Monday, December 29, 2008

Follow Up on Screenwriting Program Question

This in from Cynthia, a reader:

"I've always preferred Movie Magic Screenwriter myself, but I used to run an annual screenwriting contest and by far the most entries were in Final Draft format. We even got more in Word format than Movie Magic.

Kind of gave me the impression that Final Draft has become industry standard.

Anyone else have an opinion on that?"

I have to say that after judging several contests, I'd have to agree with Cynthia. Most of what I read is saved as a PDF, which is the easiest way for anyone else to read your material and yet keep it safe. If it's submitted in the scriptwriting program, most of them are in Final Draft. Maybe 5 out of every 100 are in Movie Magic Screenwriter.

The question is, does that mean that Final Draft won't let you save/print your script as a PDF? Will Movie Magic?

As a reader, my advice is that whichever program you use, send your script out as a PDF. It protects your work as much as possible and is universally the easiest way to read them. FYI, Movie Magic is a pain in the neck to read on screen. It's hard to zoom, it's harder to navigate through the pages, it's just plain impossible to get it to look good on screen. Or perhaps it just doesn't like my Mac. Since my advice is to ALWAYS make reading your script as easy as possible even if it's just for the person you're paying to proofread it, I would never recommend sending it out in the Movie Magic format. Investigate it further, surely there must be a way of sendig out a Movie Magic script as a PDF??

Monday, November 17, 2008

What Screenplay Program Do You Prefer??

I was at a Catholics in Entertainment meeting the other night where a writer asked the guest speaker, Barbara Gangi from Paulist Prods., the all important question, "does formatting make a difference?" It seemed he'd written a script and had been told it needed to be formatted correctly, with scene breaks, day parts, etc. He couldn't understand how that could make a difference, couldn't they see past that? I squelched the urge to groan and was grateful when Barbara confirmed what I've been saying all along - format matters. She put it much more nicely than I would have, suggesting that if given a script that looks neat and professional vs. one that's all in caps, wrong margins, etc., she's going to read the more professional looking one first. From my POV, I've read some crappy scripts that looked perfect but I've never read a great script that looked crappy.

The point was brought up that script writing programs are easy to use and not that expensive. It got me thinking - what do writers at large prefer? So take a moment to vote in my poll (see the sidebar). If you want to go further and share some reasons why you like (or dislike) certain programs, go to my new chat room and elaborate a bit.

Can't wait to see the results!!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Seriously? Supers are NOT that super

Can someone please explain to me why so many writers today feel compelled to start their scripts with supers to set up their story? And why they feel it necessary or even a good idea to specifiy that it's written over black. As if that makes this lame cop out dramatic somehow. Yes, it worked in Star Wars, for example, as a way to give you all the back story. But they did it in a cool way with the scrolling thing and then jumped right into the action.

Maybe I'll give you that in some stories you need to let the audience know right away the politics, relationships or social situation and a super is the most expedient way to do it. However, far too often I'm reading supers that are ridiculously unnecessary - quotes from poets, for instance. Or setting the date. People come to movies to watch the action unfold, not read it! If your script is set in the future and the only way people are going to know that is from the date supered on screen before hand, you are in big trouble already.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Pet Peeve #110: POOR CHARACTER DESCRIPTIONS! I can’t tell you how many scripts have come across my desk that have character descriptions that read something like this:

MATT, a ruggedly handsome park ranger who loves his family and is tolerant of everyone but won’t back down from a fight, takes charge of situation just by walking in the room.

Gad zukes, people, it’s called “creative writing”, not just spewing a bunch of adjectives behind the character’s name. This is where the old adage, “show, don’t tell” comes into play. SHOW that Matt loves his family by having a picture of his family prominently displayed on his desk or – how’s this for crazy? – show him hug his kids and his wife when he gets home. Even having him talk to his family on the phone conveys it better then merely writing it down. There are a dozen ways you can show this so that a viewing audience gets it but unless you plan on handing out copies of your script at every screening no on is going to get it from that description.

SHOW Matt walking into a room and everyone automatically snapping to attention if that’s what the situation calls for. How he reacts to that – humbly, reluctantly, or maybe he accepts it as a given way of how things should be – is just as important as the fact that people turn to him for leadership.

Being tolerant of everyone could come through in giving him a sidekick who is African American or Muslim or a woman, whatever seems to go against the grain in the situation. Or he refuses to jump to conclusions about a bear – it doesn’t matter but SHOW it.

Any idea about your character that the audience needs to know – they’re smart, they’re afraid of snakes, they’re color blind – every detail needs to be demonstrated through action, not description. It’s called a viewing audience for a reason, people!

You don’t really need to waste the space describing your main character as “ruggedly handsome”. It’s a movie, it’s kind of a given that the hero is going to be hot. The only exception would be if his (or her) looks go against type. For instance, a scholarly looking park ranger or a wimpy guy would be unexpected and you can get away with just describing that. The director, producer and ten other people will take care of his looks. The only thing as a writer you should worry about is how the other characters react to this anti-type character. For instance, if he’s wimpy the other rangers might scoff at him, that sort of thing.

Showing the character through action rather than adjectives may take a few more lines but it’s page space well spent.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


One of the first things I learned as a development executive is that there’s a BIG difference between a good story and a story that makes a good movie. Back then, where true-life movies were king, we would watch hours of “news” shows like Hard Copy (hence the “” on news) to glean our next big movie. (Hey, it wasn’t just us, everyone did it.) 99% of them were interesting stories packed with emotions but only 1% had the elements necessary to make a good movie.

So what, you may ask, are the elements that make a movie and how are they different from a good news story or magazine article? Here are five simple questions to ask yourself to determine if your story idea has enough to be a movie.

Does the story have and identifiable main character & nemesis? The audience needs to be able to figure out who the main character is relatively quickly. Whose story is this? Who am I supposed to care about? The main character doesn’t necessarily have to make an immediate appearance – think of the classic example of “Casablanca” where everybody talks about Rick in his absence. By the time he actually appears you’re dying to know who the heck this guy is. Yes, a script can be an ensemble piece with several characters equally sharing the lead role but that’s pretty tough to pull off and I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re just starting out.

It’s good to keep in mind that the audience doesn’t necessarily have to like the main character. That’s why I keep calling it a main character and not a hero. Sometimes anti-heroes make the best main characters. More important than liking the main character is the idea that the audience can relate to them.

Almost as important is identifying who the nemesis is. Notice I didn’t say villain. The nemesis is who or what is standing between your main character and their ultimate goal. It could be a tornado, it could be simply a ticking clock, or it could be a person who isn’t necessarily evil. Usually this role is best played by a standard villain but bringing a fresh new take to a story never kept a movie from getting made. Keep in mind that it’s often more fun to make the audience think they know who the villain is only to find they were wrong at some point in the movie.

A good rule of thumb to remember is that the “hero” can only be as heroic as the “villain” is bad. Your fishermen can’t be going up against a rainstorm, it has to be the STORM OF THE CENTURY. Frodo didn’t have to drive over to the 7-11 to destroy the ring, he had to go through Mordor, etc. etc. You get the idea.

Does the main character have a relatable goal? The audience needs to be able to understand what your main character wants. What’s motivating him (or her)? Love? Greed? Fear? Goals are best if they are both specific and have universal appeal. For instance, wanting to save your home and 10 acres of corn from a flood is specific yet universal enough that an accountant in France understands how your character feels. This is especially true if the main character desires something controversial. If you can get an audience who disagrees with your main character’s desire but roots for them anyway, you don’t need to be a fortune teller to see that you’re going to have a long and fruitful career as a writer.

Is there something in the way of the main character achieving the goal? It’s equally important to understand what’s in the main characters way of achieving this goal. Just like with characters, his journey is only as interesting as the obstacles in his way. The obstacles in your character’s way have to escalate and continue to build. Most pitches – and movies – fail because there’s simply not enough happening in the middle of the movie. Plus, you have to make sure you’re not simply marking time; if you have variations of the same beat repeated over and over again it makes for a flat, boring movie.

Does the main character DO something to achieve their goal? This is where most interesting stories fail to make great movies. By action, I don’t mean a car chase or shootout. The main character just needs to take steps to achieve their goal. Speeches, protests or even bringing flowers to woo someone are all active. The main character may be reluctant to take action or he may be forced into it. He (or she) may take the wrong action at first or they may realize in the course of the story that they don’t really want what/who they thought they did.

Whatever the action, it has to be enough to fill 2 hours. That requires the character taking steps, having an obstacle arise; he or she conquers it and then moves forward only to have another, larger obstacle arise. The obstacles/dangers have to continue to escalate, not just be repeated over and over in different circumstances. Many movies fail because they have a great beginning and a great ending but no middle to support it.

You’ll notice “ do they all live happily ever after” isn’t one of the questions. Personally, I like a nice happy ending or at least one that’s bittersweet. I hate investing two hours of my very busy life only to get attached to a character and then feel crappy when they lose. However, that’s just my personal taste; many great movies have unhappy endings but they work because the writers have very carefully constructed a story in which a tragic ending was the most logical way to bring closure to the movie. Butch and Sundance would have sucked as a movie if the heroes had lived, for instance. (Sorry, should have put a spoiler alert in there for the three of you out there who’ve never seen this classic.)

That, in a nutshell, is it. If you can answer “yes” to ALL of these questions then you’re on your way to turning your story into a good movie.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


There’s nothing worse than that passive, whiny person we all know (or can become from time to time). You know who I mean, the “poor me” victim who claims things just keep happening to them, boo hoo. Whether you’re aware of that or not, that whiny voice can slip into your writing as well. Here’s three ways to be sure you don’t let being passive get the best of you.

Beware of Gerunds: According to the dictionary, a gerund is, “a noun formed from a verb, describing an action, state or process. In English, it is formed from the verb’s -ing form.” In other words, running, driving, shooting, kissing are all gerunds. They are also very boring and take action out of your character’s hands. By definition they describe the action rather than show it and everyone knows that the first (and most misused) rule of screenwriting is show, don’t tell. For instance, “John runs down the hall” is more active and therefore more engaging than “John is running down the hall”. The first keeps you involved IN the story while the second example reminds you that you are being told a story. It seems like such a tiny thing but it keeps the reader firmly locked out of the world of your script and that’s the last thing you want. Go through your script and upgrade all those errant gerunds to their more active, powerful form.

Keep Your Character Active: What’s the first thing you ask your friends on Monday -- “What did you do this weekend?” It’s human nature to be interested in what people do, whether it’s over spring break, summer vacation or when confronted with some problem. If someone says “A rabid dog followed me home” the most common response would be “Oh my God, what did you do?” So give your characters some action to perform in the course of your story. They don’t have to be superheroes; some of the most engaging stories involve ordinary characters who are pushed into action by some string of events out of their control. The point is, somewhere in the story they realize what they must do and eventually do it. Or fail but try. Even if you’re writing a drama and the extent of the action is that they write a letter, the story needs to pivot on your main character DOING something. Think of your script as an overall whole picture and see if you can identify what the action is that your main character needs to take that changes the course of his or her life or story. If there isn’t one, if things just keep happening to them and they float along helplessly like flotsam in the stream of life then you should re-think your story.

Be Your Own Biggest Fan: I think the hardest thing for most writers is to get out there and network with people. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that no one cares as much as you do whether your script gets made into a movie or not. No agent, no producer, no actor, not even your best friend has as much invested in your script as you do both in terms of time and money. So why let fate decide if it gets made or not? Get out there and talk to people. I don’t mean join other groups of angry bitter writers and sit around bitching once a month about how hard it is to get you movie made. Join groups of people that can help you get your movie made. For instance, you could take a class or seminar from an instructor who works in the business and approach them for help. Go to networking breakfast groups – there are a number of them out there. You could also research who is on the board of directors for certain charities. If a producer who would be perfect for your movie is on the “Save the Malibu Ducks” committee then get out there and help save some ducks. The producer or someone who can get to them will come by sooner or later. This is the part where you have to sell your soul a little bit so I’d suggest keeping it to causes or groups that you really believe in. That way even if you never sell your script at least you’ll gain some good karma points, right?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

More Kudos Given to Benjamin Ray for "Marcus and Faith"

Congrats to Benjamin Ray, who made the Quarter Finals of the 2008 PAGE International
Screenwriting Awards!

This prestigious contest received 3,865 scripts from all over the world so Benjamin was clearly up against some stiff competition. Fingers crossed for "Marcus and Faith" to make it to the top!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


A client and I were having a discussion back and forth about the best logline for his script and it made me realize how very hard it is to really write a great logline. Here are some suggestions to get you thinking in the right direction.

1) It’s called a logline for a reason – it needs to be one line. It’s not referred to as a log paragraph or log couple of sentences. Yes, if you are an Oscar winning writer you can take as much room and time as you like describing your latest epic but if you’re just a regular writer trying to sell a script then knuckle down and figure out how to describe you script in one sentence. If you absolutely can’t, then maybe it’s time to re-think whether your script is such a good idea anyway.

2) Yes, a logline’s main purpose in life is to sell your script. If you are content just sitting alone in your writer’s garret slaving away at a work that no one will ever see then fine. Ignore the rest of these tips and just keep pleasuring yourself at your computer. But if you mean to do this for a living, you’re going to have to face the fact that some small part of writing involves selling. Get over it.

3) Ideally, you will e-mail, fax, call or snail mail the agent/executive/or whoever your logline and synopsis. They, in turn, will tell their friends and co-workers over coffee, water, drinks or lunch the oh-so-memorable script they were just pitched. Make it easy for both of you and give them a logline that any human CAN remember. They may have only glanced at it once so make it something that’s easy to spit back out.

4) Be ready to BRIEFLY pitch your script in a pinch. For instance, let’s say you’re skiing in Aspen and realize the person on the chairlift next to you is Robert Redford. You’re writers, use you imagination. You need to have a simple enough pitch that you can spit it out before the chairlift reaches the top. Or, in more mundane terms, it’s known as the elevator pitch – you get the idea. That’s why it’s best to be one line – something you can remember at the moment when you really want to do is vomit.

5) In a perfect world, you would have figured out your script’s logline BEFORE you finished it. You should write out the one sentence that best describes what your script is about and keep it on a post-it on your computer, your mirror or wherever else you look at every day before, during and after you write. Keeping a constant reminder of what your script is about will help you keep it on track.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Give Your Scenes A Purpose

Time and time again I find that writers have taken great pains to get the characters, dialog and description right but forgot to give the scene a purpose. I’m not talking about a cheesy “a ha!” moment at the end of every scene but a believable, organic reason for the scene being in the script. The purpose can be subtle or overt. It can be obvious at the time or be revealed later but there has to be a justification for it to be in the script. Showing off the scenery, educating your audience or plain old ego aren’t good enough reasons for a scene to be in the script.

Here’s a good test; after you’ve finished writing your script, go back through and read each individual scene as a single, stand alone piece. Ask yourself what has this particular scene accomplished. Has it forwarded the story? This is typically the best reason for a scene to be in the movie and yet often the most misunderstood. Marking time by repeating information about the story or a character that we already know (or sometimes don’t need to know) doesn’t count.

Has the scene revealed more about a particular character that is vital to the storyline? The biggest culprit here is when writers give the audience the back-story of a character at the beginning of the movie that really isn’t all that necessary to know. If you’re talking “Batman Begins” then sure, showing young Bruce Wayne has purpose. After all, the whole point of the movie is showing how Batman became Batman. But in a movie like “The Saint,” one of the least satisfying aspects of that fairly mediocre movie was the long drawn out beginning to help us understand what made Simon Templar into the man he became. Who cares? An audience isn’t stupid; they’ll be able to piece together what made your villain evil or your hero (or anti-hero) the person he is. If there’s a moment you really feel strongly about, consider putting it in the present action of the main story. Find a way to weave it into the dialog or action of the without simply spewing out details in a clunky “info-dump”. That’s a valid purpose for a scene that doesn’t slow the movie down.

Go through this process with every scene. Does each individual scene forward either the story or the character? If the answer is no or even a wobbly maybe, then either go back and add purpose to it or, painful as it may be, cut the scene altogether. Working with writers I’ve found it’s often hard to cut the fair-haired darlings, the scenes that they just like as an artist but amputation might be necessary for the health of the whole body. You can try to add purpose but usually it ends up feeling forced, like cramming a round peg in a square hole.

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a drama, an action piece, a mystery/thriller or animated short; making sure that each scene has a purpose will successfully pull an audience into your script. That’s a key difference between a page-turner that you can’t put down and a ho hum script that you’re done with after just 10 pages.

Monday, June 23, 2008


I finally got a chance to see “Iron Man” the other day and it got me thinking about character arc. I know, weird coming from a big action movie, huh? But the writers and actor obviously went to great lengths to clearly spell out the characters arc. And you know what? They did a pretty damn good job of it if you ask me.

The movie starts with Tony Stark, a guy with absolutely no moral compass, a real jerk and a womanizer. But did you notice what else they did? You can’t help but like the guy, as much of an a-hole as he may be. Yes Tony’s an irresponsible alcoholic who glibly sells the Pentagon a bar for every lethal missile they order. But he’s funny, he’s personable, and he talks to the little guy when most guys in his position wouldn’t give them a second glance. Most importantly, you see that he’s got a good woman who cares about him so he can’t be all bad, right? For me, the set up all went on a bit too long but still it effectively gave you a flawed character who you still wanted to spend two hours with to see how he redeemed himself.

And therein lies the problem with 80% of the scripts I read. After about five pages I just don’t like the main character. Yes, you need to give your hero a place to go. He (or she) needs to grow/change/maybe improve as a result of the journey they go on through the course of the story. But they don’t have to be whiny, bitchy, completely unlikable people! You want the reader and eventually a viewing audience to be drawn into their story despite their flaws and foibles, not be repelled by their basic nature.

Usually the problem is that it’s impossible to understand what the character wants and what’s in their way. If you only knew that, you might excuse the whiny, bitchy behavior. In “Iron Man” you know that deep down Tony wants to be the kind of man everyone thinks his father was but is conflicted. Was dad that good? After all, he made millions selling death and destruction and no matter how you rationalize it that’s still got to be confusing. So rather than deal with it he hides behind his own outlandish behavior. Complex, but no so overly complicated you can’t figure it out. And RELATABLE. No, most of us aren’t billionaire weapons dealers but we do have deep conflicts about who we are, what’s our purpose in life, etc. This is so not going to go over well with the artsy fartsy crowd but I think they movie makers – whether it was the writers, director or actor – did a fantastic job making a comic book hero into a real, flesh and blood man.

Whether you agree or not, think about it the next time you start a script and make the lead character a) stupid b) mean as a snake or c) a combination of a & b all in the name of giving your character some place to go. Take a step back, make them human first, and then work out the arc.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Whether you’re entering a contest or you’ve gotten some overworked, underpaid executive somewhere to read your script, the fact of the matter is you’ve got just ten pages to get their attention. If they aren’t drawn into the story by then, they either won’t read the rest at all or will breeze through it just to get to the last ten pages so they can pretend to know what happened in the end. Think about it – can you blame them? Any executive will tell you it’s not just about what’s good but what they can sell. Sorry folks, it’s the entertainment business, not the entertainment arts. Save the artsy fartsy stuff for your second script and stick to good basic storytelling for your first script sale.

Make sure that your first ten pages accomplish three major goals in an interesting and concise way. They need to establish the tone/genre of the script, the time and place of the story takes, and who the lead character is if not his or her goal.

The very first words on the page should set the tone of the entire script. Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? A thriller? Make it clear to the reader ASAP. Nothing is worse than reading a script and not being sure if you’re supposed to be laughing or crying at a story point. The more time it takes for the reader to figure out just what sort of animal this script is, the more time he or she will spend removed from the script and therefore not engaged with your characters or storyline.

COMMON MISTAKE #1: You don’t want to stand outside the script with the reader looking in. Saying things like, “we hear the pounding of a heartbeat, the woman is terrified,” may set it up as a thriller but it also keeps the reader at arm’s length. “We” don’t hear anything; the description could read something like, “Jolene’s heart pounds in her chest, her eyes dart everywhere, looking for an escape.” You’d get the same idea – this is a thriller – and yet be drawn into the story rather than solidly set outside of it.

You also need to establish the time and place that the story takes place. Sure you could just super, “Virginia, 1863”. However, if instead your description was something like, “An angry crowd gathers while an effigy of President Lincoln is burned in the small town square,” you establish the same general feel for time and place without being boring or stiff. If your next sentence is something like, “The sheriff nervously reached for his phaser, ready to stun the crowd at the first sign of trouble,” you’ve added another level of intrigue. You’ve set up the time, place and tone as being completely unexpected. The story could be futuristic, it could be about an alternate reality, the audience isn’t sure but hopefully they’ll be intrigued enough to read on. That’s your job in a nutshell; set up the time, place and genre in a way that the reader MUST keep reading.

COMMON MISTAKE #2: Don’t over describe the situation with mundane details that have no direct bearing on the story. I don’t need to know what color the character’s parka is, I just need to know that it’s cold. Remember also that this is a script, not a book, so dialog is king. The sooner you get to characters making some comment on their surroundings, time, place and/or current ordeal the better.

Finally, you need to set up the main character in the first ten pages. It could be like the classic movie, “Casablanca” where we hear a lot about Rick before meeting him. Or like the film version of “Lord of the Rings” where we hear a lot of back-story directly related to the main characters’ quest before we meet them. Or possibly like “Gladiator,” where we meet the character straight away and immediately know what he wants – to be with his family. The only thing we don’t know is that he’ll accomplish this goal in a non-traditional way – by joining them in Paradise. However you choose to do it, make it organic to the story and INTERESTING. You could, for instance, just say something like, “Hank pulls his ship into the Nabu spaceport, stirring up unrest in his Tyrolean crew.” Unfortunately, since most of your readers will never have been to Nabu or Tyro, the reference will be lost on them. It’s boring and disengaging.

What if instead you wrote something like, “Hank edges his beater of ship past the luxury liners around the restricted Nabu spaceport, dwarfed both in size and class. Fred, his first mate, leans down. “I hope you know what you’re doing.” Has he turned pale? Hank could never read his friend even after all these years, the striking blue Tyrolean skin that all of his crew shares make them too hard to read especially at a time like this.” Granted, it takes a little longer but, lame example that it might be, still draws us into the story faster than the previous option.

COMMON MISTAKE #3: Don’t ever assume that the reader has as much interest or knowledge of your lead character as you. For instance, I once read a script where much of the opening pages where written in Celtic. Hey, I love Ireland as much as the next guy but I’m not slogging through old Celtic to read a script. Why? Because it’s off-putting and I know it’s unlikely I’ll be able to sell it up the ladder. Yes, I’m sure someone out there reading this will know of an exception to the rule but do you want to count on being the million to one exception or the more traditional rule? By the way, the rest of the script may have been written in Celtic as well, I never went past page 10.

You don’t have to formulaically spell out whose story this is, what they want and what’s in their way if you don’t want to. For instance, in the original “Raiders of the Lost Ark” you got to know Indy first, warts and all, before you found out the story that drives the movie. It worked in that case because the character was so appealing that you were too hooked to stop watching. You can hold surprises until later, make the audience THINK they know what the script is about only to spin it around 180 degrees down the road but they have to at least think they know what the script is about to keep reading. Mystery is one thing; complete and baffling confusion is something else.

Use the first ten pages to set the stage for the story and characters, and then end it with something exciting or intriguing enough to change the course of the story or character and pull us along with it. Otherwise, all your beautiful prose that you labored over in the middle of the script will be lost to the ethos, never read or appreciated by anyone who doesn’t have a direct connection to you the writer.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Interview with Writer Benjamin Ray

This interview with writer Benjamin Ray is the first of what (hopefully) will be a monthly feature. The point isn’t to sell you on how great my services are, although Benjamin’s kind words are greatly appreciated. The driving force behind the interviews and the ReelWriter blog in general is to foster practical information and advice on how to be a writer in Hollywood without losing your soul. Or your mind.

Newbies, experience writers who have hit a wall or just folks who love to hear great underdog stories will find something to appreciate in these monthly tales of how writers just like you are putting their talent to work telling stories that mean something to them even when they aren’t getting paid the big bucks. Yet.

Benjamin sent me his script, “Marcus and Faith” a while back for coverage and I was thrilled to hear that since then, it has racked up some impressive awards. Here’s his story...


After I graduated from University of Toronto, I realized I made the greatest mistake of my life. No wonder my friends told me I was lost.

Ever since I could remember, I always had an interest in stand-up comedy. I tried it, got off to decent start but soon I was finding it hard to behave like a LIGHT SWITCH – you know -- jump on stage and you have to be ON -- happy, happy, happy. Listen, I don’t mind being happy, just I’m happy being unhappy, sometimes. It’s too exhausting to fake this happiness thing. Well maybe I could fake it real good if I did drugs which are fashionable in the comedy business. But I knew if I chose that path I would be dead in the gutter. Screenwriting came to rescue.

I live in Toronto. It has been proven; you don’t have to live in Los Angeles to make it in this business. If you have a solid business plan for unexpected expenditures, then taking that risk is possible. When the time is right I will be in LA.


I’m a business plan writer and tax preparer. I had to pick a job. One that keeps me stressed out, which a good thing, sometimes.


Semi-finalist with 20/20, Quarterfinalists with -- Fade in Magazine, Writers Network, Script Shark, All Access Screenplay Competition. And of course -- winner (finalist) with Pacific Northwest Screenwriting Contest whose Judge Daniel Yost -- co- screenwriter for Drugstore Cowboy – starring Matt Dillon


If you want to stay in this game – enter selective contests, at least 4 per year. Stick only with contests with proven judges/filmmakers/producers. Look, study and research their current and past winner list and identify similarities. Find what kind of scripts the contest gate-keepers like. This is a business with no rules. Some contest providers push only the genre and style they like. I really don’t want to sound discourteous – some Contests don’t think like producers or studio heads. Grab the bull by the horn and ask tons of questions. And stay away from writers who open up screenwriting contests. I want to grow as a writer and as to understand the business of Hollywood, not just to write. So I have to be selective. Also, some Screenwriting Contests think they have a monopoly on cinematic vision when in reality they are not trained in the business world where the producers are the Kings, the Queens and the Jokers.


Needed to find out if Hollywood would appreciate my style of screenwriting. I write on a “cinematic visualization style”. You know the camera films most of it, so I must write scripts, not novels. Fore-mostly, I wanted to know if I was writing a lean mean “blueprint” or just building a damn estate for some trophy wife while sleeping with the interior designer. If you know what I mean.


It wasn’t a tough choice; I knew I could write a cinematic script. Got coverage from Scriptapalooza. The guy slaughtered me but he did like my Act 1 and went on saying that it grabbed him by the throat and it was well written. The day you become fearless of coverage is the day you realize that only parts of your script are good. Only parts!!! There is no such thing as a perfect script and those that praise you writing 100%, are wasting your time. And those who give scripts high marks are also wasting your time.

Trust me, after a while, mean-spirited coverage does not affect me anymore. Okay I lied, maybe for 2 whole minutes, then their notes go in the garbage and I will delete you from my hard-drive. So far the only fair coverage I got was from you at

I had 5 professional coverages for “Marcus and Faith”. Most of them were trying to shove their genre and their cinematic likings down my throat. One coverage provider told I should learn to write like Shane Black and went on to say that I should make it into a drama instead of a thriller.

Your coverage gave me confidence to pitch it live. Your logline and coverage of the script’s theme was motivating and respectful to my prerogatives. You told me the good, the bad and the ugly in a professional way.


Of course, your positive coverage gave me confidence to accelerate my marketing plan. If a coverage provider is negative, demand a refund. Negativism is a natural force and it can slow down your progress if you don’t have the experience to fight back.

You are truly a leader in this business.


I read some screenwriting books by not taking them seriously while have my ADD moments. I always believed that screenwriting cannot be taught. I did not and will not attend film-school. Every time I read a book on screenwriting, I lose my motivation and get temporary writer’s a block. It’s not for me.

I learned to write screenplays by watching ICONIC movies and taking notes.

And I also learned for reading one exceptional book which changed my life forever. It’s written by Phil Gladwin at www.screenwritinggoldmine. It’s the most truthful book out there on this business.

Also, I learned from reading biographies of ICONIC film directors. Read how writer/ director Francis Ford Coppola mortgaged his house to make a movie. Or how a director wanted to kill the producer if they changed one word in his script. Read their scripts, it’s the most economical piece of art. That’s screenwriting! They believed in their story-telling instinct.

It’s good to consult, but only with those who know what they’re talking about.

Consult with people that actually made movies. If you believe in you story, stick to your guns and make it happen. Work with people that can inexpensively test a scene on a cinematic level with Cinematographer. Consult with people who have worked with an editor or involved with mixing of music to some scenes. I don’t think there is a book out there that analyzes screenwriting from a director-/screenwriter angle. I learned by “method writing”. If you’re going to write about a boxer or a dancer or teacher – think like a director – they will tell you -- go out there and live in their shoes – then thank them for that experience.


I would like to answer this question without insulting anyone. Here it goes -- I enjoy visualizing all the scenes in my scripts. We are servants of our imagination. The mind does not have a map and cannot be tamed. Film school is not for me. . Don’t get upset if one day you’re 88 years old and haven’t sold a script or made a movie. Do what you want to do, listen to only a few trust-worthy consultants. There is no formula or strategies. Sorry, film-school does not work for me. I get so upset when people tell me to go to film-school. If they have film-school, why don’t have music-school – and we all can go there learn how to be the next Mick Jagger or Amy Winehouse or Eminem . You see what I mean.


Jokes or dialogues, same thing – edit, edit over and over and over and then test it out in front of the mirror or with a microphone. Tape and listen.


I don’t miss it. I use the internet, forums and blogs and unexpected office staffs for instant feedback.


Stick to your guns, feedbacks can be wishy-washy. Again, just find one or two coverage providers who will honest with you and treat you with respect.


I change my writing environment every time – Subway, buses, accidental long distance travel, office space, hopping from one library to another or in the middle of a breakup with psychos and angels. I don’t think about the routine of writing, I just make it fit in my circle of life.


Marcus and Faith is my second. My first script was “Sin So Well” – it’s a B movie/script thing with lots of action and R-rated jokes. Actually some of the coverages found the jokes offensive. They’re probably the same people who found BORAT offensive.


Marcus and Faith had a controversial lifestyle and aspirations. Most artists come from a dysfunctional background. Some can’t adapt and give up in life by becoming self-destructive. I wanted to show that Marcus and Faith are survivors not matter how bad their childhood was. Whatever happened, we cannot blame our parents, teachers, bosses for the stress and pain we have in this life. We have to take control. Marcus and Faith found each other and they helped each other survive.


I did a survey, when the movie Saturday Night Fever came, out – a specific crowd was able to identify with Tony Manero. Young adults with their problems with careers, unsupportive parents, sex-in-the –city syndrome and dead-beat friends.

Young adults love a lifestyle where they can piggyback vicariously on the entertainment culture. They temporary think that they will achieve stardom in anything they do and their future will be cozy and comfortable. But they fail to realize that this chase is a dangerous game and we have to tread carefully. It’s possible, no to drown….Marcus and Faith helped each other.


It has to be dark in some parts, in order to justify the happy ending. For a movie to play the immortality game, it has to be dark.


Mel Gibson was very vivid with Apocalypto and The Passion of Christ.

The Kama-Sin is my forecast of the danger that awaits society if we don’t put end to this addiction people have to sex vices. I’m just showing what happens when men get bored with certain things and they CAN’T GET SATISFACTION – until they find a temporary fix – the birth KAMA SIN, for example. In certain business culture – the rich and famous really like to experiment on this level.


1. Frank Miller
2. Guy Ritchie
3. Robert Rodriguez
4. David Cronenberg
5. Spike Lee


I ‘m getting ready to market “Dance Desire Violence” – a dramatic thriller which takes place in 1977 New York. It’s about a college dropout, dirty dancing, schizophrenia and a crime boss and his promiscuous wife.

Also putting the polishing touch on “Don’t Hit My Mommy” – -- takes place in modern New York about a retired boxer/father, HIV, AIDS and an illegal escort business.

Lastly -- marketing a sit-com version of a tamer version of “Marcus and Faith”.

Email me for full synopsis of any of the above.

I believe in these scripts. New projects are always happening

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Here’s a big Hollywood news flash: nobody wants to read your script. Industry pros like producers, agents and even top level readers are going to actively look for reasons to not read your script. Does that mean you should give up? NO! But it does mean you need to do your job and take away all reasons for them to reject your work at first glance.

“But I’m an artiste,” you say, “I can’t be bothered with all those mundane details!” Then have fun living in that garret for the rest of your life where the only people to ever see your stories are your friends and even they cringe at reading your epic one more time. Never forget that this is Hollywood and appearance is everything. Is it wrong that the way your script looks can affect whether it’s made or not? Maybe, but the development executives who sort through hundreds of scripts a week looking for the next sellable script are the most under appreciated, overworked folks in the business. The same goes for readers. They just don’t have the time to see the diamond in the rough and even if they did, they know they won’t be able to sell it up the ladder to their bosses. And make no mistake, scripts are commodities to be sold, not pieces of art to be put on a wall and admired. That’s the reality. This is the entertainment BUSINESS after all.

This goes double for entering your script into contests. If you aren’t going to make sure that your script is as professionally written as it can be then I suggest you hand the entry fee to the guy at the freeway on ramp with the cardboard house. You’ll gain more in karma points then you have any hope of benefiting from the contest.

You can’t control whether you’re the next Diablo Cody or not but you can eliminate some really simple reasons for your script to automatically go to the slush pile, domain of the intern and underpaid assistants.

  1. Do not put pictures on your title page. Nothing says, “this script sucks” like a photo, painting or drawing on the title page. In all the years I’ve been doing this only once did a picture on the title page work and that was for a campy horror script about a giant prehistoric crocodile. The writer put a close up of - you guessed it – a crocodile head with a yellowed out eye and all. It was ridiculous and silly but absolutely matched the tone of the script. But even then it was only because a friend gave it to me an assured me it was worth the read. Don’t take that kind of chance, just stick with the title, your name and, for the love of God, your contact info.
  2. Use 2 heavy-duty brads to bind your script. That’s it, nothing fancy. Spirals, metal clips and cheap flimsy brads tend to fall apart, catch on clothing and all around make the reader cranky. The cardinal rule of getting your script read is thou shall not annoy your reader.
  3. Here’s another hot tip – the fact that spell check doesn’t catch everything is no excuse for you not to. About the third time the wrong “your” is used, you’re screwed. Proofread your script the old-fashioned way, one page at a time. If you’re lousy at it then get a friend to do it. Better yet, get two; two sets of eyes are better than one. Yes, it’s a small detail but one that says so much about you. If you aren’t careful enough to catch typos then why should I trust you to be careful enough to seed in great subtext or character arcs?
  4. Keep your script between 100 – 115 pages. Roughly speaking, one script page is equal to a minute of screen time. Even more if it’s chock full of action. (The phrase “and then they fight” takes very little space but about fifteen minutes of movie.) If it’s longer than that, unless you happen to be Peter Jackson you need to go back and edit. You’ll be surprised how much better your script is anyway without the extraneous scenes you thought you couldn’t live without. And by the way, you aren’t fooling anyone when you jimmy with the margins; people who read scripts for a living know just by looking at it that you’ve played around with them. Chances are they’ll disregard the script and you as not only a hack but also a cheater without getting past page 1.
  5. Writers write, directors direct: Leave out all direction unless it’s absolutely vital to telling your story. Putting in the description “CU of John’s eyes are he weeps” isn’t vital to the story, it’s directing and a sign of an amateur, not to mention annoying to a potential director and you’re going to need them to get your movie made. Getting the script made into a movie is the goal so check your ego at the door.
  6. Formatting: Absolutely, positively have your script properly formatted with the correct margins. Every script-writing program will do it automatically but if you don’t have one of those, most screenwriting books will tell you the proper format. This format is not meant to squash your artistic whim; it’s there partially to help the director, producer and artists who will hopefully make it into a movie. Part of formatting is using Courier 12 pt., the current industry standard font. Writing in another font doesn’t say, “I have a unique voice, read me.” It mostly says, “I think I’m too special for the rules and will probably be a pain in the ass to work with.”
  7. More formatting tips: Beyond the proper margins, there are common practices that professionals follow that make a script easier to read and are sure signs of an experienced writer. DO NOT WRITE EVERYTHING IN CAPITALS. IT FEELS LIKE THE SCRIPT IS YELLING AT YOU AND IS VERY ANNOYING. Remember your cardinal rule – do not annoy your reader. Aside from sluglines, the only time you use capitals is denoting the first time a character is introduced. As a reader, it helps you keep track of characters. If you capitalize them every time, we may not be sure if we’ve met them a few scenes ago or if this is the first time. Sometime readers have to put a script down and pick it up a day later so don’t make it any harder by confusing them about characters, locations or dayparts.
  8. Let the actors act: Parentheticals are one of the most over used writing devices around. You don’t to put (annoyed) (sad) (tenderly) with dialog to let the actor know how to deliver the lines. Hopefully your work will speak for itself. There are exceptions but if a scene is truly well written and a character well established, those times are few and far between.
  9. Remember your Schoolhouse Rock: Avoid common grammatical errors, especially gerunds. For instance, “John runs” instead of “John is running.” It’s minor but the continued use of the passive voice weakens your story. Always make sure your write your script in the present tense. If grammar isn’t your strong suit, then have a friend or a professional proofreader go over it.
  10. It’s a script, not a novel: Nothing makes a reader groan more than opening a script and seeing the entire first page is all description. There’s no point in going into such details as “John, a fan of the band Air Supply since the 1980’s, took his Border Collie out for a walk down his magnolia lined street, thinking to himself that he should get a haircut.” The viewing audience will never know any of this so why should the reader have to suffer through it all? Put in only the visual details that are important and break it up with dialog. It’s easier to read and shows you know how to write drama as well as description.

Remember, no one in Hollywood ever lost their job for saying “no.” You owe it to yourself and your script to make them at least work for the “no” rather than passing on your script with barely a glance.