Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Everything you've ever wanted to know about Development

For newbie and emerging writers, there are words and phrases you may hear but don't know exactly what they mean.  "Development" is one of those words. Maybe you've heard of "development hell" or heard a writer saying, they're "in development". But it's one of those words you've heard about and maybe always wondered what it really means. 

So I sat down with one of my really good friends who not only worked in development at one of Hollywood's biggest studios but now is a TV producer/development person for one of Hollywood's biggest TV writers. The writers she works with are A-list writers. They're Academy Award-winning and Emmy-winning writers. So these are goals for all of us writers to aspire to but definitely heads and shoulders above us preWGA writers. So I knew she would be the perfect person to explain exactly what you as a writer, need to know about development and how to do well when you get to work with your first development person. 

How she got into development: 

She worked for many years for FOX in the research department. Through that job she had access to the creative side and organically started going to table reads and giving feedback on scripts and meeting creators and because she was kind of doing a small portion of development through that she got moved into development. This is not the typical path to development. Usually, they start as an assistant at a talent agency and move up the ranks to get a job at a studio or network or platform. 

What her job does in development: 

Her job is to put together packages and work with writers and take it out and sell it. Putting together the package, when working at a studio, you have overall deals with writers or pods. As a studio executive, you cover those pods. Part of the job is to help those writers or pods, take their own ideas and execute them or help those writers find ideas. There are also independent writers or pitches that come your way. You could find writers you like that you want to take out. You could also find IPs; you see a book you really love or an article and you option that and then find a writer after. Basically, you're part of the process and put all the moving pieces together. Sometimes that means finding attachments, whether it be a director, or a talent attachment and you work on a pitch with the parties involved. Then you take it out to the marketplace, which could be cable, broadcast, streaming, and you try and sell it.

Once it's sold, then what? 

Once a project is sold, you work on the development process through all the materials, from story doc, to outline, to draft, and if successful, it gets picked up to series and then you stay on the project and help produce it. Some departments are different though and handle that differently. When she was at 20th, they had a current department. So once you did a few episodes, you hand it off to the current department. So she handled new projects only. 

What does it mean to have an overall deal? 

That means the company has paid for exclusive services. It's usually a TV deal. It can be a first look versus an exclusive deal. If you're a writer, and you have a deal with a company, it means you can only produce shows for that company. The deal is usually for a couple years. There is the expectation you will deliver and make numerous shows. It's usually people that have a certain level of success. And they want that exclusive right to their work. 

What's expected from these big writers? 

Depending on the level of success and how big their pods, if it's a prolific writer, if it's a Shonda Rhimes or Ryan Murphy, or someone that has a large deal, the expectation is bigger. If you're doing a writer-only deal, if they have a show on the air, their bandwidth might not be that great. Maybe they are concentrating on the show that they have. It can vary. People would like to do as many projects as they can handle. There's always the urge to hustle. But you do want quality over quantity if you want to go the distance. 

What it's like being a pod executive? 

She works for one writer now who has a deal with one studio. She's a producer now and works with the development person over at the studio. That means she's on the creative side whereas before she wasn't. She now works closely with the studio executives. So she's finding IP, finding writers, finding ideas; and sometimes writers will come to her with pitches. 

How do ideas get to her in development?

Sometimes someone will bring a spec script someone is taking out and she can say yes we love it, we want to develop it. If that's the case, then she's giving notes on it and developing it to the level she wants to see this project. Or maybe the writer thinks her team will be additive to the project., maybe an area of expertise. Sometimes IP will come without the writer. Maybe they found the book on their own, or agents are taking it around town, or other producers are taking it around, or the studio has found it or the networks have. It could be a podcast, a book, an article, those are all IPs. So someone would then bring it to her or anyone in development and ask, is this something you like? If they like it, then they option it, then they look for a writer after. This is what is called the Open Writing Assignments you've probably heard of, or also known as OWAs. 

What are OWAs?

An OWA is a piece of IP that they've optioned through the studio. Or it could be a self-generated idea that they're trying to find a writer for. Then the producers take meetings with writers they want to be in business with. Then as a producer/development person, they can say to that writer, "these are the OWA we have, and are any of them appealing to you?" Many times they work with a writer they already have worked with or know their material. The initial conversation with the writer about an OWA is, "are you interested in this project, let's talk about it," and then eventually the writers come up with ideas. As a producer they work on it together with the writer, and help craft the pitch. Eventually they take the pitch to the studio, where they're based, and they decide if they want to continue with it. The writer does NOT write the script until the idea is sold to a buyer. Once it sells, then it goes into the writing stage. 

If the studio likes the pitch

The studio will decide, do we like this idea and do we want to proceed? If they do like it and want to proceed, then they give additional notes on the idea. They will help craft the pitch the way they like it. Then the producers take the idea/pitch to a bunch of buyers, and of course hopefully sell it. Once it gets sold, then they go through the traditional writing steps. 

How is a TV producer different from being in development?

It's almost the same. The difference is as a producer she's more in the trenches with the writer, than she was as a studio executive. As the producer, she's with the writer, every step of the way. She's seen every draft numerous times, maybe 30 drafts, but at the network maybe she saw 1 draft. Also in production, she will be more involved on set, more involved with those decisions. In development it would be to a lesser extent. 

What is her goal as a producer when she gives notes? 

Just to be additive. To be an extra set of eyes. An extra opinion, to help guide it through the process, especially to be a mediator between the writer and the studio partners, the network partners, to help cut through it if there's a debate about what needs to be done, or how it needs to be done. To try and be as helpful as possible, to be the advocate for the writer, to try to fight the fight when there needs to be one, to also help massage things when it's the right note that needs to happen to help it go the distance. She believes for notes, it's really subjective, that it's just an opinion. Even when she worked in research and did focus groups, she never felt feedback had to happen, like it was a mandate, like this was the right way. She doesn't feel that way as a producer still. When she reads a script, she looks to see if something is confusing for her, or is there a part that will make it land in a more emotional way, or they keep hearing what's important to the buyer, then maybe that's where they should lean in, because that might be the deciding factor on it getting picked up. She just wants to be part of the team. 

Has she seen a writer not take her note and it still work? 

She has and she encourages it. She thinks if someone feels really strongly about something and are passionate, she likes having a conversation about why do you feel that way, what is the meaning for it? A lot of times when you hear that, it helps her as a producer, it helps her understand why. She believes no one is right necessarily, and if the writer feels strongly about it, they should keep it. She feels as a producer the worst thing you can ever do is to have a writer turn in something they don't feel good about, that they don't love. Because everyone wants to feel they delivered something that is representative of the story they wanted to tell. She believes part of her job is to protect the writer so that what they ultimately they see on air is something they feel good about. She hopes that going through the process, even with changes, will make the final script stronger. 

What mistakes in writers do you see? 

Sometimes taking every note and being too much of a people pleaser isn't necessarily the right way to go, because you have to feel you're writing your vision. But on the flip side you don't want to be so rigid you're not taking any notes, because the buyer knows what they're looking for, what their needs are, what gaps are in their schedule. She's seen both of these. But it could be a writer's style and maybe the next thing this writer does, will hit the mark. Does she believe it's good to be somewhere in the middle of these? Yes. She does believe a compromise of some sorts is always the best way. A little bit of flexibility never hurts. When it comes to making TV, there are lots of cooks in the kitchen and lots of people to please. So being able to roll with the punches is an important skill set, but also it's a balance to sticking to your guns. 

What is something writers do well?

She believes it's just being really passionate about what you want to write, about having a strong point of view. (How many times have we heard this, writers?) It's important to have strong relationships with the teams surrounding you. When your team loves your project and they want it to go all the way, that's the best possible situation to get in. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

David Wappel - the talented writer with many stories to tell

Back when people went to bars, I first "met" David Wappel on Twitter. Then he and his co-partner-in-crime, Sam Thompson, hosted a writer's gathering at a bar in North Hollywood and I thought, get your butt off that couch, put that script away, and go meet these people you've only seen on Twitter. And luckily, I listened to myself. I finally met Sam and David, in person! After following David's career and his tweets since, you can tell he's a nice guy with a lot of talent. So recently, I finally got the chance to zoom with him and see what makes David tick and hear more about his writing career. Before we did, I was sure to watch his movie Long Gone By on HBO Max. Something you should do too. It's a gorgeous movie with such airy storytelling and while powerful at the same time, I know David has a long career ahead of him. 

How he got into screenwriting

David went to film school at the University of Carolina in Wilmington, where he studied film and philosophy. There was a big film industry in Carolina at the time, because in the 90's Screen Gems studios were built up, plus Dawson Creek and One Tree Hill filmed there. At first thinking he wanted to be in production, his plans were to be a cinematographer. He moved to Atlanta after he graduated to get into production, commercials, music videos, short films, etc. While working in commercials, he kept getting more assignments in development with their clients, where he was getting asked to write more things, along with helping to conceptualize music videos. He continued to get more and more narrative and emotional-driven assignments. That's when he realized he was feeling most fulfilled with writing projects. 

He was always driven to authorship  

In college, as a senior film major, he had to do his senior thesis and had to write something he could direct. He co-wrote it with someone else, but even once it was done, he continued to rewrite it on his own. That's when he realized he was always gravitating towards authorship. He just didn't realize writing would be where he would have the most ability to do that. Once he realized he was most fulfilled as a writer, that's when it clicked that was the path for him. So, in 2015 he started writing screenplays and two years later he moved to Los Angeles to pursue writing. 

His writing career journey 

After college, in 2013, was when the writing really started. But it wasn't until a year later, in 2014, when he got Final Draft and started writing the way he thought true screenwriters wrote. It wasn't for five more years, when he got his first writing assignment, through connections he had met in production in Atlanta. This is why it's important to realize, networking is so important. Because you never know when those connections will turn into paid assignments. What happened for David, was he had given his Atlanta production friends notes on a doc they were working on, and they were really impressed with how he knew story. So they asked for feedback on another project. When he moved to LA a couple years later, they told him to meet up with their friend in LA, just to chat. Little did David know, this would turn into something more special.

His first big break 

David met their friend, director and writer, Andrew Morgan, for coffee. They hit it off right away, chatting about movies. Andrew was telling him about his movie in pre-production. But he was having issues with the opening. David gave him his ideas on what Andrew was talking about, not thinking anything about it more than just two film guys chatting. A couple days later, Andrew called him and said, "I really liked what you were thinking about for my movie, would you be interested in rewriting it?" Which David said, yes, of course. David ended up rewriting the screenplay, which was Long Gone By, currently playing on HBO Max. He wrote it in the late spring of 2018, at a point he felt nothing was happening with his writing, well before he realized it would go onto being on HBO. 

Don't give up hope 

Just remember that things can look like nothing is happening. Even if you aren't seeing things work out for you writing-wise, just know you may be planting seeds that may sprout when you least expect it. That's what happened to David. He wrote the script for Andrew in late spring of 2018, but nothing happened for him writing-wise that year and even into 2019. So he felt like nothing was happening for him and he was getting down about his writing. 

When things happened 

In 2019, Long Gone By did well in the Latino Film Festival in New York. Then he found out it got featured in HBO's festival. On top of that, a spec he wrote advanced in Austin and he won a partial scholarship in Stowe Story labs. Talk about success! The year or two before, it seemed like nothing was happening for him. It just took time. All that work was done in 2018, but didn't hit till late in 2019. 

Have your successes resulted in other successes?

Doors that he was knocking on before seem to be opening up easier now. But he can't trace a domino effect just yet. He thinks it will pay off eventually though, but similarly to the way, past production friends helped pay off successes later. And it has opened up other introductions. Being able to say, "Watch my movie on HBO Max" is surely an impressive thing to say. 

Script services 

David isn't just a writer, he also has script services to help writers tell the story they are trying to tell. He obsesses over critical thinking, and the way stories are constructed, so when it comes to stories it's very helpful. It's a lens through which he sees the world. The more he writes, the more he's about to deconstruct why something isn't working on the page. And that's what he brings to the writers that he works with. When he reads something he can analyze why he's not feeling a certain way, or why he isn't feeling the way the writer wants him to feel. 

What his services are like 

His sessions are video calls so he can work with the writer in real-time, and that way he can ask, what do you want at this moment? This way they can address it together. It's less prescriptive and he can get in and under and all through the story. Then he becomes a resource to go in whatever direction they want, helping the writer tell the story that's their vision. Being a writer affords him the benefit of the dead-ends he's familiar with and actively encountering himself every day. Maybe some services come from the development standpoint or reader standpoint, which are valuable, but what he brings uniquely is you get him as a reader and a writer. 

What mistake do you see new writers do often? 

The biggest thing he thinks writers don't do enough of is self-reflection on why they're writing what they're writing. As a writer, he thinks they need to know, what are they interested in exploring? What do they want to say about this character? What is their artistic intention? Once they have self-reflection, they can leverage the tools and crafts to realize what they're actually trying to say in the piece they're writing. If they're not clear about that artistic intent, they can feel rudderless. Writers need to know what story they are really trying to write. 

What's your advice to writers who have written one and only one screenplay?

Immediately move onto another. A writer gets perspective by moving onto another script. They may see a problem in a first script that doesn't come up in the second script at all. Now they have two scripts to judge as a writer and not just one. You don't see yourself as an artist yet with one script, because you'll see what world you're interested in, what you're good at, what you're bad at, what problems you had in the first script, then maybe in your next script. Sometimes if you keep rewriting the same script, maybe it's not connecting with the people who are reading it yet. Or artistically it's not resonating. Maybe the script doesn't need rewrites. Some people keep rewriting a script to find a home, but sometimes rewriting won't solve that. Think of how many movies if they didn't find the right home, rewriting wasn't going to fix that, it just had to find the right home. 

Writers without a rep 

David is without a rep at the moment but has friends that open doors for him. So for those who don't have reps and are looking, he'd suggest for writers to look to connect with other people that you artistically and professionally gel with. Even if their taste is different than yours if you like their attitude, their work ethic, people you want to be friends with, and people you want to hang out with, look for those people. Not to pursue people or avenues you're not genuinely thinking about. Continue to pursue the things you want to pursue and connect with the people you like. Long Gone By came from people he enjoyed working with and they got him in touch with people they enjoyed working with. That movie came about and it was the least calculated thing he's done in his life. 

If you'd like to find out more about David's writing or his writing services, here's his website and you can find him on Twitter at @davidwappel

Saturday, January 23, 2021

A screenwriter's secret weapon

I haven't been writing my blogs lately. Twitter seems to be taking over the need to do a lot of blog posts for me. But recently Suzanne Gundersen, an inner story coach and founder of, interviewed me for her youtube posts on screenwriting. I was so impressed with how she helped writers, I knew I had to do a blog post on her. So here's who she is and how she may be just what you need to become a better writer.

How she helps writers

Suzanne helps writers destress and naturally get focused, build confidence, and deepen their world view into wisdom and truth. That way they can be in alignment with who they are to hook their audience. The three areas she helps: 

1. Helps them to get focused, to get into alignment with inspiration, so they can access creativity. She helps them clear distractions so they can get into their own natural rhythm and flow. 

2. Helps them to build their own worthiness. For a lot of writers they are actually writing themselves through their own stories. So she helps them build confidence so they can share their writing with other people, be true to themselves, and know their value so they can express it out into the world. 

3. Helps writers deepen their emotional goal post. A lot of writers submit a script to many contests and can't understand why it's not advancing. Or they can't narrow down how many characters they have in a script. She helps writers go through life experiences in their past, or the symptom of their limitations in their writing, and clear unresolved memories, to connect with their own vulnerabilities. Once they do that and process them using her techniques, the emotional traumas are dealt with much more peacefully. This helps their writing deepen because they've done the emotional work, so they can really grab their audience. 

What kind of distractions are there that she works through with writers? 

  • Personal 
  • Professional 
  • Creative 
Symptoms of distactions can turn into feeling like: 
  • You can't write 
  • The writing is flat 
  • You have many projects and don't know which one is most important 
  • And many others! 
Sloppy thinking and how that affects writers 

We sometimes allow the world to influence us and that puts us in reactive mode instead of getting ahead of that so that we can respond with the choice to say on a busy day, today isn't the day I'm going to write, but tomorrow I will. Maybe today is a chore day and by doing that, we don't feel guilty when we have a non-writing day on purpose. That gives us peace of mind so we're not distracted by the pressure we put on ourselves. Then when we sit down to write, we're more present in our body then we can push noise out that would keep us from not being our most focused selves to get the best pages out. 

What is the disciplined writer? 
It's a writer who knows how to get focused, clear out the distractions, so even if there are any, they don't stop your writing. This writer is connected with their creativity. But without the right tools, most writers sit down and then can't focus and don't know why they can't write. Many writers sit down to write, but the writing doesn't flow and that causes more panic, which keeps the writing from flowing even more. It can be a vicious cycle. 

Being an in alignment writer
What does it mean to be in alignment? Being able to clear out distractions and be focused with creativity. These writers are able to connect with inspiration on command and the voice with which they want to write in. 

A sloppy thinker writer 
This writer can maybe write one sentence at a time, or one scene, then stops after that because they don't have the discipline of being able to keep in alignment with themselves. They allow external forces to break their focus. So if you are this kind of writer, what are you to do to become a writer in alignment? 

Energy tapping technique 
This is a self-used acupressure technique that shifts your experience of stress in your body, your emotions and your thoughts. When you tap on certain points it sends a calming message to your brain, that it's okay to calm down, and relaxes the body. It harmonizes the brain and body so they are more integrated. Because when we're stressed, our mind is not focused. Tapping allows whatever you are stressed about, maybe blank screen syndrome, or "I don't believe in my work", "I can't write", whatever it is, then you can take that information and tap on those exact words you're thinking, (using your fingertips to tap on specific energy points of the body) and the tapping releases that fear. It sends a message to the brain that you're really safe, conscious or unconscious. In those calm moments, we can connect with the higher levels of the brain which stores the creative, imaginative thinking. 

How our energy affects writing 
Think of our energy flowing in a figure eight. If we as writers have any stress, anything that feels stuck, it's like a clog in the pipe that won't let our creativity flow. When you're tapping, you're opening that clog. It calms the mind and the body, and you can get out of the tornado of your own stress, so you can get to the peace and connect with your creativity. 

How Suzanne began helping writers 
Suzanne worked in NY in a corporate job during 9/11 and because of the stress, she needed to get out of the city and moved to Florida to emotionally heal. She found hypnotherapy, neurolinguistic programming, energy methods, neuroscience, and spiritual practices, which helped her get back to herself, and actually even stronger. Because she was able to enjoy a slower paced life in Florida, she was able to emobdy the tools she now had. She began all of this over 15 years ago, she didn't know anyone else using these tools, so she created a website to let people know about them, starting meetup groups, then eventually through word of mouth she started to help people. It began with women transforming themselves, helping them through mid-life crises, divorce, etc., anything that was self-empowerment. Then about 5 years ago, a published author approached Suzanne because she was under contract to write her second book. Her daughter had died, and she came to her saying she had writer's block. Working with Suzanne worked out so well not only did the author finish one book, but finished a second book right after. So then that writer referred her to another writer. And that writer introduced her to an executive in a writer's room. They brought Suzanne into help a writer's room that was having too much conflict. It worked so well that she kept being referred to writers. That's when she quit her full-time corporate job and helping writers became a full-time job. The rest is history. 

If you are interested in finding out more about Suzanne here is her website again and you can follow her on twitter @screenwritenow1

Thursday, September 10, 2020

WeScreenplay zoom: Embracing the Nuanced Latinx Experience

So I have not been publishing my blog at all lately. There has seemed to be a more toxic writer's universe on Twitter. I know you've seen it. It kind of scared me off I guess. But I created this blog for newer writers and I have to remember that I have things to help them grow as writers. If you're an Academy Award writer, this blog may not be for you. Everyone else, see if you get something out of it. 

So recently WeScreenplay hosted a zoom on Latinx showrunners and I was so inspired I had to post. First off, if you haven't been attending their zooms, they've been great. So keep your eye out for more. I've attended a couple so far and have loved them all. 

So this one was hosted by Joshua Noble and had showrunners Jenny Lorenzo, Latinx actress and writer, from things like Victor & Valentino and Gentefied, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, producer, director, writer of shows like Lost and The Dark Crystal, and Evangeline Ordaz, producer, actress and writer of things like Queen Sugar, Vida and 13 Reasons Why. 

They were all so passionate about what's going on with Latinx in TV and movies and had so many great things to say. So in no special order, here are some of the key things I took away from it. Mind you, I'm paraphrasing: 

Jenny Lorenzo (JL) grew up Cuban in Miami and said she didn't fit in growing up there. Even when she'd go to casting, they didn't know what to do with her. So when she'd write about her Cuban Abuela (Grandma) then those details are what formed a unique character. Tip: Use those unique characteristics to create unique and diverse characters in your pieces. 

Javier Grillo-Marxuach (JGM), from Puerto Rico, talked about when he wrote The Middle Man in 1998 he had to fight not to make a character more Latinx in a role. He didn't want a character to break out in Spanish or have Salsa music when his character walked. Because he himself is Latinx but doesn't like Salsa music. Every Latinx is different and has different experiences. They're all coming from different backgrounds and traditions. Tip: When writing a diverse character, make them complex then give them a Latinx name. Make them competent at their job and that's enough. That stays away from stereotypes. 

They all spoke about how inclusivity is important so when other people see people like them on TV or in movies, then they stop feeling like the "other". 

Plus, how it's their job to educate the execs. That they need to advocate for more people of color in those positions. Once we get to those positions, we do too! 

JGM mentioned he was a product of a diversity program. And how execs have biases for diverse people. And in the past 10 years, there have been more execs of color. It's slow, but it's happening. 

They all mentioned how networks want inclusivity but then they pitch to them and they all say, tone it down, it's too Latino. So it's mixed messages. But let's hope as more Latinx get in the exec roles, the less we will hear this. 

JGM brought up how in TV, mentorships are missing. How important it is that when you sell a show, to find a Showrunner who will help your vision end up as the final product. Tip: Find a Showrunner who doesn't want to take over your show, but teach you how to run it. That way the Showruner can get it up and running, teach you everything, and then they can go off and run other shows and your show succeeds. 

Evangeline Ordaz (EO) talked about how refreshing it is when she's in a room of all Latinx. She called it putting her "white brain on". When you're in an all Latinx room, you don't have to speak in different words or jargon because people all come from similar backgrounds. 

JL moved from Miami 5 years ago and talked about how there were so many Latinx out there. But when she came to LA it wasn't like that. So she decided to create the content she wanted to see and wasn't seeing. Tip: Create what you want to see. There are obviously other diverse people who want to see that too! If it's a universal theme, a larger audience will too. 

JGM mentions he writes any character as you normally would, and then suggests, making them Latinx. He tries to make at least one lead Latinx. Why not all of us? 

EO says we're not just one thing, all Latinx people. We're many things! Basically, you can't lump Latinx into one category. When you do, again, you end up with stereotypes. 

Even recently in my own writing group, I shared my Latinx sitcom. I have an amazing writing group of talented female writers. I based all my Latinx characters after my real relatives. But one non-Latinx writer gave me a note and said, 'Oh such and such would never happen so don't do this." Uh, what? I literally based this off my cousin! So, tip: If you are not a diverse writer, be careful when you tell a diverse writer, "such and such can never happen." Yes, it can! That's what makes diverse characters real! And not stereotypes! If you're not a diverse writer, tread lightly on "can never happen" notes. 

So that's basically the Latinx zoom. I hope you found it as interesting as I did. And hope it helps you write better diverse characters. I look forward to seeing them on the screen someday! 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Your own progress is what matters

I always do a year-end review just to check in with myself, keep myself writing, and inspire myself to keep going. We writers all need that from time-to-time, don't we?

Well, this year has been my most successful year thus far. But it doesn't mean I'm supporting myself with my screenwriting career just yet. I have a new writing partner and together we got a huge production company interested in our comedy that they've attached themselves to. They've sent it to a big director and we're waiting to hear if he's attaching himself. We also finished a WW2 drama that I'm co-producing with two really big producers. And I finished a third comedy feature that when it's ready, I'm getting to a really huge producer. Plus, I gained a manager for the first time because of my comedy that has interest.

But even though I have a lot to be thankful for, I'm still not where I want to be with my career. But I'm definitely on my way. And like I've done in previous year-end reviews, it's important for us writers to relish the positive. We writers tend to compare ourselves to others that are reaching more success, whether financially, screen credits, meetings, the list is endless! But we have to remember that every writer has their own path. What might be a success for one writer one year, could be the success another writer sees the next year. When one writer wins in a contest one year, another screenwriter can see success a couple years later in a different contest. So what I'm saying, is do not compare yourself to anyone but yourself!

Did you do better in a contest this year than last?

Did you write more scripts this year than last?

Did you have more meetings this year than last?

Or even did you just get your butt in front of the computer more this year than last?

Whatever looks like success for you, is what matters! Sometimes our success can look small when we compare ourselves to other writers. But if we compare each writing year from one to the next we can see how far we've come. And that's all that really matters.

So what did your success look like this year? Whatever it was,  use it to have a successful 2020! You got this!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Nutshell Technique - the screenwriter's friend

So a couple weeks ago my writing group, League of Women Writers, had a guest speaker. Her name is Jill Chamberlain and she wrote a book called The Nutshell Technique. I didn't know what to expect, except one of the writers had heard her speak and raved about her, so that's why she came to speak to our group. I'm not usually one to buy a book with a guest speaker, but after her explaining her method, I was hooked and bought her book that night. She's also teaching a weekend seminar Sept 14 and 15 in Los Angeles, so if you like some of the tips I give here, I suggest you sign up. You won't be sorry! I'll include her website below to find out more.

So Jill started her presentation and told us that some of the things she learned from working with screenwriters were that 99% of most screenwriters were actually NOT telling stories. Oops! Not a good statistic. Most people were having one event, then another event, then another, etc. But what they were failing to do was have those events lead to the next, lead to the next, etc. It turned out there wasn't a connection between beats. She went on to explain that what's key about her technique is the connection between parts. It's not a formula, so stories don't become predictable using her technique. You can use it with other techniques, in fact.

She goes onto explain the basic principles behind dramatic storytelling are: drama, obstacles, choices.

That all stories have a beginning, middle, and end.

They all have a hero's journey, even if it's not the Hero's Journey we've read about in books, such as Luke Skywalker's journey. She just meant it's the one protagonist of the movie. Even if a story doesn't have one protagonist, the writer may know which one is the main protagonist, even in a buddy comedy.

And like many teachers, she explains the protagonist needs a good want.

She also goes into detail about which stories are comedic and which are tragedies, using Aristotle's definition. This means a comedy can be a tragedy and a drama could be a comedy, as far as storytelling goes. That in comedies the protagonist overcomes its flaws and has a happy ending. Tragedies don't overcome their flaw and have a sad ending. I'm not going to go too into detail to explain her technique, because really I can't do it justice in a blog post.

Her book is filled with diagrams that show movies she's used to diagram so you can start to learn what makes those movies strong and how to use them for your own stories. I think it would be nearly impossible to go into detail about the movies she diagrammed. So the best thing is to suggest either buying her book or going to her weekend seminar, or both. I'll include her website so you can find out about her book or her classes. She also does consultations for 1 1/2 hrs or full script consultations. Her prices were really reasonable too.

I've already used it as I started to do my rewrite for my comedy script for the producers I'm working with now. And it really made it so simple! I'm finishing up another comedy and I've been stuck on, and I can tell it will help me with that too. Plus, some of her clients are really successful screenwriters. Because any story, no matter how professional a writer you are, can be tricky if done right. And that's what's great about her technique, is it really seems to be this secret weapon to writing any story correctly, and well.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Guest post #3: Paula Finn

This is the third and final post from Paula Finn's tips from her book, " Sitcom Writers Talk Shop: Behind the Scenes with Carl Reiner, Norman Lear, and Other Geniuses of TV Comedy". As a reminder her book is available on Amazon and through If you haven't read her other tips, be sure to check out the previous posts. You'll like them! So without further ado, this is what she wrote: 

5) The rules aren’t for them: these writers trust their instincts.

When I asked Carl Reiner if he uses any rules or formulas for joke construction, he responded, “No, I think the seat of your pants. If you’re a real writer, you don’t worry about the technique of it; you go by the seat of your pants.”

Leonard Stern spoke of the undefinable: “There’s a formularization for many jokes, but it’s very hard to explain. Suddenly you have that humorous insight into something. I’ve discussed this very often with Larry Gelbart, who is probably the most gifted writer and satirist by nature. He’s extremely articulate, and he couldn’t stop the flow of humor. He often said, “I wish I could just write this straight, I’d like to see how I think” — because his writing always had that surprising twist. And he himself was surprised by the direction his thoughts took him. So it’s always been hard to define that. . . that odd perception or perspective of life . . . the capturing of a moment of absurdity. I never could define it; I just knew it existed.”
Ken Estin agrees: “I’ve read rules but I never worked that way, and I’ve never known anyone who did. We all just go by what our gut tells us. I don’t think you can do it by mechanical means. You have to do it by instinct, and experience, and intuition — and all those kinds of vague feelings you have as a human being. When I write a scene, I have to put myself in the situation. And although I won’t laugh out loud, I can feel the difference between something that’s funny and something that doesn’t sound quite right. The formulas don’t really work because comedy is based so much on rhythms. Sometimes just the right word is funny, and you’re not sure why.”
And Arnie Kogen surprised with this comment: “The set-up comes before the punch line. That's the rule I use. And you can take that to the bank…whatever banks are left!” 

So there you have it! Some great comedy people with great ideas. Do you follow your gut instinct? Does it work for you? I think I'm more of a rule follower but I can say sometimes I follow my gut too. So maybe I do a little of each. 

Well, hope you've enjoyed learning Paula's tips. And if you have, be sure to buy her book and let her know.