Category Archives: Screenwriting

On The Origin of Writing.

“There are no undiscovered great writers. There is such a hunger for great writing, and there are so few good writers out there. I actually have a Darwinian view of writing. Write three scripts on spec, and if by the end of that third one, you haven’t felt that energy coming toward you – that excitement, that enthusiasm about finding a new voice – you should find something else to do, because you should feel that. It’s harsh, but it’s just true. You can get somebody to read your work. So, just try it. Just write, and see who gets excited about it.”

Marshall Herskovitz

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How to immortalize dialogue.

Billy Wilder

1. The audience is fickle.
2. Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go.
3. Develop a clean line of action for yo ur leading character.
4. Know where you’re going.
5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
7. A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
9. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then—
11. That’s it. Don’t hang around.

These were our 2007 TV victories.

So here we are.

The first 2007 list and it’s nothing but our beloved tv. This was the most easy list to make actually, since it encompasses almost everything we’ve been doing this year. There were not alot of movies, not alot of music and not alot of reading. Most of the time was consumed by the little screen. Suffice to say we still think the great minds of our generation are at work in television. The best comedy, the best drama, the best acting, the best writing, we all saw it in television. Are we blind? Are we too much focused on the little screen? Year after year we’ve pimping the networks and their shows but I’m afraid we can only continue to do so if they keep on producing this kind of quality. I hope this list will be the best argument to prove there’s so much to find on the little screen.

The problem of these shows keeps being all these different seasons. Sometimes you have to delve through a shitty first or second or third season to get to the real good stuff. Sometimes it gets shitty after the first season. But we encourage everyone who hasn’t seen anything of these shows to try it out and buy or rent these gems somewhere.

I had to exclude quite a few shows and some favorites of last year. This is not because these shows are suddenly bad but because I didn’t enjoy this past season as much as I did earlier. This list is more about particular seasons, not about shows in general. The list would have been a whole lotta different then.

So shouts go to the shows that didn’t make the final ten but had some quality as well: Dexter, Tell You Love Me, Mad Men, Brothers and Sisters, John From Cincinatti, Rescue Me, Heroes, Battlestar Galactica, 4400, Rome, Sopranos, Big Love, Gossip Girl, The Riches and Grey’s Anatomy (and some I probably forgot).

Here’s the ten of 2007:

1. ENTOURAGE – SEASON 3 (part deux)

Entourage S3 part deux was the final installment before our boys went to shoot Medellin. The scenes with Drama were among the most emotional scenes I saw this whole year. The writing was off the wall. Amazing 8 episodes. Victory at last!

2. LOST – SEASON 3

All the lost haters were still crying around mid-season 3 how bad Lost had gotten but I say: the ending, the ending the ending! Best piece of climactic writing in a television show ever. Season 3 had its share of problems agreed but Lost continues to fool everyone out there. This show is history in the making. This is the show we shall be telling our grandkids about. You cannot escape.

3. HOUSE – SEASON 3

Oh Gregory! House finishes so high because of two things: a) it’s immense popularity, b) it’s quality of writing and acting. A show so popular with such amazing quality restores my faith in humanity. Say death to the blockbuster and viva House!

4. THE OFFICE – SEASON 3

What show got the biggest laughs this year? We have some quality comedy shows in this top ten but The Office gets most funny show of the year. My god, what a comeback Greg Daniels and his writing staff did. I didn’t particularly like S1 & 2 but season three completely blew my mind. Safety Training might have been one of the best and funniest episodes ever written for tv. That’s what she said!

5. DAMAGES – SEASON 1

The best new show of the year and it’s yet again FX bringing the goods. This show was about lawyers but I don’t think we’ve been much inside a courtroom. This was not your typical courtdrama. The whole flashback structure got a little tiring towards the end but still they pulled it off very nicely. If you want to look at how a great pilot is written, this is your show to check out. Clever twists and writing, brilliant acting and beautifully filmed. Name me one movie this year that was as strong and thrilling as the Damages pilot.

6. FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS – SEASON 1

I had quite a few initial problems with the dramedy writing of this show. The musical genius was obvious but the storylines were lacking somehow. The show got much better towards the end but still it may not be the strongest overall show of the list. However the individual genius moments and songs made up for it easily. If there was truly one original show this year, this is it. I think the second season may surprise a lot of people. Brett & Jemaine for mancrush of the year!

7. IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA – SEASON 2 & 3

Another one that took me by surprise. I had heard some good things about this show but never really bothered to check it. Until recently. And yeah, this is exactly my kind of comedy. Loud, harsh and politically incorrect to the bone. Seinfeld on crack, hell yea. I don’t think all the different episodes are equally good but boy oh boy, I’ve been truly laughing my ass off with most of season 2. One of the most underappreciated comedy shows, check it out!

8. CALIFORNICATION – SEASON 1

David Duchovny in one of my top tens, who would have thought? I wasnt the biggest fan after the pilot but something made me come back and it was mostly this great family dynamic Californication created. I fell in love with the bastardness and sweetness of the Duchovny character trying to win his daughter and ex back. The ending was beautifully sweet as well. And who can forget the getting caught by the wives threesome sex?

9. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS – SEASON 1

Ah Friday Night Lights, praised by many, watched by few. This is a difficult one to review. Something inside me says it’s a little bit too cheesy, a little bit too simple, a little bit too much classic high school drama but another side says the creators got further than all that. There is definitely room for improvement but I do think this show does a very good job of delving a little deeper: yes its about football, yea its about teenagers in high school, agreed its about texas and rightwing voters and religious nuts. Not the most easy arena to get some liberal critics interested in. And yet they did. It’s not as good as the movie (which is quite honestly awesome) but there is much to be liked about this series. Do not dismiss that easily. This is a sleeper but a very good one nonetheless.

10. BONES – SEASON 2

Or how I love the Deschanel family. No seriously, the biggest reason to stay for Bones is Emily Deschanel. She singlehandedly elevates this show to new heights. But it’d be unfair to take away praise from David Boreanaz and the other regular cast because they do a great job as well. If there is one thing to be learned from a show such as Bones and House: create some interesting characters in your team and get some great actors and you’ll notice you can do very good. The writing and plot of Bones isnt always that thrilling but sometimes they have some pretty clever episodes. This is a show that’ll give you great entertainment and hey, it’s even pretty well made. A deserved number 10.

WGA Strike

Lost producer Carlton Cuse

I love how the WGA writers are making great use of the internet to support their cause. The clips, photos and posts make the whole fight so much more direct & personal and it finally puts a face to all the writers, who are the kind of people you normally never see. So have a look around the net, get informed about why action is needed and why unions are actually quite valuable.

The main blogs to keep you up-to-date with everything that’s happening is UnitedHollywood & the Variety Strike blog.

Also great to see are the wgaamerica youtube videos:



Twists.

Direct copy from the Premiere website but I want this for my archives.

So here they are: 20 Big-Time Movie Twists.

I’m actually surprised they did not include Saw (the best twist in years imo) or Memento but interesting list nonetheless.

BIG SPOILER WARNING OFF COURSE!!!

Planet of the Apes

Movie: The Planet of the Apes (1968)
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
The Setup: A group of American astronauts crash land on a world where apes talk and rule, while humans are primitive slaves with no voting rights.
The Twist: The planet is actually Earth; the space ship traveled in time instead of space.
Fun Fact: The script was actually written by twist-loving Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling.

Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back

Movie: Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Director: Irvin Kershner
The Setup: After blowing up the Death Star in 1977’s Episode IV — A New Hope, Luke Skywalker trains to become a Jedi while Vader and the Empire strike back, frequently.
The Twist: Darth Vader is Luke’s father. Though as we learned later, he was also Princess Leia’s father and, in a way, C-3PO’s father. Which kind of makes him the Sith version of K-Fed.
Fun Fact: In an attempt to keep this twist a secret, the scene was originally shot with actor David Prowse — who was the guy in the Darth Vader suit — saying to Mark “Luke” Hamill, “Obi-Wan killed your father.”

Fight Club

Movie: Fight Club (1999)
Director: David Fincher
The Setup: On his way home from a business meeting, a normal shlub befriends a far more interesting guy named Tyler Durden, leading the two eventually to form an underground boxing organization.
The Twist: Tyler Durden is all in the narrator’s head.
Fun Fact: According to Variety, Fight Club was one of the first DVDs to be overseen by the film’s director, which might explain why it was, and still is, one of the better movie DVDs ever made.

Psycho

Movie: Psycho (1960)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
The Setup: After stealing money from her boss, Marion Crane checks in the Bates motel, where people check in but they don’t check out!
The Twist: The murderer is the inn’s owner, Norman Bates, who thinks he’s his own mother, even though Mama Bates is dead … and kind of ripe.
Fun Fact: Among the women considered for the role of Marion Cane, which ultimately went to Janet Leigh, were Eva Marie Saint, Lana Turner, and Shirley “Mrs. Partridge” Jones.

Citizen Kane

Movie: Citizen Kane (1941)
Director: Orson Welles
The Setup: The story of newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane is told by a reporter who’s trying to find out what Kane meant when, with his last dying breath, he uttered the word “Rosebud.”
The Twist: Rosebud was his childhood sled.
Fun Fact: Kane was inspired by real-life newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who was so “flattered” by his thinly veiled portrayal that, when the film opened, he decreed that no Hearst paper mention it. At all. Ever.

Soylent Green

Movie: Soylent Green (1973)
Director: Richard Fleischer
The Setup: The Earth has become so overpopulated that people will do (and eat) anything to survive.
The Twist: In the immortal words of Detective Robert Thorn, “Soylent Green is people.”
Fun Fact: On the cartoon Futurama, Soylent Green was the special ingredient in a parody of the cooking show “Iron Chef,” while in another episode characters enjoyed a nice, refreshing can of Soylent Cola.

The Usual Suspects

Movie: The Usual Suspects (1995)
Director: Bryan Singer
The Setup: After a group of criminals are caught during a heist, one of them, a crippled man named “Verbal” Kint, reveals that the entire plot was the work of master criminal (and urban legend) Keyser Söze.
The Twist: Verbal is Keyser Söze.
Fun Fact: Soze is actually Turkish for “talks a lot.”

Oldboy

Movie: Oldboy (2003)
Director: Chan-wook Park
The Setup:
After being held prisoner for 15 years, Dae-su is finally released, not knowing who held him or why, only that his wife is dead and his daughter is nowhere to be found. Joined by Mi-do, a woman he met in a sushi bar and later falls in love with, Dae-su tries to find out what happened.
The Twist: Mi-Do is Dae-su’s daughter … which he doesn’t learn until after they’ve slept together.
Fun Fact: Oldboy is actually based on a Japanese comic book of the same name, further proof that not all comic books movies have to be, well, comic book movies.

Mission Impossible

Movie: Mission: Impossible (1996)
Director: Brian De Palma
The Setup: After the members of his spy squad — including his leader, mentor, and friend Jim Phelps — are killed, and he’s accused of being a double agent, super spy Ethan Hunt goes on the run to clear his name.
The Twist: Phelps not only isn’t dead, but he planned the whole thing.
Fun Fact: Because of this twist, actor Peter Graves, who played Phelps on the original TV show, declined to appear in the film.

Friday the 13th

Movie: Friday the 13th (1980)
Director: Emile Chautard
The Setup: When a group of kids at a summer cap start turning up dead, they believe it’s the work of Jason Voorhees, a kid who years earlier was allowed to drown in the camp’s lake and who, they think, has returned from the grave to enact his revenge.
The Twist: It actually wasn’t Jason killing all those kids, it was his mommy. Which is just so embarrassing.
Fun Fact: In 1992, Jason was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the MTV Movie Awards.

Chinatown

Movie: Chinatown (1974)
Director: Roman Polanski
The Setup: Private dick Jake Gittes is hired to investigate what he thinks is a routine case of corruption and adultery. It turns out to be a tad more complicated.
The Twist: Evelyn Mulwray’s sister — slap! — is her daughter — slap! — her sister and her daughter! — slap!
Fun Fact: During the climactic reveal, Faye Dunaway asked Jack Nicholson to really slap her. He did.

The Wicker Man

Movie: The Wicker Man (1973)
Director: Robin Hardy
The Setup: Responding to an anonymous tip, Sergeant Howie goes looking for a missing girl, and ends up on a strange island full of human-sacrificing pagans.
The Twist: Actually, the pagans sent the anonymous tip to lure Howie to the island so they could sacrifice him.
Fun Fact: Christopher Lee actually appeared in the film for free. He has since said that he considers his role in the film to be one of the best of his career.

12 Monkeys

Movie: 12 Monkeys (1995)
Director: Terry Gilliam
The Setup: After a deadly virus nearly wipes out humanity, the last remaining scientists send James Cole back in time to find out how they can stop the Army of the 12 Monkeys, who they believe to have spread the virus.
The Twist: The Army of the 12 Monkeys was actually a PETA-like animal rights group that released animals from a New York City zoo on the same day the virus was released by some jerk.
Fun Fact: Like Christopher Lee and The Wicker Man, Bruce Willis agreed to star in 12 Monkeys for free, though he was eventually paid after the movie came out.

Jacob's Ladder

Movie: Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
Director: Adrian Lyne
The Setup: When Vietnam veteran Jacob Singer starts hallucinating demons and his dead son, he thinks it has something to do with post-traumatic stress from combat.
The Twist: Jacob actually died in Vietnam, and everything he sees is a deathbed vision.
Fun Fact: Jacob’s doctor was played by Lewis Black, who’s now known for being a comedian, a Daily Show regular, and kind of twisted.

Eddie & the Cruisers

Movie: Eddie & the Cruisers (1983)
Director: Martin Davidson
The Setup: When the re-release of their only album returns them to the spotlight, the members of the long-defunct ’60s rock band Eddie & the Cruisers reminisce about their band and its dead lead singer Eddie Wilson.
The Twist: Eddie ain’t dead, he just grew a beard.
Fun Fact:
Unlike Eddie & the Cruisers, the band that performed all the music in the movie, John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band, is actually still around … and on MySpace.

Angel Heart

Movie: Angel Heart (1987)
Director: Alan Parker
The Setup: When private dick Harold Angel is hired by Louis Cyphre to find a missing singer named Johnny Favourite, it leads Angel into the bizarre world of New Orleans’s voodoo scene.
The Twist: Angel is Favourite, he just doesn’t remember, though Louis Cypher, also known as Lucifer, does.
Fun Fact: According to the IMDb, Robert De Niro’s performance as Cyphre is actually an impression of his pal and Goodfellas director Martin Scorsese.

The Game

Movie: The Game (1997)
Director: David Fincher
The Setup: Nicholas Van Orton is a tightly wound executive who eventually chucks himself off a building when his life goes to hell.
The Twist: Instead of being killed in the fall, Nicholas lands in one of those big air stunt pillows because everything that has happened — including having his house vandalized, being kidnapped and left for dead in Mexico, and accidentally killing his brother — was part of an elaborate game paid for by his brother as a birthday present.
Fun Fact: While doing such a game may have looked far-fetched 10 years ago, similar A.R.G.s (alternate reality games) have since become popular (and commercial) and have been used to promote things like Nine Inch Nails’s Year Zero album, the TV show Lost, and the upcoming Batman movie The Dark Knight.

The Crying Game

Movie: The Crying Game (1992)
Director: Neil Jordan
The Setup: After a British soldier is accidentally killed fleeing from the IRA members who had been holding him hostage, one of his captors goes to make sure the soldier’s girlfriend is okay.
The Twist: That girlfriend is a man, baby.
Fun Fact: This gender twist was also used, albeit a lot less successfully, in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

They don’t fuck the girls, but they kind of fuck each other.

Superbad

The best counterargument of why one should always be very wary to start theorizing and drawing conclusions from the “message” of movies, always comes from the makers themselves.

The whole guy-meets-guy concept of Superbad generally just developed out of a need to create an emotional tension that was lacking in the original screenplay. And you can thank Judd Apatow for that. I’ll let the end of the Creative Screenwriting article with Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg do the talking. This also pretty much rebuts my previous post and actually the emotional arc makes the movie indeed much funnier. Great thinking!

As Rogen put it: “We wanted a sweet center to our filthy outer core. Judd stresses questioning: Is it a good, clear, simple, emotional story that’s working from scene to scene?”

As the two discussed finding a more emotional hook for Superbad, Apatow suggested upping the stakes of the relationship between the protagonists. “Maybe it was there from square one and Judd just saw it,” Goldberg says. “We definitely had a big argument between Evan and Seth, but initially it was just about bailing. ‘You bailed on me, you bastard! We’re supposed to be friends.’ Stuff like that. Judd, being smart, suggested, ‘What if he’s really bailing on him? If Evan’s going to a different university that Seth’s not smart enough to get into, although they had always talked about going to a school together?’ Suddenly, Judd had created a great complicated dynamic out of the simple, more childish one that Seth and I originally composed.”

Apatow’s note led to more tension between the Seth, Evan, and Fogell characters, and created a triangle of sorts by mapping out that Fogell and Evan were to room together at college. This separation anxiety is finally resolved as their crazy night ends when Seth and Evan sleep over and drunkenly profess just how much they love each other – as friends off course.

“It just made us laugh our asses off when we were writing it,” Rogen recalls. The scene evokes the perfect mix of comedy and emotion as these best friends, who will truly miss each other, finally speak their minds. “I’d say we got that one pretty much the first time we wrote it,” Rogen recalls.

“Once we realized this scene should just be them saying they love each other – once that idea came up, we pretty much knew what it should be. It’s like a dude love story, in a weird kind of way. The big joke is they’re trying to fuck these girls the whole movie and then at the end, they don’t fuck the girls, but they kind of fuck each other.”

Guy-meets-Guy. Get your peckers out boys.

Knocked Up

I recently saw Knocked Up and liked it a lot: the premise is both so simple as it is convincing. Nerdy slacker gets hot girl pregnant, then what? Great concept. Great acting. Flawless direction. Structurally more or less good (had some minor notes but lets forget that for now okay). Great jokes. So yea it was funny, what more do we need? But somehow a voice kept nagging in my head, making me feel uncomfortable. There was one aspect of the movie I didn’t like so much: the characterization of the girl & consequently the believability of their chemistry.

The point here is NOT the fact that a chubby little loser can get a hot girl, only a fool would make that conclusion after seeing the movie. But the thing the movie never convinced me of, is if their relationship would really work out in the end. Would they be really living happily ever after, to put it in those terms.

I felt that their relationship hadn’t been put enough to the test to come to that conclusion. Why does Katherine Heigl as “the girl” really fall for Seth Rogen as “the boy”? The obvious obstacle in the beginning of the story is the audience thinking: how will THIS guy take care of a baby? (remember the tagline of the poster “what if this guy gets you pregnant?”). And yes in the end, Rogen proves he can take care of his life and gets things done but is that really it? Does that action ultimately proves to be enough for Heigl to fall for him?

I felt the movie simplified the ordeal of their relationship to that question: will he get his life straightend out or not? If ‘yes’, he will get the girl and baby. If ‘no’, he will go on smoking pot and never have sex with such a beautiful woman again. The moral choice here seems a little too weak to produce a fully formed relationship. Hence the chemistry between boy & girl felt a little thin.

Off course, we’re watching a comedy and one should be very careful to draw moral conclusions. But I couldn’t stop thinking about these gender issues in Apatow‘s comedies and how it felt as if his female leads were always a little too thin.

This shouldn’t pose a problem when you’re making over-the-top comedies. I mean it’d be foolish to judge Borat or Will Ferrell comedies on gender issues because it’d prove a) you don’t have a sense of humour, b) you haven’t understood a thing of these movies.

Will Ferrell is obviously playing the macho angle to get laughs. His comedies and Borat are aimed at people getting offended by it. That’s a whole different ball game. But Apatow ain’t trying this. Both 40-year old Virgin and Knocked Up try their best to portray fully developed characters and that’s also the reason you’re feeling much more emotionally attached to his films than say a Borat or Ferrell movie (which is not a critique of these movies, they just achieve different goals).

Then today at cinematical, I read this interesting Time Magazine article by Richard Corliss and we get back to my aching voice about Knocked Up’s female lead. Read the whole article through, it’s very clever if you don’t get too hung up on the whole gayness metaphors. Don’t take that too literally, it’s meant to provoke, and Corliss describes an interesting change in our culture.

The main thesis of the article seems to be that the Apatow clique introduced the advent of the ‘bromance’ (love the term btw), where the desired object of the boy is not longer the girl but acknowledgement of other men, which is subsequently achieved by getting the girl. So getting the girl just becomes a means to fraternize with your male friends. The desired object now is “affection from other men”. Thus the boy-meets-girl comedies become guy-meets-guy comedies.

Very interesting point. Although I think Corliss is totally wrong to attribute some sexual component to this and suggest that all these men really want to do is fuck each other (the conclusion of Y Tu Mama Tambien?). Don’t take his point that literal! Also, he should leave Will Ferrell movies out of this debate, for aforementioned reasons. Same goes for the Sandler movie I think, but I haven’t seen it, so it’s a bit hard to use here. I haven’t seen Superbad either, which is another problem to use it in this discussion.

That aside, we shouldn’t forget Superbad portrays two high-school nerds who have a problem with women. It is obviously written from the point of view of two insecure males. Hence we can expect some horny jokes, that is the point of view after all of a movie called SuperBAD. So all bullshit feminist commenters screaming about “how this movie is only about horny men objectifying women” & “all men think about is sticking their dicks into vaginas” can call up Germaine Greer and make plans over tea for a new world without the dicks.

Now let’s come to my main point: do the Apatow movies (let’s call Superbad an Apatow movie too) indeed have thinly developed female characters?

If we’d be to compare them to the great old screwball comedies, I would tend to say yes.

However, it should be established that Apatow movies are very popular among women as well. It is not only targeted at men. In fact I’d say male vs female fans are equally divided. What makes it so popular among women then?

Two questions arise:

  • A. If these female characters are indeed too much of a caricature, what makes them so?
  • B. Do women agree that Apatow’s female leads are too much of a caricature and does this bother them? (feminists aside, I’m talking about a general public here)

I’m interested to hear any opinion about this. Maybe I’m totally wrong of accusing Apatow and do most women not at all think the female leads are thinly written.

My guess however is Corliss is somewhere right in his article. Namely: in the post-feminist world we live in, the Apatow men are intimidated by women and are kind of clueless how they should get the girls. So they bond PLATONICALLY with their male friends in order to overcome their own helplessness. Most men identify with these characters mainly for these reasons.

But then as far as women go: why do they like these movies? Apart from it being just a good movie off course. I’m not trying to explain our individual taste here completely sociologically but I do think it’s possible to make some presumptions. So then what? What could be a reason for women to identify with, if we agree it’s not the female leads because they are too thin?

The one reason I could come up with: maybe women like these movies because they enjoy seeing the men so helpless. And I don’t mean that in some feminist wrath kinda way. In fact, a much heard term is that Seth Rogen’s character is “cute”. Not physically cute but cute as a person, as a character. Maybe the post-feminist women find men’s helplessness combined with their fraternally raunchiness just plain and simple cute.

Ain’t that a happy ending?