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What Did You Accomplish Last Year?

It’s a new year. Have you reached your goals? Are you where you’d thought you’d be from this time last year? Are you writing every day? Have you finished your script? Have you done rewrites? Have you submitted it to contests / agents / producers? Well what the hell are you waiting for? Get off your ass! There are tons of writing contests coming up. If you’re not prepared, you’d better get prepared. You’ve only got a few months left!

What are your goals this year? If you’re just starting out, if you’ve only got one or two scripts written without any rewrites, then your first goal should be to get started on the rewrites! I hear you, “What do you mean, rewrite? I’ve checked it for formatting issues and grammatical errors. It’s all good. I don’t need to rewrite anymore.” Wrong! Rewrites are about fixing your story, not just typos and formatting issues. You need to make sure that every scene moves your story forward. If it doesn’t, eliminate it. “How do I do that, Tony?” Haven’t you been reading my blog all year?! Check each scene by doing a reverse outline.

Okay, so you’re not a beginner. You’ve got a few scripts under your belt, but no one besides your friends and family have read them. How the hell do you expect to make a living at writing if you never let anyone see your work?! “But it’s not good enough yet.” Then why haven’t you fixed it? Why is it just setting in your “stories” folder collecting dust? (I know, dust doesn’t collect on computer folders. Suspension of disbelief here! Work with me!) Dust it off and submit it to some contests. And be sure that you spend a couple extra bucks to get some feedback! If it’s not ready for a contest, then send it to a script consultant and get some feedback! I just happen to know where you can find a good one for a reasonable price (shameless self-promotion).

What’s that? You’ve submitted to contests. You’ve gotten feedback. You just need some coaching? That’s an excellent idea. There are a few places I recommend. I think it’s more beneficial to take classes in person or at least online where you have a physical instructor of whom you can ask direct questions. The International Screenwriters Association has both classroom and online classes. Screenwriters University has some great online courses, too. I also know of an affordable Beginner’s Television Screenwriting Workshop (another shameless plug!).

So there you have it! No excuses! Get motivated and get on top your writing career. Stop waiting for things to happen and make them happen! No one is gonna come beat down your door if no one has read any of your work! Write! Rewrite! Submit! Learn! Repeat! Repeat until you’ve sold that script or landed that job! It’s your move, my friend! This is the year to reach your dreams! Until next week, keep writing!

Before You Start Writing Your Script:

Before you type that first bit of dialogue. Before you type the words FADE IN. Before you even open Final Draft, there is much work to be done. Some new writers start their scripts before they even know the protagonist’s name. Some experienced writers may do this as well, but I’m going to give you 5 things to do before you start your script that will save you lots of time and several rewrites.

First: Know your characters! Especially your hero! Take some time to figure out what makes your characters tick. I know some writers will develop an entire backstory for their characters, most of which they never use, but it helps them know how their characters will react in any given situation. I’m not saying you have to write pages and pages of backstory on each character, but a few paragraphs, maybe even a page or two, will give you great insight into their souls. It will help your scenes unfold more fluidly and hopefully keep you from getting stuck.

Second: Know your story! Especially your setting! Take the time to research your settings. Take the time to research everything about your story. Even if you are familiar with the time, the area, the objects and tools, do a little research. It won’t hurt if you have extra information, the more information the better. You don’t have to use it all, but just knowing it will help your scenes unfold more fluidly. Are you noticing a theme here?

Third: Write an outline! There are several ways to write outlines. Some choose to write bullet points. Some use the standard outline we learned in school using letters and numbers to denote importance and sub-scenes. I prefer to write my outlines in paragraph form. I write a paragraph or two for each scene. I explain briefly what happens in the scenes, but I don’t use dialogue in my outlines unless it’s vitally important to the scene. Writing an outline will help your scenes unfold more fluidly. There’s that sentence again.

Fourth: Rewrite your outline! Read through the first draft of your outline. Inevitably you’ll find things that you want to change. One scene may work better later in your script that it does where you currently have it. Some scenes may not work at all. A good way to tell is to ask yourself, “How does this scene move my story forward? Will my story lose anything if this scene is removed?” This will save you the torment of having to cut a scene that you’ve become particularly attached to but does nothing to advance the story. And it will help your scenes unfold more fluidly. When your scenes unfold more fluidly in your script, that means less rewrites.

Fifth: Write a logline! It’s much easier to write this before you’ve written your script than it is to write it after. You should be able to sum up your entire premise in just one sentence… often times it’s a run-on sentence, but try to keep it to one. In rare cases you may need two sentences, but if you can put it all in one sentence then do it. If you can’t sum up your story in a one or two sentence logline then you don’t have your premise fleshed out yet. If you don’t have a premise, you don’t have a story!

Let’s recap: (1) Dig into your characters, get inside their brains, learn their quirks. (2) Research the setting of your story, not just the location but the time and objects in your character’s surroundings. (3) Write an outline. (4) Rewrite your outline by determining what scenes work, what scenes don’t, and where in the story they fit best. (5) Write your logline! A little bit of work before you start your script can save you lots of time and finger tapping once you actually start writing your script! Until next week, happy writing!

Struggling with Theme? Write a Holiday Screenplay

It’s not always easy to pick out the theme in your script, or someone else’s script for that matter. What the story is about; that’s called theme. Some often confuse the concept of the story with the theme. What’s Star Wars about? “It’s about an orphan who learns he is the chosen one and must fight the forces of evil in a battle to save the world.” Okay, that’s a nice elevator pitch, but what’s it really about? It’s about trust. Luke learns he’s been fighting his father and must decide whom to trust, his family or the friends he’s only recently made, but have saved his life more than once. Every character in Star Wars must face the decision of whom to trust at one point or another. That’s the theme.

So if you’re struggling with determining exactly what the theme of your script should be, write a holiday film or television episode. It makes it much easier to incorporate your theme into the story. What are holidays about? Holidays are about family. They’re about… giving thanks for the things you have in your life. They’re about… being kind to those less fortunate than yourself. They’re about… acceptance of people for who they really are, not who you want them to be. That’s an easy thread to weave, right?

It doesn’t really matter the concept or genre, you can sew a holiday theme into the fabric of any story. Terrorists have taken over a high-rise office building and are holding the entire staff as hostages. Let’s make it during a Christmas party and the man who’s late meeting his wife at the party just happens to be a badass, hard-boiled detective from New York City. Everyone is familiar with Die Hard, but what’s the theme? Let’s think about that. Christmas is about family and how much we love them even though we don’t always agree with them. It’s about love and the lengths we might go to in order to preserve that love. John McClane puts his life on the line for love, the love of his estranged wife. Many other characters put their lives on the line for love as well. Holly Genero puts her life on the line for love when she realizes just how much she loves John. Harry Ellis puts his life on the line for love. It just happens to be a love of himself.

Let’s take it the other way, a guy loses his wallet and must trust a stranger in order make it home. It’s important that he arrives home by a certain time. What is that important time? Christmas! This one is a common thread with many Christmas films and the general theme is almost always helping those less fortunate. With Die Hard you’ve got an action film, with Planes, Trains, and Automobiles you’ve got comedy. Both have great holiday themes woven into the stories.

You’ll find once you’ve chosen a theme for your story your scenes will have more punch, they’ll tie into each other more seamlessly, and your story will become more solid. Writing a holiday-themed TV episode works in just the same way. Pick your theme and the story will pretty much write itself. Write a couple holiday-themed stories and you’ll find picking out the theme in yours will come much easier. Until next week, happy writing.

Tips for Marketing Yourself on the Web

With all these social media websites it has become very easy to market yourself. If you do it correctly you can meet new people and make new friends. You can help each other achieve more notoriety and gain more access to those who can help you up the ladder. If done wrong you’ll succeed in alienating yourself from those of whom you’re trying to gain attention. Here are a few tips to help.

If you are an actor, writer, producer, or whatever, in beginning stages of your career, remember… you are selling a brand. YOU are your brand. You are the face of your career/company/brand. Make sure that you are presenting yourself the way you want to be seen. Everything you post reflects directly on your brand. The best thing to do is to avoid having any ‘personal’ social media pages. If you must have one, make it private so that only those that are close friends have access to it. Typically you don’t want your brand to state that you go our partying every weekend with your bros doing things you wouldn’t want your grandmother to know about. Remember, you’re a business now. You must present yourself as one.

One of the things I see most often that is a surefire way to get you ignored is stating that you are an “aspiring,” “up and coming,” or “future” talent. All of these things scream amateur. If you want to be taken seriously, as if you already know what you’re doing (even if you don’t yet), then you must act like you already know. If you don’t know, then do your research and learn it. Know enough to come across as if you do. Know enough to defend your words. If you don’t, keep your mouth shut and listen to those that do. If you want people to trust and invest in you then don’t present yourself as a newb. I’m not telling you to lie. I’m telling you to gain enough knowledge to know how to market your brand. Know yourself. Know your brand. Present it with pride and knowledge. Maybe you’d better ready this paragraph twice to be sure you fully understand what I’m telling you.

Play to your strengths. If you’re good at writing horror, write horror. If you’re a great dramatic actor, audition for those roles. Don’t try to be a comedian if you’re no good at it. You won’t be doing yourself any favors. I know what you’re thinking, “But Tony, isn’t it good to be well-rounded?” I’ve discussed this briefly in a previous blog, if you need your tooth drilled and your bathtub snaked you’re not going to feel very comfortable hiring a guy that claims he can do both. At least I hope you won’t. It may save you money, but you could end up with getting roto-routed somewhere you hadn’t planned. Stick with what you do best and play to that strength. A producer looking for a great drama is more apt to look at a drama-marketed brand before he looks at an every-genre-marketed brand. If you’re great at writing comedy, but enjoy writing science fiction, then write a sci-fi script, but make sure it’s funny.

These are just a few things that will help market your brand. Remember; don’t market your personal life as your brand. Posting pictures of yourself doing keg-stands at a topless bar might be fun to share with your friends, but not so good if you’re trying to present yourself as responsible. Don’t come across as an amateur, even if you are. People like to feel as though they are working with someone that knows what they are doing. Always play to your strengths. It’s okay to toy with other areas, just don’t market it unless you’re good at it. Until next week, happy writing.

How to Attract a SAG Actor to Your Indie Film

So you’ve written your script, you’ve done your re-writes, and now you feel it’s ready to be produced. The chances of you getting the attention of a major production company are pretty slim, unless you have connections. The chances of you getting a good indie producer to shoot your film are better, especially if you live in an area where filming is prominent, say Atlanta, New Orleans, Charlotte, Flagstaff, etc. If you are in one of those areas and you’ve found a decent team to film your script, the question then is… How do I get a named actor interested in being in my film?

Assuming you’ve hit all these key points above, the obvious first step is to get your film SAG sanctioned. How do you do that? It’s fairly easy, but all the rules you have to follow in order to keep can be a bit overwhelming. The first hoop to jump through is becoming, or convincing someone on your team to become, a SAG signatory. I know, it sounds complicated, but it’s not. Being the SAG signatory just means that you are the one responsible for making sure the film and everyone involved are following SAG’s rules. And all you need to do to become one is fill out a bit of paperwork. Which paperwork you fill out depends on what type of production you’re filming (movie, television, etc.).

I know what you’re thinking, “But if I make a SAG film then I have to pay a lot of money to my actors, crew, and writers! I can’t afford that!” Au contraire, mon frère. With a SAG Ultra Low Budget contract you only need to pay your SAG performers $125/day. That means you can hire non-SAG actors and performers for most spots and hire one SAG actor and all you’re paying is $125/day. And those other actors will most likely be willing to act in the film for free because you have a named actor in it. To them that means more exposure. Not to mention the fact that they are in a SAG film means that they can now apply to be in the guild. That’ll make ‘em happy!

“Well that’s all fine and dandy, Tony, but how do I attract that SAG actor?” Oh yea. That’s what I started to write about. Well, honestly, you need to write a role that a higher caliber (by higher caliber I mean an actor that won’t work for free) would want to perform. Make that character compelling. Remember how to write compelling characters?

“Okay, I’ve got compelling characters. How do I find a SAG actor?” Aim your sights low. Unless you know someone that knows someone, keep your search in the D-list actors. If you don’t have an IDbM Pro account, get one. They have a 30-day free trial! There are no excuses not to have one if you’re serious about creating films. You can look up actors and find their contact information. Find out who their agents are and send out your proposal. It may take you several inquiries, but eventually you’ll land one. And when you do… you’re on your way! Until next week, happy writing.

Writing a Better Antagonist

In honor of Halloween (I know I’m late, but at least I’m close) I decided to discuss the characters we all love to hate… or is that hate to love? Either works. I’m talking about the antagonist of a story. Now not every antagonist is a villain, but… every villain is an antagonist. The bad guy in your story doesn’t need to be bad just for the sake of being bad. That’s a villain, and sometimes a villain can become a caricature. We don’t want that. Unless of course you’re writing a comedy and then all bets are off. Make him a Snidely Whiplash if you’re going for over the top humor. What I’m here to discuss is how to create a memorable antagonist. One your audience will either hate to love or… well, you get the idea.

Every story needs conflict. Without conflict your hero is free to do whatever s/he wants without resistance. What fun is that? Everyone loves to see a hero suffer… at least for a little bit. We need to see him struggle, grow, and overcome. If the hero goes about his life attaining whatever he desires without having to struggle to get it, no one cares. We need conflict. The conflict comes from your antagonist. The antagonist can take on any form. Remember the literary conflict we learned in high school: Man vs Man, Man vs Society, Man vs Nature, and Man vs Self? On the right side of that versus symbol is your antagonist.

So what makes a great antagonist? First and foremost he should be the hero in his own mind. Your antagonist should believe that his goals are noble; that what he is doing is for the greater good. In fact, he should believe that your hero is his antagonist. I know, mind-blowing, right? Every great antagonist is the hero of his own story. It’s all about perspective. So make your antagonist as deep as your protagonist. Make him as multi-dimensional as your hero.

Get inside your antagonist’s head. Learn what makes him tick. What happened in his life that he feels warranted in stealing hundreds of millions of dollars while terrorizing the good employees of Nakatomi Plaza during their Christmas party? Why does he feel the need to strap a bomb to city bus that will explode if the bus drops below 60 miles per hour? What happened in his life for him to feel that this is for a greater good? Get under his skin. Wear him as a suit. Know what makes him tick and figure out a way to bring the audience along for that ride. Let them see him as a person. Make him relatable. Make them understand him. “Oooohhh, he’s a bad guy, but now I know why he’s doing it! I can relate!” Let us understand his world.

Don’t make him over the top evil with ridiculous powers that our hero could never possibly overcome. The audience won’t buy it. Make him just as strong and just as vulnerable as your protagonist. Make his flaws opposite of the hero’s. If your hero is brilliant, don’t make the bad guy dumb, but show the audience that he’s outmatched in that area. Then show how the antagonist is better than your hero. If your hero’s weakness is self-doubt, make your villain confident. The struggle should be conducted like a well-choreographed dance.

These are just a few things that will help you build a better antagonist. The important take-away from this is to make him as multi-dimensional as your hero. Spend as much time on his backstory as your hero’s, not in the actual story per se, but at least know him as well as you know your hero. Create a backstory that explains who he is. You don’t’ have to use it in your story, but at least it will help you create a character this believable and relatable. Those are qualities you want in all of your characters, not just your hero. The stronger your antagonist, the stronger your conflict. The stronger your conflict, the stronger your story. Make your story stronger by creating well-developed characters. Until next week, happy writing.

Fall TV: Limitless

Let’s talk about what makes a good television show. First off, just because a movie does well at the box office doesn’t mean that it will make a great TV series. In fact, they usually don’t. Why? Well, there’s a reason it was written as a movie and not a television show; there’s just not enough of a plot line to carry it through three seasons. Three is the magic number for a lot of things entertainment. In this instance Producers want to know that a show can last at least three seasons. One way to convince a TV producer of this is to tell them that it’s like another show, but with specific differences. Or convince them that there is enough plot in the film you’re adapting it from, and make sure it’s a film that did well at the box office.

So let’s talk money. Limitless the movie crushed it at the box office its opening weekend banking almost $20 million. The film cost $27 million to make. To date it’s made over $160 million worldwide. Can you see the dollar signs rolling over in the producer’s eyes? As I mentioned above, if you can tell/show a producer that a TV show is like another successful show, you’ll increase your chances. What TV show is Limitless like? It tries to be like Castle. Castle, up until this season, held steady at 2.5 with Nielsen. That’s roughly 12 million viewers. But creating a TV show based on a box office smash and likening it to another successful TV show aren’t the only ingredients needed to create a successful pilot.

First let’s talk about what Limitless did right. To start with they didn’t try to use the same characters from the film. Yes, Bradley Cooper made an appearance in the pilot episode, but I doubt he’ll be in too many more of them. He’s only scheduled to be in one more episode out of nine the first season. Aside from Cooper they have an entirely different cast. This makes it kind of like a side story to the film instead of trying to spread that cast and storyline into a series.

What else did they do right? If you follow my blog then you know what you need to make a good story, right? You need a likable/relatable protagonist. They have one with Brian Finch, unfortunately the actor portraying him (although he’s not a bad actor) isn’t strong enough to pull off the two separate identities of “Everyday Joe” vs “Super-Smart-NZT-user.” There just isn’t that clear contrast like Cooper brought to it. Oh, wait, I was supposed to be talking about what they did right. Well, that is about the extent of it.

Another glaring defect is the dialogue. It’s a toss up as to whether the writers just aren’t smart enough to write smart dialogue or the actor isn’t believable enough to deliver it. There are a couple of scenes in which Finch is rattling off information that’s supposed to sound intelligent and then says something like, “and then there’s that guy, can’t remember his name…” Wait just a cotton pickin’ minute! Doesn’t NZT give you total memory recall? Come on, guys. How could you let something that obvious slip through?

To wrap up, Limitless isn’t horrible. In fact, with what we have to choose from this season, it’s definitely watchable. We’re only 5 episodes in, the halfway point of 9. It is listed as a drama, but it’s got more humor. That’s another thing that makes it reminiscent of Castle. So if you haven’t seen it yet, go on over to CBS and catch up on it. Let me know what you think. Until next week, happy writing.