper Eddie Edwards, is unique in its approach to the drama of sport as well as its main character. It's a comedy, and we laugh as much at the protagonist as cheer him on. The movie is based on the real life story of this latecomer to the Olympic sport, and even though he overcomes a history of handicapped legs, stalled dreams, and a family of naysayers, this film concentrates more on his pratfalls, unconventional training and comedic banter with his washed up, reluctant coach. (Is there any other kind in sports movies?) Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman play up the fun in the cheeky script by first-time scribers Simon Kelton and Sean McCauley and director Dexter Fletcher milks that odd coupling and the kitschy 80's period details throughout. Still, the sports cinematography and visual effects are truly dramatic, and you can't help much cheer this underdog tale even if it takes a lot of liberties with the genre.
"The Witch" bewitches and bedazzles in its examination of sin.
Ever since it won a directing award for Robert Eggers at Sundance in 2015, horror fans have eagerly awaited the release of "The Witch." Indeed, it does live up to its hype as one of the mostly beautifully produced horror films to come down the pike in many a moon. It recreates the mid-17th century in stunning detail as it tells its tale of a Pilgrim family struggling to avoid sin and temptation in New England. The film's production design, costumes, score, cinematography, acting and editing are as good as it gets in the genre. Yet it doesn't quite make the viewers leap out of their seats in terror. In actuality, this is more of a psychological thriller than a typical horror release. It's more of a dissertation on the difficulties in trying to live a pious life. And while it sustains a terribly uneasy sense of dread from its first second to last, audiences desiring to scream themselves silly at the Cineplex are warned to temper expectations. This is an intellectual film examining the evil at play in every man, woman and yes, child. And while the devil shows up in person at the end to close the deal, all the work has been done for him by a family that woefully fails to live up to God's standards.
Max Timm here, from the ISA. Most of you know me from the Curious About Screenwriting podcasts that I host for the International Screenwriters Association. As you can tell from the name of this little podcast series, I am launching my first solo podcast mission. While I usually bring on a writer, producer, executive, or some kind of entertainment professional to interview, this podcast will be a little different. It'll just be me spouting words of advice, tips on the craft of writing - hence the title of the podcast - and possibly talking about some cool entertainment news.
In this episode, and the following 11 episodes, I am going to break down what should be happening in your script per 10 page sequence. This is breaking it down formulaicly, of course, but if you learn and master the formula, you can change it and alter it to fit your own needs and devices. We are starting with Sequence #1 - Main Character Stage of Life. An advertisement for your main character, Sequence #1 is crucial in that a reader will give you about 5-10 pages to hook them...and it's no coincidence that the hook needs to include your hero.
So let's started! Stay tuned for new episodes every week, and don't forget to follow me on Twitter @iMaxTimm, on Instagram @InstaMax9, and you can find me on Facebook through my author page, Maximilian Timm. I am also releasing my first novel in the early summer 2016, so please find out more about my young adult fantasy here, www.wishkeeperbook.com
On to the lesson...
Like most writers, an experienced life inevitably translates to a natural and gifted storyteller. Chelsea Watkins as been pursuing the arts for most of her life - from actively chasing the dream of being a dnacer at a young age, to acting and screenwriting, she has since converted her storytelling abilities into a streamlined business where she assists high school students in their college application and essay writing process. Always writing, though, Watkins is the epitome of a determined screenwriter and the ISA is proud to call her one of our Emerging Screenwriters Finalists.
In this interview we discuss the hurdles and obstacles any creative person faces when pursuing a career in the arts, but more so we focus on the ways in which we can overcome such obstacles. Whether there is a unconscious bias toward female writers or not, Chelsea isn't concerned. Her devotion to telling an excellent story remains at the top of her to-do list and we will continue to cheer her on every step of the way.
Having been chosen as one of our first (of two) Fast Track Fellows, Melissa Birks remains one of our most sought after writers in the ISA's Development Program. She has recently signed with AJ Harris of the Savage Agency and her serial killer thriller project Uncaged is currently being shopped around town as a Jack The Ripper origin story.
Melissa may be relatively new to the screenwriting world, but her work and extensive experience as a journalist has helped shape and assist her in her development as a story teller. The ISA is excited to see what 2016 brings Melissa, and we will continue to support her new projects as much as we can. In this interview, Melissa discusses her thoughts on the unconscious bias toward female writers and how she has pushed through the barriers by simply being the best writer she can be. Be impossible to ignore and prove that your talent supersedes any prejudices (conscious or not) within this screenwriting business.
To celebrate Women's History Month, the ISA is featuring three of our rising stars and recent contest winners. Spotlighting female writers, producers, and filmmakers is happily (though slowly) becoming the norm in Hollywood and we couldn't be happier to be able to share our talented female members and their successes.
In this interview, we brought on Glenda Ganis to discuss her extensive experience in the film and television industry. From being self-taught, working within the world of 90's made-for-TV movies, and building a career as a production designer, Glenda has made a name for herself as an industry veteran. Her recent finalist placement in the Emerging Screenwriters contest shows that no matter how long we spend in this business, we are all continually emerging, improving, and strengthening our careers - one step at a time.
We loved this interview with Glenda. She even talks about her time spent working with Marlon Brando, and how terrified she was of his dogs when she first met the legendary actor. It's an interview packed with insight and stories, so we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. Cheers to all of the female writers and filmmakers out there. The ISA is determined to even the playing field within an industry that is, thankfully, changing and emerging with equal opportunities for all.