The ISA's mantra, and what our focus has been on for the past few years is, "Tell Your Stories Brilliantly". There is an emphasis on "your" because we're all different. We all come from different backgrounds, different upbringings, different motivations and intentions. This all breaks down to voice, and we all have one, but like our own personal individuality, no creative voice is the same as another's. In my interview with the Co-Executive Producer of the upcoming Netflix series (that's sure to be amazing), "13 Reasons Why", Liz Benjamin, was also the Co-EP on Blood & Oil, and countless other TV shows over the past decade. Liz and I dive pretty deep into what voice is and how it can be discoverable...and yet, like the definition of voice, we still couldn't quite put our finger on the exact meaning. It's up to interpretation because it's something deeply personal that only you can discover for yourself.
I'm pretty sure we have all had days where we've said out loud to ourselves, "I just can't win." Whether we mean it or if we're just venting, the daily struggle of things simply not going as planned is just part of life. What's that quote I've heard a hundred times? When you make plans, God laughs, or something? I'm sure I'm destroying that quote in some way, but it's true. If you were to break it down into a microcosm of one day, you wake up in the morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed, eat some breakfast, grab some yummy coffee, and then dive into your daily prep - I'm gonna do this, this will get done after my 1:00 meeting, and then my work out at 4, and some happy hour drinks with friends. Boom. The day is lookin' good.
About an hour later, the meeting has been changed to 10am, you roll your ankle on your way back from Starbucks, and your friends bail on you for happy hour. And even after all of that, you figure, fine. I'll catch up on what's sitting on my DVR and have some TV time...only to find that your satellite dish is out and your internet isn't working. This all happens in one way or another at least a couple times a week, but again, it's just part of life. We make plans, but they don't always work out they way we hoped.
That's a very light version of what Sequence 8 is all about. But Sequence 8 is a very interesting sequence, and unlike any of the other sequences for one primary reason. It can technically exist within any sequence prior to its own existence. I'm getting kind of meta there. Let me explain through some form of a weird or uncomfortable story example like in my previous podcasts. I love making this stuff up as I go along, so here we go.
Structure is the first of a million skills a screenwriter must master, but thousands fail. And if structure fails, everything else won’t matter. If structure triumphs, everything else falls into place. Three Act Structure is good, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. Learn the Mini-Movie Method to break your story into easy, manageable “bite-size” chunks, like the chapters in a novel, each with its own TENSION, SUSPENSE, each its own vital part of the story.
In this recording of a live teleconference, the Million Dollar Screenwriter, Chris Soth, offers up an 8-sequence approach to delivering 8 individual mini-movies that will help you understand the importance of tension and conflict throughout the story as opposed to only coming up with a bird's eye conflict or level of tension. It's extremely helpful to say the least. You're smart for downloading this podcast! And I think you'll come away from it a better writer and storyteller. That's the whole point of the Curious About Screenwriting network of podcasts. We're here to create better writers, and to help you tell your stories brilliantly. So listen in, take notes, and get your butt stationed in front of your writing desk, and get to work.
If you go to see Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, you're going to have a very mixed experience. There are elements of this movie that are truly beautiful, and then there are elements that are just so incredibly dissatisfying. So WTF is wrong with WTF? Why did a movie with such a stellar cast and compelling concept fall so flat both critically and at the box office? And what can you learn from Whisky Tango Foxtrot about your own writing.
Every movie makes a promise to its audience. if you deliver on that promise, you can get away with almost anything. But if you make that promise and you fail to deliver, the audience is going to eat you alive. And that's very much what happened with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
Richard Linklater has called this film a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused. He has also referred to it as a sequel to Boyhood, his brilliantly structured (although very unusually structured) film, which basically ends right before this film begins: at the end of boyhood and the beginning of college. Everybody Wants Some picks up the baton where Boyhood left off, and centers around a freshman baseball player who is just starting college in the days leading up to the first day of classes. And though the main character may be different from the character in Boyhood, and though the structure may be different than the structure of Boyhood, confined to a few days, rather than evolving over many years, Linklater is once again building a sprawling, multi-character journey around young kid in a different kind of family, at defining point of discovering his identity and what gives meaning in his life.
But the question remains: does Everybody Wants Some actually work?
We're in a golden age of TV right now, and every network is getting in on the fun. And it really is fun. The amount of excellent content on the small screen today is rather epic, especially when considering how far the TV industry has come in the past decade or two. My guest today, Stephen Scaia, had an interesting comment about the TV industry and how it is intersecting with the film industry. He said thatTV writers are wanting to get into writing for the movies, and film writers are wanting to write in TV. Even though that may sound as if the industry is at odds, it's actually a really good sign. It means that the two worlds may be merging in some way, and it will be very interesting to see what happens over the next couple years. Will the TV market become over saturated, and will it allow for more mid-level, indie dramas to be produced for the big screen? In my opinion, no matter what happens, the winners and beneficiaries of all of this are the viewers and the audience. We're blessed to have so much amazing content available at our fingertips, and I'm eager to see what else can come of it in the coming years.
My guest, Stephen Scaia, is the Co-Executive Producer on the CBS show, Limitless. I had previously met Stephen while moderating a panel at the NoHo Cinefest film festival in March. He was a panelist and since that panel was relatively short, I wanted to get him on the Curious About Screenwriting podcast to expand on some of the answers he gave at the live panel, and he doesn't disappoint. We talk about hisearly career path, some of the crappy jobs he took when he first moved to LA, and how he worked his way up through the Hollywood ranks not only by writing for television, but in the film world and even the comic book world.
Screenwriter Max Landis talks about his new film, Mr. Right.
While I've used examples of made-up stories and attempted to show you what can happen during a particular sequence based on what has happened in produced movies, I'm going to share a slightly personal insight that roughly summarizes our current topic - sequence 7. No, I won't be using this podcast episode as a therapy session. Even though it can't hurt to talk through things from time to time, I'm lucky and grateful that I'm relatively stable emotionally. Relatively.
I'm going to share this little bit with you because I'm pretty sure you can relate, and because it really is a solid way to exemplify the main character's emotional and mental state after the mid-point complication. Very generally - it's fear. But it's a kind of fear that often times is completely unconscious. In other words, we don't know we're exhibiting this fear - it just sneaks up on us because it has been somehow programmed within us to unconsciously think this way. The kind of fear I'm talking about can be, in a small way, related to the fear of success.
John, the screenwriter of Trainspotting and The Beach, talks about his latest project, The Program.
As a writer, you always want to put your best foot forward when submitting your work for consideration. Most of the time, the only thing that a producer, director, or reader will know about you is what you've written on the page. This is why it's so important to ensure your script is in the strongest place possible before sending it in and possibly wasting money on film festivals and contests, or getting frustrated without understanding why you haven't heard anything back.
This live recording of another ISA teleconference will help to demystify what makes a strong screenplay. As a currently working professional script reader based in Los Angeles, Joanna Ke has read and assessed countless feature scripts. She evaluates what's presently out on the market and sees first hand what's going into production. Joanna noticed that there are common notes she offers on why a screenplay is not ready for production or consideration. Get those notes BEFORE you submit!
Joanna passes on to you the Top 5 reasons that cause a screenplay to be weaker, knocking it out of consideration and even affecting the writer's reputation. It can be frustrating not knowing why your screenplay didn't go as far as you'd like or hearing crickets when you've put in a lot of hard work. Educating yourself on what readers actually look for can help you be a step ahead in the game before anyone even sees your script.
Hearing it straight from a reader like Joanna is a rare opportunity to gain insight into what might seem like a mysterious process. Even if you've never written before, shedding light on the screenwriting process from the perspective of a reader will help to understand a different aspect of the writing process that's not often discussed.
Anna talks about raising the money for her latest film, A Country Called Home, via Kickstarter.
Steve talks about his new book, Beating Hollywood, and offers a ton of practical screenwriter advice.
Shant talks about his award winning short film, Night of the Slasher.
Screenwriter/Director Jody Wheeler & Producer Steve Parker. Jody and Steve talk about this latest thriller film, The Dark Place.
A suspenseful intersection of horror and sci-fi resides at "10 Cloverfield Lane".
Scary movies don't always need vampires, wolfmen or creatures from the Black Lagoon to make us jump out of our seats. Sometimes man can be the most monstrous of all. That's what makes this informal sequel to J.J. Abrams' "Cloverfield" from 2008 so thrilling. Its beast is a man, as in John Goodman, playing a survivalist named Howard who's holding Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) captive in his bunker. He's rescued her from a car accident, and now won't let her leave because he says the planet is uninhabitable after an alien attack. Her suspicion of his honesty leads her into a dangerous cat & mouse game with her captor as this thriller blends the best of horror and sci-fi. Cleverly written and economically directed, this modest movie is a good address to park your keister at while it's still playing in the cineplex.
Here’s the perfect way to summarize the mid-point of any story. “Shit just got real”. And really, I could just stop the episode there because if you break down the meaning of “shit just got real” and apply it to the moment in your story where it does, officially, get real for the main character, then you’ve found your mid-point and you’re doing fine. If there isn’t a moment where the quote unquote “real” doesn’t occur. You’re missing your midpoint.
Sequence six is, in my opinion, the most important sequence of your script – especially in your early drafts because you can set a little destination for your main character by writing the mid-point complication before you write sequences 4 and 5 – just so you know where the main character will end up halfway through the story.
But nonetheless, here’s a straight forward breakdown of the mid-point. I always reference it specifically as, “the mid-point complication”. Emphasis on “complication”. If you just call the sequence your “midpoint”, then you’re really just defining the “when” instead of the “when and what”…and the “what” is always more important than the “when”. So here ya go…the basic breakdown of sequence six.
It’s the consummation, or twist. It’s where the “dynamic acceleration” occurs. Yes, you heard me right. Not the “dynamic manipulation” that I’ve referenced in previous episodes, but the dynamic acceleration. And I’m assuming you’re smart enough to figure out what that means, but still…I’ll explain anyway. It’s the moment where the dynamic character affects your main character so much, that your main character’s misbehavior or in other words, emotional problem, is so threatened that he will either go hide away in a hole in the ground, or change so drastically that he’ll seem like a new man. There is very little in-between there.
I'm taking a little break from the regular sequence to sequence episode structure here - it helps to keep things fresh and a little different, and to offer some insights on other aspects of the writing process beyond just the structural make-up. So I'll be releasing episodes called The Sidenote from time to time, and probably at random simply because ideas for other podcast topics pop into my head now and then and I want to, like I said, keep things fresh. And that's actually one of the topics today, but I'll get to that.
So while we work our way toward one of the most important sequences in a script - sequence 6 - and take a little break, I want to take a step back and address a disclaimer I have not quite mentioned in my previous talks here. Applying the structural tools I've been teaching so far to writing for television.
“Eye in the Sky” looks at how modern warfare is executed
Some movies create edge-of-your seat excitement with big set-pieces and rat-a-tat editing. This thriller does it mostly by focusing on people’s faces as they watch screens with scenes of a war being fought thousands of miles away. It’s how modern warfare plays out these days, employing surveillance satellites and drones that at times make it almost seem like a “Call to Duty” video game. The stakes are real though, especially when British intelligence gets a bead on terrorists plotting a suicide bombing in Kenya. The dogged Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren) wants to bomb their home base but getting the greenlight isn’t easy. The British government and American allies must weigh in and it’s one complicated chain of command. Apparently, it takes a village…even to level one. This modern “Fail Safe”, written by Guy Hibbert and directly by Gavin Hood, uses a stellar cast including Alan Rickman and Aaron Paul to play out a gripping morality tale that will have you debating its conclusions long after the movie has ended.