Saturday, July 27, 2013

Writing Exercise: How To Start Your Script and Great News for Screenwriters

Many new writers sabotage themselves by believing that they will never succeed because they don’t meet “the profile” of what is a successful screenwriter. They also believe they do not have access to the dealmakers in Hollywood.

Great News for  original writers- Warner Brothers has partnered with WGA (Writers Guild of America) and a program called The Black List ( to find scripts from underutilized demos (ethnics, women, elderly and very young).  For only $25 you can have your script seen by hundreds of industry specialists combing for the next new voice. 

One of the writers will be offered by Warner Bros a two-step blind script deal worth around $93,000. The initial plan is for this program to run for two years, which will mean deals for four writers will get a foot in the door. The first short list of writers will be turned over to Warner Bros around Thanksgiving.

Read more of the details below:

Let’s start with the basics. You want to write a movie. The easy way to start is to create the much needed tools to explain your script to people (your elevator pitch) to get every ones attention.  These instruments include:

1.     Three hit movies it most resembles
2.     Log Line
3.     Pitch

Let me explain them one at a time.

1.     Three hit movies your script most resembles seems counter intuitive to your original story, but this is the way Hollywood mind’s works. You must compare it to hits so they automatically see it as a success with the originality coming from the combining. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just as close as you can get.

For example, my Christmas movie has a large family, so it is compared to Cheaper By The Dozen. It is a movie about how families deal with Christmas differently so it is compared to Four Christmases. And finally it is a slapstick comedy of errors, so the last comparison in Home Alone. This is how I pitched it and sold it before it was finished.

2.     The Log Line is taken from the days when we coveted the TV Guide to find our weekly programs and movies.  Each program or movie was described in 20 words or less. Though the pulp bound version of this is gone, the tradition remains that you must be able to summarize your script into 12-50 words.

Here are famous examples:

Logline #1 - The extraordinary story of a thoroughbred racehorse - from his humble beginnings as an under-fed workhorse to his unlikely rise and triumphant victory over the Triple Crown winner, War Admiral.

Logline #2 - A 17th Century tale of adventure on the Caribbean Sea where the roguish yet charming Captain joins forces with a young blacksmith in a gallant attempt to rescue the Governor of England's daughter and reclaim his ship.

Logline #3 - Her family has exactly three traditional values - "Marry a Greek boy, have Greek babies, and feed everyone." When she falls in love with a sweet, but WASPy guy, she struggles to get her family to accept her fiancée, while she comes to terms with her own heritage.

3.     Next is the pitch that is a 50-120 word missive of what the movie is about with a bit more detail. This is the “story” of your movie. Don’t mention stars, just describe the characters and let their mind wander to the stars. Avoid depicting too many subplots or details. Concentrate on two or three characters and pivotal events, or the pitch will quickly become convoluted.

In the case of JUNO the writer (Diablo Cody) was discovered because she was a popular blog writer.  She had already written JUNO and the manager that had been following her blog read JUNO and loved it and signed her. 

The pitch in this case is “a comedy about a pregnant teen.”  Think about how hard it was to sell that idea.  What sold it was the quality of the writing.  But it still took years to get the movie made, and it was only when Jason Reitman (director of THANK YOU FOR SMOKING) came on as the director did the movie finally moved forward.

The pitch:
A tale told over four seasons, starting in autumn when Juno, a 16-year-old high-school junior, discovers she's pregnant after one event in a chair with her best friend, Bleeker. In the waiting room of an abortion clinic, the quirky and whip-sharp Juno decides to give birth and to place the child with an adoptive couple. She finds one in the Penny Saver personals, contacts them, tells her dad and stepmother, and carries on with school. The chosen parents, upscale yuppies (one of whom is cool and laid back, the other meticulous and uptight), meet Juno, sign papers, and the year unfolds.

Shorter but equally elegant:
Two imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency.
Shawshank Redemption

The lives of two mob hit men, a boxer, a gangster's wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption.
Pulp Fiction

It is time to start/finish/polish your script now.  There are NO GOOD REASONS not to begin today. If you can’t sell it, you can make it yourself. No more excuses! If your script is done, upload it to for $25, today!

If it is not done get those fingers tapping, they are looking for you! 

Join my Screenwriting Class on October 2, 2013 to get all the information you need to finish and sell your script.

Sign up at

Writing Exercise:

1. Pick three hit movies that your script (or potential script) emulates (from any time period). Do not choose bombs they must have been hit movies.

2. Next write your “TV Guide” log line, 8-20 words.

3. Write your pitch, 50-150 words. Focus on story, characters and plot.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Writing Exercise: I am NOT afraid!

Many new writers use the justification that they can’t write their stories for fear what their family/friends/colleges might think of the work. They are worried what will Mom, son, auntie June, guy in the next cubical or grandma think about the story. What if you are writing about a situation that has been held secret from the family or coworkers? What if you are revealing a secret trait -like you are superman?

Even if you are not writing a memoir, your life and relations will sneak into the narrative. Whether we mean to or not, we simply write what we know.  I know in every strong female character I create, there is a sprinkling of my Mother. Even if your missive is about your first dog and how his cuddles saved your teenage life, somewhere in the narrative your Mother will sneak in and she may not like the way your pen paints her.

I think this it is crazy to care about what other people think about you or your writing. I didn’t always feel this way, but now I am so stubbornly confident, and I just don’t give a hoot. I understand the hesitancy for those who do care about not so public opinion. I get it, but I decided in my 20’s that people either love me or hate me, no middle ground with my strange personality and I just don’t have time to care.  I have writing to do.

Only opinion that I care about are my Grandkids and I keep them in enough lolly’s to guarantee their devotion.

To ease your mind, I can tell you that I have been writing a weekly column for over 8 years and use my family frequently as subject matter AND THEY HAVE NEVER READ A WORD (except my Mother). My columns are published online, spread throughout the country in a free paper and spend the entire week as the soul reading material on my kitchen table. AND THEY HAVE NEVER READ A WORD (except my Mother). I can say anything I want about them, because they will never read my work. Maybe after I have gone home to the dictionary in the sky, they will read my stories, but why would I care then?

Here is my advice:
1.     Write like you dance, like no one is watching.

2.     Every situation is experienced differently from each person’s perspective, so make it clear that the story is your opinion, not the truth (but what is truth? Awww -We just got deep.)
3.     Call your story, a fictional account based on a real story. This will keep Oprah from sic’ing her dogs on you and you can say you made up anything that offends.
4.     If you are going to write about your mother, make two of her characteristics Beautiful and Thin.
5.     If you are going to write about a male make sure the character has a really small penis, no man will ever say, “Hey- that’s me!”
6.     Just write. The likelihood that the ones you are afraid of upsetting will read your work is slimmer than winning the lottery.

Writing Exercise:
Imagine your Mother is in prison. You get to pick her crime and her cellmates. I want you to describe how prison has changed her, describe her day. (If your Mother is really in prison, I apologize and write her on a cruise ship).

500 words or more about that criminal Mom- have fun; you never have to show it to her. But please share it with me!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Writing Exercise: Your Writing Space

We interrupt this writing career to make my husband an egg sandwich, to find my Grandson’s pillow pet, to save a suicidal chicken, to clean up the dogs puke from the middle of the living room, answer an “emergency” text from my daughter and to throw the cat off my keyboard.  

I have tried everything to get them to leave me alone. I’ve begged, pleaded, even threatened. 

I hung a sign on the back of my chair that reads:


The molest part is because my husband’s favorite activity is to come at me from behind and take my breasts in his hands.  My girlfriends say their husbands do it too.  
Is this a trend or an age old right of marital ownership? 

But I am a writer.  I dream it.  I can’t breath if a story is swirling around in my head and I don’t get it down on paper.  I explain to my students that it is like having to go the bathroom at the mall. You can’t concentrate on maxing out credit cards when you have to go. All you look for is the one bathroom sign in the three-mile mall instead of the 70% off sale at Neiman Marcus. I have to get my words out. 

I am told that the biggest obstacle when you start writing is writers block.  I have heard sad stories of brilliant writers staring for hours at the blank page. This has never been a problem for me.  Give me five minutes alone, even if it is in the car during a car wash and my pen leaps to life across the page.

As all good teachers will tell you if you want to write and be successful, write what you know.  What I know is a house full of to-dos, a husband in midlife crisis, too many not-so-domesticated animals and four businesses to run.   If all the distractions go away, will I stop being able to write? I wonder. Try me.

 I took an IQ test today.  This was my fourth attempt to find 12 minutes of uninterrupted time to test my brainpower.  I finally saw an opportunity and explained to my husband that I needed 12 minutes of peace and quite.  He made it for five minutes and then started calling every Xerox dealer in the yellow pages seeking an honest repairman for his copy machine.  At 8 minutes, he draped himself over my chair and gave “the girls” a squeeze.  Even through all this, the test maker said I scored “Gifted”.  Right now the only thing I am gifted at is squirreling out some humor from this insane life. On to my stories and advice.

Place. Do you have to be in a certain place to be a writer? I think that other than a quite space that you can be alone to create, great writing can be done anywhere.

If you can't have a sprawling office, settle for a nook.
Set up a desk or table for your work in a corner of the quietest space in your home. Writing is thinking and if you are married with kids, thinking looks like idol time so………

Erect a visual boundary around your writing space.
People are less likely to interrupt you with questions or demands if they can't see you. A screen or a curtain can provide some privacy and eliminate visual distractions. Play music on a headset or use earplugs to block out sounds.

Consider working in a coffee shop or restaurant.
You may find that you work best outside of the house. Go in during off-times, after the lunch rush and before dinnertime. Tip well and be courteous, so that you are always welcome.

Rent a writing space.
If you can afford to rent a small office or studio, this is an excellent option.
Use the library.
It's free and mostly quiet (avoid the Internet area where people tend chat and share). You can write surrounded by prodigious literature or children’s books.

Be creative about finding a writing space.
A lack of space should never be an excuse not to write. Carry a notebook with you or write on your smartphone in the note pad (I use Evernote). Write whenever you get a spare second: waiting for an appointment, at a park at lunch, on public transportation (50 Shades of Gray was written on the subway). You can get much writing done even in short spurts.

Writing Exercise:

You are going to write about a strange, fun or wonderful place that you have visited (either in person or in a book). Describe that place in great detail. Now find a writing space for you to write there every day and tell what the novel will be about.

200-500 words- easy peasy for Friday.