Friday, August 31, 2012

Breaking up with Superman and comics in general - part 1

With this being a holiday weekend, I'm aware that fewer people will be visiting this blog.  As such, I'm taking this opportunity to talk about some stories that had an effect on me as a child and that probably contributed to making me want to be a writer.

This past week marked the end of a practice I adhered to for over 23 years, ever since the early months of 1989.  This week will see the release of the first Superman comic I have not bought since Superman 28.  Not that the issue was the first Superman comic I'd ever purchased (or more accurately, had purchased for me by my parents.)  For that story, you'd have to reach back to 1983's Superman Special #3, which detailed the Last Son of Krypton's issue-long battle with a power stealing android called Amazo.  I would have been three when that issue was new, though I'm not sure if it was a recent release by the time I saw it.

I honestly can't remember my first encounter with the Man of Steel.  As far as my memory is concerned, Superman has always been there.  I know I was familiar with the character well before my first viewing of the original Christopher Reeve film at the age of five.  I remember impatiently sitting through the first hour of the film on TV, asking my parents when he was going to look like my brother's Super Powers action figure.  (Yes, my BROTHER's action figure.  He got Superman, I got Batman... and oddly enough, I'd never purchase a Superman action figure of my own until I was 25.)

So he was a fairly consistent figure in my childhood.  My library had a few treasury collections of Superman reprints, and I'm sure that many of the first stories I read on my own were illustrated by the great Curt Swan or Wayne Boring.  In 1986, an aunt gave me the then-new MAN OF STEEL miniseries, which rebooted the character's continuity following CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS.  It was like coming in on the ground floor, where everything was new and a bit more sophisticated.  Over the next two years, I'd manage to coax my parents into buying me the odd issue here and there, but I'd not yet made the leap to being a regular buyer.

SUPERMAN #28 changed all of that.  It was the culmination of story threads that had been quietly building for about six months.  Deep guilt over having to execute the evil General Zod and his lieutenants led Superman to develop a violent split-personality.  No longer trusting himself among humans, Superman exiled himself to deep space, intent on never returning home.

Unlike most of the stories I'd read up to that point, there was no resolution at the end of the issue.  In fact, the "next issue" boxes indicated that this wasn't going to be wrapped up in the next issue or the issue after that either.  Of course, I had to know what happened next and though I don't recall specifically, I'm sure I must have pestered my parents to buy the subsequent issues as they came out. 

Over the next six months, Superman confronted his personal demons while also facing the alien dictator Mongul.  Over the course of his journey his powers weakened and he was eventually captured and forced to compete in alien gladiator games, almost unrecognizable behind a beard and his gladiator outfit.  He also met an ancient Cleric, who not only had been to Krypton 200 millenia ago, but also still carried a Kryptonian artifact called the Eradicator.  The Cleric helped him accept that "if you have sinned, it was only in the cause of justice" and helped him reach redemption in his own mind.  Our hero rediscovered who he was and - in a restored uniform - set out for home.

Life. Death.  Morality. Redemption. For a nine year-old, this was heady stuff.

I'm a sucker for a good "Hero Returns" story, and that probably has something to do with why I love the final chapter of this arc.  The first page of the issue shows several panels of deep space.  We move through our solar system, finally zeroing in on Earth.  The final shot shows a blur of a figure streaking towards it.  You can almost hear the first notes of the John Williams "Superman March."

We cut to Earth, and in another nine-panel page, see shots of people on the Metropolis streets taking notice of a speck in the sky.  Naturally one suggests it's a bird.  Another says, no, it must be a plane. And as my mental John Williams sends the theme to its creschedo, the final pedestrian realizes, "No!  It's HIM!  He's come back!"

Splash page - Superman standing atop the Daily Planet globe, with the American flag waving in the background.  It's a gorgeous sequence written by Roger Stern and art by George Perez. I'm sure out of context it could have been cheesy, but coming at the climax to a 13-part saga, that moment was totally earned.  In the years that followed, there were stories that surpassed this, but if not for the quality of this one, perhaps I would not have been so dedicated in my collecting.

Not only that, but it was a vast expansion of the Superman mythology and indeed, the seeds planted here would still be bearing fruit as late as four years later during "The Reign of the Supermen" storyline.  To me, the Superman comics of that era were superhero storytelling at its best.  There were three, and eventually four, regular Superman titles.  Each week brought a new chapter and the editors did a good job of maintaining continuity across all four titles while allowing each title's writer to tell their own stories.  At the time, it felt like there was incredibly tight continuity week-to-week, which each issue leading into the next.  In hindsight, I see how certain subplots remained confined to specific books, and realize that only two or perhaps three times a year did the books unite to tell one larger multi-part story that moved from title to title.

It's not like that these days.  The concept of the single issue story is less common, with everything feeling like a chapter in the eventually trade paperback collection.  This isn't always a bad thing, but I appreciate when a title doesn't have to be locked into six or eight months of telling the same story.

 So how did I fall out of love with this habit?  Come back on Monday for the conclusion.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What Contests do I recommend?

So since I covered Fellowships yesterday, what about contests? There are a lot of contests that, frankly, I have a pretty dim view of. They’re virtually worthless to the writers, and often are little more than money-making scams for those running it. However, I don’t like getting sued. So how about instead I highlight a few contests that have the qualities you should be looking for?

Scriptapalooza seems to be pretty on the up-and-up. It only costs $40 to enter and for $75 you can get detailed feedback. The first place winner gets $10,000, but the most significant element is that every script is read by a producer, manager or an agent. They promise they don’t use readers. Their philosophy is to get the script in front of people who can do something with it. You can see a full list of judges and their credentials at the contest’s site. Their success stories include getting writers representation, a few options, and even some produced films among some of the winners.

The Austin Film Festival Screenplay Contest costs $40 to enter in the main category, but there are extra feels for specialized categories. Winners in Comedy and Drama Screenplay categories each get $5,000, while the Teleplay winners get $1,000. The vast majority of success stories are about their winners getting representation. You also get notes if your script made it past the second round.

The Final Draft Big Break contest costs $50 to enter. Judges are industry pros, but they only judge the top five and pick a top three from that pool. Most of their success stories involve getting the writers repped. First place gets $15,000, second - $4,000, and third $2,000. Look them up here.

I’m sure there are other fine contests I’ve overlooked, but hopefully these are a good representation of what a worthwhile contest looks like. It’s your money and your intellectual property. Spend them wisely.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What Fellowships do I recommend?

 I get asked a lot about which contests I recommend. As I’ve said many times, I’m extremely selective about which one’s I endorse. In general, I think that Fellowships are often a better bet than straight-up contests, but I see merits to both. If you win a Fellowship, they essentially pay you to write. It’s like having a real job and in some cases, the Fellowship arranges to get you a job.

Possibly the most famous screenwriting fellowship is the Nicholl Fellowship. They award up to 5 $35,000 Fellowships each year. During that year, the Finalists will be expected to complete one feature screenplay. A few of the Nicholl entry scripts have been produced, including Ehren Kruger’s Arlington Road, Mike Rich’s Finding Forrester. You can find more info at their website.

Another Fellowship worth a look is the Disney/ABC Television Writing Program. Winning writers are paid $50,000 over the course of a year. While in the program, writers work one-on-one with a current programming or development exec preparing spec scripts for shows currently on the air. The intent is to get the writers onto TV staffs and give them exposure to executives, producers and representation. To apply, you need to submit a spec script of a current broadcast or cable show. More information can be found at their site.

The WB Television Writer’s Workshop is similar to this. You’ll also need a spec of a current show in order to apply. Like the Disney/ABC program, it’s geared to getting its participants on staff. There are weekly lectures with entertainment professionals and participants also take part in a simulated writer’s room. At the end of the program, executives work to get those participants who pass the Writer’s Room get staffed on a Warner Bros show. Look it up here.

Another such program is the Nickelodeon Writing Program. It also offers a salaried position for up to one year and hands-on experience writing spec scripts and pitching story ideas in both live action and animation television. Writers work with creators, network execs, and show-runners and are assigned to an Executive in Charge of Production. To enter, you’ll need a spec for a half-hour TV show that’s currently on either broadcast or cable. Check out their site here.

You might also look into the NBC Writers on the Verge program and the CBS Writers Mentoring program. They’re similar to the others I’ve mentioned, though with the objective of increasing diversity. If you’re a minority of any kind, definitely check these out.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tuesday Talkback: Any luck with contests?

Since I'm talking about contests this week, have any of you had any luck with contests?  Please feel free to share your experiences and if you'd submit to any of them again.

Monday, August 27, 2012

4 questions you NEED to ask about screenplay competitions

I get asked all the time about the best contests to enter. The truth is that I’m not a huge fan of contests. There are some good ones out there, but there are also a lot of them that probably aren’t worth the cost of postage for a hard copy of your script. How can you tell the difference? I’m glad you asked.

Question 1 – “How do I benefit?”    What is this contest going to do for you if you win? Is there a decent-sized cash prize? Is it a fellowship that essentially pays you to write for a year? You also might consider how well-known the contest is and if their name could open doors in the business. The Erie, Pennsylvania Script Rodeo might not be respected enough to open doors for you, but the Nicholl Fellowship is a different story.

Another benefit might be coverage or story notes. Getting an outside opinion can be useful, and professional coverage usually starts at $100-$150 – somewhat more than the cost of most entry fees.

Question 2 – “Who are the judges?” This is a subset of the first question. Are the final judges people with strong credentials in the entertainment industry? Or are they rubes fresh off the bus from Wisconsin? A competition like Scriptapalooza promises that every entry is read by a producer, manager and agent. Those are the people who you’re looking to impress in the business, so it’s best to find a competition where the people making the cuts actually know what they’re talking about. Well, at least as much as an agent knows what they’re talking about.

There are some competitions that list some impressive names as their final judges – but often those big names you recognize only read the top ten finalists and choose the winners from there. Look out for this bait and switch.

I don’t want to get in too much trouble here but the pay for contest reading is often extremely low. Add to that the fact that most contest submissions are rather weak, and you’ll quickly have an impatient reader who’s looking for a reason to pass on a script quickly so they can move on to the next script in the pile. This is especially common in the smaller contests – which is why I suggest not entering some of those.

 If you enter a contest where all submissions are read by mangers, producers, agents and development executives. They might make note of you and contact you even if the judges in the later rounds pass on it. It’s a sneaky way to get your work in front of the people who can buy, sell or produce it.

Question 3 – “What claim, if any, do they have on your work?” Don’t be a schmuck. Make sure you’re not giving away ownership of your script.

Question 4 – “Do they have any success stories?” The competition website should trumpet any successes, whether it’s prior finalists being signed to an agent, selling a script, or producing a movie. If they don’t list such things – that means there aren’t any. Steer clear.

So remember those four questions. With the internet at your disposal, there’s no good reason you shouldn’t be able to research in depth.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Reader questions - Using big words in your script, scene headings

Cody sent in a question somewhat related to Tuesday's post:

Your post today somewhat coincides with my question. Last week during my screenwriting group in LA, one of our members (always highly critical, yet never brings their own pages) chastised me for using words that he said "a reader might not understand." The words were both used in description, they were "kitschy" and "eponymous." He said readers are looking for any reason to toss your script aside and too big of words might cause them to do that. I read you blog, Amanda's and countless others and have never heard this. Thoughts?

I don't think those two words are too obscure, so I can't say I'd figure you have anything to fear from them.  So long as they work in context, words like that shouldn't be a problem.

Your friends might have a point, though.  If - IF - you're using a few too many "thesaurus" words, that might result in a scenario like the ones your friends posit.  There's nothing wrong with some word variety, but if you're so focused on using "intelligent" words that EVERY word sounds like it belongs on a vocabulary test, then you might have a problem.

There's a scene from Friends that is a good demonstration of what I'm talking about.  Joey has to write a letter of recommendation and he's worried about sounding stupid, so Ross convinces him to use the thesaurus to dress it up a bit. Joey runs the entire letter through the thesaurus word-by-word and picks the smartest sounding word for each one.  This results in a letter that... well... just click here.

I'm not saying that's your problem, or even if that's what your friends are reacting to, but keep it in mind.

Michael writes in with a formatting question:

What is the hard and fast rule when it comes to reading a Scene Heading at the end of page? Should it always be avoided, as Trottier says, or are there exceptions? 

I found my script has many pages ending by starting a new scene but the character speaking doesn't show up until the next page. If I push all my scene headings down to start the next page, I end up with an additional page added to the script count and several pages where there's a heavier block of white space at the bottom of the page. 

What is more acceptable to the reader? Seeing bigger gaps at the bottom of the page or seeing a Scene Heading and maybe one or 2 lines of description, but nothing else. 

This one's an easy one - put the scene heading at the top of the next page.  Final Draft should do this automatically, in fact.  I'm a big believer in making your script look as professional as possible, so that's the direction I'd go in.

Beyond that, it's a little confusing to turn the page and be launched into the description.  A scene heading at the bottom of the page might get skipped, forcing the reader to turn back.  It's a minor detail, but another point that falls under the "don't break the flow of the read" rules.

Hope this helps!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

12-Step Screenwriting: Week 12 - Table Read

It's time for another episode of the Bitter Script Reader YouTube series!

This is the final chapter of a 12-part series designed to guide and motivate a writer to complete a screenplay within three months.  Recognizing that I had an opportunity to reach a new audience via YouTube, I decided to start with the basics.

This week's video discusses how you can benefit from staging a table read.

As always, it really helps me out to see some engagement with these videos, so please click through to the YouTube page, subscribe and leave a few comments there.  Feel free to embed these on your blogs, and if you find the tips useful, tweet about them or put the videos on your Facebook page.

That's it for this series.  We're going to take a few weeks off, but the Bitter Puppet will return soon with more videos!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tuesday Talkback - If you know a mistake exists, why not fix it?

I got a question from a reader named Norm recently:

I have a question though as a professional reader in Hollywood. Does grammar matter in a script? There's this debate raging on the forums over at Stage 31 at the moment and people are swearing that grammar is in fact not important at all in a spec and that studios will simply hire people to fix it. I would love to get the opinion of an actual script reader on this. If you read a script with bad grammar, would you still give it the stamp of approval?

I'm sure we've kinda discussed this before. Most questions of this nature can be boiled down to these guidelines:

Make your writing look as professional as possible.  Thousands of scripts come into each company a year.  It's a deluge - and most of those scripts are bad.  So people are going to have ways of thinning the herd.  Some of you are going to argue that it's not fair that someone might toss your script aside without giving it a full read.  To that I say, "When someone on American Idol has the wrong look, the wrong attitude and their voice is not only weak, but completely lacks technique, do you really need to hear them sing a three-minute song in it's entirety?"

Don't give your reader any reason not to remain engaged with the story.  If your grammar is so atrocious that one has to re-read some passages over and over again to understand what happened, that's not a good thing for you.

If someone retorts "I read a Tarantino script and he misspells everything!  No one cares!" punch them in the face.  YOU are not Tarantino.  When you write a film that grosses $100 million, jump-starts several careers and gets nominated for Oscars, then fine, get lazy and write it your way.

If the script is a great story, brilliant concept and flawless characters, and it happens to have poor grammar, then yeah, I'd probably still give it a Consider.  But here's the thing - writers who care enough about their work to turn in something that exceptional aren't going to invest that much care and then shit the bed when it comes to grammar.  The people who stand out from the crowd well enough to break in almost always agonize over showing their work in the best possible light.

Why buy a tux and then wear sneakers with it?

My Talkback question to you:  Why does this question keep coming up?  Why must this be a debate on screenwriting boards?  If all of you are intending to be professional writers who take pride in your work, why are you not kicking the assses of the lazy hacks looking for validation on how to cut corners?

The biggest fights I see on screenwriting forums are over little pissy shit like this: should sluglines be bold?  How much should I underline and italicize?  Readers like me often jump in with suggestions or guidelines on how to make your script more appealing.  Most people are appreciative, but there's one asshole who says, "You wouldn't flunk David Koepp over a formatting and grammar nitpick, so ergo formatting doesn't matter!"

Actually, that belligerent asshole probably doesn't know the meaning of the word "ergo."

My point is, I get the curiosity.  I get seeking the advice of people on the inside.  What I DON'T get is why you guys waste so much energy fighting over this stuff.  If you really believe grammar doesn't matter, then don't waste your time berating everyone.  Hell, let them waste their time getting their grammar perfect while you beat them across the finish line.

Similarly, if you know there are benefits to a more professional look to your script, and some jerk in the forums tells you that the gurus know nothing, the bloggers know nothing and that you're an idiot for caring so much, why do you need that dickhead's approval of your method?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Free advice for the makers of the "Female Expendables"

Last Friday it was announced that producer Adi Shankar has hired Dutch Southern to write a script that's being described as a "Female Expendables."  This really isn't a surprise considering the first Expendables was a huge hit, action does well overseas, and we've seen the beginnings of a trend that might actually allow (*gasp*) women to be more accepted as action leads.

By the way, this also proves my pet theory that film evolves much slower than TV as it was more than TEN YEARS AGO that Buffy Summers and Sydney Bristow were kicking ass on their respective shows, spawning a number of would-be imitators.  It really shouldn't have taken this long for studios to do more than just dip a toe into the female action genre.

I'd relish the chance to write a Female Expendables, but barring a miracle, that's not going to happen before this trend gets run into the ground.  Of course, getting this film right is critical because a huge failure could set female action films back ten years.  There are still people who point to Catwoman as an example that filmgoers don't want to see women in the lead of comic book movies.  No, schmuck, filmgoers just don't want to see a shitty movie!  Catwoman's failure is a monument to the incompetence of the creatives involved - NOT a binding prescient against adapting a character who has "Woman" as her suffix.

So in the interests of preserving the female action genre, here's some free advice:

X-nay on the ex-trafficking-say - I read a lot of action movies and one common trend - particularly for the mid-budget ones - is that they involve our hero going up against villains who run a sex-trafficking ring.  It's not a trend that started with Taken, but Taken's success certainly fed it.  It's already an overused go-to trope.  And I know what you're thinking, "Hey we've got a film full of female leads. You know, rah-rah girl empowerment, feminism, all that crap.  Why NOT send them up against a bunch of guys looking to sell women as sex slaves?  It's thematically perfect."

Well, cuz it's lazy.  And overdone.  And exploitative. And sleazy.  Which leads to...

Mind your tone - When it embraces the cheese and the over-the-top nature of having all these action icons in the same film, The Expendables movies are really entertaining.  You know when they're less entertaining?  When they take things too seriously, as with the South American dictator Stallone's team faced in the first film.  It's the same sort of tonal confusion that marred the last Rambo film - you can't spend 2/3 of the film seemingly trying to make a serious statement about the real atrocities in Burma and then expect cheers when the tone shifts into glorious over-the-top comic-book action in the third act.

In other words, don't be serious.  Have fun with it.  A villain can be effective without being disturbingly analogous to the real madmen who exist in the world.  That said, it doesn't need to be a ridiculous campy cheesefest like Charlie's Angels either.  You CAN mix fun and action in the right proportions, why just...

Look at Alias - J.J. Abrams nailed the right tone for this project a decade ago.  Rent Alias.  Watch it.  Study it.  Learn how to make a female protagonist strong without turning her into an emotionless automaton.  Take notes on how to present a strong antagonists who don't need to be excessively violent or "real." Oh, and there's one other thing Alias does really well, but deserves it's own catagory.

Sex appeal - Just about every episode of Alias had Jennifer Garner donning one sexy disguise or another.  Some times it was as simple as an evening gown, other times the mission called for slinky lingerie  or swimsuits.  And because it was done with a wink, it rarely felt exploitative.  It was all part of the fun of the show, and there's nothing wrong with a little eye candy in the right proportions.  So don't run away from this, but also don't fall into the trap that I and many other readers complain about - that some scenes linger too long in exploiting the female lead's body.  There's a fine line between appreciating the feminine form and leering like a creepster.  Find it.

Bring on the icons - No one would ever accuse The Expendables films of having intricate, complex, or even original stories.  But that's okay, because no one is going to these films for the script.  Cast this thing with a bunch of no names, or even bigger actors who aren't action icons and all the appeal goes out of this film.  An Expendables with Mark Wahlberg, Colin Farrell, Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds just doesn't have the same appeal.

So it's not worth doing right unless you have legitimate female action stars.  That means true classic icons like Linda Hamilton and Sigourney Weaver.  It means back the Brinks truck up for Jennifer Garner and Kate Beckinsale.  Go after Sarah Michelle Gellar, Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel.  Heck, Jessica Alba probably wouldn't be a bad pick either.  You need at least a few of these bigger action stars in the cast - women whose most prominent roles are action-based.

Then you've got your second tier of female action.  On this list I'd have Rosario Dawson, Maggie Q, Eliza Dushku, and Rachel Nichols.  Yvonne Strahovski from "Chuck" is another casting choice I wouldn't overlook.  And based on her turn in Live Free or Die Hard, Mary Elizabeth Winstead would also make my list.  These are good people to fill out the cast and I'm fans of all of them but it would be a huge mistake just to cast from this tier.

Gina Carano feels like she should be on the first list, but given that Haywire didn't do so well, it's more likely she's seen as belonging on the second list.  Either way, I'd be surprised to see her overlooked.

Keep all this in mind, and you've got a potential hit.  Ignore more than one of these guidelines and you might become the new poster boy for "Why Woman Shouldn't Headline Action Films."  A whole genre's riding on you guys - I hope you're up to it.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Free-For-All: The Nippled Knight Rises

This has already made its way around the net, but I think it's worth sharing.  Someone took the soundtrack of a trailer for The Dark Knight Rises and cut scenes from Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin to match it.  The results are... entertaining.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

12-Step Screenwriting: Week 11 - Rereading

It's time for another episode of the Bitter Script Reader YouTube series!

This is the eleventh chapter of a 12-part series designed to guide and motivate a writer to complete a screenplay within three months.  Recognizing that I had an opportunity to reach a new audience via YouTube, I decided to start with the basics.

This week's video offers suggestions on how to give your script a thorough re-read.

As always, it really helps me out to see some engagement with these videos, so please click through to the YouTube page, subscribe and leave a few comments there.  Feel free to embed these on your blogs, and if you find the tips useful, tweet about them or put the videos on your Facebook page.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday Talkback: Great speeches

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably saw some conversations I had this weekend with screenwriter F. Scott Frazier about great dialogue scenes.  Well, we got a lot of great submissions, but it also sparked a sideline debate about if monologue scenes should count as dialogue scenes.

So why not use today's thread to list some of our favorite monologues and speeches?  I've posted this next scene on Twitter a few times, but it's one of my all-time favorite speech scenes.  This is from Other People's Money, written by Alvin Sargent, adapted from a play by Jerry Sterner.

I first saw this movie when I was 12 or so.  I admit, the more inside details of the plot - centered on Danny Devito's "Larry the Liquidator" mounting a hostile take over of a factory run by Gregory Peck's Gorgy - were kind of lost on me.  But what wasn't lost on me was the brilliance of the climactic scene.  I can't possibly explain it better than Roger Ebert does in his review:

"The takeover bid climaxes in a shareholder's meeting inside the factory, at which both Jorgy and Larry make speeches. Gregory Peck's words and delivery here reminded me of the key scenes in a lot of the Frank Capra classics, where the little guy stood up and defended old-fashioned American values, and got a standing ovation, and the movie was over. In "Other People's Money," after Peck sits down, DeVito stands up, and defends greed. It is amazing how good an argument he makes."

I know this is a long clip, but it's really, really smart writing. Take 12 minutes out of your day and take in these monologues.

What are some of your favorite speeches and monologues?

Monday, August 13, 2012

What do actresses want to see less of in the scripts they get?

I was out with some friends this past weekend and as it happened, the group included a couple of actresses who've done a fair number of supporting roles and guest roles between them.  So I asked, "What is it you'd like to see in scripts that you get?"

The answer: "Less victimization of women."  I know we've talked about this before on the blog - a lot - but it was interesting to see how immediately that response came from an actual working actress.  I knkow a small handful of actresses who get a decent amount of work in TV and it seems like they're perpetually cast as victims.  (For example, a few seasons ago, I had a friend get raped on two different shows.  And no, NEITHER of those shows was Law & Order: SVU.)

As the conversation continued, we discussed how the issue wasn't just writing women as victims, but that there's nothing to those roles beyond being victims.  It's not always an avoidable problem - on a procedural, most of the characters are going to end up defined by their function in the plot.  Still, if possible, one should try to put oneself in the shoes of the actor who's eventually going to have to say those lines.

If you're writing SVU, the formula demands that at least one rape victim a week - there's no way around that.  But how many different ways can you write that victim?  What's their backstory?  How do they react to the attack - do they fight back ferociously or do they try to bargain with their attacker?  Afterwards, when they talk to the cops, what's the underlying emotion as they tell their story - terror? bloodthirst to see the guy punished? Do they deny what happened?  If so, why? Where does that motivation come from?  Do they gloss over details that they think makes them look culpable?  Do they emphasize certain details because they are mad at the detectives for making them relive it?

There are so many different options and layers to play in a scene like that beyond "generic weeping rape victim who barely gets through her story before breaking down in tears."

See, for an SVU writer, that scene is just there to give Mariska Hargitay and her partner something to play against before they're off and running against the bad guy/Special Guest Star.  For the working actor who gets that part, it's a part they had to fight against a few dozen other actors to get and it might be the only work that they have for months.  They might only have a three-page scene (or possibly less), but they're going to stare at those words - your words - and struggle to find a way to make them real.  Even if the character's job is to blend in, the actor can't do that if there's no sense of reality.

So think about it from their side of things and give them something to play.  And hey, if that means you can make your female victims more multidimensional, so much the better.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Future Filmmaker Friday: Man Crush - CMF Best Comedy and Best Actor Winner

As you know, a while back I attended CMF Hollywood, the finale for Campus MovieFest.  During the closing Gala, an interesting dilemma presented itself to me - I didn't know anyone who wasn't working behind the scenes or presenting that night.  This meant that I had to find someone to sit with at one of the large tables.  (Think of it like the Golden Globes-type seating.)

While virtually everyone else there was dress in cocktail dresses, suits, ties, or at least nice shirts, I came upon a table with four guys dressed rather... casually for the event.  It was a bit of a Casual Friday kind of night for these filmmakers.  But they looked like nice guys, so I took a vacant seat and introduced myself to the incredibly friendly team of Cloud 9 Collaborations from Indiana University.

They proudly told me that their film was actually a finalist in several categories that evening and as the evening went on, they took home two awards.  Landon Scott won for Best Actor and later the whole team won for Best Comedy.  I'm not sure what thrilled them more - being named the Best Comedy in an international contest, or the fact that it was SNL's Horatio Sanz who presented them with their Golden Tripod.

Excitedly, the guys returned to the table after their second win, proclaiming me their "good luck charm."  I told them they didn't know the half of it, as I had featured "The Strong One" on my blog earlier that year and THAT film walked away with two awards of its own that evening, including Best Picture.

These fine young filmmakers were kind enough to welcome me into their fold during the rest of the evening, and enjoying the Gala and the afterparty with them was the highlight of my CMF experience.  That's why it's a special thrill to present my personal favorite film of the festival: Man Crush.

Below you'll find an interview with Charlie Myers, who co-wrote, shot and edited the film.  Charlie Mattingly was the other writer. Johnny Hourmozdi and Ben Linder did the music, and their cast was
Landon Scott, Bill Kenny, Kat Lyons, and Natalie Hamer.


So tell us a little about yourself.   How did you get interested in film? Where are you in your school career?

My name is Charlie Myers, I'm 23 and a recent graduate of Indiana University (with a degree in Film and Media Studies), and I've always loved telling stories.  Video has always been my chosen method of doing so because of the editing stage.  There's a chance to perfect  your story before anybody ever sees it.  Some people prefer stage theater because the story unfolds live; I prefer film and video because the final cut lasts forever.

As far as I can remember I've always secretly wanted to make movies.  I was just too afraid to admit it until a couple years ago.  At this point I've kind of gotten fixated on the idea.  As a kid watching movies with my family I was fascinated by the kind of immediate and lasting effect they had on my siblings and parents.  I always wanted to try to create that effect myself.

This was your team's third year participating in CMF and your team's third year as a campus finalist.  Can you chart a measurable improvement from your first year to the present?  Feel free to tell us a little about your other entries.

This is our third year of success but actually our fourth overall.  I addressed this during both our acceptance of Best Picture at IU and our acceptance of Best Comedy at the IGF.  (Someone online called me a douchebag for talking about this so allow me to clarify my speech, which was meant to be inspiring, not douchey.)

The first year CMF came to IU, our comedy wasn't even shown (it was called Books on DVD, you can find it online).  It was terrible. My writing/directing partner Charlie Mattingly and I went back to his house and sat in the dark passing back and forth a bottle of tequila for a couple hours, drowning in our disappointment and failure.  Somewhere within that time came the drive to come back the next year and win at IU.

The next year we did just that having made An Alphabetical Dictionary Conversation with Chet Toddsworth, a short that involved 21 actors over three days, under our new production name Cloud 9 Collaborations.  That short made it to the IGF, but unfortunately received no other recognition.

However, seeing the other shorts that won that year we were again inspired (Bloodsuckers was my favorite, definitely watch that one if you haven't seen it.  Definitely proved to us we had a lot of room to improve).  We saw how high the bar had been set past Indiana.  Determined to make something that could make it further than our last two years, we made Clean Streets our third year.  While we made it the furthest yet as a finalist at the IGF, we again saw how high the bar had been set, and were determined to come back for our last year and finally win. The moment we came up with the premise of Man Crush, I believed we would do just that.  So going from terrible and not even shown to winning an international title definitely felt like an improvement.

What - in your opinion - makes for a good short film?

Short films are tough.  I often find that problems arise when filmmakers try to meet a time requirement.  If it's five minutes, they fill five minutes.  If it's ten, they make it ten.  What this leads to is stories that ought to be two minutes long are stretched, and therefore lose their appeal.  Suddenly they feel hours long.  I may sound like a hypocrite because all of our shorts have been five minutes to the frame.

However, people have told us they love our shorts because they feel two minutes long while actually being five.  We have achieved this because each year we tend to bite off more than we can chew.  Each script has been about fifteen pages (which in normal scriptwriting practice would equate to fifteen minutes of screen time).  By compressing a fifteen minute story into five, we create a more dense and attractive story and never lose our audience.  And that's important for a short, because you cannot lose your audience for a second as each is valuable.

Man Crush deals with a straight guy who becomes concerned that he might have a crush on his best friend.  Where did the idea come from?

The idea for Man Crush comes from simple observation of males.  Somehow, while many men are terrified to be perceived as gay, they are allowed to slap each others asses and brush it off as being "bros." What happens when those behaviors are misread?  What if someone were to perceive those typical "bro" practices as something more?

Originally Landon and Bill were supposed to engage in a lot more of these "broin out turned gay" activities but there wasn't enough time.  The reason we had them wake up together at the beginning was so that the audience would conclude immediately that this must be a gay couple, so when it is revealed soon after that they are just friends, suddenly the story gets interesting.

That being said, we wanted to be absolutely clear right off the bat that this was in no way mocking or putting down homosexuality (much like the classic Seinfeld line, "Not that there's anything wrong with that!").  Instead we focused on making it about a guy who has these strange, misplaced feelings that he cannot explain, and that happen to be for another male.  It turned into the classic "I can't tell my best friend that I love her because that will ruin our wonderful friendship" story, except with two dudes (something I like in itself because I'd never seen it before.)

But again, we immediately inform the audience (by way of the phone scene where Landon tells the radio woman his predicament) that this is not a story about a guy struggling with homosexuality in a society that may not accept him, but instead about misplaced, ineffable feelings for a best friend that happens to be male.  Apparently it worked though because so far every gay person I know to have seen it has said they love it, so I'm proud of that.

How sure were you guys that you hit the right tone?  Was it a case where you didn't really relax until you saw an audience react to it, or were you pretty confidant once you shot it?

I was confident when I had finished shooting it that it would be a great comedy, in the sense that I knew I personally would love it (which is important, as I'm one who believes that you have to make yourself laugh first and foremost).  But there's an amazing double standard that exists in our society, where it's considered attractive for two women to makeout (and they're only experimenting), but when two guys kiss, even briefly, they are immediately labeled as homosexuals forever.  Again, there's nothing inherently wrong with that, but it leads to many males being terrified of being perceived as gay.

I knew we had hit the right tone when people, male and female, were cheering on the kiss between Bill and Landon at the end.  After that kiss ends Landon's confusion, nobody labels that character as gay anymore.  However, at our Q&A as well as just walking around, the number one question Landon received was, "Are you gay in real life?"  So maybe we got people to question their sense of social norms, maybe not, but at least they enjoyed the story and had a good laugh (hopefully).

What's the collaborative process like between you and your teammates?

We operate under the name Cloud 9 COLLABORATIONS because we firmly believe in the collaborative effort.  One of the main reasons we never have credits (the first one being that they are a waste of time) is because credits imply that one person had one job.  When we make shorts, everybody has input.  Therefore, we feel as though we all made it, so we operate under one name, and that's all the credit anyone needs.  Having a solid script is a good start, but the real story and comedy comes from the scene and the characters, so keeping your ear to the ground and allowing the story to change and transform in front of you on the fly is just as important.  Improvisation is a great example, and we love working with actors who have that important skill.  Everything is fluid until that final export, and the credit goes to everyone involved.

How did the limitations of one-week to shoot and edit it play into how you developed your idea?

Years past we only had three days to make our shorts, as we didn't own our own equipment.  This year I finally had my own camera so I actually got a decent amount of sleep.  I shot it in two days, which allowed an incredible amount of editing time, which was wonderful.  Sometimes the deadline brings about the best changes, but having an abundance of time this time around allowed me to watch the short hundreds of times, something very important to make it the best it can be.

Was there anything you wanted to do, but couldn't, due to time restrictions?
Originally, Bill and Landon were supposed to have a more developed relationship, but there just wasn't enough time.  It was more important to focus on Landon's predicament and let the audience fill in the rest.  As I said previously, I wanted to put them in a series of "bro" scenarios, and indicate that Landon saw them as something more (ex: they play basketball and maybe Bill plays Defense a little close, etc.).  In the end though I was just happy to hit five minutes.

 What have you taken from the CMF experience?  What were your impressions of CMFHollywood?

CMF has always been my favorite time of year.  It's the only time I feel I can truly take a week off of school and not care at all while also having an incredible time exercising creativity.  It's also generally the most stressful time, but it's the best kind of stress there is.  I was a fifth-year student this past year, so all of my old teammates had already graduated and moved away.  With them gone, my level of production dropped significantly.

Participating in CMF suddenly made me feel like I was living again (sounds lame I know, but it's true).  CMF Hollywood is always a good time, even if we were the only guys to show up not properly dressed for the occasion (oops).  Couldn't have had a better time at the IGF Awards Show.  Watching Landon Scott win International Best Actor (yes, for playing Landon, I wanted them to go by their real names) was like watching my child being born.  I'm just glad we won on our final go so I can lay the CMF years to rest happily.

What are your plans post-college?

I'll be moving to LA within a few days.  We'll see what the city has in store for me.

Finally, do you have any other short films on the web, or any personal website you'd like to plug?

I don't really have anything else to plug, except for my youtube channel ( which has a load of random stuff (shorts, movie mashups, video remixes, stupid stuff of my friends and whatnot).  Sometimes I do little editing jobs when I think of something funny or fun to edit.  One in particular is called 300 Tourettes Guys, which is worth checking out if you need an immature laugh or two.  Or Good Wall-E Hunting, that's another of my favs.  Other than that maybe someday I'll make a professional website, probably a good idea.

So there you have it.  I really think that Charlie and his collaborators are going to be going places in a few years.  So if any of you out there have any leads for Charlie as he arrives in L.A. and tries to break in, please feel free to contact me and I'll put you in touch with him.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bitter makes a completely unprofessional (and nerdy) puppet-to-puppet pitch to ALF

Like any good child of the 80s, I grew up on ALF episodes.  In fact, when my family got our first VCR one of the first shows we recorded (and then watched again and again) was ALF.  There are some episodes I rewatched so many times that even after a two-decade hiatus between viewings, I found I remembered specific lines and even inflections upon viewing them in a recent DVD marathon.

Look, I was such a crazy ALF fanboy that I even watched and enjoyed the 1996 TV-movie Project ALF.

That's why yesterday's Hollywood Reporter story about ALF getting his own feature film inspired, not outrage over another reboot, but excitement at seeing my favorite Melmacian on screen again.  I was too giddy to be bitter.  And, well, an un-bitter Bitter can be an ugly sight.  Especially when he's got his own YouTube channel and decides to speak to ALF puppet-to-puppet.

Seriously, don't watch this.  There's a lot of fanboyism and obscure trivia.  And pleading.  And singing.... ohhhhh, the singing....

Don't look at me. I warned you.  That's it - no more Tabby Paw Pie for me before bedtime!

And yes, I really do have a Burger King limited edition "Cooking with ALF" puppet and record back at my parents' house.  My brother also still has his complete collection of ALF comics.

One reason I'm really excited is that ALF creator Paul Fusco is one of the minds behind this new movie.  That ensures the magic will still be there.  Plus, it's a little gratifying to know that he's spent twenty years trying to revive this character in a big way and finally ALF's time has come again.  At the very least, that's gotta excite you on behalf of a fellow writer.

Who feels like dancing?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

12-Step Screenwriting: Week 10 - Rewriting

It's time for another episode of the Bitter Script Reader YouTube series!

This is the tenth chapter of a 12-part series designed to guide and motivate a writer to complete a screenplay within three months.  Recognizing that I had an opportunity to reach a new audience via YouTube, I decided to start with the basics.

This week's video offers suggestions on how to prepare for a rewrite.

As always, it really helps me out to see some engagement with these videos, so please click through to the YouTube page, subscribe and leave a few comments there.  Feel free to embed these on your blogs, and if you find the tips useful, tweet about them or put the videos on your Facebook page.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tuesday Talkback: What do you want from the webshow?

So as the last few weeks of 12-Step Screenwriting are winding down, I'm looking forward to new things for the YouTube show.  I've got a TV-related interview that's in the can, but I'm holding off on posting that until the new fall season debuts.

So I'd like to survey you guys and really find out what you'd like from the show.  I can't promise that every idea will be doable or feasible, but I'd really appreciate hearing from you what you think works and what you think doesn't work.

Do you like the short info segments like those in 12-Step Screenwriting?  Would you like to see further series like that which focus on specific aspects of screenwriting?

How about interviews?  Would you be interested in seeing longer interviews with writers and directors, presented in short, 4-minute pieces?  And I'm not talking about EPK-type promotional interviews.  I'm more interested in having a real conversation about the creative process, sort of akin to what you might find on Inside the Actors Studio.  How many of you would be interested in that, even if the writer wasn't necessarily someone you were familiar with?

What haven't I thought of that you'd like to see on the show?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Does Hollywood not care about scripts that are bad and unoriginal?

Last week, I said on Twitter that it's a logical fallacy to believe that since "every movie released this summer sucked, was a remake or both, so I guess my writing doesn't need to be good or original."  A couple people asked me to defend that, saying that "Hollywood" clearly doesn't seem to want new or good scripts.

No one sets out to make a bad movie.  Bad movies happen sometimes because plans go awry, sometimes because missteps were made in the translation from script to screen, sometimes because the cumulative effect of too many opinions and compromises eventually crushes the film.  This is obvious, but I feel like I should state it because it seems like some people making the above argument might actually believe that there are some executives deliberately looking for bad scripts.

You can never forget that this is a business - a very expensive business.  We can waste time complaining about that and getting into a lot of high-minded arguments about art vs. commerce... Or we can just accept that as an immutable reality of the film industry and try to understand why things work this way.

A studio has to release a certain number of films a year that do a certain amount of business so that they can keep their bottom line healthy and thus, continue to stay in business.  As with any business, it's about releasing a product that will produce profit.  That also translates to releasing products with market appeal.

To put it more bluntly, Hollywood is giving you what you want.  Or at least what the best information available to them leads them to believe you want.  They don't release bad movies to piss you off any more than Ford would produce a car that suddenly ejected you from your vehicle without warning.

I'm not saying that this reality means they should get a free pass from criticism or Monday Morning Quarterbacking either.  If bad product comes to market, you as the consumer should absolutely let your voice be heard.  Even better - don't spend your money on said product.

The problem sets in when there's a film that everyone seems to consider terrible, but it makes an insane amount of money.  Look at Transformers.  There are plenty of people who are quite vocal in expressing their belief that Michael Bay makes very unintelligent films that are nothing more than boobs and pyrotechnics.  Some people might even argue that his movies are among the worst ever made.  In the case of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I might even agree with them.

But look at these numbers:

Transformers - $319 million domestic gross/$709 million worldwide
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - $402 million domestic/$836 million worldwide
Transformers: Dark of the Moon - $352 million domestic/$1.1 billion worldwide

Someone saw those movies.  And on a worldwide scale, each film was more successful than the one that preceded it.  Why wouldn't you continue that series?  Because some people on the internet talk shit about Michael Bay?  Sorry, that doesn't fly in the business world.

So let's say you're the guy sitting in an executive office at a competing studio, trying to set the slate for the coming year.  This is a business of home runs and you've just seen Paramount and DreamWorks hit a massive home run with Transformers.  They figured out what the audience wanted and they gave it to them - so it's on YOU to find that same audience.

This is why you're going to take note of the fact that Transformers had massive awareness as a brand and an audience hungry for new material even some 15 or 20 years after the cartoon was last significant.  It only makes sense that you would explore other popular brands to exploit in a similar manner.

And if it just so happens that your studio already OWNS such a brand (let's say He-Man), it would practically be malpractice NOT to put such a project in development.  Or maybe you'd rather explain to shareholders eager for their own Transformers-sized hit why you're sitting on a goldmine.

So why is there such unoriginality?  Because you, the consumer, have told Hollywood that there's gold in them thar' remakes.  So long as reboots, remakes and re-adaptations rake in the cash, you're sending the message that's what you want.  It's not like all the powerbrokers in Hollywood sat down together like a meeting of the Five Families and decided as a whole to produce these films.

It's not any more complicated than that.

Let's talk a little bit about the issue of quality.

So you've greenlit He-Man and set it as your big tentpole for Summer 2014.  You've got a few other big movies lined up for that year, but this is the one you see as your crown jewel.  You've probably got several other big movies on the slate during the intervening years between now and then and so as much as you're shepherding each one as its own individual property, you've also got to be cognizant of their importance to the whole.

It's very unlikely that in summer 2012, you'll take a look at the tentpole that's about to go before the cameras for release next year and decide, "Maybe if we delayed everything another six months we can make this even better."  Delays like that cost money.  What if the actors and director are already committed to projects that would start shooting at that later date?  If you delay six months that means you lose your big release for Summer 2013, so what is going to plug that hole?  Can you move something else up?  Would moving another project forward by six months compromise that project?

I could continue in that vein, but I think the point is made - at a certain point, movies like this become too big to fail.  You can't stop the freight train, you can only hope to get it under control.  There will always be unexpected problems, whether they're production problems, or they're simply the result of a complicated script that needed more time in development.

"Films aren't released, they escape," is an old saying that pretty aptly describes this.  There's a property and a release date, and with rare exception, one simply cannot afford to miss that release date.  Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels once said, "The show doesn't go on because it's ready. The show goes on because it's Saturday."  That's pretty much how it works in the movie business too.  That's also why it's incredibly remarkable that earlier this year, Paramount delayed the release of the second G.I. Joe movie from June to next March.  A delay of that sort on such short notice is pretty much unheard of.

A lot of this might be met with a resounding "Duh!"  My purpose in writing this is not to offer a pardon to those "bad, unoriginal" films, but to explain them.  Moreover, the preponderance of such product should never deter you, the writer, from pushing yourself to write new and original ideas.  You should never look at something like Wrath of the Titans and say, "Well, that sucked so clearly Hollywood just wants to make shit."

Companies stop making products when said products cease to be profitable.  That's a fundamental principle of every business. Why pretend that there's something wrong with that mentality when it comes to the movie business?

Bad movies are a fact of life, but good movies still happen.  Though the reboots and remakes may be more visible, there will always be a need for new ideas.  Even Transformers was a new idea at one point.  You can decry the business realities that make franchise films a commodity, or you can look at the big picture and try to figure out how to make your work part of the solution.

But you can't just stick your head in the sand and pretend that the current studio output is part of some active effort to quash original ideas and render quality irrelevant.  It's not only naive, it's a completely unproductive and unhelpful attitude to have.

Because at the end of the day, the problem isn't that Hollywood that doesn't care that so many releases are remakes and films of questionable quality.

It's that YOU don't care.

At least that's what the box office numbers often tell us.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Support a sequel to Behind the Mask!

I've raved before about one of my favorite horror films Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.  When I discovered it several years ago, it was one of the most original and clever horror films I'd seen since the original Scream. It was self-aware and funny without being annoying in all its nudge-nudge, wink-wink references.

The film is told from the perspective of a documentary crew following a young man determined to build up his own legend as a Michael Myers-type slasher killer.  Basically, think Christopher Guest meets Halloween.  It manages to be both funny and scary, working as both a mockumentary and a straight-up horror film.

My wife hates horror movies - hates them.  I can't even get her to watch Scream because it makes her too uneasy.  This is the one exception, though.  She loves this film almost as much as I do.

So why am I on about this again?  Because the makers of Behind the Mask have set up a Kickstarter campaign for the sequel. It's been hard for them to raise funding any other way because genre hybrids are hard-sells.  As a guy who's written a few genre hybrids AND who wants to support these rising filmmakers, I have already donated to their cause.  A big selling point is that the original creative team is back, including Nathan Baesel and horror legend Robert Englund aka "Freddy Krueger."

As I write this, they have six days left in the campaign.  They need to raise $450,000 and right now they're at about $151,691.  That's a pretty big gap to close, so I want to do my part to spread the word.  Please, if you're a horror fan, I urge you to check out the campaign and give what you can.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

12-Step Screenwriting: Week 9 - WGA Registration vs. U.S. Copyright

It's time for another episode of the Bitter Script Reader YouTube series!

This is the ninth chapter of a 12-part series designed to guide and motivate a writer to complete a screenplay within three months.  Recognizing that I had an opportunity to reach a new audience via YouTube, I decided to start with the basics.

This week's video weighs the merits of registering your script with the Writers Guild of America vs. copyrighting it through the U.S. Copyright office.

For WGA registration, go here.

To register a copyright, go here. "You want the Form PA" PDF.

As always, it really helps me out to see some engagement with these videos, so please click through to the YouTube page, subscribe and leave a few comments there.  Feel free to embed these on your blogs, and if you find the tips useful, tweet about them or put the videos on your Facebook page.