Archive for the ‘scripts’ Category
Posted on March 10, 2014 - by writerman
The other day, a friend who wants to write his first script asked me for advice on how to get started. I love answering that question, for two reasons:
1. The first step is my favorite
2. No actual writing is involved
Here’s what I told my friend. The critical first step in writing a movie of your very own is:
Make a playlist
Totally serious. All the cool kids are doing it. Put together a playlist of tracks that you can listen to while you are working. Keep in mind that the goal here isn’t to pick songs that will end up in the movie, but to pick songs that get across the feeling you want the movie to evoke. I also like to include songs that represent important characters. Then I put it on repeat1 while I’m working. It really helps you get in the right headspace, especially when shifting gears between multiple projects.
The longer I’ve been working on a script, the more songs end up in the playlist. I’m always adding new tracks that capture the tone of a certain scene or personality of a minor character. Because scouring the web for music is the best kind of procrastination cleverly disguised as work.
Here’s the playlist I’ve got on repeat today – music for writing the high school comedy. After months of typing and re-typing, the playlist has evolved into a pretty eclectic beast, but the tunes generally fall into three categories:
1. The sounds of the setting
The story is set in a huge public school in Washington D.C., held down by the sounds of Tupac, Biggie and Dr. Dre.
2. Main character music
The hero is a freshman who’s trying to survive his first day in the tangled jungle of high school. He’s a “diplobrat” who had been attending elite private schools while getting dragged around the globe by his diplomat dad, until an incident2 at school in Japan gets him booked on the first plane home to D.C. to live with his moms and attend Hamilton High. He sounds like new-school hipster acts Phoenix and Vampire Weekend.
3. The glorious 80’s
And, because it’s been more than a few years since my last pep rally, this playlist is packed with 80s jams that take me back to a simpler, emotionally-tumultuous time to reconnect with my high-school-self. So yeah, The Cure & The Smiths, but also The Outfield and Cheap Trick. Plus, a bonus track in honor of John Hughes that might just be the best use of music in a movie, like, ever.
Enjoy. And thanks to the Internets for making this so much easier than it used to be.
- Seriously – the woman in my life is so fucking sick of these songs. [↩]
- And by “incident” I’m sure you know I meant “fist-fight at the science fair.” [↩]
Posted on November 10, 2010 - by writerman
Three minutes and three seconds of the best lesson in screenwriting1 you’ll ever get:
Color me inspired. I will now make more coffee and continue to put one word in front of the other.
Thank you, Everynone.
- I was going to write some pseudo-clever commentary here about why, exactly, this is the best screenwriting lesson ever. But honestly, this is one of those times where the best thing to do is just shut up and watch the movie. In fact, I’m gonna watch it again, right now. [↩]
Posted on March 25, 2010 - by writerman
Some refreshingly direct wisdom on drama, the job of the writer and how not to be a dickhead, courtesy of Hollywood’s favorite literary pugilist, David Mamet.1
Highlights cut & pasted below, but if I were you I’d click through and read the whole thing at Movieline. For the record, I have no idea why it’s in ALL CAPS.
“THE JOB OF THE DRAMATIST IS TO MAKE THE AUDIENCE WONDER WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. NOT TO EXPLAIN TO THEM WHAT JUST HAPPENED, OR TO*SUGGEST* TO THEM WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.
ANY DICKHEAD CAN WRITE, “BUT, JIM, IF WE DON’T ASSASSINATE THE PRIME MINISTER IN THE NEXT SCENE, ALL EUROPE WILL BE ENGULFED IN FLAME”
THINK LIKE A FILMMAKER RATHER THAN A FUNCTIONARY, BECAUSE, IN TRUTH, YOU ARE MAKING THE FILM. WHAT YOU WRITE, THEY WILL SHOOT.
HERE ARE THE DANGER SIGNALS. ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.
ANY TIME ANY CHARACTER IS SAYING TO ANOTHER “AS YOU KNOW”, THAT IS, TELLING ANOTHER CHARACTER WHAT YOU, THE WRITER, NEED THE AUDIENCE TO KNOW, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.
DO NOT WRITE A CROCK OF SHIT. WRITE A RIPPING THREE, FOUR, SEVEN MINUTE SCENE WHICH MOVES THE STORY ALONG, AND YOU CAN, VERY SOON, BUY A HOUSE IN BEL AIR AND HIRE SOMEONE TO LIVE THERE FOR YOU.”
LOVE, DAVE MAMET
SANTA MONICA 19 OCTO 05
- Rumor has it this is from a memo Mamet wrote to the staff of The Unit. Of course, it’s probably only a matter of days before we find out the whole thing is a hoax, and the actual author is Kurt Vonnegut or Mamet’s dog walker or some guy who writes for The Onion. But does any of that really matter on the Internet? It’s still a fun read and pretty good advice. [↩]
Posted on April 2, 2009 - by writerman
Started working on a new script the other day. It’s set in a high school, and since I’m definitely not in high school anymore, I’ve been using it as an excuse to watch old episodes of Freaks & Geeks, turn Sunday into a John Hughes movie marathon, and hit the midnight screening of the Breakfast Club at the Regency Fairfax. Good times!
Now I know some people worship at the altar of the Geeks and the Freaks, and I can respect that. It was a great show. But I bet if you ask Judd Apatow, he’d agree that John Hughes is clearly the master.
There’s just no denying that every teen movie and tv show made after 1984 is heavily influenced by Mr. Hughes precarious balance of realism, comedy, and melodrama. In fact, I’d argue that the influence of Hughes’ movies extends beyond the screen. If you grew up in the 80s or 90s, there’s a good chance Sixteen Candles or Weird Science or Ferris Bueller had a direct impact on your young life.
- How many preteen geeks enrolled in computer classes in the desperate hope that someday they could make their very own supermodel, just like Anthony Michael Hall?
- On a personal note, it was Ferris Bueller himself who inspired me to start cutting class. Of course, I got busted a lot more than Ferris and I sure as hell never got to drive a convertible Ferrari.
- I even have a friend who, to this day, dances (un-ironically) just like Molly Ringwald in Breakfast Club.
To be fair, Hughes isn’t perfect. Maybe Andie should have ended up with Duckie, and maybe it was kind of anti-feminist when the basket case got a makeover so she could make out with Charlie Sheen’s brother. But for my money, John Hughes was one of the best and most influential writer/directors of the late 20th century.
Thanks John. We won’t forget about you.
Posted on October 6, 2008 - by writerman
Back in 1978, a young guy named George called up his friends Steven and Larry to discuss an idea for a new movie. The three of them sat down and George told them all about a swashbuckling archeologist with a bad attitude and a great hat who went by the name of “Indiana Smith.”
If that sounds familiar, it’s because the I’m talking about George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan, and the story that came out of this meeting would become one of my favorite action movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark.
I haven’t seen it in a while, but when I was in college in Vancouver, there was an old second-run theater downtown that used to play Indiana Jones marathons on slow nights. Three movies for the price of one! We used to go early to catch all of Raiders and the opening sequence of Temple of Doom. Then, we’d head out to grab something eat and get back in time to watch the end of the second movie and settle in for Last Crusade. Good times. I know the truly hardcore nerd would have sat through all three, but I’m just not a big fan of Temple of Doom. Sorry, Steven, I know your wife is in it, but even the Babe couldn’t hit a home run every time he stepped up to the plate, right?
As it turns out, these early discussions were recorded, and recently some hard-working nerd has transcribed every single word. So now we can all read about how the story came together, how Spielberg hated the name “Indiana Smith” and pushed Lucas to come up with something better (I think you know what I’m talking about), and how they had so many ideas for the first movie that they needed to make two sequels just to squeeze it all in.
Plus, someone even took the time to assemble a bunch of the original concept sketches for the character, from back before he looked like Han Solo:
I can take no credit whatsoever for this discovery. I just read about it on the Mystery Man’s blog. But I strongly recommend. If you’re an Indiana Jones fan, an action movie geek, or just a writer looking for a new way to procrastinate, check it out:
Posted on October 5, 2008 - by writerman
I finally wrapped up a spec for this fun, inventive new show just in time for ABC to cancel it. Bummer, dude. You were totally right, Bill. I should have listened when you warned me that the future of the show was uncertain. Oh well – at least it was fun to write while it lasted. Goodbye Chuck & Ned!
On the positive tip, now I can share some of my other episode ideas for Daisies, since there’s no need to worry about someone stealing them and getting a glamorous and exciting career as a TV writer using the fruits of my labors. Enjoy:
A Renaissance Affair
When Sir Percival the Merciful (a Renaissance Faire performer) turns up dead, Ned and Emerson take the case. During his 60 seconds, the recently-deceased Knight tells them he was murdered by none other than the Black Knight. Unfortunately for our investigators, there is no Black Knight at the Faire, only a whole court full of suspects, many of whom seem to have lost track of the line between their job as Lords, Ladies and Knights and the real world the rest of us live in.
As they dig deeper, a second body is found and Emerson and the Pie-Maker must hurry to unravel the truth behind the dark secret of the Red Knight, an ill-fated love affair, a recently spray-painted suit of armor and a plot to overthrow the King.
A legendary tap dancer (and childhood hero of Olive’s) is murdered. The dead body thinks it was a member of the chorus line, which leaves Ned & Emerson with a pretty long list of suspects.
The only clue left behind is a single tap shoe. And so, in the strangest adaptation of Cinderella ever filmed, our heroes must find the one foot that fits into the fateful tap shoe. As they get closer to finding the truth, conflict arises between Ned (who thinks the shoe will reveal the killer) and Chuck (who believes the shoe belongs to the dead tap dancer’s one true love).
The Big Pie-Off
Behind Ned’s back, Olive and Chuck enter Ned and the Pie-Hole in the Big Pie-Off – the most prestigious pie-baking contest in the world. Ned is reluctant to participate, but when one of the judges turns up dead (face-down in a strawberry-rhubarb), he enters the competition as a way to go “undercover” and figure out who the killer is.
The only problem is that the dead pie-judge didn’t see who killed her, so the guys will have to use more conventional methods to solve the crime. Actually, there’s another problem: the remarkable freshness and longevity of Ned’s pies raises the suspicions of the organizers of the Pie-Off. This, of course, leads to a third problem when they hire a PPI (Private Pie Investigator), who trails Ned, finds evidence linking Ned to the murder of the judge and gets dangerously close to uncovering Ned’s real secret (the whole – touching dead people and bringing them back to life thing).
Posted on August 10, 2008 - by writerman
Just put together my application for the Disney Fellowship.
In addition to a resume, bio, and 2 copies of a screenplay, they ask applicants to supply a “statement of interest.” I don’t want to sound like a dumbass, but I had to google that one to figure out what they were asking for. Honestly, I have no idea if what I ended up writing was the kind of thing they’re looking for, but it reminded me that I come from a long line of compulsive storytellers, and it was pretty fun putting it together. So here you go:
The old train rattled down the tracks through the morning mist. I was barely awake, but in just a few minutes, I was going to get a glimpse of the very thing that had first opened my eyes to the magic of stories – the Limpopo River. The Limpopo is a 1,000-mile long river that cuts through southern Africa, stretching from the Kalahari desert to the Indian Ocean. But to me, it was a mystical place, immortalized by Rudyard Kipling in his story The Elephant’s Child. A story that I had forced my dad, who grew up only a few hundred miles from the river, to read to me again and again and again, even long after I was old enough to read it to myself.
That day, on that train, it was years since I’d been that bossy little boy. More specifically, it was now sometime after my period as a bright-eyed, hopeful film school grad, and before my current life as a hungry, just-moved-to-Los-Angeles, aspiring screenwriter. I was long-haired and unemployed and riding a train through Zimbabwe to get a close look at a river.
And suddenly, there it was. To be honest, I don’t really remember much of what it looked like. I didn’t even take a picture. I just stared out of the window, and when the train finished passing over the bridge, I looked up and saw someone standing next to me. I smiled and said, “Did you see that? It was…” He finished my sentence for me, quoting Kipling word for word:
“The great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees.”
His name was Marcelo; a Brazilian who grew up in the slums of Sao Paulo, and he was leaning out the window of that African train at five in the morning for the same reason that had brought me. We went to the dining car for breakfast and talked about stories and writing and Canada and Brazil and our dads. No, we didn’t fall in love. We haven’t kept in touch either, and no, I wouldn’t call what happened that morning an epiphany. But that moment does underline the personal philosophy that is behind all of my work: the best stories can cross borders and cultures and generations and unite people in ways they probably can’t imagine. And in this era of post-ironic irony and media saturation, it’s a belief I hang on to tightly as I sit down to write my next script and pitch my next idea. Which brings me around to why I’m applying for a Disney Fellowship.
I’m looking for mentors and collaborators and co-conspirators who share the same passion for stories that I do, who can push me to improve my craft and work with me to make movies that will someday inspire some small-town kid on the other side of the world to get on a train and step outside of themselves to see the larger world.
Posted on March 20, 2008 - by writerman
The episode is called “Gambled at Sunday School.” Earl returns to his former Sunday School to give back some ill-gotten money. Technically, he won it fair and square. You know, if you call convincing a group of 10-year-olds to wager their collection plate money on a game of cards, and then cheating, “fair and square.”
In this short scene, Earl and Randy arrive at the church to try and do the right thing.
EXT. CHURCH - DAY A crowd slowly files in to church. Randy and Earl climb out of the El Camino dressed in their Sunday best. Earl holds up a ziploc bag filled with change and starts to walk towards the church. RANDY (O.C.) Help, Earl, it's got me! Earl turns to see that Randy has caught his tie in the car door. Earl opens the door to set him free. RANDY (CONT'D) Thanks. These things are dangerous. EARL I know, Randy, but as soon as we go inside and give back this money, we'll go straight home and change. RANDY I don't want to go to church, Earl. God is watching, like those cameras at the Quick Stop. He knows if we've been naughty or nice. EARL That's Santa, Randy.
I love writing jokes for Randy. Awesome character. And Ethan Suplee is definitely some kind of mad genius. On a related note – a friend told me “Seriously, dude, you can’t be posting jokes from your scripts on the Internet! What if someone steals them?”
Seriously, dude: chill. I’m pretty sure Greg Garcia is too busy to be trolling the internet looking for jokes to steal for his show. Still, just to be safe…
This one’s on me.
ps. I like your show.
Posted on March 5, 2008 - by writerman
I found this ad in a recent Vanity Fair. Now, fashion-industry advertising is often ridiculous, but this time Tommy, you stepped over the line. Please take a close look at what the model is holding in his hand as he squints off into the distance:
And from the pencil that dangles so nonchalantly from his other hand, it seems the viewer is meant to understand that this douche bag is some kind of screenwriter. Which, naturally, begs the question:
Are you fucking kidding me, Tommy Hilfiger? Have you ever met a screenwriter? Have you ever met anybody who’s met a screenwriter? I mean, I suppose I should be flattered that Mr. All-American Fashion has decided screenwriters are now considered so glamorous that we should appear as objects of aspiration and desire in his advertising campaign. But, he’s just got it all wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.
Let me break it down for you, TH:
First off – let me be clear that I have no objections to the fact that Mr. Good Looking here is the star of the ad. Some of you may have seen this ad and thought – “That guy’s way too pretty to be a screenwriter.” Stop it. Stop with your judging and stop hating on my beautiful brother right now. What, you think writers can’t be good-looking? Let’s see you tell that to Sam Shepard‘s face. My complaints with this advertisement have nothing to do with the model. It’s all in the details. Tommy, you’re trying to create this fantasy-world where the screenwriter is a well-dressed hunk of burnin’ love, and I commend you for that. But you’re sloppy on the details, which ruins our suspension of disbelief and causes the ad to fail. Shall we look at where you went wrong?
- Writers do not wear white pants. I don’t care if it’s before Labor Day. This has nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with practicality. Writing involves pens and pens are filled with ink and nothing trashes a pair of slim-fitting white trousers faster than a big frickin’ ink stain.
- No self-respecting writer would have that haircut. A writer’s hair is tousled, Tommy! I can’t believe I have to go over this one. How can you expect that girl at the end of the table to believe this guy was up half the night agonizing over every word in the next Great American Screenplay with such well-organized hair? I’m not saying that writers don’t obsess over our hair or what’s left of it. I’m just saying that, much like the hipster, we don’t want it to look like we do.
- Bikinis and screenplays don’t get along. Look, Tommy, I see where you’re going with this, and I can dig it, but the out-of-focus babe at the end of the table is what really sinks the ship here. Don’t get me wrong, I have no complaints about beautiful girls in bikinis. I love them. Seriously, I really, really love them. Which is precisely why I don’t ever write at the beach, because I’d never get anything done! Boobies are the kryptonite to my powers of concentration.
Wait. Unless, of course, that is the whole point to your ad? That the gentleman in question isn’t a writer at all? He’s just trolling for ladies, with a screenplay as the bait. It’s perfect – so much lighter than a puppy, and you don’t have to remember to feed it. I take it all back, Tommy. You’re a genius. Because we all know that no one in Hollywood gets more pussy than the screenwriter! Ladies can’t resist the pasty skin, rounded shoulders and faint odor of fear and despair. Damn, I’m gonna take my laptop over to Starbucks, open up final draft and get me some of that sweet sweetness. Oh, it is on.
Hey. I’m back from Starbucks. Yeah, I couldn’t find a seat. Guess everybody saw this ad before me and got the same idea.
I hate you, Tommy Hilfiger.
Posted on January 21, 2008 - by writerman
People love to ask screenwriters, “Where do you get your ideas for movies?” And while I imagine they are expecting responses involving magazine articles, true-life stories or amazing coincidences, when I get asked that these days my answer is a simple one:
The thing is, the story has absolutely nothing to do with grilled meat or sesame seed buns. But the idea came to me in a blinding flash while I was eating a cheeseburger at Rick’s Drive In, and so Mr. Unlucky will always make me think of my favorite food.
Hooray for cheeseburgers!
And in case you were wondering, here’s the idea that the mystical Cheeseburger of Inspiration handed me:
When the unluckiest guy in the world wakes up to discover that someone is stealing his luck, there’s just one thing he can do: hit the road with an unemployed leprechaun, the only honest girl in Las Vegas and a 1960 Plymouth Valiant in an impossible quest to get it back. Along the way he learns the secret of how luck is bought and sold at the Luck Exchange, tracks down the fabled Lucky Star, uncovers a plot by a diabolical CEO to seize control of all the luck in the world and appears on Wheel of Fortune. A comedy about breakfast cereal, true love, and learning to believe in yourself.