#MondayMusings – Scandi Noir & Casting


I don’t talk much about casting but it is a part of what I do.  One of my top casting tips is to watch auditions with the sound off.  Ask yourself what is the actor giving off- regardless of the words he or she is saying.  Casting is one of the times when I think the words get in the way. In one of my consulting jobs, I was called in to help figure out why an actor was floundering in his role.

He was a young pop star in the country involved.  He was cast in an extended recurring role.  He was meant to be a “bad boy”, rebel, slightly dangerous love interest for a popular young actress on the show.  They dressed him in ripped jeans, scuffed motorcycle boots, and a cool leather jacket– meant to emulate a young James Dean.  But he wasn’t connecting with the actress or the audience.

I asked the producers to cut together three scenes in which the actor was prominently featured. They could be from anywhere in story.  We watched the scenes with the sound off.  I asked the writers and produces what this actor was giving off.  They chose words like: eager, open, sweet, puppy-dog like.  There wasn’t a dangerous bone in his body.  We changed his Character Type and he became a great success.

Actors will tell you they can play anything.  And that is true.  But if they play a role outside their emotional zone they will bring craft, professionalism, and technical skill to the role.  But we will be able to see them acting.  No audience wants to see acting.  They want to see a character being him or herself.

Casting is one of the things that makes Scandi Noir so compulsively watchable.  The actors look like real people engaged in a professional, criminal, or ordinary pursuits. They have faces you might see on the street in an ordinary Scandanavia town. They don’t have “Hollywood teeth”.

When I was in South Africa I learned Black Sails was shot at Cape Town Studios. That series passed me when it aired,  I decided to catch up.  The pirates were very authentically dressed for the ragtag dangerous life they lived.  They had missing fingers and toes, lost legs, gouged out eyes, and cruel scars– but they all had perfectly even white teeth!

#MondayMusings – Awesome Oslo


I have been away from Norway for a while. When I arrived, I realized how much I missed working in Oslo. The Drama Days summit was wonderful.  Interesting panels and most of my local professional colleagues in one place!!  I did a short lecture on The Emotional Toolbox and the following day a full day workshop.

I had a great weekend off– well, sort of off.  I had several project synopsis to read in preparation for one-on-one consultations for the Norwegian Film Institute.  Excited to meet all the writers.  Several of the projects have already been commissioned by the NRK (Norway’s equivalent to the BBC).

Some great drama and comedy shows are coming from the network– I particularly loved Norsemen, a wacky comedy, Valkyrien, a wonderful medical thriller, and Occupied,  a show about the stealth takeover of the Norwegian government by Russia for the oil and gas resources (on TV 2).  You can catch all of this on Netflix!

Here is a great video that gives a taste of Oslo:

#MondayMusings – How Do You Eat an Elephant?

Monday Musings

Any writing project is daunting.  Going from the first blank page to 100 screenplay pages or 300 novel pages is a huge challenge.  But the answer to “How do you eat an elephant?” is, one bite at a time.  The way to accomplish any goal is incremental progress.  Get started and keep going.

Robert Collier, one of the first self-help authors, said, “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.

Be consistent. Be diligent.

When I was a student in the UCLA Master’s in Screenwriting program we had 10 weeks to go from blank page to finished first draft. The way I discovered I could meet that deadline time after time was to write 5 pages a day.  Just 5 pages.  Everyday. I never had to pull all-nighters or handed in an unfinished draft.

Small incremental progress is key.  I believe so deeply in this approach I wrote an online course that helps writers finish a first draft writing just one hour a day. I started with the presumption that most people using the course had busy work lives, family lives, and social lives.  But everyone, no matter how busy can block out one hour.

The course is a step by step guide.  You have a specific assignment each day.  There is screenwriting information, video lesson, and all the material you need each day.

To learn more about The One Hour Screenwriter eCourse click HERE.

#MondayMusings – You Okay?

Monday Musings

When I first moved to the UK I was rather unnerved by the typical greeting: “You okay?”  I wondered if I looked ill or if I was somehow wearing my pants (underwear) outside my trousers (pants). Were they asking if something was WRONG with me?

Then a friend surmised (not sure how reliable this person is) that the greeting originated during the Blitz in London during World War II.

It was a reassurance that a friend or stranger had survived intact. A quick check that they had indeed made it through.  “Okay?  You okay?”

Now the greeting is a cursory, automatic response. It doesn’t unnerve me because, in fact, I am surviving just fine. And I answer: “Yeah, you?”

But after catastrophic fire, flood, drought, and wind in the US maybe it’s worth taking a note from our British cousins.  You okay?



#MondayMusings – I Love Bank Holidays

Monday Musings

The Summer Bank Holiday has come and gone (August 28, the last Monday in August).

The August Bank Holiday was originally organized by the Bank Holidays Act of 1871 to give bankers a day off so they could participate in cricket matches. Since then, however, its significance has expanded to a much-beloved summer break intended to give all workers a three-day weekend before the summer ends and employees must return to the workplace and students to their schools.

The Notting Hill Carnival in London is probably the number one August Bank Holiday event in the whole UK. It is the largest street fest in all Europe, drawing one to two million attendees each year, and it is the second-biggest street carnival on the planet.

The festival was founded in 1964 by London’s Caribbean community to celebrate Caribbean culture, and it has maintained that Caribbean flavor to this day. This year a minute’s silence was held across the whole carnival at 3pm on Sunday to remember those killed when a fire ripped through the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, killing 80 local area people.

The “August Festival” is a collective name for a number of distinct festivals celebrating books, music, theater, comedy, and spoken word performances taking place in Edinburgh throughout the month of August. The festival variety lasts for the greater part of the month and runs through the August Bank Holiday Weekend.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival offers edgier avant-garde performances.

What strikes me as amazing is how sacred Bank Holiday are in the UK.  NO ONE is working.  NO ONE answers emails.  NO ONE returns telephone calls.

In America, people are expected to be reachable on holidays.  Not so in the UK.  This is just one of the many reasons life is so pleasant here. There is a real life work balance and an expectation that shared family holiday time is important.  The nine Bank Holiday long weekends are on top of about 5 weeks paid vacation a year!

And don’t whinge about Brits being less productive.  Study after study reveals how important time to regroup and recharge is to creativity and productivity.


#MondayMusings – Alternative Workspaces


I live a part of the year in the US and the greater part of the year in the UK.  I am very happy to return to my adopted home now through May.

I do have my own office in Bristol but something draws me out and I find I am happiest at my dining table (inside with doors flung open or outside in my little courtyard). or in a nearby poolside coffee shop/restaurant around the corner.

Another favorite spot is in a nearby poolside coffee shop/restaurant around the corner.  Lunch, coffee, or a tea time dessert can be had as swimmers stroke back and forth.

Writing is a lonely vocation.  Sometimes I need people around me and a few hellos to friends. Lots of creative people hang out/work poolside at The Lido.  (You’ve nothing on Bristol, LA!)

Sometimes I just need a bit of air.  The value of good weather in the UK isn’t to be taken lightly! It is always a cause for celebration.

Where are you happiest writing or thinking?









#MondayMusings – Amsterdam and Jeanne Moreau

Monday Musings

I am off to Amsterdam this week to work on a show I’ve been a part of for ten years.  The creative team is great and I come in every few months to talk characters and story.  It’s one of my favorite consulting jobs!

The great thing about traveling so much for my work is meeting so many fantastically talented people.

I had the great privilege of meeting Jeanne Moreau several times.  I was very sad to hear of her passing. She was the President/Patron of a European script development workshop I’ve been working with on and off for over fifteen years.  The program has a rotating roster of advisors, who work one-on-one with the workshop participants.

She was a writer, director, and producer and always had insightful things to say about scripts.  Her powerful presence on screen lit up the cinema.

Moreau’s charisma, intelligence, sexuality and star quality created a new space in postwar French cinema for female stars who were not merely beautiful but commandingly intelligent and complex, and in her way made possible the very different careers of Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Marion Cotillard and Isabelle Huppert. To call her an icon would be to make her too passive and inert. She was rather a great screen actor.  The Guardian

A successful stage actress in Paris, Ms. Moreau had a pouty, downturned mouth and circles under her eyes, and she was not generally considered photogenic. Making a score of mostly forgettable films from 1949 to 1957, she received the standard starlet treatment by makeup artists. It was Malle who, casting her in his first feature film, “Elevator to the Gallows,” shot her in natural light without heavy makeup, letting her hauntingly expressive face work its magic. The New York Times

She will be missed.




#MondayMusings – Packing for Business Travel

Monday Musings

I am on my way to Copenhagen as you read this.  Looking forward to a wonderful time meeting new and old friends. The conference has a big treat in store, a boat ride to a fantastic dinner location.  Then back to Bristol for just enough time to unpack and do laundry. Then I am immediately on to Amsterdam! Watch my ETBScreenwriting  INSTAGRAM for pictures,

This is typical of my schedule, I’m a frequent traveler, traveling back and forth between the UK and (mostly) continental Europe and Scandinavia.  I’m not quite in the same league as the main character in “Up in the Air.” In that film, George Clooney plays a frequent flier who is on the road 270 days a year. As Clooney’s character reports, the difference between having to check luggage and fitting everything into a carry-on is a week’s worth of time spent waiting in line.

So that’s tip #1:  Travel Light.  Limit yourself to one cabin sized roll on bag and a compact computer bag. Being the first through customs, never waiting for luggage, and no one EVER losing your baggage is a tremendous advantage in my book. I can easily get two weeks of travel out of one carry-on.

Tip #2: Start with a Dark Base Color.  Personally, I’ve been transitioning from black to navy.  I think navy blue is more interesting than the more expected black. I am lucky to work in the entertainment business where the dress is casual.  I usually pack two pairs of navy business casual trousers and a dark pair of slim jeans. I also bring three nice tops, two sweaters, and a light leather coat.  A couple of soft tee-shirts (cotton and cashmere), and a night gown completes my basic wardrobe. I also usually throw in a packable light down vest.

Tip #3. Limit Shoes. I usually wear ankle boots or trainers on the plane and pack two pairs of nice flats. I’ve picked out trainers that can double as casual shoes– I have good sturdy suede ones.

Tip #4: Add Color with Accessories. I pack a couple of colorful silk scarves to brighten things up.  And I always wear a big soft cozy scarf on the plane.  It’s can be cold on board.

Tip #5:  Wear a Denim Dress on Board.  This is one of the best tips I’ve ever gotten from a fellow female traveler.  A loose denim dress and silky leggings are like wearing pajamas.  I bring a belt to cinch the dress pre and post flight. The denim dress can be dressed up for dinner at the location, while still being casual.

Tip #6. Find Tube and Pencil Versions of Makeup. They fit more easily in the required zip lock bags. Lipstick can double as a blusher.  I snag travel sized toothpaste at the dentist and 2 oz contact solution at the optician. I also have a travel size of my favorite Hermes perfume.  There’s no need to bring more liquid than that.  AND there are drug stores all over the world. Buy what you need on location and leave it behind when you go.

Tip #7: Save Your Back. A roll-on with a hook that holds your computer case counterbalances the load so that you can cruise through the airport quickly. If your bag doesn’t have such an add-on bag strap you can easily buy one.

Tip #8: Test ALL Your Batteries. Make sure your rechargeables are fully charged (Kindle, iPad, FitBit, Computer). Know the capacity of your batteries. You might be surprised by how long a trip you can make without lugging along a bag full of chargers.

Tip #9: Always Bring Backups. “A high-resolution scan of your driver’s license, passport, visas, and credit cards on the SD card of your smartphone or on your computer HD can be a life saver if anything is lost or stolen.  I also recommend a paper print out as well.

Tip #10: Put Medications in the Safe. I once had medication pilfered at a high-end resort. I didn’t notice until I ran out, way ahead of schedule. In some countries, there’s a big black market in prescription medicine.

All that is left is: Relax, bring a snack (food on board is iffy), listen to a downloaded audible book, and enjoy the ride!




#MondayMusings – Vision Boards

Monday Musings

I just created a vision board for the second half of the year.  What’s a vision board? It ‘s a visual representation of your goals. These can be personal goals, financial goals, creative goals, goals to balance your life, travel goals, or your dream house or other material purchases. My goals are work/life balance related and steps toward improving my eBook publishing.

Vision boards came into vogue after  The Secret hit the bestseller list. You may think the Law of Attraction is so much superstitious bunk but that’s not at issue here. A strong clear visualization of your end point is always helpful in keeping your eye on the prize and spurring on your journey.

A vision board can be a cork board with clippings and push pins.  It can be a poster board with images pasted on, or it can be a digital design.  I am a fan of Simpleology as an organizing and scheduling tool and I purchased their vision board add-on for $3.00.  I’ve used the Simpleology free version for a number of years and recommend it.

But there are other digital apps out there that help you create a vision board.  Click HERE for a list. I prefer a vision board to Pinterest because it helps to look at the whole connected vision every day or multiple times a day.  Pinterest is just a large collection of individual pictures.

There are no rules.  Just try it!  I’ve created these over the years and they have really helped keep me positive and focused.  The more clearly you know what you want, or know how you want to feel about your self and your work, the more likely you are to achieve your goals. A vision board is not unlike a director’s mood board for a film. It’s what you want a certain span of time to look like and feel like– only it’s your life!

Here are some examples:


Another one:

Another one:


#MondayMusings – Coincidence? Or Not?


I love Charity Shops in the UK and Thrift Stores, as they are called, in the US.  I bought a colorful large silk scarf in Bristol and yesterday, about a year or so after my original purchase, I saw the same scarf in Madison, Wisconsin.  I bought it  (and now have one scarf for each place, the UK, and US).

What a strange coincidence to find the same donated scarf in resale shops worlds and years apart. That got me musing about coincidence in stories.

Let’s say two women buy the same silk scarf in different countries and at different times and their lives are changed.  How?  Mistaken identity? The forging of an unlikely friendship? The purchase some how spirals one woman into tragedy and spurs the other woman toward fulfilling her dreams?

It’s the stuff of stories. Or is it?  The Atlantic published a wonderful piece on coincidence in stories.   My favorite excerpt is:

(M)aybe … what makes coincidences special is that they present a piece of evidence that the world doesn’t work how you thought it did. Did you run into your friend at the grocery store because cosmic forces were pushing you two together? Did you hear the same song everywhere you went one day because it contained a message for you? Probably not, but it can feel that way, at least at first, and that’s what makes a coincidence startling. It’s unsettling to feel a ripple in the fabric of your reality.

The takeaway here is if you use coincidence don’t just use it to push the plot forward.  Instead, or in addition, use it to show how this event knocks your protagonist of his or her stride or rips a tear in the fabric of their reality.

Read the full Atlantic article HERE