Archive for ‘Lists’

September 20, 2013

The Highest-Grossing Screenwriters of All Time

Thomas Mentel recently shared a list of the five highest-grossing screenwriters of all time (meaning their films have made the most money collectively, not necessarily themselves). There are probably some names on this list that you don’t know, but you absolutely should. One name not on the list worth noting is Melissa Rosenburg — the highest-grossing female screenwriter of all time (due primarily to her work on the Twilight series).

Here are a few excerpts from Mentel’s list:

5. David S. Goyer – $1.91 Billion (The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises)

Goyer has made a career out of being the go-to screenwriter for comic adaptations for the screen. However, he’s also had a lot of duds over the years with films like Sony’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and Fox’s Jumper. But overall, he’s been a consistent player for Warner for over a decade with films like the Blade trilogy and the well-regarded sci-fi film Dark City.

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June 13, 2012

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

Emma Coats, a Pixar storyboard artist has shared twenty-two rules of storytelling that she has compiled during her time at the animation powerhouse. (Thanks to io9 for posting the list.) The rules are:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

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September 20, 2011

Top 10 Script Monologues

This list from the Script Lab is a valuable read, both bcause it includes the written out monologues right in the article and because writing the perfect monologue is such an elusive talent. Finding the right moment, the right words, the right length, the right subtext — it’s a very delicate art that most screenwriters could use some help with.

A poignant and memorable speech is often what gives a film its place in cinematic history. When someone references Pulp Fiction, we often think of Jules’ Ezekial speech, when we think of A Few Good Men, it’s impossible not to remember “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” Speeches and monologues are the moments in films where writers and actors can really show off; and not with effects or actions sequences, but with great writing and tremendous performances. They can be the simplest and yet the most effective moments in a movie. These speeches can make us laugh, make us stand up and applaud, or even inspire us to take action. Here are arguably 10 of the very best.

10. Good Will Hunting

In this scene, Will Hunting (Matt Damon), a genius who chooses to work as a labourer, has gone to a bar with some friends, including Chuckie Sullivan (Ben Affleck.) Chuckie has attempted to chat to some girls at a bar when a pretentious male student interrupts and tries to undermine him. Will comes to the rescue to take this guy down a peg or two.

Will:  You’re a first year grad student. You just got finished readin’ some Marxian historian — Pete Garrison probably. You’re gonna be convinced of that ’til next month when you get to James Lemon, and then you’re gonna be talkin’ about how the economies of Virginia and Pennsylvania were entrepreneurial and capitalist way back in 1740. That’s gonna last until next year — you’re gonna be in here regurgitating Gordon Wood, talkin’ about, you know, the Pre-revolutionary utopia and the capital-forming effects of military mobilization.

Clark: Well, as a matter of fact, I won’t, because Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social –

Will: Wood drastically — Wood ‘drastically underestimates the impact of social distinctions predicated upon wealth, especially inherited wealth.’ You got that from Vickers, ‘Work in Essex County,’ page 98, right? Yeah, I read that too. Were you gonna plagiarize the whole thing for us? Do you have any thoughts of your own on this matter? Or do you…is that your thing? You come into a bar. You read some obscure passage and then pretend…you pawn it off as your own idea just to impress some girls and embarrass my friend? See the sad thing about a guy like you is in 50 years you’re gonna start doin’ some thinkin’ on your own and you’re gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life. One: don’t do that. And two: You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a f—-n’ education you coulda’ got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.

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September 7, 2011

Steven Spielberg’s Curriculum

This is a list of over 200 films that supposedly Steven Spielberg thinks every filmmaker should watch and study. Here’s the explanation:

This is a list that someone sent me during a conversation on Twitter. It’s unofficially referred to as “Steven Spielberg’s List of Movies You Have to See Before You Can Work With Him” aka “Steven Spielberg’s Curriculum.” Weirdly enough, I could only find ONE mention of it on Google. ONE. And it was a weird mention here: But it’s a list of 206 movies that Spielberg assembled as movies that should be required viewing for any aspiring filmmaker. And if you listen to the way Spielberg talks about cinema and the history of film, it’s quiiiiite clear he has seen more movies than anyone on earth other than Martin Scorcese. But just goes to show you how overlooked that part of your mantra is: watch. Movies. A lot of the great directors from Spielberg’s era have probably seen more than half of those movies. Maybe even 3/4. The younger filmmakers coming up now? I’d be shocked if they’d seen 30 of them. I haven’t seen anywhere NEAR half of them. Anyways. Pretty interesting list. I uploaded it as a Google document which I figure is probably easier for sharing than a Word document.

See the full list here.

August 18, 2011

Ten Tips for Creating a Strong Main Character

The Script Lab wrote this article offering ten simple tips for creating a lead character that is interesting enough to drive an entire 120 page script:

The most important character in your screenplay is your protagonist: your hero. It’s her story. We hope and fear for her. She’ the interesting somebody who wants something badly and is having trouble getting it. Without your hero, there is no story. But when creating that unforgettable protagonist, you must know the whole package – the entire iceberg- which is no easy task, but follow these Ten Key Rules and you’ll sculpt a hero that breaks the mold.

1. You must create an interesting protagonist, one that your audience will want to watch, hope, and fear for.

2. We don’t have to feel sympathetic toward him/her (although it is a great help), but we must at the very least feel empathy.

3. We love to see characters acting bravely, so it is not only what the character is trying to accomplish that makes us cheer for him or her, but it’s the lengths he/she is willing to go to get it. Make sure the lengths are far. We want a journey.

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July 27, 2011

15 Films You Shouldn’t Attempt to Emulate

This list from The Script Lab (they have a number of these — I highly suggest checking them out) is entitled The Top 15 Movies You Should NOT Watch in Film School. Find out why by reading on:

Beginning screenwriters learn by example; in fact, it’s really one of the best ways to master the art of screenwriting. The problem is, there are so many iconic and cult classic films that end up sending the novice down a road to ruin before they ever learn to write a simple plot. The following list should not be considered a list of bad films – far from it. But it is a list of films that break rules with such skill and acumen, it’s best to steer clear before you get any bright ideas that you’re ready to do the same.

15) Troll 2 – Alright, so this is the only one on the list that’s technically a “bad” film (kind of arbitrarily put on here to piss off Leroy James King, per Preston.) That said, this movie is totally enjoyable, albeit super kitschy and poorly executed. It’s not like one of Tarantino or Rodriguez’s Grindhouse films that are trying to be terrible. So watch out film school nerds – enjoy this at your own risk.

14) Million Dollar Baby – You know the old adage “Voice over is a tool of the lazy.” MDB uses VO to frame mood and genre, but even this movie at times feels like Eastwood might have been like, “Oh shit! We’ve got Morgan Freeman – let’s add VO just because he has the voice of God.” Prove that you can describe by showing, before you fall into the lazy trap of VO.

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July 8, 2011

Top Ten Cult Films

This list from the Script Lab is sure to feature some titles you’ve never heard of before. Trying to mimic one of these films probably isn’t your best bet for selling your next screenplay, but watching these movies would be a great way to up your film knowledge and see the bizarre reaches that movies are capable of:

Mind-bending. That’s how I can describe the last couple of weeks I have spent researching for this article. I always love to learn about new areas of cinema, but nothing could have prepared me for this series of weird and wonderful films that should NOT be watched so closely together when you’re in the middle of doing your finals! Some I loved, some not so much, but then that’s what I discovered cult films are all about. Films that bring a particular group of people together. Films that can be so bad that people end up loving them like a dumb, yet affectionate puppy. Films that the critics didn’t care for, and in some cases, films that have grown in popularity because it’s the fans themselves that warrant more attention that can’t be ignored.

Whether it’s the one-night drag queens of The Rocky Horror Picture Show or the plastic-spoon-throwers from The Room, it’s great to see people so enthusiastic about the movie they love! And it’s also amazing to see these films being passed down to younger generations. I’d certainly never heard of some of these before! And I’m sure I’ve missed some absolute classics here that will piss a few people off, but then what do I know, eh? Treat this list as an opportunity to feast on a few of the sideshow oddities that cinema has to offer.

10. Brazil (1985)

Brazil is often referred to as Terry Gilliam’s “masterpiece,” and I must admit, there is something unique and pretty spectacular about it. I’d certainly place it above the rather messy The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus! A science fiction black comedy, Brazil is set in a dystopian world where everything is engulfed in red tape and reliance on machines. Imagine Blade Runner but made by a member of Monty Python.  Robert De Niro even makes an appearance as a renegade air con engineer. Due its dark ending and the fact that it was made three years after Blade Runner, Gilliam had a long fight with studios to get it released. He eventually held his own private screenings behind the backs of studio heads. This paid off in the end when Brazil was awarded the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for Best Picture, and the studios finally agreed to release it. Brazil has since gained a cult status and been cited as an influence for films such as The Hudsucker Proxy, Dark City and Sucker Punch. Clearly, Brazil is a very interesting take on political satire.

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June 22, 2011

Script: Seven More Scripts Every Writer Should Read

This list is composed by JT Cummins. Every script on the list is available for download at myPDFscripts (links below) including all three Lord of the Rings scripts. There’s one repeat in this list from the previous list — Alien. Guess that means you should definitely read that script:

1. Alien (Walter Hill draft)

Hill’s unique, staccato style burns imagery directly into the reader’s brain. A cold, but scorching fast-paced must read.

2. Aliens

For such a legendary taskmaster and technocrat, James Cameron is a romantic at heart, and the plots of every one of his screenplays bear this out by revolving around issues of love and loss. With its surrogate human mother vs. alien mother subplot, Aliens is no exception. Throughout, Cameron’s uses short, novelesque descriptions to enhance his action and blue collar characters and effectively weld them to a plot that escalates with every turn of the page. There’s a reason this script makes many screenwriter’s top-ten lists — it’s damn good. Along with Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza’s Die Hard, Aliens is still one of the great blueprints for the modern action screenplay.

3. Tootsie

As convoluted and whacky as the premise is, the writers ground its absurdity by thoughtfully spreading the wealth of the story among a host of eccentric characters with issues that matter to each and every one of them – and thus the reader. This isn’t just Michael/Dorothy’s story, but a great ensemble piece. Like Larry Gelbart’s own television version of M*A*S*H, Tootsie is one of the rare comedic screenplays that effectively manages to mix comedy with biting social commentary — and actually work.

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June 15, 2011

Discounts on Recommended Script Consultants

The International Screenwriting Association recently suggested this list of script consultants. If you’re a member of ISA (which simply entails signing up for their newsletter) you can get a discount with many of these consulting services.

I personally haven’t tried any of these services, so I can’t vouch for one over another. As always, do your homework and find the one that makes the most sense for your script and your budget.

“Sell Your Script to Hollywood!”
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Mention This Email For $25 Off Standard Coverage Or Studio Notes!

Active industry professionals to help you!
The Happy Writers is a script consulting service consisting of hand selected consultants that are active industry professionals. They range from high profile producers, directors and respected script analysts. Not only do we simply consult, but we will help any writer with a well written script find an agent, manager or put their script in the hands of numerous production companies


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I.S.A. Member Discount: $10 off

Free $25K Contest Entry with CI Script Analysis!
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Got Movie Ideas?
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You’ve spent the time and money writing your screenplay.  Now give it a fair shot at Hollywood!
There are many ways to skin a cat and now even more ways to get your script to Hollywood.  Get it ready with a Script Consultation by “Top 5 Consultant” Melody Jackson.  Then create a Script Marketing Campaign to get it to Select Hollywood execs.  Smart Girls has helped writers since 1992.  Call today:  (818) 907-6511 or email
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Have you made the #1 screenwriting mistake – sending out your script before it’s ready?’s a premier screenwriting consulting firm run by producer/script doc David Kohner Zuckerman. David’s uniquely qualified for this work as he actively produces movies including the recently wrapped “The Fourth Noble Truth” and “All I Want for Christmas.” David also runs VPF – the only site that enables writers to pitch Hollywood Pros with a guaranteed response back.  His ScriptCoach Special includes notes + a query letter + 10 free pitches from 


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Expect a lot more from David.  He won’t just spot the weaknesses in your script that can destroy a sale — he’ll roll up his sleeves and give you ideas on how to fix them.

June 13, 2011

Script: 7 Scripts Every Writer Should Read

myPDFscripts posted this list of seven scripts that David Lemon, a freshly produced scribe, suggests every writer read. As an added bonus, myPDFscripts included a link to most of the seven scripts which you can download for free off of their website. Take a look:

1. The Apartment

For me, this is just one of the most touching and beautifully structured scripts ever written. It’s about the loneliness of the big city, the misogyny, putting career before love and a clock puncher finally becoming a ‘mensch’. It’s also a masterclass in dramatic irony and has the second best final line in film history (the number one being ‘Some Like it Hot’).

While I pray it never gets re-made, it could be as its themes are as fresh now as they were then. ‘Genius’ is an overused term but on this film Billy Wilder and I.A.L Diamond had it in spades.

2. Little Miss Sunshine

A film I really loved and which really leaps off the page. It’s also inspiring to first time feature writers as Michael Arndt’s CV prior to the film is pretty thin. Now he’s writing ‘Toy Story 3′.

The opening is a brilliant example of setting up a lot of characters with great economy. There’s hardly any dialogue, but five minutes in we already know a lot about this family and their wants and needs.

Like ‘The Apartment’, it’s also a film about something; in this case the American obsession with being a ‘winner’. Paul Dano’s sullen (and largely mute) teenage son even gives a speech just before Olive’s climactic dance in which he tells his uncle (and us) how meaningless other people’s labels of ‘success’ and ‘happiness’ really are. Also worth checking out as the ending in the finished film is ever so slightly different.

3. Back to the Future

A script that’s assembled with Swiss watch precision. There isn’t a single thing that’s set up that isn’t paid off later. It’s also worth comparing with a 1980 draft that’s also floating about on the ‘net.

The essential story- kid goes back in time, has to play matchmaker to his parents- is the same but so much of it feels convoluted and just plain wrong. It makes you realise that films aren’t so much written as re-written. It’s one of the few films I remember with nostalgic affection that’s even better than I remembered it.

4. Aliens

I know- not ‘Alien’? What gives? While I think ‘Alien’ remains a high benchmark for sci-fi horror, there’s just something so compelling about the way James Cameron writes hard-boiled action.

Brilliantly paced, spare dialogue, memorable characters- what more could you possibly want?

5. The Sixth Sense

M. Night Shyamalan’s recent output may have been, ahem, patchy (have you seen ‘The Lady in the Water’ and ‘The Happening’?) but this really is a terrific script that gives you chills as you read it.

It’s very spare, but every word is well chosen.

6. Sling Blade

Oddly enough, I read this years before seeing the actual film. Both are terrific but on the page, the script really grips you, and the underlying tension of waiting for Billy Bob Thornton’s profoundly disturbed child-man to show his dark side really drives it.

Even on the page your mind’s eye is drawn to him even when he doesn’t seem to be doing anything.

7. Slumdog Millionaire

Really exciting to see how this great film looks on the page. Although based on an acclaimed novel, it was screenwriter Simon Beaufoy who came up with the love story which gave his hero a much stronger drive; after all, do you want to see someone succeed because they want to be rich, or because they want to be re-united with the one they love?

It also gave a sense of unity to what could have been a series of interesting but slightly disconnected incidents; great and charming in a book; not so much on screen.

It also manages to incorporate suspense and some pretty traumatic stuff into what critics labelled ‘The Feel-Good Hit of the Year’. While it does leave you on a high, the story takes you to some pretty dark places…