John Cleese on Creativity

The brilliant comedian tackles the serious subject of creativity

#TypesTuesday – Tracy Flick and Hillary Clinton : Power of Conscience

Tracy-Flick-Hillary-Clinton-EtbScreenwritingHillary Clinton and Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) in the movie Election are a great examples of hard-driving intense Power of Conscience characters.

I found a fantastic clip of Tracy and Hillary intercut in a scene from Election.  It is a wonderful sketch of everything that is most important to this Character Type.  The clip refers back to Clinton’s run against Barack Obama (a Power of Imagination character) in 2008.

Power of Conscience characters believe that leadership must be earned by dedication, hard work, thorough preparation, and devotion to duty.  Leadership must be deserved. One must be worthy in order to lead. At their worst, these characters can become rigid, accusatory, sanctimonious, judgmental, and hypocritical.


New eBooks in Production

New ebooks

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted.  I’ve been working on redoing and updating my eBook collection for sale.  Adding lots of new material.  Also doing a completely new update of the website.  Watch this space!

#WritingAdviceWednesday – Great Comedy Advice from Bill Hicks

This advice from comedian Bill Hicks (who died of cancer in 1993) is applicable to many other activities besides stand-up comedy.

  1. If you can be yourself on stage nobody else can be you and you have the law of supply and demand covered.
  2. The act is something you fall back on if you can’t think of anything else to say.
  3. Only do what you think is funny, never just what you think they will like, even though it’s not that funny to you.
  4. Never ask them is this funny – you tell them this is funny.
  5. You are not married to any of this shit – if something happens, taking you off on a tangent, NEVER go back and finish a bit, just move on.
  6. NEVER ask the audience “How You Doing?” People who do that can’t think of an opening line. They came to see you to tell them how they’re doing, asking that stupid question up front just digs a hole. This is The Most Common Mistake made by performers. I want to leave as soon as they say that.
  7. Write what entertains you. If you can’t be funny be interesting. You haven’t lost the crowd. Have something to say and then do it in a funny way.
  8. I close my eyes and walk out there and that’s where I start, Honest.
  9. Listen to what you are saying, ask yourself, “Why am I saying it and is it Necessary?” (This will filter all your material and cut the unnecessary words, economy of words)
  10. Play to the top of the intelligence of the room. There aren’t any bad crowds, just wrong choices.
  11. Remember this is the hardest thing there is to do. If you can do this you can do anything.
  12. I love my cracker roots. Get to know your family, be friends with them.


I would modify this list for screenwriters–

  1. We’ve been telling stories for eons.  There are no new stories.  The only thing that make you commercial (or unique) is your voice and your perspective.
  2. How can you tell the story in a new way?  Don’t fall back on cliches.
  3. Never follow the market.  Tell stories that excite you– not ones you think the market wants to buy.
  4. Tell the market yours is a great story by how you tell it.
  5. Don’t keep going back and rewriting old bits every day, just move on.  Finish the story.  Let the first draft be crappy.  Or you won’t ever have a first draft.
  6. Just jump right into the story.  Don’t waste time with long introductions or back story.
  7. Write what entertains you. Be interesting. Have something to say and then say it in a uniquely personal way.
  8. I close my eyes and walk out there and that’s where I start, Honest.
  9. Read what you are are writing, ask yourself, “Why am I telling this and is it Necessary?” (This will filter all your material and cut the unnecessary words, economy of words).
  10. Play to the top of the intelligence of the reader or viewer. There aren’t any bad audiences, just wrong choices.
  11. Remember this is the hardest thing there is to do. If you can do this you can do anything.
  12. I love my own Wisconsin roots. Get to know your family, be friends with them. Learn from the storytelling of your tribe.


Video of Laurie teaching at Enter the Pitch Residential Weekend

This workshop happened a couple of months ago and I just got access to the video–

Enter the Pitch hosted a residential at Low Wood Bay for ten filmmakers who made it in to the final round of our competition.

The residential included an intensive film master class. ‘The Emotional Toolbox’ course was delivered by international film guru Laurie Hutzler. Through her expertise in story and character development she taught each of the filmmakers to explore characters in their own projects by character mapping and exploring character types.

The filmmakers, who travelled from around the UK to attend Low Wood Bay, have spent the past few weeks developing their story ideas in preparation for the Pinewood Studios boardroom pitch this weekend.

The competition winner will win a budget of £25,000 to help make their short film, production support, and advice from top industry professionals. The winner will also fly to Hollywood to meet film industry professionals such as producer Ralph Winter (X-Men, Fantastic Four).

We know that the hopefuls were totally inspired by their surroundings, as many of the film greats have been before them when visiting the Lake District. We wish all 10 finalists the best of luck for the competition final this weekend.

See the Video here–  Pitch Residential Dec2013


What is Your Protagonist’s Secret?

“Secrets can take many forms — they can be shocking, or silly, or soulful.” Frank Warren, the founder of, shares some of the half-million secrets that strangers have mailed him on postcards.

He is the creator of the PostSecret Project, a blog full of secrets anonymously shared via postcard.

What secrets would your protagonist send in to the site?

Turn Psychology into Behavior

Character is Action.  Wonderful video from the Actor’s Studio–

The Needs of Kim Stanley – A sampling of interviews from The Needs of Kim Stanley on Vimeo.

Screenwriting in Italy

This is a guest post by good friends who run a wonderful writing retreat program.  Here it is in their own words–

When first generation Italian-American Carlo Cavagna got his screenwriting certificate from UCLA’s Professional Program he found balancing a day job and finding time to write a challenge.

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.


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

Twitter: @Michel_write

Visit for more info or to apply for one of the 16 spots.


What Gangnam Style Tells Us about Writing

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!

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Discusses Sherlock Holmes on Video!

This is really marvelous–