Saturday, February 26, 2011

"Angel of Death" and the New Kid

Ironically, I was just watching a webisode called Angel of Death, where the main character takes a new kid (who is called literally "the new kid") under her wing -- right around the beginning of act two! And what is that new kid doing? Asking the main character questions, which help to explain some of what's going on in the story. Blessed exposition.

Check it out (watch episode 1):

What Blake Snyder Called "Fun and Games"

Nicole Criona of posted this comment on my blog: “Often times, bringing in a new character will also serve as a way to avoid expository dialogue, especially in screenplays, because now the main character has a reason to explain certain things to the ‘new kid’ and thereby the audience learns as well.”
I would add to this that, often in your story, your main character is actually the “new kid” and can thus have things explained to her (and henceforth to the audience). This is especially true at the beginning of act two, when the main character has just passed over the “threshold”, as Christopher Vogel calls it, into the “new world”. In many “odyssey type” stories, the main character is now a total foreigner in a new and different world and must learn how to deal and prosper here, most often with the help of friends (and more often than not enemies). The main character oftentimes meets his/her love interest at this point – and/or what I call the mentor/motivating character – and that character can also serve to shed light on the rules of the new world and thus also inform the audience through dialogue about what is going on.
Sometimes the mentor/motivating character does this with the help of, yes, a bit of exposition. But this can also happen through action scenes, as we see the main character flounder and become flustered by this new world where the rules of her old world no longer apply. The late, famed Blake Snyder also called this the “fun and games” section of the story, where the scenes we see in the trailer of a movie come from – also where we can "have fun" paying off much of the premise of the movie. “Fun and games” means all those funny (or dramatic) moments where the main character is learning her way around in this new world, often tripping and falling on her face, much to the amusement of the audience.
If you are writing a screenplay, you can look to dedicate at least ten to fifteen pages to this part of the story. Just remember: all this good stuff you can read in books on story structure and how to write screenplays shouldn’t depended on too much by writers, or it just becomes formula. Stick to a formula too closely, and your screenplay will come off as – you guessed it – formulaic. Isn’t it boring to sit in a theater, watching some big-budget blockbuster, and you know exactly what’s going to happen because the studio execs didn’t want to take any chances on veering from the tried and tested? On the other hand, make sure your scenes emerge organically. This will happen the more you practice writing.

Friday, February 25, 2011

New Filmmakers

Just passing this along. They also screen indie films once a month at the Sunset Gower Studios in Los Angeles. 

Submit your film DIRECTLY to the NewFilmmakers New York Summer Theatrical Screening Series

Whether you have previously submitted a film to the NewFilmmakers Screening Series or not, now is the PERFECT time to submit.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Great Article about Giving Your Characters Choices

From Anna Staniszewski's blog:

Anna says:

"Nancy Lamb has a great chapter on plot in The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children which I use with my writing classes. As I was re-reading the chapter last night, something new stood out to me. (I find that often happens when I reread craft books–something jumps out at me that’s relevant to the story I’m currently working on.)

"In the chapter, Lamb says:
Remember that choice creates conflict. Without choice, there is no conflict. In literature, as in life, the torment of deciding between two equally weighted alternatives creates one of the most powerful conflicts a character can confront.
"This explains why love triangles can work so well, because the character needs to decide between two options that both seem like they might be the right one. When I think about the most memorable problems I’ve had in my life, they’re mostly of the “I don’t know what to do” variety, when I wasn’t sure which choice was the correct one. That, of course, got me thinking about  my characters’ problems.

"In a manuscript I’m currently revising, the character hasn’t had much in the way of options. Something happens to his family and he has no choice but to try to fix it. High stakes, right? Well yes, but thinking about what Lamb said makes me wonder if I’ve made things too simple for my character. Saving his family will be filled with obstacles, but he’s so single-minded about it that it’s not terribly interesting. What if he did have a choice? For example, what if he thinks someone else can do it for him–and things only get worse as a result?
"I’m not sure what direction I’ll take the story in, but I’m going to try to give the character more choices. After all, every decision he makes might be the wrong one, which will only get him deeper into trouble, and which will make the stakes even higher.

"What about you? Have you been giving your characters enough gut-wrenching choices?"

New Media Film Festival

FYI for those of you in the new media world....

New Media Film Festival
“New Media Film Festival is the Sundance for the Facebook Crowd”
- Culture Rehab
“The future of new media for storytelling is limitless... content creator(s) need to hear what's being said at New MediaFilm Festival. It 'll open your mind to all possibilities."
- Frank Colin, Script Magazine
The 2nd Annual New Media Film Festival will be held in Los Angeles May 20-21 2011, and in San Francisco November 4-5 2011, honoring stories worth telling in all media that are innovative, imaginative and inspirational.


The New Media Film Festival was created in 2010 for Artists, Filmmakers, Producers, Directors, Above and Below the line Crews, Thought Makers, & Implementers that brings stories worth telling to life.
There are categories in 3D Shorts, 3D Features, Animation, Apps, Digital Comics, Documentary, Feature, LGBT, Audience Choice / Mingle Media TV, Mobile, Music Video, Shorts, Shot on Red Shorts, Shot on Red Features, SRC - Socially Responsible Content, Webisode, and Web Series.
Don't forget: Deadline for submissions is May 1st!

For more information about the Film Festival:

9th Annual Script Pipeline Screenwriting Competition

Just passing this along...

2010 9th Annual Script Pipeline Competition. Click here to learn more.

EARLY DEADLINE: March 1st, 2011
$100,000 Cash & Prizes

2008 Winning Script SHRAPNEL to be Directed by John McTiernan (‘Die Hard’)

2008 Winner Evan Daugherty Sold Spec to Universal for $3 million

2010 Winner Tripper Clancy Found Representation through SP Contact FilmEngine; Signed with UTA in 2011


The 2011 Script Pipeline Screenwriting and TV Competitions are accepting entries for feature film and TV scripts–all genres, styles, and lengths accepted. This is an international competition and non–U.S. writers are welcome.

$20,000 in cash to the finalists/winners and $80,000 in prizes given away to ANYONE who enters (winners chosen at random). Finalist loglines/scripts are sent to over 200 companies.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Interesting Musings on Filmmaking and Webseries By Jesse Warren

Check out Jesse Warren's blog, the writer behind the super-successful webseries, The Bannen Way.

Interesting new entry about the relationship between writer and director...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Producers Guild of America "The Power of Diversity" Workshop

Just putting this out there...

2011 Producers Guild of America Workshop

The Producers Guild of America is proud to announce its producing workshop, “THE POWER OF DIVERSITY.” This workshop is designed to foster the creative development of diverse voices in Television Comedy, Drama, & Reality; Motion Pictures, Documentaries and Web series.

Up to ten (10) participants will be encouraged to explore, create and refine stories that reflect our diverse culture. Applicants may be emerging creative voices or those well-established in their careers.

The program will focus on moving projects forward through seminars and master classes with top professionals in film, television, and new media supported by one-on-one mentoring with Producers Guild members. Topics include: story development, pitching, packaging, financing, marketing, and new media opportunities. Every session will be tailored to our participating producers and their projects.

Workshop call for entries is now open and closes on April 4th 2011 at 5:00 pm.
Applicants will be notified by May 2nd, 2011. Workshop sessions will take place between May 11th and July 31st. Selected participants must attend all sessions of the program. Workshop sessions are held weekday evenings, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. with a few Saturday sessions at The Producers Guild of America offices at 8530 Wilshire Blvd., Ste 450, Beverly Hills.

Past workshop speakers have included, Marshall Herskovitz (Love and Other Drugs, Blood Diamond), Damon Lindelof (Lost, Star Trek), Mark Gordon (Grey’s Anatomy, Saving Private Ryan) Bruce Cohen (Pushing Daisies, American Beauty) in addition to others.

Only (1) application/project per applicant please. Applicants must apply by mail only. No faxes or drop-offs will be accepted. To apply please submit:

Application can be downloaded at
Signed release form can also be downloaded at
8-10 page treatment as well as a 2 page synopsis for Motion Picture projects
4-5 page series overview for TV Reality projects.
4-5 page treatment as well as a 2 page synopsis for TV Comedy, TV Drama, Documentary, and Web Series projects
A current resume.
A non-refundable $35 application fee made out to Producers Guild of America Foundation for
applications postmarked by March 21st 2011. Submissions postmarked between March 22nd and April 4th 2011, a non-refundable $50 application fee made out to Producers Guild of America Foundation.
A 1 page artist’s statement about why you want to participate in the workshop and what benefits you foresee from participation.

iStock Photo Caption Contest

iStock, a stock photo website, has a contest right now for clever writers to make up a caption for a funny photo. If you win, you get free credits for photos from the website. Tweet your caption ideas on Twitter with the hashtag istock. There's no limit to how many times you can enter the contest.

For more information and to see the photo, click below:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

South African Writer-Director Gavin Hood

Per one of my recent posts about advice for beginning screenwriters, one of the best examples of show-don't-tell filmmaking and "employing very little dialogue to convey story" I have seen is in the work of Writer-Director Gavin Hood.

The South African filmmaker is the auteur of Tstosi, a feature-length which portrays the life of a ruthless thug, who, after shooting a woman to steal her car, is surprised to discover there is an infant in the backseat. Wow, isn't it surprising that a film that did such a good job as showing a story through action not words went on to win an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2006?

If you really want to see a wonderful job of a showing action with very little dialogue, then I recommend you also check out Hood's short, The Storekeeper. The short definitely has the Hood mark of style, pre-Tstosi, employing even less dialogue than the aforementioned feature. Check it out.

If You Are Going to Bomb, Bomb Big

If you are going to bomb, bomb big. This is the old acting adage. What it means it that, when acting, you should make bold, decisive choices and then stick to them. Commit! Because even if you make the wrong choice, if you commit to it, if you own it, you might just be able to get away with it. In my opinion, the same goes with writing.
Writing is good when it is truthful – when it has energy, rhythm. In other words, when it is alive – human – when the words are infused with personality. In order to do this, writers must take risks. They must take risks with the kinds of characters they choose and what part of their own psyche they access when writing about these characters or even in the first person. Don’t pussy-foot around issues. Confront them. Be truthful. If you are going to talk about your first bisexual relationship, then explain it in all its lurid details. If you are going to describe what it was like growing up with an alcoholic father, don’t allude to events: describe them vividly. Above all, show, don’t tell! As with any art form, truthful writing is real writing. It connects with the reader. If you are adopting the voice of another character, then do so boldly. Don’t worry about making that character a little over the top. It’s better that she be too loud than too drab and boring. This is one tip for punching up an otherwise boring piece of writing: adopt a voice, go on a rant, create a quirky persona in your head. You will see how the writing comes alive. All in all, when writing, be sure to always choose a distinct voice. This often takes a bit of practice. In fact, it might take a lot of practice to find your true, real voice. But once you do, this will give your writing the mark of originality. Think of your favorite writers: they don’t just sound like everyone else, right? They don’t just write about the same boring things. And if they do write about something terribly prosaic, then they approach it in a very original way. Their voice shines; it is vivid. But all they have done is make the bold decision to be different, to show their true originality that each of us is born with. A challenge for us all….

Advice for Beginning Screenwriters

Too often beginning screenwriters attempt to push their story along with dialogue. "Hey, let's go to the racetrack?" "Sure, I wanna go." "How are we gonna get there?" "Maybe take the bus." "Okay, fine. Let's go!"


Just cut to the racetrack. We don't need all the chatter about whether characters want to go somewhere, how they're going to get there, et cetera.

One challenge I have for beginning screenwriters is to write your story as much as you can without using any dialogue at all.

The screenplay is a visual form. All it is a map for a medium that is going to end up telling your story in a visual way anyhow. So what can you say through visuals to begin with? How can the characters react to each other in ways that aren't verbal?

The best way is to have them react through action. I don't mean a bunch of gestures, which you don't really need to note in your script anyway ("he raised his hand", "he pointed his finger") and which the director and the actor are going to figure out later without the writer's help.

What I mean is action that is defined by what choices a character makes. Say, character X tells character Y she wants to break up with him. Instead of having him say something in response, have him DO something. Does he throw water in her face? Does he stand up and kiss another girl? Does he fall down at her feet and cry? Or do we just see him leave, get a gun and then shoot up the next scene? It's up to you.

If you are writing a comedy, please try to use as much physical humor in your comedy as you can. Joke telling is an art in itself, but it's not always funny in movies. Sure, there are lots of movies with really witty dialogue, but wouldn't you rather have the action of your scenes be what's funny -- what's happening, what your characters are doing -- than just falling back on two talking heads making jokes to one another? Unless that's your schitck, of course.

So -- lesson of the day. Action is humor. Action is drama. Action is key. The more you make your characters actually do something in your script, the more effectively you will move your story along, and the more appealing you will make your script to all those reading it. And wouldn't you like to differentiate your script from the pile of amateur screenplays in any reader's stack?

Screenwriters Summit Toronto 4/9-4/10

Are you a screenwriter living in Toronto -- or want to travel there? Check out the Screenwriters Summit taking place on 4/9-4/10.

Famed screenwriting gurus Syd Field, Linda Seger, Michael Hauge, and John Truby will all be holding workshops.

"Over two intense days, these four masters of the craft will provide you an unmatched depth and understanding of screenwriting and story that is ideal for screenwriters, filmmakers, TV writers, producers, directors and creative executives. Michael, Linda, John and Syd will each teach half-day classes followed by a half-hour Q&A session in which you'll be able to follow-up with any questions you may have. The speakers having taken the time and care to share their outlines with each other to make sure they provide you the best, most engaging material possible without overlap."

The Centenarian Who Climbed Out Through the Window and Disappeared

Here's a new book that's just been acquired by my former agent in Spain, if you want to keep up on what's going on in Europe before it hits the States:

The Centenarian Who Climbed Out Through the Window and Disappeared
Most sold book in Sweden in 2010!

"After a long and eventful life Allan ends up in a nursing home believing it to be the last stop. The only problem is that his health refuses to let him down and one day he turns 100. Everybody is expecting him at the big celebration: the mayor, the press, and the entire staff. But Allan doesn’t want to be a part of it. And he decides to climb out the window.

"The Centenarian Who Climbed Out Through the Window and Disappeared is the story about Allan Karlsson’s month long trip through Sweden. A trip that is complicated by his trouble with the police and a local gang that wants their suitcase back, which Allan accidentally took from a bus on a railway station. But at the same time the book is a journey through the 20th century. It turns out that he has not only witnessed some of the most important events of the century but actually caused them. Starting as an expert in explosion he ends up being involved in the development of the atom bomb an travels throughout the world meeting the most important and controversial figures such as Stalin, Churchill, Trumann, Mao, Franco, De Gaulle etc.

"It is a book full of a warm humour that draws on social and political satire as well as World History. The Centenarian Who Climbed Out Through the Window and Disappeared is the author’s debut novel and already a big success amongst the readers in his home country."

First published by Piratförlaget, Sweden, 2009.

New iPoem App from "Narrative" Magazine

An iPoem is a short poem that will fit within no more than two screens on the iPhone.

Narrative online magazine has just revealed the launch of their iPhone App for which they've created the iPoem genre. Narrative not only regularly features iPoems in the magazine and in their App on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod -- but, soon, they’ll also feature iPoems on a soon-to-be-released Android App.

From Narrative:

"Just as the advent of the typewriter both limited and enhanced the form of poetry, the new media are making an impact on the form and on how readers experience it. So, without establishing specific formal criteria for the iPoem, other than length, we are nonetheless interested in seeing works that indicate the poet’s awareness of how the new media affect, for instance, the line in poetry. We favor works that demonstrate an awareness of and interest in prosody."

Narrative is looking for submissions of original, previously unpublished iPoems. Please see their iPoem Guidelines.
And/or read five iPoems.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Writer Chats on Twitter

Debbi Ohi publishes a great list of writerly chats on Twitter.

To check out the chat schedules go to her webpage dedicated to the subject:

Pick the chat you want to participate in, and when the time comes for the chat to take place, go to and type in hashtag and name of the chat you're interested in. Then have fun! The chats are a great way for writers to connect with one another, promote their works and discuss the craft of writing.

Chapter From a New Book by Alice LaPlante, "The Making of a Story"

Check out this excerpt from Alice LaPlante's new book, The Making of a Story. LaPlante is both a writer and a creative writing teacher.

Click on the link below...

Chapter 8: You Talking to Me? The Making of a Story Gotham Writers' Workshop

Crisis vs. Conflict

Nicole Criona of recently passed out a page on the subject of crisis vs. conflict by Dennis G Jerz during a writers group I participate in. Says Jerz: “Good storytellers differentiate between a crisis and conflict. Beginning authors often focus on the exciting crisis rather than the conflict that makes readers care about the characters enduring the crisis.”

Christopher Vogler has another name for this, which he calls the main character’s “inner” and “outer” problem.

The main character’s “outer” problem is whatever big thing he has to do on his journey: going on a road trip; saving a school; saving a life; saving the world.

The main character’s “inner” problem, on the other hand, is whatever emotional issue he is dealing with on this journey -- e.g. he is scared of love, so he needs to learn to open up; he weak, so he needs to learn to take leadership; he is fearful, so he needs to learn not to be so scared. Et cetera.

The reason why it’s so important for a character to have an inner journey (a conflict) is because this is what gives the story heart -- this is what we as the reader (or viewer of the film) connect to. We’ve been there; we understand. It’s human. Otherwise, it’s just some guy trying to save the world by destroying the biggest meteor to come flying directly at planet Earth. Sure, you can have cool effects. But the story gets boring if we don’t delve deeper into the character’s life.

The main character’s conflict, or “inner” problem, should also have something to do with how he deals with whatever greater physical issue he is dealing with in the story. For example, if the story is about fighting off space invaders on the main character’s space ship, his character flaw will most likely get in the way of that. Say, he’s too hubristic and doesn’t read all the signs that are telling him that these space invaders are going to attack his ship -- so he gets attacked even harder. This is what creates the drama, or whatever you are trying to do with your story. If it’s a comedy, then how the main character relates to his “outer” problem will be humorous. Et cetera.

Often times, it’s also good to interrelate the crisis and the conflict of your story so that there is some cohesive thematic element to them. What I mean by this is that, say, a man’s journey in the story of surviving an ice storm. So then you can have his inner journey be the story of him opening up to his son who’s he’s been estranged from (who just happens to get stuck with him during this ice storm). In other words, the main character’s “inner” journey is the story of his heart “melting”, letting his icy guard down and dealing with whatever core wound he has (his father was icy toward him; so he is scared to love).

While you are developing the conflict of your story, this is also a good time to explore (and show) some of your character’s rules. What are the typical things your character does in any given circumstance? When you show these things, then you can begin to show how your character might also break those rules. This is how we start to see this character change -- which we definitely want to see throughout the course of the story. If you story has a happy ending, then your character will be changing from a more flawed character to a character who is moved to make important choices to become a better person. Of course, if your story is a tragedy, then your character never gets over his flaw. We might think that he is going to. He might even make attempts to change. But in the end, he reverts back to his flawed ways. And that is what is tragic.

All in all, when a character has flaws, then we can show the consequences of these flaws throughout the course of the story. We can then write how the outcome of these consequences might also finally push our character to change. This is why, more often than not, we should introduce what I call a mentor/motivating character (who often times is new in the character’s life), who pushes the character to change. And, of course, all this we want to see while he is dealing with that over-arching crisis that is occurring in your story.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Are You a Filmmaker Living in the South Bay?

Why not check out the South Bay Filmmakers Meetup Group?

Read more about their group at

Here's their description:


Because Talent and Film Crews Live South of the I-10 Freeway

If you are a filmmaker and live in Los Angeles' South Bay area there is no reason you should always be traveling to Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Hollywood or the Valley to meet like-minded people.

Whether your passion is Pre-Production, Production, or Post let's get to know each other, seek advice, get support, and collaborate on projects.

(Ed.) And how...

For Screenwriters and Filmmakers in the South Bay...

If you have a short film you'd like the public to see, don't forget about Gatsby Books first annual Short Film/Video Festival being held in Long Beach on Friday, February 25th at 7:00 PM.

The submission deadline is February 19th. Email for details.

Paraprosdokian Sentence -- Whatever That Means... Find Out Below!

Just passing along something else interesting from Narrative on-line.
A PARAPROSDOKIAN SENTENCE ends with an unexpected twist that forces the reader to reexamine or reinterpret the phrase preceding it.
“You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.”

—Winston Churchill

“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.”

—Groucho Marx
This week, write your best paraprosdokian sentence and send it to Literary Puzzler by Sunday noon, Pacific standard time.


Click on the banner below for a contest from "Narrative" -- a great website and resource for writers. 

Chat With Amber J Lawson of AOL Tomorrow Morn in Santa Monica

The screenwriting school I attended, Writers Boot Camp, is hosting an awesome "Business Breakfast" tomorrow morning, with guest speaker Amber J. Lawson, who is Head of Video Programming for AOL.

Here's her bio:
Before AOL, Lawson managed the comedy channel at, overseeing break out hits Kid Reenact and In 60 Seconds, was a comedy producer for National Lampoon, and has been a regular in the Huffington Post. She partnered last year with Streamy Award-winning Kevin Pollak for his directorial debut of VAMPED OUT, and is Chairman of the membership committee of The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences - Interactive Media Peer Group. Come out and hear where the industry is headed!

Doors open at 7:45am, and the breakfast panel starts at 8:30am. Runs for about an hour. It costs $20 if you buy advanced tickets, $25 at the door. The event is being held at Writer's Boot Camp, 2525 Michigan Ave, in Santa Monica, which is in Bergamont Station.

Monday, February 14, 2011

How to Make Money on Youtube Event on Wed. Night

Tubefilter Hollywood Web Television Meetup

With over 15,000 members on its roster, Tubefilter brings together the most dynamic group of online entertainment professionals in the industry.

Our events feature the top creators, producers, talent, executives, agents, distributors, and technologists in online entertainment today.

With presentations, panels, and lectures from the top individuals and companies shaping the future of our industry, the Hollywood Web Television Meetup provides an unrivaled opportunity to bring together this powerful community to share resources, collaborate, and determine together who we are and where we are headed.

The First Quarter Meetup:

Tubefilter Hollywood Web Television Meetup Presents:
You're a YouTube Partner—Now What?
Building off the incredible response from our panel at CES last month, we are taking an even more advanced look at the strategies behind some of the top channels on YouTube.

Moderated by Tubefilter Co-founder Marc Hustvedt.


Ben Relles, barelypolitical
VP Programming, Next New Networks
#15 Most Subscribed of All Time

Rafi Fine, TheFineBros
#54 Most Subscribed of All Time

Jason Schnell, Reckless Tortuga
#100 Most Subscribed of All Time

George Strompolos
CEO, Fullscreen
Co-Developer of the YouTube Partner Program

At this February's Hollywood Web Television Meetup, we'll learn from these successful producers about how they maximize their audiences, find out how YouTubers rake in six-figure incomes, and explore what makes channels rise to the too and what doesn't.

Featuring live YouTube DJ Drew Blood!

7:00pm - Doors Open (pre-seating)
7:30pm - Panel & Screening
8:45pm - Networking Mixer

Naked Angels

No, it's not a production company based in Chatsworth....

Naked Angels is an awesome theater company that started in New York some twenty years ago, which branched out into LA in 2003.

One part of the program is an event Naked Angels hosts each Tuesday night at 9pm at St. Nick's Pub in L.A. (right near the Beverly Center). In a nutshell, writers are invited to submit ten pages of a script (either for TV or film or a play), and then actors will actually perform the script right then and there. Sure, it's a cold read -- but how exciting! Not to mention there are tons of actors, writers, directors and producers present. Who knows what opportunity might turn up for you?

For more info, see their website Be sure to refer to the LA sector of the site.

Tuesdays@9 plays at St. Nick’s Pub, hosted by T@9 LA’s creative directors Steve Altman, Kevin Hoffer, and Liz Warner.
St. Nick’s Pub
8450 West 3rd Street


Why Webisodes?

When Felecia Day, star of the webseries sensation The Guild, couldn't sell her pilot about the world of online gaming, she repackaged the concept as a webisode series instead.

In an industry where it is more difficult than ever to sell your pilot, where studios are buying less feature scripts and where the reality show (which demands less writing, of course) is king, webisodes have emerged as a new-media outlet for writers, directors, producers and actors to show off their talents.

Because viewers' attention span is shorter on the Web, the episodes can also be shorter, which means they are cheaper to shoot. And because the screen is also smaller, you don't have to spend as much money on capturing beautiful landscapes, and you can thus concentrate on shooting in one location (which is also cheaper). What all this means is that it is way less expensive to create a webisode -- and, if you play your cards right, you can still get a lot of viewers to watch it, which can be literally translated into sponsorship dollars. In short, that's how you make the money.

But there are also "channels" that have emerged on-line, which will buy your webisode series (if the writing, acting and production quality is good; so don't skimp too much on money). Some of those channels are L Studio (funded by Lexus), where Lisa Kudrow can be seen starring in Web Therapy; My Damn Channel; Crackle; and now Aol. (There are a bunch more, and I will post them all later).

You can take the route or trying to sell your webisodes to these different channels, or you can just post your stuff to youtube. Of course, youtube isn't going to pay you for content, but, as we all know, as long as you can get a big following for your webisodes, you can convince some big company to sponsor/invest in you.

So that's why it's so important to know who your audience is, and then "hang out" where they do. Chats on twitter are great, and then doing all the social networking that's so necessary to get people to see your webisode. I have been so inspired by this new media opportunity that I am currently writing a webisode series that I will be shooting soon.

A few weeks ago, I attended a workshop with Mark Gantt of The Bannen Way, which is a super-successful webseries that has now been purchased by Sony Pictures Television. Why Gantt decided to shoot a webisode? He said you can chose to invest your hard-earned dollars (or someone else's money preferably) in making a short film that very few people will see (even if it's accepted to festivals) and which you then can't sell because everyone wants a feature-length film -- or you can invest that same money in a webisode (either a pilot or a whole series) and then promote the s**t out of it, so that it will be seen by a lot of people. Now which route would you rather take?

So, in short, as folks complain about less and less opportunities for writers as the paper-magazine world crumbles and the opportunities to sell scripts for TV and film dry up, turn your attention to the Internet, which never fails to provide more and more opportunities for writers, who take the time to brainstorm new and interesting way to make money and get their stuff seen.

"The Write Environment" on KCET

A writer friend brought this television show to my attention. Looks like a great resource for writers.

This week on The Write Environment, Sam Simon Wednesday at 10:00 PM on KCET

This week on The Write Environment, host Jeffrey Berman interviews Sam Simon, a co-creator of Fox's longest running animated TV series, "The Simpsons," Simon discusses his favorite comedians, as well as his work for "Taxi", "Cheers", and "The Drew Carey Show.

Simon started out wanting to be an animator, so it's no surprise that he is one of the Executive Producers who co-created Fox's longest running animated TV series, "The Simpsons". The recipient of a dozen Emmys as well as a Peabody Award, Simon has written for some of TV's most notable series including "Taxi", "Cheers", and "The Drew Carey Show". In this candid one-on-one with Simon, this critically acclaimed television writer, producer and director discusses his early days in Hollywood, shaping the face of "The Simpsons", and his fondness for comedian, George Carlin.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Film I Liked With Little or No Structure Whatsoever

Okay, you'll hear a lot of blah, blah, blah from me about the importance of having a structure to your stories. But, nevertheless, I did come across film today that I actually liked -- although it has hardly any structure whatsoever.

The film is called Dogtooth. It's a Greek film, and, sure, it does take some patience to get through. I, in fact, only got through about 40 minutes of its hour-and-a-half-long feature this afternoon. Yup, it was a bit tedious, but I was also glued to the screen. It's basically about this family where the parents have home-schooled their kids all their life and, in fact, the kids aren't even allowed off the premises of the compound. The kids are totally ignorant of anything that goes on outside the walls of the yard. It's kind of a Greek version of Flowers in the Attic (yup, incest included). 

Basically, the film opens with the father driving this female security guard out to the compound blindfolded. They drive into a rural area, and, of course, I think that they are going to have sex, because he is asking her a lot of questions, such as whether she bathed that day. "Yesterday", it was. Ah, the Europeans... Anyhow, instead of the father having sex with the girl, he basically presents her to his son. It appears they've done this before, and we see it, of course, in all its cinema-verite, lurid splendor. Anyhow, I'm digressing... I guess what I am trying to say is that, although Dogtooth has little structure (it really felt like we were still setting up the story at the 40-minute point), one of the good things about this sick and twisted little foreign film is that it spends a lot of time just SHOWING you the rules of the family's bizarre world. I guess nothing much needs to happen, because there is so much weird stuff going on already; we don't really need to jump into some, need I say, "journey". 

If something could be construed as having the sense of introducing a second-act journey, it is when the mother announces that she is going to give birth to two children and a dog -- but if the kids behave, she'll just have the dog. Anyhow, perhaps the introduction of the dog is going to change these kids' lives somehow. I hope so, because otherwise it's just one long film about child abuse. I still need to finish the rest of the film, but I still recommend Dogtooth, from what I've seen, if you want a good example of a lot of showing, not one ounce of telling, and just a really good set of "character" and "world" rules that this film presents.

(And please don't believe the review by a New York Times writer, who said the film was "hilarious". I mean, unless if your idea of hilarious is watching two sisters perform fellatio on each other...)

Passing Along Some Screenplay Contest Deadlines

The Tulsa IFF will be an exciting celebration of world-class, independent films in the beautiful city of Tulsa.

The Tulsa IFF calls for SCREENPLAY entries. First deadline is Feb.14th!The winning screenplay will receive an option offer from Dolphin Bay Films for purchase at 4% of the final budget along with $2,500 cash consideration up front for signing.
 DEADLINE February 20, 2011"All Screenplays will be Posted Online"
Your ONLINE Screenplay Contest!
Meet 100+ Hollywood Execs at Pitchfest.  Story Lessons from master-teacher ROBERT MCKEE. 5 Script Analysis Prizes including a TOP TEN Script Consultant.  6,000+ E-queries to Execs.  Get Feedback & Exposure. Awards to the Top 4 Screenwriters to perfect and push your script through the door to Hollywood. $30 Entry.
Submit NOW - revisions accepted! Also, FREE Logline Contest Online - Win Awards." 
Deadline Sunday, Feb 13th at Midnight!!!
You only have THREE DAYS left to enter 2011's most unique contest!
The Cyberspace Open is an online writing tournament where you can win large cash prizes and name recognition for just a few scenes' work!  PLUS - The winning scenes will be videotaped and aired on the Internet for all to see. If you want to get your name out in the screenwriting world in a short period of time, this is the contest to enter.

Take the opportunity to easily further your screenwriting career in just a matter of minutes!
 Only $12.99* to enter!
LIMITED to the first 600 entries
Promoting the HORROR genre in screenplay form!
The contest is open to all writers, eighteen years and older.  Writers may submit their material online. Winners of the 2011 contest will receive cash and industry related prizes in addition to having their material submitted to Hollywood producers, agents and studios.

FINAL DEADLINE - February 15th!
CineStory is a national non-profit dedicated to nurturing emerging screenwriters through its mentorship programs and yearly screenwriting contest, the CineStory Screenwriting Awards.
With over 20k in cash and prizes, the contest's Grand Prize is a 12-month Fellowship program during which the writer is mentored by two Hollywood professionals. In addition, semifinalists, finalists and winners are invited to an intensive four-day Writers Retreat where they work one-on-one with working Hollywood professionals.
Submit your one page screenplay to willmoselemproductions@ by the 15th February. All entries must be one page in length and must be writers own original work. visit for further information.
Awards: Winning entries will be produced into high quality HD film and submitted to international film festivals. Copyright remains with the writer.
Scripted for professionals is a contest that seeks quality materials from talented writers. Our executives belong to the Hollywood elites with the right networking and platform to introduce aspiring screenwriters to the industry.

How to Write Sketches

Sure, sketch comedy is great. But there is a wrong way and right way to write it.
First off, sketches are not stories with a beginning, middle and an end. Instead Matt Besser, one of the founders of the acclaimed Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, suggests we think of sketches as a staircase.
Sketches should start in perhaps a “normal” place. Sure, there can be a crazy (funny) character to begin with. But if there is, consider making the other character the “straight man”. And, often, of course, it is funny when the straight man is the one being antagonized by the crazy character.
From there, the sketch should escalate. For example, worse and worse things start to happen to the straight man. This is why it’s great to start in a non-crazy place. You want to be able to have somewhere to “go” – meaning that you don’t want to start in a totally nutso place to begin with because it then makes it hard to ratchet up from there.
It’s also best to make the escalation follow some kind of cohesive progression. What I mean by this is that you should try to make each step of the staircase have something in common with the other step. You don’t want to begin antagonizing a character if she is insecure about her divorce, but then switch to bugging her about her choice of clothing (unless it is tied in somehow to antagonizing her about her divorce). In other words, try to make sure that there is some pattern that is being followed and adhered to.  
Happy sketch writing!

One Great Example of Good 2cd Act Structure

A movie that I watched recently that has a great second-act structure (and a good – what I call – “mentors and motivators” dynamic) is Welcome, a French film, which was released in 2009.
The logline of the film is: When Kurdish refugee, Bilal, can’t get to England to see his girlfriend either legally (or illegally), he decides to learn to swim from France across to English Channel.
The second act journey is all laid out for you: training for the big event – the big event which, of course, is swimming across the Channel (which we no doubt see in the third act).
We have a great immigrant hero ("orphaned"/without family) who finds a mentor (father figure) in a French swim coach, who, yes, is experiencing his own familial crisis in the form of a divorce (so he needs the relationship he develops with this young man as much as the young man does).
We root for the main character because -- although his desire to swim across the English Channel is harebrained -- it is to see his beloved girlfriend afterall, and, besides, he's an underdog, a refugee from Iraq, now stuck in France, where he's not wanted.
See, even the French follow a structure in their films.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

When in Doubt, Ditch the First 100 Pages of Your Novel

I have gotten a lot of advice about the importance of condensing your first act. Why? Because, as writers, we tend to write voluminous first acts, thinking that we need to explain everything, provide so much backstory. But you know what that does? It makes your screenplay really boring. Why? Because while you're doing all that explaining, your characters aren't living. What I mean by that is that they aren't acting. They aren't making the important choices necessary for them to change. And you probably aren't paying off the premise of the script either, which promises what we are going to see once your main character is changing -- those funny or dramatic setpieces -- and instead we remain too long in what Christopher Vogler calls "the ordinary world." So the advice I've heard is to make your first act short. If you can tell all you need to tell in 5-10 pages, wonderful! Scripts these days tend to be no longer than 110 pages, and that means you need to leave a lot of other pages open to the development of story -- not backstory.

I have come into this problem recently with the novel I am writing. I have so much set-up. And trust me, I love the set-up I've written, all 100 pages of it. Yeah, 100 pages of set-up for act one! But unless I'm planning on writing a novel that is 500 pages (which I'm not), then I need to cut a lot of that. I don't want to, of course, because I love what I've written. But something tells me that I am going to have to "kill my darlings" one of these days, whether I like it or not.

As I've explained in a past blog entry, I highly recommend working on your ending first, before you plod through so many pages of your second act. This will help you know exactly what you need to have in that first act -- all the essentials. It has also, for me at least, shed light on ways that I can cut those glorious first 100 pages I've spent so much time on polishing and thus jump into the action of act two even more quickly.

That said, I do also realize how important it is for writers to spend the time writing those first pages of their screenplay or novel during the early days of your work's conception. A lot of times, it can work as an exercise in helping you to determine the tone of the work, as well as figure out your character's voices and their dynamics. If you do have to cut a lot of those pages, though (and you probably will), you might consider seeing how you can retool some of those scenes to make them work as part of new scenes in the second act, or as flash-back throughout the second act. (Although if this is a screenplay, not too much flashback, please.)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Finding Your Hook

I spent a lot of years as a magazine writer. In the same way that your article for a magazine needs a hook, so does your story. What is that interesting thing that makes your story different and therefore why should people read it? Are you looking at a subject in a new and different way? One example of this is the plethora of vampire stories out there. But as long as you are coming at the subject of vampires in a new way, you can still make a new and interesting story out of it. (Although if you want to write a screenplay or a TV series, I would advise you at this point not to write about vampires… Sure, the genre is popular, but even if you come up with a new take on it at this point, it’s kind of been done to death. Uh, no pun intended.)
Anyhow, back to you hook... Once you know what your hook is, I advise you to brainstorm scenes (even if this is a novel) that pay off the premise of your hook. For example, if your story is about a countrygirl who moves to the city for the first time (yes, this is an old, rote story, but bear with me), you would want to show scenes in which the ramifications of her moving would be shown and also how her country-ness is juxtaposed against the backdrop of the city and vice-versa. You get the picture. Just brainstorm as many combinations as you can think of that you can make into scenes and incorporate into your plot.
One of the ways that scenes for your screenplay or novel can be created is through your main character's fatal flaw. Once you decide what your character’s fatal flaw is, you can brainstorm a bunch of scenes in which we see her committing this “mistake”. Of course, if you abide by the tenets of story structure, we should be seeing some kind of a progression, meaning that, throughout the course of the story, your main character should be getting over her flaw, at least to some extent. Even if in the end you decide that she doesn’t finally conquer her “misbehavior,”  then we need to have seen her grow and change throughout the course of the story.

The Oracle and The Muse: TUESDAY'S TIDBITS: Keep Yer Pants On... Plot By Numbers

Here's a very good blog entry by Christopher S. Ledbetter that I came upon this morning that does a great job of explaining the important elements that a writer should have in the first essential pages of her story.

The Oracle and The Muse: TUESDAY'S TIDBITS: Keep Yer Pants On... Plot By Numbers

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mystery Writing is Murder: How Does Social Media Sell Books?

Here is a great blog entry I read by mystery author Elizabeth Spann Criag about the important of social networking to SELL YOUR BOOK. Don't underestimate the importance of Facebook, Twitter, et al, to get the message out about the novel you've spent so much time on. You do want people to read it, right?

Mystery Writing is Murder: How Does Social Media Sell Books?: "A question I frequently get, and which I heard a lot this weekend at the Cape Fear Crime Festival, is “Does social media sell books?” Many ..."

Facing Writer's Block?

Yes, I know... It's hard. You're sitting before a blank sheet of paper -- or more probably a blank Word document. You just can't think of anything to write. It happens -- to all of us. In my case, there is nothing that makes me happier than just writing effortlessly once the creative juices get flowing. But getting those juices flowing, sometimes that's the difficult part. But never fear, I have some tips that might help you if you are struggling with writer's block.

First off -- and this sounds obvious -- but there are a lot of books on the market that have writing prompts that can help spark your inspiration. I never used them when I used to face a lot of writer's block, and it's a shame, because the resources are out there. You can search such books at your favorite bookstore.

Another idea is to attend a writer's group like the one I attend. There, participants are given writing prompts, and then we write as a group (on our own, of course). But the idea is that you are basically "forced" to write. Sure, you don't have to if you don't want to. But I will tell you that having the time pressure and being in a group atmosphere -- it has forced me to break through any thoughts of "but I don't know what to write," and just get the words down on the page. It doesn't have to be perfect. You can always go back and fix what you've written later. But the idea is that you learn that there is never an excuse for not having any ideas.

Perhaps the most valuable thing I've developed, though, to help with the writer's block is a firm understanding of story structure. A lot of times what used to happen to me before I understood story structure was I'd have a "feeling" about something I wanted to write. What I mean by that is that I wanted to write something sad about two characters. Or something comical. I'd have an idea of what characters I wanted in my story, but I didn't know what to do with them before I understood story structure. I might have an idea for a great character, but I didn't know where she should go. I would write twenty pages or so, but then get stuck. Sure, I introduced my great character, but I didn't know what to do with her after that.

Then I would have leave everything up to inspiration. Trust me, I still need to be inspired in order to write. I write best in the morning -- that is when I feel most inspired. But now that I have a deep understanding story structure, I have a framework (not a formula) in which to place my characters. I now have the tools necessary to outline my story on a conceptual level before I even start writing chapters and/or scenes.