Archive for ‘Articles’

December 4, 2013

Politics, Love, & Screenwriting: A Conversation with Steve Faber

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by Angela Guess

If you’re ever lucky enough to cross paths with Steve Faber, ask to buy him a drink. You won’t regret it.

Steve is the scribe behind Wedding Crashers and the recent hit, We’re the Millers. A fellow UCLA alumnus, Steve started his professional life as a lawyer, then realized it was “a tremendous mistake.” He gave himself one year in Los Angeles to try his hand at writing, and within that year he was able to begin a new career in television. He wrote for a variety of sitcoms–most notably Married with Children–before making the switch to features. Currently, Steve is in pre-production on a broad comedy called Sugar Daddy and is developing a romantic comedy about love & marriage called Backspace. Steve also has his own political column on The Huffington Post called Washingwood.

I met my share of vibrant, creative people at the recent Austin Film Festival & Conference, but the two encounters I had with Mr. Faber were by far the most fascinating.

I asked Steve for an interview in advance of the conference, and he was kind enough to oblige. Ultimately he and I met for a drink prior to our actual interview, and the phrase “This is off the record” escaped his lips a few dozen times. I sincerely wish I could share some of that conversation here, but I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for Steve to write his memoir.

Later in the conference, Steve and I met for a formal sit-down, and what follows is a transcript of that conversation. Read on for Steve’s insights on maximizing your creativity, female comedy writers, the key to a successful marriage, and why a sense of “sadness and poignancy” is essential to great comedy.

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December 3, 2013

How to Make Screenwriting with a Partner Easier

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by Angela Guess

Products and services that claim to make you a better writer abound on the internet. Everyone claims to be a script guru, to have the course or the book or the contest or the software that will take you to the next level. And inevitably most of these products and services turn out to be a lot of crap.

But every once in a while I’ll find a rare gem that actually helps screenwriters write better, easier, or more creatively. WriterDuet is one such service.

WriterDuet is an online collaborative screenwriting program that lets writing teams outline, chat, and write together in real-time over the internet. It’s essentially free screenwriting software that can be used by multiple people to edit the same document at once. You can upload a scene or a whole script into the program, and when you’re done working on it with your partner or writing team (wherever they may be), you can export the file in Final Draft or PDF format.

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November 11, 2013

The Un-Rules of Screenwriting: Billy Mernit’s List

E.B. White wrote that there are “no inflexible rules by which the young writer may steer his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.” With this in mind, we’ve asked working screenwriters to share a list of the “un-rules” that they find most helpful in their writing careers.

Our latest list of “un-rules” comes from the always insightful Billy Mernit. Billy writes Living the Romantic Comedy, a great site that anyone writing romantic comedies or comedies in general should treat like gospel. Known as “the guru of rom-com” for his best-selling screenwriting textbook, Writing the Romantic Comedy, Billy teaches at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and contributed two chapters to the recently published Cut to the Chase: Writing Feature Films with the Pros at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.

Billy published his first novel Imagine Me and You in 2008. During his many years in the entertainment industry, he has written for television and worked as both a screenwriter and private script consultant. After being a story analyst for Sony and Paramount, he has held that job at Universal Pictures for the past fifteen years. At Universal, he’s had a hand in the development of such recent successes as Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect.

Billy chose to approach his rules from the perspective of a story analyst. Here are his top three truisms:

  1. A primary goal of any spec script that’s going to market is to get the reader to identify with its protagonist. Your story requires a compelling, relatable lead character – meaning, we know what she wants and we believe she may be capable of getting it, the ways in which she overcomes her obstacles make her empathetic, and she’s complex enough to keep us interested. Your job is to get us to be her, even if this means putting what she thinks and how she feels into the narrative on the screenplay page. If we’re not totally emotionally invested in her story and seeing it though her eyes by the end of the first act, your script is dead in the water.

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November 6, 2013

How to See the World Like an Artist

Have I mentioned what a big fan I am of Brain Pickings? If you haven’t checked it out yet, please do. This article from Maria Popova discusses the ways in which we are blind to the world that surrounds us. It delves into seeing our own world with artistic eyes, allowing us to be better, more creative writers, comedians, artists, and filmmakers:

“How we spend our days,” Annie Dillard wrote in her timelessly beautiful meditation on presence over productivity“is, of course, how we spend our lives.” And nowhere do we fail at the art of presence most miserably and most tragically than in urban life — in the city, high on the cult of productivity, where we float past each other, past the buildings and trees and the little boy in the purple pants, past life itself, cut off from the breathing of the world by iPhone earbuds and solipsism. And yet: “The art of seeing has to be learned,” Marguerite Duras reverberates — and it can be learned, as cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz invites us to believe in her breathlessly wonderful On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes (public library) — a record of her quest to walk around a city block with eleven different “experts,” from an artist to a geologist to a dog, and emerge with fresh eyes mesmerized by the previously unseen fascinations of a familiar world.

Popova quotes from the book:

Right now, you are missing the vast majority of what is happening around you. You are missing the events unfolding in your body, in the distance, and right in front of you.

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November 4, 2013

24 Tips for Pitching Your Script

AFF_Logoby Angela Guess

At the recent Austin Film Festival, Danny Manus and Pamela Ribon were on hand to teach all the shy, introverted, socially-awkward writers in the room (myself included) how to pitch. Danny’s experience with pitching comes from the executive end. He’s currently running No BullScript Consulting, but he admits that he is a “recovering development executive.” Pamela’s experience comes from actually doing pitches for both film and TV projects, and she has sold numerous ideas and scripts to the likes of ABC, Warner Bros., Disney Channel, and 20th Century Fox.

Pamela and Danny had a lot of wonderful advice to dispense. In no particular order, here are their top 24 tips:

  1. A logline is key. Hook them up front with your big idea, your main characters, and your conflict.
  2. Don’t get bogged down in the details. This leads to coming to the end of your time and only covering the first five pages.
  3. Think about how you would get your friend to see a movie you like. Build your pitch with that in mind.
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October 29, 2013

Practical Advice for Finding an Agent or Manager

AFF_LogoOne of the great things about the Austin Film Festival and Screenwriting Conference is how well the conference creators have balanced panels about the craft of screenwriting with the business of it.

On Friday, I attended a panel called Breaking In: Finding Representation. The panel featured two up and coming writers, Justin Marks and John Swetnam, and their representation. Justin’s manager, Adam Kolbrenner is a co-founder of Madhouse Entertainment (currently accepting submissions), and John’s agent David Boxerbaum is in the lit department over at Paradigm.

The main take-away from the session came from John, though everyone on the panel underscored his words: If you want representation, he told us, you need to write a good script. Not just a pretty good script or a script that your family thinks is good, but a script that you truly believe could compete with the movies that are showing at your local theater.

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October 18, 2013

Beyond The Page: What You Need to Know to Make It as a Screenwriter

Lee Jessup of Script Magazine recently wrote an article for writers that are on the verge of “making it.” Lee insists that knowing your craft isn’t enough. If you want to be taken seriously in the film world, you need to also know what’s selling, who the top agents are, what the top films are, who the major producers are… every nitty-gritty detail.

I think Lee has a point, and his advice is worth reading, but I would take it with a grain of salt. For every successful writer who has told me to read Variety and Deadline, another has told me never to look at the damn things. Crafting your script around what you think executives are buying makes sense, to an extent — you need to be concerned with whether your script has market appeal — but at the same time, you need to allow yourself the creative freedom to find your own voice, your own story. Trying to piece together an idea based on what’s hot right now will most likely leave you with a script that is out of date as soon as it’s complete, and probably not any good.

Take a look at what Lee has to say, and think about which parts might be helpful to you.

There are a slew of things, facts, figures, that every screenwriter should know, should have studied, should understand when they are trying to break in. Some of them will come up in conversations, other will show up in your work. Some of these things will be seen as givens to many. For others, they may be new bits of information, but no less critical. But there are, without a doubt, things you HAVE TO KNOW, HAVE TO DO, if you want to be taken seriously in the industry.

YOU HAVE TO READ INDUSTRY NEWS
On a regular basis. I don’t care if you get it for free from Deadline.com, or if you pay for The Hollywood Reporter, start understanding this industry and marketplace. This world that you’re trying to penetrate has been ebbing and flowing, changing and changing again. While you don’t have to be able to track every shift, every change, or know every studio or network head by name, you should know, in general, what’s happening out there. Ask yourself: What did we learn from the summer of 2013? And how are broadcast networks doing this fall season, vs. the one that came before? Why is Breaking Bad being called the TV show that changed TV forever? Whichever your sector, it’s up to you to gather the information about what’s trending there.

Read the rest at Script Magazine, then take a glance at our Screenwriter Profiles to start learning about the top writers in this business.

October 16, 2013

Diablo Cody on What No One Tells You About Being a Screenwriter

The infamous Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult) recently did an interview for Vulture in which she explained seven things that no one tells you about being a top screenwriter.

Now, most writers won’t have to deal with the perks and problems of wide-spread fame like Cody’s, but hopefully we’ll each find a piece of fame within the screenwriting world, and many of Cody’s thoughts apply to that:

1. You will be held accountable for your words.
Writers drink, and therefore we often exhibit poor judgment. In 2007, whenJuno came out, people were wearing rhinestone-embellished trucker caps and I was making bad decisions, too. I said a lot of stupid things in interviews because I figured no one was paying attention — who cares about screenwriters, generally? But my big mouth got me into trouble countless times. As a “visible” writer, you have to learn to conduct yourself like an actor. Say what you’ve been coached to say. Don’t talk shit about anyone. Behind closed doors, I’m still a drunk train wreck, but in interviews, I try to channel Sandra Bullock or someone else the public finds charming.

2.  You will be a big deal for about ten seconds.
Since I “broke through” (ugh) six years ago, countless younger, funnier, smarter writers have flocked to Hollywood and TOOK MY JERB. That’s the nature of this business. Just ask any of the actresses who were on the cover of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood Issue in the nineties. Believe me, they all want to murder Emma Stone right now. You will be replaced. Keep your head down and work as much as you can.

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October 9, 2013

The Un-Rules of Screenwriting: Deborah Moggach’s List

E.B. White wrote that there are “no inflexible rules by which the young writer may steer his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.” With this in mind, we’ve asked working screenwriters to share a list of the “un-rules” that they find most helpful in their writing careers.

Our latest list of un-rules comes from the talented Deborah Moggach. Deborah is an English writer whose career has spanned television, film, and novels. She wrote the screenplay for the exceptional adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and wrote the novel, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

With her rules, Deborah noted, “Rules, of course, are there to be broken. Screenwriting in particular seems enslaved by ‘three-act-structure’ rules and so on, which I think can put a straight jacket on a writer. Another trope is ‘whose story is this?’ When Billy Wilder wrote Some Like it Hot, nobody asked him if this was the Tony Curtis character’s story or the Jack Lemmon character’s story – and THAT film did ok.”

“However,” she added, “here are some tips:”

  1. Be adaptable. A good screenwriter is not precious – listen to criticism and take it on board. After all, it’s a communal activity and, besides, it’s somebody else’s money at stake. Be adaptable, but fight for your corner if you believe in it.

  2. Screenwriting is re-writing. Again and again and again. If you haven’t the fortitude and resilience for this, don’t get into it. With each draft, however, you’ll learn something. I’m learning all the time.

  3. If you’re adapting a book – and many films originate as books, of course – first read the book a couple of times with your screenwriter’s hat on – noticing the dramatic, filmic moments; the great speeches; the narrative thrust. Then write your first draft. This will closely resemble the book.

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October 3, 2013

Structuring Your Script with the Dan Harmon Story Circle

tumblr_me6eh0wcMR1rwq0obo1_500The Dan Harmon Story Circle may be the best thing since the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet. If you’re not familiar with Mr. Harmon’s work, he’s the creator of the innovative comedy series Community and was the head writer on The Sarah Silverman Program.

Harmon has a theory of story that he built off of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. The basic idea is quite simple:

Storytelling comes naturally to humans, but since we live in an unnatural world, we sometimes need a little help doing what we’d naturally do.

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