BPS 003: Making It in Hollyweird as a Screenwriter with Doug Richardson

Can you imagine having a front-row seat to the start of the filmmaking careers of Will Smith, Bruce Willis, and Michael Bay? Well, this week’s guest Screenwriter Doug Richardson did just that. In 1989 20th Century Fox hired Doug to adapt Walter Wager’s novel 58 Minutes into the first sequel to the hit franchise Die Hard. In 1990, it was released as Die Hard 2, Die Harder.

Around the same period, Doug Richardson and his one-time writing partner, Rick Jaffa, garnered national attention when their spec screenplayHellbent…and Back was the first in Hollywood to sell for a million dollars. Doug has since written and produced feature films including the box office smash Bad Boys (1995), Money Train (1995), and Hostage (2005).

In addition to writing for the screen and print, Doug posts a weekly blog on his website, dougrichardson.com, where he shares personal anecdotes and insight from his thirty-year showbiz career. The first collection of his blogs, The Smoking Gun: True Tales from Hollywood’s Screenwriting Trenches was published in 2015.

I had a ball chatting with Doug and his stories from the set had been mesmerized. He dropped some major knowledge bombs in this interview. Enjoy!

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Alex Ferrari 0:00
I like to welcome to the show, Doug Richardson. Man, thank you so much for taking the time, but I appreciate it. Hi. Very welcome. So let's get into it. Man, how did you become a screenwriter, like what made you want to jump into this crazy business?

Doug Richardson 3:37
Well, I wanted to be a filmmaker, you know, wanted to be a film director. In fact, like so many kids with movie cameras, and we used to go, you know, sneak away and skip movies at the mall. And from theater to theater, you know, just your, you know, kind of a 1970s movie geek. And then, you know, once a film school, because you know, that's kind of a natural progression. Saw that I kind of liked that movies were written. And a lot of the directors I really admired or guys who had written movies before. So I thought I would write my way into the business after I got out of school. And I did. In doing so I kind of became a screenwriter instead of a film director.

Alex Ferrari 4:24
Gotcha. And you went to USC, correct?

Doug Richardson 4:26
I did. How was how was that back then? Back then when we're in the Quonset huts? Yes. Before George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and everybody built them a mini Warner Brothers.

Alex Ferrari 4:40
I actually you know what, I just spoke there. I just did a lecture at USC and I just for the first time ever, I walked around. You're absolutely right. It's like a mini Warner

Doug Richardson 4:48
Brothers that that was what it was supposed to look like. It was supposed to look like the you know, though the Warner studio it's supposed to leave the interiors and all the all the architecture and stuff was built look like yeah, you know Warner's except, except it's in better shape.

Alex Ferrari 5:04
Oh, it's brand new. It's like, years old.

Doug Richardson 5:07
We were in little we were in World War Two Quonset huts. On another part of campus, it was just this little tiny quad of Quonset huts.

Alex Ferrari 5:17
So it wasn't it, it was it was it was Walmart back then. Back then.

Doug Richardson 5:20
It was always an extraordinarily respected, it was smaller, though. Okay. As in there were fewer students that could there was there were only 20 students per year of cheeses. And in both the grad programs, and the, and the undergrad programs are only 20 Each, it was tiny. So it was more competitive in some regards. And, and you know, by the time you finish there, were only like 15 Each, because people would have dropped or dropped out and moved on. So it was a it was it was it was very interesting, and probably very different.

Alex Ferrari 5:55
Wow, man. Wow. And were you there around the time that Jordan and I was,

Doug Richardson 6:00
I was there after Stephen was not I never went That's right. Long Beach. Uh, I was there, you know, after. Um, so he came and spoke and showed us, you know, he came in talk to us and gave like, some of the best advice you could ever get, which was, you know, film school will not teach you anything about filmmaking. But it is no, it is right. It will provide you a great, you know, laboratory in which to teach yourself. And that was very, very true, because there's some people who got through my program, and I swear, when they got finished, did not know where to put a camera. You know, even in the most basic setups and stuff. So versus, you know, a lot of us, you know, got our start there and moved on and had a pretty interesting class or some, you know, Ken aquaticus was not in my undergrad class, but the undergrad to the grad students went along in tandem. So, and there were the one of the programs, a lot of the classes were the same. So you were mixed in with the grad students. And so yeah, so guys like Ken coppice and Steven Blum. And all those guys have done some work since then, kind of one thing's us. You know, Andy Davis, the producer, Andy Davis, not the director, Andy Davis. And some others, Andy Davis,

Alex Ferrari 7:20
is, it's the same guy. I'm thinking, is it the guy did the fugitive?

Doug Richardson 7:24
No, that's the director Andy Davis. Okay. Okay. Here's the Andrew Davis, the producer who's just produced a lot of in a real go to Line guy out there. He works and works and works. Awesome. Awesome.

Alex Ferrari 7:35
So when you when you write a screenplay, like what's your process, and I know, every screenplay, screenwriter has a, a unique process, what's yours?

Doug Richardson 7:44
I don't know, minds, that unique. I mean, my process is do whatever I need to do, to serve the project. You know, so there's no wheel, I put everything on cards, I outline I, you know, I, you know, I go into a park and, and write on a bench the way Ron bass used to, or whatever, or sit in restaurants and listen to dialogue, I would just sort of, um, you know, if I felt a movie really wired, you know, if it was an action movie, for example, I, you know, like diehard, for example, that I felt was a, you know, kind of a bit of an action opera. That's something I felt like needed to be put on cards. Versus if it's something that's more of a thriller, that's, that's kind of need to be felt. Or if it's something that just there was a lot of, you know, drama that, you know, a lot of that is just research. And then sometimes the outline can be something on paper, sometimes it can be just notions on paper slightly organized, until eventually I get down to sitting down and writing and then the process is then probably very normal, I get that. I write it. I, by the time I get done with the first draft, there's a ton of stuff I already want to rewrite, I rewrite it and rewrite it until it's ready to kind of hand out and give to people to read. Do

Alex Ferrari 9:05
you have do you? Are you one of those writers that kind of like gets the idea and starts beating it up in your head first? Or do you do use the cards and you use the outlines to kind of beat it up because I like when I write I always, like I always beat it up in my head for probably a week or two before I even put anything to paper.

Doug Richardson 9:22
I have stuff in my head all the time. I have things that get that form, I'm sure isn't your writer, you understand this? Some things formed very quickly. And you can get them on paper. And some things like I said, are still in my head that I think are really great notions but have never haven't yet formed into something that I'm either going to write a screenplay or as I do now, which is I write more books and screenplays, but you know, is it you know, it's it's, there are notions in there that I say there's that there's a movie there somewhere. It just hasn't come yet. It hasn't Come together yet so, but still, yeah, it's comes it has to come together in my head before I start, you know, to put it down on paper because then it's, you know, I don't know, when I start to put stuff down on paper, I have no idea what I mean, almost everything I put down, I've kind of run through my head.

Alex Ferrari 10:18
Now, are you when obviously you're working screenwriter and you've had you've done many, many movies over the course of your career? When when what is the process of you actually getting a writing assignment? Like how does that work so the audience can understand a bit of how it works in the studio system, like your agent gets a call? Yeah,

Doug Richardson 10:38
there's the well, there's the old days, and there's nowadays, which is very, very different than the last 30 years. Things have changed. And then there's also there's cycles to, you know, whether they want, they're buying specs, or they're buying pitches, or, and what kind of pitches are buying and, and they want you to come in with a hole nowadays, they want you to come in with a hole, you know, sometimes with almost the marketing campaign, because they, you know, versus I remember, I this wasn't my pitch, but back a long time ago, Dale lahner walked in, and the pitch was, she's blonde, she's beautiful, just don't get her drunk. And that was that was it. That was a green light, a blind day. Oh, my man, they made that movie. But that was the pitch, at least, that movie that was the myth of the pitch, at least,

Alex Ferrari 11:31
at least, the myth of the great movie back in the day. And I used

Doug Richardson 11:35
to have, you know, back in the days, when they were would, there was more development. And they would, they were more interested in buying an idea with a writer and it didn't quite need to be as formed. And they would actually be part of the forming of it process. You could go in and I did go in sometimes I would only go in with a first actor, I would go on with just, you know, character and a couple of characters in a situation. And they would say, Yeah, that's cool. Let's try it. And, you know, deal would be made or you know, and you go start the research or whatever, and you'd eventually write the movie, but a deal will be made now. They kind of almost again want the story to be fully baked. They want 3x And they want like I said practically a marketing campaign. Whether it's something back to your question, whether it's uh, you know, the my agent calls me and says DreamWorks is looking for a haunted house movie. You know, and didn't you have one? And when you go into DreamWorks, you know, DreamWorks wants more than just, hey, I have this idea for a haunted house movie. Fever, hey, you know, the executives want to, you know, unless you're pitching the guy who can say yes, or the woman who can say yes, who's the boss. And generally, you're not at that point, you're pitching something that you need to they need to be able to take upstairs to their, to their boss, to the guy who says yes, or take to their big meeting and to the group and see if they can say yes, and be competitive with it. You know, sometimes they want more ammo than just the story you want to tell them? You know, this is I mean, now it's like they want you know, what's the demographic? Now, right? Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 13:23
you're right, you're absolutely right. They want like they want on stats, they want reports,

Doug Richardson 13:28
or marketing scheme. How we see, you know, do we have a do? Can we imagine a slot for this, you know, which is again, very different than 20 years ago, when they just made stuff that they really liked. And only they developed stuff that really liked it only after they developed it to a place that they really, really loved it? Would they then say, Okay, now, you know, how do we approach? How much do we spend on it? Route? How would you know? And then the marketing guys would come in? And how would we market it? And how would we write there are a lot of screens that we can open on just a couple of markets, you know, so that's now it's just, it's it's very pre packaged, and pre digested and pre marketed.

Alex Ferrari 14:18
So it's before you might have had if you're not at the end business, sorry. And, of course, of course, the end business is a little bit different. But like, Do you think that's kind of the whole corporatization of like the McDonald's thing of Yeah, no, that's

Doug Richardson 14:33
when were the were the corporations but Hollywood there was a lot of different there's a lot of talk for a long time about how how it was going to spin out you know, and people had different ideas you know, where movies gonna be and then we you know, there's a whole DVD part of the business Yeah, with the and videotape part of the business where, you know, you're you you begin like a product and you're fighting for, you know, square feet of shelf space, you know, or lint or linear feet of shelf space at Blockbuster, or Walmart or some, um, no one really knew that it would sort of end up going more, where the marketing guys moved way deep into the creative side to where movies were actually made more to fit a marketing scheme than they were to fit something that an audience is gonna love. Right there. They're kind of almost reverse engineered. This is a marketing scheme that we know we can sell. We've been very successful with this kind of marketing scheme. What can we find that fits that model?

Alex Ferrari 15:49
I think one of the movies of recent year of this year actually that kind of broke what you're talking about, and it was a huge monsters hit to the surprise of the studio was Deadpool. They kind of snuck it in. And then the marketing guys be this brilliant marketing campaign. But that was one of those films that I think just kind of

Doug Richardson 16:08
it was a risky film for them. And it was and it was an anomaly for them. Yeah, it wasn't an anomaly. I think they knew they had some they liked, and they knew they're going to have to sell it differently. They clearly had a ball with it. Yes. They certainly had a ball with it. And and then then then on top of it, the movie deliver. And you've got this massive breakout hit. Now, is that now a new marketing scheme, that they're going to try and fit again, for something other than Deadpool?

Alex Ferrari 16:40
What? Well, Wolverine is going to be an R rated the next Wolverine will be the R rated R but

Doug Richardson 16:44
right are they going to do I mean, people thought Warner's was going to do that with Suicide Squad, you know, that they were really gonna, you know, aim for, you know, but I think they were Warner Brothers was really deep into Suicide Squad for Deadpool came out. So perhaps they didn't do that. I think, you know, audiences may have been hoping for something with more of an edge. But did that create a new a new marketing scheme? Or is, you know, or is that you know, is sometimes they see that, and they just write them off as anomalies. Right?

Alex Ferrari 17:17
Of course. Yeah. I mean, yeah, I completely agree. I but I do think Well, I think there there is going to be a little bit of a shift. But again, the budget to was almost $50 million, or something like that. It wasn't in the studio world. That's nothing.

Doug Richardson 17:30
Now it was in the studio superhero world world. It was an it was an experiment. Yeah. It used to be. See, it's an experiment. It that used to be Hey, this is Deadpool. This is cool. This is how much we're willing to risk on it. You guys go go make it we'll figure out how to add a marketing. Yep. Okay. That's how it used to be. Now, you know, it's looked upon as as like, you know, as a lab rat. It's so crazy and not as left cool. We should We should make it the movies from the period I grew up on. I mean, some of my favorites like Midnight Cowboy tattoo, or something

Alex Ferrari 18:09
you imagine? You will that have been a cowboy today from a studio

Doug Richardson 18:13
at the studio that made it the response was this. We love that this is amazing. We have to make it it's incredibly risky. So we're only going to we're only going to spend this we got a director, we got the script, we got the produce, whatever, you guys go make this film for a million for don't spend a penny more. Okay, go make it, don't spend a penny more or we'll kill you. You know, and then they come back with a movie. And then they say, great, we've got this, it bloomed. It's everything we thought it should be. Now, we've only risked 1,000,004 on it. Let's come up with a way to sell it. But they made it because they loved it. They didn't turn away movies that they didn't love. They saw something they love because they love movies. And they wanted to make sure some they saw as like just money franchises. And we're gonna make them because you know, they make money, but some they would read and they would say, oh my gosh, we have to be we have to make this. This has to be ours. And they would figure out how to do it now. Loving something is dangerous. Because you're not because you're not thinking your way through. It's going to be a marketing thing.

Alex Ferrari 19:24
Do you believe in this whole Hollywood implosion eventually, like the you know, all these big tent poles are just they just keep rolling the dice so much that eventually they're going to have a bomb like, you know, Batman vs. Superman

Doug Richardson 19:36
already. They're already having bombs and like masses, but they're, well, you know, they're Heaven's Gate. Now there's no because there's, they're all the parent companies can withstand the parent companies. The other corporatization is that the parent companies can withstand the bomb. That's the you know, and they've and they've, again, been able to Pre digest them and pre market them in such a way where their risk is still somewhat, you know, minimal, right? So it won't kill the studio. It may make them shift a little bit. I don't think it's going to be an implosion. I think it's going to be a slow erosion of

Alex Ferrari 20:22

Doug Richardson 20:24
Well, no, it's gonna change cinema is gonna be there's always people's going people are always gonna want to go sit in a dark theater, I think and see something really great. Yeah, it might be small. That where where it goes as far as you know, the independent world and what you're able to make it dependently and theaters, exhibitors wanting to willing to book independent films, and they're being a market for people wanting to go out. One thing they they've done is they price themselves out of they priced the regular movie goer out of the theater as a regular movie going experience. Because they've been so greedy with that. And that, that I've been really expecting for a while I think that really hit home this summer with some movies. You know, it's like, oh, what are we gonna see? We're gonna see the BFG or Finding Dory, you know, or we saw Finding Dory and Oh, kid. Sorry, you want us to be FG? I'm sorry. I already spent that $150 for that night out. Month. Yes. And we're not gonna go see in another movie for another month. So I think

Alex Ferrari 21:31
it's very true. I have I have twin daughters and everything and all went to go see Zootopia and, you know, we went to go see Finding Dory and but at a certain point you like, and they said, I think that we want to go out my wife took them to go see Secret Lives of, of dogs or pets or something. And that, you know, when like, Ice Age came out, we're like, BFG Yeah, like, I'm not gonna go. Because it's 40. It's 50 bucks. 60 bucks.

Doug Richardson 21:54
Tickets. And then there's the popcorn.

Alex Ferrari 21:57
No, I was bringing my I always bringing my pocket. Well, you're that guy. I'm that dude, dude. Absolutely. Well, your

Doug Richardson 22:02
kids are learning to be frugal. Still. 50 bucks. Yeah. But still, yeah, the cost, the cost of seeing a movie have have gone up, oh, Raizy compared to five or six bucks. High school was over six compared to the cost of living everywhere else. Right. It's it's gone. I mean, when they came, the other greedy thing that I thought was I kind of felt was going to happen as soon as they learned, they could charge a premium price for 3d, then sure, they're going to pay to have movies in 3d, and charge the premium price. But the but the 2d prices just crept up right behind them. Yep. And now

Alex Ferrari 22:45
there's don't forget the big theaters that are special theaters that have this special seating and the special sound and, and those like extra money, ultravision or whatever. It's just all, you know, all sorts of different things. And you know, well, I mean, we've gotten completely sidetracked off our conversation.

Doug Richardson 23:00
I know. But it's, it's fun. And by the way, but from a writer standpoint, these are important things to know and understand. You need to understand the business and what you you work and the people and the perspectives of the people which you're working for, you know, where else you're doomed to in some respect to failure? Well, let

Alex Ferrari 23:21
me ask you a question. Now, you know, you worked in a time where, you know, the studios are a lot different, like we were talking about, like now, you know, a lot of the earlier earlier work in your career, you know, those that was a different kind of time. I can only imagine like every year that goes by, there is a new crop of screenwriters coming into the marketplace. But yet the old crop of screenwriters are still working as well, but yet the number of studio movies are going down. Yeah, now the competition to get even try to get a studio movie made at any level, even you know, a smaller level like a Lions Gate for 20 or $30 million for certain movies, if that even exists much anymore, is getting harder and harder and harder. Because you know, you know, you've been you know, you wrote diehard to and you wrote bad boys and you know, you and you wrote a bunch of studio movies back then, well, you're not gone. You know, you're still in competition with the new 20 year old or the 25 year old screenwriter that's submitting theirs. I'm sorry, if I choose to me. Yeah, exactly if you choose to. So, um, well, let's get back to screenwriting real quick. There's two camps that I've heard of and they are the plot camp and the character camp. Do you sit on one side or do you do both or you have a foot in both?

Doug Richardson 24:41
Ah, some people might argue based upon my era of film. Those that have been made, you know, like in my written a lot more screenplays in pictures that have been made. Um, I really think I prefer a balance of both I think character drives plot. So I'm definitely character first, unless you have an agenda, and a character with an agenda that has real characters with agendas that create some sort of conflict. And you'd have no story at all. But you still have to be an architect of plot to get to kind of get there because it is a movie and you have all you got, especially it's a movie. So I mean, you've got 90 minutes to two hours and 15 minutes generally, in which you're going to have to tell the story. So you know, the screenplays they say our structure? Well, architecture is, is there's a lot of plot involved in an architecture.

Alex Ferrari 25:45
So plot would be the car and character would be the engine.

Doug Richardson 25:49
Yeah, gotcha. I guess if that's a good analogy or not, yeah, but dead sets works for me.

Alex Ferrari 25:56
So you wrote one of my favorite movies in the 90s Bad Boys. How did you get the bad boys gig and how did that come to be?

Doug Richardson 26:04
Ah, that was just one of those. You know, right place, right time kind of things were, they had, ah, Don and Jerry had a whole lot of movies Don Simpson, Jerry Bruckheimer are coming back from their sort of lean period, and had three movies ramping up at once. Dangerous Minds, Crimson Tide and bad boys. And they had this director named Michael Bay who'd never directed anything but some videos and a cut some commercials. And they had half a script, literally half a script and they just stopped. They just stopped even though there have been many scripts for and it's been in development for like 11 or 12 years.

Alex Ferrari 26:53
Yeah, it wasn't a Danny Carvey and Jon Lovitz. Originally it

Doug Richardson 26:55
was there was well, there was a version of the movie with Michael Bay directing six months prior to my being involved. That was it was a Dana Carvey Jon Lovitz vehicle. That's and then that fell apart. And they started to mess with the script again. And they just stopped in the middle, because when they got, um, they had these two TV actors, you know, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence who had hiatuses between their shows are both gonna be on hiatus around the same time someone had the bright idea whether it was Jerry or Lucas Foster, who was that time running their company to put them all on I guess it was Lucas to sort of like, get the get, we got the director, we got this hot young shooter, and we got these two interesting guys. And Martin and Willow came on board and they said that sounds like fun. But the script it's that they had they were all forces. Yeah, you know, George Gallo had originally written a farce. Um, and that was still at the center of it and and will and Martin wanted to be interaction mode. Right. And so I got the call one afternoon, can you come in now? And I'll you know, literally at this moment, I was on my back from a little league practice. On a team, I was coaching and I, my back hurt because I just thrown about 100, fastballs and he says, Wherever you are, can you come over to Disney now, and I said, as long as you can have a bag of ice serious, that's so funny. And I sat down and they threw it at me. They said, Look, we we've got a window. We've got a director, we've got Miami, we've got a production office we're putting together we just don't have a script. Can you? Are you willing to just drop everything you're doing right now and jump in and do this. And I was actually in the middle of taking a brief break as I was writing my first novel. So I jumped in said sure. And we had a very short window of time, we had only five weeks of prep.

Alex Ferrari 29:12
Oh my god. Yeah, I heard I heard from like commentaries and interviews that that will and Martin were really just kind of throwing stuff at the wall.

Doug Richardson 29:19
It was a that was that was kind of the process. We were I you know, within days, I was in Miami. And with no with no script and, and not much supervision, which is good. No, and just mark them well who weren't there yet. And Michael, who was casting the dog parks and building sets for scenes that I hadn't yet written seriously? That and so it was it was really kind of done completely backwards, but there's a line in the movie where you know, the two guys come in, and Joey And to Liana pants Yeah, yeah yells at them say Just do what you do only faster. That was actually that was an actual line from Jerry when I asked him that first day I said, Okay, I can do it, but five weeks and blah, blah, blah, blah blah. He said looked at me says, Just do what you do only faster. That was sort of like every time I saw Jerry, I said I'm doing what I'm doing only faster.

Alex Ferrari 30:25
Nice. And how was How involved was Bay in this whole process?

Doug Richardson 30:30
A was was involved as to he wasn't involved in in the you know, of course Mr. Bay has his own now Mr. Bay is big giant Michael Bay. Yeah. So you know, the world gets rewritten. History gets has probably gotten rewritten a bit, Michael was pretty much relegated to prepping different things. Okay, and be involved in some casting. Dawn and Dawn especially, didn't want to not at one point want Michael because Don was the genius is want him budding himself into the film part. The the the the stop the film part the the the content or story part. And Don came in just like the weekend before we started shooting, and liked a lot of it and sort of got it. But Don hadn't been around at all involved in the process. So he came in just days before we started shooting and blew it up. And then we then I began putting it back together again, as a you know, from Don's perspective. And so Michael, there was the first three or four weeks of shooting it was Michael here your pages go shoot them, please don't let the actors go too far off script. You know, because when they did sometimes there was a few scenes that we one landed up on the cutting room floor, right? Because Michael let Martin and well go off the page to the point where there was no way to link it to the scene before and after. Right. So there was some times there were moments when I had to I'd there was a couple days where I would went in and I had to circle certain lines of dialogue in the morning. Just to make sure that we weren't Michael would work late the first day so much. Michael was crazy mad shooter. I mean, the guy could get incredible amounts of film. Yeah, you know, in the cans so fast. And so he worked everyone to death on the foot on on a Monday. So we were working splits already by Tuesday. Oh, Jesus. So you had time to go in that morning and say, okay, you know, sit down with Dawn and, and we'd circle lines in the scene and say, Look, dude, if you miss these lines, we're done. Because aren't there to say the lines, then we have no scene. We can't link it because that movie really is held together with with with scotch tape, the screw string and tape literally pretty much is and you know, brilliant editor, Christian Migra brilliant editor. Because I mean, he made scenes that didn't look like they were going to cut all right, um, together. And that's kind of how the film's bank it was really written like that about halfway through the process that there was almost like a script that was almost together.

Alex Ferrari 33:27
You know, the funny thing is, is while you were shooting my shooting bad boys, I was in Miami. I lived in there I Miami at the time. And I was just starting out, just starting out my film career. And I just heard about it. And it hurt bad boys too. Obviously, it was even more so. Because when they came back, they came back with a vengeance in Miami. But then

Doug Richardson 33:47
then they did blow up your street. There really wasn't that that much that we didn't have the money to blow up that much. It was that movie for only like, I think 18 $19 million. All in

Alex Ferrari 33:58
Yeah, back in the day. But I remember seeing that. I'll go into the theater and seeing that it was just so much fun and that that movie made will a star.

Doug Richardson 34:06
It did even though he was gonna be a star anyway,

Alex Ferrari 34:09
somewhere. But that was that that was the trigger that if

Doug Richardson 34:12
you'd see if you saw Well, if you'd ever sat down with them and work with them. It was sort of like, Oh, my reaction to well, after the first couple days of rehearsal and hanging out with him. It was like, Okay, this guy is a racehorse. He just doesn't quite know how to go fast yet. But very clear. racehorse

Alex Ferrari 34:35
yours like he hasn't figured that he can run really fast just yet.

Doug Richardson 34:38
He sort will. He hasn't figured out how to run really fast yet. He he could tell. I know. I'm a racehorse. I know I've got these mad skills. You know, I just not I'm working my way through them right now. And they're not very self possessed. Very confident. They're very fun, really nice guy. saved my bacon a few times. stories I can't tell on air. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 35:07
So you also did the sequel to one of the most iconic action movies of all time diehard, you know, how? How did it feel having getting that call because I mean, literally diehard is a masterpiece. The first

Doug Richardson 35:20
is it isn't it was actually still in theaters. And I'd already seen it twice when I got the call. And the reason why I got the call is because I was the baby writer with no credits. And I guess according to Larry Gordon, and Lloyd Levin, I had a thought, or a guest, that I had the skill to pull it off at least the talent. But the genius behind it, I'm just gonna give credit away again, was because the movie was still in theaters, and Leonard Goldberg was running the studio at the time, Leonard who I to this day adore, who's one of the greatest people in my career, just as a mentor. But I didn't know him then. Anyway, Leonard wasn't willing to really even start development of a sequel of the movie who didn't feel feel the movie was quite tested yet, but Larry felt they were going to need one. Also, they to you know, as you know, very well know, if they're doing a sequel. And if they're, they're announcing a sequel that they're going to start writing one. It's a feeding frenzy and all the agents and all the it gets it gets it gets it gets busy and and not very conducive to getting it done. Right. So Larry Gordon said, Okay, here's what I'm gonna do. I'm Larry Gordon. I used to run a studio. I've got swag. So I've got this book called 58 minutes that I think would might make a really good diehard and I got this writer who doesn't cost very much so I'm just going to go to the studio and tell them on I want to develop this book into a potential movie. It's not going to cost much this guy doesn't have any credit so to speak yet and that was a time when they were willing to yeah Larry go ahead it's not going to cost much so they throw you know a few bob at it and meanwhile Larry was saying to me Okay, whisper whisper they just think they're developing 58 minutes you and I know we're doing diehard to That's brilliant, because by the time we're done by the time you're done with the script, they're gonna want there too. So it was it was that was the exact that was the exact you know, talk and I was like, okay, you know what you're doing I just worked here fine personally, I'm the giraffe came in and took over and one of the first things Joe Ross said when he came in is I need diehard to and Larry said funny you should say so. And there it was. He had it. He just gave it to him right there and it was greenlit

Alex Ferrari 37:55
Wow, that's the story behind that

Doug Richardson 37:58
I delivered but the real genius was Larry Larry was the one who saw it saw the he saw all the gears you know and all the storm clouds and could read the weather and see the future and again the movie was in theater only there's only three weeks and I got the call

Alex Ferrari 38:20
because it was a huge hit right off the bat

Doug Richardson 38:22
it wasn't a huge hit right off the bat it was a surprise right off the bat movies didn't blow

Alex Ferrari 38:27
up yeah, they weren't 100 million dollar openings back then.

Doug Richardson 38:29
They didn't well and yeah I mean all in diehard only made 85 domestic I mean or so roughly it I mean it took a while to get to that number but I hit video screens and

Alex Ferrari 38:42
and video but when it hit you and cable Forget it

Doug Richardson 38:45
but but three weeks in studio wasn't willing to commit yet to a sequel when this I mean this Bruce Willis guy exactly that was that was blisters are big people like the movie but I you know, I they just want you know, but Larry said this is a frank this is gonna be big. I know.

Alex Ferrari 39:04
And you were also brought into kind of, I guess ghosts, right? Or on the live for your diehard right?

Doug Richardson 39:10
I worked? Well. No, I didn't go Strike that. There just was a lot of guys who worked on it. I've actually I'm the guy who broke Mark Bombeck script. Okay. Oh, okay. That's, that's that's that's a funny way of saying it. I did. I did a version of diehard three, that there's very little love left in that movie at one point, but there's a lot of people who work on versions of diehard three. And one point when I was in the middle of shooting hostage with Bruce Bruce came to me and dropped the script on my lap on the set and said can you read this? And it was Mark bombax diehard 4.0 Which is what it was called them and they thought that title was so clever to studio was So like, that's such a cool time,

Alex Ferrari 40:01
it's I owe kind of internet. It's I know it's so meta.

Doug Richardson 40:05
And three hours later we were having a discussion in his trailer, you know, boost didn't want to do should I shouldn't I do another diehard it was one of those things and I then I didn't want to see another diehard. I didn't want to write another diehard right? And I was kind of trying to talk him out of it. Me out of it but he then asked the question, well what kind of diehard would you want to see? So I began to riff I was gonna make another diehard this is what I would do. And the next day literally the next day was a Friday we were at Fox and I was with Bruce with Tom Rothman and Bruce was saying this is the diehard for I want to make and Tom Rothman was looking at me like you asshole you broke my diehard and after I got done breaking it and a lot of other stories that nd whether or not it was a good version of diehard or not my version and Bruce had dropped out of it again you know, right at another release date had been botched. And uh you know, eventually he wrote Bruce back in and was able to make and did what he wanted to do which is make Mark Bombeck script that's what Mark gets credit on it. I actually wrote a letter to the guild during that was a massive arbitration all these wires for jumping in trying to get credit, of course and I actually wrote wrote wrote a letter saying, this is Mark Bombeck script. I didn't know I was one of the guys who tried to take it apart and mess it up. And in the end, this is the movie they wanted to make and march you get so credit.

Alex Ferrari 41:53
And there you go. Now are you on? Are you on set for a lot of these big movies as a writer?

Doug Richardson 42:00
I'm not the diehards while I was already fired by that. A bad boys Yeah. And hostage I you know, hostage. I didn't leave that movie until it was in previews. I was not allowed to leave that I was on the set every second I got one day off. Because I'm writing

Alex Ferrari 42:22
and you're writing they always ask you hey, what can you do a patch up on this? Or what do you think of that?

Doug Richardson 42:27
Well, since I'm there, I mean, there's always a writer on the movie, but since I was there, and I had a French director, and I had very, bullheaded movie star who, uh, you know, like having me around and like having me to fight battles with him or for him. Uh, you know, there was a, there were there were a lot of little changes and stuff. But on that movie, whether you love it or hate the hostage, which people tend to either love or hate it, that was the movie we really went out to make. And, you know, there it is. And, as a writer, I probably never get less if I wrote and directed the movie myself and had complete control. I probably would never have that kind of sway on a movie with a director and a movie star again.

Alex Ferrari 43:18
Got it. Got. So that was that was

Doug Richardson 43:22
to the point where it was out of control. To the point was like, I couldn't leave. I had other assignments. I actually lost money on a hostage, literally, because you've been working on other movies. I had other assignments I supposed to do, and they would not. I was supposed to be on the set for the first week. Right? And, you know, go and I and, you know, Bruce was like, No, you can't leave and then Flom would say no, you can't leave. And this went through all the production and then in the edit room, and in the test screenings. Jesus, yeah. You're a hostage. I was I've actually it's a five part blog that you can read on my you can read it for free on my site, or you can buy the book, the smoking gun, which I was gonna talk about that, which is it's Oh, actually, no, you can't read it on my site. You can only read it in the book. Because that's the there's a five or six part blog called writer called writer held hostage. That is in the smoking gun, which tells a lot of the stories of how I couldn't get off that movie. Wow. All the way to arbitration with Robert craves and was just

Alex Ferrari 44:36
no arbitration. And I've heard many other writers talk about arbitration. Can you explain a little bit to the audience what arbitration is with the Writers Guild? Okay, in a nutshell,

Doug Richardson 44:46
it's roughly Well, one word, hell.

Alex Ferrari 44:49
That's what I've heard from everybody who's ever dealt with it.

Doug Richardson 44:52
Well, it's so antithetical to writing, right? It's so antithetical to collaboration. It becomes this legal list a process that writers are succumb to, you know, if they want to receive credit, and now it pits writers against writers. And then studios are able to use the conflict to their own advantage. In that, that's why they offer these, they, they use it to their advantage of that they will pay you less money up front for the movie, and then say, but if you get a credit, we'll give you this bonus.

Alex Ferrari 45:33
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Doug Richardson 45:44
So if they put the carrot on the stick for the writer who might not have might have only contributed, contributed 20%, something that you would the guild would not consider credit worthy. But try and make a case that maybe you contributed 33%, or maybe 50%, depending upon the standard. required and and to then go in and rightfully so the studio's are also part of it, but it's not fun. And you know, it's imagined going in, and you know, anyone out there who's written anything, and then having to go in and defend what you've written on paper to other writers, to a faceless panel of three writers on paper and explain why you deserve credit, instead of that guy. Wow. It's not fun at all. It stops everything in your life, for that period of time. And it's also created an industry of people who do nothing but write arbitrations for other writers.

Alex Ferrari 46:48
That's it, there's a whole industry around it, yep. Jesus man,

Doug Richardson 46:53
this, then I don't sides. I've actually done arbitrations. And have you ever written arbitrations? No, I've watched an ad, I've read arbitrations, I've served as an arbiter, oh, God, it's a it's not fun. No, and you but you want to be fair, and you know, cuz you've done. If you've been in one, you really feel like, okay, and in or maybe if you've been in one and felt like you got you were on the wrong side of it, or maybe felt like you got on the right side of it, because someone did it. Right. You sort of feel like, you know, you're going to be a good juror, and help make a good decision.

Alex Ferrari 47:31
Now, let me ask you a question. Are you any good at pitching? When you go on a pitch? And if you are

Doug Richardson 47:36
good, now I'm certain I now I've decided I suck. I

Alex Ferrari 47:40
used to think you were good.

Doug Richardson 47:41
I think it's it's just a different world of pitch. Now if I have to go in and pitch the whole movie, which I kind of think you need to do almost, I'm not good at it. Got it. You know, I? It's like,

Alex Ferrari 47:54
it's not like the player. Like Robert Altman is a player where, at the beginning of that opening scene, you see writers just going in like, so there's a girl, she's beautiful. She gets drunk. Don't get a job.

Doug Richardson 48:04
Yeah, it's you go in and you used to I used to be able to my whole thing was I would try and pitch characters and, and the first act that would leave everyone with a nice question, Mark. And if it was a good jumping off point, yeah, I had the rest of the movie. But that was a, that became a really energetic and exciting discussion. In the room, instead of you're looking at blank faces. Again, as you're telling the story, they're trying to quantify it for their boss in their heads, do I like it or not? Like, can I quantify it? Can I sell it? Can I, you know, and tell it to them in a way that they can. You know, if there's one point during the pitch, I'm like, if you're not engaged in the pitch as involved in asking questions, I'm sort of like, You must be bored. Now other people are brilliant at it. I've been in pitches with other writers. It's sit there and sit down for 45 minutes, you just been a tail and leave you breathless. Right? And that's a Yeah, that's a talent. I do not possess to do it that way. I've gotten it done. But boy, I would do good. Do everything I possibly could to not have to be in that situation.

Alex Ferrari 49:20
know, when you've written a load of action movies, like how do you approach writing big action sequences and these kinds of studio movies?

Doug Richardson 49:30
Ah, I wrote an interesting blog about that recently, just because I got asked that for the 9 million times. Sorry, excited. No, no, it's the most. No, I never get the question I get asked the most. Okay, so anyone who's listening this podcast, if they go to my website and read Action speaks, there's a longer version of this answer. I'll put it in the show notes. But in that in that yeah, go to my website and just look up Action speaks in the blog section. At good at action sequence because when I wrote my first action film, which was that that diehard thing, that little diehard thing Yeah, I hadn't written one before. Um, but it's the ones I like. And the way I prefer to approach them is that they're, it's a suspense film. And the best action is like writing a great scene in a suspense film. The only difference is, is the conflict, um, engages and blooms in action, in, you know, almost sort of like combusts. Ah, and in, and you know, that and also then creates another problem for your character, you know, a good action film, unless it's the final action film of the scene, a good action scene, it was the finest, the final scene of the film doesn't, you know, shouldn't resolve it should create a bigger problem that needs to be solved, that eventually needs to be handled in action. It also only works going to talk about what's first character plot, if, if your character is deeply engaged and involved, which is why again, a suspense scene only works if you have a sense of suspense with what's going to happen with your character, how is your character going to behave? If you just got a whole lot of really great stuff happening, but you don't have a character engaged in it, some people would call that steaks. Um, but I call it characters with different agendas, oftentimes, fighting for some form of supremacy. If you've got that kind of conflict in that scene, if you don't have that kind of conflict with characters injected into that scene, then it'll lay flat.

Alex Ferrari 51:51
Kind of like when giant Transforming Robots fight for 30 minutes.

Doug Richardson 51:59
I'm making but you but But you, I could say that. You went there, and you can incur Michael Bay's wrath. I know from

Alex Ferrari 52:07
I've actually wrath of de the wrath of bay with Bay ham. I actually am and a lot of people I've actually wrote a whole article post about it. I truly believe that Michael Bay is a genius and what he does, yeah, and I think he changed the game for action is ever since the rock and Armageddon pacifically the rock action movies changed the way they're shot. I mean, everyone tries

Doug Richardson 52:31
to steal his style, and you can see it, you can see it movie after movie movie after

Alex Ferrari 52:36
movie. He is him and Tony Scott both changed the game. In the way action was shot in the 90s. And moving forward. Do I like all of Michael Bay's movies? No, they're not sometimes they're not the great, I still think the rock is probably his best movie. Other than bad boys, of course, which Bad Boys is up there as well. But at a certain point, like Armageddon is just fun popcorn. I mean, it's ridiculous. The movies ridiculous, but it's so much fun to watch. But I do think he's a genius. And what he does, I think, like a lot of times, directors get a little bit. They drink too much of their own Kool Aid. And I think, possibly with a 35 minute action sequence with giant transformers, which don't have as big of a stake as they should. I think that's where certain things go wrong. But

Doug Richardson 53:22
can I Kenick? Can I tell you where I think Michael Bay's real, real geniuses, please. I mean, whether you like his dirty movies or not, and there's certainly people who don't like his movies. He's x with exception of two movies. He's been wise enough to tie his big giant ego and machine all to either a bigger ego or a bigger filmmaker. He's had either Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer over his shoulder. And Jerry is a genius, by the way. Yeah, Jerry is a genius. I've seen it. I because I've seen it in action. Jerry is a genius. And, and so was Dawn, but there's a certain genius to Jerry, you know, you got to kind of sort of be there to say, and, and then, you know, with the transformer films, as Spielberg has always been there. And you know, other than that the two films that he that they have made have made that haven't done well. Have been both with films where you didn't have those godfathers,

Alex Ferrari 54:30
the island and yeah, pain again. Right. Right.

Doug Richardson 54:35
So and, you know, I'm not saying he can't succeed without them because he's been extraordinarily successful. But I think there's a certain wisdom to saying, You know what, there's a bit of a comfort zone here that I can you know, that there's that got that Godfather, who can come Come in and whisper in my ear and say, maybe that's too much.

Alex Ferrari 55:03
Maybe you should pull back here.

Doug Richardson 55:04
Maybe you should pull back here. Maybe we should have. Maybe I'm not feeling a heartbeat here. So maybe we should go find what are you know, and and I think that's, you know, and to you that's something that that that's not a knock on on Bay. I think that's where credit's due.

Alex Ferrari 55:23
Well, no, I think that's I think that's a really great observation because you're right and to smart director to always have someone whoever that person might be who's smarter than you are. Right you I mean, that's that's the key to any great leader right? It's always have people who are smarter than you around you.

Doug Richardson 55:41
Right. And I'm not transformed my films, you know, Lorenza Devonta, Ventura and, and Mark variety and are no idiots. No, either. So, of course, of course, of course.

Alex Ferrari 55:51
Now, tell us a little bit about your smoking gun book. I saw it on your website.

Doug Richardson 55:56
Smoky monk gun book is a lot of people have been asking for a long time, when am I going to we're going to put my blogs into book form. And eventually, I just sort of succumbed to my books are read, my my blogs are repurposed on script mag, like three or four months after I write them. Because the woman who runs script mag, Jeannie Berman is one of my favorite people on the planet. And so it's like, and then it was sort of like in the this publishing company, FW media owns script mag, and Writer's Digest and a few other things. And so they came along and said, Will you please let us publish them in a volume? So we put together the first one. And there you go, well, that'd be two and three, or whatever, who knows?

Alex Ferrari 56:47
Now you do write a lot of novels as well, you're very successful novelist, is there a different process when you writing the novel versus a screenplay?

Doug Richardson 56:54
Yes, and no, the basic process of get up, write it, you know, rewrite it, want to make it you know, if it's not compelling, then do it again. And why is, you know, the, my whole thing is, whether you're reading a script or a book, I want the reader to turn the page and they gotta want it, they got to feel compelled to turn the page, you know, whatever the processor, or, or platform, or platform or architecture of the pieces you just use, if it's not compelling, then you know, they're gonna, someone's gonna put it down, it's tiring to read crap. So. So that's the same process, though, the process of writing straight narrative and fiction, as you know, is, you know, movies are sight and sound only highly constructed. Yes, you know, the elasticity of language that you have, and just writing fiction, and not being not being subject to just sight and sound only is, you know, really fun. It's fun to do it, obviously. And it's it's a, it's also a direct connection with readers, because the people who are reading your screenplays aren't necessarily reading it to be entertained, right, their job or their product, right? Again, they're the quantifiers they're there to, to tell, give it to their boss, or give it to their client or, you know, or get someone involved or give it to finance here, they're all looking to move that ball up the hill, someone who is reading your work, whether it be a blog, my blog, or my books, are reading them to be entertained. So that's the other real difference between doing the two. There's a real direct connection with your you know, your audience.

Alex Ferrari 58:42
Now, if you were gonna give one piece of advice to a screenwriter starting out today,

Doug Richardson 58:47
what would that be? Stop. I've always wanted to say that I've never said that I've been asked that a lot. I've done a lot of panels. Just stop, go get a real job. I would say I would give a few pieces of advice, one of which is the most talented people in Hollywood. Aren't the most successful people in Hollywood. It's true. in show business, it's the most relentless people. Yep. So you need to channel and find that bit of relentless inside of you. And always and and feed it and care for it and bathe it and clean it. And make sure it's ready to go up and rip assholes again tomorrow. Because that if you're because it's so competitive, you get what's gonna make you get up and do it in the morning. Or if you're not even there yet. And you've got some other job. You know what I'm blown away. But I mean, I, the people that I know who have set not second job, second, they have careers, actual careers, and they're writing on the side and trying to push that ball Up the hill. I, I just had odd jobs when I started then I got that I started making a living at it and haven't looked back. There are people who have real life jobs, and they have to, they have to find in curry that competitive passion. And that competitive passion should also be there to make sure this is the other side of that. That relentless thing is. People ask me, you know, when should I send the script out? Is it what how do you know it's good yet? Well? Is it awesome? Is your work awesome. Your work better be awesome. Make your work awesome. If your work isn't awesome, then then it's not gonna get noticed. What makes you special? What makes your work stand out? In some way? in some form. It needs to flat out be awesome. Not okay. Not Yeah, that'd be back in the day. The day I'm such a dinosaur. Yeah, back when I was a pup. They would throw money at people with talent and drive. I had talent drive and I got going. Now they don't have the patience for it. For talent and drive. They expect you to come in ready to go.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:13
They don't want they don't want to have to nurture not work. Yeah,

Doug Richardson 1:01:16
I got lucky. I had some great people with me. I worked with them. I learned I'm still learning. But still there was not you need to come in and be really good. You need to be great. You need to be special. What makes you stand out? What's your they're reading 1000s and 1000s of crappy screenplays every day? Why does your standout? You know and is it your voice? Is it your ability to to you know, is it your perspective? Is it your ability to write a great action scene? Is it you know, there's got to be something in it that makes people go Hmm, that's interesting. Why am I remembering that script?

Alex Ferrari 1:01:55
Let me ask you a question. Let me ask you a question about what like I remember the olden days, the Shane Black days. You know, back when, you know Shane was getting Yeah, three miles and Joe Astor house. I mean, these guys was getting those reminders. Yeah, they were making like obscene amounts, 2 million, 3 million, 5 million for scripts that Joe has your house God, My God, he made millions for movies and never got made.

Doug Richardson 1:02:17
Yeah, those were those about that. And you can realize, yeah, I

Alex Ferrari 1:02:23
mean, it was obscene. Now, and I thought those days were kind of over. But now Max Landis is starting to come back out with these kind of ridiculous deals, as well, for his movies and his voice. So do you think that are those days going to start coming back? Or is he just

Doug Richardson 1:02:41
back? Oh, because those days are always gonna come back in one form or another. It is cyclical. People do want to watch filmed entertainment. They do want to watch there's you know, there's a lot more interactive entertainment, but passive Entertainment has been around since campfires shouldn't want to or good story. People want to see a good story. They want to be told a good story and be moved. Okay, whether they're watching it on their phone or watching it on a drive in. Okay, there's still going to be that. Okay, so and those voices are going to be found and whether they're found in you know, the work of Max Landis are there found by the Weinstein's you know, probably burn in hell, but they did find Quentin and got you know, no, yeah. And that, you know, that's happened to whoever found and decided to, you know, do I mean to me, I'm just I'm in love with, with Sam S model. It's like Mr. Robot, I think is brilliant. And here's a guy who just seemingly came out of nowhere, practically, and is running a show and doing something that's brilliant with his very original voice. Those are going to stand out a video at Vince Gilligan, Vince Gilligan There you go. It's another one. You need to have the patience to within the craft to stay in there and withstand those those cycles and beatings until maybe your voice comes out in its own way. Yeah, it's

Alex Ferrari 1:04:07
it's been around forever. I mean, right. He's been working in X Files. And I mean, he was working, he's a working writer, and then all of a sudden, he said, different Breaking Bad, the crash

Doug Richardson 1:04:15
and he was around forever. For me, Jesus. No one knew Krantz who could do that, but Vince Gilligan, and Brian, and Brian crafts and then boom, and the rest. So, you know, sometimes those voices come early. I mean, I used to love I'm a big fan of film acting. And, you know, Anthony Quinn, who was always a great actor, when he reached his moment. And he said, I finally think I've I understood the filmmaking. I understood, you know, how to control the quiet and how to, you know, and that's when he suddenly went from being a really solid British actor to this frickin genius who went off these runs of characters from Shadow Lands to? Obviously silence of the lands, you know, so Remains of the Day. I hate these crate rolls. sure where we're at that at an advanced age. He found his voice fun. Yeah, Hopkins

Alex Ferrari 1:05:17
Yeah. I mean, how old was he, when he did sounds of the Lambs, and he was in his 50s 50s,

Doug Richardson 1:05:20
or something like that. But again, you sort of it just sometimes it comes early sometimes. And you see, people with these voices, they start and they burn out. Yeah. And it's not an easy business. And then sometimes, maybe, you know, I'm still waiting, you know, who knows, maybe I'm still waiting to find my voice. I've written what you would consider a bunch of programmers. You know, I think with my books, you know, what my lucky day series is, I think I've finally sort of found my voice. Like, okay, this is what I really, now I feel like I, I, I'm, there's something here that's interesting that I'm saying that's worthwhile and valuable. And whatever. You never know when that's gonna happen. I think as a writer, you gotta kind of sort of also work at it and be patient. I mean, Lin frickin Manuel Miranda, who's obviously got more press than anyone can imagine right now. So it's something really cool. In that 60 minutes thing he did it those who don't know who he is, he's the guy who behind Hamilton.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:18
He's, he's really,

Doug Richardson 1:06:19
really is brilliant. But he said some, this may not be his line. He may be someone else's line. But they asked him about writing he says writing is is like the rusty water coming out of the faucet. Okay, yeah, right until the waters clear. And then keep the clear.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:41
Eye right, saw that 60 minutes. I remember that. And

Doug Richardson 1:06:43
as a writer, I went ding That's perfect. That's perfect. That makes such sense. It makes such sense for so many people. You know, sometimes it takes a long time to get there. Just be patient and grind.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:54
Yeah, I was just I was just I just had Jim who was on. Okay, on the show. I don't know if you know, Jim or not. Jim, but he said something similar. He said it gave some great advice about how to get through how to write and he basically goes, write your first draft. Put it away. Write another movie. First Draft, put it away. Write a third movie. First Draft.

Doug Richardson 1:07:16
Don't stop right away. Now go back to the first movie. That is brilliant advice. And he goes now you're a better writer. brilliant advice. Because I always I always call it don't be a one trick pony. Yeah, just don't. Isn't you did script you're you've been working on for eight years. Ah. Okay, stop right now. Yeah, go write three or four more things and then go back to it. You know, then you better it is right. You'll be so much better at it. Don't be that guy who just that one thing a writer, someone who can write lots of things. And you're and but that I think that is a much clearer cleaner version of of mine. I will steal it and use it.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:56
Yes, you should. This is great. So I'm going to ask you a couple questions that I tell ask all my guests. Okay, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in life or in the film industry?

Doug Richardson 1:08:09
Patients good more in life than anything else? Patience, and I'm still learning it every day. Yep. My re about it.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:20
And life does tend to teach you that lesson.

Doug Richardson 1:08:22
Yes. Children those things, but yeah, patients, you know, not not sit back and watch it go by patients, but just slow down. Be patient. There is tomorrow. You know, there is tomorrow, and then there's tomorrow and just get up and do it again. Exactly. That's, that's. That's that answer.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:45
Alright. And then what are your three favorite films of all time?

Doug Richardson 1:08:48
I hate this question. I hate this question. I

Alex Ferrari 1:08:50
hate this question. Question. Three movies that tickles your fancy at the moment. Okay,

Doug Richardson 1:08:55
cuz there's always there's the there's one period Once Upon a Time in the West. Great movie.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:02
Amazing opening sequence.

Doug Richardson 1:09:03
It's the and and those of you haven't seen it. Okay. Don't see it. Until you've watched in order for a few dollars. $4. Yep. Then watch a few dollars more. Yep. Then watch the good, the bad, the ugly. Not the truncated versions. And then once you kind of built up to it, then when you see what's going on Time in the West, make sure it's a great sound system and a great screen. Because that score is unbelievable. Use of Sound to that original sequence that opening sequence and everything else. That movie is just to me the greatest opera ever so and I I cry when I see it. So there's that movie. Ah, then everything else is hard. So I'll throw out things that really tickle my fancy. Okay. I'm a huge fan lately of I can't watch No Country for Old Men enough. It's a great movie. It fits by I think the purse kind of the novels I write, have that sort of noir ish ness to them. At the same time, it's about that thin line between doing right and wrong. And the road it can take you down. And I think that movie does it in so many ways. And so many different levels. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:22
And great created one of the greatest villains of all time. Yeah,

Doug Richardson 1:10:25
that you can still watch. It's just that movie. What was what's better in the movie, the directing the writing, the performance, the homage is to Cormac McCarthy's work in it. It's running on all cylinders. I'm ugly Jones. It's just what came for the dime walked in going walked in with you. I mean, like, God, I just go crazy, then. Okay, and then there's a lot of close thirds, you know, I guess I would go I'm going to go to maybe the movie that made me want to make movies, which would be gold finger.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:58
I love gold thing or man, that's a great movie.

Doug Richardson 1:11:00
I mean, I mean, the movie. What made me want to be a writer was was Ian Fleming. Those are the first books I ever read in my life that I wanted to read make me read another book, because I wasn't bitter then. But you know, when I was a kid, but Goldfinger was like, that was sort of like, wow, I mean to a young man, you know, with hormones. Oh, and yes, and dreams and living in a tiny town. And, like, you see that and you kind of think the really the world is possible. Yep. So that was the one that made you want to make movies. So I guess those will be my three.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:40
And where can people find you man? Online?

Doug Richardson 1:11:43
richardson.com. Pretty simple twit before all the other Doug Richardson's in the world did and there's a lot of us yes, there

Alex Ferrari 1:11:53
is you got you got on the bandwagon early.

Doug Richardson 1:11:55
got there early. And yeah, and you know, if you're a fan of the movies, I really if you like good really crime fiction. I really suggest you go to my site and pick up a lucky day book. Awesome. And you I promise you will be entertained.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:11
Doug man, it's been a pleasure talking to you man. It's been a lot of fun geeking out with you and and you've been dropping some great knowledge bombs. So thank you so much, man. It has

Doug Richardson 1:12:18
been a geek fest hasn't it has

Alex Ferrari 1:12:20
a little bit of a geek fest is

Doug Richardson 1:12:23
all right, pal. They get alright take care.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:26
I had an absolute ball talking to Doug man he was he was so cool. And the stories from the sets from the diehard set from the bad boy set it's it was great. I heard all these stories about bad boys cuz I was in Miami when they were shooting it. And I had heard all of these stories about how Michael Bay had made it and all these kind of like, you know originally for Jon Lovitz, and Dana Carvey and all these kinds of things, and it was really great to hear straight from the horse's mouth what actually happened on that set because bad boys is one of my favorite movies. I love my favorite action movies. Definitely one of my favorite 90s action movies without question and and, you know, there's no transforming robots in that one. But, but anyway, guys, I hope you enjoyed it. Hope you got a lot of got a lot of good information out of that episode. Thank you, Doug, again for being a guest and dropping those knowledge bombs. And the show notes for this episode are at Indie film hustle.com, forward slash b p. S 003. And there you can get links to anything we discussed in this episode. And please do not forget to go to screenwriting podcast.com And subscribe to this podcast and leave us a good review. It really helps us out in the iTunes ranking, and helps get the word out on this podcast and the work that we're trying to do by helping as many screenwriters as humanly possible. And as always, never stop writing no matter what. I'll talk to you soon.

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BPS 002: How to Write a Screenplay with Fight Club Screenwriter Jim Uhls

First Rule of Jim Uhls, YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT Jim Uhls!

Well, I have a MAJOR treat for the tribe this week. I have no other than Jim Uhls, the master screenwriter behind David Fincher’s “Fight Club”, one of the greatest films in my generation, in my humble option.

When Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club was making the rounds in Hollywood, it was a tough sell to be adapted for the screen. But then Brad Pitt got involved; add David Fincher and Ed Norton, throw Jim Uhlsinto the mix and you’ve got a modern classic.

Jim’s screenwriting credits include of course the modern classic “Fight Club” the feature-film “Jumper” the NBC television film “Semper Fi” and the SyFy miniseries “Spin“.

In this remarkable discussion, Jim Uhls breaks the first rule of Fight Club: He talks about it, working with David Fincher, why he hates outlines and why you should interview your characters. Step inside the mind of the man who figured out how to conquer Hollywood as he lays down knowledge bomb after knowledge bomb in this eye-opening interview.

Towards the end of the interview, Jim gives easily the GREATEST ADVICE ON HOW TO BECOME A WORKING SCREENWRITER I EVER HEARD! This podcast is not to be missed.

Learn How To Write A Screenplay with Jim Uhls


Jim will also share essential insights on developing a career in screenwriting. You’ll learn:

  • The differences between writing for television and features
  • Who to work with: agents vs managers vs lawyers
  • How to obtain and manage projects of various sizes and contexts

Right-click here to download the MP3


  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Screenwriting Audiobook

Alex Ferrari 5:42
I like to welcome to the show, Jim Uhls. Thank you, man so much for taking the time out to to share some knowledge and drop some knowledge bombs to the the indie film hustle tribe.

Jim Uhls 5:51
Oh, you're welcome. It's I've been pressured. I mean, it's a pleasure to be on the show.

Alex Ferrari 5:58
Well, I have I have stalked you on Twitter. So yeah, that's, that's how we got that's how I got a hold of you. So it's very effective to stalk on

Jim Uhls 6:07

Alex Ferrari 6:08
You know, it it? Apparently it is I've gotten, you'd be amazed at the people on the show purely because I've I've stalked him on Twitter. So Twitter is a pretty powerful.

Jim Uhls 6:18
Yes, indeed.

Alex Ferrari 6:21
So Jim, I wanted to get started, I want to take you back to the beginning of it all. I know, all the way back when you were a small child. No. Um, when? When did you get started in the business? And how did you get started in the business? Like what brought you to this crazy carnival that we call the film industry?

Jim Uhls 6:37
Well, I at UCLA, I got a combination degree that was both playwriting, and screenwriting. And I, I entered it, as a playwright with some plays as a background, you know, that I wrote, you know, after high school and early college. And I was like, thinking, well, I'll look into both of them. I'll study both of them. And it was a great program to go through.

Alex Ferrari 7:06
And there, it's a really great program, the UCLA program, especially last week,

Jim Uhls 7:09
it's yeah, it's, it's still top notch. And so I was able to get plays done there at UCLA, which is more of an instant gratification than a screenplay, which is, you know, you write it and, and you hope

Alex Ferrari 7:26
15 years later, maybe.

Jim Uhls 7:30
So I was able to see actors doing my stuff and all that, and it was great. And a bunch of us, you know, we went out into the world after that. And some friends of mine, you know, had connections and got agents. And then that's how I got an agent. And for quite a while I was, he was using a couple of my sample screenplays to seek out work for me and I have got work here. And they're rewriting work. I sold a screenplay. It didn't get made. But

Alex Ferrari 8:04
something I hear a lot of in the business, there's a lot of big screenwriters I've talked to they're like, Yeah, I've sold a ton of screenplays. And not many of them in need. But yeah, well,

Jim Uhls 8:15
in my case, I was paid to write them, right. And then they didn't get made. That's what started to happen after, after I sold one. Either way, they didn't get made. So they ended up in the same pile. Exactly. And then one of my spec scripts was, which was about a very incendiary, kind of funny, but dangerous relationship with this man, this woman. It had, it had some heat on it. And it was used as a sample when Fight Club was going to be when it was being considered actually what was happening is the book was in galleys, and it was being rejected by every studio in town, when a friend passed it to me and said, I don't think this is going to be made, but I think you should read it. And so I read it, and I just was blown away. And I thought, Yeah, this'll nobody will make this into a movie. It's too good.

Alex Ferrari 9:18
And it's and it's, I mean, it's a pretty, I mean, it's a pretty difficult novel to translate to, to the film medium. I mean, it's it's pretty, pretty intense. To say the least.

Jim Uhls 9:28
Yeah, at the time, I was lucky. Luckily enough, I was dumb enough to not know how difficult and

Alex Ferrari 9:35
as Orson Welles says, ignorance is the best form of confidence.

Jim Uhls 9:42
And so I thought, well, even though it'll never get made, if somebody is hired to write it, I'd love to have that gig because it certainly be fun to be paid to do it even even though there's no chance you know? So, I've been made and so I the my sample basically got me the job. I was acquaintances already with Fincher for a place called the pad of guys, which also had people it's just it was just a place where people hung out and we're screenwriters basically.

Alex Ferrari 10:14
We're gonna have guys. Yeah. Is that is the pad of guys still around? No, no. Okay.

Jim Uhls 10:22
But people like Shane Black were there and Fred Decker. And so, in any case, I worked, the sample worked and I got, I got basically I got the job. And

Alex Ferrari 10:38
no, it was an adventure that got you the job, or Well, I

Jim Uhls 10:41
mean, they all decided basically together Fincher, Laura Ziskin was running Fox 2000. And Fox main studio had already said no way. But Fox 2000 had a certain autonomy as a division, and she wanted to make it she was the only place in town that wanted to make it. And when she got Fincher on board, she got, I guess, the really high up powers at Fox to say, you know, you can proceed with developing a script. And so,

Alex Ferrari 11:13
now Fincher, so everyone understands where Fincher was at his career at that point, he had already made seven. Well, he did alien three, seven, and then the game. So

Jim Uhls 11:22
aim now actually was a game before. The game wasn't no actually, that's an interesting part of the story. He hadn't made the game yet.

Alex Ferrari 11:28
Oh, so it was right off a seven then when this started getting developed,

Jim Uhls 11:31
right, right. So he had made seven and it it certainly made his deals from that point, a lot sweeter.

Alex Ferrari 11:41
Yes, seven tends to do that.

Jim Uhls 11:45
And so I started writing, and I was still writing the first draft when he called me and said, I'm going to go make a movie. Okay. So we went to make the game and Fox had to actually I mean, I was gonna still gonna finish the first draft, but in terms of my other steps, which were in the contract, you know, rewriting and polish. They had to postpone those steps. But I turned in when I turned in the first draft after really doing you know, a lot of my own internal drafts, like over and over and over and over again. Apparently, I got it right. The studio was excited. Laura was excited. Fincher was excited and the producers who with when we began, admin entertainment was a combination of Josh Donovan and Ross Bell, and then Josh Don and left that company and became an agent again, he had been before. So it was just Ross Bell, and the studio brought in you know, another producer of art Linson, to join in so it was art Linson and Ross Bell producing. Then also along with Seon Chafin, who was cinchers producing partner.

Alex Ferrari 13:07
So, when you guys were getting fightclub off the ground, obviously, Fincher his name helped a bit to get the thing started. But I think from what I've read, because I've studied fightclub immensely, it's actually one of my top five films of all time. I mean, it's, it's an absolute masterpiece. Um, no, I mean, it's it really is anytime anyone asked me, I'm like, Well, seven and fight club are up there somewhere up there with Shawshank Redemption and, you know, a couple other ones and a Blade Runner. But, um, but from what I understand with Fight Club, I mean, the studio was going and going, but Brad Pitt really kind of took it over the top at that point, correct.

Jim Uhls 13:44
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that's what took it over the top to the studio. They did. Well, we've got Brad Pitt doing film with David Fincher. And we're, you know,

Alex Ferrari 13:51
yeah. And then and then the way Hollywood thinks, Well, they did seven and seven was a hit.

Jim Uhls 13:57
Yeah, they love that pairing again. And. And then another great idea, you don't actually Artland tonight, as I recall, had the idea, which was to, you know, the casting of the non named character Jack, to use Edward Norton, who at that time, had his first year of movies coming out his ones. He had three and they were all very different roles, you know?

Alex Ferrari 14:26
Yeah. He had an Oscar nomination off of them Primal Fear, if I remember correctly,

Jim Uhls 14:30
I don't remember, but I wouldn't be surprised. But in any case,

Alex Ferrari 14:36
he wasn't. He wasn't a big star by any stretch yet. He was he was good.

Jim Uhls 14:40
But he had that kind of upward trajectory that was also very appealing to the studio and everybody. We liked his acting chops, of course. So having, having him and then some great actor like Brad Pitt, really, really, you know, Put it over the top

Alex Ferrari 15:01
and Halina. I mean, Helena Bonham. Carter was just

Jim Uhls 15:05
I remember, you know, I was, there's a lot of names of people that were kind of more like that urging, you know, female waif type. And David called me and said, What do you think about Helena Bonham? Carter? I just thought it was so high class like, wow, she she played that part.

Alex Ferrari 15:25
Like she was in Merchant Ivory movies like, let's,

Jim Uhls 15:28
uh, you know, she'd been in a Woody Allen movie where she was playing someone that was a breast, sort of a tough American character. And, um, you know, she clearly could do anything really, you know, I saw I was just amazing. That sort of like, brought up sort of the, the art level of the whole thing.

Alex Ferrari 15:49
Right? It's all of a sudden, you had some art house cred? Yeah, that's not just a big studio movie. Now, the casting of that movie is, is brilliant. Across the board, I mean, meatloaf, and Jared Leto, and all these, like how I mean, I mean, you obviously were pretty close to the production. Obviously, you just didn't write a script and went away. You were pretty close. If I'm, am I correct?

Jim Uhls 16:12
Yeah. Well, I mean, he showed me, he said, we sat down the two of us, David, and showed me the first half of the Redcat rough cut, you know, on his home theater system, and my job was just on the floor. You know, it's like everybody was right. For their roles. Everything looked and sounded in was like, everything that I imagined it. You know, I was just floored by it.

Alex Ferrari 16:41
How? Go ahead. Oh, that's all? No, no, how much freedom did both you and David have during the making of this? I mean, because this does not seem like a studio movie. I mean, there is a lot of stuff that would have normally been nixed off of a script and never even gotten to a production state. How much freedom Did you guys have? And did you have a lot of battles? That you can talk about?

Jim Uhls 17:09
Yeah, that I could talk about? Well, I mean, all I know is that there certainly was a lot of freedom afforded. Fincher and I know that both he and you know, the other producers in Arlington would talk about having conversations with the studio, you know, say what their eyes were kind of like this when I said that, so I don't know. But they, you know, they managed to keep it protected, really the whole way through. I know that in the middle production. You know, this, this story has been told, but I'm Laura Ziskin didn't want the line. And it's a line from the book the line,

Alex Ferrari 17:52
I think I know which line you're talking about.

Jim Uhls 17:54
I want to have your abortion, and I don't really want that line. It was actually David came up with the substitute. I haven't had sex like that since grade school. Laura said, Can we change it back to I want to have your portion. Which was not changed back?

Alex Ferrari 18:12
No, I mean, but but that other line does work quite well in the movie. I think I heard that story interview with David do that he was he said that was like, such a great. He is a very, he's a dark human being.

Jim Uhls 18:28
Well, I mean, you know what, really, what I would sensibilities is he fires on all cylinders. I mean, he, he had a reputation up to that point. I mean, if he started to change with seven, which was such a great character, performances and MIDI drama and all that and suspense. But you know, he'd been labeled a visual guy, I mean, he's everything. characters, story, humor, tech, dramatic moments. You know, the whole thing. He's, he really has a comprehensive grasp of making the film.

Alex Ferrari 19:04
He is a comp, he is a contemporary to, to Kubrick, in many ways, I know He is a devotee of Kubrick's from what I, from what I've read.

Jim Uhls 19:13
What's interesting, you brought that up, because when I first read the galleys of Fight Club, when I was finished, I kept thinking Clockwork Orange. Oh, and that was part of why I was thinking this will never be done, you know, here by a major studio in the United States. I was like, No, I it's not going to happen. But I always kept thinking of Kubrick the whole way through. Because I feel like fightclub is, is definitely something that is in the same line of films that go back to clockwork line.

Alex Ferrari 19:46
Right? I was actually, probably about a year ago, I had watched Clockwork Orange again, and I hadn't seen it in probably a decade. And my mouth was on the ground. I just, I forgot. Like with In the first 20 minutes the stuff that Kubrick got away with, I'm like, my kind of this movie comes out today. It would cause an insane amount of controversy today. I can only imagine what it did in the 70s. So I think Fight Club is is definitely deserves a place on that mantle without question. Because their stuff in Fight Club they just go How did this get through? Like how did this get intercutting? I mean, I think it was the first male penis male any penis? I've seen Male Yeah. On a studio movie. You know, I remember seeing it at like the AMC. I was like, did they just flash a penis on the screen? Now, let me ask you, when? What's your process to adapt something like this? Like, what was your you know, it was like a lot of people said it was almost impossible to adapt into, into into this medium. So what was your process in adapting? That not only this but other other like other material into the medium of film? Like what was your process in this fight club specifically? Well,

Jim Uhls 21:11
to start with, I went to save it. It's very interesting. But Ross Bell had someone type the novel as a screenplay. And it was 500 600 pages. And it was just in suffering. You couldn't cuz you want to do like read parts of it with actors. And it was just like, well, you obviously can't do it that way. That's not how you adapt.

Alex Ferrari 21:33
Yeah, the godfather would have been

Jim Uhls 21:35
he wasn't doing this. He just wanted to have some actors read parts of it and stuff like that. But it was just interesting to see a very vivid way of seeing that you cannot just turn a novel into a screenplay. So um, I, I knew that what everybody wanted at the end of the line. When I turned into first draft, was a screenplay, a screenplay that everybody would want to make. And that was the overriding priority. It has to be a screenplay. It has to work as a screen story. And fortunately, I sort of stylistically sort of melded with Chuck poloneck and put in the step where I put in my own material it seemed to mix with where I was using stuff from the book. But the main thing was, is this structurally, I had to put together something that worked as a screen story. And I would take the book and go through and use a highlighter, to highlight all the stuff like I want to use, I want to use this, I want to use that because the book has got a lot of stuff, and it can't all go into the movie, right? So I would I would do that. And then sort of use that as a guide. And then sit down and stare at a blank screen for hours on end and be full of fear. Yes, yes. But it's interesting that sometimes writing scenes that feel like they're like you felt when you read those scenes in the book, writing them differently than they are the book is what it took to make it seem like it was from the book. It was actually the changing that made it seem more like it was from the book, it was an odd thing. But I think that's one of the parts of adaptation is to convey the spirit of the book sometimes means you're changing something.

Alex Ferrari 23:54
Got it? Yeah, I can omit Yeah, cuz I mean, I remember when I first watched the first Harry Potter, I'm like, well, they skip that part. And they skip that. Right. I mean, enough's enough. But absolutely. Now, how, um, How involved was David? Oh, first of all, how involved was Chuck in the in your process? Or did you talk to him at all?

Jim Uhls 24:16
Yeah, David. And I brought him down a couple times. We the first time we just hit him with all these questions. Why did this happen? Why did that happen and check and say, I don't know. And then we said, yeah, for instance, the scene in which Tyler is driving the car and swerving into headlights. While he's forcing. We call the narrator Jack. He's never called a name in the movie. Or you know in the dialogue of the script at all, but we had to put a name down. So we put jack down when Tyler's forcing him to answer questions and threatening to have a car accident, well in the book It's not Tyler. It's just another one of this project, ma'am. Space monkeys driving. Mm hmm. And we said, why wouldn't it be Tyler and Chuck because, wow, that's a really good idea. But he was also great. He also did clarify a lot. I don't want to make it sound like it was all like that he did clarify a lot. And he also was extremely supportive. Uh, he had no official you know, attachment to the project. But in this casual, friendly way he was he was just a wonderful presence, supportive, informative. And we did get a lot out of having him around.

Alex Ferrari 25:45
He is an interesting soul.

Jim Uhls 25:47
Oh, he is totally fascinating. I mean, really, he's so multi layered, I could just do a separate interview about him. Stuff I was like,

Alex Ferrari 25:59
It's the it's the whole. I mean, just look at his body of work. I mean, you look at someone's, you know, you look at an artist's work. You can kind of creep a little bit into the, into the soul of that person. And if Fight Club is any indication, or choke or any of the other books that he's written?

Jim Uhls 26:19
Yeah, yeah, they're into his soul for sure. Yeah. And

Alex Ferrari 26:23
they're making they made a sequel to fight club in comics, right.

Jim Uhls 26:26
Yeah, that was Chuck project. He wrote it in an artist did the artwork, of course. Yeah, that was interesting. I also wanted to tell you, my I actually don't know if you know this, Alex, but I'm writing a pilot, based on his second novel survivor, really, to be a pilot for an ongoing series. Let's change the name, of course, because of the reality show. It's his novel about a person who survived a religious cult. And then basically, it focuses on after that, and he becomes a call leader. A different kind, you know, more on the national circuit more not not on a compound like he was but a guru, a thought leader going around, you know, traveling and being on television and all that kind of stuff. A Tony

Alex Ferrari 27:26
Robbins kind of guy. Yeah. Right. Wow. That's gonna be so hopefully on HBO or Netflix.

Jim Uhls 27:34
Yeah, we don't we, you know, we don't have I'm the company's paying me and we don't have the studio or the network yet. So

Alex Ferrari 27:41
hopefully, it's a network where you guys can kind of just flourish and not have to worry about I don't I don't know if that would work on network television, hopefully cable or, or streaming. See,

Jim Uhls 27:51
it would not be welcomed in the doors of a network.

Alex Ferrari 27:56
No, so much on NBC and ABC at this point. From the creator of Fight Club calm.

Jim Uhls 28:03
I like to have my ass hit steps as I bounced down, you know, what I tried to go into?

Alex Ferrari 28:11
Oh, that would be fun. That would be a fun interview to have fun meeting to watch. So, so how involved so obviously, Fincher was extremely involved in the screenwriting process with you, correct?

Jim Uhls 28:23
Oh, yeah, yeah. And, you know, when I was doing the second draft and third draft, I go to his house. You know, for a few weeks before actually just going back to myself. And during the draft, we would have these, you know, daily meetings and go through everything. And he was just wonderful working with him. I remember by the time we were working on the end of the movie, he and I both got up and started. Well, he could say this, and he'd move over here and we're going all around his living room.

Alex Ferrari 28:57
Like just having fun, like really creating a tribe. What a shock. Amazing, isn't it?

Jim Uhls 29:06
Oh, creative people. You know how they are?

Alex Ferrari 29:08
Well, I've heard well, I've heard that he's, he's just brilliant in the sense of just he is so multi layered. And he knows a lot about a lot. And he's just one of those guys. I saw an interview with Morgan Freeman, who said that he's just like, his mind is a steel trap. It's just remarkable to work with with him on anything, and and obviously, his career has flourished over the years.

Jim Uhls 29:32
Yeah, right. definitely been a great career.

Alex Ferrari 29:37
Um, so when Fight Club was released, it was not a huge hit. When it first came out. It was domestically Yeah. domestically. It's just kind of well, so. So was it a hit overseas, while by

Jim Uhls 29:49
their standards? Yes. Studio standards, and they I don't know if it wasn't all countries, but it was, I believe in England, or the UK and some of the continental US European countries it was.

Alex Ferrari 30:02
But here in the state I remember when it came out people. I mean, it's a hard movie to mark it. No one really knew how to.

Jim Uhls 30:07
Yeah, that was a really, you know, I mean, after everything we went through and put it all together and it's there it is. And it's just Fincher has really put together this wonderful thing. It was like, oh, marketing,

Alex Ferrari 30:21
how do you market? Like, and I remember I remember, friends come up to oh, sorry, go ahead. No, no, I remember seeing the posters of it up in the, in my local in my local theater, and I was like, I'm gonna go see that because I know who Fincher was. And I knew, you know, I wanted to see Brad and all that. But I'm like, wow, over the years are you start analyzing like, Man, that's a tough movie to sell. Like, it's,

Jim Uhls 30:43
yeah, I had friends come up, you know, maybe in a couple weeks afterwards released and they hadn't seen it yet. And they said, Oh, yeah, no, I'm gonna see it. It's what it's about amateur boxing, right? Oh, my God. I just, I didn't know what to say. I was like, No,

Alex Ferrari 31:00
oh, it's not about amateur boxing. By any stretch. So when so but it was obviously a movie that was a slow burn. And but it was very well received, wasn't received? Well, critically. I don't remember why it

Jim Uhls 31:17
was mixed. But we did have some great champions like Janet Maslin of The New York Times with just a glowing review. And the San Francisco and Chicago, we did pretty well. Now with the LA Times. So he was mixed, which I kind of liked, because that made me feel like that. Well, that's right. It should be mixed.

Alex Ferrari 31:40
Yeah. If everyone loves this movie, there's a society.

Jim Uhls 31:43
I feel like well, wait a minute. What's wrong with everybody? Not supposed to love it?

Alex Ferrari 31:49
Exactly. So for you as a screenwriter, how was it like when this this beautiful thing that you guys put together came out? And it was mixed, and it wasn't a huge hit right away? Um, how did it feel for you as I mean, this was, at that point, the biggest thing you would have done, correct?

Jim Uhls 32:06
Well, I was my first produced film. I, the mixed reviews I was excited about actually, I mean, I didn't like reading the negative one. So I was really jazzed that it was mixed the box office. That was disappointing. And then when it was released on DVD, and those sales skyrocketed through, you know, yeah, stratosphere. I was just, it was so vindicating, you that was just validating, it was great.

Alex Ferrari 32:37
As much, I must have purchased at least four or five different special editions of that damn movie. So your residuals, you got at least a few cents for me, sir.

Jim Uhls 32:48
Well, thank you, I appreciate that.

Alex Ferrari 32:50
Um, so enough about fight club, because God knows we've talked a lot about that, but we talked for hours about it. But can you tell me the craziest story that you can publicly tell us about working as a screenwriter in Hollywood?

Jim Uhls 33:07
The craziest story? Yeah, just

Alex Ferrari 33:09
like, did that just really happen to me?

Jim Uhls 33:15
I think that probably the, I mean, if it's really about being the screenwriter, in those moments, I'd probably say Craziest thing is something really that I did, which I did it several times, which is when I was supposed to come in and pitch my take on doing an adaptation of something. I turned it into a full on conversation with everyone in the room. And we all talked about it and, and we had ideas about how you'd handle certain things. Now you do it. And we'd have this long conversation by the end of it, they go great. And I got the jobs. But I never pitched you know, you just

Alex Ferrari 33:53
would walk in and like Alright guys. So what do you guys think about this? And let's see this. I

Jim Uhls 33:57
wouldn't start with what do you think about I mean, that would be too much. Right? Start off actually talking about some things I thought, right first, then I would bring them into a conversation. And it was great because I hate pitching. I hate pitching. You know what, I'm just talking from beginning to end. I hate it. But of course, I've also done that too, because there's been people that are not going to sit there and have a conversation. Okay, what's the take? Jim?

Alex Ferrari 34:28
Got it got? Yeah, pitching is not something else. I mean, it's it's an art form in itself. Yeah. And I know a lot of screenwriters who just don't dig it?

Jim Uhls 34:38
Yeah, I even thought about hiring a real sales type guy to just do it for me while I'm sitting there. You know,

Alex Ferrari 34:44
that would be brilliant. Can you imagine walking into a studio meeting? I'm like, Who's that? That's my pitch, man. I'm just gonna sit here. Oh, that has to go in a script somewhere. I mean, seriously, that is brilliant.

Jim Uhls 34:57
Well, I mean, it's up and the only reason would want because they want to hear it from the writer, you know, unfortunately, it's a fantasy, but I don't think they they go for

Alex Ferrari 35:06
it one day before before, it's all said and done and you catch up you, you walk away, you should just do it for the hell of it.

Jim Uhls 35:14
Just It was right before I was going to walk away. There's a lot of stuff I would do. And I mean, it might be I get arrested for it.

Alex Ferrari 35:22
Fair enough. I'm sure I'm sure I'm sure you can tell some stories off air. Were pretty interesting. Entertaining. Now you did do a you did have a formal education at arguably one of the best screenwriting schools in the world. Do you think you need a formal education to to be a successful screenwriter?

Jim Uhls 35:44
Um, well, I mean, what helped about it is the roundedness of it the breadth breadth of courses. And, you know, understanding a lot of different things about the world and studying a lot of different areas is certainly good for any writer. But I wouldn't say you have to have that. I think you have to have some kind of, you know, professional class that really teaches structure and everything else, but I would think that's pretty important. whatever form it takes, but it doesn't have to be, you know, in the university system. Got it. You guys. Good? Oh, no, that was it. I have some I have a hallucination next to me who sometimes murmuring you might hear it. But fair enough.

Alex Ferrari 36:39
Do you? Do you outline the story before you write it?

Jim Uhls 36:44

I hate outlines. I hate pitches. I hate outline. The reason I hate outlines is they're bloodless, lifeless statements. Have you put down in this scene? This emotional thing happened? Oh, really? Well, great. Okay. The idea is like, it's a clinical technical description of what the script is supposed to be. And people want it because they want to know what the script is going to be. But when they read it, they don't know what the script is going to be. They know what the technical description, this cold clinical collection of statements is. That's all they know. And they can go I don't know, I don't feel it. What course you don't feel it.

Alex Ferrari 37:30
I haven't written it.

Jim Uhls 37:34
But I have to do them. I mean, I haven't always had to do them. But some projects you you have to do them. And I'm just sort of cultivated getting better at making them seem to have feelings in them. That's the the only way I can handle doing them.

Alex Ferrari 37:56
Now in your opinion, and there's a couple there's two camps here. For for screenwriters and writers in general. Are you more in the character camp that drives a story or plot camp or both?

Jim Uhls 38:10
I know, it's funny, I think I am in the character camp. But it seems like that, when I'm thinking about character, I'm thinking about the plot as well, like, but big it's because I'm thinking about the care. I mean, it's not only thinking about the character, solely as filling out a whole human being and making them three dimensional and you know, all the texture with them. I'm thinking about them doing things and going through stuff. So it's it's, I would say it's definitely heavily character driven, generated, but I'm thinking about plot, same time.

Alex Ferrari 38:51
No, do you? How do you find the voice of a character? Like as a writer? I mean, I know every writer is a little bit different. But how do you find your voice and your characters?

Jim Uhls 39:01
Well, I'll put two of them together. And I'll just start writing scenes. I like to do what's I call it writing outside the script. And there's various forms it takes one is seeing scenes that are well, they are scenes that are not going to be in the script. And sometimes they're just scenes that I put in any situation. And sometimes there are scenes that would come before the story of the script starts. And sometimes I interview the characters where it's, you know, I type Jim, and I type my first question, I type character name the answer and I try to go them, provoke them, get them angry, then get them you know, suddenly talking in a sentimental weigh about some memory or something and then get them joking and laughing and basically just get them all over the range with questions and He starts off, it's very, very mechanical at first. But they sort of start to come alive in an interview. It's interesting.

Alex Ferrari 40:11
When you were talking about that I was thinking about Charlie Kaufman's adaptation. Pushing the character and asking the character I just for whatever reason, as a writer, I love watching that movie is one of my favorite movies as well. Yeah, that's a great, it's such a brilliant, again, that's one of those movies that's outside the box without question. Anything Charlie writes is pretty much outside the box. Yeah,

Jim Uhls 40:34
exactly. Exactly.

Alex Ferrari 40:36
So, um, you wrote plays before you got into screenwriting? How did that help you in your screenwriting craft?

Jim Uhls 40:43
Well, I mean, that was, you know, it's it's characters behaving and talking. So that was the critical aspect of it, that I carried over into screenwriting plays also have structure and you have to write to that structure and build it well. And you have to build scenes so that a scene has, what is the purpose of the scene? What's the event of the scene? And then what's the takeaway from the scene? And all that thinking, in playwriting is this are the same considerations you have in screenwriting, it's a completely different medium, in a different form, because of course, plays have long, extended scenes. And on the same set, you know, before the set changes, if it does some plays take place on the same set the whole way through. screenplays go all over the place, and scenes are short. But you still have those considerations. Why is the scene exist? Why is it in this story? What's the advent of it? And what's the takeaway from it? And you're also writing characters who are alive and vivid and behaving and speaking and doing things to each other.

Alex Ferrari 42:03
Now, you spoke about structure, what is your take on the like the hero's journey structure, the three act structure, the four act structure? What is there something that you kind of always gravitate to? What is your thoughts on structure in general? Because I think that's something a lot of screenwriters, especially young screenwriters are starting out screenwriters kind of forget?

Jim Uhls 42:22
Right, right. Well, I do basically go by the three act structure. It's, you know, I mean, I may, I may not slavishly follow it. But it's basically what I do with the structure. I mean, then the second act is, is the long act. And it's a very difficult act to write. It's one in which the build, really, you have to keep an eye on the bill, you have to make this thing continually raise the level of the adrenaline in the audience watching whatever type of story it is, I'm not just talking about thrillers or something. But I did have a professor once say, to me something very interesting, which is when an audience starts to watch something, their tolerance is very high. And that tolerance, you know, for what they're watching what what's happening, decreases incrementally as time passes. So you can start off with anything happening, anything going on, and you know, maybe it's mysterious, and the audience doesn't really, you know, whatever, it's the opening, you're kind of just getting into it. The audience is totally, we're ready to, yeah, let's let's do this. And then after a while, it's going to be i, this better be going somewhere.

Alex Ferrari 43:47
You're absolutely right. He was absolutely right,

Jim Uhls 43:50
that that attitude of this better be going somewhere it gets more pointed as time goes on. So that's one thing to keep in mind. When, when you it's it's sort of a structural overview to keep in mind as you're going through the whole thing.

Alex Ferrari 44:10
Now as a screenwriter, and as a storyteller, you know, things that God you got away with, in the 80s, or, you know, or movies that got things got away with in the 30s or 40s. You know, this audience has become so much more sophisticated because of their bombardment of media and movies and stories, that it's becoming harder and harder for screenwriters and filmmakers to really do something that surprises them or keeps them enthralled or keeps them going. What is what's your feeling on that because I mean, things that that that played in the 80s Don't play today, like you can't put you can't you couldn't release commando today. You know, in the in the 80s it was just great, you know, but now you'd be like, I'm probably not gonna fly. So what what do you think? What's your feeling on that?

Jim Uhls 45:00
Well, at this point movies have become basically two things. tent poles, usually, if not always based on pre existing material that has audience recognition, because that's the studio's you know, clamor for safety in their investments. And the other type of movie is the independent film or the independent, like film. It's actually being done by a division in a studio. Yeah. Yeah, there's a term Washington insiders and Washington outsiders and everything. And I was in the indie film is outside the studio system, but he, the independent divisions of Studios is like, pretending to be outsiders, while they're actually insiders.

Alex Ferrari 45:49
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. Right, because because that's another that's another market that's like, oh, wait a minute, let's get a piece of that market. Because there's so many

Jim Uhls 46:05
that maybe making an independent film, though as an independent film. Yeah. But we're putting it out, you know,

Alex Ferrari 46:10
yeah, it's look, it's there's a, there's a cool little logo, it's not Paramount is paramount Vantage. It's not the same. It's Fox 2000. It's not, you know,

Jim Uhls 46:22
right. But you know, thankfully, they're, they're doing it because that's another venue. But I think those are the two basically type type of films and the independent film. It's actually part of the, the ethos of the financial model that it be successful. Critically. In festivals, if it does go through the festival circuit, that's not the same commercial model for a temple. It's just, you know, we'd better be making money, you know. And so independent films, basically live or die by their quality, which, you know, it's that actually a very exciting thing about them. I think,

Alex Ferrari 47:05
Well, yeah. I mean, there's, like, you know, we're making our movie right now. You know, Julie, the star of our movie, and we're making our little movie. That's, she's tremendous. Yeah. And, and, you know, we're making our little movie, and it's truly an independent film. You know, Fox 2000, or Fox Searchlight is not doing anything. You know, we raised our money, and we're, you know, we're making a small little independent film for a small market. But the financial risk is slow, as low, extremely low, as opposed to Ghostbusters. Which, you know, after this last weekend that came out, as of this recording, it did not, it's not living up to the expectations of the studio, I'm from what I've read. Same thing with Independence Day. I mean, the these big budget films that these 10 poles that keep coming out that are there's a lot there's been a lot of bombs this summer, like, a lot of like, big

Jim Uhls 47:59
barbecue, and they liked it, they use the word disappointment, and and I actually go along with that. I mean, a bomb is a bomb. I mean, that's like, you know,

Alex Ferrari 48:07
yeah. million dollars in five.

Jim Uhls 48:11
But but a disappointment is it's not as big a hit. And that that happens to you know, I mean, I really enjoyed Ghostbusters.

Alex Ferrari 48:19
I have

Jim Uhls 48:21
a lot of fun. And but, you know, it financial disappointment means well, we wanted to make more, you know, that kind of thing.

Alex Ferrari 48:31
Exactly. Exam or Independence Day for that matter, or the BFG, the Spielberg movie, that didn't do as well. Things like that. But do you believe in that whole Hollywood implosion that, you know, there's going to be a moment that these studios are going to have, you know, let's say a studio puts out two or three temples and they all financially just die or not do well. And that could it could cripple a studio, because some of these I mean, some of these movies are 200,000,200 50 million. I mean, look, the risk that they took on Avatar was massive back then. And, you know, I mean, that that could have been, I could have not fought out. I mean, it really could have hurt them really badly if that movie did not do what it did. But or imagine if Disney's $4.5 million investment in Star Wars, which is obviously not a risk. But if that that's for our Star Wars movie didn't do well, my God. I mean, I could have really hurt his knee. Do you believe in that, like Spielberg and Lucas said that there's going to be a Hollywood implosion at one point, that the studio system is going to take a big hit. And some of these studios are going to going to fall because they're just rolling the dice so much on these big big temples?

Jim Uhls 49:44
Um, I don't know. I mean, it is a possibility. It's definitely a possibility. I I don't know how many CO production co I don't know what you call it. It's not really CO production. It's co distributed distribution. With two studios. I mean, that's It's been done in the past. I don't know how much they're trying going to try to do that in the future. It certainly is something that helps share the burden. But yes, it's a possibility the implosion is could happen.

Alex Ferrari 50:16
Now, um, this is a this is a loaded question, but it's a question. I'm just curious to see what you think of what is the greatest challenge for a screenplay screenwriter facing and staring at a blank screen?

Jim Uhls 50:33
Starting to type,

Alex Ferrari 50:35
just the first word,

Jim Uhls 50:36
you know, I mean, really, I know that sounds like I'm just kidding. But actually, I'm serious. Sometimes I just make myself die is like, Okay, I'm tired. I'm not gonna do this writer's block thing. I'm not doing it. So I just type. I just make myself type. I mean, I'm typing the scenes that, you know, a scene I'm supposed to be working on. But I, I just do it. I mean, there's a point in, you know, it's like they say, with working out exercise, you know, just do it that kind of, well, it's really true. It's sit there and start putting your fingers on the keys and typing, you may not feel a thing, you may feel like, Oh, I just totally have no inspiration. I don't know what I'm going to type anyway. Just start typing. Because at some point, if you don't let yourself stop, you're going to get into it.

Alex Ferrari 51:33
Eventually, so you don't sit around waiting for that muse to come and tap you on the show? Oh,

Jim Uhls 51:38
yeah. That's, that's the road to writer's block, which is the you know, that's, I look at that, like a disease I don't want to get, you know, I never want to go into that. Because you've I've known people who've been in there, and they've been in it for months and months. It's like, No, I'm not doing it. I'll just type I'll type gibberish if I have to, but I'm not gonna get into writer's block. It's not

Alex Ferrari 52:00
just gonna let it you got to turn the hose on, and whatever comes out comes out. Exactly, exactly. And eventually that water will turn into wine.

Jim Uhls 52:08
That's true. It will if you just keep tapping it will.

Alex Ferrari 52:12
So you also created a remarkable course online called the screenwriters toolbox. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Jim Uhls 52:20
Yeah, it's interesting. I, when I first after I did it, I started to try to get some people to tweet about it and stuff like that. And they thought that I, because I said it wrong. I said, I did an online screenwriting course. And I forgot that there are ones that take place in real time that are over, you know, and that's not what this is at all. This is permanently there. It's a filmed lecture that's always there that you can always get. So I want to make that clear.

Alex Ferrari 52:51
I'll make sure everybody knows the link to it. It will be in the show notes. And I'll I'll mention it in the podcast as well.

Jim Uhls 52:57
All right, thanks. Yeah, no, it's meant to be the basics. So I cover the basics of you know, format. A cover the basics of style. And by that, I mean, you know, how you use things like going into a shot, because greenroom screenplays are supposed to be written mostly in the master scene format, because you're not supposed to direct on paper, cut to his face cut, do his hand, show this show that, you know, you're not supposed to do that. So I talked about using a master scene, but the permissible use of going to individual shots, you know. And so that's kind of like handling the stylistic, the basic stylistic approach. And I talked about, you know, starting a scene late and ending early, which is you don't want to write every you want the scene to be as short as it can be. And you want to start Absolutely. Where it has to start and not before. And you want it to end where it should in. And so that that bring, you know, that's part of that is what I call shoe leather, which is the stuff that really doesn't need to be in the script, you know? Hey, Alex, where's the pencil? Oh, it's in a drawer over there under the calendar. Oh, thanks. Oh, yeah, I just opened the drawer here. Yeah, you're right. There's a pencil in here. Yeah. No, I'm sorry. That's good. It doesn't need to be in the script. And you were talking about how audiences become more sophisticated part of that is we can, you can shortcut a lot more. You can make transitions of cutting into a scene to something else without an intern interval scene, I guess you'd call it or a scene between them. You mean you don't have to show him go to his car or walk in the building or, you know, even more things you don't have to show you can just go, bam, right from this scene into the next one, and the audience can follow because they're more capable of following short handed film grammar now. And so you've got to write that way. So anyway, I, you know, I cover things like that in the Creative Live course that I did

Alex Ferrari 55:22
know you were saying that one of the huge mistakes I've always seen in screenplays and I've been in my early screenplays I was I was guilty of it as well, is just telling everything and not showing. So now or being economical with my words, like, you know, as opposed to to people. Hey, Jim, remember when we were in high school? A wasn't Mrs. What's her name's class great. She was hot like you, there's a much better way of saying that statement or getting that information across maybe in a couple words, or maybe even in a look, or maybe in something else. So the the economy of, of that kind of information is something that is basically the screenwriters job, right?

Jim Uhls 56:04
Yeah. Well, I mean, one of the hardest things that we all face with it is exposition. You know, it's information that has to get out, but you can't have two characters telling each other things they already know. They just can't.

Alex Ferrari 56:18
Because you don't do it in real life.

Jim Uhls 56:20
Right? You don't have to do it in real life. So, you know, they can't sit there and say, you knew Mr. Williams, and you didn't? Yeah, I knew Mr. Williams. And you knew Mr. Williams. See how we both knew it? Yeah, it's like, you can't do that.

Alex Ferrari 56:36
We've seen movies, we both see movies that does that. Yeah. Without question. So or can be a character

Jim Uhls 56:43
telling the character, something he doesn't know. But it's just a bunch of setup information. That is not really a scene between two people. You can't do that either. So it's difficult to find a way to get information out with characters behaving naturally as they would in real life.

Alex Ferrari 57:06
That is the job of the screenwriter. That's why That's why they get paid well, when eventually they get paid. So, um, the what is the best advice you can give to a screenwriter just starting out today?

Jim Uhls 57:24
Well, I mean, if you're starting out, and that's, that's actually what you're doing, you're starting. So you should be writing like a maniac, because you're passionate you love writing, right? So you should be doing it writing one script after another. I mean, the advice I give to somebody who's actually going to write their first script is write your first script all the way through, don't stop. Don't go back and revise while you're in the middle of it. You can make notes. But right forwards only to the words the end. Right, though first draft. I say that because I want to prevent people from rewriting act one for the rest of their life.

Alex Ferrari 58:04
Yes, I've been in editing for a long time. I know that feeling.

Jim Uhls 58:10
And then I say put that script aside, you wrote a rough draft, put it aside, no, can't touch it. No. Write a second screenplay. And write that one all the way through. With only writing forward, no going back all the way to the end. And put that second script aside. Write a third script, same thing all the way through to the end. You can make notes, but you can't go back and revise. Put the third script away and take the first one out. Now, you're a better writer, you're a better writer just for having written three scripts, you're going to approach the first script. As a better writer, you're going to look at it more objectively because you haven't been looking at it for a while and your head has been in two different screenplays. Now you're going to go back and have a more masterful view of what should be done to that first script. And then you're going to apply the same thing. When you go again, to the second and the third script.

Alex Ferrari 59:21
That's great. That is probably some of the best screenwriting advice I've ever heard. And I've seriously it's like so simple, but yet so powerful. And so just basic,

Jim Uhls 59:32
you know? Thanks. i Yeah, it's,

Alex Ferrari 59:35
you write three screenplays, you're gonna be a

Jim Uhls 59:37
better writer. Yeah, I mean, yeah, that's that's part of it, too. We were talking about education classes and all that. But if but what I just said, is one way that you're already making yourself a better writer on your own, just by yourself.

Alex Ferrari 59:53
That's really it's something that I preach from the top of the indie film, hustle, mountain you hear that it's about work. And about showing up every day, as Woody Allen says 90% of success is just showing up.

Jim Uhls 1:00:08
Right? It's the same thing with just type. That's exactly the same just

Alex Ferrari 1:00:12
type, just keep writing. And I know a lot of screenwriters who are still like, I've been on my screenplay for a year. I'm like, Jesus, man, Jesus, you got it. But what you've just said makes perfect. That's the difference between someone who's just going to be stuck in this one script for seven years, or someone who's going to build a career, at least have 30 scripts that go shop around. And probably it was 30 scripts, maybe two or three of them were or something that could be shopped.

Jim Uhls 1:00:42
Well, another thing, I'm what I want someone to get past that three scripts, right, three scripts thing is, emotionally, people can put a lot of expectation on the first script, I'm writing a script, and now I want it to sell or get an agent or whatever, and all that stuff is swirling around in the person's head. So if they drop it after the first draft, and go to a second screenplay, they broken that cycle of having so much need, for the first grip to do everything for them and make their entire career happen. You know,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:18
it's the it's what I call the Home Run Derby is you only think you're going to up the bat once. And you're going to, and you have to hit a home run. And if you miss and you strike out the will, that's it, as opposed to concentrating on hitting singles. Because right singles will eventually turn into homeruns. You know, you will get you get on base and you'll score, but because of all the singles you've hit every once in a while, they'll throw that pitch the right way and boom, you hit it out of the park.

Jim Uhls 1:01:45
Well, that's really good. That is yes, I like that analogy a lot.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:49
I that's I just actually said that the other day on a podcast because I was like, Guys, you gotta stop this homeowner mentality because I've been in that home run mentality. And the funny thing is that you what you're just saying now about screenwriting. I've, I've, I've started to do, but with directing. And I know that sounds crazy, but I have, I've always had the same problem. Because I've been stuck on trying to make my first feature for 20 years, mind you, the technology is changing. Now it's much more affordable. But now I've just said, Screw it, I'm just going to make my first movie. And I already have two other ones lined up. And I'm just going to keep shooting because I'm gonna keep them at a certain budget level. Or I can keep shooting and every day I shoot, I learned something new. And I'm doing it all myself. And it's all coming out great and blah, blah, blah, and you just kind of keep doing it. And you're not putting all those eggs. And that pressure on the one movie or the ones

Jim Uhls 1:02:40
right where you're doing. Yeah, that's great. You know,

Alex Ferrari 1:02:43
it's it's something you have to do. And I think that it's it's great advice that I mean that seriously some of the greatest advice for screenwriter have ever heard. And I've had a lot of people on the show. And it's like just write three screenplays straight and don't go back. And then after the third one, go back to the first one. And you'll be a better screenwriter. It's just, that's really, really, the best advice is always the simplest I find.

Jim Uhls 1:03:05
Well, well, thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that. But but you know, I'm one of my one of the things I like to impart is you know, how much a person can learn on their own. And I'm not dissuading from taking a screenwriting course or anything but like the screenwriters toolbox. Yeah, I want you to take my course. Go to Creative Live and get my course I will give you that. But I like I like ways that writers can learn on their own and get better on their own. That's an important part of it. So it looks like that's what you're doing with directing as well. So well, that's helpful.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:41
And it's also what Robert Rodriguez did before he made a mariachi he's like I did 30 short films, they were bad. And I just kept doing them and doing them and doing I got all the bad crap out of my way. And then I went off and did on mariachi and then just kept going, but you need to get that bad stuff out. It's like your first script, which a lot of screenwriters didn't like my first scripts gonna win the Oscar. I'm like, that's extremely rare. I don't know if it's happened. I'm sure it has happened. Like, you know, the first guy. Well, I mean, what was the usual suspects? I'm not sure if he that was his first script. But I know there's there's there's some cases to be said that there was a screenwriter who first script was like, you know, amazing, but generally speaking, that's the lottery ticket. Generally speaking for the rest of us mortals. It takes time to develop our craft. Right. So what is the last these are questions I ask all my all my guests. So what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in life or in the film business

Jim Uhls 1:04:44
the lesson that took the longest it was most important and it was a tough one to finally really, really learn is to be have your mind in the process and not in the result. Don't be obsessed about the results. Just stay in the process. Because it may not get made, it may not happen. That's not what you're supposed to be thinking about. That's what does. That's what causes ulcers. That's what causes anxiety, right? Be in the process. And it did take a long time for me to get away from constantly be thinking about the result, rather than the process.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:25
It's it's enjoy the journey, not the destination,

Jim Uhls 1:05:28
right? Basically, well don't obsess about the destination, you get there. Right. Right. Right.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:36
So what are your three favorite films of all time in any order? Or any kind of films that just tickle your fancy at the moment?

Jim Uhls 1:05:44
Well, I mean, that's, that's a really, really difficult question for me, because I like so many in the span of going to films from the past. The deep past international films, it's just, let's say, really difficult for me as it but I can say that, certainly one of them is Dr. Strangelove. I've had a profound impact on me because of the tone, the tone is nearly impossible. It's, it's it's ridiculous, greatest tones of a movie, it's ever been achieved. And I think that's the most difficult thing, element of a movie to achieve is the tone of it. And I then became obsessed with writing reality based characters in a mix of comedy, and drama, or suspense, or, or whatever it is, as a style that really impacted me.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:44
I just strange love Oh, anything Kubrick? I mean, I'm a huge, huge, huge, Kubrick's

Jim Uhls 1:06:49
like I could just then I can start naming directors or I could start naming countries. And

Alex Ferrari 1:06:54
so which director so if you can name two other movies, what are two directors who just, you know, blow up your skirt?

Jim Uhls 1:07:02
Well, in all honesty, I have to say David Fincher is one of them. I mean, and I know that's not the same as somebody viewing their work only because I did work with him, but also viewing his work. You know, I mean, he's he and Kubrick, and, and Spielberg who has this way of you, he pulls you so in that you just believe whatever he wants you to believe. You know, it's just amazing. So, I mean, I can go on with directors. It's like, that's crazy. Yeah. Scorsese. Oh, my God, that was a big mean, STS was also a huge influence on me in terms of tone and, and the way characters can behave. And it can be funny, and it can be scary. And I mean, just, and that applies to his other movies as well. Goodfellas. I mean, certainly, taxi driver and Raging Bull are like, you know, it's Wow, you're just going to tight wire of anything, you know, that you could. Dangerous, funny, scary, exciting. It's, you know, so yeah, Martin Scorsese is way up there. I mean, that's the Westway don't like to list because I'm going to leave somebody out in the movie out in the moment. And

Alex Ferrari 1:08:29
yeah, I mean, we we could sit down and just geek out about movies. And for four days, I'm sure.

Jim Uhls 1:08:35
Right, right. I mean, and Orson Welles, you know, certainly is a was another major favorite of mine.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:42
And when you saw Mean Streets, I mean, you saw it when it came out. Like I saw Mean Streets later on.

Jim Uhls 1:08:47
I saw it later. Oh, you saw it later. Yeah, I saw later.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:51
Okay, so it was, but it was still when that's hard for people to feel like when you see me in streets, like at the moment, that was something really, like out there saying like, Easy Rider, like, you know, you look at each rider now and you're like, oh, that's that's kind of okay. Or Blade Runner Blade Runner you like oh, that's that looks nice. But but like when that came out? There was nothing like it.

Jim Uhls 1:09:13
Yeah, mind blowing. I don't think it is. But no, I mean, I could

Alex Ferrari 1:09:18
I mean, I'll put a Blade Runner against. I mean, many things going on today. Why right? Many, many, many movies. So Jim, where can people find you? Online, not your personal home address. I just have to really clarify I've had a few guests go. What I'm like no, he's like, online.

Jim Uhls 1:09:43
Right. I don't have my own website but I on Twitter, I'm Whoa, whoa, Jack w o HOJK.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:53
Okay. You're going to get a lot of stalkers. Now. I'm sorry.

Jim Uhls 1:09:57
That's all right. You know It's Twitter. I'm used to it. It's everybody else's used to it. So there you go.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:05
Do you have a Facebook page?

Jim Uhls 1:10:05
Yeah, I do. I'm just under my my own name.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:12
I'll put the links to where you can find Jim and his personal home address in the show notes.

Jim Uhls 1:10:18
Where you can't find me there, though. That's

Alex Ferrari 1:10:20
the problem. Exactly. You're always all over the place. Jim, and thank you so much for this has been an absolute joy and pleasure talking to you. So thank you so much for being on the show.

Jim Uhls 1:10:31
Well, thank you. It's been great talking to you too, Alex, really? Terrific. Terrific. Conversation. Thank you, my friend. Thanks.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:41
I told you, I told you, I mean, that was such a fun, you have no idea what a thrill it was for me to be interviewing Jim rules. I mean, you know, as a kid growing up watching Fight Club, and you know, and studying and analyzing Fight Club over the years. It is such a thrill having him on the show, and he brought the goods, and then some that piece of advice. Right, those three screenplays is, I mean, seriously, as simple as that sounds, guys, it is kind of the basis of everything. And and I'm glad you like my analogy of the home runs. Because I really do think that's a lot of times what filmmakers and screenwriters do is they put all that pressure on that first movie or that first screenplay. And when it doesn't go, they get discouraged, and they fall out. And I just want to say something on the side note, guys, you know, as you guys are listening to this, because you are creative artists, you are content makers in one way, shape, or form, whether that be a writer, or a filmmaker, or an artist, and it is your responsibility as an artist to succeed. Now, I know that sounds weird, but you have a responsibility to the world to get your voice out there. All right, because you have no idea. Like I said before, you have no idea, the impact your work as an artist could have on another human being, you have no idea. And I do speak from experience with this with what I've done with indie film, hustle. And with my past films, and what I've done in the past, you can change the course of one person's life that could change the course of many other lives. So it's your responsibility, whether it's making a song, whether it's writing a movie, making a movie, creating a YouTube channel, putting up content, you have no idea what the impact of your art will be. So God dammit, it's your responsibility. So get to it will Yeah. And stop messing around. So as promised, I was going to give you guys a link to Jim's amazing course called the screenwriters toolkit. So all you got to do is go to indie film hustle.com Ford slash toolkit, that's indie film hustle.com Ford slash toolkit, and you'll take you right to Jim's course. And if I were you, I would definitely pick it up. It is really, really, really cool. Now if you want links to anything we talked about, in this episode, just head over to indie film, hustle comm forward slash BPS 002. That's BPS 002 for the show notes. And if you haven't already, please go to screenwriting podcast.com And subscribe to this podcast. It will help us out dramatically in the rankings for iTunes, if we can get a bunch of subscribers and a bunch of reviews within the first six weeks of the podcast. And as a treat. I will leave you today with the philosophy of life by the one the only Tyler Durden and as always, never stop writing no matter what. I'll talk to you soon.

Tyler Durden 1:13:52
No man it could be worse. woman could cut off your penis way sleeping posture out the window moving car. There's always and you buy furniture. Tell yourself that's it. That's the last sofa and everywhere else happens. Got that. So problem and I had it all I had a wardrobe that was getting very respectable cloaks shirt man No, it's all gone to Vegas Thank you just a blank. White guys like you and I know what phase is essential to our survival in the hunter gatherer sense of the word. Know what our consumers consumers, we are byproducts of lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty, these things don't consider me. What concerns me celebrity magazines or visually 500 channels some guy's name on my underwear. Rogaine Viagra Lester, Martha Stewart, Buck Martha Stewart artist polishing the brass on the Titanic it's all going down man broke off with Sophie units and string green stripe back. I'd say never be completely stopping or I say look let's involve chips fall within this mean that could be wrong terrible tragic stuff good lose a lot of versatile solution for modeling accurate my insurance what things you own end up owning

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BPS 001: What Makes a Good Screenplay with John Truby

Today’s guest blew my mind on his approach to storytelling and screenwriting. John Truby is one of Hollywood’s premier screenwriting instructor and story consultants. Over the last 25 years, more than 50,000 people have attended his sold-out seminars around the world, with the American Film Institute declaring that his “course allows a writer to succeed in the fiercely competitive climate of Hollywood.”

Called “the best script doctor in the movie industry,” Truby serves as a story consultant for major studios and production companies worldwide and has been a script doctor on more than 1,800 movies, sitcoms, and television dramas for the likes of Disney, Universal, Sony Pictures, FOX, HBO, Alliance Atlantis, Paramount, BBC, MTV and more.

Truby’s former students’ work has earned more than $15 billion at the box office, and include the writers, directors, and producers of such film blockbusters as RatatouilleIn TreatmentPirates of the CaribbeanX-Men I/II/IIIShrekMother Mary of ChrisBreaking BadHouseLostPlanet of the ApesScreamThe Fantastic FourThe NegotiatorStar WarsSleepless in SeattleOutbreakAfrican Cats (which Truby co-wrote for Disney) and more. Truby’s class is also regularly attended by top fiction writers and novelists who have topped the New York Times’ Bestseller List, won numerous prestigious literary awards, and have sold over 46 million books worldwide. Hollywood’s best-kept secret, Truby’s classes regularly attract everyone from first-time writers to A-list writers, producers, directors, filmmakers, story executives, novelists, fiction writers and more.

In addition to his sold-out seminars, John Truby remains on the cutting- edge of technology having created and developed Truby Blockbuster – the bestselling software designed to intuitively help writers learn and understand the art of developing their story ideas into fully realized professionally-structured scripts.

Truby’s principles and methods are the most modern, exciting approach to screenwriting and storytelling to be developed in a generation, which is why his classes regularly attract everyone from Oscar winners to first-time writers.

We get into the weeds of story in this EPIC conversation. Get ready to take notes. Enjoy!

Right-click here to download the MP3



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Alex Ferrari
You are listening to the if h bond jazz network for more amazing filmmaking and screenwriting podcasts, just go to ifH podcast network.com

Welcome to the bulletproof screenwriting podcast episode number 87. And a vast majority of stories, a character with weaknesses struggles to achieve something and ends up changed positively or negatively as a result, john Truby broadcasting from a

dark windowless room in Hollywood when we really should be working on that next draft. It's the bulletproof screenwriting podcast showing you the craft and business of screenwriting, teaching you how to make your screenplay bulletproof. And here's your host, Alex Ferrari.

John Truby
Welcome to another episode of The bulletproof screenwriting Podcast. I am your humble host, Alex Ferrari. Now today's show is sponsored by bulletproof script coverage. Now, unlike other script coverage services, bulletproof script coverage actually focuses on the kind of project you are and the goals of the project you are. So we actually break it down by three categories micro budget, indie film market and studio film. There's no reason to get coverage from a reader that's used to reading tentpole movies when your movie is going to be done for $100,000 and we wanted to focus on that at bulletproof script coverage. Our readers have worked with Marvel Studios CAA, w. m. e, NBC, HBO, Disney, Scott free Warner Brothers, the blacklist and many many more. So if you need your screenplay or TV script covered by professional readers, head on over to cover my screenplay.com Now guys, today on the show, we have one of the most popular guests that has ever graced the bulletproof screenwriting podcast, the legendary john Truby is back. JOHN is the author of the anatomy of story 22 steps to becoming a master storyteller. And he was episode number one of this podcast and has been downloaded 10s of 1000s of times, if not over 100,000 times. JOHN is one of the most respected and sought after story consultants in the film industry. He has had over 50,000 students over the course of his career, and his former students have earned more than $15 billion at the box office. With films like Ratatouille, Pirates of the Caribbean Marvel's x men saga, Shrek, Breaking Bad Planet of the Apes scream, the Fantastic Four Star Wars and so many more. JOHN has a very unique way of looking at story and breaking story down in a way that everybody can understand. And this is also one of the reasons why I teamed up with john to create a free webinar for the tribe and it's called stories that sell. If you want to watch this over hour long webinar, head over to bulletproof screenwriting.tv forward slash troubIe. So sit back, relax and enjoy my epic conversation with john Truby. I'd like to welcome back to the show returning champion, john Truby. How you doing john?

Good to see Alex great to be back.

You. You were one of you were actually Episode One of the bulletproof screenwriting podcast A while ago when I first launched this podcast and and it's been one of the most downloaded episodes in the history of the show. And it was fairly epic if I remember it was like night at least 90. Yeah. everyone listening strap in because it's gonna be it's gonna be a while. Now, for people who don't know who you are, john, can you tell everybody a little bit about yourself?

Yeah, I've been teaching story for over 30 years now. Most of the students that I've had I've had over 50,000 students are screenwriters. But my work has been focused toward story in general, meaning it works for novelists, screenwriters, short story, theatre, Video game, every medium there is, is all about telling a great story. And even though there are clearly some major differences between the means. I've found that if you know the techniques of good storytelling, you will be successful in any one of those mediums. So I've been really doing that and also the last over 30 years, working as a story consultant, script consultant, and that's where most of my work has been done. I've done over 1000 scripts on and it's you know, what happens is typically a studio will come to me with a script that needs work. They don't want to spend upwards of 100 to $200 million making in, in marketing it without having a script that's going to be it's going to work. And so they asked me, you know, and then I'm coming in not as a co writer, not as a somebody who is writing dialogue, but somebody who is going to help them get the story, right. And then, and and what a lot of people don't realize is that most scripts that are actually made, have other writers, story consultants that sort of think come on board, because it's just too expensive. Not to get it right. So that's, that's what I've been spending my time doing. And I found that, that trying to understand story is a lifetime commitment. It's, it's that fascinating, and it's that complex. And what I've tried to do is, is, is turn probably the most complex craft in the world into something that's easy to understand and easy to apply. So that a writer can write their own best work. That's what that's really what I'm always about is helping writers write their best.

What I what I find fascinating from our last interview, and from your book, by the way, which everybody listening, if you have not read anatomy of story, you're doing yourself a disservice. So you have to read this book. It's been out for a while, but boy does it is that is evergreen of a book of I've ever seen. It'll be it'll still be fresh in 100 years is to refresh because stories story, no matter. It's going back to the poetics.

Yeah, that's right.

So what are what I what one thing that kind of blew my mind when I spoke to you the first time, and I just never thought of it this way. It was like, you know, you always think of the three act structure, you always think of the you know, the beginning, the middle of the end, the hero's journey, all of those kind of things, you know, and in Campbell and that kind of stuff. And you said something that was so, so kind of rocked my world and story, you're like, Well, why don't you throw the hero's journey on a detective story. Let me see how that works out for you. And I was just, I just my mind exploded because it was like, it just blew the doors off the concept that every single story is exactly the same, which it's not. So can you kind of delve a little bit into that.

Yeah, it what you put your finger on is my opinion, the biggest problem that writers face screenwriters. They have these these two basic models for how they think you're supposed to write the script and tell the story. One is hero's journey, the other three x structure. And the problem is that they're highly limited. They're basically for elementary level writing, they're there for beginners, and they simply don't work at the professional level. The reason they don't work at the professional level is different depending on which ones you're going to use. When it comes to hero's journey. The problem with hero's journey is that the beats that are listed there, those are the Joseph Campbell beats, those are valid beats. But those are the beats of a myth. Story. Myth is one of the major genres. I do classes in all the major genres. Myth is one of them. But there's another 12 or 13 major genres, that all worldwide storytelling is based on. Either one of those genres, or more more typically a mix a combination of those. Well, Campbell laid out very effectively the beats of the myth form, which is probably the oldest story form. The problem is, in in the modern day, we're not just writing myths, stories. And And specifically, Another criticism of Joseph Campbell beats is that they're actually not just a myth story, they are the male warrior myth story. For example, they don't have anything to do with a female myth, which is a massive story form in the myth area. So the problem is, that's why I mentioned before, you know, if you're going to write a detective stories is a relatively modern form, you're going to be in big trouble. You're going to write yourself into a hole really fast. Love Story, Crime Story. fantasy, fantasy has certain connections to myths, so you won't be as big trouble if you do it with fantasy. But even there, the story structure of myth and fantasy are fundamentally different. They're different beasts. And so if you're using a structure for myth to write a fantasy is going to take you down the wrong track. Now when it comes to three act structure, that's it. bigger problem, because three out of structure it at least with with hero's journey, those beats are valid. Those actually will tell a good story in the military. But three structure is is nothing. There's nothing in it. It's simply a way to break a story into three sections. Because it appears to make it more manageable. But really all it does is give you guideposts when you say so I'm in the first act? Well, you're in the beginning. And if I'm in the second act, I'm in the middle, you know, all it is, is fancy words apply to beginning, middle and end. And what I've always contended is it doesn't do anything for you in terms of creating a story triac was really invented by a story analyst looking at a script after had been written to try to see if he could figure out what was happening at each step of the process.

Reverse Engineering reverse engineer. Yeah,

exactly. And, and unfortunately, in my opinion, this caught on and it became kind of the, you know, the the mantra that people would use, and I believe that it has caused more problems. It has killed more writers writing careers than any other single element in story. And that's why that's why I've been so you know, adamant about over the over 30 years that I've been teaching story, that it's fine to start with it. That's great, because when you first starting, you don't know what you're doing it, it gives you a little confidence, it gives you a sense of well, let's let's I can at least divide this these events are going to happen in the first act, this lot generally happen in the second act, and this will happen in the third as well, that's helpful. But what I always then say is, now you got to move beyond that. Because the professional storytelling, especially in screenwriting, is so much more advanced than that if you're relying on that, and and you think that you have now learned how to structure a story, you're dead, you're absolutely dead.

There's, there's I've had the privilege of interviewing a lot of big time, very successful screenwriters on the show. And I've talked to them sometimes on air sometimes off but from what I hear is like, I love talking about the hero's journey, and all this kind of stuff with them sometimes, and they say, a couple of these, these are billion dollar account billion dollar screenwriters, because they've worked on some very big shows. And they go Look, man, you can, after the fact you can slap anything onto a story structures concern, I can make it look like a hero's journey, I can throw five acts on it, I can throw four acts on it, I could throw six acts on it, I can, it's just kind of like you're trying to just, it's not what started the process. But you can slap whatever show you want on it after the fact. And the problem is that a lot of screenwriters think that that is the only way and like you're saying early on, it makes a lot of sense. But when you start getting into some more advanced storytelling, more advanced screenwriting, your it's not just the simple three act structure, even though you can apply that onto it,

right, like you can do what I what I always tell people is that, you know, they say, well, well, john, you know, I applied it to my script, or I applied it to Raiders, the Lost Ark, or this movie or that movie, and it was it was there. And I say exactly what you just said, which is you can divide anything into three parts, or four parts, or seven parts or 10 parts, you know, it's you take in a pie, and you're just making more slices. That doesn't mean that it's going to give you any techniques or tools to create the pie in the first place. And that's the big distinction that people have so much trouble with, and so hard to get them to go beyond that, in order to really become a craftsperson at the highest level, and that's again, what we're all talking about. What we should be talking about is how do you write at the level that can get cheap, professional work. And that means you got to be really, really good at all of these skills of story, including character, structure, plot, the symbol and so on and so forth. That three act doesn't even touch.

It's it's fascinating because, you know, I love the pie technique, because it's like it's literally a pie and you I could look at the pie and I could say what the pie was made of, but I didn't bake the pie. You need to know half the baker did what the baker does which is is remarkable. So, going going back a little bit, when you're seeing screenwriters is that the biggest mistake you see screenwriters make is is applying this this three act structure? because like you said, Raiders of the Lost Ark to my understanding? And please correct me if I'm wrong, the Raiders of the Lost Ark? is a five act show or is it? Or is it not, you could you could cut up,

you cut it up at the three point it's totally arbitrary you are you're adding an outside division to the process. What I talk about the anatomy story is a story process that is organic, which simply means I'm going to track a main character working through a plot to get a goal. And therefore what what is actually sequencing that story is the development of that character as they go from first wanting the goal to either accomplishing or failing to get the goal. And what is the internal change that that person goes through, as they go through the process, the external process of a plot. And that that means that every story that you write is going to be unique, because it's going to be based on you your unique main character, and nobody else has that character. And how you take that character how you make them change. And so that's whereas with with react, we've just taken any old story and said, Okay, we're gonna divide it at this point. And at this point, and now we've got three acts has nothing to do with the main character, it has nothing to do with the more complex plot sequence. Now to get to your question, this problem with three act, it is the biggest problem that people have only because it prevents them from understanding how to solve the real problem. And the real problem is that, and I based this on years of experience and 1000s of writers, the real problem that writers have in terms of working professional, is they don't how to construct a plot. plot is the game, because we're talking about popular storytelling, and what drives popular storytelling and every medium cluding screenwriter is the ability to come up with a surprising plot that people have not seen before. Now think about how hard that is, especially when you have people doing things like hero's journey, so on, which are hitting the same beats every single time. How are you going to come up with something that they haven't seen before? In fact, that's the biggest problem other with three X, excuse me with the hero's journey, I mentioned that it only applies to myth. But the other problem is that we've seen it so many times that everybody knows what's going to happen. It's boring. All right. So it comes down to this, this problem with plot and, and and why we say anybody who's been writing for any length of time, knows the importance of a strong main character. Okay, so they they study, they work hard to try to come up with and understand how how you create a good bancaire. They know the importance of good dialogue. Okay, which you do at the end of the process. And where the root of the problem is that when they think about Okay, now it comes time for me to create the plot? Well, they don't know how to do that. And there's no book that tells them, they think that tells them how to do that. And so they think, well, I'll just figure it out as I go. And guess what doesn't work. That way, you are not going to figure it out as you go, what is going to happen 99% of the time is that you start down this path of the plot, you're going to get about 15 or 20 pages in, you're going to run yourself into a dead end, and you're going to stop, you're going to run into writer's block, and you're going to think it will this is something on a psychological problem. No, it's not a problem to psychology, it's a problem with your plot. You don't know what the story is going to do here. And because you didn't think of it from the beginning as an entire plot sequence, you're not gonna be able to get out of this problem. And so what I'm what I've been really pushing last few years, all the work, the new work that I've been doing is all about how do you create plot? How do you explain to people how to create plot because it's very complicated. And especially how do you create plot that gives your story maximum narrative drive, because that's what the studio studios want to do is care about three things. Three things when they get your script, narrowed, drive, narrative drive and narrow Right. That's it, because that's what sells to a worldwide audience. Right? That something like Raiders of the Lost Ark, what does it have? It has fantastic narrative drive. It also has a great character. It has some fun scenes, some fun dialogue, there's some great fantasy in there, and so on and so forth. But what's really making that thing work is fantastic narrative drive. That is the definition of popular storytelling. And so that's where I've been doing all my work and trying to get writers to focus on to understand, if you want to succeed at the highest levels, you've got to become a master of plot, you'll get the character, you'll get the dialogue, if you write a good plot with a strong main character, the dialogue practically writes itself. People don't think I'm crazy when I say that, but it's absolutely true. Because then you're not asking the dialogue to do what it can't do. You're not asking the dialogue to structure the story, which a lot of people do. So that's why that's why I pushed so hard on this, on creating plot, learning how to create plot, especially plot with intense narrative drive. And that by the way, you know, we're going to talk later about this story rescue worksheet that I have for people. That's what that's all about, too, which is these are techniques to give you maximum narrative drive in your script.

Now, I was reading a book, The Stephen King book on writing, which is a fantastic book. And he said something and always stuck with me was really and I wanted to hear your thoughts on this is that he's like, if you you have to have the basics of grasp of the English language. So he goes, you have to understand this, this and this and has to be instinctual, not because like when I'm writing, because I've been writing for, you know, you know, a long time as it throughout my life, just as not even in creative just generally, you have a kind of taste for what English is supposed to sound like, and how it's supposed to be written and basic grammar and these, these are things he goes, You need to understand this instinctually if you're thinking about it too heavily, you need to go back to the drawing board. And I feel that with Master storytellers, a lot of this is just instinctual because they've done it so many times, like a master craftsman like a master carpenter, like a master painter. There's certain strokes that they've done 10,000 times. And if you try to, to verbalize it, it's almost impossible to verbalize it.

I find that is almost always the case with really the top writers. They're very bad at verbalizing how they got there. Right. What I would say to a Stephen King or anyone else like that is, yeah, you're absolutely right. Once you get to that position where you're writing at that level, you but that's you, you don't need to analyze it too much, because you've already got it as part of your second and third nature. It's already embedded in how you think what they never talk about is, well, gee, Steven added you did you have this kind of ability when you were six years old? And first going to school? No, you did. You know, it's by the, by the time you've gotten through all your education, and you've written all these books, and you've made some mistakes, and you obviously have have done extremely well, at the same time. That entire process is a process of improving and increasing the craft. Now, he may not be one who likes to verbalize it or analyze it. That's great, that's fine. But what I would say to anybody else who is not currently writing at the level of Stephen King, which is that many By the way,you don't have that luxury, right, you do not have that luxury. And that's why when you know, the anatomy story book, and the recent work I've been doing on plot, it's all about trying to give people techniques, specific, applicable techniques that you can apply to your story right now. And in doing that, you're going to master that technique. So that down the road a few years, when your level of ability has gone way up, then you don't have to think what was the What was the name of that technique

that I use there? It's in there. Exactly. But it's the same thing as you know, and I hate to use baseball analogies, but I actually love using baseball analogies where you might have a natural swing and maybe when you're you know 15 1617 you have a natural swing but when you start getting you know that that natural swings, not going to get you into the majors for you to be anybody of any magnitude. So slowly but surely. As you take more swings, you start getting coached, you start, you know, you start getting coached on technique here, because now you pick up a thing there there. And then because you've been at the plate so many times, it becomes second nature, you don't even think about it, you don't analyze it. But as you're going up, you're analyzing that swing, you're watching it, you're really taking notice.

But at a certain point, you're getting feedback from that batting coach, who is saying, Hey, I noticed there's a little switch in your swing that you didn't have two weeks ago, right? We haven't been hitting since then. And because you need that outside eye to say, look, that natural process, quote, natural process, which is actually made up of multiple smaller techniques, somehow got out of kilter. And we got to identify that and fix it, so you can get back to the natural swing.

So you're basically like a story chiropractor, chiropractor, he got it. He got to adjust the spine to get I

get that spine structure working. But I use this similar I use a similar analogy with with basketball. I mean, if if I wasn't writing and in teaching writing, I would like to be a point guard in the NBA, that that would be my second choice, sir. Now, and you know, and I always, in this comes up, when when people say to me, you know, john, I don't need to read any of these books, all I need to do is what you know, all you have to do to write successfully is to write well, there's a certain truth to that, right. If you don't write anything, you're not going to write successfully, because you haven't written anything, right? But the thing that all you have to do is write, in order to write at the professional level is nonsense. It's a similar thing of saying, you know, I would like to play point guard in the NBA, all I have to do is play basketball, right? Now, there's a lot of time on the playground, I get a lot of time playing basketball, but I'm not going to get close to the NBA. Because a I don't have the natural ability. But much more importantly, I have not been getting extensive high level coaching. Since the age I picked up the ball. You know, you take a guy like Michael Jordan, or for for younger people than myself,

LeBron James, right.

But the guy is a fantastic natural talent. Sure, but the guy has been getting coaching to refine that talent for his entire life

Alex Ferrari
and practicing and adjusting and going. And

John Truby
what happens is we look at him at when he plays just as we look at a Stephen King book, and we see the polished product, we don't see the techniques, the hundreds of techniques sitting under the surface that makes it look like he's just taken a walk in the park. Right? It's a lot more complicated than that. And to get to that level, or to attempt to get to that level, you got to learn those techniques.

Right? And it's the same thing with like, film directing, like, you know, you look at the masters, and you just go oh, my God, like you look at a Kubrick film. And there's just so much density in his technique. And he literally would wait five, seven years prepping a film. So he had everything really, or Hitchcock or these kind of guys. But there is so much work that goes into that that makes it the easier it looks the harder it was to get there. Yeah. Many many ways. Absolutely. Now you I'm sure you're asked by screenwriters yet you're asked questions all the time, from screenwriters. How do we get better how to do this? What are some of the best questions you get asked by screenwriters?

Well, let me first start off by saying the wrong questions.

I was gonna say that was my next question. You ruined it, john. We'll start off with the worst, then we'll go to the best Sure.

Yeah. But the worst is See, it's it's has to do with the underlying problem. Most writers think that the reason they have not yet reached success is because they don't know the right people. This is a business of connections. How many times have we heard that? And so when I would give a talk, or teach a class, the inevitable question is, how do I sell my script? How do I get an agent? How do I meet producers who will buy material and so on? And it's not about how do I write better? It's how do I sell and clearly these are concerns week, we want to sell our work. But I consider that the, by far the biggest misconception that writers have about why they do not succeed. And I believe that in order to succeed, you got to know what the problem is first. The problem is not that you're not connected, I find that 99.9% of writers, when they finally meet a connection, who can really do them some good. They don't have the material to give to them. But by by the material, I mean, I don't mean they don't have a script, they got a script. It's not good enough. It's not good enough. But they don't want to say that to me. They don't want to say, hey, john, you know, I don't think I'm a good writer yet. And I don't want to say it to them. But that's the that's the probable fact, is what you need to be knowing what you what you need to be asking is, technically what is wrong with my story? Why is this story not working? Because the only thing that sells his story? So, you know, when it when it comes time to the best question, it really, it tends to be focused on the if the writer understands that the real structural elements under the surface that are making all the difference, and do it. So those are that they understand the desire line. And so they'll ask me is my desire line working, because the desire is the spine of the story. If they asked me a question like that, I know this person has a shot to write a really good script, because everything's going to hang on that spot. And then if they ask me something like, the conflict is not working. I don't know why. That tells me also, that they're on the right track, because after desire and spine is opposition and conflict. You can't figure out the opposition until you get the goal. This is a big mistake that a lot of writers make, you know, they think they might think in terms of conflict first, and there's no goal to hang it on. There's nothing to fight about. You can't have people fight, unless they're fighting over a goal. And that is a goal that both the hero and the main opponent should have. So when I hear people talk about these, the structural underpinnings of a good story, then I know that they're focused in the right area. And they may not fix the problem right now. But they're going to get, because if you stay focused on those kind of structural things, I always say, you get the seven steps, right, it's really hard to screw it up. And by the seven steps, I'm gonna put the seven major structure steps in any good story, you get those, right, you've got the DNA of the story, you've got the basic fabric and, and, and structure spine of that story. And then the rest of it is adding on the special details, the twists and turns and so on. But if you've got the strong spine, if if your opposition set up and conflict is correct, it's going to make that part of it so much easier.

Alex Ferrari
Now, everyone's always looking at blockbusters of how to write this, you know how to make money with their scripts and all this stuff. And, and what makes a blockbuster blockbuster. So I'll ask you the question, what are some key elements to a successful popular film, even though both you and I know and I'll speak for you and please correct me if I'm wrong, that the chances of a screenwriter who's starting out writing 150 to $200 million script that gets picked up by a studio is 0.0000%. But But I think that even if you're able to write something of that magnitude, it might be a good Friday example, or might get him an agent or might get them and God knows it might get produced or picked up or something. But what are those key elements? And do you agree with that? And what are the key elements?

John Truby
I do agree with that. The your idea, when you're writing that script is not to sell that it's highly unlikely that it's going to happen if it happens, fantastic. But what you're trying to do is show that you're a professional, right? That that you are at the level that you can be hired, because that's where all the work is not in spec scripts. It's getting hired because because you're a professional and you they know you're going to do the job and think about it. You got you got all this money that you have to spend on a lighter, you're going to want to be damn certain that this person is going to predict in this very esoteric world of writing and creating a new story that they're going to be able to come in with a great a great script every time including the time when they spit when I give my money. So absolutely. That's correct. The it's funny that you asked this question because I always ask question to students. When I teach my anatomy of story class, I say, Why do you think? What do you think is causes a blockbuster? Why is there a blockbuster? And, and I usually do it in terms of, you know, American movies, by far make the most money in the world. So I always do it in terms of like, maybe teach in Berlin or Paris or whatever, say, Why do American movies make so much money? And they always have the same two answers. And it's so hilarious. The first answer they give is, you have all the movie stars. And, and I, okay, yes, true. But Hollywood has not been a movie star based business for at least 20 years, right? At least 20 years. And the only people who don't know that still may be a few movie stars left that are not getting paid what they think they deserve. But, but but other than that, you know, it's not a movie star business. The other then they give the answer. Well, you spend all this money on special effects. Right? And we'll end with yes, we do all those all those Marvel movies, our money on special effects. But But then I point out, there's just hundreds 1000s of movies that spent a lot of money on special effects, and there were bombs at the box off

Alex Ferrari
and movie stars and movie stars?

John Truby
Absolutely. So neither of those has to do is their way down the list. In terms of why something a blockbuster? And the answer, and it won't be surprising hearing it for me. But it is true. I fervently believe it. The reason that a movie as a blockbuster is embedded right in script. And it has to do with those key structural elements I was just talking about the first of it, first of them being a desire line, a strong clear desire line that extends through the entire length of the script, that the hero chases after with intense speed and energy, and will do anything to get it. Because what that does is it provides narrative drive, which does not depend on particular culture. Everybody knows, I see a character with a goal. I like the character, I want him to get the goal. Therefore, if I can see him, blast through all these opponents trying to stop him, especially if he is starts off as an underdog and then gets the goal fantastic world over. No matter what the language no matter what the culture, they want to see that. So that's what you start off with you start off with this strong spine. And and and I talked about this in the story rescue worksheet, which is it's got to be a gold with a clear end point. We have to know specifically at the end of the story, did they hero get it or fail? Now, obviously, most of the time they get it and usually if you want a blockbuster, it's a good idea for them to succeed in the goal. But interestingly enough, it's not necessary. That that he has that goal. And then it goes after it with intense speed and energy that makes all the difference. I mean,

Alex Ferrari
Raiders Raiders, he didn't get the goal. Right. Right. He lost the Ark of the Covenant. It's got rights in the in the warehouse somewhere.

John Truby
That's right. Exactly right. And and so it but it's it's the right, and what the desire line is what provides the ride and Hollywood blockbuster movies or thrill rides. And the question is structurally How do you get that? Well, the first and most necessary is you've got to have that strong desire line by a single hero. Now, once you do that, know that you see in blockbuster story is the opposition setup. You have to have one main opponent who is present and attacking for the entire store. You hear that? You said Well, obviously you know what when I watch all my movies, there's always that opponent there. Well, yeah, what you're not saying are all the scripts where the opponent where they're either isn't a main opponent, or isn't a main opponent who's there for a while and then you know, he disappears for a while and no, it's got to be one main opponent attacking the hero relentlessly. And then that's that's that's the tip of the iceberg because then you have to have a support group of opponents, preferably hidden under the surface. So we don't see how these opponents are connected. They are connected. They're not always in the most popular and typically the best stories. The opposition is connected to each other in some way, but it's a hidden hierarchy. So this is another key because what does that do? It gives you ongoing conflict, each of these things, the conflict never stops. And it's also what allows you to build the conflict. You know, people when they talk these three act structure, people say, Oh, I'm having, if you notice, they always have second act problems. Wasn't first act problems, not third act problems, it's second eye problems. Okay, there's 99% of scripts go bad in the middle, because the writer using three x structure doesn't know what to do with the story. Well, what's supposed to happen is that in this conflict between the hero and the opposition over the goal, you normally get conflict, you build conflict. And in less, you set up this up this opposition in a connected way, where each opponent wants to defeat the hero for a different reason. And using a different technique, then you can create what I call this Gatling gun approach to the old Gatling gun machine gun type of thing. Instead of instead of, okay, the hero's taking action steps to reach the goal 10 minutes later, on apart the main opponent attacks, and then he goes another 10 minutes. And then the main opponent attacks again, know, if you've got this hierarchy of opposition, main opponent attacks, second opponent attacks, third opponent attacks back to the main upon then the second part, bam, bam, bam, bam. So what you're getting is what I call the key to the middle, which is punch, Counter Punch. That's the key to the middle of the story, you really what you're trying to set up as a heavyweight fight between two equally match opponents, and they are pounding the shit out of each other. And that's what until you get to the very end with the battle, which is the biggest conflict of all. And one of them probably the hero is going to win. And the story I leave the theater, I feel fantastic. I tell them what's wrong.

Alex Ferrari
And this is why the whole end game you know, Avengers endgame was such a monster hit. But what they did was they built it up over a decade of stories that built up those characters. And it was just something that no one's ever done in Hollywood, to the point where at the end, and spoiler alert, if you guys haven't seen this, but at the end when I mean, if you haven't, it's not my fault, guys. But at the end when Iron Man finally does that, that snap, and and that's a perfect example, like Thanos is such a amazing villain, because he's an unmovable object. I mean, and I love the way they set it up in infinity, Infinity War, which is the first part of that in the very, very beginning. They throw the Hulk Adam and we all know the Hulk is the most powerful thing we've seen, nobody can beat. No one could be and he wipes the floor with the Hulk in five minutes, and you're like, Oh, this guy and but that's just such wonderful writing and so beautifully within that one minute you knew this is someone not to be trifled with if the Hulk just got his ass handed to them. And then it's just this constant beating that he did. I mean, that was just beats on the Avengers beats on and beats on them to finally at the end, it takes everybody to finally to finally beat them. I was watching a movie the other day because you know we're in the middle of COVID so you start we recycling old movie Jen seen in like a decade or two. And I was watching boar at and I hadn't seen Bora in at least 15 years. And it's still funny. It's still funny to this day. But when you were talking about desire even as a silly of a film that's that is he has this desire that holds through the entire movie is he wants to go and meet Pamela Anderson and marry her. It that drives the whole story without that it's just a dude Miranda ring around the country. It's a perfect example of no matter what you do, you have to have a clear desire endpoint, even if it is fakie is that

it's something that drives the story.

John Truby
But so what you know because it's it's what and this by the way, is an especially difficult problem that comedy writers have. They again they dealing with certain misconceptions that are killing and the big misconception copywriters have they think it's you pack as many jokes in the story as you can. Okay, that is disaster right there. Because what happens is, within our realize is that a joke stops before momentum of the store, because we are stopping everybody stopping to watch somebody fall.

Alex Ferrari
Yeah, on a banana peel, rock.

John Truby
And then we laugh that, Okay, that was great. I really enjoyed that. Okay, you string too many of those together, it's beginning without setting up a storyline, a desire line that you hang everything on. And all of a sudden, again, you tend to 15 minutes in, you hit the dead end wall, because there is no for story momentum, there's no narrative drive, the narrative drive is just as important if not more important, in a comedy, as it is in something like Avengers, which, which at least has the benefit of all this big violent conflict that can that you know, dazzle right to keep keep you dazzled. But in comedy know, you've got to hang those jokes on a storyline. And that is provided by the clear goal that the hero is only going to get to at the very end.

Alex Ferrari
And and it's silly, and for everyone listening who writes comedy, I mean, even it's silly of movies like airplane, and Dumb and Dumber, who are classics and comedy. Dumb and Dumber. They're trying to get the suitcase back to the girl who has fallen in love with, you know, from a distance. That's the driving factor airplane, we got to land this and survive, we got to land the plane and survive. That's the but it's very there. They're not really grand plots here. It's very simple. But the point is it's a comedy we need something to to hang the joke's on that and give an excuse to go where we're gonna go with it. So an airplane is obvious and but Dumb and Dumber. They're going across country and and they keep all these jokes happen along the way, but it's being driven by something because if if there wasn't, then there'd be no plot. It's just be two guys doing stupid stuff. It's Beavis and Butthead, essentially.

John Truby
Right. Right.

Alex Ferrari
Which is, now I wanted to talk to you about it, because we didn't touch this last time. And, and I wanted to hear your thoughts about it. theme. theme is such an important part. And I feel it's something that a lot of screenwriters just don't even think about. It's like an afterthought about the theme of what are you trying to say with the story? What's the underlining, you know, your arc for the character for the story? Like, what are you trying to say? Can you talk a little bit about theme and how you how it, you know, you you think about it? Sure.

John Truby
So this is getting a little freaky, because the the thing that I've most been working on with the new book that I'm writing, it is theme is, that is what, you know, I talked just before about the fact that the big problem that separates the top professions from everybody else is the ability to plot. But we got to take that even a step further. The real problem that even some of the the top professions have is that they don't know how to express the theme through the complex plot. That's where you get the double punch. Now plot just plot on its own is great. And that's the essence of popular storytelling. But if you've got if you can also express a powerful theme through the plot, so it's not heavy handed. The audience does not know that they're getting this life affirming this appraising theme in the story. And because if they think that's what they're going to get, they're going to shut down right away. But if if you get it past their defenses, which you do with the plot, it's just it takes what what, however poppier that story is, and it magnifies it least double and probably more. Now, let me give you an example. Example I love to use is, is the Dark Knight, in my opinion, the greatest superhero movie ever made. And I would challenge anybody to come up with one that's better. I don't just mean that's fun. I don't just mean the only one,

Alex Ferrari
the only one that I can think of, if you will, because you've thrown the challenge down, john. So I have to say, Logan, is probably in the top five with Dark Knight. I do agree with you that Dark Knight is yes. And for the same reason, for the same reason, because it's a superhero movie with theme, with a lot of themes, a lot of theme, but it's done beautifully. It's done beautifully, truly through the plot of the story. But for me, the reason that dark night is even greater is I think the The main characters more complex, Batman is a more complex character. In fact, I think he's the most complex superhero there that's ever been written. And that goes all the way back to the original comics. But it's also the ambition of the theme in The Dark Knight is greater than and low. In The Dark Knight, he really questions the whole concept of the superhero. Because the super superhero is essentially the religion of it is a religion, it is the superhero religion, it is the idea of that superheroes can save us. Now, what the Dark Knight then does thematic is says, Is that really a good idea? Isn't it better? Instead of putting all of our faith in some superhero or outside force? That is going to come in and save the day for us? Wouldn't it be better if we all decided we're going to get in and solve the problem ourselves and working together? And what he does is he sets it up with this great character. comparison. Have you got the Dark Knight? You got the white knight? Who's the prosecutor usually starts off with the white knight. And then you got the Joker who is at the other extreme he is he has darkness persona flaw is our narky. Right.

John Truby
Right, exactly. And so and what they what will the entire plot then is set up to express the theme of is it good for us to have a Savior? And the way they do it is the plot is totally driven by the Joker. And the plot is quite brilliant. In fact, if anything, there's too much plot, there's it de Nolan's are the only people in the world that I would say they wait too much. That's not a problem, right? Can't have too much plot. But, but what they do is they The plot is driven by the Joker, and it's really a sequence of challenges. They become more and more complex that the Joker gives to Batman to solve. And what they by complex, I mean, morally complex, they put Batman in a more and more difficult comp, moral position. So for example, we're going to say you're going to save your girlfriend, and you're going to save the white knight, the prosecutor, until they end with the biggest moral challenge of all, where he does the classic Prisoner's Dilemma with the two ships, you know, right? You blow or do you blow them up, because you think they're gonna blow you up? And so it's really on so many levels. It's brilliant. But my point is, it's because that the plot is in service to this larger theme that it had the kind not just is why it's so great. It's why it's so popular. And this is what always surprises people. People think that theme is theme versus popularity. No. It's only theme versus popularity, if you don't know how to express the light. If you do if you express themes through the dialogue, by preaching and saying, okay, here's what you need to learn from our money. No, that's not going to work and people are going to avoid it like crazy. But if you express that plot, like the dark mind, where you're doing it through the characters, the character opposition and the plot sequence, then the audience just goes away thinking that's just the greatest thing I've ever seen. That's That's why you know, I mean, this question about theme is in the primary plot is people just don't have to do it. They don't do it. Because there's so many techniques involve theme. The problem is, they don't know how important it is.

Alex Ferrari
Now, I want to ask you this because I'm fascinated by the movie Avatar. Now avatar, up until recently, and still arguably with with, you know, with the inflation is the biggest movie of all time. It has a very strong, some say overbearing theme. Actually a bunch of themes layered on top of each other. What made that film so because it's so popular, because yes, there was 3d and there was amazing visual effects. But we've seen amazing visual effects before and they movies have died. And that what is it about that film that caught the tension or the the fantasy of of the pop of the world at such a level that it took you a decade, almost four films Even an Avengers endgame barely creeped over 10 years later. You know, Disney, like pushed it out one more time to get the extra two or 3 million and needed to just say were the biggest movie of all time, even though you know, it wasn't. But So how? What's your what's your take on that film?

John Truby
Well, again, as you asked me this question right at this time, because I think avatar is such an important film. And it is often so misunderstood. I did an entire class on like an hour and a half class just on the techniques of avatar, and why it works. And so, you know, I'm not gonna take up all the time,

Alex Ferrari
though, I'm sure I'm sure the audience would be fascinated. Maybe we can do another episode just on avatar, but

John Truby
because I I can do it very easily. Having done it all right. But the avatar, James Cameron is, in my opinion, the best popular storyteller in film, popular storytelling. And to a lot of people, that's kind of that's kind of thing praise. That's, that's, you know, oh, yeah, he's, you know, nobody's going to criticize him for writing a great film. Or say that he wrote a great film. But those people would be quite wrong. Because that those talents, those skills are very complicated. They're very advanced. And he knows exactly what he's doing, beginning with how he combines his young. This guy is the ultimate genre Movie Maker. And he always combines the same three, which are myth, action, and loves store. And that combination, that combination genres, it doesn't get more popular than that.

Alex Ferrari
I'm going back down to his filmography, and I'm going, yep, that's there. Yep, that's there. Yeah, yeah. Even Terminator, from terminator terminator to the abyss. True Lies, Titanic, I mean, other than Parana, too, but we don't count them.

John Truby
And it's important to start with the genres because the genres of the story forms, and in almost all my work over the last 30 years has been really focused on jobs. How do each of the genres work? What are the genre beats for each form? And then how do you mix them? Because almost nothing now is a single genre. And it hasn't been for at least 20 years, probably more like 30. And what brought it on was Star Wars, Star Wars was the first really film to really mix multiple genres. And you see in the difference from, from jaws to Star Wars, I think jaws was came out in 7675,

Alex Ferrari
jaws and 76. And then seven Star Wars right after,

John Truby
right? You have everything before Star Wars, everything after Star Wars. jaws is a single genre, story, source, right? Star Wars has multiple genres. And once that came out, and people saw the studio saw how popular multiple genres were for a worldwide audience, it's been that way ever since. So and we were talking earlier about blockbuster. I mentioned, first of all, desire, and then the opposition setup. Third one is mixing genres, multiple genres. And in that data rescue worksheet, I have a place where people can tell me at least, at least two and preferably three genres that are going to make up your story. Because what you're doing with the audience is you're saying, I'm going to sell you two for the price of one, I'm going to say you three for the price of one. And story in store returns, what it does is, whatever beats you have for one genre, now you add a second, you add a third, you're getting incredible density of story beats. And what does that translate? plot? It's giving you great plot, it's giving you narrative drive, all these things we talked about earlier,

Alex Ferrari
because of you. So if you have a love story, that's a certain amount of beats that have to happen in that if you have an action, there's a certain amount of beats that happen after that if there's myth, there's a certain amount of beats. So just by the nature of combining genre, you're just automatically have to have a more complex plot, purely because you're not just doing Romeo Juliet.

John Truby
Exactly. Exactly. And the one of the nice things about it is is if you know the beats, because you got to know the beats, but if you know the beats is practically doing the job for you, because if you got to hit all of those beats, of course, the trick is going to be how am I going to combine them? How am I going to mix that? How am I going to sequence them and that's easier said than done. But once you do, then you've got a fantastic Have a plot from beginning to end, and you're not going to have that middle that collapses, because you don't know what the main character is supposed to do, then you're going to have to be doing great stuff, every five minutes, you're going to have a major beat happening. So that's the first thing that that you get an avatar, and all the beats for each of those genres is there. You're also getting this very powerful thing. And yes, in certain ways, that is definitely overdone. It's it's heavy handed. But there's enough in the theme that is part of the story structure, that the stuff that's heavy handed, you can kind of, you know, overlook, and you're still getting moved by it. Because you're still what is the basic story? It's the basic story, it's it, it's a battle between a tech society and a nature society. And you're saying, what a tech society gone, you know, without limits, and what it does to nature. And it's a horrible thing to see.

Alex Ferrari
But if you look, but if you look at avatar, I mean, there's probably more than just three, I mean, you're talking about machine versus man, man versus nature or machine versus nature, as well. That's another kind of kind of storyline in that as well. And there's probably a few other layers in there that we can't even see

John Truby
it with it. But those are definite, important lines and elements, those are not actually in this may just be a semantic difference I would not put those are not genres, personal makes a man versus machine or nature versus man, those kind of like types of themes. There's a major thing. However, one of the things I've talked about in the avatar class is that one of the reasons it was so popular is because it it used to what I call to new myth forms. Because what almost all writers in Hollywood have done for the last 50 years, is when they were doing a myth based story. They went back and borrowed from the ancient Greek myths, and they just updated. And that's great stuff, because those are great stories. But what what, what Cameron did was, he took two new myth forms that nobody was playing with. And he made that the basis of this story. And what are those two myths forms? One is ecological myth. And the other is which, which takes in tech versus nature? And how do you balance those out? Obviously, we don't have a balance initially, and it has to be reapply. But the other is a female myth. Because what what happens in this story, on the surface, it's what we have a conflict between a tech culture and a nature culture. But what's really going on under the surface in story terms, is you're getting mail merge mail myth versus female myth, all that military stuff, that that comes in all those guys, those are the Joseph Campbell male myth beats. But what he's doing then is he's putting them into conflict with the femaleness beats, which nobody else has done, nobody else is playing with. Except in the last few years, we've had a few movies that have gotten into the female myth like inside out, like gravity, and their massive hits. And I've always, I always tell my students, you know, if you want to have a good chance of writing a hit film in the next 10 to 20 years, write a female men modernize, modernize that female myth, and it's, it's, you know, half the population. And yet the stories that are about their journey have not been told for 3000 years ever since the you know, male cultures took over from female cultures. So you know, not to get too esoteric here but but that's the kind of thing that's going on in avatar that when we watch it is just really fun story in this you know, these great world and, and the great special effects and so on likable characters, but what's going on under the surface structurally is massive and very revolutionary. And it easily overcomes the obvious, quote mistakes that are made like you know, what is the desire line they want to they want to mining for obtaining, they want to obtain obtaining That's a bit on the nose. It's a bit of a classic MacGuffin. I don't know what it is. But the point is, who cares? It doesn't. It's such a minor mistake, if you will, that the fact he's doing all this other stuff so well and really, so far beyond anybody else working today is is is what is what gives him those kinds of those kinds of numbers that the box hawks didn't ask. Well, he'd only miserably but he did the same thing with Titanic, like Titanic had no reason, at all, rather be a movie to anybody wanted to watch. Yeah, it's like we all know the ending, right? We all know the story.

One of the one of the worst calls I've ever made Alex, one of the worst calls, I heard this was coming out. I said, Oh, what a disaster. This is gonna be a bomb in the fox. I know what's gonna happen $200million? Is he insane? It's crazy. It's crazy. And but what did he do? What did he do? He took a disaster pictures structure, right, which is a kind of action, myth based story. And he added a love story. And what that meant was see the reason that disaster pictures, typically, they'll have a certain audience, but they're not that big, is because it's really a cross cut of various people as they're being destroyed by whatever the disaster, right, right, but we haven't gotten to know any of them well enough to care. And so what does he do? He says, the disaster for the very end of the picture. And the whole three quarters of the movie is the love story about two people who we now really, really care about. And he adds that at the end on to everybody else getting killed. And then we've got a massive Oh, you know, don't forget,

Alex Ferrari
don't forget Now you also have the anticipation of the entire Odyssey Odyssey Odyssey audience knowing what is going to happen, which is a very rare thing, because it's just a story that the entire world knows about. So we all like oh my god, we'd love jack and rosewood, but the ship's gonna sink are they gonna make? So that is an additional layer on top of it as well. I mean, I agree with you. I've been every time James Cameron comes out with someone It was like I go in James I trust like I, I might not understand it. When he's doing it. Like I don't think these next like it's on paper for more avatars, or five more avatars that he's making? are arguably 10 years after the first one like, does it you know, people like does anyone care? It's even relevant. I'm like, in James, I trust I, whatever he's doing.

John Truby
Let me put it this way. Let me put this way. I have a lot more trust in Him being able to extend the avatar series. Sure. In the Star War people have extending their series.

Alex Ferrari
Fair, fair enough. And also, you know, that just like a lot of popular filmmakers and storytellers in general, from Spielberg, to Hitchcock, to King, even Stephen King, they aren't given the respect that they're there. Do you know when Spielberg was hitting, you know, home run after home run in the late 70s, early 80s. He was just like, I mean, he there was just a run, and King as well. And Hitchcock, but they were never he's popular. It's popular only later in their careers to people go back and go, you know, what, this guy's kind of a kind of a genius.

John Truby
Yeah, yeah. Well, there's a thing. We know, in the back of our mind, we associate popularity equals mediocre. Right? Like Paul, like Paul Graham, it's cool. It's neither really good. It's not really bad. You don't you don't get that kind of popular success by being really embarrassingly bad. No, is just middle of the road. But in fact, there are some and most popular stuff is middle of the road. But there are some who are able to and I talked about it, this is an actual technique, which is to transcend the genre, right. And it's something you actually do in the script, which kicks it up from what everybody else is doing in that genre. And it's and it's, it's doing something that really haven't seen before. We've seen it very rarely. And basically what they're doing is they're taking the traditional beats, and they're twisting them, and resequencing in some cases, so that even though it's the same general structure, it's for example, a detective story. It's still a detective story. But the way they did the detective story I've never seen before, so it's filled with surprises. And this is one in my opinion, one of the keys if not the most important I won't say rule because I don't like that word, but but It's pretty damn close to a rule, which is that your best chance of success as a screenwriter or in any medium of storytelling is specialize in one genre. become the best at that form. Mix it with two or three other forms. And transcending, do it do the beats in a unique way that we've never seen. And if you do that, you get the combination rare combination of it's really popular. And it's highly respected, critical.

Alex Ferrari
It's like, like Pulp Fiction, like Pulp Fiction, like full solution, or recently, for example, I would just mention the detective for knives out.

John Truby
Yeah. The whodunit. Like, when was the last time we saw who done it like clue? Yeah, it doesn't exactly it does not exist in the movies anymore. It does not. The last one we had was certainly the orangutan express the Orient Express came out a little bit ago. But in terms of like an original, an original, you're going back to LA confidential.

Yeah, you're right. Yeah, it is a transcendent. But in the basically, the detective form does not exist in the movies, it's all in television, all in television. And yet, he was able to do it in such a unique way that we want to, you know, leave home, leave all the detective possibilities we have on the TV, and actually go to the theater, watch it. I mean, that was really quite original and ingenious some of the things that he was doing. But that's what you want to do whatever your form is, you need to specialize, so you can master the beats, you can't twist the beats until you've mastered them in the first place. And by the way, this brings up another pet peeve of mine, one of the things I drives me absolutely nuts is why here, you know, on these on these Facebook posts or screenwriting places, they say, you know, you you have to, to learn the rules to great. And you know, the implication is that the ideal is to not have follow the rules, right? Not not follow any rules, because, because that stunts creativity, right? Well, on the surface that makes total sense. It's complete nonsense. Because what those rules are, what I always say is, well, if it's a good rule, you probably want to follow it. If it's a bad rule, No, you don't. But for example, if I'm, if I'm walking on the top of a mountain, and there's a rule that if you step off of the mountain, you're gonna fall to your death. You don't want to break that rule, right? Same thing goes for story, it was story, you know, there are certain things that that you want to do, you want an active main character driving the story, you want to have a single main character who can focus the conflict and so on. You want other opponents who can create a, a density of attack, and so on and so forth. There are certain rules are really useful. And this is the way genre works is well, those beats are rules, those are, those are beats that must be there, or it's not the form. If you don't have a first kiss, in your love story, you're dead. But is it what got that then you have to do it in a unique way.

Alex Ferrari
But isn't isn't it true though, like I've seen this happen with with directors with with screenwriters, they're so invested in showing that they do not adhere to these rules, that they'll go out on the limb to do something that's so outside the box of rules, and it doesn't work. So it's the equivalent of me going up or like a happy Madison. If you remember that one with Adam Sandler where he was the golfer. He played golf with a hockey stick. Because he that's the way he knew how to do it, and it worked for him. But generally speaking, if I show up to a golf golf course, and I'm going to drive with a hockey stick, because it's not the rule, right? I'm not going to make it there's certain things in a golf swing and a golf club. There's certain basics that you need to do. Now once you're Tiger Woods, and you've swung that if you want to bring out a hockey stick, I'm gonna watch Tiger Woods, the hockey stick and see how it works out.

John Truby
But but he's not going to do it if he's trying to win that tournament. That's the thing is right, the rules are there because they work. And the point is not to be slaved to the rule. And that's why we say learn the beats of the genre. But don't break those beats don't don't fail to don't say oh, I'm beat All these beats, I don't have to have them at all. No. Do the beats in a way we haven't seen before like cameras. Like canon. Exactly. Exactly. So it but but but this thing about genres and how you deal with genres. That's the game. That's the ballgame. Now, in every medium in pot and worldwide storage,

Alex Ferrari
I just never I've just never again once again, john, you've made me think about store in a completely unique way because I on a on a visceral level, I understood what you meant. But I never consciously thought about combining genre before but like, like, Yeah, he's right. It's an action mixed with myth mixed with a love story. And he's done it all his career. And he's been extremely successful. And with even What is the secret agent True Lies, you know, story, which, again, on paper, it sounds like, it doesn't sound like okay, it does. But when you start looking at a movie, like True Lies, or the Abyss even I mean, it's it's a love story. At the end of the day, the Abyss is a love story that happens to have sci fi and aliens and some cool action in it. And then there's and then he also don't forget, he always throws the technical, right, you know, promise over it, which a lot of screenwriters don't have that capability because they don't have a James Cameron in there. So he's a very unique style filmmaker as a whole package. It's it's just nobody, not really Scott, not Nolan, not Fincher, not Kubrick, there's just nobody that's had his combination of stuff and how he does it. Also keep in mind, keep in mind is so often forgotten. And I'm a huge believer in screenwriter as all true. I do not believe I think the director, auteur theory is one of the stupidest things that anybody ever came up with. And every time I teach my class in Paris, I've made it a point to tell them where it came from, of course, you know, and it's spread here. But, but, you know, some of the directors you mentioned, write their material, but some don't. And the thing about Cameron, which is why he's been able to get this consistency of not only quality, but consistency of popularity, is that he's always a co writer. And, and, and or, or the only way. And what that allows him to do is he's coming. He's creating it from the structural position, when director comes on to it, the stroke, yeah, you can change certain things. But the structure is there, you're not going to be messing with that. Unless you want massive cost overruns. So that's why I always look, I was looking at the screenplay, even though it's not fashionable, you know, they everybody else likes to throw around their directors. But to me, it's the unknown screenwriter, or writer, director, that is really where you need to look at for a what are the techniques, why this thing is working? And then and then be wired? Why is this person so good at where what is their skill level? and Cameron is just consistently done it over? Over years and years and years since our career over decades? Yeah, over decades of work. Now, I wanted to touch upon the villain a little bit and how to really write a really good villain and I love to use because we've spoke about him earlier. And I think there's just such it's such a wonderful teaching tool, the Joker and Batman, specifically in The Dark Knight, I just don't think that there's been in recent history, a villain written so beautifully. And it's so perfect for that hero. You throw the Joker in avatar, not so much. It doesn't work because he's not designed for that world. But because of the complete he's literally the mirror. The mirror image of Batman and that's what a good villain should be. Correct?

John Truby
Yes. Well, the question is, what does that mean? Yes, right. But what does that mean? And, and yes, I agree. Joe is one of the all time great opponents in movie history. Certainly it is. I would say one of the two keys for my opinion that it is the best superhero ever made. One being the fact that the original main character is got so much he's not super he's not this Superman type of character. He is a human being who is deeply flawed and trouble, but before you with that, you can't do anything else.

Alex Ferrari
But can I stop you for one second? Is Batman that amazing of a character and superhero without a joker?

John Truby
Yes, he is okay. But he cannot get to that level. He gets he gets to his highest level, because of like with it because of the joke. But the original source material, the reason that any Batman movie is going to be better than any Superman movie is because the original main character is human. And he his, his his flaws, is, is what the, what I call the the first of the seven major structural steps, the weakness need. He's got so much weakness need. And so much goes so much stuff that is that has been troubling him for his whole life, that anytime he goes into a story, you're automatically in 100 yard dash, you're at the 50 yard line. I mean, it's a tremendous advantage. But having said that, no, he cannot get to the heights of a character without the Joker because no talk about this anatomy, the story is the the opponent is probably the most important single element in a story. Because the opponent is what causes the hero to change. Without the attack of the opponent, the hero is not motivated to change, they're not motivated to look at the great internal flaw that starts the whole story and say, Hey, this isn't working for me, I'm getting my clock cleaned by this opponent. And the only way I'm going to beat him is if I deal with what's really the problem here. So that's number one. And always stay in the narrative story, the hero learns through the pump. And that's an incredibly important principle and story right there. Um, another key principle is that the hero is only as good as the as the person he fights. Because, and I always use the analogy of a tennis match or, or a game of sport, which is that each character drives the other to greatness is because of the conflict between them that each is forced to dictate not just one, not just the hero, each is forced to dig down and come up with their best stuff. And then they make that punch, and then you get the Counter Punch. And, and it's it's testing each of them to their, their fullest capability. So that when you get character change at the end for the hero, and really great stories, you're also going to get character change for the pump. Now, the you look at the Joker, the Joker is very misunderstood, in my opinion. Most when it came out, most most critics talked about him as this newest, you know, he had nothing of value. Not so he he, he very definitely has a set a value system. But it's just a very dark valley. And his point of view, he has a different point of view.

Right. And in fact, the entire movie is a thought experiment conducted by the Joker to prove his view of humanity, which is humans are simply animals with a thin veneer of civilization, and you put them in the slightest bit of trouble. And that veneer is going to get washed away. And you're going to see what they really are, which is they're just they're gonna, they're gonna eat you alive. And so that's why he gives that man these increasing moral challenges because he's trying to prove it. And to me, the, the, you know, the brilliance of the prisoner's dilemma thing with the ships at the end is just I mean, all of the all time great beats the big problem I have with it, and the biggest problem I have with the whole movie, I didn't believe that decision. I

Alex Ferrari
feel optimistic. It was too optimistic.

John Truby
Yeah, it's telling me that I ship full of regular people versus a ship of criminals, murderers and so on, that they are not going to blow up the criminal ship before the criminal ship can blow them up. It's not believable To me, it's not believable. But having said that, having said that, the construction of it and the fact that the Joker drives the store is one of the keys to the success of this thing. And it's a technique of you know, I talked before about plot is the biggest problem that writers have. And that's because there are more skills and techniques that go into plot than all the other writing skills combined. And people just don't know what they are and In my opinion, the single most important plot technique of all, is, start with your poem. Because what a plot really is. So we think of plots is one of the great misconceptions, or one of the things I've been working on over the last few years, in trying to come up with a way to explain plot to people that they could actually use, because it's so hard to get is that plot we think of plot is the sequence of actions that the hero takes in going after the goal. And, and that is on the surface, what is what is happening. And that's why we always talk about plot is what happens next? Well, except the question is, the real question is, what causes what happens next. And what causes what happens next is the main opponent. And that's why what a plot really is, is a sequence of actions, covering the entire story that the opponent comes up with, to put the hero in the greatest amount of trouble. If you think of plot that way. All of a sudden, how to plot your story will may not just suddenly come to you fully blown. But you're about 50% there. That's how important that concept is.

Alex Ferrari
But so as I never thought about this, but you're after thinking about it, you're right that the Dark Knight, Batman is not the one driving this show. Batman's not doesn't have a need that needs to be fulfilled. The Joker has his thesis he needs fulfilled, and everybody around him is, is addressing the Joker's craziness. So it's not a Batman does eventually change towards the end, obviously, and he makes that sacrifice if he does all the things that he does. But he's just constantly reacting to the Joker, the Joker is the spine of the movie, which is also a unique, which is also unique. It's it's not many popular films that have the villain as the as the driving factor.

John Truby
No. And and and, and it appears on the surface. to contradict what I said earlier, we always want to active hero. Well, Batman is quite apt, oh, fairy, it's just is just you know, and we are tracking his actions in trying to catch the opponent. So in that sense, we could say that the plot is the actions Batman takes to catch the Joker. And so he's very active in that sense. But the key to plot is that this sequence of actions that the opponent is taking, are mostly under the surface. We don't see them, and the hero doesn't see. And that's why we get reveals. That's why we get surprised, is because what is this what is a reveal. And plot is based on two major things conflict and movies. What does it reveal reveal is basically where the hero in the audience realize the move of the opponent. Oh, they just pulled that. I didn't know that. That's going to cause me a big problem. And now I have to deal with. That's a review. So but the point is that you want to start from the point of view of the opponent, how to come up with a sequence of actions they're going to use to defeat the hero and then hide most of them. And then the sequence of the story is the hero going after his goal discovering various things that his opponent is doing to try to keep him from getting if you think if you use that sequence, that process writing process, you're 100 times better off than if you do it the normal way which is here's my hero there's my goal. He's going to take action one and action to action three action for someone it doesn't work.

Alex Ferrari
So basically, without Pepsi there is no coke without Microsoft there is no Mac. Yes, yes. Because you know Coke is only coke because it had a Pepsi to fight. If it had an RC cola to fight it wouldn't work. This wasnot a great story. Not a good story you need you know you needed the literacy. You needed vanderbilts to go against Rockefeller you needed you needed those you need the giant industries you know that those those two in there but at the end of the day, it's two characters to have to battle it out. That's really good versus bad and has in it that's why I always tell always tell writers never think your opponent is two separate characters. Yes, they are separate two sides. But in fact, it is the relationship between them is the most important relationship in the entire story. And that's what you constantly want to be aware of is the relationship between the two of them, and how it goes back and forth, as each one gets the upper hand. So then, so Okay, so Batman Begins, if we're gonna if we could, we could, because I'm a huge Nolan fan. And I do agree with you. Sometimes he has so much plot. Because sometimes you just like, I can't, I can't just blow something up, Chris. I can't think that hard, right. I mean, inception, you're just like, what's going on? I don't know what's going on. But this is a fun ride. But so Batman Begins. You know, he basically revamped the entire Batman myth. And he did it in a beautiful way. And a lot when I saw Batman Begins, I was like, well, this is the best superhero movie ever made. Then the Dark Knight showed up and was like, Oh, my God, this is just a completely different level, then Batman, Dark Knight Rises shows up. And arguably the weakest of the three be yet.

I'll put it up against almost a lot of other superheroes. So what made that film not work nearly as well as the Dark Knight? Yeah. One of the great questions. Great questions. I get It's good.

John Truby
It's good. I always really good, it's good and good. But it's not as good as the other two. And it's not, it's not as good as he wanted to be. I because it was a I was I'm such a fan of his and such a fan of the the, you know, the two movies that came before it. I did a breakdown of that film. So my website troubie.com. And where I talked about, how could this go wrong? And in my opinion, first of all, it's because it is too ambitious. It's he tried to he basically, he went into it saying, okay, I've just done the dark mind. He

Alex Ferrari
made the Godfather. He was trying to make the Godfather two movies, right? Yeah.

John Truby
I've just done on that love. Sure. How do I top that? And in my opinion, in trying to top it, it was so ambitious. It's basically an analysis of a revolution in a society. How do you you know, in in the dark night, you have the problem of a Savior. But the society is still pretty much where it's at, you know, Batman takes the hit, so that they won't rely too much on a savior. And he'll he'll be the bad guy. So we don't get into this superhero cult, okay, but it's still basically the same society. Well, in The Dark Knight Rises, he's trying to say, Okay, how do we actually create a greater society? This is the classic question of science fiction. But he's trying to do it in the crime fantasy, combination genre, super hard to do. But if you're looking at, there's a number of beats from the French Revolution. And what the breakdown way of what I'm talking about is, it always take it down to the basic structure, mission beginning, you get those seven steps, it's really hard to screw it up. And in my opinion, he put so much superstructure in terms of the ambitions and what he was trying to tell him that story on a desire line, could not handle it. And I think I talked about it in the breakdown is a bridge too far.

Alex Ferrari
He just was a little too ambitious slightly, but he's still late, but he's still landed in places that most filmmakers and screenwriters would kill to do.

John Truby
Yeah, but the problem is, without an urgent desire line, tracking the entire story, right? Because you'd have a large chunk where as I recall, I haven't seen it since it's a mount. It just it just basically, exactly, there's a note bizarrely, and it sits there, there's no urgency at all. And when you don't have the spine at the base, the whole superstructure collapses, and is just, it's spinning its wheels, whereas, you know, what they sometimes do is plot for plot sake. And, and that's where that big theme, that ambitious theme, without the process, excuse me without the the plot and the structure underneath it, to drive it. Then it becomes over the top it becomes a little on the nose, and you don't get any story or urgency. You don't get any narrative drive. And so it gets really Tired

Alex Ferrari
yeah and i if i remember the movie correctly there was a moment when basically when Batman is thrown into the into the pit with a broken back after a battle Bane Yeah, it the story just sits there for about 20 to 25 minutes everyone's kind of walking around but Gotham he's taken over, it's a few weeks the cops are trapped underneath it. Like it's there's nothing to it there's there is no draw and then it picks up again.

John Truby
But there is actually the point. It's one of the, because I couldn't remember that. But yeah, rock is back. He's in the back, he's in the pit. He's not doing anything, the movie is not doing anything.

Alex Ferrari
Right. And and. And Bane isn't a bad villain. He's actually a very well written and good and obviously well performed villain, but and he has a very specific and that's the one thing that all the villains actually had, even from Batman Begins, they all have very specific points of view. And Bane. Bane had a similar idea that the Joker wanted, but it's just his like, he believes that this is going to happen. And this is my thesis, and I'm going to prove to you Batman, that this is my thesis. Yeah, you know,

John Truby
now I know that's a really good at opponents, they're really good at that. Because they know that's the trick to doing driving the plot that they want to drive. But but also just in terms of character sense, was always push is. In fact, I make the case that even using the term villain is a problem for a lot of writers. Because when we think of villain, we think of this very simplistic, evil characteristic of the mustache, right? Yeah, and, and, and it's so important, I always try to push writers make the main opponent as complex and characters your role. Because that is going to give you benefits, open down the line in not just in terms of character in terms of the emotion that the audience has for the story. And especially in terms of plot. It's just, it's just super cool.

Alex Ferrari
Yeah, I mean, and if you look at someone like you know, one of my favorite films of all time, I've spoken about many times on the show, Shawshank I mean, the villain of the the warden, and the end, and he had like three major villains the the prisoner, the the main, the main guard, and the and the warden is the ultimate villain. I mean, I think that's why it's so satisfying when Andy finally breaks free. And then and then just screws everybody along the way. It was such a brilliantly written story. I mean, it really is truly in love. Well done. Yeah, it is. It is probably one of the most perfect scripts I've ever read and one of the most perfect films ever seen. But I also would argue going back to Batman, that Batman Begins could be the Godfather where Dark Knights godfather to I could argue that. Yeah.

John Truby
Where I would disagree with us on the Godfather ranking. I feel that you know that you look at these charts. Yeah. Geez. You know, that godfather near the top godfather to a little higher than godfather three. I just saw that chart fly through Facebook. It was like all the trilogies and yeah, and to be fair, it is my contention is godfather two is not the movie The Godfather. One is why because every beat in godfather two was first done in godfather one,

Alex Ferrari
right without it's the foundation.

John Truby
It's the foundation. But every single story beat throughout the plot is in godfather one, the differences then godfather two, they get that cross cut structure. Also, comparing the gangsters you comparing the gangsters with the different generations. But But in terms of the, you know, my anatomy story, they do a extensive breakdown of the Godfather. And it was just one of those beautifully written, yes, it's great direction. So but I look at it from the point of view of storytelling of writing a screen a couple semesters, at every level, from structure through dialogue, every level never been done better. And in my opinion, it also tend to give a little bit more credit. Just as when, you know like when they're assigning credit in a screenplay. The original writer to me is always gets gets most of the credit. Because the work of creating all of those beats is much harder than it is to adjust them and polish right and polish. And so to me, even though the Polish job on godfather two was incredible that that all the beats are writing godfather one. And, you know, it's interesting, I talked about it in the class that the Godfather two was affected how he wrote godfather two was affected by the response that godfather one guy, because it didn't get the response he thought it would get if there was going to be fired every other day. That was before he even started Yes. shooting it in terms of the audience response to the ending of the story. Yeah, he what he thought structurally that made him Mario Puzo had done is create a character who even though he's become the new Godfather, that morally, he's become the devil. And the whole thing is structured to the connection with making the equation of Michael equals or godfather equals devil. And, and so you wanted to get something is very difficult to pull off for a writer in any meeting, which is a split, ending for the character. Whereas on one level, they have succeeded, succeeded tremendously. On the other level internally, they have fallen and failed. And all he got was people saying he succeeded. Isn't it great that he blew away or the five heads the families, with his brother in law and so on? Isn't that great, they didn't see the moral decline. And that heavily affected how he then wrote godfather two, to make Michael a much darker character. And much more, not somebody we're going to root for so much as some way that we see that this is a guy who is becoming more and more corrupt.

Alex Ferrari
So So basically, without Star Wars, there is no empire strikes back as far as it being that good and without Batman Begins, arguably, there's no Dark Knight. Yeah, you need the first. Yeah, in order to build build upon you can't come out the gate with Empire Strikes Back, it doesn't have the gravitas? Well, it's the same thing. If you want to go back to endgame. You can't have Avengers endgame without the 10 years of films. That's right, that built up those characters

John Truby
to get into that crescendo there in terms of to get a concluding film like that in a series. It's all based on what you did before. Yeah, all the setup, the setup work that they do in Marvel movies, songs. Amazing. Amazing. And that's why that you know, because they you've got this bank of characters, and they're great characters and great superhero characters. But it's obviously it's going to be in how you have them interact. And really, there's, it's quite an interesting story challenge that they have a Marvel, which is, what do you do with superheroes, because for the most part, they can die. And, and we know there are exceptions to that, which I won't mention, but but the point is, if they're superheroes, and they don't have any real physical Jeopardy, you know, I always laugh at the fights in superhero movies, because, you know, one guy hits the other guy with a punch that knocks him through three buildings. But you know, he shakes his head like a cartoon and then gets up and goes back to the fight. It's like, you know, very quickly you realize, hey, there's nothing's gonna happen in this fight.

Alex Ferrari
That's why Superman, that's why Superman so difficult to get behind.

John Truby
Exactly, exactly. But but so the trick the way Marvel handles is how they, they interweave and interconnect all the films of the separate ones. So that when they get them all together, in the, you know, the Avengers, or the Avengers, and all of the all, you know, the two, the two sides that the villain team versus our hero, where you're basically just taking the heavyweight fight and you're kicking it up another 10 notches, because you're getting one All Star team against another All Star team. It's all been set up, you know, years and years before with the other films. And it that's the payoff is so great.

Alex Ferrari
That's good. Like, that's what sports are like. It's the Yankees versus the Yankees were always the great villains. If you don't live in New York, if you're in New York, they're the heroes but the Yankees in the in the 50s in the 40s in the 50s. They were they were just dominating and the bulls were that in the 90s and, and LeBron James is that and, and so on. So it there's Oh, there is that, but it takes time to build that. But I have to I have to ask you this because I'm sure my audience wants to know since we've since we've been bringing it up. I've talked about this at nauseum, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. We understand that wide Marvel works. Can you discuss and dissect why DC doesn't. And why they've had so much trouble in the DC Universe, which arguably has some of the greatest superheroes of all time. They're easily the most well known. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are much more well known than anybody other than maybe Spider Man in the Marvel Universe prior to launching of the Marvel MCU back in the day. So why is it so difficult? What what happened at DC that it's taken them, it's still like they have some one offs here and there that are good, but they've not been able to create what Marvel has.

John Truby
No. And this is a big subject. And I can't say that I'm an expert on it, because I am not a fan for the most part, the DC universe

Alex Ferrari
that says volumes right there.

John Truby
But But then again, you know, I don't, because of that basic superhero problem in superhero storytelling, I'm not as big a fan of the Marvel universe as some people are. Although I totally agree with you about that the final film is the final Avengers, and a one we're just before. But in terms of their certain one off, DC films, DC comic films that are really good Wonder Woman, I thought was excellent, was wonderful. Um, and the Batman films, obviously in the hands of the Nolan brothers, yeah, or the best you get. But the problem that the problem comes in, how do you combine them into like the Justice League? It's the same thing. You're basically it's for storytellers is the problem, how you tell a story about an all star team. And there's lots of problems with all star teams. Because among them, first of all, if you're going to have an all star team, you got to have all star opposition team. And that means you got to establish all those characters. And you got to do that all that work in previous films. So that it's not just a, you know, five guys with different costumes on that supposedly, each has a different major superpower. And then we're supposed to get that's going to be really good conflict and drama. No, that's not going to do it. That's not what it's about. But if you notice, what to me is the real key to what Marvel has done, besides one time better setting up this stuff in previous films, which was they? I believe it was, wasn't a JJ Abrams, they brought in one of those wouldn't when they started to, they started to put the the Marvel characters in conflict with each other.

Alex Ferrari
I think dress Wheaton.

John Truby
Yeah, that's right. I knew was a TV guy was a TV guy. And that That, to me is the key right there. Because what they did is they brought it in, they brought in the knowledge of television, and television, I don't know if we talked about this last time, television is so far advanced, above film, right now, it has been for 20 years is a meeting. And there's various reasons for it that we don't have time to go into. But one of the things that they do that is based on is because they're doing an ongoing series. They know that the real juice of the story, when you sustain the story is, you don't bring in a new opponent every week, what you do in a police show or detective show, character that we don't even get to know know, you put the main characters of the show in opposition. That's where the conflicts got to comprehend. Because there's a character we care about those two characters we meet and know every week. So what they did was they figured out a way even though these are superheroes figured out a way to put them to have them fight amongst themselves. And all of a sudden, you get the fact that we care about these characters. We know these characters as human beings, not just superheroes, but also we're getting the conflict driven, and building based on characters, the characters we love, then typically at the end, they bring in the opposing team that gives us the big battle that gives us all the fireworks and so on and so forth. And we capo cap off the story, but was the trip to the whole story was all the conflict between the heroes that led up to And to me, that's what they're really good.

Alex Ferrari
And also, I think the biggest thing and I've said this a lot before too is that, that the Marvel universe of characters, they're all kind of based, for lack of a better word, they all have vulnerabilities, generally speaking, there's, they all have vulnerabilities, they all can get hurt. Yeah, even Iron Man, even even Thor who's a he's the only God in the Marvel Universe, where in the DC Universe, they're essentially all gods. You've got other than Batman, who, honestly is a marvel. He's a Marvel character who got the DC Universe because he's much more Marvel than anything else. But you got Superman, you got Wonder Woman, you got Green Lantern, you got the flash, these are God to Aquaman they're all gods and when you and that's the problem when you write for Gods if you can't kill them, or kill, fundamental problem right there, that's why Superman movies are so difficult, right? And you know I mentioned earlier we'll be talking about the seven major structure. So first step is weakness knee, if that's a God, they don't have a weakness name. If they don't have a vulnerability, you don't have a story. Because the whole story is designed to solve that we're too poor to test that weakness. And so and yeah, and that's why when when I heard that, that you're gonna have Batman versus Superman, that this is the stupidest idea you could possibly do, then notice they're trying to do what Marvel's do. They're trying to create conflict among the superheroes. But one is that God one is superhuman, the other is a human being. It's not even a contest, you would take about five seconds, not even

it's like, my wife who's not a superhero fan when she heard like Batman vs. Superman, that's ridiculous. Superman would kill him in five seconds. Literally, that's what she's not a fan. I'm

John Truby
like, yeah, that's why it's not gonna work. I guarantee you, every person in America, when they heard that movie was coming out, the very first thought they had was, that's gonna take five seconds.

Alex Ferrari
And it took them how long it took him, like two hours to get to the fight. And the fight lasted eight minutes. Right? And it was just so unsatisfying, is a general like insert a bleak, completely absurd, but going back to God's really quickly though, the Greeks, you know, they figured out the God thing.pretty well. I mean, if you go back to Zeus and Hades and all these, but what they did is they added human elements to all of these gods, you know, Zeus was

John Truby
they were all flawed characters, right? And now, you know, a really important thing to keep in mind is that, that in Greek mythology, those gods are not Gods versus humans. Gods are simply human beings taken to an nth degree. Right. And they're done that to show how humans really All

Alex Ferrari
right, exactly. And that's definitely not what Superman is. So john, I'm going to ask you a few questions that I asked all of my guests. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?

John Truby
Man, see what what I tend to do? Because it's so important that people know the genre that they're writing. Okay, that whenever somebody will, what are the screenplays you think are great that you recommend? I always first say, Well, what, what genre are you talking about? But But given that there are 12 1314 major genres that almost all stories are built on? Um, I can give you some examples. For example, example gangster, the Godfather, godfather one and Goodfellas. I put them I put them pretty much on the same level, both brilliant scripts, brilliant scripts. If you talk about crime, are you talking about Usual Suspects? The best.

Alex Ferrari
I'd say they come out of Hollywood in the last 25 years. That was a 90s film. So we're talking about 30 years plus now.

John Truby
Um, and also, if you want to talk about I mean that this this film just blows me away. And the writing on it is so great. It's also I think, in the crime. So I'd call it a transcendent Crime Story, which is in group.

Alex Ferrari
Oh, yeah. And Bruce? Yeah.

John Truby
Just just absolutely. Um, if you're talking about, you know, fantasy crime, you know, or the myth form. You talking about the dark night? Absolutely. You got to read that script. If you're talking about the action form of going back to a, I've got to go back 60 years and to a different country, and move that every action movie is based on it's the Seven Samurai probably the greatest script ever written, in my opinion, Grace. II, if you're talking about a love story, probably When Harry Met sell, romantic comedy, it doesn't get better than that. That and interesting how any holds any absolutely at that level as well. And going back many years, I'd say probably 80 years to one that is, is I often like to compare To Harry Met Sally, and it's actually Philadelphia Story. Oh, that's another one. Yeah, this is a It Happened One Night, but also great. Um, so I'm just trying to think of some of the other genres detective story. I go with la confidential. Absolutely brilliant script is good as that form gets on film. Now, of course, we want to talk about just great writing, then you gotta go, you gotta go to television. The Best Writing in the world is done on television has been for 20 years. Then looking at shows like Breaking Bad.

Alex Ferrari
Man, the wire

John Truby
higher. The my top five, five greatest shows ever Are those the wire Mad Men Breaking Bad Sopranos and the original Twilight Zone, and the writing the writing a different medium. But especially if you're interested in understanding how plot works and how to extend plot. You got to watch tell you got to look at how they extend, extend plot over multiple episodes to create an entire season.

Alex Ferrari
We should we should have you back just to talk about television one episode, like I said all week, because I know that we've even touched television in this episode. And I know that's something you're pretty passionate about. Yeah, it's, it's over the last almost 10 years now. The one class that I've asked to do most often around the world is television, how to write for television, because that's that's where the quality is. And if any country in the world can write at that level, because it's all in the writing. And the writers are the authors in television, not the director. And when you put the writers in charge, that's what you get to say, sir, to say, Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

John Truby
You got to learn your craft, you got to learn the craft, and you got to especially learn how to plot it's, it's, as they say, it's it is the skill, it is hard to come by because there's very little written on it. In and it's one of the reasons that, that almost all the classes that I've been doing the last few years are focused on that. But But without that ability to tell a story that is going to please the audience, not just be fulfilling to the audience, but please the audience. You're not in the game. And and it is especially given all of the obstacles to screenwriters. You know, much greater obstacles to screenwriters than for example, indie novels, where a lot of writers are going now because they're going 100% chance of getting your workout 100% chance. Right, right. screenwriters who have a point 0001 chance. So that's massive obstacle, the only way you get over that obstacle is you've got to have a plot in a in a genre or multiple genres that is so good, so unique and so surprising that the reader who is the gatekeeper and who is who is mentally what's the word I want? he's mentally programmed to say no. These people job is to say no. The only way you can get past them is to come up with that kind of a story with fabulous plot and incredible narrative draw. And then even a reader will not stop.

Alex Ferrari
And now you also said you had a gift for the tribe today. What What is that gift you are giving us sir?

John Truby
Well, I've put together a worksheet that I think will immediately increase the quality of writers story a lot, just by going through the seven techniques that I've listed there. And I've got a place on the worksheet for them to fill in their own story. And so it's the call to story rescue worksheet. And they can get it by going to www.tv forward slash indie. Indi.

Alex Ferrari
Okay. That would be true. b.com forward slash indie calm. That's right, I'm sure. Yeah. And I'll put that in the show notes, john. So john, and I appreciate that. JOHN, we could keep talking for at least another two hours about the story. And it's, it's we have to have you on more often because it's always a masterclass when you're on. So john, thank you so much for being on the show, and dropping knowledge bombs on the tribe today, man, thank you so much.

John Truby
Thank you so much. It's always a pleasure. You're great to talk to and love to do it anytime.

Alex Ferrari
As promised, that was an epic conversation. Thank you so, so much john, for dropping insanely big knowledge bombs on the bulletproof screenwriting tribe today. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, please head over to the show notes at bulletproof screenwriting.tv forward slash 087. And if you want access to that limited time free webinar that john Truby has put together for us, called stories that sell please head over to bulletproof screenwriting.tv forward slash t our you be Why thank you so much for listening, guys. As always, keep on writing no matter what. Stay safe out there, and I'll talk to you soon.

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BPS 000: Bulletproof Screenwriting Podcast – Introduction

It’s here! The first episode of The Bulletproof Screenwriting Podcast! Now you might be asking…

“Alex, why are you launching another podcast dedicated to screenwriting when you cover that on the IFH Podcast and Filmtrepreneur Podcast already?”

Well, it’s because I know that screenwriters are really NOT that interested in learning about lenses, self-distribution, or social media marketing. They want to get into the craft and business of screenwriting and storytelling. I found that IFH Tribe members that wanted to learn about screenwriting would have to wait until I had a screenwriting guest.

The Bulletproof Screenwriting Podcast, they can get a fresh episode every week dedicated to the craft and business of screenwriting.

I’ll be grabbing some of my past screenwriting themed interviews and re-publishing them here but I’ll also be adding brand new content as well. I already have a bunch of amazing guests lined up for the podcast.

So if you’re a fan of the IFH Podcast you should definitely subscribe to the BPS Screenwriting Podcast as well. That’ll be TWO TO THREE FRESH EPISODES of content every week. Yes, I’m crazy but I’m crazy about providing the best content I can to the IFH Tribe and helping them on their filmmaking and screenwriting journeys.

You can download the screenwriting podcast to your computer or listen to it here on the blog. This podcast feed is listed on Apple Podcasts, Spreaker, Spotify and Stitcher, so you can subscribe there as well.

Thanks for Listening!

Thanks so much for joining me again this week. Have some feedback you’d like to share? Leave a note in the comment section below!

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Also, please leave an honest review for The Bulletproof Screenwriting Podcast on Apple Podcasts! Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and greatly appreciated! They do matter in the rankings of the show, and I read each and every one of them.

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  1. Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  2. AudibleGet a Free Screenwriting Audiobook

Alex Ferrari 0:00
Welcome to the bulletproof screenplay podcast episode number 000.

There's nothing to writing. All you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. Ernest Hemingway broadcasting from a dark windowless room in Hollywood when we really should be working on that next draft. It's the bulletproof screenplay podcast showing you the craft and business of screenwriting while teaching you how to make your screenplay bulletproof. And here's your host, Alex Ferrari.

Welcome. Welcome to the first episode of the bulletproof screenplay. Thank you so much for checking this podcast out. It has been a long time since I've started a new podcast. For those who don't know, I am the host of the indie film hustle podcast, which is the number one filmmaking podcast on iTunes. And I decided to launch a brand new podcast that is dedicated strictly to screenwriting in the craft of screenwriting. Now, I covered a lot of screenwriters, and I had a lot of screenwriting episodes on my original podcast, which will still be going on, of course, but I heard from a lot of screenwriters out in the indie film hustle tribe, that they're like, look, we love the podcast, but we really don't want to know about self distribution. We really don't want to know about the latest cameras, we really don't want to talk to a DPS or listen to DPS. We're about the craft of screenwriting, helping our screenwriting get move forward. So I decided to kind of create an entire new section of the indie film hustle world called the bulletproof screenplay. And there you will find the bulletproof screenplay podcast, you will find a just a huge resources of screenplays that you can download and read from all the Oscar winners to Oscar nominees. To breaking down collections by your favorite writer directors and your favorite screenwriters as well. We will also be focusing on the latest and greatest courses online courses to help you on your path as a screenwriter covering everything from the hero's journey with Michael Haig and Chris Vogler to the business of screenwriting, with August Rush screenwriter Paul Castro, to the definitive screenwriting course taught by Head of screenwriting at UCLA, Richard Walter, to how to pitch a screenplay in 60 seconds, all sorts of different courses. And we'll be focusing on new courses coming out like the Aaron Sorkin masterclass, the Sonia Rhimes masterclass talking about television writing, which will be covered in this podcast as well. We'll also have access to free online education videos that you can watch for free at the website from some of the best instructors in the world. And our suggestions on what the best books are to read about the craft and all new articles that will be written about screenwriting, storytelling and so forth will come out through bulletproof screenplay. I really wanted to put together an immense resource for screenwriters and storytellers out there. So I hope you really enjoy what we're doing a bulletproof screenplay. Now, we will be publishing one new episode a week and that's in addition to the two episodes a week that I do on the indie film hustle podcast. So right now it looks like we're going to be doing Wednesdays for the bulletproof screenplay. It might vary depending on my schedule and

how busy I might be at that at that time. But it will be at least once a week we're going to launch with five episodes, so you have a bunch of great content to start off with. And then after that we're going to do once a week bulletproof screenplay. You can find everything you want to know about bulletproof screenplay at bulletproof screenplay calm, which will lead you back to indie film, hustle, but it will be under the bulletproof screenplay banner there and there you will find everything and if you do want to explore more, and go into other avenues of the filmmaking process, it's all there for you as well. But at the bulletproof screenplay, especially here at the podcast, we're really going to focus on the craft. Now. I am a writer director. I've written a few movies as well. In screenplays, I am by no stretch an expert about the craft I am learning something new every day. And this this podcast. What you can expect from this podcast is me interviewing the best minds on the craft of screenwriting and storytelling. And you will be in I'll be interviewing professional screenwriters, successful big time screenwriters, who've done big, big movies, as well as some of the best authors on storytelling and the craft of screenwriting that is available in the world today. People like Michael Hague, Chris Vogler, Linda Seeger, and many more, as well as bringing on story consultants, people who work within the Hollywood system, people who work in the indie film world as well. So we're going to just cover the whole gambit of budgets and styles of screenplays and stories, because someone who does does movies in the indie world and writes indie scripts meaning like for $2 million or below is going to have a completely different perspective than someone who writes big blockbuster movies of 80 million 200 million tentpole movies. And then there's that happy medium somewhere in the middle, where it's like five to $20 million budget scripts as well. So we're going to talk about the business of screenwriting, and really break down how to make it as a screenwriter how to get an agent, how to get seen how to get your film read, we're going to talk about pitching your film, pitching your ideas, contests, what kind of contests are worth it, which aren't, how to kind of break into the business. We're going to cover all of that during the course of this podcast. Now, a lot of interviews I've done on the indie film, hustle podcast, I'm going to bring over here and introduce it to this new audience. But I'm going to be adding new interviews all the time. Best selling author John Trumpy is going to be one of our first big guests or we're going to have on as well as bringing in big screenwriters that we have Sundance winning screenwriters that I have lined up as well. So even if you've listened to a bunch of this stuff over at Indie film, hustle, there's going to be brand new content in this podcast as well. So it's just a nice addition to if you subscribe to the indie film, hustle podcast, useless, you should subscribe to this one as well, because you're gonna be getting brand new content in this podcast as well. And guys, on a side note, you're gonna one of the reasons I wanted to put this podcast out is I really want to help as many filmmakers and screenwriters as humanly possible. When I started indie film, hustle, I really didn't know how many screenwriters were gonna come or people were interested in screenwriting, were gonna come because I was coming more from a production standpoint. But when I start interviewing these amazing storytellers, and craftsmen, screenwriters were really starting to be drawn to the podcast. So I really want to create something special for screenwriters, and even directors and filmmakers who want to learn more about the craft, but have it in a place where it's just strictly screenwriting, because it is such an important part of the entire filmmaking process. Without a good script. Without a good story. There is nothing you can't No matter what kind of camera you have, no matter how much money you have, if Justice League taught us anything. I bashed on that movie a lot. But it deserves to be bashed on, I'm sorry. But no matter what you have, it all comes back down to the page, it all comes back down to the story. And I really want to explore that with you guys. And as I continue to grow in my career as a filmmaker and a screenwriter, I will be sharing those journeys with you on this podcast as well. And this is not just a one way street, guys, I want you to feel comfortable to email me, ask me questions, request things, because I want this to be a resource for you for all the screenwriters and people interested in screenwriting, out there in the world and you can always reach me at bulletproof [email protected] If you got questions, I'll do the best I can I answer them. I get a ton of emails. I'll do the best I can. But if you have any suggestions if you have any questions you want answered on the show people who you want on the show, if you have any recommendations, please send in that information I greatly greatly appreciate it. And if you want to subscribe to the bulletproof screenplay podcast on iTunes, just go to screenwriting podcast.com. There is no one way to write a screenplay. And there's no one way to tell a story. And we're going to explore every avenue every kind of style, every kind of technique we can because I want you to find the right one that works for you and your sensibilities to tell the best kind of story that you can do. And make no mistake about it. You have a story to tell. You have that screenplay in you. You have to get it out. Don't die with the music in you. And I hope that this podcast inspires you as well as educate you along this along this path that you have chosen to be a screenwriter and to be a storyteller. In today's world.

We need stories more than ever. We need good stories, good films, good books, good just screenplays God, we need good screenplays to get out into the world because we really need it and you never know what your screenplay what your story how it will affect somebody else out there. You never know what it's going to do to somebody's life and how it might inspire them or change the course of their life for the better. So don't ever underestimate your story. Don't ever underestimate what you are were put here to do as a storyteller. When you write write with intention. That is the best kinds of stories out there. Right with intentions. Don't chase don't chase the dollar. Don't try to be the next big big screenwriter and try to make the big big tentpole you can do that if you want, but write with intention because that is what's going to take you to the next level. All right. I hope you guys really enjoy this podcast. And please share and tell everybody you know about it, if you like it and please leave me a good review on iTunes because we're brand new podcast. So every review counts. Even if you left me a good review on indie film hustle, I need you to leave me a good review on this one. So we can get this podcast out to as many people as humanly possible. And as always keep on writing no matter what. I'll talk to you soon.

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Walter Hill Scripts Collection: Screenplays Download

Take a listen to Walter Hill as he discusses his screenwriting and filmmaking process. The screenplays below are the only ones that are available online. If you find any of his missing screenplays please leave the link int he comment section.

When you are done reading take a listen to Apple’s #1 Screenwriting Podcast The Bulletproof Screenwriting Podcast, with guest like Oscar Winner Eric Roth, James V. HartDavid ChaseJohn AugustOliver Stone and more.

(NOTE: For educational and research purposes only).

Last Man Standing (1996)

Screenplay by Walter Hill – Read the treatment!

Wild Bill (1995)

Screenplay by Walter Hill – Read the treatment!

The Getaway (1994)

Screenplay by Walter Hill – Read the treatment!

Alien 3 (1992)

Screenplay by John Fasano & Walter Hill (Uncredited) – Read the treatment!

Red Heat (1988)

Screenplay by Walter Hill & Troy Kennedy Martin – Read the treatment!

Streets of Fire (1984)

Screenplay by Walter Hill & Larry Gross – Read the treatment!

48 hours(1982)

Screenplay by Walter Hill & Larry Gross – Read the treatment!

Southern Comfort(1981)

Screenplay by Walter Hill & David Giler – Read the screenplay!

The Warriors (1979)

Screenplay by Walter Hill – Read the screenplay!

Alien (1978)

Screenplay by Walter Hill and David Giler – Read the screenplay!

The Driver (1978)

Screenplay by Walter Hill – Read the screenplay!

Hard Times(1975)

Screenplay by Walter Hill – Read the screenplay!