Tough Reader, Good Advice

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Journey of a Screenwriter

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Hollywood Screenplay Contest

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Congrats Pat White!

I've been away from the Foxhole for a while but now is a good time to come back. First I need to give a shout out to Pat White my client and friend who this previous year won THE GRAND PRIZE at the 2011 PAGE Awards for her sci fi script Escape. Way to go Pat!

I had the privilege of reading Escape early in 2011 and I'm not surprised at all it won. Pat is a very accomplished writer and her concept was flat out brilliant. Here's hoping Escape catches the eye of a producer!

Coming up I'll be doing a post on Marketing Packages. I'm always being asked if a writer should include coverage in a submission. The answer is no for a variety of reasons but a marketing package is something a writer should look into.

Then, fresh off a another busy month of judging I'll be listing my Do's and Don't's for contest submissions.

Everyone have a happy 2012!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why "The Killing" Sucks!

Sorry, can't contain myself any longer. I have to get this out there. I watched the season finale last night and I'm still pissed off.


I got into the show late in its run about the time the critics were making a sharp 180 degree turn against the show. At the time I didn't see what the problem was. The episodes I saw were character driven and tied together by the mystery of what happened. But then last night it all became clear to me what the critics were complaining about.

To recap, it looks like they've finally put the nail in the coffin of mayor elect Richmond. They have photographic evidence from the highway patrol that he was driving the same car that Rosie Larson drowned in. But then at the last minute our heroine gets the call that the photo was faked, that the camera in question has been out of service for months. The culprit behind this? Her partner Holder, who was meeting a mysterious somebody later. Brilliant twist right?


It is idiotic on the basest level. Holder just slaps together something on Photoshop and claims its from the Highway Patrol? And that's good enough to get a leading candidate for mayor arrested? Okay. Except there's this thing called an evidence chain. Holder can't just show up with a photograph, which by the way in order to fake would need serious Pixar level computer skills. All evidence has to be tagged and recorded. There is a CLEAR path from source to the evidence locker and that path is checked and double checked every step along the way. It most certainly would in this case. In other words Holder's deception would have lasted all of ten seconds as the captain or DA would have immediately put in a priority call to the Highway Patrol to VERIFY the photo and its provenance.

It had been obvious, even to a friendly observer like myself, that the writers and creators didn't do a whole lot of research when it came to detective work. The cops were doing things, like checking the odometer and fuel records of the car on day 13 that they would have started back on day 1. But Holder's turn is just sloppy hack work. He was easily the most interesting character with his urban slang and scarecrow appearance. Plus he never acted as a guy who was either A) covering up the murder or B) trying to frame Richmond. In just the last few episodes he was providing vital clues and/or leading the investigation away from Richmond. Richmond only became a suspect in the end of the last episode by pure chance.

AMC gets a lot of deserved credit for their shows. The writing is usually smart and razor sharp. This time however they missed badly. The people in charge of this train wreck can write dialogue and characters, I'll give them that. But it was achingly obvious they knew nothing about mysteries, thrillers or basic police work. And given the money involved they had no excuse not to change that.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Came across this over at That Guy With The Glasses. This is Jesuotaku, one of their anime critics talking about great anime villains. It just reminded me of how important it is to write good antagonists or villains. In my book there is a difference between an antagonist and a villain. Antagonists are fully developed characters who just happen to have goals completely in conflict with the hero's. A villain is well a bad guy. And yeah it is hella fun to write a real bad guy sometimes.

I also want to make a special note about Light Yagami from "Deathnote." One of the secrets to that anime's success I think is its timeliness. Light really is a villain for the information age. He's an arrogant, intelligent, charismatic punk who thinks he knows how the world should operate despite still being in high school. He's like a blogger given ultimate power.

I kind of like lists. I find I work pretty well turning over a bunch of ideas in my head rather than just concentrating on just one. That's why I've got this list copied down and I'm looking at it to see if it inspires any ideas for my stories.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Boring Work of Story

I did a guest blog on Rex Sike's Movie Beat where I reviewed Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

In it I mentioned that in the original film the story worked because Captain Jack was basically a wild card while Will and Elizabeth were doing the main plot work. It may sound like I'm encouraging writers to create boring characters. I should clarify.

Now first off, I may be in the minority, but I never found Will and Elizabeth that boring. Sure, compared to Jack Sparrow they're as dull as oatmeal but so is every one else including Geoffrey Rush and Jonathan Pryce. Especially in the first film Will and Elizabeth are sympathetic and even a little funny in their own right. Plus they set the emotional stakes for the story.

Go back to the very first scene in the very first film. That scene is a marvel of economy. It sets the ominous and mysterious tone of the films that follows with the ship coming out of the mist. It sets up the menace of the Black Pearl with the wreckage of the ship. The speaking roles are all important characters later on in the story, Gibbs, Norrington, and Governor Swann. It sets the plot in motion with Elizabeth discovering the cursed gold piece. But most importantly it establishes the relationship between Will and Elizabeth. Even though she's just met the boy, young Elizabeth still takes away his gold piece, which she believes will condemn him as a pirate. This is an important point, she takes the gold piece out of altruistic motives. It would be very, very different if she simply stole it. But the relationship starts on a positive note. So when we cut to the next scene of Will and Elizabeth the characters are on firm footing. These aren't just two young people making goo goo eyes at each other despite their station. They've a relationship going back several years. In Elizabeth's eyes she's even saved Will's life. Whether or not you personally find this aspect of the script compelling or whether you love Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley or hate them, the important thing is that it makes sense as far as the story is concerned.

Captain Jack hasn't appeared yet but the story has already started. When he does come in, he doesn't have to worry about the plot or the emotional stakes, he can just be Captain Jack Sparrow and the movie is better for it. That freedom he has is part of his appeal. I remember a lot of my characters seemed to lose a little bit of their luster when you got down to the emotional stakes. And every story needs emotional stakes even if we want to resist it.

Emotional stakes means grounding the character in the stuff a mass audience can relate to. Will and Elizabeth's romance may not be a love story for the ages but it is a love story. That's where the new movie flounders most of all.

The trick is to find a character as explosive as Jack Sparrow yet give him believable emotional stakes. That's one of the trickiest feats in all of writing. The magic is in the mystery, in not knowing where a character like that is coming from. To give him emotional stakes is to take away a bit of that mystery, to make him more of a recognizable human being. But stories are about recognizable human beings.

So no I don't advocate writing boring characters. I advocate writing the characters that your story needs. Those emotional stakes have to be set by somebody.

Monday, May 23, 2011

You'll Never See This Again: Too Late The Hero

I love great action scenes. Here is a classic from Robert Aldrich's Too Late the Hero from 1970. In it an exhausted Cliff Robertson and Michael Caine have to run across an open field to get back to the British base while the Japanese try to gun them down. Aldrich shoots this scene perfectly. It looks like no matter how fast the two of them run they can't get any closer. The music builds. The soldiers at the base cheer them on. There's plenty of gunfire and explosions. It's one of the great action finales in my book. (The fun really begins around the 1:30 mark)

And it will never be done again. Why? Look at the scene again. You never see the actors' faces once they start running. That turns out to be very important towards the end and gives the scene that added bit of suspense. There's no other way to really film or write this scene. But that's just not allowed anymore. Stars cost too much money and if you're going to pay the big bucks you'd better get as many closeups as you can. Closeups would ruin this sequence in my opinion. The fact that you can't tell who's who is just too critical.

Now maybe a lower budget film like a direct to DVD or a SyFy original movie might be able to get away with a sequence like this. The question is why don't they?

Monday, May 16, 2011

"Showrunners" Documentary - AT LAST!!!

You know I wish this film had come out years ago. I mean YEARS. AGO. I haven't seen it yet but I know I am going to own it eventually.

Way back when I thought I wanted to be a chef. I lasted about 2 months in real restaurant. Now if Anthony Bourdain had written Kitchen Confidential a few years earlier I would have been prepared and maybe would have thought long and hard about whether it was for me or not. I hope this doc has a little bit of that quality; that it demystifies and makes clear the business of writing for Television. Could have used that when I started out.

Showrunners Trailer! from Christof Bove on Vimeo.

Monday, May 9, 2011

One of My Favorite Openings

I love the Lion in Winter.

To me it never ages. One of the things I admire mostly is the economy of the story telling. The story is full of complex plots and incredible monologues. It could easily become stagey or worse incomprehensible if done wrong. But the writers and filmmakers deftly avoid that trap.

Look at the very first scenes. Just two images and a single line sum up the story perfectly.

Swords clash. Then we get Peter O'Toole yelling "Come for me!" But he has an insane grin on his face. He is in fact sparring with his beloved son, Prince John. Trying to teach him to be a king. But in those first few moments you have the entire film. This is about violent people. Their world is full of conflict. But Peter O'Toole's Henry isn't afraid. "Come for me!" he yells at the audience, daring to take on the entire world. And he's got a grin on his face. He's not afraid. He loves this. Conflict, battle, war make him feel alive and young. But that's the problem, he loves battle too much. It may be the only thing he truly loves. He can't relate to his wife Elanor or his sons Richard and Geoffrey except through the prism of conflict and war. He's sparring with his son. His entire personal life is just one long duel. Later in the movie he says he wants peace, but that's a lie. Such a man as this can never be truly happy in peace. It would kill him.

All that is explored in great depth during the rest of the film but it all begins with that one simple scene.

That's how you open a picture!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Suggested Reading For Action Scenes

Action scenes can be tough. As a screenwriter you fortunately don’t have to do much. You just type in “They Fight.” It was good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for you. But what if you want to give your fight scenes a little more flavor? Here’s some recommended reading.

Martial Arts Around the World Volume 1 and 2 by John Steven Soet. It’s out of print but you still might be able to find this in second hand bookstores. Very little text but a ton of pictures as various martial artists demonstrate defenses against a wide range of attacks. The great thing about these books is you get a sense of how the martial arts vary from country to country. If you want to see how Brazilian Capoeria differs from Indonesian Silat these books will show you.

The Complete Book of Combat Handgunning by Chuck Taylor. This book will teach you how to pistol shoot. This will give you the basics of a gunfight. It can give you a lot of insight into other genres as well. After reading this I could never look at the Star Trek Next Gen phasers the same again. What do they use to get a sight picture on those things? Their thumb?

Osprey Military Press. Just about anything this company puts out is worth it. They cover wars, battles, and fighting men and women from ancient Egypt all the way to the modern age. Their latest entry is called the Raid series and it covers light tactics. Obviously a lot of World War II operations but also campaigns from the Middle Ages and even one from feudal Japan. The research in these books is meticulous. They are a must have resource for anyone interested in historical adventure writing, sword and sorcery, or modern day thrillers.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Next Big Thing?

Paranormal Romance.

And I’m not just saying that because I’ve got a book out.

The Twilight movies and books have been cleaning up despite the reviews. The franchise has already spawned a series of knockoffs. Sure Red Riding Hood bombed but True Blood and Vampire Diaries show this genre has legs.

Harry Potter and Twilight have really expanded the appeal of the fantasy genre. It was not that long ago that fantasy and paranormal fiction was a very male dominated genre. Things started to turn a little bit with Anne Rice. During the 90s the horror audience became more female oriented thanks to the Scream franchise. And of course Buffy was a cult hit during this period. Odd as it seems now, Buffy was derided by insiders as late as 2002 for having an audience of young girls. So when Twilight hit the market both in book form and as a movie, the audience was already primed. That audience made it’s presence felt.

So what’s next? Well Hollywood hasn’t even mined a fraction of the YA and adult Para Romance that’s out there. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for original para romance works. In fact there are some areas where screenwriters might make a splash.

Don’t forget the key word in here is romance. Most of the para romance tales on the shelves, both adult and YA, are deadly serious. Maybe the audience is ready for a paranormal romantic comedy? God knows we need a vampire comedy funnier than Vampires Suck.

There are a lot of science fiction and fantasy spec scripts out there. To be honest most of them have a very hard road to getting produced. The Para Romance angle gives these projects a bit more viability. If you’re hitting more than one target audience it’s a good thing.

I’d love to see the Wom Jep movie get a healthy dose of fangs and or magic. There’ s still a huge market for these movies as Lifetime proves. But the formula is getting a little stale. Some paranormal might spice up the genre.

The slasher has undergone many changes and revivals. Perhaps it’s time to combine it with the PNR. What would Bella do if Edward wasn’t a “vegetarian?”

These changes are coming. Or if not them then something like them. The writing is on the wall. In the 70s Star Wars showed that sci fi could be a commercial hit. Afterwards you saw sci fi creep into TV and other genres. Alien created revitalized the sci-fi horror genre. Then Terminator brought sci-fi into the action realm. There were sci fi love stories (Starman), comedies (Ghostbusters, which was kind of paranormal but anytime your characters strap on a proton pack, it’s sci fi) and kids movies (E.T.) Maybe all of these projects come about without the success of Star Wars but I’m sure it didn’t hurt.

So how will Paranormal Romance influence the entertainment world? Will other Para titles make it to the big screen? Will vampires and werewolves crash the top of the Neilsen ratings? Will Joss Whedon’s Buffy finally get the respect it deserves from studio bigshots? Don’t know for sure but I can’t wait to find out.

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