Thursday, December 27, 2012

Video rewind: The Liz Tigelaar interview

Hollywood has a reputation of being a town full of assholes.  I'm not going to deny that they're aren't some really nasty, unethical people out there, but there are a lot of really decent people out there too.  That's one reason I always get a little irked when I see an aspiring writer act like an jackass, either to other aspirings or even professional writers. There's this sort of "fuck the pros" attitude that crops up on screenwriting discussion boards now and then, with real ugliness directed at the pro writers.  This stands out to me because a great many of the nicest people I've met in the industry are working writers.

That's not to say that there aren't asshole writers out there.  There are always a few guys who delight in being jerks or acting like pretentious big shots.  Most of the time you can count on karma to get those guys.  And as one writer I follow on Twitter said, most writers realize they're incredibly fortunate to be able to do what they do and don't feel the need to be some larger-than-life ass just to draw attention to themselves.

So take a lesson writers - being an egotistical ass is not a prerequisite for getting this job.

Why am I talking about this today? Because TV writer Liz Tigelaar is pretty much the perfect example of a genuinely nice person who has made it far.  Over the past couple of years, I've gotten to know many people who've worked with Liz or interacted with her in the course of doing their jobs.  Pretty much to a man, every one of them has made a point of saying how friendly and personable she is, and how much they enjoyed working with her.

I can attest to this too, and it's one reason why I knew Liz would be a great interview subject.  It probably also didn't hurt that she was too nice to go back on my interview request once I informed her that (a) it was on camera and (b) she was going to be interviewed by a puppet.  (At the time I made the request, only "Shit Script Readers Say" had been posted and there was nothing I could readily point to as an example of how the puppet interview would work.)

I've done several interviews (an archive of which can be found here) and I'm proud of all of them.  However, this one is one of my favorites, both for the depth we were able to go into and also for the personality Liz brought to her answers.  Seeing her spend nearly an hour talking to a puppet with all the repor one would have with a normal interviewer really put my mind at ease that this crazy idea of a puppet interviewer would work.

You can find links to each of the 13 parts of this interview below, but I've embedded a playlist of the full interview here.  If you've got any interest at all in TV writing, you should check this out.  And thanks again to Liz Tigelaar for being so generous with her time.  You can find her on Twitter at @LizTigelaar.

Part 1 - Breaking in as an assistant
Part 2 - First Staff Writer Job on "American Dreams"
Part 3 - How Do I Get an Agent?
Part 4 - Selling a Pilot
Part 5 - Personal Themes in Writing
Part 6 - Genesis of "Life Unexpected"
Part 7 - First-Time Showrunner
Part 8 - Developing the second year of LUX
Part 9 - Dealing with network notes
Part 10 - Controversial LUX storylines
Part 11 - LUX lives on
Part 12 - Network overall deal, working on Once Upon a Time and Revenge
Part 13 - The Bitter Questions

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Video rewind: 12-Step Screenwriting

Continuing our look back this week, we come to my video series 12-Step Screenwriting.  This was designed as an aide for beginning writers who are trying to figure out the basics of storytelling.  Posting weekly, I also hoped to encourage writers to keep up with series and complete a screenplay over three months.  With any luck, it was useful.

In the series, I lay out the basics of three-act structure, using Back to the Future as an example as I discussing turning points, act breaks and raising stakes.  This isn't necessarily the only way to write a script, and I don't want to leave the impression that everyone has to follow this formula.  In fact, I tried to keep my explanations broad specifically so this wouldn't come off as one of those guru books that sells on you the "Magic Beans" of the perfect way to write a screenplay.  I fully concede that this method may not work for everyone, but I hope that it at least gets you thinking about how a script is constructed, and what you might be able to take from that.

Below you will find an embedded playlist of all 12 parts.  I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Video rewind: Shit Script Readers Say

As we approach the end of the year, I can't help but notice that the metrics indicate a wider audience discovered the blog this year, particularly during the last three months or so.  My best guess is to credit all the Black List coverage with reaching new people.

My big project this year was launching the YouTube Channel and I'm pretty happy with a lot of the content up there.  I'm also grateful to everyone who gave the channel a boost by promoting it, especially Scott Myers, ScriptChat, and Franklin Leonard via the Black List Twitter feed.  As most of my new audience seems to have arrived after a number of video segments posted, I want to take this week and give everyone a second chance to sample the channel, starting with my inaugural video, "Shit Script Readers Say."

Friday, December 21, 2012

Future Filmmaker Friday - Fifty Shades of Gandalf the Grey

Some of you might remember the young filmmakers behind Man Crush, a Campus MovieFest Award winner that I profiled earlier this year.  Well, I recently heard from Charlie Myers, who moved out to LA following graduation:

Since we've been out here we've been grabbing more people for our team and renamed ourselves Science & Fiction (for love of science and story). We've made a couple things but this is our first random short. 

It's a rather timely parody coinciding with the release of THE HOBBIT, entitled Fifty Shades of Gandalf the Grey.

Janell Lenfert - Anastasia Steele
Chris Kleckner - Gandalf
Joey Hodo, Charlie Myers, Charlie Mattingly shot and chopped it
Original score by Bo Jacobson

Charlie goes on to say:

If you'd like to see what else we've made it's all listed on our channel. The boys shot a web series called Stuck on Sycamore before I moved out. I cut it together and then we all collaborated on a sequel, which is long in duration but pretty fun. We plan on making a third and final installment in a couple months.  

I wish the best for these guys.  Man Crush was a great short under any circumstances, much less a one-week deadline, but even more importantly, these guys are dedicated to making more output.  They aren't just talking about shooting projects - they ARE making movies.  Keeping at it sometimes is the hardest part, and I really salute these guys not just for the product, but for the work ethic behind it.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Interview with Franklin Leonard of the Black List - Part 3 - The Black List Statistics

Part 1 - The Origin of the Black List
Part 2 - Criticisms of the Black List

In this final segment of my interview with Franklin Leonard, we discuss some of the statistics of the Black List.  Also, I pitch Franklin an idea for notifying the Black List winners that's even more unexpected than the Twitter announcement this year.  His response may surprise you.

Franklin also explains what he looks for as a development executive when he reads a script.

Thanks again to Franklin Leonard for being my first guest to return to the show!  I hope you guys enjoyed the interview.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Interview with Franklin Leonard of the Black List - Part 2 - Criticisms of the Black List

 Part 1 - The Origin of the Black List

So the new Black List is out!  You can find it on their website here or you can just mosey on over to Go into the Story for the details.

Every year, the release of a new Black List is accompanied by some familiar complaints (and if I'm being frank, some misunderstandings) about the selections.  While I had the list's creator, Franklin Leonard, in the hot seat, I couldn't resist asking him about this.  So if you are suspicious that agents and managers try to manipulate the list, or you hate the fact that so many established writers are on it instead of undiscovered ones, you probably should take a look at this.

The final part will come tomorrow!

Interview with Franklin Leonard of the Black List - Part 1 - The Origin of the Black List

Today at 9am PST, The 2012 Black List will be announced via Twitter at their handle @theblcklst.  It's the highly-anticipated list of scripts in Hollywood that have been voted "most-liked" by a survey of Hollywood industry professionals.

But while we wait for that, perhaps you'd be interested in hearing the origins of the Black List, which is explored in the first part of my three-part interview with Black List creator Franklin Leonard.  I've talked with Franklin before about Black List 3.0, but this time we're talking about the colonel's original recipe version of The Black List.

Part 2 - Criticisms of the Black List

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Black List will be announced on Twitter tomorrow at 9am PST

Tomorrow will see the release of the much-anticipated 2012 Black List and Franklin Leonard has come up with an interesting way to make the announcement.  Per their press release:

At 9:00 AM PST on Monday December, 17, the Black List will begin tweeting from its Twitter handle @theblcklst, in random order at a rate of approximately one per minute, the titles and authors of the scripts included on the 2012 Black List. Once every script has been mentioned, the top 10 titles and authors will be tweeted, in reverse order, at which time the complete list, including loglines and additional information, will be made available at the Black List’s website,

Now would be a good time to start following them on Twitter.  Also, I'll have an interview with Franklin that will be rolled out over the first couple of days this week, so keep an eye out for that.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Interview with screenwriter F. Scott Frazier: Part 4 - The Bitter Questions

Part 1 - His stats and process
Part 2 - "How do you get an agent?"
Part 3 - The Working Writer.

And now we come to the conclusion of my interview with F. Scott Frazier.

As I've said before, I'm a big fan of Inside the Actor's Studio.  It's my goal with these interviews to hopefully explore the craft of writing as well as James Lipton probes his subjects on the craft of acting.  To that end, I plan on concluding each interview with "The Bitter Questions," a series of serious and silly questions that will hopefully allow the writers to reveal something unexpected about themselves.

If you're interested in seeing how Liz Tigelaar handled the same questions, you can find that segment here.

And that's a wrap on F. Scott Frazier!  Thanks again to Scott for stopping by to chat.  Keep sending in follow-up questions today and I'll pass them on to Scott.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Interview with screenwriter F. Scott Frazier: Part 3 - "The Working Writer"

Part 1 - His stats and process
Part 2 - "How do you get an agent?"

Our chat with screenwriter F. Scott Frazier continues with a discussion of some of the realities of being a working writer, including going on meetings, dealing with notes, pitching for assignment work and dealing with rewrites.

As I said yesterday, feel free to submit follow up questions and I'll forward them on to Scott.

Part 4 - The Bitter Questions

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Interview with screenwriter F. Scott Frazier: Part 2 - "How do you get an agent?"

Part 1 - His stats and process

In this segment of my interview with screenwriter F. Scott Frazier, I ask him the question every writer gets from aspiring writers: "How did you get your agent?"

I've talked to Scott and he's agreed to answer any follow-up questions you guys have.  Just leave them as comments or email them to me and I'll pass them on for Scott to answer in a post sometime next week.

Part 3 - The Working Writer.
Part 4 - The Bitter Questions

Monday, December 10, 2012

Interview with screenwriter F. Scott Frazier: Part 1 - "His stats and process"

The new Black List is upon us and what better way to celebrate that fact than a chat with one of the honorees on last year's list, F. Scott Frazier.

Scott landed on last year's list with Line of Sight, which is currently in development over at Warner Bros., but Line of Sight was actually his third sale, and he's had three subsequent sales since then.  Yes, that means that Scott has sold six projects in about a two-year period.  A guy that successful might be someone you'd be interested in learning from, no?

In the first part of our chat, Scott and I run down his stats and talk a little bit about his creative process.

Many thanks to Scott for sitting down for our chat!  Come back tomorrow for more with F. Scott Frazier.  And I highly suggest everyone follow him on Twitter at @ScreenWritten.

Part 2 - "How do you get an agent?"
Part 3 - The Working Writer.
Part 4 - The Bitter Questions

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Webshow - "No one sets out to make a bad movie."

Considering the posts I've either linked to or hosted recently where professional writers like Geoff LaTulippe and Eric Heisserer have offered a peak at the development process that can cause good scripts to go bad like curdled milk, today's topic on the webshow seemed like an obvious one.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Screenwriter Eric Heisserer lifts the curtain on the studio film development process from a writer's perspective

Last week I pointed out a post on Geoff LaTulippe's new blog which peeled by the curtain on the studio development process, and it appears that I wasn't the only one impressed with it.  On Twitter, screenwriter Eric Heisserer made a passing comment that suggested he'd be interested in writing a similar piece.  Seeing an opportunity, I reached out to Eric and offered to host his essay here.  He responded with a piece that should be a must-read for anyone eager to understand what it's like to be a working writer on a studio film.

Eric Heisserer is the writer behind the 2010 reboot of A Nightmare on Elm Street, as well as Final Destination 5 and the 2011 prequel The Thing. Next year, he'll make his directorial debut on the Hurricane Katrina drama Hours.  Long-time readers of the blog might remember Eric from one of my earliest interviews, which can be found in two parts here and here.

Massive, massive thanks to Eric for this piece, by the way.

My friend Geoff LaTulippe recently posted on his blog about the process of working on a studio project, in an effort to help people understand how a bad movie doesn’t equate to a bad writer at the heart of it. Geoff illustrated the evolution/devolution of a script as it went through the gauntlet from first draft to production rewrites. (Play Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse” while you read it.) 

I want to chime in and echo some of what Geoff said, and provide a few specific examples of what it means to be a “professional writer” on a studio project and how one deals with elements beyond one’s control, while working to improve the things that are still within one’s influence. As in most parts of life, this is a hard lesson. 

You are brought in to pitch on a big studio project. It is most likely a remake, adaptation, or sequel. The studios have property and rights, and the way for them to hold onto those rights or to do something corporate-like and “leverage intellectual assets” is to dig into their own libraries. These are the jobs. 

Your agent tells you this is a great opportunity to get in good with a major studio. This is where the money is. This is how you will pay rent without taking a day job. In other words, don’t screw this up. 

The good news is: You’ve been brought in because someone already loves your writing. Maybe it’s the production company set to make the movie. Maybe it’s someone among the top brass at the studio. Whatever the case, you feel good—someone’s read and loved your script. Your voice is what they want. 

You pitch your take on their project, and it’s one you really want to write. You’re passionate and invested. Later you’ll realize that passion and excitement will often count more than story logic and in-depth character work. You get hired, and sent off to write your first draft with a few notes from the studio based on your pitch and/or outline. 

The first draft is where you prove yourself. This is one of the two drafts you will come to love most, because right now it has just your voice; your singular intended tone. 

That first notes meeting is illuminating. You learn right away who actually read your previous script and who didn’t. You also discover what the other people involved want the movie to be. NOTE: Rarely will everyone want to make the same movie. You’ll get notes like “Can we make it more like [popular movie]?” Or, “This feels like it should be more in the [obscure art film] neighborhood.” 

You are sent off to rewrite. You struggle keeping the movie together as a single organism versus a mixed-breed that may not work. (The phrase “fish with wings” is slang I learned about this problem; it’s a fish that can’t swim and a bird that can’t fly.) Hopefully you get it to a stage where it’s ready to be turned in again. 

Perhaps finally this is the stage where it goes to the top studio execs. You attend another notes session and are tasked with notes you feel you’ve already addressed. Things like, “I don’t know what the characters are feeling,” or “What is this person’s arc and why is it so hard to figure out?” Or occasionally, “This character isn’t likeable.” The notes can seem harsh if you take them as personal criticism. You must not. You must focus on the work. 

You must also know you’re likely at a crossroads. You can work hard to address these notes for the chance to continue being the writer, or you can push against them and walk away from the project (or be fired). This second full pass is where you’re tested. The biggest problem is realizing that some readers on the studio level don’t understand subtext. Or rather, they get it when they’re seeing a finished film, but with all the scripts they read (or coverage thereof) they have no subtext radar. It all blows by them. (Not every exec is like this, but it’s a common problem, and can sometimes extend to producers and other people in the process.) 

About this time, your agent calls again and says: Don’t screw this up. For both of you. 

Your new job: Spell out all the things you so artfully seeded through innuendo and subtle suggestion. Now you’re writing things in ALL CAPS and talking about how this is THE TURNING POINT FOR YOUR CHARACTER because she realizes SHE MUST BETRAY HER FRIEND to SAVE HER FAMILY. If you learned how to write from a certain LOST writer, you’ll be doing this already, along with statements like HOLY SHIT, this is the MOST HEARTBREAKING MOMENT WE’VE EVER SEEN. 

Reading the draft back to yourself makes your teeth hurt. This isn’t representative of your writing, it’s more like a transcript of some frat boy describing your script to his buddies. And yet this draft goes over like gangbusters at the studio. You are called and thanked by the studio, and then the producer. Once a director/movie star/both get on board, it’s all systems go for this project. 

Maybe that work has already been done, in which case, you’re getting notes from those people as well. If an actor is involved, the draft the studio loves to death will rankle the movie star. Why? Because in this draft you’ve written out all the subtext and given the actor no room for them to do their job. Actors hate drafts like this. It’s like a photograph of a starving child in some third-world country holding up a flag that reads “FEEL SAD.” Actors don’t want to be told how to play the role any more than directors want you to tell them how to direct. Your job is to do so as quietly and subtly as possible. HINT at where the camera will be versus saying “WE DOLLY IN for a tight MCU on our hero…” And so on. 

You luck out and are triggered for an optional rewrite step in your contract, and now have notes from various branches. The director wants the movie to feel more like it was in the first draft. The studio sees potential of this movie being more like some blockbuster and pushes you to make it quite different from that first draft. The actor has all sorts of thoughts, some of which are absolutely crazy, one or two which are brilliant but completely different from what either the studio or director wants. 

Now you’re feeling burnout, you’ve gone through dozens of drafts no one has seen, all in an attempt to keep this movie together. And you can’t crack it. You can’t make everyone happy, it just won’t work out. So you hedge your bets and go with whatever makes the best movie in your mind. If you have a halfway decent relationship with your director, here is where you have a private dinner meeting with them and discuss the elephant in the room and why you made the choices you did. With luck, the director understands and will fight the good fight. 

All the while, you may see several studio execs come and go, and other people involved are likely fighting their own battles. During the life cycle of THE THING (2011), we had five different execs assigned to us, one of whom lasted for only a month. Each of them had a different opinion of what the movie should be. Science fiction. Horror. Creature feature. One of them pushed hard to make the movie 3D. Every part of the movie is at risk of being abandoned or altered; nothing is ever guaranteed. 

The studio may ultimately like your latest draft but you aren’t seen as a “closer” in the business or your name isn’t big enough to be seen as “story insurance,” so they bring in someone else to tackle a few elements in the script. That writer lasts for two weeks and is replaced with another, to appease some new notes from the new studio exec / the big-name supporting actor / the director’s latest idea during prep. 

The last time you see your script, a frightening amount of your dialogue has been rewritten, scene locations have been moved around, there may be one or two new characters or a couple fewer characters, which subtly imbalance something you’d kept in harmony for the last ten months and three studio drafts. Most heartbreaking may be the clever setups/callbacks you’d written in that are now orphaned or widowed. And of course, all over the place you still see the SUBTEXT HAMMER describing action BLUNTLY so the speed-reader will NOT MISS THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SCENE. 

There is some great new stuff in there, too, you have to admit. Another writer had a clever idea with a subplot. Or a better ear for comedic dialogue. But you’ll realize that sometimes changes happen because people are just too used to the story after reading the script over and over. There’s no mystery anymore. Changes don’t always happen to make things better. Sometimes it’s just to make them different; new. 

This is typically your least favorite draft. In your eyes, it’s a wreck. And you fear it will get worse during production or reshoots, trying to find its new form. The movie at this point needs to shed its wings or its fish scales and commit to being one thing. 

Invariably, this is the draft that is leaked to the Internet. With just your name on it. Your writing is excoriated online by fans. They point out everything you already know is problematic with this draft, plus a few other problems. One or two clever commenters will wonder aloud why you didn’t do this or that with the characters… choices you made in your first draft. Still others will discuss why the script isn’t more like the source material, or why it should be very different from it, or why any of a thousand decisions were made. 

You can’t tell them anything. You can’t point to the twelve hundred script pages and notes where you explored all of these ideas and discovered why using them was a Bad Plan. Your significant other tells you you shouldn’t be reading comments online in the first place, what are you, crazy? 

The movie is released. Maybe it gets a good Rotten Tomatoes score but a low audience CinemaScore. Maybe it’s the other way around. Your name is on the poster either way. 

Your agent calls and says, Congratulations. You’re a professional writer. Someone wants to meet with you to talk about your next movie. 

And you go. Because your agent is right.