screenwriting

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. 

From Book to Screen: Adapting Philip Roth’s ‘Indignation’

On Thursday, December 20, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a guest lecture by producer, production attorney, and NYFA board member, Avy Eschenasy. Eschenasy is the principal of Eschenasy Consulting, which provides advisory services in connection with all business aspects of motion picture production, financing, and distribution.

Previously, Eschenasy was a senior executive at Focus Features from 2002 until 2013, where he was Executive Vice President of Strategic Planning, Business Affairs and Acquisitions. Eschenasy is known for producing Indignation (2016), Casting JonBenét (2017), and A Prayer Before Dawn (2017).

Avy Eschenasy

Eschenasy began the lecture by discussing how the book Indignation by Philip Roth, was optioned to be produced as a feature film. In order for a producer to option a book, they must pay the publisher an “option fee.”

“That fee entitles [producers] to exclusively have the opportunity to buy the rights [to produce the book as a film]” said Eschenasy, “for a limited time period, usually 12 to 18 months” if the producer can find a production company or movie studio that wants to produce the optioned book as a film.

If the producer can find a production company or movie studio that is interested in producing the book as a film, then they would pay the publisher an additional fee for the exclusive opportunity to produce the book as a film. That means that once Eschenasy purchased the rights to produce Roth’s Indignation, Roth’s publishing company was not allowed to sell the option or production rights to any other producers.

Avy Eschenasy

Eschenasy went on to discuss turning the book into a screenplay. In order to get a book adapted to a screenplay, the producer must negotiate with a screenwriter, usually a member of the Writers Guild of America (WGA).

In the contract with the screenwriter, the producer outlines fees paid for the first couple drafts of the script and many times will pay an additional fee if the film makes it all the way to production and distribution. The fees paid to a writer also depend on how they are credited: for example, a writer that has written a script alone would be paid more than a writer that co-wrote a script with one or more partners.

Once the script is finalized, it is time to focus on production. The producer needs to have a “package” ready to prepare for launching production, said Eschenasy. “The script, cast, the director, and the budget.”

Avy Eschenasy

The budget is put together by a line producer and then the producer must try to raise that amount of money to make the film; with independent films like Indignation, this money is typically raised with “pre-sales” to distributors. A “pre-sale” is a contract between the production team and distributors that outlines stipulations that the production team must follow in order to secure financing from the distributor; usually the distributor’s agreement is contingent upon the producer promising a script and a known actor. A way to save money during production is to shoot in a state or a country with tax credits for film and television productions; because of this and a few other reasons, Indignation was shot in New York.

For Indignation, a big part of the production “package” was the actor, Logan Lerman, best known for starring in The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012). Eschenasy needed a name like Lerman to get distributors interested, but he also needed to make Lerman and his representatives feel confident in Indignation as a production; producers get actors and their representatives to trust their productions with contracts. The contract outlines the shoot schedule, the actor’s “billing” (much like the writer’s “credit” discussed earlier), the fee paid to the actor (including bonuses if the actor wins awards for the role), and perks if applicable.

After all the negotiations and contracts were completed and all of the necessary funds were raised, Indignation went into production. Everything went well during the production phase and then it moved to post-production. Once the final cut of the film was finished, Indignation was entered in the Sundance Film Festival, where it was received very well by critics. Lionsgate Entertainment made an offer to distribute the film in the United States and Sony Pictures Entertainment made and offer to distribute the film to the majority of the international market. After all of their hard work, the Indignation production team got the film made, critically acclaimed, and distributed all over the world.

New York Film Academy would like to thank Avy Eschenasy for sharing his industry expertise and experiences getting Indignation produced with our students!

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.

 

Great Techniques to Write a Script with an Unexpected Ending

Don’t you just love epic film endings that you never saw coming? These endings are the ones that stay with viewers for a long time and inspire talk about the movie and the reasons why the screenwriter decided to give the story such a mind-blowing plot twist.

Building an unexpected ending in movie scripts is difficult, but can give a movie a lot of buzz and leave the audience breathless. It can be a fine line between a well-earned shocker of an ending and a contrived, seemingly desperate, last minute attempt to save a bad movie.

What’s the secret to making a successful twist ending? There may not be one magic bullet, but a pretty good understanding of some script writing techniques can help you make a memorable ending stick with your audience:

  1. Misdirect the Viewers

Misdirection is a widely popular technique among screenwriters. The main purpose is to make viewers think that they have everything figured out before subverting their expectations entirely at some point, usually in the film’s climax. What could be better than gradually guiding viewers’ attention away from the real plot resolution and reveal it only at the end, right?

Achieving an effective misdirection requires you to use some tools, including the following.

  • Sleight-of-hand. Gradually bury clues to the real ending in preceding scenes where the viewers will be focused on something else. For example, many screenwriters do it during fast-paced moments such as fight scenes because the attention of viewers is focused on the action.
  • Red herrings. This technique steers viewers in the wrong direction by planning false pieces of information and cues pointing in the wrong direction.
  • Dead ends. Similarly, these wrong directions could lead nowhere and stop short, throwing the audience off balance — in a good way.

Always keep in mind that you need to be as subtle as possible, so the viewers won’t notice you’re trying to steer them in the wrong direction, or so your writing doesn’t come off as heavy-handed. This isn’t easy — you’ll need a lot of time, energy, and focus, so schedule screenwriting appropriately so it fits into your daily routine.

 

Screenplay

  1. Make Your Twist Emotional

An effective way to generate a good twist at the end of the movie script is to look at it from an entirely new point of view – whether the ending would be uplifting or a downer.

If your story has been more or less optimistic throughout the first 2+ acts, a downbeat ending can really gutpunch the audience. Conversely, if your script was mostly gloomy and bleak tale that finally offers its characters some hope or a happy ending, the audience can be overwhelmed with sudden relief and make their experience that much sweeter. Either way, you’re putting your audience through an emotional roller coaster.

  1. Put Yourself in the Reader’s Shoes

This is a simple but effective technique that could make a huge difference for your ending. Imagine that you’re a stranger reading your script cold. How would you react to the narrative? Is there a direction that you found yourself expecting the story to go? What other endings could you foresee for the plot and characters?

Write down and make note of every potential ending you come up with, and then discard them all when writing your ending. The result would be an ending that one would never see coming before it’s revealed!

  1. Use the “No One is Safe” Technique

Clearly, not all movies have happy endings. Not every character will achieve their goals or, depending on the story, may not even survive. Why not take the opposite route and subvert the viewers’ expectations by adopting the ‘no one is safe’ mentality?

By killing off characters or having the plot take unexpected turns earlier in the screenplay, your audience will know not to take anything they’ve come to expect from typical Hollywood movies for granted. With everything unpredictable, they’ll just have to follow along for the ride, and wherever they end up could be a total surprise.

These are just some of the ways to build your story to an unexpected twist ending. But, depending on the genre, your plot should usually come naturally from what your characters would do. Betray that, or any of the other core elements of a screenplay, and everything you’ve built could collapse. But if you navigate successfully between the lines and use the tips above, you could come up with a twist that movie audiences will be buzzing about for a long time after the lights in the theater come up!

Interested in learning how to craft a screenplay? Check out more information on New York Film Academy’s screenwriting school here.

Lucy Benton is a writing coach, an editor who finds her passion in expressing her own thoughts as a blogger. Currently, she works at A-Writer. She is constantly looking for the ways to improve her skills and expertise. Also, Lucy has her own writing blog Prowritingpartner where you can check her last publications. 

Our 2018 BAFTA Predictions

While the Oscars are still a few weeks away, the 71st British Academy Film Awards are finally upon us. The ceremony will be hosted by Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley on February 18, at London’s famed Royal Albert Hall.

The BAFTAs are one of the major award shows of the season. Because so many actresses, actors, and filmmakers come from the United Kingdom, the nominations and winners often overlap with many of the Golden Globe and Oscar categories. However, because the Academy is made up of different voters, sometimes the results can be wildly different.

Here then are the nominees for some of the major categories, along with our best guesses at who will be taking home the BAFTA award bronze mask statue this weekend — though like always, anything can happen.

The BAFTA Award
Leading Actress
Annett Bening – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Our Predicted WINNER: Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird

While Margot Robbie is considered the favorite for the Oscar in this category due to her stellar performance in the wildly enjoyable I, Tonya — the story of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan isn’t as much of a cultural milestone outside of the United States. This may give the edge to Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, star of Lady Bird, a film with near perfect critical acclaim.

Leading Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Daniel Kayluuya – Get Out
Jamie Bell – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Timothee Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name
Our Predicted WINNER: Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

It’s hard to bet against Daniel Day-Lewis, especially in a thoroughly British role that may also be his last. But Winston Churchill is about as legendary as you can get in Great Britain, and Oldman’s performance as the Prime Minister in his finest moments has already won several awards.


Supporting Actress

Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Kristin Scott Thomas – Darkest Hour
Laurie Metcalfe – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water
Our Predicted WINNER: Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread

While Day-Lewis may not win, his co-star Lesley Manville certainly has a good shot just for being able to go head-to-head with him in several scenes, matching his intensity and emotional subtlety every time.

Phantom Thread

Lesley Manville in Phantom Thread

Supporting Actor
Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
Hugh Grant – Paddington 2
Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

There’s a lot of momentum behind Sam Rockwell this season for his complex performance as a bigoted cop in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. That momentum might be too much for any of the other very talented actors in this category, including co-star Woody Harrelson.


EE Rising Star Award

Daniel Kaluuya
Florence Pugh
Josh O’Connor
Timothee Chalamet
Our Predicted WINNER: Tessa Thompson

Daniel Kaluuya made a huge splash with his haunting starring role in Get Out, but we’ve got to give the edge to Tessa Thompson, the talented American actress who is quickly becoming an A-list movie star thanks to her scene-stealing performance in Thor: Ragnarok.

Tessa Thompson

Tessa Thompson

Editing
Baby Driver – Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
Blade Runner 2049 – Joe Walker
The Shape Of Water – Sidney Wolinsky
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Jon Gregory
Our Predicted WINNER: Dunkirk – Lee Smith

The editing in all of this year’s nominees was impressive, but Dunkirk’s style was a crucial part of the narrative — telling the evacuation of Dunkirk in three distinct timelines cut back-and-forth. The epic World War II film will probably come away with at least one award this weekend, and odds are it’ll be this one.


Special Visual Effects

Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War For The Planet Of The Apes
Our Predicted WINNER: The Shape Of Water

The Shape of Water is essentially a classic romance tale, except one of the romantic leads is a computer generated seven-foot fish creature. By making the character not only believable but emotionally relatable, the special effects team for The Shape of Water more than proved they’re worthy of this year’s award.


Cinematography

Blade Runner 2049 – Roger Deakins
Darkest Hour – Bruno Delbonnel
Dunkirk – Hoyte van Hoytema
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Ben Davis
Our Predicted WINNER: The Shape Of Water – Dan Laustsen

Blade Runner 2049 is a dark horse in both the Special Effects and Cinematography categories for its fully realized portrayal of a near-future America, but The Shape of Water will probably come ahead in both. The film is a visual marvel in multiple ways, and slides between multiple styles and genres with ease.


Adapted Screenplay

Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin & David Schneider – The Death Of Stalin
Matt Greenhalgh – Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool
Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
Simon Farnaby & Paul King – Paddington 2
Our Predicted WINNER: James Ivory – Call Me By Your Name

Paddington 2 is a smash success and both Aaron Sorkin and Armando Iannucci are screenwriting legends, but Call Me By Your Name manages to adapt the 2007 novel of the same name in a way that preserves all its raw emotion that audiences can’t help but be affected by.


Original Screenplay

Jordan Peele – Get Out
Steven Rogers – I, Tonya
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape Of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird

Gerwig is making history as only the fifth woman nominated for a Best Director Oscar, and her film Lady Bird is easily considered one of the best of the year. It’s had a tougher time at the BAFTAs, so if the overall film gets recognized it’ll have to be here for its remarkable screenplay.

Lady Bird

Lady Bird

Animated Film
Loving Vincent
My Life As A Courgette
Our Predicted WINNER: Coco

All three films are visual works of art, but it’s hard to bet against Pixar and their soulful, supernatural masterpiece about a 12-year-old boy trapped in the land of the dead.


Documentary

City Of Ghosts
I Am Not Your Negro
Icarus
An Inconvenient Sequel
Our Predicted WINNER: Jane

Primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall is a hero and legend to naturists and to her fellow Britons alike. Jane, the 2017 documentary about Goodall, has already picked up several festival and critics awards and will probably get the BAFTA as well.


Outstanding British Film

Darkest Hour
Death Of Stalin
God’s Own Country
Lady Macbeth
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Paddington 2

There might not be anything more loved and more British than Paddington 2, a film with a rare 100% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. While all of the other nominees could win as well, especially Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards or the Winston Churchill drama Darkest Hour, the world really needed an adorable teddy bear in a raincoat —again— and Paddington 2 delivered.

Paddington 2

Paddington 2

Director
Denis Villeneuve – Blade Runner 2049
Luca Guadagnino – Call Me By Your Name
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Guillermo del Toro – The Shape Of Water

The Shape of Water leads the BAFTA nominations with twelve total — and it takes a masterful director to bring all of these nominated elements together into a fantastical tour-de-force. Guillermo del Toro already picked up a Golden Globe for his efforts, and while his competition is stiff, he’ll most likely pick up a BAFTA as well — even if the film falls short in other categories.


Best Film

Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: The Shape of Water



It cannot be overstated just how important the Second World War is to modern Britain, and both films in this category dealing with the subject —Dunkirk and Darkest Hour — do so in masterful ways. For different reasons, Call Me By Your Name and Three Billboards have connected with and sparked conversation for their audiences. But The Shape of Water has a slight advantage over its competition with its overwhelming amount of nominations this year, as well as its perfectly executed fairy tale with just enough of a twist to make it unique. It doesn’t hurt that avid movie buff Guillermo del Toro also managed to make the film a love letter to cinema. Look for this film to take home the biggest BAFTA of them all.

The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water

Scheduling Screenwriting: How to Find Time to Write

Great writers often insist the best way to improve your writing is to keep practicing your craft. We all know that devoting time to writing is at least half of the effort, but how do you make the time to write? It’s easy to say that you’ll get to it when you can, but for too many writers that ends up never happening.

In need of a push to find time to schedule your screenwriting? Here are some classic tips that will help you crank out those some-day award-winning first drafts.

Create Goals

Whether you are hoping to finish your movie-length drama script or just want to write a one-act play, setting reasonable goals can help you finally finish any writing project. While free-writing is fun and great for generating ideas, having short and long-term goals can ensure that you finish your creations and beat writer’s block.

Your goals can be based on an amount of words per day or how long you should devote to writing daily. Make sure you set yourself a goal that is specific, and doable!

Set a Consistent Time to Write Daily

Routine is a writer’s best friend, believe it or not!

Even writing for a little as five or 10 minutes a day can help keep the ideas flowing. This technique works best when you set your writing time the same exact time per day. If you are most alert at 8 a.m. then write at 8 a.m. If you like to write at night, then write at night.

No matter what, keep it consistent for the best results — and write every day!

Keep a Notebook Around … Always

Think about all of the time you spend waiting at the doctor’s office or before a class starts. You have a lot more spare time than you might think!

If you take public transportation or carpool often, spend the time of the ride writing down your latest ideas and drafts. Jot down some dialogue ideas when you overhear interesting snatches of conversations around you or see something inspiring. For the nights when you come up with your next brilliant idea just before you go to sleep, keep a notebook on your nightstand to capture the ideas before you drift away to dream.

Devote a Space Specifically for Writing

It’s tempting to tell yourself that you can just write your next script while passively watching television, but let’s be honest: you probably will end up not writing at all. Instead of trying to cram writing in alongside other activities, carve out an oasis of space and time strictly for your writing.

Once you’ve found the perfect spot, play your favorite music or write in total silence. Just like keeping a consistent goal and time for your writing helps you dedicate time and mental clarity to writing, creating a writing space strictly for writing will help you eliminate distractions. Do not allow your cell phone or pet to interrupt your flow!

Soon you’ll be looking forward to shutting yourself away to create new scripts every chance you can.

Do It Online

Another great way to boost your skills, keep yourself motivated, plug into community, and motivate yourself to finish projects on time is to enroll in an online screenwriting course, like those at New York Film Academy. You’ll be receiving the expert instruction of working, professional screenwriters, but with the added bonus of just enough flexibility to be able to carve out your own writing schedule. Best of all, there’s an online course for whatever you’re working on:

While making time for writing is important, having a support system to help you grow unleashes your fullest potential.

The New York Film Academy immerses screenwriting students in an interactive curriculum. From small writing workshops to teaming up with filmmakers, the program is perfect for taking talent to the next level.

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

Star Wars Sequels 101: How Do “The Last Jedi” Filmmakers Build On “The Force Awakens?”

[NOTE: This isn’t spoiler heavy, but if you still haven’t seen “The Last Jedi” and you want to go in cold Porg-y, er… turkey, you should bookmark this for later. Also, what are you waiting for? Go see it already!]

The_Last_Jedi_poster

“Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi”, the most anticipated movie of the year (and then some), has finally come out and now critics and fans can scrutinize each and every individual moment for decades to come. But besides who Force-choked who and which CGI creature will be the hottest new toy, “The Last Jedi” answered a more technical question for film buffs—what did Episode VIII do to build on Episode VII?

While “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” isn’t really an original movie in itself—in fact it’s the (obviously) seventh movie in the series—it did hit a reset button for Star Wars in numerous ways. So it’s easy to see how “The Last Jedi” is a direct sequel to “The Force Awakens” more than it is the eighth movie in the Skywalker Saga.

And sequels normally get a bad rap, though “The Last Jedi” is in good company considering “The Empire Strikes Back”—another middle chapter in a Star Wars trilogy—is considered by many to be the greatest sequel of all time.

So how, from a filmmaking perspective, did “The Last Jedi” build on “The Force Awakens?” Here’s just a few, broad examples:

Production Design

Hollywood titan J.J. Abrams was lauded for his direction in Episode VII—namely because he responded to the artificial looking CGI-heavy prequels by bringing grit and texture back to Star Wars. A full, beat-up Millennium Falcon was built for the movie, which was shot often on location and fully built sets as opposed to large swaths of green screen. This dirtier, rougher version of space is kept in the look of “The Last Jedi”—whether on Luke’s isolated island or the remote planet covered in dusty red salt. If you can feel an image you’re really only seeing, the filmmakers are doing their job.

Film Score

It’s pretty much a given that any new Star Wars film needs to retain the iconic themes John Williams first wrote in the 1970s, but to stand out on their own these movies should offer new melodies we’ll be able to hum to. “The Force Awakens” introduced us to “Rey’s Theme” as well as “Kylo Ren’s Theme”, strong motifs that hold up alongside classics like the “Imperial March” and the “Binary Sunset/Force Theme.” “The Last Jedi” is a little scarce on completely new soundtrack entries—though it does have a motif for new character Rose—but it recalls the best music of “The Force Awakens” throughout, using it in several powerful scenes between Rey and Kylo Ren. As the story progresses so does their relationship, and the mixture of their themes accentuate this narrative.

Screenplay – The Story

One of the criticisms of “The Force Awakens” was that it imitated the original trilogy too much, failing to set itself apart. However, a benefit from this was that it created a broader simple story of heroes vs. villains that “The Last Jedi” could then develop and subvert. Now that the audience is familiar with the characters, screenwriter and director Rian Johnson was more free to complicate the narrative, jumping around between solar systems and even including flashbacks, a cinematic technique that’s rare for the Star Wars series. Like famous sequels before it, including “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Godfather Part II,” a more complicated story gives more thematic weight and allows for more emotional nuance for the audience.

Screenplay – The Characters

The narrative wasn’t the only thing complicated in this sequel. Now that Episode XII allowed us to know the new characters in the series, we can find out more about them in more subtle ways. Rey was a mysterious loner who discovered enormous power in “The Force Awakens”; here, she learns how to grapple with such power and we see how shaped she is by never knowing her parents. Kylo’s internal conflict is made more real and evolves from broad angst to a scared child who thought his uncle was going to kill him in his sleep—that would mess anyone up! Even more minor characters, like Supreme Leader Snoke, benefit from the foundation “The Force Awakens” built. In the previous film, Snoke was quickly painted in a hologram as an ominous villain. In “The Last Jedi,” we see just how overwhelming his power in the Dark Side of the Force can be, as well as his knowledge of and hatred for original trilogy protagonist Luke Skywalker. By inferring more backstory, it places characters like Snoke more firmly in the world and makes their actions more palpable and believable.

Casting

“The Force Awakens” was notable in its diverse casting—bringing more women and minorities to a genre of filmmaking historically dominated by white men. “The Last Jedi” continues this tradition by introducing the characters of Rose & Paige Tico, played by Vietnamese-American actress Kelly Marie Tran and Vietnamese actress Ngô Thanh Vân, respectively. It also introduces Vice Admiral Holdo, a complex leader of the Resistance played by Academy Award nominated actress Laura Dern. Seeing Laura Dern and the late Carrie Fisher—two women over 50—play powerful leaders making heroic wartime decisions—is something rarely seen in Hollywood blockbusters, but something that needs to be seen more and more if cinema is to remain culturally relevant. If the upcoming, untitled Episode IX wants to retain its worldwide audience, it needs to continue this tradition of casting people and faces from every corner of the globe.

Laura Dern & Carrie Fisher

Laura Dern & Carrie Fisher

4 Screenwriting Tips to Help You Eliminate Sexism in Movies

We see gender inequality in film all the time, but where does it start and how can we work to eliminate it?

Screenplays often implicitly or explicitly suggest flat female characters valued for their looks alone before shooting ever begins. Here are a few tips to help you avoid stereotypes when writing your own scripts and foster gender balance on-screen.

1. Introduce your female characters as you do your male characters.

It may come as no surprise that female characters are often introduced in a screenplay with their appearance front and center, while their personality traits coming a distant second (if they appear at all).

Ross Putman, a producer and filmmaker who started the Twitter feed @FemScriptIntros, dedicated to exposing the often cringeworthy introductions of female protagonists in scripts, told Jezebel, “Women are first and foremost described as ‘beautiful,’ ‘attractive,’ or—my personal blow-my-brains-out-favorite, ‘stunning.’ They’re always ‘stunning’ in a certain dress or ‘stunning’ despite being covered in dirt because they’re a paleontologist—or whatever.”

This is not generally the case for male characters, whose intros tend to be longer and more interested in an inner life, which will, in turn, justify their motivations and prepare for the forward momentum of the plot.

2. Give female characters names.

Female characters are much more likely to be referred to as something generic like “hot chick on bike,” or “pretty young mother.” Not only does this tend to encourage stereotyping, but, according to The Conversation, “Performers are usually paid more to play a named character, so naming characters in screenplays can also help address the gender pay gap for performers.”

3. Write with an eye to gender balance.

pexels-photo-532389

Giving generic characters female names by default can also help to close the gender gap in films. According to See Jane, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, only 10 percent of films have a gender-balanced cast, so assigning lines of supporting dialogue to “Carla” instead of “Neighbor” or “Mike” can help ameliorate the dominance of men on a set. Even making a note in the script that a crowd should be half male, half female can help remind casting directors that the crowd should accurately represent the human population.

4. Allow women to age along with the menfolk.

We might tend to blame casting directors for the virtual nonexistence of women over 50 onscreen, but the truth is that many screenplays stop the conversation from the start by specifying the age of women to be 20-something, 30-something, or 19, when oftentimes the male opposite doesn’t have his age specified.

A big part of the problem is that most screenwriters are still men — only 11 percent of 2016 top-grossing films were written by women — so their biases and fantasies are most often represented. As this WIRED article puts it, “No one’s saying May-December romances don’t happen, they just seem to happen a lot more in movies.”

Though we are talking here about sexism in screenplays, many clichés regarding race, sexual orientation, and disability can also be addressed in a similar fashion. You may be surprised how much more interesting your script will be when you think about rounding out flat characters, and how it may help your project stand out in the eyes of producers who must wade through countless clichés to find fresh and compelling stories.

Learn more about screenwriting at the New York Film Academy.

 

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!

How to Write a Scene for Film

Screenwriting is a visual medium that requires a writer to create words on a page that can be transformed into images on the big screen. Writing for a script that will be visualized into a film is very different from writing for a novel. It’s a common beginner’s curve to break. We have seen many scripts that tend to focus too much on prose and unnecessary fluff. Generally, what a scriptwriter needs to understand is that their script is going to be analyzed by dozens if not hundreds of people in production, people who do not have time to interpret any vague ideas. That is why it’s important to be as descriptive as possible, as succinctly as possible. As NYFA Screenwriting Program Chair Melanie Williams Oram notes, “I always tell my students you cannot write what you do not see.”

So in order to successfully write a scene for a screenplay, it’s important to remember that less is more. By that, we don’t mean less description is more. We mean that less wording in your description is more.

For example, let’s try describing a scene in which a character enters a hotel room. You may be tempted to describe it as vividly as possible. When writing a script, it’s helpful to also imagine which crew members will be reading the script and what information they will need to bring the script to life.

Example 1:

Susie, a 42 year old neurosurgeon from Connecticut, enters her hotel room, which entraps a blue hue that spreads from a ethereal neon glow just two yards from outside the window. She is contemplating the death of her brother, someone she will never see again. Susie says to herself, “I’m driving to Kansas tomorrow.”

This sounds like a pretty descriptive text. You can picture it in your mind, right? The actor, director, and camera and lighting crew have a lot to work with here. But if you were the costume designer, what clothes would you use for this scene? If you were the set designer, what sort of objects would be in the room? How much do they have to work with?

Let’s break it down and format all these details like a script.

hotel-bed-bedroom-room

Example 2:

INT. HOTEL ROOM – NIGHT.

SUSIE (42), a Connecticut neurosurgeon, enters a mostly bare HOTEL ROOM. Bible on the dresser. Notepad on the desk. Empty boxes in the corner.

Broken, she is dressed in black. When Susie enters the room she places a funeral program down on the table.

Outside the window is a NEON BLUE sign.

SUSIE

I’m driving to Kansas tomorrow.

Writing your scripts like this gives ample descriptions that everybody in production can work with and properly sets the tone for the remainder of the scene. We won’t know unless we’ve seen Susie previously that the funeral program belongs to her brother. But that’s okay. We can learn that later.  From here, the director, director of photography, actor, costume designer, art director, and set designer have enough to work with in order to bring the scene to life.

Saying more with less is a skill that can take time and practice to master. If you’re interested in learning more about how to write and break down a script for production, visit the Screenwriting Program at York Film Academy.

Anatomy of an Adapted Screenplay

Novels are terrific, but there’s something about the silver screen that transforms great ideas into pure theatrical magic. And many incredible films exist because a screenwriter was inspired to adapt a story from another medium. Today, we’ll look at how you can tackle this process yourself. But finding your inspiration is only the first step. Here are some crucial tips to keep in mind as you adapt your screenplay.

Great Adaptations

First, understand that the adapted screenplay is an artform, with many great examples to look to for inspiration and insights on craftsmanship.

Beloved films like “The Shining,” “Fight Club,” “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games” all started out as books before a talented screenwriter turned them into adapted screenplays. Also, think “Twilight.”

And books aren’t the only inspiration for adapted screenplays — don’t forget plays, short stories, poems, and more! There is a long and successful history of adapting all kinds of literature into screenplays…

Plays inspired many film classics: “12 Angry Men,” based on the play of the same name; “Pretty Woman,” based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”; and “West Side Story,” based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

But literature doesn’t have to be long to inspire a film. “Story of Your Life,” a science fiction short by Ted Chiang, was recently adapted into the Golden Globe and Oscar-nominated film “Arrival.” And the Oscar-nominated 1939 classic “Gunga Din” was based on a poem of the same name by Rudyard Kipling.

Sources for adapted screenplay material don’t have to end with books, plays, and poems. Need we mention all the films successfully adapted from comic books?  

Follow The Story

Your first step is to learn the source material inside-out, identify the main characters, and trace out their story lines. Passion for the story is the most important driver behind adapting a novel into a screenplay. You can make a list of key characters, crucial scenes, and major themes, but don’t get bogged down in the minutiae. Remember: your goal is to tell this story as a film, and you’re looking for ways to drive the action forward.

This is your brainstorming phase. Draw charts or diagrams. Storyboard. Write lists. Do whatever it is that helps you connect the dots in your own brain as you begin to shift your mind from interacting with this story as consumer, to becoming the storyteller. Your job at this phase is to organize your source material and begin to identify the shape your story will take on screen.

Adaptation Means Change

Sometimes you have to shed subplots or minor characters in order to keep the story rolling along. Or, use your imagination to fill in gaps. After all, you’re adapting one story form into another, and it has to fit into the structure of a 120-page screenplay. Think of The Harry Potter series, and how screenwriters had to carefully curate which characters and subplots could participate in the the story of a two-hour time film.

This can be a hard judgment call, so how will you know when to change something? A good rule of thumb is that if it doesn’t drive the story forward, you’ll have to change it.

Jane Anderson, scriptwriter for HBO’s Olive Kitteridge, explained how screenwriters know when to twist a plot or kill off a character: “Once you know your theme and who you’re meant to follow, then it becomes very clear [what to cut or eliminate]. You have to decide, as a dramatist—how do I want to tell this story?”

Show Don’t Tell

It’s ever-so-tempting to translate those beautifully written sentences into voice-overs, but you must resist the urge! Remember that your audience wants to see the story and not hear it; they can hear the story on tape in Grandpa’s 1986 Chevy truck or download it on iTunes to listen at the gym. As a screenwriter, you know that you’re speaking a visual vocabulary. If you must use voice-overs to tell your story, limit it to the best lines in the book.

Once you have these tips in mind, choose your favorite novel or short and story and feel free to begin

adapting it for the big screen! What are your favorite adapted screenplays? Let us know in the comments below!

Learn more about the craft of filmmaking at NYFA’s Screenwriting School.

 

Great Films for Learning to Write Dialogue

Writing dialogue that is believable and natural can be a challenge. Each character in your script should sound distinct and different from the other characters. What they say needs to be important to character development or to advance the plot, but it can’t sound contrived. Above all, it has to be entertaining. Take a look (and a listen) to some of the silver screen’s masters of dialogue writing for inspiration. Below, we’ve rounded up some great scenes for you to watch for inspiration along with some great writing exercises. If you’re feeling stuck or simply want to flex your writing muscles, give these scene/exercise combinations a try!

1. Write: Characters Who Want Something From Each Other

Without a doubt, Quentin Tarantino has a flair for writing memorable, quotable dialogue that is simultaneously intense, insightful, and often laugh-out- loud funny. It’s a challenge to find clips that are appropriate for a PG-13 audience, but check out this scene from 1994’s “Pulp Fiction.” The dynamic between Vincent (John Travolta) and Mia (Uma Thurman) is immediately clear when she cuts off his protest with the reminder that he has been directed to do whatever she wants: “Now, I wanna dance; I wanna win. I want that trophy, so dance good.” Her dominance continues as she does the talking for both of them when they take the stage.

Why this works: Mia’s aggressive dialogue is matched by Vincent’s monosyllabic responses. The pauses and body language throughout the scene take on as much meaning as the spoken words.

A challenge for you: Write a scene where one character wants something from another character.

2. Write: Solving a Problem

William Goldman’s screenplay for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969) is full of great back-and- forth between Butch (Paul Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford). He also includes some great ensemble scenes, such as this one where Butch and Sundance reunite with the Hole in the Wall Gang and find there has been a challenge to Butch’s leadership.

Why this works: There is humor and dramatic tension layered throughout the scene. From News Carver (Timothy Scott) wanting to read his own name in the paper to Harvey Logan’s (Ted Cassidy) insistence on settling the issue with a fight, the scene has crisp dialogue that reveals character and advances the plot, while cementing the bond between Butch and Sundance.

A challenge for you: Write a scene with three or more characters trying to solve a problem — make sure each character is unique.

3. Write: Unwilling Attraction

“It Happened One Night” (1934) is a classic template for romantic comedy that works because of the smart screenplay by Robert Riskin and Samuel Hopkins Adams as much as because of the chemistry of the leads. The Screwball Comedies of this era usually matched a middle class character with a higher class character and “It Happened One Night” pairs a rough newsman with an heiress. In this scene where Peter (Clark Gable) and Ellie (Claudette Colbert) are hitchhiking, her cool wit undermines his gruff confidence.

Why this works: Ellie doesn’t speak many lines, but each one is sharp and cuts right through Peter’s bluster. He may have confidence, but she has brains. Their exchanges help establish the growing attraction between them.

A challenge for you: Write a scene where two characters are attracted to each other, but refuse to acknowledge it.

4. Write: Sustained Dialogue

Guy Ritchie’s films have dialogue that is as fast and twisted as any of the action scenes in them. His 1998 film “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” opens with a street hustling scene featuring Bacon (Jason Statham) who delivers his lines in a rapid-fire manner that would leave most actors breathless. Bacon has a crowd gathered around him and he’s trying to sell hot wares with the help of another hustler planted in the audience. Bacon’s eyes move as quickly as his mouth as he tries to find the suckers in the crowd.

Why this works: The scene quickly establishes Bacon as a small-time con who is always looking for an advantage and an escape route.

A challenge for you: Write a scene where a character has a minute and a half of sustained, uninterrupted dialogue.

5. Write: Revealing a Secret 

The screenplay for “Jaws” (1975) was written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb. The scene where Quint (Robert Shaw) describes surviving the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in the sea between Guam and the Philippines is intense and frightening because of Shaw’s masterful delivery and the sharp details of Quint’s story.

Why this works: The scene is a very primal one, calling to mind the stories told around a fire on a dark, moonless night. The details about shark’s eyes and Quint’s shipmates bobbing lifelessly in the water are told in an unflinching, matter-of-fact way that helps the viewer picture the scene.

A challenge for you: Write a scene where a character reveals a trauma from their past.

6. Write: An Exaggerated Reaction

“Mean Girls” (2004) is full of scenes that are simultaneously funny and revealing. In this scene, Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) tries to explain her friendship with Regina (Rachel McAdams). Gretchen’s anger and insecurity bubble up through the surface as she suffers from yet another humiliation at the hands of Regina.

Why this works: Tina Fey’s script mixes exaggerated teenspeak, manic energy, and characters who are realistic enough to be recognizable even when their situations and reactions are distorted for the sake of comedy.

A challenge for you: Write a comic scene where a character has an exaggerated reaction to a situation.

Don’t stop now!

There are hundreds of other examples of great dialogue in film from every genre and era — when you watch a film, listen to how the dialogue functions and keep an ear out for models you can use for inspiration in your own writing. As you watch your favorite show or film, stop and ask yourself what is happening in the scene — and then try writing that action yourself.

Want to know more about writing dialogue? Check out NYFA’s How to Write Dialogue in Film or How To Write a Phone Conversation in a Screenplay. And apply today to attend NYFA’s Screenwriting School.

 

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.

Black History Month: Blazing Trails in the Entertainment Industry Part II

In the second part of this series, we’re bringing you six more (one is a husband and wife team) industry insiders who are blazing trails in the field.

Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil

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Mara Brock Akil and husband Salim are no strangers to television, with each respectively boasting a list of writing credits that include writing credits on ‘90s hit tv shows like “Soul Food,” “The Jamie Foxx Show,” and “Moesha.” This duo has proven to have a winning formula for Hollywood success, having created and written other longstanding hits like “Girlfriends” and “Being Mary Jane,” which stars Gabrielle Union. In fact, their formula is so potent, that the couple most recently inked a multi-year development deal with Warner Bros. Entertainment.

Donald Glover

This multi-hyphenated artist (actor, writer, singer, songwriter, rapper, comedian) who also goes by the stage name Childish Gambino is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, with a degree in dramatic writing. He has taken the industry by storm.

Early in his career, Glover submitted a spec script for “The Simpsons” which garnered him an invitation to write for “30 Rock,” a gig he held onto for three years while simultaneously working in stand-up comedy, rap albums, and a vigorous touring schedule on top of cameos on “30 Rock.” Later, he secured a series regular role on “Community.”

2016 proved to be a big year for Glover. He was cast in“Spider Man: Homecoming,” and debuted his series “Atlanta,” which follows a Princeton University dropout trying to make a name for himself in the music industry. The show, which he created, stars in, writes, and executive produces, has already met rave reviews in its first season — and was awarded a Golden Globe for Best Music or Comedy TV Series.

Kenya Barris

Writer and producer Kenya Barris is no stranger to television. The creator of several shows including “America’s Next Top Model,” he also co-created and co-produced and “The Game.” His most recent series, “Black-ish,” chronicles a black family living in an upper-class and predominantly white neighborhood, and has received critical acclaim — as well as a Golden Globe win for lead actress Tracee Ellis Ross. Ross was the first black woman to win the award since 1983.

Mr. Barris’ work behind the scenes has been meant working up the ranks from staff writer on shows like “Soul Food,” “Are We There Yet,” and “Girlfriends,” to producing. Now, Barris has added director to his already impressive list of credits, having directed episodes of “Black-ish” just this past year.

Misha Green

Former staff writer for “Heroes” and “Sons of Anarchy” Misha Green, together with fellow “Heroes” writer Joe Pokasky, created the WGN hit “Underground.” This is a true-to-history thriller about a group of slaves planning to escape a Georgia plantation. The show, soon to be in its second season, and for which Green is also executive producer, boasts a score by R&B crooner John Legend, and has been hailed as a harrowing portrayal of plantation life and the journey to freedom for thousands of African-American enslaved people. 

Gina Prince-Bythewood

Screenwriter-turned-director Gina Blythewood has been contributing to great television and film since her days as a staff writer on the show “A Different World,” where she met her husband and sometime partner, Reggie Rock Bythewood, also a screenwriter. Her first film, 2000’s “Love and Basketball” starred Sanaa Lathan and was developed at Sundance Institute’s directing and writing lab. Soon to follow would be “The Secret Life of Bees,” based on the bestselling book by the same name, and “Beyond the Lights.”

In 2016, it was announced that Prince-Bythewood would direct an adaptation of frequent NY Times contributor and author, Roxane Gay’sAn Untamed State,” with whom she would also co-write the script.

Which industry trailblazers have made your list of inspiration during Black History Month? Let us know in the comments below!

A Q&A with NYFA’s Screenwriting Chairs

In honor of International Screenwriter’s Day a few weeks ago, resident NYFA reporter Joelle Smith sat down with the New York Film Academy Screenwriting School’s three program chairs to discuss what their craft meant for them, their hopes for the future, and what students are bringing to the table. Here, read our dialogue with Melanie Williams Oram in New York City, and Nuncio DeFilippis and Adam Finer in Los Angles

NYFA: What makes the craft of screenwriting unique from all other forms of writing?

Adam Finer: Screenwriting is the blueprint for a uniquely visual form of storytelling. Without that strong blueprint, nothing gets built. Motion pictures, television series and web series all require storytellers who can visualize the world and create three-dimensional characters that drive a compelling and engaging story that can be told on-screen.    

Nunzio DeFilippis: Two things make it unique. The first is that a finished script is not a finished product. It’s only meant to guide in the creation of a different finished product (a film, or TV episode).

NYFA: What inspired you to become a screenwriter?

AF: I have been working with screenwriters for nearly 20 years now, helping writers develop their material, unearth characters, discover story worlds and find their personal voices. Those are some of the things that drive me. My mission is to help creative artists, and especially screenwriters, uncover the tools and skills to achieve their goals and find success in their chosen fields.  

NDF: Watching “Star Wars.” When I saw that movie (I was seven when it came out), I knew I wanted to write movies.  I did have some variation — thinking I might act as well as write — but I knew from seven years old that I wanted to write, and it had to be movies.

Melanie Williams Oram: I am a screenwriter because I love to tell stories. I decided to pursue a career in film and television because I am committed to telling stories that feature women, people of color, and other minorities and that celebrate the universality in diverse experiences. 

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NYFA: What do you see in your students today that is new in the field of screenwriting?

AF: Our department has a strong emphasis on finding the right medium for your story. It’s one of the reasons that our degree students learn about New Media or Transmedia storytelling. Our students are being prepared for the changes in the industry and are learning to create stories in the medium that best supports them.  

NDF: Younger writers don’t view the storytelling world in the same limited way that my generation did. When I went to film school, none of my classmates wanted to take classes on TV. It was beneath them, as they wrote films and only films.  

Students today are drawn to TV, but even better, see themselves as able to jump between the two forms. There is some resistance to other forms of visual storytelling (like web series and comic books) at first, but only from some of them.  

Many students are not only able to jump between film and TV, but they’re ready to tackle these new forms. I love their open-minded approach, and I think it serves them well.

MWO: The proliferation of digital media makes it easier for my current students to get their stories in front of an audience. In our screenwriting classes at NYFA we push students to develop unique characters that serve as the starting point to creating stories that are entertaining and that leave a powerful impact on their audiences

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NYFA: What’s one thing everyone should know before starting a screenplay?

AF: Understanding screenplay structure and format are essential for people in the industry to be willing to read your scripts.  

NDF: What they want the story to be about. Why are they writing it? Why is it important to them, and why are they the person to write this story?  

If you don’t know the answers to those two questions, you will burn out halfway through.  And the answers can’t just be “because it’s cool” or “because it’s popular right now.”  

If you don’t know what you’re writing about, and if you don’t connect with it, the work of creating a feature film script (or the entire world of a TV pilot) will be too much.

MWO: Conquering the demon of the blank page is the toughest thing about being a writer. Slay your blank page dragons by refusing to self-edit. Just let the ideas from your head flow onto the page. No judgments.

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NYFA: What makes a great screenplay?

AF: There are so many elements that go into a great screenplay. Well-developed and defined characters. A unique, yet relatable world (and unique doesn’t have to mean another planet, it can be a local sports story but from a perspective that’s unique). Strong dialogue that feels believable for the characters. The writer’s voice coming through in a story that they felt needed to be told.  

NDF: Characters who want something, and who face real stakes if they fail to achieve it. The greatest mistake I see in students and young writers is creating characters who are apathetic and want nothing. That’s a very hard character to hang a story around.  

Characters who want to be left alone have to pursue that goal as vigorously as other characters pursue their goals.  And even if they do, their stories risk a lack of connection to the audience.  What we connect to as audiences is desire.

Evil characters can still be compelling if the things they desire resonate with us.  Characters we have nothing in common with can generate empathy if we have something in common with what they want or need.  

Always build your story around this basic template:  “Someone wants something and something or someone gets in their way.” Then add consequences for failing to get that something (and not always physical ones, emotional ones will do) and you’ll have a story.

MWO: People connect to stories because they are able to identify with protagonists. There’s a common misconception in Hollywood that people can only identify with film characters who look like them. I believe that films with strong stories that explore human themes can connect people across racial and gender lines. Good stories make audiences forget that they are watching a film. Good stories allow audiences to become completely immersed in the struggles and the triumphs of the protagonist. 

Thank you to our Screenwriting School department chairs for sharing their insights with the New York Film Academy community! To learn more about the Scriptwriting track at NYFA click here.

Screenwriting 101: What Plagiarism Is, What It Isn’t, and How to Protect Yourself From It

Plagiarism is rare — at least when we’re talking about the screenwriting industry.

The only reason it seems so prevalent is that the few occasions in which it does occur at the top level — cases like Shia LaBeouf’s fall from grace, for instance — and usually result in huge amounts of press and gigantic court settlements.

The harsh reality, however, is you’ll be fighting hard to get your script noticed by anyone in the industry, meaning that plagiarism is likely to be the least of your worries. That’s the bad news. On the bright side, the incentive for a production company to steal work that lands on their desk and erase the writer’s name is virtually zero. The nature of the screenwriting business somewhat automatically protects your work: there’s no shortage of people with a screenplay to sell; the risk of being caught out with plagiarism is high; and the financial penalties for plagiarism can be crippling.

That all said, just because being struck by lightning is a very rare event doesn’t mean it never happens — and it is marginally more likely to occur when entering into less-than-reputable screenwriting competitions. So be careful, and do your due diligence in research ahead of time.

We thought we’d compile some tips on how to deal with the situation should you ever be unlucky enough to find your screenwriting work has been plagiarized.

And first up, we’ll start with something that gets to the root of the issue:

Busting the “Poor Man’s Copyright” Myth

It’s an old and enduring token of wisdom: If you want to copyright your screenplay, mail a physical copy to yourself.

The idea here is that the US postal mark will prove ownership of the mail inside and provide a certifiable date which will defend against any accusations of plagiarism from works after this date.

Problem is, it’s flawed on every level.

We’ll put aside the fact that the system is less than failsafe — it’s not hard to manipulate an envelope — or that this defense has never been successfully employed in court to win a copyright case. The reason mailing yourself your script doesn’t copyright your work is that there’s absolutely no need to: anything you create is already copyrighted to you.

You don’t even need to put the © symbol anywhere on your script — and it’s often seen as a sign of an amateur to do so — because your copyright is already inherent. All adding the symbol does is remind anyone viewing your script that it’s the intellectual property of someone else. Anyone in the industry will take this as a given anyway, while an intentional plagiarist isn’t going to be deterred by a symbol.

But let’s assume you’ve become aware of someone who hasn’t just taken your idea (more on that later), but has copied whole chunks of your text. Now what?

Protecting Yourself Against Screenplay Plagiarism

Really, the best cure here is prevention.

Many networks or corporations won’t even look at screenplays or concepts by unknown writers without an agent. This is not because it’s some kind of closed cabal, but simply because they’re covering their own backs. In copyright cases, it nearly always comes down not to how similar the screenplays are, but whether or not it can be established that the defendant was aware of the other person’s work — or had contact with them along the way.

So, many networks and corporations won’t look at unsolicited ideas or manuscripts in the first place because this reduces the chances of their being successfully sued further down the line to virtually zero.

What this means for you in the writer’s seat is that not only will finding a good agent improve your marketability, but it’ll also offer you the same protection that the corporations enjoy. When dealing through an agent, everything gets recorded. Which is just the way it should be — and the way you want it.

But if you have identified a real case of suspected plagiarism and are writing solo, here’s a very helpful flowchart detailing the best approach at responding to the person whose work you find under their name (it’s intended for authors, but the advice is fairly universal).

Afraid of Accidental Plagiarism?

As a writer, you’ll no doubt recognize this very common scenario: you describe the brilliant screenplay you’re working on to a friend, only for her to reply with, “Hmmm, that sounds just like Movie X.”

Horrified, you look it up on IMDB or Wikipedia. You’ve never even seen the movie in question, but sure enough, you find it does indeed follow a pretty similar plot to your idea.

So, should you be worried about being sued for plagiarism?

Nope. Because you can’t actually be sued for plagiarism; that’s an ethical issue, not a legal one.

What you can be sued for is copyright violation, and it’s very difficult to commit this crime accidentally; this covers ripping off character names and entire passages of text, not expressing the same idea in a different way. Ideas, after all, are not copyrightable.

Simply having a similar plot (or even the same plot in most circumstances) does not constitute copyright violation. As we’ve covered previously, just as there are only seven notes with which to make songs, there are only so many plot archetypes and tropes with which to create a satisfying story. Every writer is inspired by works that have gone before their pen hit the page, and being inspired is far from violating copyrighted works. Think of the overt similarities between the TV show “House” and the “Sherlock Holmes” canon, for instance.

In fact, if you’re genuinely worried about mistakenly violating copyright, you’re precisely the type of person who’s least likely to do it.

So go forth and write! Strive for originality, but be aware that we all stand on the shoulders of giants.

And that’s not a bad thing.