Industry Trends

10 Great Screenplays from 1999

Many great films are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year–1999 is considered one of the best years in recent history for quality cinema. Great films don’t always begin with great screenplays–many elements come into play before a movie hits theaters that could give it its silver screen magic. But these ten fantastic movies from 1999 were solid from the start, and they started from a great screenplay:

Short Script

The Matrix

Lilly and Lana Wachowski followed up their low-budget erotic thriller Bound with a film that would single-handedly reshape the Hollywood landscape to this day, The Matrix. An action and science fiction original script depicting a dystopian society trapped into simulated reality, the film was also inspired by Japanese animation and martial arts films. The inventive use of CGI and “bullet-time” would blow audiences away, but one can only imagine what producers pictured seeing the screenplay without any visual context.

Being John Malkovich 

This head trip of a comedy was the feature film debut for both director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. After completing the script, which involves a puppeteer commandeering the body of real-life actor John Malkovich (played by himself), Kaufman sent the script to director Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola passed it along to his daughter, filmmaker Sofia Coppola, who was married at the time to Jonze, who subsequently fell in love with the story. Kaufman later wrote Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind while Jonze directed Her; the two collaborated again for Adaptation, which featured scenes on the set of–where else–Being John Malkovich

Magnolia

Eight-time Academy Award nominee Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, The Phantom Thread), both directed and wrote this American epic drama that boasted an A-list cast: Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, and Alfred Molina, among others. Anderson and his cast make this incredible film a mosaic in search of happiness, forgiveness, and meaning in California’s San Fernando Valley. The film earned three nominations at the 2000 Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay. It is also the final feature film role of Oscar winner Jason Robards.

Toy Story 2

Nearly every animated sequel from Disney in the 90s was straight-to-video, so the first sequel from Pixar, a theatrical release, had a large burden to carry. Not only that, but it was a sequel to the universally beloved film that launched the studio into the stratosphere–the 1995 classic Toy Story. Disney and Pixar took no chances and assembled a team of skilled writers for the screenplay to Toy Story 2, including John Lasseter (A Bug’s Life), Pete Docter (Up), Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo), Ash Brannon (Surf’s Up), Rita Hsiao (Mulan), and Doug Chamberlin & Chris Webb (Bruno the Kid), using the original film’s characters created by Joe Ranft. Their efforts paid off as the film was very well-received and spawned an even more cherished sequel in 2010’s Toy Story 3, as well as the upcoming Toy Story 4.

Eyes Wide Shut

Iconic filmmaker Stanley Kubrick died in 1999, just months before the release of his final completed film, Eyes Wide Shut. His oeuvre was diverse, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Barry Lyndon, A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket, starring Matthew Modine. Eyes Wide Shut was an erotic psychological drama and mystery starring one of Hollywood’s biggest power couples of the time–Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The script was adapted from Traumnovelle, the 1926 novella by Arthur Schnizler, and was co-written by Kubrick and Academy Award winner Frederic Raphael.

10 Things I Hate About You

Teen comedies come out consistently and often in Hollywood–they cost relatively very little money to make and they’re geared towards a prime demographic. But very few end up classics, remembered decades after their release. 10 Things I Hate About You is one of those classics, beloved by both teens and adults. It helped launch the careers of Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles and featured a supporting cast of very familiar faces. The screenplay came from writing team Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith (Legally Blonde, The Ugly Truth) and was adapted from William Shakespeare of all people, in this case his play The Taming of the Shrew. Compare the two titles together and you’ll even see they rhyme!

The Sixth Sense

Night Shyamalan showed the world he was a master of suspense when his directorial debut The Sixth Sense was released (though it wasn’t his first screenplay.) While his chops behind the camera immediately drew comparisons to great directors like Steven Spielberg, the most famous elements of the film come from the script itself, including lines like “I see dead people” and the shocking twist ending.

Boys Don’t Cry

Kimberley Peirce’s debut feature was adapted from her 1995 short film of the same name and tells the real story of Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank), a transgender teenage boy from Nebraska who moves to Falls City and befriends a local gang. Struggling with his sexual identity, Brandon falls in love with Lana (Chloë Sevigny) before being sexually assaulted and murdered by his former friends after they find out he was born female. The harrowing story earned Swank an Oscar and Sevigny an Academy Award nomination, with the powerful performances rooted in Peirce’s stark and emotive screenplay.

Fight Club

This first feature written by Jim Uhls (Jumper) was adapted from the novel of the same by Chuck Palahniuk, and may be one of the rare cases where a movie is better than the book. The screenplay makes many smart choices in its adaptation, which features one of the most unreliable narrators in cinematic history. Palahniuk supported the adaptation but didn’t want to be involved as a screenwriter, so Cameron Crowe, Andrew Kevin Walker, director David Fincher, and even film leads Brad Pitt and Edward Norton–uncredited–worked on the five revised drafts.  

American Beauty

Of all the great films from 1999, American Beauty would be the one crowned Best Picture by the Academy. It also picked up four other Oscars, including Best Screenplay for writer Alan Ball (Six Feet Under, True Blood.) The satire of suburban upper middle class life was first conceived to be seen on a theatre stage, though the concept grew to finally be sold to its distributor DreamWorks Pictures. Executive producer Steven Spielberg wanted to do it without changing a single word and personally recommended Sam Mendes as a director after David Lynch, Mike Nichols, and Terry Gilliam turned down the chance. 

2019 Oscars: Best Adapted Screenplay Nominees

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have announced the nominees for the 91st annual Academy Awards, to be given out during ABC’s televised ceremony on Sunday, February 24. The Oscars will cap off a months-long awards season featuring industry veterans, newcomers, and as always, endless debates about who deserves to go home with the golden statue.

New York Film Academy (NYFA) takes a closer look at this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay:

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an anthology of six Western-themed vignettes, adapted from a variety of sources, including original short stories the Coen brothers had been developing themselves over the past couple decades. One vignette is based on the Jack London story All Gold Canyon while another is adapted from The Gal Who Got Rattled by Stewart Edward White. The Coen brothers previously won in this category for No Country for Old Men, and have won and been nominated for several Academy Awards in their careers, including a win for Best Original Screenplay in 1997 for Fargo.

BlacKkKlansman, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee

BlacKkKlansman tells the true story of Ron Stallworth, an NYPD detective who infiltrated the KKK in the 1970s. Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz adapted Stallworth’s own memoir into a screenplay along with details they gleaned from interviewing him. Director Spike Lee and collaborator Kevin Willmott worked on the script as well before shooting. This is the first Oscar nomination for Watchel, Rabinowitz, and Willmott. Lee has five nominations in total, including one for his Do the Right Thing screenplay, as well as an Honorary Oscar awarded in 2016.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is adapted from the 2008 memoir of the same name by Lee Israel, and chronicles Israel’s time forging letters from dead authors and playwrights, which eventually led to her being sentenced to probation and house arrest. This is the only screenplay credit for Jeff Whitty, who co-wrote Tony-winning Avenue Q. Nicole Holofcener has previously written Lovely & Amazing, Friends With Money, Please Give, and Enough Said. This is the first Oscar nomination for both writers.

If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins

If Beale Street Could Talk was adapted from the 1974 novel by renowned author James Baldwin, a love story set in Harlem. Barry Jenkins wrote and directed the film, following up his 2016 Best Picture winner Moonlight. For Moonlight, Jenkins was nominated by the Academy for Best Directing and Best Adapted Screenplay, and won the latter.

A Star Is Born, Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Will Fetters

A Star is Born is adapted from the original 1937 film of the same name and its two remakes. This is the first Oscar nomination for Will Fetters, who previously wrote Remember Me. It’s the seventh nomination for director and star Bradley Cooper, who has four acting nominations and two Best Picture nods. Eric Roth is a veteran screenwriter with five total nominations for his work—all adaptations—including a win in 1995 for Forrest Gump. Roth’s other credits include The Insider, Munich, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Horse Whisperer, and Ali, among many others.

Check out the New York Film Academy Blog after this year’s ceremony for a full list of the 2019 Oscar winners and losers!

2019 Oscars: The Best Original Screenplay Nominees

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have announced the nominees for the 91st annual Academy Awards, to be given out during ABC’s televised ceremony on Sunday, February 24. The Oscars will cap off a months-long awards season featuring industry veterans, newcomers, and as always, endless debates about who deserves to go home with the golden statue.

New York Film Academy (NYFA) takes a closer look at this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Original Screenplay:

The Favourite, Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara

Deborah Davis started the screenplay for The Favourite in 1998, using actual letters written by the film’s lead characters—Queen Anne, Sarah, and Abigail. It was Davis’ first script; she went to night school to learn how to turn the story into a film. After Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos became attached to the project, Australian screenwriter Tony McNamara (Doctor, Doctor; The Rage in Placid Lake) updated the draft. This is the first Oscar nomination for both writers.

First Reformed, Paul Schrader

Despite having written Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, American Gigolo, The Mosquito Coast, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Affliction, among several others, this is the first Oscar nomination for Hollywood veteran Paul Schrader. Schrader has also directed many films, including First Reformed, a drama concerning a small congregation in upstate New York that includes a much buzzed-about performance by Ethan Hawke.

Green Book, Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, and Peter Farrelly

All three writers are also Oscar-nominated producers of the Best Picture contender. Green Book is one of the first screenplays written by actor Brian Currie, while Nick Vallelonga is a writer, actor, and director whose father, Tony, is played by Viggo Mortensen in the film. Farrelly has co-written several comedies with his brother Bobby, including Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, and Me, Myself & Irene.

Roma, Alfonso Cuarón

Alfonso Cuarón has written several of his directorial efforts, including Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men, and Gravity. Roma is a very personal film for the artist, and he is nominated for Oscars for directing, shooting, and producing the film as well. He’s been nominated by the Academy ten times overall and won twice for Gravity, for Directing and Editing.

Vice, Adam McKay

Adam McKay made his name as a comedy writer, having been head writer for Saturday Night Live before moving on to feature films like Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys. In 2016, he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Big Short, which he also received a nomination in Directing for. This year he is up for three Academy Awards in total for Vice, including Best Directing and Best Picture.

Check out the New York Film Academy Blog after this year’s ceremony for a full list of the 2019 Oscar winners and losers!

How Does ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Fit the Biopic Mold?

Bohemian Rhapsody, the story of rock band Queen and iconic frontman Freddie Mercury, has already won Best Drama at the Golden Globes and is a contender for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It’s also the latest in a long line of biopics about famous 20th century musicians, including Ray, Walk the Line, La Vie en Rose, Get on Up, and Straight Outta Compton.

How does Bohemian Rhapsody fit the mold? Here are some of the most important ingredients to gather into making a successful biopic:

The Roots

Many biopics start with at least a scene from the subject’s childhood, and if they don’t, they usually at least include flashbacks. Bohemian Rhapsody is no different, giving us a look where Mercury is originally from.

The Love Interest

Biopics tend to distill the love life of their subject to one or two key relationships that define and drive the character’s motivations and keep them grounded as their fame and world explode. The focus around Mercury’s relationship with Mary Austin is prominent among the rest of Mercury’s several romantic partnerships, men and women alike. The real-life Austin approved the script but didn’t want to be involved in interviews or in any promotion of the film whatsoever.

The Music

While some biopics avoid playing the hits of their subject due to expensive or inaccessible music rights, many rely on their iconic soundtracks as a huge selling point for the film. Queen’s hits are numerous, catchy, and famous, so of course Bohemian Rhapsody includes as many as it can. Indeed, much of the film is shot as if it were concert footage to mimic what it was like to be at an actual Queen show.

Lookalike Stars

Hollywood has no shortage of talented stars, so often casting a biopic depends heavily on physical looks–to help sell the idea that audiences are watching true events unfold. Rami Malek not only physically transforms into Freddie Mercury, but is a strong talented actor–it’s no surprise he’s nominated for Best Lead Actor at this year’s Academy Awards, especially after winning the Golden GLobe for his performance.

The Title

Most biopics avoid naming themselves after their subject–that would be too on the nose. Instead, most go with a song title from the artist, often one of their bigger hits. This includes Beyond the Sea, Walk the Line, What’s Love Got to Do With It?, Get on Up, Coal Miner’s Daughter, and of course, Bohemian Rhapsody.

So what’s next for the Hollywood biopic? Well for one, later this year in theaters we’ll see an Elton John biopic titled, naturally, Rocketman. In the meantime, we’ll find out soon if Bohemian Rhapsody is not only a hit biopic, but also this year’s Best Picture!

Ten Iconic Films Written by Screenwriting Legend William Goldman 

William Goldman, one of Hollywood’s most influential screenwriters for several decades, passed away early November 16, at the age of 87. 

In addition to writing several famous (and infamous) major motion pictures across a wide variety of genres, Goldman cemented himself as an authority of Hollywood screenwriting when he published Adventures in the Screen Trade in 1983. In the book, Goldman not only shared with readers his mastery of all things writing — story, dialogue, character — but his incisive, honest look at Hollywood’s modern studio system in the 60s and 70s, and what it would eventually evolve into over the next few decades. 

His rounded, honest view of the system that gave him great success was both cynical and appreciative, from the ground level as well as a bird’s eye view from the top, where he laid out and accepted both the good and the bad of the massive and powerful industry that produced an artistic medium he very much loved. 

Here are just some of the films he contributed to the Hollywood canon:

Misery

Director Rob Reiner and producers of the 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Misery, in which a psychotic fan ties her favorite author to her bed and forces him to keep writing, felt like they needed to dial back the horror of the book to make the film more palatable for mainstream audiences. In the novel, the character played by Kathy Bates severs the foot of the author played by James Caan, rendering him unable to escape.

What screenwriter William Goldman came up with as a solution was perfect, and became an iconic Hollywood moment. Rather than sever his foot, Goldman had Bates smash Caan’s ankles with a sledgehammer – less bloody and less gory, but somehow in its specificity, even more brutal to watch. Goldman was proving a valuable lesson in screenwriting: sometimes less is more.

Harper

Goldman had already finished the script to the hardboiled detective movie Harper, starring Paul Newman, but producers needed a scene to play over the opening credits. Goldman quickly came up with a simple, but poignant moment — the disgruntled PI getting ready in the morning, realizing he was out of coffee, and reusing an old filter from the trashcan. In one quick dialogue-less moment, Goldman established the get-it-done character of his protagonist before the opening credits had even finished rolling.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Goldman won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his work on this seminal western that paired together two of Hollywood’s most charismatic and popular leading men — Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The film highlights the genre-bending abilities Goldman seemingly wielded without breaking a sweat, going from comedy to thriller to drama to even musical from scene to scene without ever missing a beat. 

Chaplin

Chaplin was a star-studded biopic in 1992 that portrayed the life and career of silent film megastar Charlie Chaplin, and was one of that year’s most prestigious films, with a talented cast, incredibly high production values, and direction by Richard Attenborough. While it received mixed reviews, it was one of the first major dramatic roles for the young comic actor Robert Downey, Jr., who was nominated for his first Academy Award for his work.

A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far was also directed by Richard Attenborough, and was an epic World War II film with a large-for-its-time budget and loaded cast that featured stars from other Goldman films like James Caan and Robert Redford. In a genre overstuffed with classics, A Bridge Too Far managed to make a name for itself for its wide scope and intense battle sequences, especially since, unlike many of its brethren, it focused on a major historical loss for the Allied Forces.

Marathon Man

Marathon Man, like some of Goldman’s other screenplays, was adapted from a novel he wrote himself. As a book, and later as a film, it attracted the attention of producers and critics alike for its stark violence and themes of Nazi war criminals still existing in society decades after the end of World War II. A major casting coup for the gritty thriller was Sir Laurence Olivier as the antagonist, who earned an Oscar nomination for his efforts.

Maverick

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Marathon Man is Maverick, a big-budget western comedy adapted from the 50s television series of the same name. The film reunites Lethal Weapon’s director Richard Donner and star Mel Gibson (and a cameo from Danny Glover) at the height of their Hollywood powers and proved to be a definitive audience-pleasing popcorn movie in a year full of tough competition. 

The Stepford Wives

The science-fiction horror film The Stepford Wives challenged the norms of gender dynamics between husbands and wives and, when it was released in 1975, received only moderate success. It has however gained a solid cult status over the decades, and was even eventually given a big budget remake starring Nicole Kidman in 2004. The term “Stepford Wife” itself has now become slang for the type of doting, robotic homemaker featured in Goldman’s script.

The Princess Bride

“Anybody want a peanut?” 

That’s just one line out of dozens from the eminently quotable screenplay Goldman wrote for The Princess Bride, itself an adaptation of a novel he wrote with the same name. Ostensibly a comedy, the film also plays with genre, and has firmly rooted itself in the hearts of multiple generations of film and adventure lovers. Can you imagine a world without the line, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”??? 

Of course you can’t… it’s “”inconceivable!!!”

All the President’s Men

Goldman won his second Academy Award for the screenplay adapted from the book All the President’s Men, written by the journalists who uncovered the Watergate scandal. The film, which is still regarded by many as one of the greatest of all time, takes the real-life investigation of newspaper journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they run up directly against a Nixon administration fighting to stay in power. Who would’ve thought its themes and even plot points of cover-ups and political corruption would be more resonant than ever forty years later? 

There are several other fantastic films written by William Goldman in his decades-spanning career, too many to list. Watching them all would not only be a great source of entertainment, but a Master Class in screenwriting from the man himself. 

RIP William Goldman – your contributions to cinema will not be forgotten.

 

Paid Script Coverage Services – The 2 Biggest Benefits and Drawbacks

Script coverage, it’s been said, is one of those things about the film industry that nobody really learns about until they’re actually in the industry. Usually you’re introduced to script coverage at your first gig, or even internship, by way of your boss or higher-up handing you a script (or a PDF these days) and a Word document containing the script coverage template from the lucky person who wrote script coverage before you got there.

So, it’s fair to surmise that most people who write script coverage, or read scripts for a living, probably learned from reading the script coverage of their predecessor at a production company or studio or agency — each of which, by the way, has its own unique way of doing it.

Does the script coverage include a synopsis? How long of a synopsis? A critique section? If so, is it free-form, prose critique, or is it a series of boxes to check off and score, like “Plot,” “Character,” “Conflict,” etc.? Is there an analysis grid? Does it include a logline? Up top, does it indicate the writer’s name? The submission date? Does it indicate who submitted it?

While the templates and methodologies can be as different as the different entities doing the script coverage, one basic purpose is common to all script coverages:

Script coverage saves a producer, agent, or otherwise busy film industry “somebody” from having to read the actual script.

In other words, script coverage is a glorified “book report” of a screenplay or teleplay, designed to provide “the skinny” about a script, in order to save someone higher up from having to read the actual script.

In the past, generally pre-1996 or so, script coverage was an in-house thing only. That is, the only entities doing script coverage were agencies, production companies, studios, and producers. Script coverage was an internal document designed to stay internal, and not necessarily get back to the screenwriter whose script was covered.

But with the rise of the internet, script coverage became available as a tool for screenwriters and filmmakers, who could use to improve their screenplay. For a price.

Script readers were no longer only to be found in agencies and studios and production companies, or working with name talent. They were now taking their trade online, and exchanging their time and critical chops for money.

So now there’s a virtual cottage industry of script coverage companies spanning the internet, ranging from the good to the bad, from the expensive to the cheap, from professional work to hatchet jobs.  

Traditionally, receiving script feedback on one’s own screenplay — feedback of any kind — has never been a super easy endeavor. Prior to paid script coverage services, a screenwriter would generally rely on her writer colleagues, writers group, mentors, or friends and family, to provide her with insight into her work.

But with the rise of the world wide web also came the rise of online meetups and writers groups and screenwriting forums. Now it’s more accessible than ever to find communities and like-minded folks to help you with your screenwriting. And standing shoulder-to-shoulder with all those methods and options, free and otherwise, is the service of paid script coverage.

Full disclosure: I’ve run the script coverage service Screenplay Readers since 1999. But while I’m a huge advocate of paid script feedback for my own writing, and am a huge fan of it because it’s my business, I have to make one thing super clear: I’m an even bigger advocate of getting as much free feedback on your work as possible before paying for any script coverage.

Paid script coverage isn’t for everybody, but here’s my take on the two biggest reasons it can help, and the two biggest reasons why it might not be right for you:

Biggest Benefit #1: It gives your script a “dry run” for the real submission process.

90 times out of 100, or even more frequently, if you’re sending in your script to an agency, producer, or production company, your script isn’t getting read. An immutable fact of the film business since time immemorial has been that everybody wants in. And I mean everybody. And everybody thinks they can write a script.

The result is studio and agency inboxes are crammed with spec scripts from unknown writers. Heck, many are crammed with spec scripts from known writers, both regularly employed and underemployed ones.

There’s just. Too. Many. Screenplays.

But for those lucky few who do get their scripts read, you, the screenwriter, will likely never read the script coverage that script readers writes about your script. So you’ll never know what criticisms that script reader had, and you’ll never have a chance to address them, or an opportunity to make those changes or fixes that could make the difference for a future script reader.

By paying for script coverage from a reputable screenplay coverage company, you get to read the coverage. You get to soak in all the criticism, good and bad, all the details, all the big-picture notes the script reader had, any and all concerns with the script finding an audience, you name it.  

This sort of “dry run” is invaluable, as most screenplays are given only one chance to make a good impression on whoever may be reading it. An assistant or script reader, or even an agent or producer, isn’t going to read your script twice, unless you’re a name writer. And even then, a second read is a longshot. (In most of those cases, you’ll be lucky as a name writer to get even a second “skim.”)

Biggest Benefit #2: A person you don’t know synopsizes your script.

Nearly all script coverage includes a synopsis section, where the person reading the script boils down your story into a page or two, listing just the major beats and developments so that the person reading the script coverage later can get a good idea of what the actual story is.

As writers working alone, or even with a co-writer, we often get too close to our material. We start to see the trees, yes, but the forest can be elusive after staring at the page for two or three years. That is to say, while you’re on the third draft, hard at work on polishing the dialogue, you may have long ago stopped looking at the overarching story — and that story may need drastic attention. A complete stranger reading your screenplay and providing notes in the form a script coverage synopsis can a huge benefit for a writer because having that synopsis, in essence, brings back the “forest” — the “bird’s eye view.”

And the best part of that is that it doesn’t even matter if the script reader gets your synopsis “right.” That is, if they get all the beats of your story down pat, and the synopsis is spot on, you win because you know your material is clear and your story is coming across.

But even if they get it “wrong,” weirdly enough, you still win because you learn which parts of your script aren’t making themselves clear. A “wrong” synopsis beat gives you a chance to zoom in on that beat and make it clear. Better yet: make it idiotproof so that it’s unmissable to all but the most sloppy of readers.

Biggest Drawback #1:  Expense.

There’s a key reason that aspiring screenwriters are the second most common film industry folks stepping off the bus and trying their hand at the grand ole Hollywood film industry. That key reason? Screenwriting is cheap — that is, the bars to entry, the expenses associated with giving it a try: they’re low. All you need is a laptop, some free screenwriting software, and some imagination. Don’t get me wrong: Talent is still vital, and skills take time and money and resources to hone, but the bare bones bar to entry for simply giving it a try is low.

Now compare that bar to entry for aspiring cinematographers and directors, where you kinda need to have a not-small pile of expensive gear, or a film or two under your belt. Because screenwriting is such a relatively inexpensive craft to try your hand at, it stands to reason that there are vastly more low-income aspiring screenwriters than there are middle/upper-income aspiring screenwriters.

So that means, for the majority of aspiring screenwriters, paying a script coverage company for feedback may be out of the question. Plus, many aspiring screenwriters decide that it really makes no sense to pay for coverage if they’re just a few clicks away from an online writers group or a writers meetup that can provide feedback and help them grow as artists in many other ways — not the least of which is in social connections which may pay off later.

Biggest Drawback #2: Anonymous readers.

Script coverage companies, by and large, work with mysterious readers who you know nothing about, and the company’s not telling you. My company and a few others break this rule, posting names and bios and pics of our team on our site. But by and large, if you’re paying for script coverage, you’re likely going to have your script read by a reader you know nothing about, and whose qualifications are a mystery.

On the one hand, not knowing who your reader is can cast some doubt on the integrity of your notes, sure. But on the other, it might not actually be all that bad; Consider that if you ever send your script into a studio or agency, you’ll probably never know the identity or qualifications of anybody reading your script at those places, either. Still, when receiving feedback on your screenplay, knowing who’s doing it, what their background is, and what their qualifications are can count for a lot.

So what does it all mean? Well, I can only tell you what it means for me. For me, it’s awesome to get super-focused, super-detailed feedback on my work, as screenwriters can only grow — in my opinion — with copious feedback. But paying for script coverage isn’t for every screenwriter, especially those who just don’t have the resources.

I believe in what we do at my script coverage company, and I believe in the quality of the script feedback we’re providing our customers, absolutely. But I also believe in the importance of networking, and writers groups, and collaborating with other writers on other projects. Without those things, without those people, I wouldn’t be half as a good a screenwriter as I am now.

Guest Post Written by Brian O’Malley of Screenplay Readers

4 Ways Screenwriting Workshops Hone Your Craft

While discussing her experience at New York Film Academy, NYFA LA screenwriting student Janet Odogwu Butters stated, “When I first came out here, I thought I was going to learn how to write, but NYFA taught me how to be a storyteller.” Every film, be it fiction or nonfiction, documentary or action, begins with a script. Creating a feature film is certainly a collaborative effort but the script provides the bedrock on which every feature film is built. The contributions of actors, cinematographers, and even special effect technicians all depend on the story line that the script creates. Which is why aspiring screenwriters can benefit from taking screenwriting workshops to help them hone the craft needed to write a cinematic script.

Here are 4 ways screenwriting workshops can help you hone your craft.

1. Full immersion.

With a screenwriting workshop, you will be fully immersed into the screenwriting experience. The workshop will focus on your own screenplay, as well as the works of other students in your class. Your workshop will be spent writing, thinking about, critiquing, fine-tuning, and learning about screenplays. With so much focused attention, you’re sure to come away with new insights and skills.

New York Film Academy offers screenwriting workshops of different lengths to accommodate all schedules, such as two-days, eight-week, 12-week, and more. Whatever the duration of your workshop, you’ll receive focused, hands-on, immersive instruction from working industry professionals. NYFA even offers online workshops for those with the most packed of schedules.

2. Hands-on feedback.

Screenwriting workshops will not only teach you how to create a great script, they will apply that knowledge to the script you are working on. These workshops will convert theory into practice. Each students will receive specific feedback  on their work that will aid them in crafting the best script possible. The workshops are taught by exceptional staff, such as Paul Brown (“X Files” and “Twilight Zone), whose 2-Day Weekend Workshop is attended by writer, directors, and producers, and actors.

3. They force you to write.

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Writer’s block can be the bane of any screenwriter. While there are techniques to break that block, most writers know the best way is to just start writing – whether the content is good or not. Workshops can force you to take that first step, with their rigorous curriculums and strict deadlines. What you write may not be your best (you may even want to delete it and start all over), but the workshops begin the process for revision and show you how you can pull something out of anything you write.

4. They cover multiple topics.

The workshops will not just focus an aspect of your script that you think needs improvement. They will cover multiple topics so that you can learn new techniques while improving your own script. Topics they will cover include character arcs, dialogue, conflict, flashbacks, genre, voice over, subtext, and dramaturgy. The online workshops go even further, offering workshops with specific themes, like Screenplay Rewrite Workshop, Television Pilot Workshop, and Writing for Comic Books Workshop.

Whether you are a new screenwriter just starting out, or a professional looking for feedback on a project, the workshops in the Screenwriting School are an invaluable resource. The Screenwriting School at New York Film Academy offers a plethora of classes, such as Genre Studies, Business of Screenwriting, and Revision Class. While taking classes is vital to your education as a screenwriter, there are other ways to improve your skills. The school’s screenwriting workshops offer a unique experience for screenwriters and will further your skills beyond the classroom. Visit the New York Film Academy Screenwriting School page and find one that works best for you. That’s the easy part. Next comes the part where you sit and finally write down that brilliant idea.

Ready to see how a workshop can take your writing to the next level? Check out our screenwriting workshops at New York Film Academy!

The Biggest Writers Guild of America Award Winners

February is an exciting time to be a fan of film and television. The BAFTAs arrive early in the month to honor the top British and international contributions to the industry. At the end of the month we of course have arguably the biggest film celebration of them all — the Academy Awards.

But right in between those two red carpet events, we get to recognize the best writing achievements of the past year. Below are some of the most notable winners from the 69th Writers Guild of America Awards, which took place Sunday Feb. 19, 2017.

“Moonlight” Takes Home Best Original Screenplay

The award for best original screenplay has always served as one of the top honors of the awards show, and this year it went to “Moonlight.” This coming-of-age story by an independent team has been racking up an impressive collection of trophies and is nominated for eight awards at the Oscars next week.

Winning this award meant defeating many other films that have been earning their own trove of awards this season, including big favorite “La La Land” as well as “Loving,” “Manchester by the Sea,” and “Hell or High Water.”

“Arrival” Bounces Back from Golden Globes

Fans of the sci-fi movie were no doubt bummed by the results at the Golden Globes. “Arrival” was nominated for best performance by an actress (Amy Adams) along with best original score, but won neither. But at the WGAs, “Arrival” earned one of the biggest awards of the night: best adapted screenplay.

Things could get even better, as “Arrival” enters the Academy Awards with eight different nominations. Among those categories include best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay, and best cinematography.

The Best in Interactive Storytelling

No one can deny the growth and influence of video games in the last few decades. As computer technology advances at a quick pace, so too does the ability for games to absorb us into virtual worlds. Now, video games are considered one of the best forms of storytelling since only they can offer choices, nonlinear narratives, and more.

The big winner at the WGAs was Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, an action-adventure game that follows a treasure hunter named Nathan Drake around the world. To many of us this win is no surprise, considering Naughty Dog’s reputation for providing some of the best story-driven games of all time. Other nominees were MR. ROBOT 1.51exfiltratiOn, Far Cry Primal, and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

FX Goes Home Happy

The 21st Century Fox channel has once again proven itself one of the best producers of excellent TV shows. Three of their latest series left the WGAs with some of the best awards the night has to offer.

While “The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” took home the adapted long form award, “Atlanta” won both best new series and best new comedy. “The Americans” also beat strong contenders like “Game of Thrones,” “Stranger Things,” “Better Call Saul,” and “Westworld” to win best drama series.

What did you think of this year’s WGA winners? Let us know in the comments below! Interested in screenwriting? Learn more about the craft at NYFA’s Screenwriting School.

5 Brilliant Screenplays That Were Rejected … Repeatedly

In an industry dominated with rejection, sometimes a single “yes” is all it takes to change the face of cinema forever. Here are five truly groundbreaking movies that, for some studios, were a little too groundbreaking…

1. “Pulp Fiction” (1994)

Despite being a quickly rising star in Hollywood at the time, Quentin Tarrantino had a lengthy battle in trying to get any studio interested in his follow up to “Reservoir Dogs.”

Why “Pulp Fiction” was Rejected: According to Columbia TriStar executive Mike Medavoy, the script was “too demented.” TriStar initially optioned the film and was even in talks to produce it, but then did a 180 by declaring, “This is the worst thing ever written. It makes no sense. Someone’s dead and then they’re alive. It’s too long, violent, and unfilmable.”

Very few studios were willing to touch a movie featuring heavy heroin use, and the search for a new backer was extensive before Miramax picked it up.

2. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)

Initially dubbed “The Adventures of Indiana Smith,” even the attachment of industry superstars George Lucas and Steven Spielberg wasn’t enough to garner significant studio interest.

Why Indiana Jones was Rejected: It wasn’t actually Lucas’ screenplay that lead to it being rejected by every single studio in Hollywood, but more the fact that he was asking $20 million to make it. Paramount ended up footing the bill and Lucas shrewdly negotiated a five-film contract; it ended up grossing nearly $400 million at gross and is frequently heralded as the best action-adventure movie of all time.

3. “Back to the Future” (1985)

Another ‘80s classic that nearly got passed up entirely (incidentally, “Back to the Future” ended up sharing the same budget and box office gross as “Raiders of the Lost Ark”).

Why “Back to the Future” was Rejected: It was either too family-friendly or not family-friendly enough, depending on who you asked. Pretty much every major studio rejected the screenplay, with Disney advising that a film alluding to mother-son incest was not “appropriate under the Disney banner,” while Columbia thought it was a “really nice, cute, warm film, but not sexual enough.”

The great Steven Spielberg always loved the script, however, and committed it to Amblin Entertainment as soon as he was able. The rest, as they say, is history — but it nearly got titled “Spaceman from Pluto.”

Naturally, Spielberg replied to the memo and told Sid Sheinberg that he had to be joking. The suggestion was never mentioned again.

4. “The Usual Suspects” (1995)

Now listed by the Writer’s Guild of America as the 35th greatest screenplay of all time, the ultimate mystery crime thriller nearly became as elusive as Keyser Söze.

Why “The Usual Suspects” was Rejected: Much like “Pulp Fiction,” the non-linear plotline of this screenplay completely baffled studios. After numerous rejections (and nine different drafts), the only company who would touch it was a European financing company. Somewhat surprisingly, director Bryan Singer managed to make the movie a masterpiece despite only having a $6 million budget.

5. “Casablanca” (1943)

The curious case of “Casablanca”: a screenplay rejected by numerous agencies 30 years after it had already become one of the world’s finest movies.

Why “Casablanca” was Rejected: It wasn’t rejected the first time around. But in 1982, freelance writer Chuck Ross wanted to see whether movie agents would recognize the screenplay if he sent it out again … and if not, would they recognize its greatness?

It was a clever experiment. Ross retitled the script “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” (the title of the original play on which “Casablanca” was based) and sent it out to 217 different Hollywood agencies.

The results?

  • 90 returned the screenplay because they weren’t looking for submissions.
  • 33 agents recognized the script immediately.
  • 8 spotted a similarity with the 1943 classic, but didn’t spot that it was exactly the same.

However, 38 of the 217 read and rejected the classic script. Among the feedback Ross received, agents claimed there was “too much dialogue” and that the storyline was “too weak.” One even suggested it needed “a professional polish.”

But funnier still is that three agencies loved it and wanted to turn it into a movie.

It just goes to show: even the best screenplays on the planet get rejected. All it takes is just one “yes.”

Do you have an interesting experience of taking a project through many rejections to find success? Let us know in the comments below!

So What Exactly Is A Logline (And Why Do I Need One?)

The definition of a logline: one line (or two at the most) which describes what your screenplay is about.

Job done. Simple, right?

Well, not really. As you’ve no doubt already noticed, this post extends onwards and that’s because a logline is a surprisingly tricky thing to master…

… as well as being something you should ignore at your peril!

Today we’ll be looking at how to get the best out of your logline, and why it should be a high priority.

Loglines: The What

So we’ve already covered the basic definition in that a logline should describe the story, but a great logline should go a little further for that. Consider the following examples, and decide for yourself which one is best in each case:

Terminator

Example 1: A cyborg from the future hunts down a woman destined to later become the mother of humankind’s savior.

Example 2: A woman must fight for her life against an unstoppable cyborg assassin, sent back from the future with one mission: to kill her and prevent a future human uprising.

Jurassic Park

Example 1: A group of survivors struggle to escape from a revolutionary wildlife park filled with dinosaurs after a bribed employee sabotages the predators’ security gates.

Example 2: A rich philanthropist leads a team of scientists to populate a wildlife park with living dinosaur clones.

The Wizard of Oz

Example 1: A young girl finds herself transported to a surreal land far way from home. Desperately seeking the one man that can help her return, an evil witch shadows her every move…

Example 2: Dorothy is whisked away by a tornado to the Land of Oz, where she meets a group of friends each searching for something unique.

While all of the above examples could use some tightening up, some are definitely more effective than others and we’ll unpack each one as we discuss the conventions of writing a logline.

Loglines: The How

A logline should convey what happens in the story. That much is a given, and all six of the above loglines definitely do that. But a good logline should include all the same elements and structure that make up a fine screenplay:

– A set of circumstances
– A protagonist with a clear goal
– An opposing antagonist
– A point of conflict between the two parties

The screenplay itself, of course, will have resolution but that isn’t necessary in the logline (as its absence results in enticement!)

So, for example: “A recently widowed wife finds herself in a bitter legal dispute with her late husband’s psychotic and overbearing mother.”

That hits all of the above criteria for an effective logline. So which of the earlier examples fail?

Terminator: In this case example 1 is the weaker of the two. It opens with the antagonist, and while his goal is laid out and the scenario set, we don’t know much about the protagonist except for the circumstance she’s in. Example 2 is far stronger, follows convention, and has a greater sence of urgency.

Jurassic Park: You probably guessed this one. Example 2 is the weaker logline; no conflict, just a setting.

Wizard of Oz: The lines are a little more blurry here–both hit all the criteria (save for the lack of an antagonist in example 2), but the first doesn’t waste words on superfluous detail. It’s extremely uncommon to give characters names in the logline and nor is it necessary to explain that she’s in Oz or how she got there; example 1 focuses squarely on the key players and their motivations, and is better for it.

Hopefully that has helped differentiate between what constitutes a strong and a weak logline, but here are a few more tips that’ll help you nail it:

– The golden rule: When we say don’t go more than two sentences with your logline, we really mean it.

– Remember that you’re trying to sell the screenplay itself, not the story therein. You’ll fail if you try to do justice to the latter in two sentences, but it’s entirely possible to make the script itself enticing in the same space.

– Read it out loud to someone. Their reaction will be very telling, and very valuable.

– The logline can actually be helpful to you, too. If you ever get stuck with the production or find yourself losing your original vision, read it back to yourself. That’s the very essence of your film, right there, and should shine through in every scene of the movie and on every page of the script.

Loglines: The Why

If you can’t sell your screenplay in one line, you’re not going to sell your movie to either investors or a paying audience. It really is that simple.

The importance of a killer logline cannot be understated—if you think of it in terms of a job interview and leaving a good first impression, a strong logline is like walking into the room with a Ted Baker suit and greeting the interviewer with a well-manicured hand. A weak logline is slouching into the room with your sweatpants on.

Come at it with laser-like focus, and your logline will be more that worth the time and effort you put into it in the long run. Best of luck!

Learn more about the School of Screenwriting at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

8 Essential Book-To-Screen Adaptations Every Screenwriter Should Watch

When in screenwriting school, you’ll likely at some point discuss the process of adapting fiction for the screen, which we’ve talked about at length in this space. This time, we’re going to look at some of cinema’s best examples of big screen fiction adaptations.

There are, of course, more incredible book-to-screen adaptations than we could possible hope to list here, so for the sake of brevity we’ve excluded the blockbuster franchises we all know and love—namely, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. We’ve also excluded adaptations from the works of Philip K. Dick and Steven King, which could fill lists all on their own!

So, without further ado…

8 Essential Book-To-Screen Adaptations Every Screenwriter Should Watch

No Country For Old Men (2007)

Book: Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name (2005)
RT Film Score: 86%

One of two entries on this list based on a Cormac McCarthy novel (See The Road) and the first of two hat-tips to The Coen Brothers (True Grit), No Country For Old Men is a powerhouse in terms of both the performances therein and the moody, grim vibe spun carefully throughout. A modern day Western par excellence.

Life of Pi (2012)

Book: Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (2001)
RT Film Score: 87%

After languishing for a decade in development hell, Ang Lee finally did justice to the superb Booker Prize-winning book of the same name (and we can’t imagine anyone else who could have done quite the same job.) If you get the opportunity to watch it in 3D, do so. As well as being a great example of a book—not least one that was widely considered ‘unfilmable’—but it’s also a better example of the third dimension used to great effect.

The 39 Steps (1935)

Book: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)
RT Film Score: 98%

While only loosely based on the source material, The 39 Steps is not only one of the finest thrillers ever made but also helped cement a lot of ‘Hitchcockian’ elements which would come to define the director’s career and put him on the world stage. Numerous further adaptations have followed over the decades, including a hit Broadway play.

Matilda (1996)

Book: Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)
RT Film Score: 90%

There are a number of Roald Dahl adaptations we could have included here (the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for one) but Matilda was the surprising hit that is worthy of a special mention. For everyone wondering what happened to the adorable child star Mara Wilson (who also did an amazing job in Mrs. Doubtfire and Miracle on 34th Street), she quit acting shortly after Matilda and is now focusing on writing fiction herself…and thus, the circle is closed.

Forrest Gump (1994)

Book: Winston Groom’s Forrest Gump (1986)
RT Film Score: 72%

So great was the success of the Forrest Gump movie that it has almost eclipsed the fact that its origins lay in literature. Forrest Gump is a uniquely charming cinematic gem and one of the best movies of the 1990s. To say this endures as one of Tom Hanks’ finest performance in a filmography as impressive as his is a high accolade indeed.

The Road (2009)

Book: The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
RT Film Score: 75%

In amongst a slew of post-apocolyptic movies released around the same time, The Road snuck in on limited release but ended up becoming an essential watch. Stripping back the usual high-budget flair of the genre, this Cormac McCarthy adaptation concerns itself solely with how the unspecified ‘event’ has ravaged the emotions of the two protagonists. The result is a very grim and highly charged movie, which doesn’t pull its punches.

True Grit (1969 & 2010)

Book: True Grit by Charles Portis (1968)
RT Film Score: Original 90%, Remake 96%

A superb book that went on to produce not just one, but two excellent slices of Western cinema. Both the original (which earned John Wayne his only Academy Award) and the 2010 Coen Brothers’ remake featuring a great performance by Jeff Bridges are well worth watching, regardless of whether or not you think you like Westerns.

Babe (1995)

Book: Dick King-Smith’s The Sheep-Pig (1985)
RT Film Score: 97%

A cutesy family movie with talking animals and an oversaturated color palette? On paper, it should have been absolutely atrocious, but thanks to its pitch-perfect handling and the amount of heart poured into it from every department working on that movie, it ended up being an unadulterated delight…

… the sequel, not so much.

Got any personal favorite book-to-screen adaptations that we haven’t mentioned here? There’s certainly many more that we could have covered here—drop your suggestion down in the comments below!

 

Top Emerging Screenwriters Of 2015

Even some of the most talented screenwriters making great strides in the industry get very little credit or recognition for their work—in fact, notoriously so.

Today, let’s buck that trend by paying homage to some of the hottest new talent to ever emerge from screenwriting school and who look set for great things in 2015 and beyond.

Top New Emerging Screenwriters: 2015 Edition

1. Justin Simien

After a series of highly-acclaimed shorts between 2006 and 2009, Simien put out a conceptual trailer for a movie back in 2012, hoping to raise enough money to turn it into a feature via crowdfunding.The campaign was a phenomenal success, with Simien nearly doubling his target asking amount.

That trailer went on to become Dear White People, a breakout hit that not only grossed $344,000 despite being screened in only 11 theatres (on hell of an achievement) but also won the Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at last year’s Sundance.

With the movie sitting at 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, we’re all eagerly awaiting Justin Simien’s next career move.

2. Lucinda Coxon

Lucinda Coxon is fairly new to writing for the big screen, but by no means is she a novice writer.

Having enjoyed award-winning success as a playwright for over two decades—predominantly between England and Scotland — her prolific work in theatre eventually saw her cross over to film with 2003’s The Heart of Me. With a long stretch of time lying between the period drama and her other forays into feature film writing, it looks like 2015 is going to be her year; this November will see the release of The Danish Girl, an adaptation of the fantastic novel of the same name by David Ebershoff.

3. Tess Morris

Another British luminary whose success has been written in the stars for quite some time.

Way back in the late 90s, Morris won a prestigious short film challenge for her original screenplay and went on to work as a script editor and writer on two high-profile TV series (Hollyoaks and My Family). Jumping back over to the big screen in 2011, her romcom screenplay Man Up garnered significant interest and was eventually released this year with Simon Pegg and Lake Bell in the leading roles.

Given the success of her first feature and the background from which she comes, it’s little wonder that we’re all looking forward to seeing Morris’ next screenplay.

4. Oren Uziel

Uziel formed one third of the screenwriting team behind 2014’s 22 Jump Street, and as his debut work, it’s fair to say that he came out of the gate running.

22 was far funnier and far more tightly written than any sequel based on a movie based on a TV show should be, and it’s for this reason alone that Uziel is worthy of putting on the ‘one to watch’ list. If he can work this kind of magic and collaborate this well on a franchise title, it’ll be fascinating to see his work on original intellectual properties. We won’t have to wait long—his first solo feature, Kitchen Sink, will be out in September…

… and that’s only one of many upcoming, high-profile Uziel projects in the works, including a rumored Men In Black 4. Expect huge things.

5. Dan Sterling

Dan Sterling has long been a powerhouse comedy writer, having contributed to such national TV hits as The Sarah Silverman Program, The Office, King of the Hill, and The Daily Show.

After proving his chops as both a comedic writer and producer over the course of the last two decades, it was of little surprise that Sony Pictures entrusted him to write what was to become one of the most controversial comedy features in recent memory—The Interview.

How he’ll top that is anyone’s guess, but we’re definitely keen to find out.

Diversity Programs, Initiatives & Incentives For Screenwriters

At the time of writing, Cannes 2015 is underway and it was touted by the organizers themselves as a festival that would look to redress the imbalance between the genders. As if to reinforce this promise, the official festival poster prominently features Ingrid Bergman.

Even so, Cannes has generated much inequality-related controversy so far on two counts. Firstly, there was the outrage caused by festival staff turning away any females not wearing high heels (even those with disabilities). Secondly, out of the 19 contestants shooting for the Palme D’Or this year, only two directors are women.

We’ve already discussed the woeful state of affairs regarding marginalization within the film industry, and this recent example points to the fact that positive change is slow…

…But it is coming.

While we continue to both celebrate and promote diversity in our own screenwriting school and across other programs, there are a growing number of diversity initiatives that are well worth checking out.

What Is a Diversity Program?

Much like tax incentives — in which an entity (usually a state government) offers tax relief in order to attract movie production to an area — diversity incentives offer additional benefits to those who strive to keep a balanced team in terms of gender, race, and sexuality.

In fact, some states are even making this mandatory. As such, it’s in a production company’s best interests to make sure they promote diversity, and that in turn benefits the wider community.

Below you’ll find a list of some of the main—and most enticing—diversity programs and incentives which exist for both screenwriters looking to break into the industry and producers looking to improve their own practices.

Film & TV Diversity Incentives and Programs

CBS Diversity Institute – CBS has a number of great diversity programs for screenwriters and others working both behind and in front of the camera (as well as a very good blog which explores the topic of diversity within the industry as a whole).

WriteGirl – A truly fantastic outfit that has successfully paired hundreds of high school girls—usually from underprivileged communities in LA—with female writers who have already made it in the business and are offering mentorship in writing.

HBOAccess Writing Fellowship – While HBO’s new program has closed its doors for this year, it’s certainly one to watch—in the most recent intake, eight semi-professional screenwriters were invited to a series of master classes at HBO’s Santa Monica HQ, before being paired with an executive developer for an eight month mentoring session (as well as an industry meet-and-greet held in their honor at the end). Keep an eye out for next year.

NHMC Television Writers Program – A long-running workshop group that is catered towards Latinos looking to break into professional scriptwriting, this program addresses the fact that only 2.8% of staff writers on televisions shows are Latino.

Alliance for Women in Media – Based in Washington D.C., the AWM is a nonprofit organization run by both men and women to advance the influence of women in numerous forms of media. Part of that includes a number of scholarships and fellowships, including the longstanding Gracie Awards Fellowship.

Diversity in Casting – One for producers. As the most well-known (and possibly oldest) diversity program still active for actors, the Screen Actors Guild allows producers of low-budget productions to take advantage of contractual benefits in conjunction with the guild as long as certain conditions are met.

Illinois Film Tax Credit – Another one for producers to look into. As mentioned above, some states are making diversity conditions mandatory in order to qualify for tax breaks. Illinois is one such state, and as long as you can track and prove you’ve “made good faith efforts” to achieve a racially diverse film crew, the benefits are quite substantial.

Sony Diversity Fellowship – One for directors. Introduced last year, Sony Pictures Television began their own program entitled the Diverse Directors Program. While details for this year are yet to be announced, qualifying candidates last year were invited to shadow high-level TV directors as they produced numerous acclaimed series.

Know of any more that we should be including on this list? You know what to do—drop a comment below, and let’s support those who make the entertainment industry a more fair and balanced place to work.

5 Films That Play Out The Monomyth

A lot of people think that there are only a handful of stories out there to tell, and every script falls under one of those plots. One of those stories could be the hero’s journey, or the monomyth, a concept developed by writer Joseph Campbell in his work The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Borrowing the term from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, Campbell describes the monomyth as a recurring pattern shared by multiple famous works from different times and cultures. Needless to say, it is a concept with which any student enrolled in screenwriting school would be intimately familiar.

This pattern focuses on a single protagonist following a distinct arc, with many of the same beats on that arc. Figures that follow this epic journey include Moses, Jesus Christ and the Buddha. But it’s not just classic stories that use the monomyth—it can be found throughout modern pop-culture, and is the foundation for many of the superhero and Young Adult themed franchises dominating Hollywood right now.

Here, then, are just five famous examples of the omnipresent monomyth:

1. The Matrix

The first step in the hero’s journey is the call to action, where a seemingly normal person in a normal, mundane life is brought into the larger, more fantastical world. In this case, cubicle drone Thomas Anderson follows the white rabbit and ends up discovering the Matrix and the Real World. He gains amazing powers and saves both worlds as Neo.

2. Men in Black

Following the same path as Neo is NYPD Officer James Edwards, who finds out that aliens live among us when he joins the MiB as Agent J. A crucial component of the monomyth is supernatural aid in the form of a mentor or guide. Neo had Morpheus and Agent J had Agent K.

Will Smith’s lead character must enter the Belly of the Whale, the monomyth step where the hero separates fully from the normal world, never able to return. Edwards does this when his identity and even his fingerprints are erased, permanently becoming Agent J.

3. The Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen is a recent example of the monomyth, a normal girl from humble roots who enters the strange world of the Capital and the Arena and uses her superior skills at archery, hunting, and problem solving to take down tough competition and an entire evil empire. While doing so, she must follow the Road of Trials, the first step of the monomythic second major arc, Initiation. This includes winning over sponsors and allies while impressing the Gamemakers during training, and then competing in the Hunger Games itself.

4. The Lion King

While science fiction and fantasy often use the monomyth, it doesn’t mean it can’t be found in genres. One famous example is The Lion King, itself an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. After Simba is cast out into the strange jungle world outside of his pride, he makes peace with his new life and surroundings, enjoying the good life with his two mentors, Timon and Pumbaa. This stage is called the Apotheosis, a period of recharging before the hero’s return arc, often after he or she has even died. In this case, Simba didn’t physically die, but his ties to his Pride have. This step follows Atonement with the Father, which Simba does much more literally while speaking with the ghost of his dad, Mustafa.

5. Star Wars

Not necessarily the entire trilogy (or hexalogy, or soon-to-be ennealogy) but specifically episode IV, A New Hope, is a classic example of the monomyth. In the span of the first film, Luke Skywalker goes from an innocent farmer on a backwater planet to a wielder of the Force and the hero of the empire. He becomes the Master of Two Worlds, the penultimate step of the monomyth, when he joins his material piloting skills with his spiritual Jedi abilities to make a one-in-a-million shot to destroy the Death Star and save the day. This also becomes Luke’s Freedom to Live, the final step. Luke would have more training and would confront his father in the future, but when describing the monomyth, Joseph Campbell wasn’t thinking of the era of never-ending sequels and spin-offs. Nobody’s perfect.

7 Essential TED Talks on Storytelling

Since the dawn of time, humanity and storytelling have gone hand in hand. The only thing that has changed over the millenia is the way in which we tell our stories.

Arguably, nearly all forms of media—from photography to music, cinematography to traditional art and everything in between—is all about conveying a story to an audience. But despite countless centuries of collective experience in storytelling, we’re still figuring out the best ways of going about it.

As is taught in screenwriting school 101, story is key. Here are 10 essential TED Talks on storytelling that will help you figure out how best to tell yours.

J.J. Abrams – The Mystery Box

Abrams is heralded as the master of not just sci-fi, but also knows how to keep viewers intrigued in a story right the way up to the pay-off. The art of injecting the right amount of mystery into a screenplay is a tricky one to master, but Abrams’ TED talk—intriguing in and of itself—will put you on the right track.

Tyler Cohen – Be Suspicious of Stories

Rather than cover the best practices of storytelling, Cohen takes a critical eye to the craft and reveals some of the pitfalls—many of them related to subjectivity—that screenwriters come up against.

Nancy Duarte – Uncovering the Structure of the Greatest Communicators

Nancy Duarte, a graphic designer and writer, came across an intriguing observation: some of the world’s greatest orators all used very similar patterns in their speeches. In unpacking the structure of some of the most well-known speeches and presentations, there’s a lot screenwriters can learn from Duarte’s TED talk in terms of making an emotional connection with their audience.

Elif Shafak – The Politics of Fiction

Fiction is a powerful thing. It has the ability to transcend the limits of its own created world and have a tangible effect on the real one we live in; here, novelist Elif Shafak explores this concept and shares examples of how fiction can help bring us together from across cultural and/or political divides.

Scott McCloud – The Visual Magic of Comics

Comics and screenplays—or, more specifically, the creation thereof—share a lot of parallels. Scott McCloud is widely considered to be the grandfather of comic theory, and the deeply insightful advice on storytelling that he delivers throughout his inspirational TED Talk is of use to both screenwriters and comic book creators alike.

Isabel Allende – Tales of Passion

Isabel Allende is famed for her compelling work as a novelist, but is also becoming equally well-known as an activist. In this essential TED Talk on storytelling, Allende discusses creativity and the art of exploring feminist issues through stories, and is equally as funny as it is moving.

Andrew Stanton – Clues to a Great Story

By all measures, Andrew Stanton is an incredible storyteller, having created some of the most enduring Pixar tales to date (including Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Wall-E). His talk is a candid invitation into his creative process, with much of the theory being readily usable in your own screenwriting.

Got a favorite from the above list, or know of any other must-watch TED Talks on storytelling that every screenwriter should check out? Head on down to the comments below and let’s get the discussion flowing.

2015 Oscars: A Look at the Nominees for Best Original Screenplay

From birds to boys to everything in between, the Best Original Screenplay nominees for this year’s 87th Academy Awards are a diverse, intriguing mix. Most of the writers up for the Oscar have competed for the award before, so it’s anyone’s game. Here is a look at some other works by the Best Original Screenplay nominees and what led them to their Oscar-nominated screenplays, essential reading for any screenwriting student or aspiring screenwriter.

Birdman – Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo

While this is the first Oscar nomination for the other writers of Birdman, writer/director Alejandro G. Iñárritu was previously nominated for Best Writing and Best Directing for his 2006 film Babel and is up for Best Directing and Best Picture this year.

He has also scripted his upcoming film The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. AGI has also written his film Biutiful with Birdman co-writers Nicolás Giacobone and Armando Bo and all four nominees are currently scripting the upcoming Ed Helms television series The One Percent for Starz.

Boyhood – Richard Linklater

This is Richard Linklater’s fifth Oscar nomination, counting his nods for Directing and Best Picture for his 12 years in the making masterpiece, Boyhood. He was previously nominated for Before Midnight and Before Sunset, which were in the Adapted Screenplay category as they are based on Linklater’s original screenplay, Before Sunrise.

He’s also written most of his own films, including Slacker, Dazed and Confused, The Newton Boys, Waking Life, Fast Food Nation, A Scanner Darkly, Bernie and his upcoming effort, That’s What I’m Talking About.

Foxcatcher – E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman

This is Frye’s first nomination and Futterman’s second—he previously got the nod for his work on Capote.

Frye is a veteran screenwriter, having scripted films since the 1980s. His credits include Something Wild, Amos & Andrew and an episode of HBO’s Band of Brothers. He was also script consultant on Lars Von Trier’s experimental film Dogville.

In addition to Capote, Dan Futterman has written for the television shows In Treatment and Gracepoint.

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness

While this is Hugo Guinness’s first Oscar nomination, Wes Anderson has received five others, including his nods this year for Directing and Best Picture. His other nominations include two other Original Screenplay nods for The Royal Tenebaums and Moonrise Kingdom and a Best Animated Feature for The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Anderson’s other screenwriting credits are exclusively for his own directed films, including Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, and again for The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Hugo Guinness’s story credit for The Grand Budapest Hotel is his only writing credit to date, but he also did art and voice acting for The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy

This is Dan Gilroy’s first screenwriting credit, though he has been writing for Hollywood since the early 90s. His brother is successful screenwriter and director Tony Gilroy. Some of Dan Gilroy’s credits include Freejack, Chasers, Two for the Money, The Fall, Real Steel, and The Bourne Legacy.

Check out our other pages for a look at the careers of this year’s Best Documentary Feature nominees and Best Cinematography nominees.

 

10 Great Websites To Download Movie Scripts

If you want to write movie screenplays, you need to read movie screenplays – it’s just as essential as batting practice for professional baseball players. Reading in general is important, whether it’s novels, comics, or the backs of cereal boxes—even if you’re not paying attention, your brain is remembering hundreds if not thousands of subtle connections between language and storytelling.

Reading screenplays provides an added benefit—allowing you and your brain to see proper formatting in action. It’s also vital for aspiring screenwriters to see the difference between how scenes play out on the page and how they play out on the screen. Finally, while proper screenwriting adheres to a very rigid format, it’s extremely useful to see how various writers work within those rules and even use them to their advantage. Even if you know exactly what you’re seeing, your brain is actively learning and your subconscious is absorbing more and stronger information with every script you read.

By reading screenplay after screenplay, you will get a sense of how you can write your own.

Here, then, are ten websites that allow you to download professional movie scripts. Start clicking and start reading today—if not for your own sake, at least do it for your brain’s.

1. IMSDB – Internet Movie Screenplay Database

http://www.imsdb.com/

IMDB has proven a valuable resource for researching movie crews, casts, and trivia. IMSDB is just as useful for those looking for screenplays of all kinds and genres.

2. Go Into the Story

http://gointothestory.blcklst.com/free-script-downloads/

Go Into the Story is the official blog for The Blacklist, the screenwriting community famous for its annual top ten list of unproduced scripts. One useful feature of Go Into the Story is its bank of downloadable movie scripts.

3. Drew’s Script-o-Rama

http://www.script-o-rama.com/snazzy/table.html

The titular Drew has been sharing scripts with curious readers and writers for almost two decades now, and has a vast library from which to choose from. A great benefit of Script-O-Rama is that it holds several drafts of certain movies, an invaluable resource for those who want to see how a Hollywood film evolves in the writing process.

4. Simply Scripts

http://www.simplyscripts.com/movie.html

Simply Scripts has a wide, diverse library that also includes plays and non-English screenplays. It’s also constantly updated, providing scripts to current movies such as Interstellar and Foxcatcher.

5. AwesomeFilm

http://www.awesomefilm.com/

AwesomeFilm is another resource with dozens of scripts you can download with a single click, alphabetized for easy searching. If you’re looking for a screenplay to read, this site is, well, awesome.

6. Screenplays For You

http://sfy.ru/

Screenplays For You is a clean, smooth website with hundreds of scripts. You’re more than likely to find something from the genre you need—its library boasts everything from low-key award-winning dramas like Sideways to action blockbusters like Avatar.

7. The Daily Script

http://www.dailyscript.com/movie.html

The Daily Script offers a ton of screenplays in a very simple, easy-to-navigate layout. It keeps things homey for the typical screenwriter, even using Courier New as its primary font.

 8. The Screenplay Database

http://www.screenplaydb.com/film/all

The Screenplay Database is another useful resource with a large choice of scripts to choose from. If you’re interested in a certain type of film, the website also allows you to search its library by genre, to better allow you to window shop and find something you didn’t even know you were looking for.

9. The Script Lab

https://thescriptlab.com/

The Script Lab comes in handy if you’re looking for more recent screenplays. Its front page divides its library into the three most recent years of releases, so if there’s something from 2014 you’d like, for instance Birdman or Boyhood, this is the website for you.

10. Movie Scripts and Screenplays

http://www.moviescriptsandscreenplays.com/

You’ve got to love the straightforward title. Movie Scripts and Screenplays gives you exactly what it says, with a long list of manuscripts that you can also directly find with its search function.

All writers know that reading great material is an essential part of honing and building your craft. But if you’re ready to take the next step in developing your skills as a screenwriter with the most hands-on, intensive training in the world, check out NYFA’s screenwriting programs.  Looking for a long-distance way to take your writing to the next level? Check out NYFA’s online screenwriting program options.

10 Reasons The Walking Dead Got Good

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece was originally published on November 26, 2014 to coincide with the season five midseason finale of The Walking Dead]

The Walking Dead takes its Christmas vacation this week with its midseason finale. So far, season five has been the best run of episodes yet. In fact, it’s been great, which is a surprise to anyone who watched the show in its earlier seasons.

Something happened near the end of season two and throughout season three, where the show started to find its legs and have glimmers of quality television. Season four was its coming-of-age, with the zombie series finally living up to its potential. Now, midway through season five, The Walking Dead and its stellar screenwriting has finally become appointment television, and The Walking Dead midseason finale is on everyone’s schedule.

The show always had some strong points—after all, we wouldn’t have watched it through its growing pains if it hadn’t. It had that badass opening theme by Bear McCreary. It had a gloomy post-apocalyptic setting. It had top-notch makeup effects and boasted the goriest violence on all of television. It had… well, that was about it.

Compared to the other AMC shows at the time—Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and RubiconThe Walking Dead wasn’t exactly what people thought of when they referred to the new Golden Age of Television. But now the highest rated television show on cable can finally stand tall with, at the very least, its genre-show brethren Game of Thrones and Orphan Black. How did The Walking Dead get good? Here are ten reasons:

1. Characters Got Smarter

It makes sense that by season five, The Walking Dead’s characters started showing some of those delicious brains. In the world of the show, it’s been a few years since the zombie apocalypse, so most of the dummies and suckers of Georgia have been eaten or decapitated by eye-patched madmen. All that’s left is the cream of the crop. Smart characters make for great TV. There’s nothing more frustrating than yelling at your screen when someone does something stupid or goes into the wrong room. But when they’re doing exactly what you would do and still end up cornered and without options, nothing is more thrilling to watch.

2. Characters Got Deeper

Like late-90s video games, the characters of The Walking Dead finally jumped from two dimensions to three dimensions thanks to some key changes in the writing. Sometimes ensemble television shows have to start with broad stereotypes for the audience to keep up with the story, but it’s about time we started seeing different shades and depths to Rick, Daryl, and the rest. The last couple of seasons have focused as much if not more on character than plot, a sign of any great drama. Finding out that this band of survivors is actually made up of interesting individuals makes the choices they make that much more compelling.

3. Characters Got Names

Even better is that these added dimensions weren’t just added to the primary cast, but almost all of the ensemble as well. It’s hard to imagine that characters like Beth have been with the series since the beginning of season two, considering she didn’t get her own storyline until season four. Before that, Beth was just “Hershel’s Other Daughter.”

4. Plots Got Morally Ambiguous

Even from the very beginning, the question the series seemed to be asking was “What morals must we sacrifice to live in a new post-apocalyptic world order?” But the show struggled with ways to ask it. Even situations that seemed abhorrent, like having to murder Carol’s zombified little girl in season two, weren’t actually moral quandaries. She was no longer Carol’s little girl—she was a murderous zombie, just like the rest, and Rick realized she had to be put down hard and fast. But since then, the show has posed questions that don’t have clear right answers, and where no decision will end up a good decision but still need to be made. Characters must ask themselves what to do with hostages, who to leave behind, who must be sacrificed for the greater good. Watching smart, deep characters with names confront these moral quandaries makes for fantastic drama.

5. Plots Got Burned

The Walking Dead was typically as slow-paced as its title monsters. It even spent two episodes re-introducing us to The Governor in the middle of season four. Then, something happened. Actually, a lot happened. Quickly. The season ended with our heroes trapped in a boxcar prison by cannibals, looking like it would take several episodes for them to plan and execute their escape. It took less than one. Burning through plot is an extremely bold move for a series, as original plots are hard to come by. But it creates a thrilling sense that anything can happen and keeps audiences on the edge of their seats. While that long-term prison escape could’ve been fun, watching it go up in flames along with that plot thread was way more exciting.

6. Characters Got Quiet

Do you know how we knew The Walking Dead asked the question “What morals must we sacrifice to live in a new post-apocalypse world order?” Because characters always asked that, out loud. All the time. Along with anything else they were thinking. The Walking Dead wanted to be a character drama from the beginning—the problem was, it had no grasp of subtext, treating its audience as dumb as its zombies. Too busy showing us bloody intestines and brains, it was telling us everything else. Now characters keep it closer to the vest, and the audience actually has to work a little to infer what they’re thinking from their actions and context and from what they’re not saying. You know, like good shows do.

7. The Show Got Courage to Try New Things

For the most part, the first three seasons are very similar. While The Walking Dead still has some wing-spreading to do, it’s gotten bolder experimenting with its tone and other aspects, like the aforementioned plot-burning. One great example is introducing the trio of Abraham, Eugene, and Rosita. Rather than try to adapt these larger-than-life comic characters to the moody realistic tone of the show, The Walking Dead embraced their cartoonish styles and had fun with these three. It injected a great deal of levity into a show that desperately needed it.

8. Episodes Got Focus

Along with playing with tone and plot, The Walking Dead has switched up its structure. Season 3’s best episode followed only Rick, Michonne and Carl on a side mission, and the writers seemed to take notice of its positive reception. Many episodes of the last two seasons play as little movies, telling complete stories with just a few focused characters. Rather than switching back and forth between plots, audiences got deeper into characters’ heads and tension builds more consistently, such as in The Governor’s Season 4 two-parter. The show has also been smart enough to switch it up to an ensemble-type show when the plot needs to race ahead. It’s a careful balance The Walking Dead has finally gotten a handle on.

9. The Show Got Better Mood, Music, and Direction

While most of the show’s improvements have been in its writing, The Walking Dead has beefed up its already decent direction. The last two seasons have combined mood, music, and cinematography to create a show that is as artsy and poetic as top tier dramas like Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men. While the show’s theme has always been one of its highlights, the show has also learned to use music better and to stronger effect, though it sometimes still suffers from the Unnecessary Sad Montage.

10. Carol

Carol started the show as a background character with an a-hole husband. Even when her daughter went missing and ended up killed, Carol still remained on the sidelines of the plot. But somewhere along the way, all the crap her character has taken turned into an amazing set of armor and Carol emerged as a fascinating, multidimensional character, even replacing Daryl as The Walking Dead’s resident badass. She’s smart, tough, sexy, and watching her do her thing is a highlight of the show. In just the last season and a half, Carol has executed a surrogate daughter, thrown herself off a cliff in a van, and single-handedly wiped out a cannibal fortress. Meanwhile, Rick farmed some tomatoes.

Seasons 4 and 5 may prove to be the creative peak of The Walking Dead. Will the show continue this momentum into season 6 and beyond? Or will it end up like so many of its characters–dead on its feet, shuffling aimlessly until it’s finally put out of its misery.

Five Biggest Screenwriting Myths Debunked!

Everyone has tips and advice for aspiring screenwriters. Some tips, like bad rumors, spread so far and wide as to become hard certain truths, even if they’re just the opposite. Here are just five myths of screenwriting that are patently false, as fake as the name of most movie detectives.

Myth #1: One Page = One Minute of Screen Time

The famous page-a-minute rule isn’t really a rule—it’s a guideline. Guidelines are good. Guidelines are our friend. Guidelines are like a solid GPS—keeping us on track and in the right direction. But it is not an infallible rule that must be obeyed at all costs. After all, even your GPS sometimes tells you to make a left into a river.

While the page-a-minute guideline is true for your average screenplay, your page count can actually vary wildly. The script for Academy Award-winning Gravity, a film with sparse dialogue, lengthy complicated action setpieces, and lots of quiet tension, is only sixty-eight pages long. A Tarantino screenplay, loaded with back-and-forth dialogue that could be spit out in seconds but take up several pages of print, will typically be well over 120 pages.

Of course, aspiring screenwriters don’t get the same benefit of the doubt as people like Tarantino and Alfonso Cuarón. But if your story is complete, with no extra fat and nothing missing, then it should be as long as it needs to be. The people reading your screenplay will be far more concerned with your narrative than with your page count.

Myth #2: Exposition Is Bad

Somewhere along the way, exposition got a real bad rap. But unless you’re like Terrence Malick and making some visually poetic mood piece, your story’s going to need some context. Bad exposition is bad—that’s no myth—and bad exposition is when characters explain something to each other that, in the reality of the film, they should already know and shouldn’t need to be said.

Good exposition, which is not only totally okay, but preferred, gives the audience a background to ground your story. If you can’t show-not-tell your exposition, then tell it in a way that makes sense. A character new to the situation can be an audience surrogate, asking questions and getting answers for us. A general can update the President in his or her daily briefing. A protagonist can check her or his voicemail. Etc.

If done well, exposition can be fun and seamless, a natural part of a scene. The exposition laying out the bank robbery in Reservoir Dogs just comes off as another classic Tarantino dialogue between Mr. Orange and Mr. White and ends with them getting a taco and the audience informed on the gangster’s plan.

Myth #3: Mailing Yourself Your Script = Copyrighting Your Script

Nope. The best way to copyright your script is to register it with the Writer’s Guild. There’s even a handy-dandy option built right into Final Draft that lets you do this. It’s official, it’s legal, it will protect you if anyone ever does in fact steal your idea.

Mailing yourself your script and keeping it sealed is very weak evidence proving you wrote a given screenplay first. For one, it only works with the very first judge who opens it, and copyright cases often drag on and go through several levels of the judiciary system. Secondly, it doesn’t legally count as evidence of copyright—it’s more circumstantial proof than anything.

Thirdly, have you ever used the post office? Chances are your package will arrive as beat up as your protagonist. And if you’re moving around a lot (which you probably are because paying rent is a lot harder than paying a one-time WGA fee), your package will take that much more wear-and-tear. By the time you get it to court it’s going to look like a crazy person’s manifesto and will be scanned for bombs and white powder.

And if you’re a prolific writer, those packages are going to eventually take up more space on your bookshelves than the Song of Ice and Fire series.

Myth #4: Keep the Camera Directions Out of Your Script

Keep the directing to the Director, people will tell you. This is generally true, and you don’t want your unproduced screenplay to look like a shooting script. But some camera directions should be included, especially when a given scene only works with a specific angle or move.

You’re not writing a play after all, a sparse set with lots of options. Movies can be extremely specific, lines and moments can be tied directly into the way we view it. Try to avoid the phrases “We see” or “The camera pans” but if you’re smart you can hide directions into the way you word your action lines. Phrasing your action the right way will make your intended shot, like a POV or a landscape wide shot, inevitable for the filmmakers who shoot your screenplay.

“The whites of Mark’s eyes turn red with anger” is telling us it’s an extreme close-up without ever using the words extreme close-up. The director will see this when she reads it and choose the right shot. She might think it was her idea but we savvy screenwriters will know better and give yourself a pat on the back for the great shot.

Myth #5: You Have to Use a Screenwriting Program for Formatting

Okay, sure, this one is true, you do have to have standard formatting for your script if you want people to take it seriously. But only the final draft!

Writers are a diverse bunch (besides the insecurity and constant loneliness—that’s all of us). Writers write in all sorts of ways, and all of them are write. Er, right. If you’re like me, you do your best work with a pencil and marble notebook while sitting on the beach. Or maybe you don’t find your true groove until you’re thumbing it in your Notes app while on the train to work.

Whatever gets your creative juices flowing—that’s how you should be writing your script. Just because your story will end in Courier New does not at all mean it needs to start that way.

Writers forge their own paths. It’s part of our DNA. And while rules were indeed made to be broken, it’s more important to remember that some rules were never actually rules to begin with. Just bad rumors.

How Important is Scientific Accuracy in Sci-Fi Screenwriting?

Last year, a sci-fi film entitled Europa Report made its way onto online rental services to little fanfare outside of a few hardcore sci-fi and indie film blogs. The plot follows a team of astronauts on an alien planet, searching for life, And what makes it a remarkable film is that it’s one of the most scientifically accurate sci-fi movies, ever.

What Apollo 18 Should Have Been

Director Sebastián Cordero and crew took great pains to make sure everything in the movie was scientifically plausible; orbital physics are adhered to, the galactic geography is sound, the surface of Europa is realistically rendered and every line of space-talk between the characters is as it should be. The decision to stick so dogmatically to real-world physics is a bold one, and arguably makes this space romp into an incredibly fascinating entry into the genre.

Now, it’s not the best film in the world by any stretch, and only the most ardent of space fans won’t balk at spending $10 just to rent itthe pacing is uneven, there’s some hammy acting in places, and it doesn’t bring anything new to the ‘found footage’ aspect of the film. All said and done however, it’s the immersive exploration horror film which Apollo 18 tried to be, made all the better for its scientific realism.

But what of movies where the science gets silly? Excluding purposeful bending of reality for comic effect, does a movie hamstring itself by not paying enough attention to the hard laws of the universe?

Breaking the Rules, For Better or Worse

Consider the old amnesia movie trope. Rarely is it portrayed with any accuracy, and in fact, rarely is it used as an effective plot device.

But the scientific inaccuracies which usually come with the ‘man wakes up remembering nothing’ cliché aren’t the underlying reason why we groan every time a scriptwriter falls back on it. We actually forgive extreme oversights on silly things such as ‘reality’ as long as the trope is used to execute some original ideas or to craft a compelling experience for the audience. Think of the screenwriting in Memento, or even Total Recall.

There are, of course, some very good reasons to forgo realism, especially when exploring science fiction. In the real universe, it would take nearly 20,000 years of sailing through an uninteresting void in order to get to the nearest exoplanet, and if we’re looking for possible life, it’d be pointless to make the trip given its molten temperature. To get to the Gliese 581 set of planets, which are the closest place with a chance of harboring anything interesting, we’re looking at a 500,000+ year voyage. As such, it’s hardly practical to hinge a movie featuring human exploration on such stellar figures (and the reason why Europa Report was set on our own cosmic back door).

When quizzed on the speed of the Excalibur craft in Babylon 5, creator Michael Straczynski famous said with a wry smile “it travels at the speed of plot.” Namely, precisely as fast or as slow as the writers need it to in order to move the story forward at the desired pace and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s also true that some of the best inventions in science fiction were the product of writers trying desperately to get from A to B, either in a physical sense or within the narrative.

Firmly Grounded

But if the lack of scientific accuracy is born out of sheer laziness, then it can create a jarring hole in the very fabric of the movie. While we don’t question why the Icarus II starship in Sunshine has gravity because it’s an unimportant detail not worth spending screen time explaining, we do have our willing suspension of disbelief popped when the relatively small (on a planetary scale) asteroid in Armageddon appears to have more gravity than the moon.

This is because we can easily assume there’s some sort of device or centrifugal force creating the gravity on the Icarus II; we can’t imagine that everything we know about astrophysics goes out the window the second someone steps onto an asteroid. Whether this laziness on the director or writer’s part is through ignorance or an inability (or unwillingness) to present things in a more believable light doesn’t matter; audiences don’t need to have a PhD in rocket science or filmmaking degree to see right through it as the sloppy craftsmanship that it is.

All in all, both good and bad sci-fi will exist regardless of how much of a grasp the filmmaker has over accuracy, or how much they care to use it. Case in point: in one of the DVD extra commentaries for Alien, Ridley Scott mumbles hesitantly about the movie being set “something like… twenty, thirty years from now.” While that film testifies to his mastery of horror and a superb movie all round, if he thought back in the eighties that we’d already be terraforming deep space by now, his understanding of the limits of space exploration technology is severely lacking (at least it was back then).

Back to the present, and we should really take our hats off to the producers of movies like Europa Report and the (slightly less but still impressively accurate) Gravity for at least trying to make extreme accuracy a selling point. It raises some interesting questions, but it remains to be seen whether this will become a trend in mainstream sci-fi writing.