Tuesday, November 03, 2009

101 Best Of MM Articles!

Hey guys,

I’m back for one last post – links to 101 of my best articles!

Who needs film school?



Cinematic Storytelling
I read Cinematic Storytelling, which was written by the great Jennifer Van Sijll, and I just LOVED IT. This should be in the library of every aspiring screenwriter on the planet and every single technique should be memorized backwards and forwards. Period. This book is exactly what the screenwriting community needs right now.

The Art of Visual Storytelling
…reminds me of a quote by Ingmar Bergman’s Swedish cinematographer, Sven Nykvist: The truth always lies in the character’s eyes. It is very important to light so the audience can see what’s behind each character’s eyes. That’s how the audience gets to know them as human beings. It opens up their souls.

Visual Storytelling, Part II
To sum it up - if we are to take from all of those straight, rigid lines that John, like Harry Caul, is perhaps a rational, technically competent, detached, and remote individual, then the image on the television tells us that there is something very disturbing at the core of his "dilemma."

The Completely Visual Screenplay
Creative writing exercises are good for the writer's soul. We never do them enough. Billy Wilder did "limbering up writing exercises" every morning of his life by imagining more and more original ways in which a young couple could meet for the first time.

Write the Shots!
It’s not enough that we, as screenwriters, must have a god-like knowledge about the story we wrote and about the art of storytelling, characters, dialogue, and structure. Screenwriters are filmmakers, too, and we have to think like filmmakers and endeavor to render our stories CINEMATICALLY, which means that we should write the shots.

Locations, Locations, Locations
It is such a pet peeve of mine when writers are so thoughtless, unoriginal, and uncreative about locations in their scripts. (Or they keep returning to the same boring location again and again. Or a protagonist goes halfway around the world to Italy only to spend the majority of the time in a hotel room. Are you kidding me..?)

Examples of Cinematic Storytelling
Reading this for the first time was such a revelation to me. I love the way Towne uses Secondary Headings to cut back and forth between Gittes and Mulwray. In the hands of lesser writers, this sequence could have been a bear to read and follow. With a pro like Robert Towne, it’s simple, seamless, and visual. As far as I’m concerned, there was no other way to write this sequence.

More Cinematic Storytelling
This is brings to mind the scene in Citizen Kane, where Kane, having just learned from his guardian, Thatcher, that the crash of ’29 wiped out his estate, paces along the Z-Axis and walks from the foreground to the background and back to the foreground again. Orson Welles communicated visually without one word of dialogue that Kane had returned to a state of boyhood. Great!

Minghella on the Page
I love the simplicity of this visual statement about Ripley. The light and darkness say it all about Ripley’s arc with crystal clarity. This is also the one and only time I can recall Minghella actually referencing the camera.

Kieslowski’s Blue
Throughout the film, you’d see blue lights reflected on her face, particularly the glass crystals she carried with her, which she ripped from the blue chandelier that hung in her daughter’s bedroom. That was the only thing from her past she could not let go. The light on her face signified the ghosts of her past, the presence of memory.


As I’m sure all of you fanatical students of screenwriting know, one of the ways you create depth is by constructing contradictions in the character. For example, a character talks one way but BEHAVES another way. Or a character ACTS one way but at his/her core, that person’s True Character is in fact, something very different.

See my character depth descriptions of Cyrano de Bergerac, Michael Corleone, and Lois Lane.

Character Development Sheet, which includes articles on Backstory, Character Goals, Inner Conflict, Character Arc, Character Depth, and Cast Design.


A 9-Part Script Review on Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon
Time and again, in scene after scene, Stanley uses his own style of poetic cinema in which he shows us one thing on the screen but he makes us hear something quite different that undercuts the meaning of what we are seeing.

Batman vs. Superman (Part One & Part Two)

A 3-part series on Batman: Year One

A 3-part series on Clash of the Titans

A 3-part series on Hitman


Fahrenheit 451

Donner's impeccalbe vision of Superman II

That notorious "Crossroads" Review

How to Write a Constructive Review


3 articles from my Art of SUBTEXT! Series:

Film Noir & the Subtext of Gilda

Subtext in Apocalypse Now Redux

Subtext in Birth


Top Ten Format Mistakes

Secondary Headings

Side-Topic: Perfect Formatting


The Raiders Story Conference

50 Flaws of Indy IV

50 Strengths of Darabont's Draft


The Exposition of Rear Window

Elements of Suspense

John Michael Hayes, Lucky Bastard

Mary Rose Part One & Part Two


Never ever sell yourself short

Where’s the Screenwriting Revolution?

2-Part Series on Sex in Screenwriting

On Adaptations

In Praise of Jean-Pierre Melville

Fatal Flaws in Screenwriting

Even Shakespeare Failed

Kurosawa on Screenwriting

“Morality,” Exposition, & Adverbs

The Timid Screenwriter

Trust the Reader

That Oh-So-Unsympathetic Hedda Gabler

R.I.P. Harold Pinter

The Nature of Today's Storytelling Debate

The Art of Dialects

Today’s Sermon: “Quantum of Solace”

On Breaking Structure

Eyes Wide Shut

A Look at The Dark Knight Script

A Screenwriting State of Emergency!

The Writers Strike & The Great Big Elephant in the Room

Breathing Room in Films

Formula Freaks

The Question of Exposition

Close-ups, Baby!

Goodbye, Lois

The Lives of Others

Satire & the Protag Serial Killer

A Long Time Ago... (for the Star Wars Blog-a-thon)

The Psycho Shower Scene!

The Godfather (for the blog-a-thon)

The Great Ones That Failed (for the blog-a-thon)

15,000 Useful Phrases

The Reverse Arc


The Great Voice Over Debate

Merciless Logicians & The Sliding Scale of Plausibility

Characters as Individuals

Weak Characters in Comedies

And finally…

Further Revelations of the Man of Mystery

Saturday, September 05, 2009

I've moved!

Hey guys,

I’ve moved! You can find me at


About the new site:

- I was finding that most of the things I used to blog about ("news," "around blogosphere," "check out this article" type posts) I now tweet, which doesn't take up as much time. This new site will be premium content only, which means true articles written by me.

- A comments section for articles is a feature they're still developing and should be available in a couple of months. Until then, talk to me on Twitter.

- Those who were receiving e-mail notifications for the old blog will continue to get e-mails about new articles. If you'd like to sign up, just send me an e-mail, and I'll add you to my distribution list (mysterymants@hotmail.com)

- I will also post new articles on Script Mag's blog if you or someone you know is not be able to view the site.

- One of the old books is an "easter egg" you can click. Eventually, you'll be able to click all of the old books.

- There are many valid reasons to complain about the new site - no RSS feed, no search function, no archives, and no url's for individual articles. So sorry but I need to do something a whole lot more creative and fun than what I had before. I hope you'll have fun with me.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Until we meet again…

Hey guys,

I think it’s time for a new website, don’t you? Nothing terribly ground-breaking, just a little more organized, a little flashier. So we are devoting all of our energies to the as yet unnamed site, which I will announce here in due time. Until then, you can catch me
on Twitter.

In fact, I tweeted last night about smoking my first Cuban cigar. Above is a pic of me holding the soft, smooth, almost leathery, Cohiba Cubana that was accompanied by some Courvoisier VSOP Cognac. Below are pics of our special spot, which was heart-stoppingly gorgeous. The old man (twice my age) is my contact for all cigar-related needs. He’s pretty well-connected and hilarious.

Until we meet again,



Friday, August 14, 2009

In Celebration of Hitchcock

Hey guys,

Yesterday was Alfred Hitchcock’s 110th birthday. He was born on the east of London at Leytonstone on August 13, 1899.

To celebrate, MTV
posted Faith No More's video of "Last Cup of Sorrow,” a comical yet faithful homage to the master’s canon of great films. Lindsay Goldwert and Emily Christensen Flowers celebrated at ABC. Megan Wedge compiled some quotes for the Examiner. The National had a nice piece on the master of suspense. Psycho recently topped Telegraph’s poll of 10 Greatest Movie Shower Scenes. And I have to mention Bill Martel’s great, thoughtful ongoing series for screenwriters called Fridays with Hitchcock.

The study of Hitchcock is one of the true joys of being a screenwriter or even just a cinephiliac. Of course, reading
Truffaut’s Hitchcock is a must. I personally enjoyed Steven DeRosa’s Writing with Hitchcock, David Freeman’s book, The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock, and Dan Auiler’s Hitchcock’s Notebooks was quite addictive. Online, there is the Alfred Hitchcock Wiki for enthusiasts.

I thought I might share some of my own articles from over the years with photos of mosaics that were recently installed in the entrance corridors of Leytonstone tube station (via

Perhaps one should begin with his philosophy on
Cinema’s Purity:

In many of the films now being made, there is very little cinema: they are mostly what I call ‘photographs of people talking.’ When we tell a story in cinema, we should resort to dialog only when it’s impossible to do otherwise. I always try to tell a story in the cinematic way, through a succession of shots and bits of film in between.

It seems unfortunate, that with the arrival of sound, the motion picture, overnight, assumed a theatrical form. The mobility of the camera doesn’t alter this fact. Even though the camera may move along the sidewalk, it’s still theatre.

One result of this is the loss of cinematic style, and another is the loss of fantasy. In writing a screenplay, it is essential to separate clearly the dialog from the visual elements and, whenever possible, to rely more on the visual than on the dialog. Whichever way you choose to stage the action, your main concern is to hold the audience’s fullest attention.

Summing it up, one might say that the screen rectangle must be charged with emotion.

- from
Hitchcock by François Truffaut

Here’s a taste of a
1939 Alfred Hitchcock Lecture:

Sometimes you cannot get the characters you want to take you into these places, so you say, "All right, I will have the society woman." The next thing is, of course, what to do with her. You might say, "I would like to have her in a ship's stokehole." Your job becomes very hard, indeed! You have to be really inventive to get a society woman into a ship's stokehole, to get a situation that will lead that way, and a character who, by reason of the situation, would find herself in a ship's stokehole.

Of course, I'd bet a lot of you would say, "It is too much trouble. Let's put her in a yacht's stokehole. A society woman is bound to go there." That, of course, is radical and you must not do it, because the moment you do, you are weakening and not being inventive.

If you can summon up enough courage to select your background and your incidents, you will find you really have something to work out. In The Man Who Knew Too Much, I said, "I would like to do a film that starts in the winter sporting season. I would like to come to the East End of London. I would like to go to a chapel and to a symphony concert at the Albert Hall in London."

That is a very interesting thing, you know. You create this terrific problem, and then say, "How the devil am I going to get all those things into it?" So you start off, and eventually you may have to abandon one or two events, as it might be impossible to get some of the characters into a symphony concert, or whatever it is. You say, "Well, can't Stokowski have his hair cut?" or something like that, and you try and blend the characters in the best way you can -- appear to be quite natural that all the events have taken place in those settings because it was necessary for them to do so.

I loved writing this article –
The Exposition of Rear Window:

"First, the studio had a 13-page treatment written by playwright and director Joshua Logan. To brutally simply things, Logan provided a backbone to the film, although the details were kind of weak. Jeff was a sportswriter who enjoyed playing amateur sleuth when he had the time. He broke his leg by, uhh, slipping down stairs. He had a girlfriend by the name of Trink who was struggling as an actress. He didn't think she'd ever make it, which was the source of their conflict, and he couldn't commit to a relationship. In that pivotal scene where she’s caught inside Thorwald's apartment, she 'acts' her way out convincing Jeff she's a great actress and thus, they get married.

"When Hitch and his new writer,
John Michael Hayes, got onboard, they made a number of significant, yet fascinating changes. They wanted to make Jeff’s occupation more EXCITING and the reason for his broken leg more DRAMATIC. Thus, they made him a photographer who was wounded in the line of duty. They also wanted a more plausible way for these two characters to meet. So he wasn’t just a photographer, but a foreign correspondent who had to do a fashion shoot and that’s how they met. I’ve said that characters come first. But when you have a great concept like Rear Window, I see nothing wrong with designing characters that fit perfectly into that concept..."

I was also fascinated by Hitch’s
Unproduced Projects. This first quote comes from the Derosa Links and a lost project called R.R.R.R.:

“It was about a hotel like the Plaza,” explained Hitchcock. “The manager was Italian, his mother lived in the penthouse, and his relatives held different jobs in the hotel. They were all crooks, but he himself didn’t go in for this crookery so he was blackmailed by the rest of the family. When a woman like Sophia Loren arrives with a collection of coins she wanted to sell and took a room, of course all the family have itchy fingers. So he had to fight against his own family about stealing the coins.” The title was to be R.R.R.R., as Hitchcock explained, “Numismatists mark coins by the letter R. R, RR, RRR, RRRR.” No doubt, the title was to have a double-meaning, grading not only the coins to be stolen, but the leading lady as well.

Here’s another concept from the
Complete List of Unproduced Projects:

The Blind Man (1960)
After the success of
Psycho, Hitchcock re-teamed with Ernest Lehman for this original screenplay idea: A blind pianist, Jimmy Shearing (a role for James Stewart), regains his sight after receiving the eyes of a dead man. Watching a Wild West show at Disneyland with his family, Shearing would have visions of being shot and would come to realize that the dead man was in fact murdered and the image of the murderer is still imprinted on the retina of his new eyes. The story would end with a chase around the ocean liner RMS Queen Mary. Walt Disney purportedly barred Hitchcock from shooting at Disneyland after seeing Psycho. Stewart left the project, Lehman argued with Hitchcock, and the script was never shot.


I also shared a
murder scene actually written by Hitchcock which would have been for his Kaleidoscope project. And over here are two other fabulous, unused ideas by Hitchcock.

I wrote reviews for two unproduced scripts of his. This first quote comes from what would have been
Hitch’s final film, The Short Night:

"The film was to be an adaptation of a book called
The Short Night by Ronald Kirkbride. It’s a very simple setup for a film. A British double agent (working for the communists) by the name of Gavin Brand escapes from prison. An American civilian, Joe Bailey, is persuaded (unofficially, of course) by the CIA to assassinate bad boy Gavin because Gavin had murdered his brother years ago. Joe naturally agrees. They know that Gavin will be meeting up with his wife and two sons to take them back to Russia. Find the wife and sons, and you’ll eventually find Gavin. And Joe does, indeed, find his wife, by the name of Carla Brand, on an island in Savonlinna, Finland. And while they wait for Gavin to arrive, they fall in love…"

And this comes from an article on
Mary Rose based on the J.M. Barrie play, which I also love dearly:

"This was the film Hitch purportedly wanted to make more than any other but the studios always refused. Biographer
Donald Spoto said that Hitch’s failure to make this film was “perhaps the single greatest disappointment of his creative life.” Hitch would say repeatedly in interviews that his contract with Universal allowed him to make any film so long as it cost under $3 million and so long as it wasn't Mary Rose. Of course, this was never verified and probably not true. In truth, the reasons why this didn’t happen are complicated, involving the Tippi Hedren fallout, the failure of Marnie, Hitch’s career crisis, and concerns about audience expectations of Hitch at the time."

And finally, below, are vids from a 1964 Hitchcock interview:

Monday, August 10, 2009

Script Review - “Balls Out”


A Truly Somewhat AWESOME Original Screenplay



I can’t tell you how many e-mails I’ve received about this script. Over a hundred, I’ll bet, all asking (sometimes begging) me to do a script review. I added this to my to-do list. And God help me, the moment has arrived. So I took time out last weekend (from writing, tweeting, watching the masterpieces of Kurosawa, and studying Shakespeare) to consider a script called Balls Out by The Robotard 8000.

First, the script is available
here via The Robotard 8000 who also twitters. In fact, he has a (tasteless/insulting?) photo of an obese mentally-handicapped male with an award. You can also read his random bursts of comedy-writing:

My balls, y'all.

Though I can't taste them, I know they're salty, crunchy and delicious.

My motherfuckin' balls.


Second, a variety of individuals have sung the praises of Balls Out, most notably
William Goss at Cinematical and Craig Mazin at The Artful Writer who wrote, “Balls Out isn't safe, it isn't family friendly and it might be illegal. But it made me laugh. Out loud. A LOT.”

On the flip-side, Jeff Lowell is quoted as saying, “Balls Out is a stain on the craft of screenwriting. I'm sure that I'm worse as a person for having read it. I could feel precious things slowly slipping away from me with every page I turned - my skill as a writer, my decency, my hope for humanity. Is this the kind of quote you were looking for, Robotard? Good. Now release my children, you monster!”

And Scott Frank reportedly said, “if you love jamming shards of broken glass into your eyeballs, then by all means tuck into Balls Out.”

I will start with praise of the writer. Balls Out is a great title for a comedy. The grammar was surprisingly decent. I believe this writer actually has potential to create superb comedy. This is important enough to be repeated: I genuinely believe this writer has potential to create great, gut-busting comedy.

Having said that, I found this script to be a vile, degenerate, 107-page piece of shit, about as witty as a maggot-infested corpse but only half as intelligent. At this stage of his writing career, Mr. Robotard has merely ascended to the level of comedy butcherer, and that’s it. The only way he could make any (good) money for these types of scripts is if the WGA paid him to stop writing, which isn’t an altogether bad idea. It’s a tragedy how this writer revels in the most base instincts in mankind, as well as the most brutal behavior between human beings, and calls it “comedy.” Every unbearably boring, ultra-shocking, execrable idea he can dream up is paraded across this flimsy story with such repetition that the script should be guilty of murder by monotony. A poor reader would have to swim through a football-field-sized septic tank of shit to find microcosmic evidence of wit. It’s like peering into some quaggy latrine into which every imaginable iniquity had already flowed twice-over. This is the running sore of comedy, the putrid puss of screenwriting, the rancid gangrene of storytelling. Abandon hope all ye who enter! Struggling in vain to lift yourself out of the muck, this script just sucks you in deeper.

I know what you’re thinking: “That was so brutal, MM.” I’m being as brutally honest as Mr. Robotard was as brutal with his assault on humanity and exploitation of all things degenerate. How I wish I had stopped after reading the Title Page, which is a good starting point:


A Truly Somewhat AWESOME Original Screenplay



As I said before, Balls Out is a great title for a comedy. Within those two words you know it’s a comedy of the outrageous gross-out variety, which is perfectly acceptable, and you also know its theme.

But then the writer felt compelled to tell us that he’s written a TRULY SOMEWHAT AWESOME screenplay, and herein lies the first red flag - no confidence in the reader. He’s telling you what to think before you’ve even been given a chance to read the script. More than that, I’d say he has a disdain for his readers, because he doesn’t think you have the intelligence to figure out its greatness for yourself. If someone has to tell you they’re funny, they’re usually not funny. Likewise, if they have to go out of their way to tell you that what they’ve done is truly somewhat awesome, more than likely it’s shit. Overselling is a sign of no confidence in the reader.

And then you see that the script’s written by “THE ROBOTARD 8000,” which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. In fact, the name has the unmistakable stench of arrested development.

If the Title Page wasn’t enough to warrant outright dismissal, this first scene will surely get the job done:


A brief, painful MONTAGE establishing THE COD:

CAPE motherfucking COD.

What a disaster we have with just this opening scene alone. “FADE THE FUCK IN” screams immature amateur screenwriter. He incorrectly has the transitions and Master Scene Headings in bold. This is also not the proper format for a MONTAGE. Since Robotard tossed format to the wind, he has undermined confidence because he isn’t proving that he understands how a screenplay actually FUNCTIONS.

Exactly how would this montage be “painful?” There are no specifics. While “CAPE motherfucking COD” may sound slightly funny, this does nothing to help sell the film because the visuals presented in the script are not funny. All we’re seeing is Cape Cod. Okay, so?

So far, what has actually happened in the film? We faded in and we’re given an unspecific montage about Cape Cod. That’s it. Thus, we already have a misfire in terms of the writer trying to be funny in his action lines about something that may not translate into funny visuals. From this point forward, the reader will have to knowingly endure a mental war with the script to determine what would actually be funny in a scene despite how the writer has written the action lines.

What’s the most important aspect about an action line? It’s not how funny it’s written. It’s THE FINAL RESULT – what winds up on the screen. You must convey with absolute clarity what we’re seeing ON THE SCREEN. Thus, Robotard communicates in his first scene that his action lines are not to be trusted. What may sound funny in his action lines may not translate into funny visuals, a poisonous thought to start with for anyone who is reading and reviewing your work. And, of course, you will find that the rest of the script is filled with a litany of unfilmmables in the action lines - incidentals, asides, backstories, inner thoughts, author’s intrusions, ad nauseum.

That is, if you continue reading after that awful Title Page.

“Okay, MM,” you’re thinking, “Enough of this nit-picky junk. Didn’t you find the script funny?”

I never laughed once, but I frequently wanted to cry.


A COMPUTER ANIMATED world of snow. The Canadian arctic. Just like in those classic Coke® commercials, we see a MOMMA POLAR BEAR and her BABY BEAR playing with a ball.

LIVE ACTION ROB is a short distance away, watching from astride his snowmobile.


Baby Bear paws at the ball, accidentally knocking it into a hole in the ice. Baby Bear tries to reach the floating ball but has no luck. Momma Bear just smiles...“Isn’t he precious?”

Just then, a BABY HARP SEAL pops up in the water. Locks eyes with Baby Bear. They smile, not as lovers but as friends. The tableaux is so cute it hurts.

The fluffy white baby harp seal nudges the ball so that his new friend can retrieve it. The Baby Bear leans over the hole and...

Without warning, the Baby Harp Seal latches onto the Baby Bear’s throat! Blood gushes from the “bahhing” Baby Bear’s mangled throat as...

FIVE MORE BABY HARP SEALS erupt from beneath the water and pounce on the Baby Bear.


Like piranha, the Baby Harp Seals ravage the Baby Bear, taking him down, consuming him even as he fights for his life. Soon there is nothing left but bone and red snow.

Momma Bear’s eyes are wide with shock. Even MORE BABY HARP SEALS emerge from the water and swarm toward the Momma Bear. She finally comes to her senses and takes off running.

They flop after her shockingly fast. Within seconds, they’re on her, devouring her hind quarters before she even realizes it. Momma Bear roars in agony as the reality of her pain reaches her brain...

Rob winces as the bloodthirsty Seals finish her off, leaving nothing but a nasty swath of guts and bones. Time to leave. Rob tries to fire up his snowmobile but it won’t turn over!


They flop towards him, a seething mass of crimson fur and teeth. Rob yanks the starter cord furiously.

I’d suggest to you that this sequence is analogous of the entire screenplay. The Baby Seal is Robotard. The Baby Bear is comedy. And Momma Bear is the audience. Rob is Hollywood.

I’ll go out on a limb to say that I think Robotard is at war with himself. He has that potential to achieve the heights of great comedy, but he’s sidelining himself with an obsession about ultra-shock humor, which in the context of his stories does nothing more than create abominable characters for which we feel no emotional connection. Characters come first. The hints of wit and potential, for me at least, came out in isolated moments between characters like between Jim and Jill early in the story. There’s so much more to comedy than this ultra-shock schlock, and Mr. Robotard 8000 can be so much more than this.

Recommend: Trottier’s
Screenwriter’s Bible, Helitzer’s Comedy Writing Secrets, and you can download (for free) Screenwriting for Dummies.

You did NOT just say that.

“Fuck YEAH, I did!”

I'm sure you're thinking “What was the story about?” My point exactly.




NOTES (up to page 17):

On the title page, get rid of “A Truly Somewhat AWESOME Original Screenplay.” You should never have to tell someone what to think. It’s like the guy who has to tell you, “I’m not a pervert.” If you hear that, you better hide your animals. Pg 1 – “FADE THE FUCK IN:” Here’s a thought: keep it professional. And don’t put Master Scene Headings in bold. That looks amateurish. This is also not the proper format for a MONTAGE. You have to convey in the first few pages that you understand how a screenplay FUNCTIONS and what you’ve presented here is woefully inadequate. Go buy Trottier’s
Screenwriter’s Bible so that a) you know what you’re doing and b) you can build early confidence in the reader. In the action lines, keep the cursing to PG levels. “CAPE motherfucking COD” may be slightly funny to a few readers, but it does nothing for your film because all we’re seeing is Cape Cod. And thus, we already have a misfire in terms of you trying to be funny in the action lines about something that will not be funny in the film. What’s the most important thing here? THE FILM, THE FINAL PRODUCT. You’ve already conveyed the idea that what may be funny in the action lines will not translate into something funny on the big screen which is a poisonous thought to start with for anyone who is reading and reviewing your work. Just write “DAY” instead of “SUNNY DAY.” Scenes are shot for DAY or for NIGHT. Your action paragraphs should be four lines or fewer. This is wrong:

In the distance, we HEAR the persistent sound of a STUCK CAR HORN getting louder.

“Stuck car horn” does not need to be in caps nor “hear.” Sounds do not need to be in caps. And there’s no point in “we hear” or “we see” in a spec EVER. Rewrite as:

In the distance is the persistent sound of a stuck car horn.

Let’s talk about this paragraph:

It’s a scene, man. He’s folded in half, ass submerged in the trash can, knees dangling over the side. Jim flips to the sports page, seemingly unaware of the slack-jawed GAWKERS crowded around.

Cut “It’s a scene, man.” Obviously it’s a scene, right? This is a screenplay. Second, how would we know he's reading a sports page? Is this a shot over his shoulder to show us a sports page? How does this matter to the scene? Third, I’m not even sure this moment would be funny unless it’s a moment filmed in real life a la Jackass or Bruno. Even then, we may not laugh because we’ve seen this very prank in many different forms in the Jackass films and TV show.

Bottom of page - you don’t even have the correct transition. This is a MATCH CUT not a CUT TO. Plus, to do a match cut transition to boiling water “for no good reason,” “no good reason whatsoever,” is unimpressive, uncreative, and will likely not get a laugh. (Granted, you returned to the boiling water on pg 92 with the hot dogs, and there might be some meaning there with hot dogs boiling in water, but you keep saying that it's there for no good reason, which is annoying. Mostly, I'm guessing you wrote that merely to setup the introduction of Tom Cruise, all of which was necessary. You avoided the story by bringing in Tom Cruise. His appearance in your script was an act of screenwriting insecurity, as if you needed to include Tom Cruise to validate the telling of this story and that's a mark of weakness on your part as a writer. Your story should be able to stand on its own two feet without any star-studded cameos. Stick to the story! Back to my notes...) “TWO WEEKS EARLIER” should be in quotes. Pg 2 – Get rid of “MORNING” in the Master Scene Headings. Scenes are shot for “DAY” or for “NIGHT.” I’m not mentioning these again. Consider this line:

The barking dog next door wakes Jim up two hours too early, just like always.

How would we know that? A detail like that has to come out through the story. All the audience is going to see is that a barking dog woke Jim. And that’s all we, the readers, should know, too. The BATHROOM need only be a Secondary Heading. Consider all of the other places that need only be Secondary Headings. Cut “The proper place to shit.” That’s obvious, since this is a bathroom, right? This is what we call an author’s intrusion and should be avoided always. “But he’s not.” is another author’s intrusion. You should focus on Jim’s REACTION to what he said in front of the mirror. That’s what we’ll be seeing in the film and that’s what the audience will be caring about. Consider this line:

But the second he steps onto the sidewalk, A BIG ASSHOLE DOG - the same one whose barking woke him earlier - menaces him.

What does this mean “menaces him?” What exactly are we seeing here? Clarity is the key about what we see in the film. Pg 3 – Finally something funny! The string dangling from the dog’s ass would be funny. I actually smiled. Unfortunately, 3 pages is too late to get your first laugh. What would happen if he tried to pull the string out? You cannot reference specific songs in a screenplay unless the song’s in the public domain or you have the express written permission from the artist. Besides, someone might think of a better song to use. Write about an 80’s pop tune. Pg 4 – You should use DUAL DIALOGUE for the moment with Jim and the Hot Young Clerk. Pg 5 – You don’t need “(CONT’D)” when a characters speaks twice in a row. You’re breaking one of Trottier’s Ten Commandments. Pg 6 – “(O.S.)” is not correct when we’re hearing a voice from a speaker phone. I’m not even going to give the answer. Pg 7 – Consider this line:

Her response is another forty-five second burst of insane chattering.

This action line is wrong on so many levels. You talk about another forty-five second burst when you never mentioned the first forty-five second burst. Forty-five seconds is a lifetime in film. A minute and a half of nothing is intolerable. So we have a minute and a half of indecipherable screaming from a woman on a phone. A) it’s too long to be funny and after some point, the audience will be irritated. I’d workshop this first to see for how long this will be funny, and B) something that takes up forty-five seconds of screen time should fill up ¾ of a page in a script because one page equals one minute of screen time. This is supposed to be a comedy. Now, granted, many laughs are had by dragging something out longer than usual, but one page equals one minute of screen time. Thus, you should write out what’s going on for the full length of this routine. In this case, I’d suggest a MONTAGE for, perhaps, half a page. What should you write? Well, all YOU tell us about is this woman screaming. But what would be seeing? JIM’S REACTION. So write about funny things he does as he endures this woman chewing him out. He takes a nap, he cooks breakfast, he clips his toe nails, he reads a big book, whatever. THAT is comedy. And that is the difference between thoughtless action lines thrown into a script by an amateur and quality craftsmanship.

Okay, the next Master Scene Heading: “INT. COPY ROOM - FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER”. And then you have “INT. FILE ROOM - FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER” How would we know that it’s fifteen minutes later? Are you going to SUPER the words? Maybe we’ll see a clock? Does it even matter? Just write “MOMENTS LATER”. Pg 9 – This is SO wrong: “VOICE OVER LOUD SPEAKER (O.S)” Pg 14 – No point in the CUT TO. Readers always assume it’s a cut unless they’re told otherwise. Pg 15 – Avoid “then” in the action lines. Let’s consider these action lines:

Jim and Rob turn to see LARRY WILLS, 40’s, decked out in a tank-top, flip flops and lifeguard shorts. He’s a beach parking lot attendant by day and thieving playboy by day, too.

This second sentence concerns me greatly and also gives the impression the size of a tidal wave that you have yet to learn how a screenplay FUNCTIONS. How are we, the movie-going audience, to know that Larry Wills is a “beach parking lot attendant by day and thieving playboy by day?” This is the kind of information that should come out THROUGH THE STORY. “So what,” you might say. This matters. You wasted two very precious lines in your script when you only have (for a comedy) about 100-110 pages to work with. If you didn’t have these wasted two lines, you would’ve had room for MORE COMEDY. Question: what’s more important - pointless information in the action lines or comedy? I’d say comedy. You’re shooting yourself in the foot by neglecting format and wasting space in your screenplay. Writer, edit thyself. Pg 17 – If you’re still in the same location and it’s later, you don’t need a new Master Scene Heading. Just write, as an action line, “LATER”. And I don’t for a minute believe that “an hour later” is relevant to the story in any way. I’m going to stop with the notes because if I write down every complaint, my notes will grow to 10,000 words before I finish reading the script. So very sorry. Wait, Pg 55 – “SHKA-BANG!!!” was obnoxious to the point of immaturity. Don’t ever do that.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Tweeted Screenwriting News

Hey guys,

I’ve decided to give up the old Screenwriting News posts and
Tweet Daily any and all screenwriter-worthy links as soon as I see them. I’ve also added the “Tweeted Screenwriting News” feed to my sidebar, and yes, you can follow me without joining.

If you appreciate the news but not the overload of tweets, you might also consider
TweetDeck, which I use. With TD, you can organize all of the accounts that you actually want to follow.

Hope you’re well.


Friday, August 07, 2009

5 John Hughes Screenplays

Hey guys,

In light of the recent news on the passing of John Hughes, I thought I’d post a collection of his available screenplays.

There’s a continuously updated round-up of links
at Auteurs. Will Harris offers snippets of great John Hughes dialogue. /Film found a 47-minute interview with Hughes from 1985, and Mark Matousek spoke with Hughes that same year for Interview Magazine. There’s also an interesting link on some of his unproduced projects. One was called Bartholomew Vs. Neff, which would have pit Sylvester Stallone & John Candy against each other as feuding neighbors.

I could write volumes, but, alas, I shall offer 5 screenplays.

If anyone is aware of other available scripts, let me know.



National Lampoon's Vacation - April 30, 1982, 4th draft

The Breakfast Club – 1985 Shooting Script (possible transcript)

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – July 24, 1985 Shooting Script

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation – April 14, 1989 draft

Home Alone – transcript with commentary

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

"Zen Pulp"

Do I ever love the video essays of Matt Zoller Seitz, which can be found over at Moving Image Source. In fact, I shared another video essay of his last June on The Follow Shot.

Here, Seitz gives us a sensational five-part series that he titled “Zen Pulp” on the TV shows and films of Michael Mann.

Be sure to click the lower right-hand button in the video player, because this really should be viewed full screen, particularly during Part Four where he gives a shot-by-shot analysis of Manhunter.

I loved it!




In this first vid embedded below on Miami Vice, Matt says, “The city presented on the show was ultimately no more “real” than the title locale of Casablanca, a film that Vice, in its glamorously grubby way, often resembled—a global way station, a port city where people came to make a fortune and remake their identities and where international political forces—the CIA, the FBI, the Medellin Cartel, the IRA, the Yakuza—wrought havoc with individual lives. The weekly body count made real-world, mid-’80s Beirut or El Salvador seem like Club Med. Crockett, Tubbs, and their fellow officers rarely went a week without shooting several people and having several more killed on their watch—often innocents too naive or stupid to realize their dreams were unattainable. The show's depiction of violence is Exhibit A in the case for Mann as an irreconcilable mix of reporter and huckster. Depicting the impact and aftermath of violence, Vice was at once empathetic and glib. The bloodshed was grotesque and lovely. It meant everything and nothing. And by next week, it was usually forgotten.”



“Michael Mann's heroes are thieves and killers, G-men and cops. They exist both inside and outside the system. Some like working in concentrated groups; others are lone wolves. But they all have certain traits in common. They are radical, sometimes fanatical individualists. They have a code of honor and stick to it. They value loyalty. respect, and professionalism and despise incompetence, equivocation, and ass-kissing. Above all else, they prize their freedom—freedom to live in the present moment, pursue their happiness without interference, and define themselves on their own terms. But their pursuit of their biggest dreams and highest ideals invariably puts them at odds with larger forces: representatives of institutions, governments, organizations, and cartels, big guys that reflexively seek to subvert, control, or profit from the little guy, and that destroy all who resist.”



Matt has a quote so good, I wish he’d said it sooner so I could’ve used it in my
sex article: “There is no such thing as casual sex in a Michael Mann film, because for his characters, sex is a respite from everything else. The lovers' bed is a sanctuary from the oppressiveness of life, the only place where they can experience true bliss. Mann is one of the most modernist of Hollywood directors, but when the action shifts to the bedroom, he becomes a religious filmmaker.”



This is probably the best in the series. Matt focuses his attention on Manhunter and gives lessons on the Shot-Reverse Shot technique as well as scene-by-scene analysis of the finale.

He says, “The film is itself a mirrored narrative, dividing its attention between Graham and Dollarhyde and then, in its final third, letting Graham recede so Dollarhyde can take center stage. It's no coincidence that we finally get a good look at the killer after Graham has accessed the buried part of himself that understands Dollarhyde; nor is it accidental that whenever Graham has a eureka moment that reveals Dollarhyde's essence, we hear rage welling up in his voice. Dollarhyde represents the hideous aspect of Graham that the agent must channel, confront, and defeat in order to defend the domestic paradise that Dollarhyde threatens, and from which he must ultimately separate in order to live in peace with his family.”



Crime Story, yeah baby! I used to love that show. Seitz tells us that “despite the peculiar specialness of Crime Story, it bears the dramatic hallmarks of a Mann production, starting with its two-sides-of-a-coin approach to its hero and villain. On first glance, Torello and Luca seem as different in their ways as Detective Vincent Hanna and thief Neil McCauley in Heat: strong antagonists marked by their respectively hot-blooded and ice-cold approach to their lives and jobs. But like Hanna and McCauley, Torello and Luca have similar weaknesses, including hair-trigger tempers. And both men are so obsessed with their jobs that they foul their nests, destroying the relationships that are theoretically most important to them.”

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

“Ikiru” Revisited

To this day, I still get e-mails about Kurosawa’s Ikiru and I never tire of talking about that film. It’s been nearly 10 months since I’ve seen that movie and yet the emotions, the imagery, and Kurosawa’s impeccable craftsmanship haunts me still. This is a film so powerful that
Ebert wrote: “I think this is one of the few movies that might actually be able to inspire someone to lead their life a little differently.”

I have to share this with you. I discovered a recent, phenomenal, two-part analysis of Ikiru at
Offscreen by Aryeh Kaufman. My meager notes really didn’t do the film justice and this extensive analysis opens the film up so beautifully. “Ikiru’s focus on the great loneliness of the individual and the struggle to achieve meaningful encounters with others,” Kaufman writes, “proves relevant to all.”

To appreciate how groundbreaking the film is, you first have to understand its context in the cultural and social history of Japan at that time. This film was quite revolutionary. From
Part One:

Ikiru, meaning “to live” or “living,” was directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1952 under Toho Productions. Kurosawa, with the help of Hashimoto and Oguni, wrote the screenplay for the black and white film at age 42. The film, widely recognized as one of Kurosawa’s masterpieces, must be understood within its historical and cultural contexts. Ikiru emerged during Japan’s postwar reconstruction, as the country sought to adapt to its newly inherited capitalism and democracy. Calling for forms of cultural upheaval and self-scrutiny, the film may be viewed as political cinema. Specifically, Ikiru affirms the pride and power of the individual. It promotes breaking traditional ties to larger social groups, such as family and company, for the sake of personal achievement.

Quite powerful, too, was what Kaufman wrote about Watanabe’s broken relationship with Mitsuo, his son:

Ikiru explicitly reveals the unworthiness of family, and questions the importance of communal bonds generally. Most illustrative is the father-son dichotomy. Palpable distance exists between Watanabe and Mitsuo, increased by misunderstandings and a generational gap that recalls Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. Mitsuo first mentions his father by calling him a “petty bureaucrat.” Respect is absent in his claim that “even Pop wouldn’t want to take all that money to his grave.” Watanabe hides in the corner of his son’s room, most likely intending to disclose to Mitsuo the fateful news of his cancer, until hearing Mitsuo and Kazue discussing him and his savings. He leaves claiming that nothing is wrong—his son is too selfish to consider alternative causes to Watanabe’s sadness aside from his eavesdropping and hearing their discussion. In fact, Mitsuo fails to take notice of his father’s agony and never learns of his illness. He is more interested in whether Watanabe squanders his savings. Ironically, through a chance misunderstanding, Mitsuo concludes that his father has taken a young mistress in Toyo, played by Miki Odagiri, and scolds his father for his “degenerate” behavior. Once again, such remarks prevent Watanabe from explaining to his son the true cause of his suffering.

Viewers learn, through Watanabe, that 30 years of continuous work and significant time spent unmarried as a widower were for the sake of his son. Still despairing from his recent lay-diagnosis, Watanabe hears the laughter of Mitsuo and Kazue upstairs. This worsens his despair, as it appears they laugh at him. Suddenly, Watanabe hears the call of “Dad” twice. Music stops before Watanabe climbs the stairs to his beckoning son, only to receive an order to lock the front door. Watanabe descends with head lowered; all hopes of reconnecting with Mitsuo have vanished.

A series of flashbacks demonstrates how far father and son have grown apart. These flashbacks prove to be the visual equivalents of Watanabe’s freely associated thoughts. A baseball bat used in locking the door to the house leads to the memory of Mitsuo playing baseball and hitting a single. Watanabe shouts “Mitsuo” in congratulation in the stands before the film cuts back to Watanabe’s room for a close-up. Here, “Mitsuo” sounds twice though Watanabe fails to move his lips—the call is internal and in Watanabe’s choked voice. Returning to the baseball diamond, Mitsuo is called out in a run-down. As Watanabe sits down in the stands we return to his room as he shrinks down into sitting position. The camera, however, moves upward, providing a greater sense of his descent. Immediately, Watanabe recalls his adolescent son on a gurney in a hospital lift, similarly descending as the camera climbs. After informing his son that he cannot remain with him for the appendectomy, Mitsuo is wheeled away. Cutting back to Watanabe’s room, “Mitsuo” sounds twice again. Mitsuo’s being wheeled away lends itself to the flashback of Mitsuo’s train-departure for war. Son holds father before jumping back onto the moving train. Now, “Mitsuo” sounds nine times, echoing off in a final call. These images, so varied and freely instigated, show the breadth of memory father holds for son. Though these memories hold meaning, they emphasize the absence of successful communication.

“I have no son. I’m all alone,” Watanabe explains to Toyo, the young worker who becomes quite important to him. “My son is somewhere far, far away—just as my parents were when I was drowning in that pond.”

I daresay this film possesses the best use of flashbacks ever.

Even more interesting for me was the way Kaufman illustrates how Watanabe fits the mold of a hero as defined by Joseph Campbell. This comes to us from
Part Two:

Joseph Campbell explains the following:

Everywhere, no matter what the sphere of interest (whether religious, political, or personal), the really creative acts are represented as those deriving from some sort of dying to the world; and what happens in the interval of the hero’s nonentity, so that he comes back as one reborn, made great and filled with creative power, mankind is also unanimous in declaring.

Certainly, Watanabe’s transformation from servile worker to active public servant represents one significant “dying to the world.” “The mummy” has finally been laid to rest. In this sense, creative acts, encompassing the volitional drive to create the playground, recreate Watanabe. The act of creation not only results in something new being formed but also in the essential recreation of the creator. Furthermore, Campbell’s statement may be applied to Watanabe’s physical death. Watanabe’s “nonentity,” his absence between the first and second divisions of Ikiru, results in his spiritual return to those at his wake, in the form of his portrait, his hat, the toy-rabbit, and even a wind-up clock, all which have been transformed by Watanabe’s deeds.

And then there is that marvelous break in the structure, which I wrote about
in my Ikiru article. I love these paragraphs:

Kurosawa further prepares viewers to internalize Watanabe’s life as an example by depicting various coworkers deliberating the meaning of Watanabe’s final days, his behavior, whether he in fact knew he was to die, and whether he “created” the playground himself. Viewers want the misunderstanding mourners to think as they do, to believe that Watanabe did in fact accomplish a worthy goal and transform his life and that without Watanabe the playground would not have been. Viewers are prepared to argue and preach to these mourners—to do so with force—influenced by the knowledge and insight gained from the first part of the film, which now stands as absolutely real. We understand Watanabe’s situation and that he suffered from the knowledge of his terminal cancer. The mourners know the events immediately leading up to his death but not his inner mind. Kurosawa depicts drunken mourners disparaging the bureaucratic system, usurping credit for the playground from Watanabe, and finally claiming superficially, “I’ll work at it like I’m a man reborn…sacrifice the self to serve the many.” However, the next scene presents a mirror image of the opening scene: the chief officer, sitting in Watanabe’s place, passes off a potential project to the Engineering Department. One man stands up in silent protest, only to be submerged behind stacks of paper. Such an explicit failure to internalize and act on Watanabe’s lesson provides the strongest incentive to viewers to avoid such similar fate.

The perspectivism of the wake scene serves not only to inspire viewers to actively support Watanabe but also to grasp the ultimate incommunicability of enlightenment. Everyone views Watanabe’s life and death through the lenses of their own particular life and belief system. Mitsuo believes his father’s behavior is attributable to his overhearing talk of savings and pensions; Watanabe’s brother believes his transformation is due to a mistress; the Deputy Mayor claims most of the credit for the playground for himself. Rashomon forces viewers to question the veracity of conflicting perspectives. Ikiru, however, provides viewers with flashbacks that are literal and accurate in the wake scene. Mourners respond jointly to the flashbacks as if they too were watching them on screen. Therefore, Ikiru may be interpreted as building upon Rashomon’s perspectivism. In Rashomon, viewers must choose to believe either that no single truth exists, only perspectives, or that one view is more appropriate or truthful than others. The latter view implies an active engagement with the film that is similarly featured in Ikiru. An omniscient narrator serves as a teacher of Watanabe’s lesson to viewers, who, though perhaps differing in terms of interpretations of what exactly transformed Watanabe, accept the hero’s version of events as opposed to those of the erring bureaucrats. On balance, in addition to supporting one perspective through the demonstration of alternative perspectives, Ikiru develops Rashomon’s perspectivism by promoting the moral approach that one must necessarily detach from others to find meaning in life. Personal enlightenment and transformation cannot be achieved through the complex differences inherent in alternative perspectives. Such a view conforms to Campbell’s theory that detachment from interpersonal bonds and social groups is essential to personal transformation. “The hero has died as a modern man, but as eternal man—perfected, unspecific, universal man—he has been reborn,” claims Campbell. “His second solemn task and deed therefore…is to return to us, transfigured, and teach the lesson he has learned of life renewed.”
Watanabe, through his creative deeds, returns to society after despair and isolation reached a peak. His creative action helps form meaningful interpersonal bonds; however, his return does not entail submission or acceptance of social mores and guidelines. This is one of the key lessons of his life. Watanabe struggled with and threatened to undermine office culture. He defied the Deputy Mayor thereby “changing city hall” and brought meaning to his public servant position through such an overthrowing.

So check it out:
Part One and Part Two, thanks to Aryeh Kaufman.