Intro & disclaimer



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CONTENTS

01. A Foot in the Door. "The Warner Bros. Hallway Test" emphasizes the importance of concept. The concept you choose is the first test of your creative sensibilities, and is your calling card to Hollywood.


02. Strange Attractor. The biggest mistake most writers make is that they start writing with a mediocre concept. A new way to think about film concepts -- the strange attractor approach. Your idea must be more than just clear and simple, it must attract audiences and professionals to your project.
03. Beachcombing. Everyone in town is combing the beach for the next great idea, examining each tiny grain of sand. Meanwhile huge conch shells are just sitting there, obvious once somebody points them out. Techniques on how to come up with a salable film concept. How to know when you've got one.
04. Steal this Column. Registering your script with the Writer's Guild is a great idea. But the time to worry about losing your script is before you write it.
05. Death to Readers. Here's a checklist similar to what many studio readers use when assessing the quality of your screenplay. Does your script pass the test?
06. Crap-plus-One. Many writers are encouraged -- and inspired -- by bad films. But many of those projects began as good scripts, and went bad as a result of studio politics. The standards held to the first-time screenwriter are higher than it might seem. Better to be inspired by -- and aim to match -- the really good stuff.
07. 23 Steps to a Feature Film Sale. Writing advice I'd give my best friend. A plan of attack once you have your basic idea. The Disney animated feature approach. Much, perhaps even most, of the work happens before you write FADE IN.
08. Impressive Failure. Elevate your heroes by focusing on their failures. In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, Indiana Jones, the greatest action hero of all time -- fails repeatedly. But he fails impressively. Another tool in your screenwriting arsenal.
09. Name-dropping. Believable, memorable, distinctive. You'd be surprised how much time you should take to get just the right name. Subliminal and symbolic meanings.
10. The Audience is Listening. Don't try to sell me a confused story that makes me feel bad about your characters, your outlook on life, you as an artist, and finally me as a viewer. Exert an artist's control over your material and the feelings it invokes.
11. The Wind-up & the Pitch. Use show and tell to take the focus off of you and put it on your story. Creating a new industry standard for pitching. But you feel silly walking around carrying a big cork bulletin board.
12. It's Been Done. Focus your plot by referencing it to one, or a combination of, Georges Polti's "The Thirty-six Dramatic Situations". That's all there are, 36, no more, no less. (See Archives for all 36 in HTML & plain text formats.)
13. The Big Finish. Endings must be decisive, set-up, inevitable -- and unexpected. And that's not easy to do.
14. Anthropic Principle. For believability, embed the origin of a story coincidence in the set-up that brings about the need for the coincidence. Set the initial conditions of your story, and let time do the rest.
15. Building the Bomb. Writing the adaptation of Robert Heinlein's THE PUPPET MASTERS -- what went horribly, horribly wrong. (Subtitle: "Q: When is a Space Ship Not a Space Ship? A: When It's a Brain Coral.")
16. Tinsel-speak. How can you take this town seriously? Look at how they talk! A not-too-serious glossary of insider terms.
17. Fudging. Formatting tricks of the trade, to manipulate the all important page count. For the obsessive-compulsivescreenwriter. Or is that redundant?
18. Me & My Ampersand. My writing partner, Ted Elliott, writes an article on writing partners. No, we don't fight all the time. The art of ego-less arguing.
19. You, the Expert. Pretend that every agent in Hollywood has a brain aneurysm. The way they'd pick a doctor is the way they'll pick a screenwriter. They want an expert. Don't ask me if your script is good -- know enough to tell me that it's good. You be the expert.
20. Story Molecule. The strange world of subatomic story physics. Story elements do not exist in a vacuum; there's always who said it and how it was said. Exploring the true nature of the story molecule; the periodic table of story ideas.
21. Risk vs. Reward. Spec script or writing assignment? That delicate balance between money, risk, and creative control. Spec script sales torn from trade headlines. What are the odds?
22. Ink & Paint. The growing animation market. Is there such a thing as an animation spec? How animated features get started. And then the animation process takes over. Writing the deep-fly sacrificial draft.
23. Points for Style. "Write what you see." Force the reader's mind's eye to see your direction. Shane Blackisms. Don't embed needed information in prose. The Left-hand Line Technique. 14 specialized words you need to know.
24. Title Search. A project isn't real until it has a title. Titles to avoid: 'PERFECT, the Legend of.' Don't help the reviewers along. Saying the title in the story. Lamenting the loss of the literary title.
25. Hard Bargain. What to ask for when the bidding war happens. (May you have such troubles.)
26. Your First Contract. People breaking in want to see real stuff, not someone's diluted re-cap of their interpretation of events. Hard evidence, please. So here's an actual film contract. (See Archives for sample contract in HTML & plain text formats.)
27. Adaptive Behavior. The shoulders of giants. Above all you must make a good film. A perfect adaptation re-creates the emotions of the reading experience in the form of a film experience.
28. Pencil Test. Writing for animation, a multiple-choice quiz. Sympathize with the plight of the storyboard artists and animators, and maybe they won't want to string you up from the nearest tree.
29. Deep Thoughts. Write about something. Jeffrey Katzenberg: "Show the positive theme by demonstrating the negative viewpoint." A collection of personal thoughts to inspire.
30. The Task. You might not know it, but your story does -- you need a task. Plotting's dirty little secret. Invent the task, or it will invent itself. It all comes down to that thing which has to be filmed.
31. A Hot Script. Use unique details to make sex scenes memorable. A real-life fictionalized example.
32. Plot Devices. Wang theory. Clone Wars. Don't cut the last thing for a character. Subplot reveals theme. Don't internalize the story, externalize it. Play the beats. Reversals. Sixty two-minute scenes. Three great scenes, no bad ones. Story vs. plot, how you tell it vs. what happens. The MacGuffin. (Co-written with Ted Elliott.)
33. I Love LA So, do you have to live in Los Angeles to be a screenwriter? Yes and no. Or, more precisely... no and yes.
34. Throw in the Towel. Not all people are going to make it. And you probably won't. The qualities that people who make it have: passion, history, care for the moment, objectivity. Give up before you waste any more time.
35. Hacking Through the Underbrush. Ted Elliott weighs in on a weighty issue -- social responsibility. How do I offend thee? Let me count the ways.
36. We're Not Worthy. Meeting your heroes. What I learned from Spielberg, De Bont, McTiernan, Parkes, Rodriguez, Avery, Sonnenfeld, Hanks, Jones, Musker, Clements, Williams. Etc.
37. Proper Treatment. The ultimate no-win situation. No matter what you put in, they'll criticize what isn't there. And you don't even get paid. (Includes links to two outlines & one treatment.)
38. Breaking the Ice. The query letter. Getting to the second date. Twenty common mistakes from the slushpile. Three real query examples: the good, the bad and the ugly. (Includes links to three query letters.)
39. Cover Me. Real examples of studio coverages. Step-by-step, the making of a big summer movie deal; how we got one writer over the wall. (Includes links to five coverages.)
40. The Off-Screen Movie. Building momentum into your story. Reversals, exposition, and creating a compelling world. How to write a boring script. (Co-written with Ted Elliott.)
41. Point of View. The more limited the POV, the more elegant and effective the story. One of the key considerations in the initial stages of story design. Easily overlooked, yet a crucial aspect of storytelling; an advanced technique of great concern to pro writers and directors, even if nobody really understands it.
42. Mental Real Estate. Exploring the unique power of the familiar. Known items and situations give the storyteller power, granting access to the audience's mind. And it might even help get the studio to commit to a green light. An explanation offered for sequels, stars, trailers, remakes,franchises, and the popularity of "Harry Potter."
43. Problem Solved. What's more important, talent or hard work? A group of MIT professors explore the question in excruciating detail and provide a very precise answer. Along the way a third crucial element emerges.
44. Never Wait. Writers are naturally patient. Writers are naturally hopeful. That can be deadly to a Hollywood career. Don't allow yourself to wait for anything, ever. Take responsibility for making things happen. The proper mindset of a writer: you're too busy doing stuff to wait for anything, anyone, anytime. Excerpts from Carlos Castaneda and Robert Heinlein.
45. The Storyteller Cut. An argument is made that at the most basic level there are two ways to cut from one scene to the next, and two ways to organize the scenes of your film: Storyline cuts and Storyteller cuts. One of them makes sense and is relatively easy; the other will drive you nuts


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