Character is Action. Wonderful video from the Actor’s Studio–
Character is Action. Wonderful video from the Actor’s Studio–
This is a guest post by good friends who run a wonderful writing retreat program. Here it is in their own words–
He and his fellow writers lamented the chaos of LA with many a “wouldn’t it be great if we could get away and focus on nothing but writing for a few weeks?”
One day over espresso Carlo and a former professor sat reminiscing about favorite times in Italy. They hit on all the usual points: the amazing food, the delicious yet affordable wine, the idyllic towns, the culture rich with history and art, the peace it’s possible to find away from the American rat race. Suddenly it seemed startlingly obvious: they needed to put together a writing retreat in Italy.
From that seed, Michelangelo Screenwriting was born. Carlo would bring a vetted instructor to teach a group of enthusiastic writers from all over the world. Over two weeks, they’d get intensive one-on-one time with the instructor as well as daily group feedback and lecture sessions.
There would be a smattering of days off for sightseeing and fun but mostly the concept was to take time away from regular life to focus on bringing a new piece of writing into the world and polished for sale. The demand was instant.
The regular venue for the program is a remote, eight-hundred-year old stone farmhouse named Villa Michelangelo (hence the program name) that belongs to Carlo’s father’s best friend. It sits in a quiet valley east of Cortona on the Tuscan/Umbrian border.
This year the program is expanding its offerings to include sessions in the Orvieto convent that was a favorite travel stop of Carlo’s late uncle. “Hollywood is all about who you know. That’s even more true in Italy where family ties are paramount.
These places have been so welcoming to me and my groups because of my family. The villa only sleeps ten. This year we’ve got a writing team teaching so we’re offering sixteen student spots. The convent will be an amazing spot to let go and create,” explains Carlo.
Though it started off as a retreat for UCLA-trained writers, over the years Michelangelo Screenwriting has expanded to welcome Irish university students, German adventurers and Aussie television executives.
Carlo begins lining up the next year’s instructors in late summer/early fall. “We always go for people with a following. Writers that other writers will be really excited to work with,” Carlo says.
This year’s program brings the comedy writing team of Acker & Blacker (The Thrilling Adventure Hour, Supernatural) in to teach. For the first time, the business of launching a project and creating a brand will be a major feature of the program.
“It’s not enough anymore just to write a great spec script,” Carlo says. “You have to know how to market yourself.” After an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign to expand their monthly stage show to a graphic novel, web series and concert film, Acker & Blacker are the guys in the know.
“Their ability to foster and reach a devoted following is clear. Writers need to understand how to do this now. We can’t just sit around hoping that an increasingly conservative major studio will risk millions on our idea.”
Of course it helps that Acker & Blacker’s regular players in the Thrilling Adventure Hour include comedian Paul F. Tompkins, and Paget Brewster (Criminal Minds), Autumn Reeser (Entourage, The Last Resort), and Busy Phillips (Cougar Town).
The show is also known for its guest stars, including frequent visits from such stars as Nathan Fillion (Castle, Firefly), Colin Hanks (The Guilt Trip, Dexter), John Hamm (Mad Men) and most recently John Krasinski (The Office), Emily Blunt (Looper) and Joseph Gordon Levitt (Looper). Available worldwide via podcast from Nerdist Industries, the show has been covered by NPR, the Los Angeles Times, and countless blogs.
Not only are Acker & Blacker gifted teachers but they are constantly working writers, having sold numerous pilots and sketches, and spent a stint on the writing staff of Supernatural. They’re on the front lines daily and they know how to make it through the machine. Most valuably, they know how to take their work straight to audiences when Hollywood isn’t taking notice.
That is invaluable knowledge for any writer to develop. In Hollywood it certainly is all about connections and if you can create a supportive and fun family along the way, you’re on the right track. Michelangelo Screenwriting aims to help writers do just that while adding a little dolce vita in along the way.
MICHELANGELO SCREENWRITING • SUMMER 2013 • ORVIETO, ITALY
Led by Ben Acker & Ben Blacker of the Thrilling Adventure Hour
Session 1: Sunday June 16 – Saturday June 29 Practical Screen and TV Writing
Session 2: Sunday June 30 – Saturday July 6 Intensive Screen and Television Writing
Visit www.MichelangeloScreenwriting.com for more info or to apply for one of the 16 spots.
Gangnam Style by Psy became the first YouTube video to cross the one billion view threshold, making it the most popular viral video in history. In case you’re not familiar with this sensation– What’s Gangnam Style?
According to Wikipedia–
“Gangnam Style” (Korean: 강남스타일, IPA: [kaŋnam sɯtʰail]) is a K-pop single by the South Korean musician PSY. The song was released in July 2012 as the lead single of his sixth studio album PSY 6 (Six Rules), Part 1, and debuted at number one on South Korea’s Gaon Chart. On December 21, 2012, at around 15:50 UTC, “Gangnam Style” became the first video in the history of the Internet to be viewed more than a billion times. As of December 25, 2012, the music video has been viewed over 1 billion times on YouTube, and it is the site’s most watched video after surpassing Justin Bieber’s single “Baby”.
There have been pages and pages of analysis as to the odd-ball video’s popularity. My take comes down to one word– Enthusiasm.
Psy is a short chubby guy with very unsophisticated, slightly awkward dance moves. But he sings his songs and repeats his moves with absolute conviction and, most important, with wholehearted energy and individuality.
What does this song and dance video have to do with writing? Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best–
“When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it.
Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic and faithful,
and you will accomplish your object. “
Does everything you write and the way you approach your writing have this crackling enthusiasm, passion, and authenticity?
Can you make everything you do in 2013 reflect your very own unique take on Gangnam Style? If you do so you will be much more likely to succeed and to have more fun along the way!
Pixar story artist Emma Coats has tweeted a series of “story basics” over the past month and a half — guidelines that she learned from her more senior colleagues on how to create appealing stories. My thoughts are in parenthesis:
#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes. (Trying, failing, and getting up again is what gives a character heart. Characters are vulnerable when they are trying and strong when they are successful. Vulnerability is key to audience bonding).
#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different. (It’s the emotional component that endears a character to the audience. Don’t get too clever with other elements– trying to be hip, smart, or cool).
#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite. (We rarely know what we are writing until after we’ve written it. Once you have a first draft you may be surprised by what the story is really about. Take out everything that doesn’t enhance or support what is really going on at the heart of the story).
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___. (Simple simple simple. If you can’t tell the story using these beats and described in one or two sentences go back to the drawing board).
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free. (What an audience wants is a simple story filled with complex emotions NOT a complex story filled with simple emotions).
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal? (This goes back to vulnerability. Adversity doesn’t build character it reveals it).
#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front. (If you know you are going to Boston from LA there are lots of ways you can get there. But you don’t get anywhere if you don’t know exactly where you are headed).
#8: Finish your story, let go, even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time. (If you write one script you have a project. If you write lots of scripts you have a career. Keep writing. Keep moving forward in your career rather than continually reworking a single project).
#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up. (When you are stuck write what you can write. Write what you know about the story even if it is based on a list of “my character would never do THIS.” After you’ve written the list ask yourself what would it take to get your character to do each of the things you believe the character would never do? As long as you are writing something you are moving forward).
#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it. (What moves your heart? Work on stories that profoundly speak to you).
#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone. (Incremental progress is key here. You’ll never know what you have if you don’t write it down. Be content to write a crappy first draft. Then at least you have something to work with).
#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself. (Keep pushing your story and character to extremes. What is the most unlikely thing that could happen? What would make your character completely unlikeable? Then how would you turn that around?)
#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience. (Specifics make great characters. A character’s specific world view colors everything he or she says or does. Look at the Nine Character Types on the navigation bar above and then ask yourself “Is this how my character sees the world?”)
#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it. (Never write anything that bores you or in a genre you don’t respect. Both approaches are death to the finished story).
#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations. (I disagree PROFOUNDLY with this advice. I don’t think you should ask “what would I do in this situation” unless you share the character’s specific world view. See the Nine Character Types on the navigation bar above. You should, instead, ask what would some do who believes THIS is true about the world, about love, and about life).
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against them. (The story is in the struggle).
#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later. (Let your character’s lead you. Sometimes you have to write 30 pages of a first act you’ll never use. YOU needed to know this information– the audience doesn’t).
#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining. (Don’t be a sloppy writer. Work hard to get it right. But don’t let the pursuit of the perfect rob your audience of what is wonderful but imperfect).
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating. (I love this one. Coincidences that lead to problems, danger, challenges, or threats are surprising. Coincidences that lead to escapes, avoiding consequences, or allowing characters to get what they haven’t earned ruin a story).
#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like? (Ask yourself what is missing here, or out of place, or not the result of cause and effect? It’s often easier to learn from someone else’s mistakes than to recognize your own).
#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way? (I’ve got to disagree here too. Ask yourself what would a character with a specific world view do in this situation? What would push his or her buttons? What would challenge a character with this world view the most?)
#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there. (What is the single image that defines your story? What’s the poster? As crass as that seems it’s the briefest short hand of the story).
Some say we are living in a golden age of television. From zombies to serial killers to singing teens, it seems like there’s more original programming than ever. But does this also mean more opportunities for new writers? What are the practical steps you need to take if you’re considering a career in television? What kinds of sample scripts are showrunners looking for these days?
This month on the CineStory podcast we bring you a conversation between three pros working in TV. From producing to writing to repping, our mentors have all the bases covered. So tune in to learn what’s going on in the world of TV and what this means for people trying to break in right now.
In The One-Hour Screenwriter and my upcoming Thriller and The Power of Truth book, I recommend writing for one hour a day. Cory Doctorow, an extremely prolific writer, has his schedule down to 20 minutes a day.
Cory is co-parenting new father who writes at least a book per year, half-a-dozen columns a month, ten or more blog posts a day, plus assorted novellas and stories and speeches.
Here is his take on incremental progress and he recommends:
1. A short, regular work scheduleWhen I’m working on a story or novel, I set a modest daily goal — usually a page or two — and then I meet it every day, doing nothing else while I’m working on it (for 20 minutes a day)..2. Leaving yourself a rough edgeWhen you hit your daily word-goal, stop. Stop even if you’re in the middle of a sentence. Especially if you’re in the middle of a sentence. That way, when you sit down at the keyboard the next day, your first five or ten words are already ordained, so that you get a little push before you begin your work..3. Don’t researchResearching isn’t writing and vice-versa. When you come to a factual matter that you could google in a matter of seconds, don’t. … type “TK” where your fact should go, as in “The Brooklyn bridge, all TK feet of it, sailed into the air like a kite.” “TK” appears in very few English words … so a quick search through your document for “TK” will tell you whether you have any fact-checking to do afterwards..4. Don’t be ceremoniousForget advice about finding the right atmosphere to coax your muse into the room. … You can put up with noise/silence/kids/discomfort/hunger for 20 minutes. (For those 20 minutes all you do is write and don’t all ANY distractions in.)
I’ve just discovered a wonderful new website called The 99%. One of the videos on the site is a discussion by the photographer and now filmmaker Andrew Zuckerman on creativity, wisdom, curiosity and success. This is really worth your time and may even change the way you think about success–
Our story editor called a meeting of the readers to tell us none of us had any idea what a scene was. I was surprised; I thought I knew. A scene is a short piece of a movie, taking place in one location and one span of time, in which some action takes place or some information is given.
Wrong, she said. And proceeded to explain that a scene is a business deal. It may not involve money but it will always involve some change in the contract between characters or in the balance of power. It’s a transaction, in which two or more people enter with one kind of deal between them, and negotiate or battle until a new deal has been cut, at which point the scene should end.
It could be the reversal of a power structure. The underdog seizes power by blackmail. Or it could be the forging of a new alliance or enmity. A boy asks a girl out and she accepts or rejects his offer. The meat of the scene is the negotiation to arrive at the new deal, and when the deal is cut, the scene is over, period. If there’s no new deal, it’s not a scene, or at least it’s not a scene that’s pulling its weight in the script. It’s a candidate either for cutting or for rewriting
The story editor pointed out that many writers don’t know what a scene is, either, and put in non-scenes that are just there “to build character” or to get across exposition. They don’t know when to begin and end a scene, wasting time with introductions and chit-chat and dragging the scene out long after the transaction has been concluded. The scene is the deal. When the deal is done, get off the stage.
In 2004, film executive Franklin Leonard started The Black List listing and then naming the best and most popular scripts in Hollywood limbo, according to a huge consensus of executives in the top tiers of filmmaking. The goal was to champion screenplays by talented but not necessarily well-known screenwriters based on the quality of the writing ,and not how many connections the writer had in the business.
In seven years there have been 125 Black List screenplays turned into movies. Between them they have won 20 Oscars and grossed approximately $10 billion worldwide.
The Black List is probably the greatest resource available for producers trying to find source material for their next big movie, and produced scripts include Juno, 500 Days Of Summer, Lars and the Real Girl, No Strings Attached and Inglourious Basterds.
Already in production from last year’s Black List are Snow White and the Huntsman, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Oz the Great and Powerful.
OK, point made: The Black List has been a big deal.
The news now is that the Franklin Leonard is launching a new site that will track the most popular scripts in real time, an advance for a film industry where trends are constantly shifting.
Not only that, the site will also expand its polling to include the opinions of agents and leading directors, making the site a more valuable resource than ever before.
© Laurie Story Inc. All Rights Reserved.