BPS 236: How to Outline Your Screenplay Like a Pro with Naomi Beaty

Naomi Beaty is a screenwriting teacher, screenplay consultant, and former development exec with 10+ years in the entertainment industry.

Naomi is based in Los Angeles, CA. She has worked on American productions and on projects in Taiwan and Australia, including the feature film “Ghost Boy”, based on the novel by award winning Australian author Felicity Pulman, produced by Morning Starr Productions.

Earlier, Naomi worked on the other side of the desk at Madonna and Guy Oseary’s Maverick Films, where she helped develop projects including “Twilight” and “Percy Jackson”.

She just released her new book “The Screenplay Outline Workbook”.

The Screenplay Outline Workbook is designed to give you a clear and manageable set of tools, steps, and exercises so you can turn your ideas and inspiration into an outline and write your best screenplay – whether it’s your first or your tenth.

With this workbook as your guide, you can start with just an inkling of an idea – or nothing at all, even! – and end up with a solid story premise, compelling characters, and an outline that provides a blueprint for writing an emotionally satisfying screenplay.

Inside you’ll find enough instruction and theory so that you know what you need to know, but not so much that it overwhelms you before you even get started. Room to work through your story ideas and collect your notes and flashes of brilliance. A place to organize what you discover about your story as you develop it so that you can easily reference it when needed.

Use the workbook to design a new story from scratch, or jump straight to the topic you need to get your work-in-progress unstuck. With 30+ tools, exercises, and prompts honed through years of teaching workshops and working one-on-one with writers, this workbook will help you:

  • Generate new story ideas
  • Choose a strong idea as the first step in writing a great screenplay
  • Build a sturdy foundation for your screenplay by finding the essential elements of the story
  • Discover the organic three act structure and major plot points that create the framework for the story and screenplay
  • Design compelling characters that help push the protagonist along a meaningful character arc
  • Try one or more suggested outlining methods for mapping out your story

…and so much more!

The workbook lays out a process that’s flexible enough that you can use it for every screenplay you write, yet designed to specifically address the issues readers commonly find in aspiring screenwriters’ screenplays.

With each exercise, you’ll explore ideas and make choices to build your story, piece by piece. You’ll craft an outline that does all the heavy lifting, and be confident in the story you’re telling – which frees you to get creative with characters and dialogue, and discovering the kind of magical, cinematic moments that made us all fall in love with movies in the first place.

If you’ve tried to write a screenplay before but found yourself stuck somewhere in Act 2, having an outline that serves as a map of your screenplay can make all the difference. Consider this workbook the wise but gentle guide that will meet you where you are and lead you to your destination so you can finally make real progress turning the movie in your head into a fully developed story that you’re ready to set down onto the screenplay page.

When you’re done you’ll have more than an outline — you’ll have a rock-solid foundation for your screenplay.

Please enjoy my conversation with Naomi Beaty.

Right-click here to download the MP3



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Naomi Beaty 0:00
But when you get to writing scenes, you get to have a lot of fun with what happens in a scene, right? Like how does that come to life? What's the most entertaining? Interesting way for that thing that you figured out? That needs to happen? Right? You figured that out in the screenplay outline? What's the most interesting cinematic way for that to play out? You know, in your screen TV screenplay.

Alex Ferrari 0:20
This episode is brought to you by Bulletproof Script Coverage, where screenwriters go to get their scripts read by Top Hollywood Professionals. Learn more at covermyscreenplay.com I'd like to welcome back to the show. returning champion, Naomi Beaty. How you doing Naomi?

Naomi Beaty 0:36
Hi, I'm good. How are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:39
I'm good. I'm good. Thank you so much for coming back on the show. You have a new book, hold on, let me just lift it over here. It's the screenwriting outline workbook. It's really not that big guys, I'm just making it. But it's fast. It's a really great, you know, as I was going through it, it's man, it's really cool, has some really great guidances on how to put together a screenplay, which is now there's not a lot of this out in the marketplace. I haven't seen a lot of this kind of. I mean, there's a couple screenwriting books, not too many.

Naomi Beaty 1:08
There's a few.

Alex Ferrari 1:09
There's a few. But I haven't seen anything like this before. So we're gonna kind of dive into the book and what you're doing in it. But first, can you give everybody a little update on who you are? If the case they haven't heard the first episode?

Naomi Beaty 1:21
Yeah, yeah, well, sure. The first episode was years ago, so much has changed since then, I'm pretty much still the same, though. Still doing the same thing. So I'm a screenwriting teacher and script consultant, I work with writers also, you know, directors and producers, one on one on their projects, giving them feedback on at the script level. And sometimes even starting earlier than that, and helping them develop ideas so that they can get the script written. But yeah, basically just working with anyone who has a movie idea to kind of get that idea, you know, into screenplay form, and hopefully in good shape, so they can start showing it to people.

Alex Ferrari 1:56
Very good. So first question. Yeah. What is a screenplay outline? Because I like how do you go about it? What is it? How do you put it together?

Naomi Beaty 2:06
Yeah, I mean, it's a great question, because I think a lot of people set out to write a screenplay, and they decide they need to outline it. And then they just quickly come to the next question, which is, what is an outline. And I think, you know, when it comes to outlining your screenplay, I just think of outlining as part of the prewriting process. So it's just part of the process that helps you develop your idea and flesh it out and get it to a point where you know enough about it in order to write screenplay pages, and whatever form that takes, you know, what it looks like on the page in the outline form can be a lot of different things. It's what is the most useful to you. So a screenplay outline is really a tool for you to use sort of on the you know, on the path toward getting your screenplay written. For most people, it's, you know, a numbered list of scenes or bullet, bullet point list of scenes or beats, you know, plot beats, that just sort of take you from page one to the end so that you have sort of a map to help you write the actual screenplay itself.

Alex Ferrari 3:11
So the next, the next statement I have is what I always hear from people, especially young screenwriters, they say. But outlining takes all the creativity out of it. It's so so structured and and it's formulaic. And I don't want to be Hollywood, I want to be free flow, I want to be like Quinton, I just want to jump back and forth. And this and that. And I always tell him, I hate to tell you, but quit and use a structure and Pulp Fiction, very structured and actually goes through the beats of, which is why that script is so cheap. It's it actually goes through all the beats, but in different timelines. And it makes the head hurt reading that script and trying to break that script down. But that's a master. And that's what he does. So what what's your answer to people who say that this just takes all the creativity out of it?

Naomi Beaty 3:59
Yeah, I've heard that too. And I, I understand that concern, right, because it sort of feels like if I do all of the creative thinking in the outline form and get everything figured out, and written down before I get to writing screenplay pages, then I'm not gonna have anything left. When I get to the pages, I'm going to be bored by my own story, and just, you know, transcribing it from outline to screenplay page. And I understand that concern, but I wholeheartedly disagree with it. You know, every writer is different, and everyone has their own unique sort of process and way of fleshing out an idea. However, I think that the the outlining process can actually be a really creative part of the process, right? Like, why do you think that just because you're doing you're putting your creativity into the outline, does that mean that there's not going to be any creativity left in your screenplay, right? You're actually doing a lot of that creative, heavy lifting. When you're thinking about, well, how do I structure that So how do I develop the character arc? How do I, you know, make sure the relationships are sort of developed all the way from beginning to end, and they're seamless. And then you have a function and a, you know, an emotion to them and all of that stuff. So I think you can do a lot of that while you're in the outline phase. So that by the time you get to writing screenplay pages, it's not that you've beaten a dead horse, and you've, you know, sort of taken all the fun out of it for for yourself, you've done so much of the heavy lifting and put a lot of creativity in at that phase, that when you get to writing scenes, you get to have a lot of fun with what happens in a scene, right? Like, how does that come to life? What's the most entertaining interesting way for that thing that you figured out? That needs to happen? Right? You figured that out in the screenplay, outline? What's the most interesting cinematic way for that to play out, you know, in your screenplay, screenplay pages, and then in the mind's eye, right? So I think that you can be creative in every step.

Alex Ferrari 5:58
So in other words, like for the structure, literally, you're, you're basically beating it out or putting the points of things that have to happen in each scene. So it's like, Okay, John has to hit Joe, in this scene, because this is the catalyst for this part of the story. Now how that breaks down in that scene, it's completely up to you, you can make it really fun. At the end of the day, he has to get from point A to point B, how you get between point A and point B is completely up to you. And that's part of the creative process. But at least you have something to start with, as opposed to a lot of writers, including myself, when I first started just like, I'm just going to start and see what happens and just let it flow. And it just been a hot mess. It's a hot mess, because you don't know where you're going. And I also don't have the at that, at that stage in my career didn't have the, the craft built up. I mean, if Eric Roth wants to sit down and start writing from scratch without an outline, I'm gonna say it's gonna be better than most right? You know, but But you have to build up that craft. And I think the structure is so needed and you can't build a house without a foundation about structure.

Naomi Beaty 7:04
Right! And you make a really good point because I think like, you know, Eric Roth, Aaron Sorkin if if those guys at that caliber, if they sit down to write a screenplay, they've they've done this for so long, and have such an innate sense of like how a screenplay works, not just story structure, because I think all of us have a little bit of that innate sense of story structure, but they've got it like, ingrained, they know, story structure in screenplay form, and sort of what needs to happen page by page on a screenplay, how the rhythm is, you know, how characters develop, where you see complications and things like that, those guys could probably sit down and write a pretty good draft without, without doing an outline first, but for a lot of us, and for most of us, I think, you know, there are so many things that you have to remember when you're writing a good screenplay, if you're trying to write a good screenplay, so many skill sets, right. And so I think thinking through the plot and character development in the outline phase, actually take some of the pressure off of you, it allows you to kind of, you know, pay attention to certain skill sets at this point in time. And then when you get to screenplay pages, you can pay attention to other skill sets, you can think about dialogue and scene description, and you know, getting in the scene late and getting out early, and, you know, thinking in visuals, like cinematic stuff, right to make it appealing in terms of being a movie. So you have so many skill sets to worry about, I think that, you know, giving some of them your attention in different phases will only help you end up with a better product, you know,

Alex Ferrari 8:36
Without question now. So many times we want to figure out what the ideas are. Do you have any idea generating ways to generate some ideas about this themes about that? Ideas? All that kind of stuff? Yeah, definitely.

Naomi Beaty 8:49
I do have a couple. I mean, thank you, for teeing me up. I do have a couple of exercises in the book that are all about generating concepts for screenplays, right? Because it seems like people who get stuck at sort of the idea phase when they can't decide how to move forward with one project they they have, like, they get stuck in two different ways. One, it's either they have too many ideas, they don't know which one to do first, or to work on first. And then the other thing is like, I don't know, I want to write a screenplay. But I don't have an idea for a movie, right? So one of the things that I put in the book was a couple of exercises that can help you generate concepts by you know, sort of playing games, because I think that's the most low pressure way to do it is look at treatment like a game and just have fun with it. So there are a couple in there about like mixing and matching, you know, different elements and kind of generating concepts. And I think, you know, an important part of it is just generating a lot of ideas because that's the only way you're not going to get precious about the one idea that you're sure is an Oscar winner and it's going to be a million dollar spec sale. If you have lots of ideas, then you can kind of be a little bit more, you know, gracious with yourself and got, like, you know what, maybe that one's not going to work this year because I don't have the craft yet. Or maybe that's not such a great idea. After all, it's a better as a novel or a comic book or something like that. And you can, you know, have allow yourself to, to be a little bit more choosy about which screenplays you're gonna write.

Alex Ferrari 10:16
Now I have to talk to so many screenwriters over the years, I've you know, off air and on I love the off air ones, because that's when I really get some nitty gritty stuff that I can't that I can't broadcast, unfortunately. But I've been told by many of these top screenwriters that they did borrow structure from other movies very, I mean, they call wholeheartedly like, you know, like I saw this movie, and I took it structure, change the story around and change the, the ideas around but and the characters around, but the structure is there. And I always love using this example because it's so blatant. And after I tell this, most people go I can't believe I never saw that before. Fast and Furious. is pointing break. Yeah. I mean, they didn't even try to change it. They just changed surfing to Grace cars, and a couple other cars. I mean, it's pretty much the same movie, right?

Naomi Beaty 11:09
Yeah. Yeah. Yes, I have actually not done like a side by side comparison. I think that'd be really interesting to do, because the broad strokes of it for sure are, it's the same, you know, it's the same story.

Alex Ferrari 11:22
So that's another thing for screenwriters, you know, starting up to look at other movies that they might admire. And start with those structures. I think that's one thing that's always been a lot of people think is taboo. But all the greats, start with other people's all artists, start with other people's ideas, and try to emulate other people's ideas. And then as you start working through it, then you start coming up with your own style, but structure structure. I mean, it's like, why wouldn't you take a blueprint of a house that worked and worked well, and then dress it up, however, you want to dress it up and change the walls, you know, add a door here, put a door there, change the roof side, style, but at the end of the day, it's a structure that sells

Naomi Beaty 12:02
I totally agree. And I always tell writers, especially, you know, writers who are who are trying to get a handle on screenwriting, right, who are kind of early in their in their learning curve, I always tell them to study movies. And, you know, I think we all, we all probably watch a lot of movies, but I do think it's a helpful exercise to like choose one or two and really break those particular movies down and study them. Because I think you learn a lot from not just viewing it once or twice, or even if it's one of your favorite movies, and you've seen it a lot and you can quote it and all that stuff. But if you really like take the time to sort of examine it almost like a you know, doctor patient kind of exam, like, make a list of all the scenes that happen look at that list and examine like, Where does the inciting incident happen? Where does the break into act to happen? Notice the relationships between those two plot points, right? Because there is they have to work together in a particular way. Look at that midpoint and see how does this midpoint work? Like what does it do for the story? How does it you know, make things harder or make things more urgent? Examine all of those big turning points, because I think you'll learn a ton from not just understanding theory and understanding like the definitions of plot points and things like that, but really looking at the way that they work in movies, and especially in one particular movie. And I think that an extension of that exercise, if I can just keep going here is that paying attention to the difference between just like we were talking about, like when you make a screenplay outline, right, you might have a bullet point list of here, here are the things that need to happen. Just point by point, Joe needs to punch Tom, right. That's one bullet point and the next one, something else happens. But making that bullet point list for the movie that you're studying, because then you get to see oh, here's what happens. Joe punches, Tom. But here's how it happens in that scene. Like it's funny, or it's a you know, it's an ambush, or it's a it starts out a romantic scene, it it ends in a punch. How does that happen? Right? Because you get to like, really understand there's a difference between the what is happening, the plot thing that's happening, and the cool, interesting, fun way that that can play out on screen, which can be a million different ways. And, you know, you're saying structure is the same from you know, across sort of lots of movies, right? That's true. And then the the how that how it happens on screen is what makes it uniquely entertaining. You know, it's what makes one movie different from the other one.

Alex Ferrari 14:31
It's the color of the walls is the dresses is the furniture in the room. It's you know, if we're using the analogy of a blueprint and a house, all of that makes a difference. You know, it's all about how you add the little details to it. You know, there is you know, when when, what when we're looking at a movie, sometimes we don't know whose story it is, especially when we're starting to write a movie. We don't know whose story it is. So I always like using Shawshank as an example because I think One knows that by nausea now that I mean, it's my favorite movie of all time. And that at that you I truly and I've asked a lot of, you know experts like yourself like whose story? Is it? Is it Andy story? Or is it read story? Who is the protagonist in that movie? You know, whose story is it? So that's a very important distinction to have when writing because if you don't know whose story it is, you know whose story is fightclub? Right? Is it Tyler Durden?

Naomi Beaty 15:32
Yeah, I absolutely had just another another example, kind of in the same vein, come up or come to me. Yesterday, I rewatched. Fargo. I hadn't seen that movie since I originally watched it back in like 96. Or whenever it came out. In my head in those intervening years, I believed that was March to Anderson's movie, right? And I rewatched it I was like, oh, no, I was completely miss remembering this. This is now I'm I'm totally blanking on his name. But but it's it's a it's a husband. Yeah, it's his it. He's the lead character. He's the central character in that story. It's, we start with him. We're watching what he's doing. It's his actions that are driving the story forward. She comes in like 35 minutes in to investigate, you know what he's been doing. But we're with him from the beginning. I was like, that is so interesting that I remembered it being her story, I think because I assumed the investigator on the scene is going to be the one kind of driving the story forward. But it's actually his story.

Alex Ferrari 16:37
It's really common. You start getting into a complex conversation about something like Shawshank, because I mean, who drives the story is Andy, right. But yet who's telling us the story? Right, so we're seeing the story through reds eyes. And yeah, red does do a few things to help along the way. But and he's the one driving store. Right? You know, and also their interaction is driving this. So it's a very complex. Yeah, idea. Am I right?

Naomi Beaty 17:04
Yeah, absolutely. And same with Fargo. I think that even though I'm sort of like saying that so easily that Oh, no, it's his story. I actually think it almost plays like an ensemble where it's like we start with him. It really is his through line kind of that gives us the movie, it's fine. But the other characters are so equally important that it's not super easy to just say, Oh, no, it's just this character story. And that's all we should be concerned with. You know, it's really all of them that make it work.

Alex Ferrari 17:29
So something like a Sherlock Holmes or knives out kind of scenario, which is a murder mystery, or a mystery in general. It's generally the detective whose story it is because we're seeing everything through their eyes, generally speaking, so knives out, it's Daniel Craig Wright walking through the process, the whole movie we're walking through with Daniel. Daniel Greg's eyes essentially.

Naomi Beaty 17:50
I think so. I actually only saw that movie once. And I think I may have fallen asleep. Not because it wasn't wasn't good. I just I watched it late. But um, but yeah, I think if if the movie is sort of centered on an investigation, almost always it's going to be the person doing the investigating, right? Because that's the sort of like, through line of action that we're that we're paying attention to. It's the reason this story exists is because there's something to investigate and the person doing the investigation is who we're kind of like watching do the thing. And hopefully we're rooting for them, you know?

Alex Ferrari 18:22
So like, clear reason, science with labs. It's, it's her it's definitely her story.

Naomi Beaty 18:27
No, I call it her story. For sure. I don't know if anyone would disagree. But yeah,

Alex Ferrari 18:31
I think it's who you remember from that movies? Not much is Hannibal?

Naomi Beaty 18:35
Yeah, absolutely. And I think you remember, you really remember their relationship. That's a movie that I you know, maybe two or three years ago, I that was one that I really started studying. I was like, I want to understand how this one works. And I think prior to that, I had assumed that Clarys is sort of through line was really about Hannibal and then when I rewatched it, you know, and this was like three or four years ago, whatever. But I started sort of watching it to study it a little bit more. And I realized, oh, no, like she meets him early on. But then her investigation is her investigation. And then she brings him back into it again. But it's not his story at all. It's you know, it's what he can do for her it's him in support of her story. For sure.

Alex Ferrari 19:20
It's, it's, it's fascinating to say and another thing we were talking about structure and finding structures of movies that we that that you know, studying other people's to other other movie structures and possibly using those structures in your own stories. I think a really good exercise is to analyze your top 10 Because it's if it means something to you if you are and then you can start seeing the patterns you like even if you'd like revenge movies. Well, maybe you should write a revenge movie. If you like horror, maybe you should read horror if you love romance, you maybe want to write romance as opposed to like I really love horror but I'm going to make when When Harry Met Sally, like that's probably not going to work out.

Naomi Beaty 19:59
Maybe that It could be a whole new rom com.

Alex Ferrari 20:02
Jason Blum Jason Blum will produce it absolutely. Yeah.

Naomi Beaty 20:04
I like that. No, I agree. And as an as an extension of that, I will say, too, I think when you have when you have a few, like movie ideas under your belt, not that you have to have written the screenplays yet, but when you have like, sort of, you know, practice developing an idea, kind of teasing it out to see kind of what's there and maybe, maybe gotten to an outline stage, who knows. I also think it's really interesting and useful to sort of look at the common themes between those ideas. Because I think a lot of times writers kind of circle the same thematic ideas in their projects without realizing it. And I see this sometimes, you know, not to embarrass anyone, but I see this sometimes because I work with certain writers over several projects. And I'm like, Oh, so this one is also about, you know, familial obligation, or this one, dad. Right. This one is also about, you know, that sort of that same issue that you find really interesting. And I think it's, I think it's kind of funny that, you know, often writers don't even realize they're doing it. They're like, Oh, yeah, I guess I'm kind of writing the same story over again, you know, different concept, but dealing with the same issues or types of relationships or something like that. I think that's really interesting to examine. Because, you know, if you find that about yourself, if you're like, Oh, I kind of keep going back to that same well, because that's an issue that's really interesting to me, then you can lean into that, right, that can become kind of part of your calling card, your voice your portfolio, you know, that you put out there so

Alex Ferrari 21:32
Yeah, I mean, it's your superpower. It's, you're really starting to get that that secret sauce, that's yours. And if you're passionate about I mean, look, Nora Ephron. She really found her superpower, you know what, and found his superpower. And Aaron found that, like, you know, Shannon, Shane Black, they all found that thing that they really resonate with and leaned into it, as opposed to, I mean, I'm sure Shane Black romantic comedy would be extremely interesting. Yes, I think I think a Tarantino romantic comedy would be extremely interesting. But it's not something that they lean into. Right? You know. So that's something to think about, as you're as you're moving forward. Now, in your book, you also talk about the four elements essential elements of a story foundation. Can you tell us what those four elements are?

Naomi Beaty 22:21
Yeah, I mean, I think they're, they sound really basic, but there's something that every story needs, right? So you need your protagonist or your central character, however you want to think about that. Sometimes you're you might be dealing with an ensemble or a pair, but I just sort of for default sake, I call it a protagonist, right? That's number one, the story goal that they're trying to achieve over the course of the story, because the entire movie is based on the pursuit of that endpoint, right? That's the that gives the story, its structure. The opposition, or you can think of it as the antagonist, right? The main obstacle or main thing standing in your protagonist way? And then the stakes? Why? Why do they want to achieve this goal? Why why is it important to them? What happens if they fail? There's some motivation there to keep them going. Right?

Alex Ferrari 23:10
All right. And then always, always find out about the everyone's always figuring and thinking about the hero's journey, or the three act structure. Why is the three act structure the most popular not for actor five Act, or seven act structure that, you know, some some projects, especially plays have? You know, why is it always the three act structure that everyone kind of leans into in Hollywood? Yeah,

Naomi Beaty 23:34
I think by default, we talk about movies in 3x structure, it's sort of become the common language of the industry, right, we sort of have all agreed that like, this is sort of the framework for movies, you have three acts, you have a setup and escalation and a resolution. And that just is sort of, you know, the the baseline is how most movies work. Not every movie, there are certainly exceptions to the rule. But mainstream movies kind of tend to have that structure. And they, they follow a particular rhythm and a pace that we're used to, right. And so those big turning points, those big structural plot points, the inciting incident, the breaking back to all of those, those create the pace of the movie. And that's why there's so much. You know, some people call them rules, right? Like your inciting incident has to happen, like page 12, or page 10, or between 10 and 15. I usually say between 10 and 15. But that's why that's kind of why those rules are accepted sort of rules, right? Because if those big turning points happen, kind of in a timely fashion, where we expect them that gives the story that gives the movie The pacing that we're used to right, it gives us that familiar rhythm, and it feels like things are happening on time and quickly enough that we're not getting bored. Right. So, to answer your question, though, I think that the 3x structure is just sort of what we've all collectively agreed is kind of Yeah, the lowest common denominator structure, and it gives you that setup escalation and resolution that we're all familiar with in stories. And that works so well, with the length of feature films, you know.

Alex Ferrari 25:12
So there's other there's movies, like I remember, like in Raiders of the Lost Ark, which has, from what I understand five acts, but you can argue it has 3x. And a lot of 5x, a lot of 3x could be argued that have 5x, and you can start kind of breaking it down. And so is it kind of almost almost irrelevant to a certain extent, as long as you're hitting those beats. But a lot of these movies have different acts that don't line up exactly the way we want it to.

Naomi Beaty 25:41
Yeah, and I would agree that it is largely irrelevant, because we don't have curtains on the movies that tell you when the ACT breaks happen. And so you know what I mean. So this is all sort of like, again, I think remembering that this is all in an effort to have a particular effect on an audience. And that's why we concern ourselves with structure, right, because we want our movies to feel like they have a particular pace and a particular, you know, shape that is somewhat familiar, but also surprising, and takes us on an emotional journey and all of that stuff. So that's why we pay attention to structure. And that's not to say that every movie has to fall into 3x structure, there are definitely movies that you could say have 5x Or sometimes people say they have 4x, right, because you have act to split into into two parts. I don't think it really matters, like you're saying I think it's it's sort of irrelevant. It's how it feels? And is it delivering the effect on the audience that you want it to have? Basically, all of these like rules and tools and paradigms and things that we that we try to study and try to adhere to are in an effort to keep the audience from being bored, and to keep the audience reinvesting in the story. Right? So as long as you can do that, who cares how many acts you've sat down to write it with? But all of all that said, I do think it's helpful for newer writers who are studying, you know, screenwriting and trying to figure out how do I get this story idea out of my head and into a screenplay? I think it's useful for them to study three act structure and to understand like, what is that effect that I'm trying to have on the audience at each turning point or at each particular section of the script? When I teach in some of my my, like, first draft workshops, I use eight sequences. So you could look at those as being eight acts, you know what I mean?

Alex Ferrari 27:36
It's I think, I think what you're saying is just don't get caught up too much in it. But if you're starting out, it is the base, it is the foundation, the hero's journey, as is, which is so famously, you know, brought to our attention by by Mr. Joseph Campbell, is something that every writer, every storyteller needs to know whether they use it or not. Men, it's very difficult to use the hero's journey in a detective story, right? It doesn't, it doesn't it doesn't line up. But you should be able to know those things. These are basic understandings that you need to know as a screenwriter. And if you're going to make and this is a frustration I've seen with a lot of screenwriters is they'll write a screenplay, and think they're very artistic. And then they try to submit it to Hollywood. And it doesn't get any action and the like, why don't they recognize my genius, I go because you haven't played by Hollywood's rules. I don't care if you like it or not. It's I mean, every big movie that gets made any anything's made by a major studio has this kind of structure that we're talking about, has these turning points and point of no return. And it really does kind of follow the hero's journey, if it's if it's according to the, to the genre that they're writing in. So you kind of you know, fall into that now, once you build up, and God forbid, have a career in the business of writing to three, if you've sold three, four, or five, six scripts, and I've produced a whole bunch of stuff and you want to start playing around, right? Then you can start testing the waters because you have a name. If Quinton wants to come out and write whatever the hell he wants to. He can have someone reading a telephone book for two hours. Someone's gonna watch it. Because right so if Sorkin or st black or any of these great writers want to test the medium, or push it, they deserve they've earned that. Right. Right. Can't do that when you walk up.

Naomi Beaty 29:28
Well, and also Yeah, I mean, I totally agree. And also, like we were saying before any of those writers that have really, you know, been kind of in the trenches for a long time and have ingrained those that understanding of, well, here's why, you know, we say the inciting incident goes here, right? Here's the effect I'm trying to have on the audience. They know that that effect is really just about like, grabbing our attention and letting us know the story is starting. So if they have another way to do that, that doesn't feel like a traditional inciting incident. You know, they have that sort of understanding of cause asked whether they realize it or not that they can kind of like do something interesting. And we go, oh, that works because I'm interested, you know, and that's the whole point is like, get your audience interested, kind of like, you know, get us emotionally invested. And then keep us there as you tell us the story. Yeah, so

Alex Ferrari 30:15
But but I think that if you're walking in to Hollywood and trying to get a job in Hollywood, I think living in that structured world, to start is probably the best, the best way to get in the door. And to build up and to build a career up. I'm not saying to be formulaic, but Right, if everyone that I mean, that's what's selling.

Naomi Beaty 30:37
And also Yeah, I mean, writers have, you know, voiced that concern a lot. I think, you know, when you talk about structure, a lot of writers get worried that like, it's going to feel formulaic, it's going to feel like, you know, you know exactly what's coming, and you can expect everything. I don't think that's the case, it's like, understanding that structure is a tool for the writer, right? It gives you a starting point, a jumping off point where you go, Okay, so here's, here's three act structure, I know kind of broad strokes. Here's where the setup happens. Here's where the escalation happens, here's where the resolution happens. That doesn't mean that you have to have things occur in the most expected way, or the way we've seen happen a million times before, right? There's there that just gives you kind of the sandbox to play in. And then it's up to you to find interesting ways to convey the information that we need in order to follow your story, you know, and

Alex Ferrari 31:28
I was watching a movie the other day, and I can't remember because I watched so much content, it's hard to keep it all together in my head. But I remember it was sitting there with my wife watching the movie one night, and it was good. And we were really intrigued with it. And then at the end, where it was like that, that the all is lost moment in the screen, which is towards the end of the second act going into the third act. We didn't see it coming. We knew that moment was going to come but how it came was like, Oh, the mother's the killer was. Yeah, it was just like I didn't you just because the writer and the director did such a good job. You know, throwing red herrings out all over the place that you just did just came out of nowhere, but in a really good way. So there is always ways to surprise an audience, but it's still going to happen around that time to how it happens is up to you.

Naomi Beaty 32:16
Right! Yeah. And I love it when a movie can do that. Right when it doesn't when it doesn't feel expected or formulaic. Or like I've seen it before.

Alex Ferrari 32:25
I mean, let's go back. And this is a spoiler alert. Sixth Sense. If you haven't seen it, it's on you. The greatest one of the greatest twists in movie history. Yeah. happened at a structural point. It happened exactly where it was supposed to happen. But boy, that no one else, no one saw that comment, like no one saw it coming. But it's still happened at the point where you're just like, Huh, that's the point where it was that turning point had to happen. But the way he did it was just like, holy cow. Yeah. And

Naomi Beaty 32:59
It all comes down to the effect on the audience. Right? Because it was like that the audience had been led to a point where that reveal had the most impact. And that's, you know, that's kind of what we're always talking about when when it comes to structure.

Alex Ferrari 33:12
Well, if you look at the movie like psycho, I mean, let's look at that structure for a second. You, you know, again, spoiler alert. 1960. Sorry. But when, when she dies when Norman kills are in the shower. That's the beginning of the second act. But what's so brilliant about that script is now you're like, Okay, who? Whose story? Oh, wait a minute, they swapped out protagonist. Yeah. Which was so brilliant. You just like, in the end, like you killed off the movie star in the first 15 minutes. Like it was such a brilliant way. And no one had ever done anything like that before. But then again, where did it happen? The inciting incident? That's the inciting incident of the movie essentially. Am I right?

Naomi Beaty 33:55
I think so. Yeah, I haven't watched that movie. And so long, but I would believe you if you said this is the inciting incident. Because again, because you know that you're trying to have a particular effect on the audience. And it's like, that makes sense for that to happen right there. Because that shakes things up. Right? It it tells us that something is changing. And the story is starting now, because this just happened, you know

Alex Ferrari 34:14
Exactly, exactly. No, we're not. We've been talking a lot about structure. Let's talk about character a little bit. How do you develop an engaging main character? That's if you have any tips on that?

Naomi Beaty 34:25
It's a good question. And I think there you know, probably a million different ways. However, I do think it's useful to think about like, what is sort of reverse engineer right and think about what are the ways that that an audience or an individual person becomes engaged in a story right, because the story that we're watching comes through the protagonist character, we're watching one particular character story usually. So thinking about like, what engages us and a lot of times it's those those like emotions that you know you can rely on to get somebody invested. So it's, you know, engaging our empathy for a character showing us that there's someone that we that we should care about or you know, want to care about. And there's a reason to care about them, engaging our our sort of like, tension or fear about what might happen for them the anticipation that something bad might happen. So if you put a character in jeopardy, then we sort of lean in and we go, oh, this is this is a character I'm interested in, in following because I want to know what happens to them, and I care about it. And then also, I think, getting us to like a character, there's so much said about, you know, making your character likable. And I know that writers here hate to hear that, that your character has to be like, well, and I'm not saying that at all, actually. But um, but getting us to either like them or admire them or find them appealing in some way, I think is a really useful thing to think about that is so simple and so often overlooked, right? Like, thinking about making your character appealing should be should be kind of a, you know, one of the early things that you think about, because if you think about this in terms of like, it's a product that you're trying to sell to someone, the movie is a product, right? There's got to be appealing, selling points about it. And so hopefully, your protagonist, your central character, is one of those selling points, one of those appealing selling points. So thinking about like, can you make them funny? Can you make them good at what they do? Can you give them like unique talents or skills, or even sometimes just a unique personality that is engaging? Those are little tricks to kind of like hook hook our interest and start to get us to lean in.

Alex Ferrari 36:35
I mean, and a movie in recent years that did this so beautifully was Joker. I mean, Joker, you literally he's the villain. He's one of the great villains of all time, not only cinematic, but in literature. He's really brilliantly written villain. And yet, how do you identify with a villain and man did they just structure that story and that character, so you feel the insanity of what it's like to be The Joker and totally, and you're going through that your journey with them and at the edge? So you feel better? Like yeah, he's doing Amos stuff. But you're like, but I get it, like I can understand where you're coming from. It's not just the twisting of the moustache, one dimension eight, right layer upon layer upon layer upon layer with that movie. Yeah, that was so done so beautifully.

Naomi Beaty 37:28
And if they had relied on, you know, I think this does happen actually, in a lot of sort of newer writers scripts, where they go, Well, this character is just fascinating, because he's a character we love to hate, right? Like, he's just a, an antihero, and he just does terrible things. And that's why he's fascinating. And sometimes I think that that might be able to work. Like I wouldn't say that it can never work. But if you think about it, the thing that made Joker such a such a compelling character, right, is that it played on our empathy it that movie did such a, like you're saying such a beautiful job of like, showing us this character who isn't good. But there's so much that's in him that we can understand why he is the way he is, right? And I think it's human nature to have empathy for other people. So that movie does such a good job of playing on our, our own empathy, like as humans. And then also I think a little bit it plays on kind of the the, the same appeal that like true crime does. We want to understand how this person got this way, and what makes them do the things they do. So like the the sort of dual, you know, qualities in people of empathy and curiosity. I think that movie, like hit it on the head with that character,

Alex Ferrari 38:44
And that they made his maniacal laugh. And illness. Yes, yeah, was a stroke of genius, because that's the cartoony thing about the Joker. It's a comic book character, but that they made it an actual illness. It's like, oh, no, he's suffering when he's laughing. Oh, it's just like, oh, so good. Yeah. And

Naomi Beaty 39:05
It's such a good, you know, it just plays on us, right? Because the first time you're sort of like, Oh, it's just like a real life experience, where you might see somebody doing something that at first puts you on guard, and you're like, Oh, that's weird. I should be nervous, right? But then if you learn, there's actually something behind it. Like they can't help it. It's a you know, it's a disorder. It's a it's a thing that they have to deal with, then you suddenly start to feel bad about judging and then and you know, your empathy is sort of is sort of like rolled out for them.

Alex Ferrari 39:37
Yeah, exactly. ramped up. It's like someone with Tourette's, you're like, oh, that's just a foul mouth person. You're like, Oh, my God, he can't he she can't help it. Right. So it's a completely so they touched on that such a brilliant moment in that and that character development. And, you know, speaking of villains, I think when you were saying that, you know, oh, he's an antihero, he's, he's bad because he's just he's fascinating to look at that right. I'd have played in 1920 doesn't play now we're just too advanced for that. So even a movie like endgame Avengers endgame, where Thanos, who is, you know, the biggest bad guy at the time. He really, if you look at what he was trying to do, and same thing in Black Panther, if I remember the villain and that they both had good intentions, they were just going about it the wrong way.

Naomi Beaty 40:23
Yeah. And I noticed

Alex Ferrari 40:24
That I just wanted to depopulate the entire universe because we were running out of resources. And I saw it on my plan. And I think I want to help everybody else, I'm just going to kill half the universe. So this is just a wrong way of going about it. But it wasn't just like, I'm bad to be bad. I just want to destroy the work that that doesn't play as much as to one dimensional now. Right?

Naomi Beaty 40:46
Yeah. And I, Black Panther is a good example of that, too. And I don't remember all of the specifics. But I do remember thinking that antagonist is such a, it's almost difficult to decide who you should, you know, give your allegiance to, because he, he was a guy who was reacting to the way he was brought up. And he, you know, his background and the circumstances that he found himself in, and he had intentions to that he was like, No, based on all of that, based on what I know, and what I've experienced, here's what should happen, right? And you kind of can't. That's what's so interesting about those characters is that you get to see what motivates them, and understand where they're coming from. And then it's like, it's even more compelling to us, I think, as viewers because we're like, I don't want to agree with him. But I kind of see where he's coming from, you know,

Alex Ferrari 41:34
And that's what and that's what keeps you engaged in the stories that you're following. So why Black Panther was not it was such a monster hit for many reasons. But that if that villain wasn't right, that it would have been, it wouldn't have helped destroy the string of the story as well, as it did. And, you know, we talked about introductions of, or talking about main characters, introducing a character is something so important. And I just when I was reading that in your book, I was like, oh, Indiana Jones Raiders of Lost Ark. Mat, not a word spoken, I think maybe one or two words that have nothing about his character. But that whole opening sequence all the way up until the Boulder is about to crush him. Sorry, spoiler alert. This episode, I mean, I mean, seriously, guys, I can't help it. But the entire time you find out so much about who Indiana Jones is, within the first five to 10 minutes of movie without a word spoken? It's really It's fascinating. Well, I mean, Lance cast and is such a brilliant.

Naomi Beaty 42:37
Yeah, well, he's Yeah, right. And movies. You know, I think that that's one thing that also, it's easy to overlook, again, coming back to the idea that there are so many skill sets to remember when you're trying to write a good screenplay. One of them is how do you introduce your protagonist in a way that conveys? You know, that gives us some information to go on, you want it as quickly as possible conveyed as who is this character? And why should we be watching them? Right? And that's an easily overlooked thing. Because when you're juggling all those skill sets, you're like, Okay, I gotta get my, my protagonist in here, somehow. And so, you know, very often we see that he wakes up, he brushes his teeth, he goes to work. And you know, sometimes that can give us valuable information about the character. But a lot of times, that's just the first thing you thought of, right. So thinking about, like, thinking about what could be a more, you know, a more full introduction to your character, like a more, you know, interesting but also revealing introduction to them that can tell us more about them, just besides, you know, where they sleep and how they brush their teeth. I think the character the protagonist, introduction is such a great place where and again, talking about like not beating the creativity out of your story. By the time you get to writing your script, like coming up with that introduction, you don't want to have all these other things to think about because you want to be able to take the time to like brainstorm what's the most interesting way for me to introduce that character.

Alex Ferrari 44:05
And when you were saying that someone like, oh, they go up or they brush their teeth, and they wash their face. First thing that popped in my head is Jack Nicholson as good as it gets, which is an amazing character introduction, because again, not a word is said, but by his his entire opening morning sequence, you learn like 90% of what you need to know about this character. And the other 10% are kind of revealed beautifully throughout the rest of the script of its internal but you just know so quickly, who this person is. Tom Cruise and Rayman in the first 5010 minutes you've know who this guy is so it's it's it

Naomi Beaty 44:45
It was it Bill Murray in What About Bob? Is that the one where he swallows the toothbrush?

Alex Ferrari 44:52
I think it might be I haven't seen What About Bob and forever but yeah, I think it might be me. Although, I mean Even him in Groundhog's Day, you kind of you know or even know even better his introduction and Ghostbusters when he's yeah what he's doing the the psychic tests that the way he does it and he's being pervy, and he's you know all you just know everything you need to know about Beckman like,

Naomi Beaty 45:17
Yeah, tell really quickly, what made me think about what about Bob is because we were talking about brushing the teeth and I feel like that's that's if I'm remembering right that movie he's like brushing his teeth but he swallows the toothbrush. And it's like, of course that works because that's not the traditional he wakes up, he brushes his teeth, he goes to work. This is a guy who like, you know, his default way of waking up and brushing his teeth is weird, and tells us kind of that he's not normal, which was very important to know in that movie.

Alex Ferrari 45:46
And I think as a good, a good kind of way to have an exercise that you should do as a screenwriter is to look at some of your favorite movies and see how they introduce those characters. Because as we're talking like Tom Hanks, and Turner and Hooch when he was you know, didn't the, you know, doing everything, he's cleaning his nose hairs, like, you know, his whole house, within the first five minutes, you know, this guy's a neat freak. And then of course, Gooch comes into and messes up his world. So it's all beautifully done. So if you start analyzing how these characters are introduced? Well, that's a really helpful thing, because I think in in, you know, beginning scripts and bad scripts, characters are just like, they just show up and there's a one dimensional like, oh, look, he's got tattoos on and he had a suit on like, No, don't, you know, or, Hey, Bob, how's that job? Like? They say that they don't show it. And it's something that we really, it's something we need to fight against?

Naomi Beaty 46:38
Yeah, it is it is it? Well, it's an opportunity for you to be creative, right, it's an opportunity for you to like, give us a scene that we're going to fall in love with both, we're going to fall in love with the movie, we're gonna fall in love with your writing, we're going to fall in love with the character. So that protagonist introduction, you know, no pressure, but it has some, it's a really good opportunity for you to do something cool and interesting and compelling. So don't you know, don't waste it because you only have a certain number of pages for us to be engaged in to fall in love with what you're doing. So that's even a one, even Vin

Alex Ferrari 47:13
Diesel and fast and furious when we're introduced to him. I mean, it's not super complex. It's not nearly as great as gamble as the other ones. But all you need to know about him is laid out in the first time you see him when he's racing and how he races. What he does, it's very important to his character, and how he's introduced. So it's these kinds of things that that screenwriters need to think about with it. Because once you're hooked with the main character, if you do your job, right, you're on the journey with them.

Naomi Beaty 47:42
Yeah, you know which one I'll I'll throw one more at you which character introduction I love is Erin Brockovich. Oh, no, because you immediately know who she is. I mean, it's a it's an it's a scene that could very well be a cliche, because it's a job interview, right? Where she's being asked questions where she's answering questions, but it's an opportunity to give us a bunch of information right up front about who the character is, how she thinks, what her experience in the world is. And then right after that, you know, talk about like triggering our empathy. We see her sight, not sideswiped. What's it called T boned by another car. You know, she's already like, not, you know, not great financially. She's looking for a job, she's struggling. And then this happens. And you know, who doesn't have empathy for her after that?

Alex Ferrari 48:32
I mean, she's the underdog. There's, there's, she's definitely the underdog and you like, but she's a fighter, and like, hey, I want an underdog. I'm a fighter. I'm gonna go with her on this journey. Right. That's it. That's how you go. Now in your book, you also talk about a story chart, what is the story?

Naomi Beaty 48:46
Well, I have a couple of different story charts in in the book. And, you know, they're they're really just like tools and exercises that I put together. Not just when I was writing the book, but with writers that I work with, to sort of try to help people get clear on the story they're telling, right? Because I think one of the one of the instincts that newer writers have sometimes is like, I have an idea. Now I'm just gonna sit down and write the whole thing. And it's like, there are a lot of steps that could help you get a grasp on what it is you're trying to write. Because not knowing what you're trying to write, I think is a very quick way to get stuck and get writer's block and to abandon that project and never finish that screenplay. So I'm trying to help writers not get to that point. I want them to understand what they're trying to write and sort of develop their ideas in baby steps so that it doesn't feel hard. It doesn't feel overwhelming, and they get to the screenplay and can actually write the whole thing. So the story chart that I have in the book is it's basically just taking kind of the broad strokes of a story it's it's almost like the Once Upon a Time then this happened then this happened kind of template for a story, right? It's like that, that traditional sort of story that we all know and understand. It's sort of Have a version of that just taking the broad strokes of a feature film, like, here's kind of what happens in all the big sections, and laying out into charts so that you can use it as prompts to kind of figure out okay, so in my story, in this broad strokes section, this is where we meet the character and understand, you know, kind of where they are in life right now. So you can then brainstorm and fill that in for your story and kind of, again, it's a baby step. It's a way to kind of like, start to get clear on what needs to happen in each section of your story.

Alex Ferrari 50:30
And what's a springboard? I heard, I saw that I love to hear what that is.

Naomi Beaty 50:34
Yeah, that's, we were talking about the eight sequences, right? So I teach, you know, getting through first draft using springboards and sequences. It's one of the methods that I use to outline basically a way to figure out what happens in each part of your story. So the way I teach it is the you know, a screenplay is can be broken up into eight sequences, and in between each sequence is a springboard. So it's a plot point, a lot of the a lot of the springboards that you'll find are actually those major plot turning points, right? So the inciting incident is a springboard the break into Act Two is a springboard. The midpoint is the springboard the break into three. So those kind of turning points are springboards for the next section of the script. So what happens at that plot point, sends us in a particular direction that the next section of script plays out. And that's, that's basically it. Does that makes sense?

Alex Ferrari 51:31
That makes that makes perfect. Now, I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I ask all of my guests. Oh, sure. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Naomi Beaty 51:41
Interesting. Well, there's so much advice to be given. But I guess it depends on who I'm talking to, in terms of where are they in the journey. But if they have written those screenplays that they're really proud of, and are getting good feedback. And they just feel like they need to know some piece of information before they can, like, make that big break, right? I think my best advice is to not rely on one method, I always tell writers to have a lot of irons in the fire to, you know, take a lot of different opportunities that come to them. Because you just you don't know which one is going to be the the thing that sort of breaks you in. And more often than not, I think it's a snowball effect. It's like you get a yes here. And then you can leverage that to getting into this program. And then being in that program allows you to meet, you know, certain executives, and you can kind of like use those relationships to get your foot in the door in a writers room or in you know, something else. So I think it's a snowball effect. So you should say yes to things and sort of have as many irons in the fire as you can. Because cumulatively, that's how you break in, it's not a lottery ticket. It's not one opportunity that's going to suddenly make your career and now you're in and you're never going to stop work gig and you know, and all that stuff.

Alex Ferrari 53:01
All the money just comes by trucks, I think they bring them out and they just pile the money just goes into the front.

Naomi Beaty 53:06
Yeah, that's what I've heard. I mean, I'm waiting. But

Alex Ferrari 53:09
I've been waiting for quite a few years, few decades. At this point. I've been waiting for it. Yeah. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Naomi Beaty 53:20
Deep, so many questions? Wouldn't it have been funny if I had just recycled everything that I said last time?

Alex Ferrari 53:28
Because it's been such a long time, I would have never thought of it. That's a great answer.

Naomi Beaty 53:32
Yeah, I know, I have no idea. Well. So this is I don't know if this is going to make sense. But I do think that the lesson that probably took me the longest to learn and has so many different applications is know your audience, right? And I think that that's true, when you're writing a script, you kind of have to have a sense of like, who is this for? Who is the audience for this? Who would go see this movie, because not because you're writing to the market or because you're pandering or catering just to one particular sensibility or something. But you do have to know that your the thing that you're writing is meant to be seen. And so there is an audience who should want to see this, right. So I think knowing your audience comes in, in that sense. But then also, I think it applies to the sort of working collaborations that you're going to have to have, as you know, in any part of the filmmaking process. You know, you can speak differently to a fellow writer than you can to a director or your producer or you know, whoever it is that you have to kind of do business with. And knowing the difference between a newer producer who doesn't really know what they're doing yet versus a very seasoned producer who you know, you can speak with in a different way. I think knowing your audience is just so important in every every regard.

Alex Ferrari 54:54
Absolutely. I you start talking about big words, start throwing around screenwriting jargon to a young producer. doesn't know what they're doing. And if they have an ego problem, that's when fights start busting out or like it. These are things that they don't talk about. This is not stuff that it's taught at school. So knowing who you're talking to, and knowing your audience is extremely important, your apps great answer Great answer. Now three screenplays that every screenwriter should read.

Naomi Beaty 55:18
Okay, um, well, I think my, my default answer would be choose the three screenplays that are most like things that you want to write, right that are sort of like, if you could choose screen any screenplay to have written, choose those screenplays to study, because I think that that's probably going to help you the most, right, because it'll speak directly to kind of like what you love about those stories. But if you're stuck, and you're looking for suggestions, I think, choose a, you know, I'll use this term loosely but choose a classic choose something pre 19 ad to read, just to kind of like see how stories were put together in an earlier time in an earlier era. And then choose something that's been a, you know, say, an Oscar winner for Best Screenplay in the last 20 years or something, and then choose something off of the blacklist, to to read to get a sense of like, what are what are sort of current trends in screenwriting style? How are people doing things differently now? than they were, you know, 40 years ago and 20 years ago?

Alex Ferrari 56:29
Great advice. That's a great answer. I've never had that answer before in the show. Good, good answer to that question.

Naomi Beaty 56:34
Something new.

Alex Ferrari 56:35
And finally, your three favorite films of all time.

Naomi Beaty 56:38
Oh, gosh, I'm sure that I answered this one before and probably regretted my answer immediately. Because as soon as I say my favorites, I'm like, No, but what about this one? So classics that I just go back to again and again, and I and I love them because of the effect they have on me but also because they're so interesting and have offers so much to think about and study in terms of screenwriting, Silence of the Lambs, for sure. What other one do I always go back to? Oh, you know what I love about a boy, I think that that's such an interesting screenplay and movie and it does such a good job of, you know, we're talking about sort of like, whose story is it and kind of balancing multiple characters. That's a good one to study if you are in that predicament of trying to have kind of a two hander. And then let's see. Third all time favorite. You know, a recent favorite is bridesmaids, I think that that that movie does so much right and took me so much by surprise in terms of like how well how well put together that story is

Alex Ferrari 57:42
Very cool. And where can people pick up your book, The screenplay outline workbook.

Naomi Beaty 57:48
You can get it on Amazon. It's only in paperback at the moment. So it's a physical book that you get, and you get to write in and do the exercises and hopefully, you know, develop your screenplay idea by the time you're, you're finished with it. So yeah, Amazon's the place to see it.

Alex Ferrari 58:02
Naomi, thank you so much for coming back on the show. You're welcome back anytime. I appreciate the good work you do and help some writers out there. You know, battle the problems of getting the first screenplay out there. So yeah, my dear, thank you so much.

Naomi Beaty 58:15
Thank you. Thanks for having me again.

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BPS 232: Where Writer’s Go Wrong with ACTION Screenplays with Robert McKee

Robert McKee, A Fulbright Scholar, is the most sought after screenwriting lecturer around the globe. He has dedicated the last 30 years to educating and mentoring screenwriters, novelists, playwrights, poets, documentary makers, producers, and directors internationally. Those who have learned from McKee have called him “the Aristotle of our time” because of his insight into the substance, structure, style, and principles of the grand art of story.

Peter Jackson (writer/director of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Hobbit) has lauded him as “The Guru of Gurus.” For the writers of Pixar (creators of Toy Story 1, 2, & 3, Finding Nemo), McKee’s Story Seminar is a rite of passage. Emmy Award-Winner Brian Cox also portrayed McKee in the Oscar-nominated film Adaptation.

McKee’s former students include over 60 Academy Award Winners, 200 Academy Award Nominees, 200 Emmy Award Winners, 1000 Emmy Award Nominees, 100 WGA (Writers Guild of America) Award Winners, 250 WGA Award Nominees, and 50 DGA (Directors Guild of America) Award Winners, 100 DGA Award Nominees.

A winner and nominee of BAFTA for his popular Channel Four series Reel Secrets, McKee also wrote and hosted 12 episodes of BBC’s Filmworks series. He was profiled by Bob Simon of 60 Minutes for CBS news.

McKee’s articles on Story have also appeared in hundreds of newspapers and magazines around the world including Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker Magazine, Swiss Business Magazine, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, CBS Morning News, BBC, Channel 4 in UK, RAI (Italy), CBN Weekly News & Morning Glory (China), MBC TV, KBS & Arirang TV, Korea Times (South Korea), Kiev Weekly, Kultura Moscow, all major TV, Radio and/or newspapers of Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Germany, France, India, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, Russia, Turkey, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, and Switzerland and given seminars in all of the above countries.

Since 1984, more than 100,000 students have taken McKee’s courses at various cities around the world: Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Sydney, Toronto, Boston, San Francisco, Helsinki, Oslo, Munich, Tel Aviv, Auckland, Singapore, Madrid, Beijing, Shanghai, Barcelona, Lisbon, Malaga, Hamburg, Berlin, Johannesburg, Rome, Stockholm, São Paulo, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Bogota, Beijing, Brussels, Rio de Janeiro, Moscow, Seoul, Istanbul, Hyderabad, Mexico City and many cities regularly.

McKee continues to be a project consultant to major film and television production companies such as 20th Century Fox, Disney, Paramount, & MTV. In addition, Pixar, ABC, BBC, Disney, Miramax, PBS, Nickelodeon, Paramount, GLOBOSAT, MNET and other international TV and Film companies regularly send their entire creative and writing staffs to his lectures.

His new book is Action: The Art of Excitement for Screen, Page, and Game.

ACTION explores the ways that a modern-day writer can successfully tell an action story that not only stands apart, but wins the war on clichés. Teaming up with the former co-host of The Story Toolkit, Bassim El-Wakil, legendary story lecturer Robert McKee guides writers to award-winning originality by deconstructing the action genre, illuminating the challenges, and, more importantly, demonstrating how to master the demands of plot with surprising beats of innovation and ingenuity.

Topics include:

  • Understanding the Four Core Elements of Action
  • Creating the Action Cast
  • Hook, Hold, Pay Off: Design in Action
  • The Action Macguffin
  • Action Set Pieces
  • The Sixteen Action Subgenres

A must-add to the McKee storytelling library, ACTION illustrates the principles of narrative drive with precision and clarity by referencing the most popular action movies of our time including: Die Hard, The Star Wars SagaDark KnightThe Matrix, and Avengers: Endgame.

Also join Robert McKee’s Legendary STORY Seminar LIVE in Los Angeles, New York & London

In an intense 3 days, Robert McKee teaches the substance, structure, style and principles of Story. Learn how to apply classical story design – the kind that has resulted in masterpieces of all kinds – to your own cinematic, theatrical or literary premise.

👉 McKee STORY Seminar (10% OFF – Coupon Code: HUSTLE)

Enjoy my conversation with Robert McKee.

Right-click here to download the MP3



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Robert McKee 0:00
Because whoever has it has power. And so the hero can get the MacGuffin back. And then the villain takes it back again and amending it, they can exchange this, they can lose it, they go searching for it.

Alex Ferrari 0:12
This episode is brought to you by Bulletproof Script Coverage, where screenwriters go to get their scripts read by Top Hollywood Professionals. Learn more at covermyscreenplay.com I'd like to welcome back to the show returning champion, Robert McKee. How are you doing, Robert?

Robert McKee 0:30
I'm great, Alex and you?

Alex Ferrari 0:32
I'm doing very good. Thank you so much for coming back on the show. Our last conversation, as you might might have known did very well, people love, love you and love what the way you approach story and dialogue and character. Now, in this episode, we're going to talk about your new book, action, which I when when I when you guys reached out to me, it was like, Oh, my God, he's got another book, I used to go, he's going crazy. He's just releasing books left and right. I remember story was like, for a long time, the only book and then now you're popping them out left and right.

Robert McKee 1:03
You know, in mice, my method is to teach something before I write about. And I do that, because I want to do the questions. And, and then I have to find the answer. And so I when I taught enough about dialogue. I wrote a book when I first been teaching about character for decades, I wrote a book. And and now in action, I've been doing seminars, and webinars on action for some time. So, so yeah, and, and in fact, as we speak, I am busily writing story two, oh, my but chapter three. And so it's been 25 years since I wrote story. And I learned a lot in those 25 years. And so I'm going to do a whole new version of story and come in with a very different perspective and approach. The same fundamentals. But anyway, I keep writing. I don't know what else to do.

Alex Ferrari 2:26
I mean, might as well just keep going, my friend, well, you're doing a service for this for screenwriters and storytellers around the world with your work and, and that's why I love to highlight what you're doing here on the show. So, my very first question is what is principal versus presentational genres in action?

Robert McKee 2:45
Ah, good. One is content and the other is form. Okay. So the principal genres give you content. And so you have action, the content is life and death. Then you have love stories, for example, the content the value there, of course, is love hate, you have family gross domestic grows there, the content and unity versus breakup, and, and undergoes savvy, these principle genres, crying, where the content is justice, injustice. And so you have these principles drawn into about 10 or 10 or so of them that I list. And they give you the value at the heart of the story, they give you the principal characters, they give you the principal emotion, you're trying to express and, and cause people to feel, and they give you the core scene, the essential turning point of the whole story. And so now that is his content, but now you have to express it. So now you you have to present that story. And so you could tell it, realistically, that's a presentation. Or you can tell it as a fantasy. You could put it in the contemporary setting, or you could put it in a futuristic setting or in history. You could sing and dance it as a musical and on a goat. And so you have all these various styles of presentation. And, and there's a dozen or so those and so, in principle drowner these are the rock this is the core storytelling these are the great forms the the modern epic The ancient epic consumer, these are the 1000s of years old content, what we tell stories about the course there are great principal content, genres that are about human change. And so the there are stories about the changing morality of a character. We as they move from immoral, immoral and redeem themselves, where they, and they moved from moral immoral and the damage themselves. If there's stories of characters, evolving as human beings in a positive way, becoming more complete realizations of their human potential, or you have stories for people, and just drug drugs or whatever, destroy their, their humanity. And so you have a half a dozen of these primary genres about character change. And then another character swap genres about changing the outer circumstances of a character's life, as we do in, in crime stories, and the love stories and so forth. Those are the foundations. And, and, and action is one of those action is a principal primary genre. And there's lots of ways to do action, you can do it as a fantasy, you can do it in sci fi, you can do it in realistically, whatever in history, etc. All of those presentations are, are at your disposal as a as an action writer. She's got a lot of choices, a lot of choices. And all of those primary genres or principal genres can be merged.

Alex Ferrari 7:09
Like something like Braveheart has a lot of those genres inside of that it's a romance is a love story. It's action. It's a revenge film, there's so many things in Braveheart.

Robert McKee 7:20
Yeah, it's, it's frequently merge a love story with a with an action story, where you know, the love interest story gets in the way, causes causes the protagonist that make choices you never would have had to make otherwise. And, and but, and crime, of course, crime and action get merged a lot. thrillers and action get merged a lot. And so see, all those principal genres, and they get can be mixed and merged. Mixed, meaning you cut back and forth between the genre merge means to to cause one another. And so the reason for the thriller causes you to get into action. And so that, you know, the variety that is, is infinite.

Alex Ferrari 8:19
It's endless, without question. Now you talk, you talk about the four core elements of action. Can you discuss a little bit about those core elements?

Robert McKee 8:29
Yeah, if you've seen all the principal genres have four cores. You have a core cast? What is the essential past minimal essential cast? So in a love story, is that two people we got lovers, right. And family story you got, you know, usually husband, wife and kids, right? In an action story, you've got a hero, a villain, and a victim. And those three are essential. If you eliminate the victim, there's no point than the hero and villain playing it out nothing's instead. If you eliminate the hero, then it's a thriller, because if the victim has to survive, and that's not heroic, and so you have an CMO of three core characters, then you have a core value and an action. It's life and death. Justice, injustice is the value of a crime story. Okay, but justice injustice is irrelevant. In Action. The core value of action is life and death. Whether or not laws are broken better kept doesn't matter. GN a quarterback. You have a quarry event and the quarry event in action. The most difficult scene, by far to write is the hero at the mercy of the villain weaponless defenseless back to the wall, totally at the mercy of the overpowering villain. And from a position of complete helplessness, at the mercy of the villain, somehow, the action hero has to find the resources to turn the tables on the villain and in that scene come out on top, locally at the mercy on top, and that it will that'll break your back trying to figure out their greed that seemed. So they have core values, the core value of core characters, core event, and the core emotion. Why do you want people to feel when you're writing in any of those principal genres, and in action, the emotion you want them to feel is excitement. A thriller is full of tension. Right? Because thrillers are all about darkness on figuring out who can you trust? What's really going on here? What do they want? What are they got an image all these questions, and then and you're lost in the labyrinth of a thriller. But in action, though, he's, it's there. It's happening right in front of you. And so what you're trying to get people to feel is excitement. That's why I put it in the subtitle of the book, it's not an action, the art of excitement. You try and create that that's an you know, that's a wonderful experience. And really feel the excitement of the ash. And not boredom, not you know, not mystery and excitement. So you know, the four course and and each of the principal genres that are listed in the first chapter of the book, in order to orient the the reader to the to the action. Each of those genres has those four courts. You all have Gore cast Corey motion, Cory bed.

Alex Ferrari 12:56
So when you were talking, I was I was thinking of this scene in Terminator two, which illustrates everything that you're talking about where, where you got Arnold fighting of obviously a much more superior villain, which is a t 1000. And to the point where the He's helpless against them literally. They he gets stabbed, spoiler alert, get stabbed with a giant metal rod, and he's stuck there and everyone thinks he's dead. Yes. And then he has to come back and save the victims, which is Linda Hamilton and and John Connor. Yeah, so Sarah Connor and John Connor. So in that ultimate in as I'm talking about it, I'm starting to get chills. Because it's playing in my head. It's, that's that's how good James Cameron is when he

Robert McKee 13:42
Acts out and that was that was fantastic. And they and Terminator films are wonderful. And the that is that is that quarry meant the hero at the mercy of the memory. If I tell you that action of questions is wondering is there relative var? Because I teach other genres, you know, comedy so forth. is accurate in the in the greatest demand? Not just not just in films, but in games. Right. Even more engaged in Yeah, who knows? And of course in long form television, and novels, the action genre, is it because of that, I think because of the tremendous pressures in society today. To get into an action story is a great pleasure.

Alex Ferrari 14:58
So like I was saying that that If you look at the top 10, even the top 20 biggest blockbusters of all time, even the animated ones have action in it. They all have action and then a perfect example is the latest. You know, the the Messiah that is Tom Cruise. With. With Top Gun Maverick. Yeah, I mean that movie. Did you get a chance to watch Top Gun? Oh, yeah, sure. I mean, it is. I was on the edge of my seat. I was bawling. I was crying. I was excited. That's the initial excitement.

Robert McKee 15:34
Yeah, it was great. It was just great. Those sequences OSHA fighters. Fantastic stuff. So so, you know, if somebody wants to, to find success in Hollywood today, writing action is the the widest open door there is. But it's also an ask. Why is that? It's so hard. For two reasons. One, it's been done to them. Yep. And so and the writer has to win the war on cliches.

Alex Ferrari 16:22
Can you dive into that a little bit, because a lot of people don't understand that. I'd love you just to talk a little bit about cliche.

Robert McKee 16:30
A cliche, is a great idea that someone had 100 years ago, litter. Okay, great idea. One of the first movies of all time 1903 was a was a chase across the desert, you know, stagecoach chick, whatever, right. And it was a great idea. People loved it. And, and because it's such a the the original was such a wonderful idea. It has been copied and copied and repeated and done, and done and done and done for decades. until everybody has seen it. So many times. That even though originally it was a great idea, it's now the most predictable and boring choice. That's a cliche and action. Because we have told action stories before the movies, I mean, you know,

Alex Ferrari 17:40
The Iliad.

Robert McKee 17:42
Exactly. It's one big log action piece, right. And so because we've been telling action stories for literally 1000s of years, all of these great ideas have been collected into what we, you know, we call cliches. And, in we know them all, we've seen them too many times. And therefore they are instantaneously boring. Because they sit there thinking I've seen all this before. So despite decades, if not centuries of a certain genre, the contemporary writer has to go to battle against these cliches they've got to do what kind of distort the genre requires. We've got to create a villain, not the kind we've ever seen before. They got to create a hero, but not the kind we've ever seen before. They have to create a victim but not the kind we've ever seen before that are put that victim in jeopardy, but not the way we've ever seen it before. We got to rouse that hero to action, but not the way we've never seen before. And, and and all of the strategies and tactics of action have to be worked with, but in fresh, fascinating ways. And the most difficult of all, is the Euro at the mercy of the better. How are you going to turn the tables from the position of helplessness that we've never seen before? And if so, make them take on action. Write a Screenplay write a novel or a game and bring it to the point of hero at the mercy of the villain and have that hero turntables out of the building in a way that is true to the characters, true to the setting. But unlike anything we've ever seen in quite that way before, if you will, you will, the novel will sell your script will be bought, your game will be played. I mean, because that, for those of us who love action, that is what we are looking for, to build that story to that great moment and have it it's happened in a way that we didn't see coming. But when it happens, it makes beautiful sense of surprise, with a rush of insight. So I wrote action to give writers the understanding of the genre that they need in depth. So that they tackle it. They don't they they don't just leave elements out. By mistake. They know what that what the drama requires. And I give them tons of examples. So they see how it's been done wonderfully and sometimes badly in the past. And then I you know, your push instead got it.

Alex Ferrari 21:33
Go with God. Let's see what you. So there's two things that were as you were talking came to mind, one movie that turned cliche on its head while poking fun at cliche was scream, which is an action horror thriller in a way and it was brilliantly done. But the definition of cliche of a more modern time is a film like diehard. When diehard came out, there had never been a terrorist takeover. Or if they had it was not like diehard. And then now and then now diehard and a plane diehard about diehard stadium diehard. It's everywhere now. So now it's a constant cliche.

Robert McKee 22:14
Cliche, because they are one was superbly original. It captured all of the great structure of the nature of the genre, it executed everything. But in a way you didn't see coming and didn't care, you were all caught up and destroyed. And the Mercy scene is the greatest mercy. Wives are the greatest verses scenes in action. And so then, so then it gets repeated. And it becomes a cliche.

Alex Ferrari 22:51
Right very much like what 48 hours did and Lethal Weapon did, which was the buddy cop movie. Yeah, that died down Jesus. I mean, how many movies? Since those movies came out?

Robert McKee 23:05
Well, it's easy to see why because I mean, writers are under a tremendous pressure to create something that people want to see. Investors are under tremendous pressure to make sure that their investment makes a profit. And, and so when you you know, when you can go into a producer's office and say, you know, it's it's diehard, on a runaway train, or whatever it is, well, we've had runaway trains, with all new diehard et cetera, okay. And, and you put it in certain boxes for them, then they know what you're trying to do. Right. So then they read the screenplay and see if you did did it in a fresh way. And if you turn the cliches upside down if you did it with with enough originality, that people aren't going to sit there going on it's it's dire and and a trade offs, you know, before winning the war on cliches is a hell of a thing because we are so prolific in our storytelling. And when we think about it, people today, between going to the movies watching TV at night, reading novels that they do playing games, they do spend almost as much time inside of fiction as they do inside of reality. In the 19th century, for example, how much time did the average middle class person spent in fiction per week? Well, if they were a reader, they might might read Oh my one hour a day,

Alex Ferrari 25:01
Hour to a day for like, Yeah,

Robert McKee 25:03
I'd say that's a lot. But let's say an hour a day. And, and if they lived in a city with have enough size that was a theater, where they could go to the theater once a month, that's two hours. And so you know, in a month's time, they might expand all together, if they really have 30 hours in fiction. People do that now, every week. And so the amount of time people spend in fiction has quadrupled, maybe tenfold. And so. And so with all of that storytelling, all of these elements get repeated. And they become cliches.

Alex Ferrari 26:00
You know, what's funny, I have my daughters. I have young daughters, and I watch them watch television with me sometimes. And it's so fascinating that they're so young, but yet they're able to like, that's the bad. That's the real bad guy over there. Or that's, and they're calling it, and I'm like, how are they? They are so

Robert McKee 26:20
They're calling right?

Alex Ferrari 26:22
Yeah, they're calling they're calling it almost all the time. Perfectly. Right? They're going, that's not that. No, it's the other guy. He's the real bad guy in you. And I could probably look at that movie and go, yeah, it's obvious. It's gonna be this guy. I mean, it's we've seen it a million times. But they're like, young, they're very young. And they're calling it so can you imagine when they're 2030 years old? How much content story they've gone through much more than I did. definitely much more than you did. Over, you know, as we grew up, so it's so much more difficult for the writer to surprise. That's why when something that does come out that is new and fresh, people lose their minds, and they're like, Oh, I can't see that.

Robert McKee 27:04
That's right. And that's why it's so difficult. people resort to spectacle.

Alex Ferrari 27:10
Which, which is and I want to ask you something about spectacle, because I think there's a lot of spectacle in Hollywood right now. Do you believe that? The success of like the Marvel films, which are obvious, obviously taken over the theatrical experience, pretty much if you take Marvel out of Marvel Star Wars, and Harry Potter out of out of the theaters for the last 10 years, 1015 years, we wouldn't have a theatrical business. Well, so is it because there's we've seen spectacle before. And there's been bad spectacle. I mean, really, a movie like battleship. I remember years ago, that was all spectacle, all spectacle, or Transformers 72, which is all spectacle and people are like, you know, I've seen a transforming robot before I need more. What is it about the Marvel films that is connecting with audiences? Because it's not I don't believe it's just spectacle, there has to be something deeper, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Robert McKee 28:06
Well provided spectacle, but the, the, the visual artists who are working on those films have imaginations and techniques to execute those imaginations that are really superior to anybody else. They have simply gone up. It's like a sports team. They've gone out and got the best players at every position available in the league. And so they're gonna win every game 37 They're not right. So it is spectacle in in that day, they just do it better. So that, you know, there's you see that it spectacle on one level, that is create curiosity. It's not about outcome. How will this turn out? Because we know those stories, right in your daughters know how it's gonna turn out. Okay? It's, it's, how will they do it? In order for it to turn out. And so the curiosity is about the execution of the action. And if the execution of the action is fresh, original, and really, I believe and stunning to watch, and the music and the sound and all the rest of it, and the editing, all goes together if it creates a spectacle of a quality that we've never seen before. They can do the same old thing but they Do it in a whole new way, or in a way that is more impactful visually than you've ever seen before. So it's still doing. And that's why it's it's very successful. They've just it's challenged. Because it's not as if spectacle has no quality it of course it does. And they had no importance. Of course, that's right. I mean, Aristotle listed all the six elements of the story and spectacle was the last one. And he said the least important, but it's on the list.

Alex Ferrari 30:39
Top Gun Top Gun without those fighter sequences? Exactly. It's a fun movie, I guess. But

Robert McKee 30:47
Well, you see in the action genre, you got to take spectacle and elevate it up. Yeah, it's not number six, if number six from aerosol point of view in the theater 2500 years ago. But now, you know, it's, it's, it's, I don't even know, like, number three on Netflix. Me, you still have events to tell a great story. Character, you still have to have great characters. But then in action, that those events with those characters have to be executed. And I'm fed back that fantastically brilliant way. Surprised, surprising, pleasing. And so inaction. Spectacle has a lot of value. And, and so but you know, people go to the Marvel games, because they know that that will be a visual treat. And at hopefully, they'll do the same thing we've always seen in a whole new way. But then we'll at least don't express it in a whole new way. And so it's snobbish to look down your nose at spectacle and say, well, it's your spectacle. But it is not, it's not well done. But that's true of anything. If characters are not well done, they're boring. If it's the same damn turning point we've seen, I've been times that boring. And so everything you do have to be well done. inspectable is just one of those things,

Alex Ferrari 32:33
If Jurassic Park would have come out, and it wasn't directed by Steven Spielberg, and written by Michael Creighton, and it would have just been those dinosaurs. With a bad script. Yeah, it would probably have been somewhat successful, because of the spectacle of it. But because of the story, the execution, the people behind it, it turned into the masterpiece that eventually it became so something like Avatar, which is I think, now still the number one, I think it bumped back up after the pandemic. And number one, something like Avatar, now James is coming out with four or five, I think he's, he says he's gonna die on Pandora. This is, this is where he's going. He's not, he's like, I'm gonna be 91 doing part six of this thing. But this is, I'm dying on this hill, he said, but something like something like Avatar is, I think, almost as perfect of a combination of character, event story and spectacle. Because I remember seeing it three times in the theater because of the 3d app aspect of it. And this amazing world that they created the visuals of it. And the story was a very basic simple story that we've seen before. But it was wrapped in this beautiful

Robert McKee 33:48
Done in a whole new way. Right, exactly. The the the inspiration that that the core of Avatar, of course, is that you have a second self. And this doppelganger has Adventures is the app it's not even that it's more than a metaphor. It's a photograph of daydream. Right? Right. It's every kid's life where they dream about having adventures that you know obviously sitting in their in their living room at home, they can't hear and so avatar made that literal and so that his second self is avatar goes off and has adventures. Matrix was similar in that way. And it so that that's a wonderful idea because it tapped into an experience that is so caught you know, every every kid has been experienced. Every kid daydreams about life that they don't have and living in ventures of one kind, or another, whatever. And so the premise of Avatar was inspired. And then the execution was excellent. And then and then there's this. And this is wonderful in an action story, if you can make this work, there's a hidden truth. It's always been there for the whole story that you haven't seen, literally. But the moment the truth comes out, you go off course. And the truth of Avatar wasn't the planet itself was a living thing. Of course, and you go off course.

Alex Ferrari 35:58
Right! It Yeah. And I think

Robert McKee 36:01
That that revelation of a hidden truth makes you the crowds in the audience to go back and reconfigure the whole story they've been watching, and realize it was always there, it was, in some sense, inevitable, that these human beings would just go too far. And when they just, they want to know, that planet had a line. Okay, and they finally went over the line. And it planted a squash and like a bargain, right? And, and it and it expresses something, we really want to believe that there that nature has a greater power. And then we've been pushing nature and prodding the troops boiling nature and poisoning nature, and sooner or later, nature is going to just go squash us if we don't stop what we're doing in time. So it's a master metaphor. I was right? For the the the the destruction of the environment. And it's the environments revenge. And so that's a truth we all want to believe. And so the writing I mean, you know, yes, the directing is wonderful and all the rest but these ideas, tapping into the the fantasy life and bringing that to life and creating a you know, a beautifully told story that has a truth at the heart of it, the nature is going to have the last word. And bringing that into and I'm putting that in the in the film is, is is the reason why people like James Cameron had the great success that they have is because they and they know before they know how to write, you know, action. But it's about something.

Alex Ferrari 38:32
It always is with Jim can't with Jim's work. It's always about time you go back to Terminator. He's saying something. Terminator two, he's saying something in the abyss, which was basically a precursor to a lot of the themes of Avatar. And aliens is it's about a mother. It's about two mothers protecting their young I didn't even realize that Delete. I saw him talking about an interview because I made this entire movie about two mothers protecting their young because it couldn't just be just about aliens and people. I was like, Oh, my God.

Robert McKee 39:06
I was in Westwood. movie after westward, watching aliens. I and I was one of the greatest moments my experience in film. The Act to climax. When Ripley says I'm going back with a kid the audience almost toward the theater down. I mean, they just went nuts. I did too. We all went not with a kid and that's the Mercy see. She's at the mercy of that monster. And what's more than the monster has the big to its clutches from a position of of powerlessness, she's going back to the good old age. So, yeah, we love the genre. And when an action writer gets that, right, creates a world that's really we've never seen before. And tell that story and executes those, those great, those great turning points in ways we've never seen before. It is that you know, as a indicating the title of my book, it is the essence of excitement.

Alex Ferrari 40:41
And still, Ricky wrote one of the greatest sci fi lines of all time, get away from her ubitx Right away. One of the best lines ever written inside, right without Weston. Yeah, it's up there with may the force be with you. I mean, it's just like, it's going away for you. So the better I'm gonna say, I'm gonna say it's a little bit better.

Robert McKee 41:06
Now, it's not spiritual. No, no, no, get away from it. Get Rich, right down to the ground.

Alex Ferrari 41:21
And every one of us and everyone was watching that movie just like, oh, it was just so as we're talking, I'm still getting like goosebumps. I'm getting like, bloods flowing talking about. And that's what a good movie does. When you're explaining the movie to somebody else, and you still get excited about it.

Robert McKee 41:36
You've you've hit the mark. Yeah, that form comes like the form comes to life inside of you. All the spectacles memory, but it's a form. It's the turning point. Going back for the kid get away from me, which is the turning point, the courage of that line, or both of those, whatever. The turning point, gets your heart problem.

Alex Ferrari 42:04
Now in the book, you also talk about the action MacGuffin. Now I am familiar with the MacGuffin. So what is the action MacGuffin? Or if you can explain the MacGuffin to to the audience who might not know what the MacGuffin is. What is an action MacGuffin?

Robert McKee 42:16
Well, there's there's macguffins in a lot of stories, and there's a MacGuffin in crime stories often, but certainly in thrillers, in epics, is defined as the thing that everybody wants. And when you get it gives you power. That's the MacGuffin. It's the it's the thing with an actual physical thing. That gives you power so like in in Aliens, it's the kid right? Get into the MacGuffin monster wants the kid in order to impregnate so to speak. Human beings to reproduce right. And so it's the thing everybody wants when get it and gives them power. So it could be the secret to the to some Nicola

LaunchCode analogy.

Yeah. Any back in in certain films, Alfred Hitchcock that people credited Hitchcock with coining the term MacGuffin. But actually he didn't. He was a writer, friend of his who coined it and he repeated it. Because Hitchcock used it it became famous. It's shocking to realize you don't even have to tell him what it is. So in a film, I'm in North by Northwest, the MacGuffin is secrets. There's some kind of secret, probably a formula some, some probably for a weapon, something like that. Okay. But there's a secret and it's key encapsulated. And people are chasing after the secret throughout the movie. But Hitchcock never tell you what the secret was for what what what was what was in the secret? What what were people going to do what the secret he did deputy vital because he bought he realized it doesn't really matter. It's the thing that everybody wants, when he get it, it gives you power. And everybody's chasing after everybody wants, everybody's struggling to get it. And so from like his point of view, you're thinking, well, if all those characters want that thing so badly, it must really be important.

Alex Ferrari 44:58
So is that the action see because that's something different than the action.

Robert McKee 45:03
It's a it's a motivation.

Alex Ferrari 45:05
It's just a motivation. So you actually motivate action with

Robert McKee 45:08
The pursuit of the MacGuffin and is driving is driving the character they are pursuing the murder my God. If the Euro can get his hands on the MacGuffin, or her hands on the MacGuffin, then they can use that to defeat the villain. If the villain keeps the MacGuffin is going to destroy the world. And so the pursuit of the MacGuffin is, is driving the story. And is often that we've gotten like in that alien the MacGuffin is the victim. Although not necessarily the MacGuffin can be something quite separate from that. And so like all of these elements in story design, coming up creating a really fresh, unique wonderful truthful, fascinating MacGuffin. And, and, and, and generally speaking, generally speaking, it needs to be portable. Because whoever has it has power. And so the hero can get the MacGuffin back. And then the villain takes it back again. And the minute they can exchange this, they can lose it, they've always searching for it dropped into the ocean, and then hero and villain voted, you know, under whatever. And, and so it's got to be a thing. That's important, portable, but in, in, it can be just an idea. But it's got to be an idea that you know, that's written down on a piece of paper or whatever,

Alex Ferrari 47:05
Or someone has it. Someone knows the information.

Robert McKee 47:08
Yeah, something that you can move that helps generate sequences of the action.

Alex Ferrari 47:15
So something like written Raiders of the Lost Ark is obviously the Ark of the Covenant. In Pulp Fiction, it's the suitcase, with the mysterious light that nobody

Robert McKee 47:24
What's in that suitcase in your bed.

Alex Ferrari 47:26
He's still and Quintin won't say,

Robert McKee 47:29
Guaranteed by the day.

Alex Ferrari 47:31
It does not he's not gonna. And every time I ask him, he's like, I don't know. What do you think it is? Like, it's it doesn't matter. Doesn't matter.

Robert McKee 47:39
Everybody wants you gives you power. And you know, they said they actually you don't actually need to know more than that.

Alex Ferrari 47:49
No, that's funny, because that's one of the conspiracy theories about what's in the what's in the suitcase. It's that it's Oh, God being Rames his character, Marcel is his soul. Literally, it's his soul that they're carrying around in there. I was like, oh, that's kind of interesting. His soul. And that the little, the little bandaid on his back of the neck is where the soul got away. These are things that are like, Well, that's pretty interesting.

Robert McKee 48:12

Alex Ferrari 48:13
Isn't that a fun is enough?

Robert McKee 48:15
It's, it's wonderful. People care that much that they worry about that. It's so hard to get out of the body. Oh, after the Banu. I mean,

Alex Ferrari 48:26
fantastic. I mean, you're talking about film geeks thinking about that movie for decades, trying to figure out what that is. Right now. You also talk about action set pieces. Can you talk a little bit about what a good action set pieces,

Robert McKee 48:41
There are sequences in action. We how many different ways physically can a hero pursue a villain in an effort to rescue the victim? Right? And so there's a limit, you can go towards something right and invade that's a that's a tactic that's an action sequence or you can be quite an escape, you can rescue the victim or or not. Right or lose the whatever. And so, there are there are certain actions moving toward moving away, moving around moving through, in, in a labyrinth across a desert and so forth. There are a certain limited number of ways in the in time and space that hero and villain can interact. And, and so I go through them in the book and given lots of examples of them. And, and I make the point that the writer has to understand its limited time and space, you know has certain limitations, you can go toward you can go away, you can chase someone or BJs. And so, so once you once you, you know, you study the genre as I have, and you see the possibilities of it. And you see the way it's been executed brilliantly by storytellers in the past, that loses the colors on your palate. And so instead of sitting there just wondering, well, why, what could my hero do? And just hitting a wall? Up study isn't the tactics involved? You see, well, I have trust, moving toward moving away, moving through, chasing, being chased, etc. They're rescuing escaping their choice. And so you let those choices play in your imagination. Something like some island. I know, at this point in the story, you know, he would, she would. And it comes come to light. And so and so one of the purposes of writing a book like adding is to the front door, is to present my front door is to open up the possibilities for the reader. Say, here's the genre, here's what has been done for 1000s of years. And there are limits. And so you can go within those limits as you must in budget. That's not a straitjacket, it's just possibilities. And every one of those possible tactics can be done a whole new way to a different environment for a different reason, different characters, and I'm not sure but you have to understand what the elements of the genre that are essential.

Alex Ferrari 52:35
Now, I'd love to break in your book, you break down a bunch of the a bunch of action movies inside of your book is I love to just break down a couple of them even slightly, something like the Dark Knight. So something like the Dark Knight, which is arguably one of the best, super quote unquote superhero films in the genre ever made. Honestly, it's up there without question. And I always use someone like my wife who doesn't like superhero movies, she she puts up with them, because of me. But but when you watch something like the dark night, I was watching them like, Oh, if you just take Batman and the Joker out of this, this is just like heat. It's just a crime. It's a fantastic crime thriller like you take. So a lot of times in superhero movies, you can't do that you take the super out of it, it's over. But Dark Knight is just it really felt like Michael Mann directed it in many ways, because it was so visceral. So can you break down the Dark Knight a little bit?

Robert McKee 53:32
What makes a film like the Dark Knight, so wonderful. And this is true, then the whole action genre is the nature of the villain. The villain is the key to action. If you have no villain, there is nothing for the hero to do. If the villain is an idiot, there's nothing for the hero to do he will trip over himself. Right? Without your help. Right. And so the more brilliantly realize the villainous that forces the hero to rise to the occasion. The hero can only be as fascinating and compelling as the villain makes him makes her and Dark Knight and the Joker The joker is a fantastic villain. And his villainy is so profound, that it the the end he creates a dilemma. Villain creates a dilemma that the hero will have to solve and analyze splendid purpose But it's one of the great crises in inaction stories. And, and, and because this villain, and absolutely ruthless is is a weak word that he is so

Alex Ferrari 55:19
Submissive, submiss maniacal,

Robert McKee 55:22
And sadistic, he likes causing pain in other people. And so he creates this great dilemma at the end, where human beings will have to make a choice to live or die. And, and then that's out beyond the hero's control.

Alex Ferrari 55:45
And it's, it's also, the movie seems to me to be a story about to men's view on the world.

Robert McKee 55:54
Yeah, well, they have, they have points they have.

Alex Ferrari 55:57
I mean, Joker thinks everything should be everything's in chaos. And we're just a step a second away from completely falling into complete anarchy, enjoys that. And he enjoys that. But Batman doesn't believe that believes that. No, people are good, they're gonna make the right choice.

Robert McKee 56:12
So then the Joker creates this dilemma to prove his point.

Alex Ferrari 56:16
Right. And that's the it's a brilliant film. Which also brings me to another problem with there's a specific superhero, who I've yet to see a fascinating film made of, but it's the most famous superhero of all time, because it's the first superhero, Superman. Superman is a character and I went and I want, I'm bringing this up, because I think it's really good illustration. Batman and Superman have always been on both sides. Ones like when Stark was much more. Batman is a much more interesting character, to say the least. By far, but there hasn't been a really great and I've been I'll get a lot of hate mail for this fantastic like Superman film. Maybe obviously the Christopher Reeve film was excellent. I think Christopher Superman too was excellent in the 70s. But in recent years, that when they tried to reduce,

Robert McKee 57:05
Okay, cuz I think Superman one is brilliant, which Mario Puzo Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 57:12
Yeah, no is brilliant,

Robert McKee 57:14
He put he put Superman into dilemmas.

Alex Ferrari 57:19
Now, so why hasn't anyone else be able to do? So why hasn't anybody else been able to do that? Because in Superman one, he was fighting a villain who was superior intellectually, but not physically. And then in Superman two, he fought someone who was superior, quote, unquote, superior, mentally and physically, which was a General Zod, quote unquote, and also much more physical that three of them fighting against one right, right. So there was a there was really stakes there. And then they took his powers away. And and then he had to try to find them back. It was it was such a well done. Those are the two best Superman films, in my opinion. Yeah, besides the Richard Pryor one. The third one, which is interesting to say the least. But what was it about the first one that made that Superman interesting?

Robert McKee 58:09
Well, he had, he had a moral imperative that he owed to his father, who had told him that he must not use his super powers on earth, he must not interfere in human destiny. He's godlike in his powers, as he demonstrates by reversing the spin of the earth and turning back time.

Alex Ferrari 58:41
Fantastic by the way

Robert McKee 58:44
And he mustn't use those powers he must give. It's like you seem like often really, religious people are challenged by the question, Why does God allow evil? And the answer, traditionally has been free will. God wants you to in beings to have free will, to they can choose between good and evil. And, and that's that's the rationale. And so super, Mario Puzo called upon that same idea in Superman one, Superman is God like he has that you know, that, that power, and why would he, you know, allow evil and his father tells him, you have to allow evil, you must not interfere with human destiny. Which means that human beings do what humans beings will do. And we know that half of human beings are evil, that there's an evil side, the human nature. And if you'd like human beings do what human beings do, there'll be a lot of evil in the world. And so Superman estimate that great moral choice to keep his father's sacred commandment, or rescue the woman that he loves. And he chooses love. And, and, and breaks his father's holding command. And so it has, you know, it has the idea in Superman one is rooted profoundly in Christianity.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:44
Oh, god, yes. No.

Robert McKee 1:00:48
And Superman is a metaphor for Jesus Christ. Right, in articles. So these things really connect with people. Because it's about something. It's about moral choice. And that's why, you know, it was, there was a great one. The difference between Superman and Batman isn't Superman. If there's evil, it's really not dark. Okay, it's kind of pastel.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:27
Lex Luthor is not maniacal.

Robert McKee 1:01:29
Nobody's funny, and you know, and he's, you know, he's very fun. Oh, this bill means very fun.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:42

Robert McKee 1:01:45
So, but the Joker is a different thing. Joker is not Lex Luthor, Joker really is evil. And he's sadistic. He enjoys causing people to suck. He lives for because the Joker in Batman is so dark. Batman has the potential man to to create stories that are really compelling and rich. Because Superman operates in a world where evil never gets to that kind of darkness. It's more about the adventure, and the spectacle of it. And so that's why you might feel that the Superman movies are less impactful than the Batman. Because Batman is taking that that whole genre that character is drawing on the a much darker source of ability. It's not as it's not as nicely it's just not nice. Really, suddenly, those that we need are innocent victims. The citizens of Bachmann horrible people excellently give me the it's a question whether or not disabled, who cares? I'm destroying themselves. So it brings up moral question, man, that's the essence of it. That then brings up moral questions that are more profound, darker, deeper than the moral questions in in Superman.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:44
And then something like what Marvel is done with with the cast of characters that have because Marvel's doesn't have dark, dark really doesn't have darkness is as dark as the Joker. It's it's very pastel, like you say, but one of the things and people always ask me, How do you why do you think that? You know, they're so successful over these years? I'm like, yeah, we've talked about some of the reasons. But they've done something that no other film studio has ever done, which is carry characters over a decade. I mean, by the time we get to the Avengers, endgame, and Iron Man, we had been with Iron Man for 10 years and seen him in well in multiple films. And we have such an emotional connection. So you know what happens in that movie is so impactful. Because of that, and that's not done in cinema hasn't been done in cinema. Ever. I don't think I don't think anyone has been able to do that at that scale by any stretch of the imagination.

Robert McKee 1:04:42
You know, there's a secret sauce there that is it's kind of wonderful. I mean, they got you on your kids when you fell in love with those characters, right? Absolutely. Yeah. So that you know that they and they are evolving. They are revealing And in that those are the two elements. How do you create? Series? You know what, what keeps a series alive with air every day now writers are facing that problem in long form television. What will bring people back episode after episode season after season even for years, you know, and the two things, it seems to me that bring people back are revelations number one, you think you know these characters, you think you understand their dimensions and their, their, their, their strengths, their weaknesses, their whatever their natures, you think you understand that with judo. And in, in the future, there will be episodes in which there will be a revelation of who that character really is. That will make perfect sense, but you didn't see prior. So those revelations about the depth and complexities of characters that you that you thought you knew that you now you realize they didn't really know all together that fascinates. And so revelation and change you know, the these, these key characters are at the beginning of the series, and then you watch them undergo over time, change becoming better, morally worse, morally, more will willful, more weak, more whatever they're changing, usually impacts but generally for the better. And so revelation of acts of qualities and characters you didn't see before, and change in the nature of characters that you didn't see coming. Those two things keep the series alive. And and and marvellous has not got that down. And they know how to parse out revelations of character. They know how they have a vision that years and years into the future about where will these characters go. So as long as there's revelations and change, they can do it over and over and over, because it adds to the to the audience's understanding of the characters. And that is a pleasure.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:50
Right, so it's just against those a character like, you know, I don't know how much you know about these characters. But a character like Thor, at the beginning was very different to the Thor that we see now. And he, and he's become one of the most popular were at the beginning, he was one of the least popular exam characters, and

Robert McKee 1:08:07
And now, if you talk to the writers, and they said, We have no idea where Thor would go, Okay, I'm Alfred Della. I and my answer to that is well, consciously then. Alright, but subconsciously, you knew that character had potential? Yep. And you improvised. You experimented, and it turned out that who, you know, there are aspects and that's just coming out of your challenge your creativity and, and, and, you know, what fascinates revelation and change and so you're revealing and changing this character? And, and, you know, the results are wonderful.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:56
And to be fair, I mean, they had 50, or 60 years of writing or 70 years of writing millions 10s of 1000s hundreds of 1000s of stories with these characters, arcing them moving them moving them across time, over decades. I mean, Spider Man is, I mean, how many times have we seen a Spider Man story, but the latest one? Blue, you know, blue, the box office out of the water? Well, because of the nostalgia to there's a little bit of nostalgia, the old Spider Man's coming back, but that was something new. We hadn't seen that before.

Robert McKee 1:09:29
We haven't snow and there's a whole generation of the audience who didn't see it. They weren't born but that was

Alex Ferrari 1:09:37
My daughters were like, is that the original Spider Man and I go, Yeah, can we watch those movies? Okay, let's go back and watch those movies. Yeah, cuz they were like, Who's that spider man? They only know the one Spider Man. And is that another spider mite? Yeah, there's two movies of him. He did three movies. And he's the one that started at all. And it was like really? Like yeah, so they so this is and also when you build something like what Marvel has they've also an ecosystem a world of these characters in these movies. And same thing for Batman and, and those kinds of characters there's a bunch of, and when you run into, like, James Bond more, you know, an older reference of James Bond. When you watch one, Daniel Craig, you're gonna want to watch all the Daniel Craig's. But then you watch piers bras, and you're like, Oh, that's not like Daniel, right? But maybe you like Pierce Bronson. Or you watch Connery here more one of these fun things. So it's fascinating. Rob, Robert, I could talk to you for hours about

Robert McKee 1:10:32
Fun to talk about things you love.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:34
Now, tell me about tell me where are we go? When the book comes out, and where we can get it.

Robert McKee 1:10:38
Book amazon.com, the usual suspects, Barnes and Nobles, whatever. But Amazon certainly in the UK comes out on the sixth today is the second. And so in four days that it are we out. And the pre orders have been spectacular. I hope. I hope that it does what what I wanted to do is to take action as a genre, to yet another level. I want the get really creative, talented people to love the genre, not to look down their nose, not to sneer, but to love it and embrace it and see it as a modern metaphor for life and death struggle to human beings now and in the future. And that, you know, we've been telling action stories since a homer and it's not going to go away. Life and death is a core value of action. And that, that is a struggle that you know that that is eternal, obviously, so, so I comes out on the sixth. And I hope that not only the people who love action, today, but of course, all those people who could consider it, read it. And what they're going to discover is, it's a hell of a lot more complicated and more difficult than you thought.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:27
Yeah, it's not just a bunch of blood explosions and guns, that

Robert McKee 1:12:31
I will make it very clear that this is far more complex, watch more sophisticated and much more difficult than you thought. But if you put your imagination to it, you can do something we've never seen before. So, so I hope I hope all writers will give it a chance read it, see if there's something in that that attracts them. And, and I hope that, you know, in the decades to come that the book will help elevate the action genre to something continuously progressing and growing and capturing our imaginations.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:20
Now, Robert, there's one question I always ask my guests and I don't remember if I asked you this first time and I love to hear your thoughts and please it's very very difficult question I'm not sure you're gonna be able to answer it but I'm going to want to give you a shot at three of your favorite films of all time.

Robert McKee 1:13:38
At the you know, the the the the bear trap in that question is is giving yourself well why and just How pretentious

Alex Ferrari 1:13:55
How many Bergman films are going to be on that list.

Robert McKee 1:14:00
A number of them but not a number one. If, if if it was two o'clock in the morning, and I was traveling to you know, Auckland, New Zealand, full of jetlag unable to sleep. What would I hope with on television? Well, my first hope would probably be Chinatown. And if not Chinatown, then maybe Groundhog Day. So and if not Groundhog Day, the number three please god please give me godfather one, two and three.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:55
All three of them back to back.

Robert McKee 1:14:58
Yeah, that would make a nice i You know, eventually I'd get to sleep. So yeah, those those will be three my first choices wonderful film, and then they are very satisfying and that, you know, the reason I picked those three because I realized over the years, you know that when you are in that situation and you're skipping the channels, looking for something to watch. You kill time. Okay. I have seen the last half of trying to tell the last half of Groundhog Day, and the last last halves of godfathers wanting to so many time, because it didn't the middle the middle option Scott barotz. Turner, and you stop.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:58
Right, exactly. And you know, what's funny on that list, you put Groundhog's Day, which I considered one of the greatest comedies ever written. And it doesn't get the kind of attention and analysis that it should, because people write it off because it was a comedy,

Robert McKee 1:16:15

Alex Ferrari 1:16:16
It's snobbery exactly but it is so brilliant. So brilliantly written. And I mean, obviously the direction and the candor and the Bill Murray and and then amygdala, I mean, it's masterful. But that was Was there a film prior to Groundhog's Day that used that idea of repeating time, like they're caught in a loop because there's been, again, the cliche is now there are multiple films like that. But I don't remember anything like Groundhog's Day before

Robert McKee 1:16:44
I can either probably was but I can't remember, I know that there are certainly time travel stories. Sure. People go back in time forward in time sideways, I don't know. But living the same day over and over and over again.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:01
Until you change as a human being never seen.

Robert McKee 1:17:04
I think that if we googled, it seems to me there's a little echo in my memory here saying back in the 1930s there was a play and not a film, but a play where somebody was living the same day over and over. And that play was probably considered avant garde.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:33
I'm looking I'm actually looking at it right now. Mirror of a hero in 1987. Wonderful O'Brien, Run Run Lola one. But that's not the same as that Edge of Tomorrow Edge of Tomorrow. But that was way after. Yeah, no, all the other ones have been after I haven't seen anything. The only one that was mirror of a mirror for here on 1987, which was like five or six years earlier. But other than that, not really. And well, obviously nothing is as good as

Robert McKee 1:18:09
It's not about living the same day three times. All right, living the same day, three different ways.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:14
Right. And that's Russia, man.

Robert McKee 1:18:17
And that's Russia. But it's not the same day over and over and that's points of view.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:23

Robert McKee 1:18:24
So the there are there have been stories where where time I mean, when a great was of course a period of gallows play in the 1920s Six Characters in Search about awkward so they these characters come to light that they want. They need actors to act out their lives to free them so that they can go to the next life where the next world whatever it is. So the notion of multiple realities and reliving things. That's that's not new that day. If it isn't original, it's the best anyone's ever done that

Alex Ferrari 1:19:16
It is the diehard of a repeating day movies.

Robert McKee 1:19:21
Yeah, what I love about it is I think another great favorite of mine, for example would be the verdict. Oh, yeah, it's a fantastic The reason I like the verdict. Same reason I like Groundhog Day. It's the redemption plot. The bad guy turns good story. We all hold out in our heart of hearts. Can I become a better human being? Well, I just make the same mistake over and over and over. mistreat my Self and other people the same old way over on, can I redeem myself and in stories like that, like Groundhog Day verdict redeem the character in a beautiful way. And so the the idea of redemption is very powerful.

Alex Ferrari 1:20:26
Robert, like I said, I could talk for you for hours about movies and about story, my friend, thank you so much for coming on the show. And thank you. And thank you so much for all the hard work you've been doing for these these decades trying to educate storytellers and help them with the work that you're doing.

Robert McKee 1:20:42
It's been a pleasure. I seriously I do what I love. And you know, and I've said, I'm writing this story too. I'm going to do a do love in a whole new way again, it's not so I hope. I hope people will check out action. Give it a look. And and let's try to take the genre to two higher, more beautiful level.

Alex Ferrari 1:21:16
Thank you my friend. I appreciate you.

Robert McKee 1:21:17
Thank you, Alex. Take care.

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BPS 228: The Art of World Building – Immersive Screenwriting with Margaret Kerrison

Born in Indonesia and raised in Singapore, Margaret Kerrison received my Master of Fine Arts degree in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. Her career spans television, film, digital media, games, brand storytelling, location-based entertainment, and immersive experiences.

Margaret worked as a Story Lead, Story Consultant, and Writer for multiple projects around the world, including Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Star Wars: Launch Bay, Hyperspace Mountain, Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, Avengers Campus, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, National Geographic HQ, NASA Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted, Heineken Experience, StoryGarden by AMOREPACIFIC, and the Information and Communications Pavilion (Expo 2010 Shanghai).

Margaret was the writer for five projects that received Themed Entertainment Association (THEA) Awards. She appeared in the Disney+ series Behind the Attraction, the Freeform television special Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – Adventure Awaits, and the online educational program Imagineering in a Box. Margaret has been invited to speak at prestigious conferences and universities including SXSW, Star Wars Celebration, D23, IAAPA Expo, FMX Conference, University of Southern California, and Johns Hopkins University. Her projects have been featured around the world in The New York Times, Good Morning America, The Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly, Wired magazine, and the official site for Star Wars. Margaret Kerrison was a Disney Imagineer from 2014-2021 and was recently featured in a blooloop article.

Margaret is currently a Senior Experiential Creative Lead in Airbnb’s Experiential Creative Product team.

Enjoy my conversation with Margaret Kerrison.

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Margaret Kerrison 0:00
But an immersive storytelling. We're seeing a lot of this really popping up all over the world right? Where you can go into a place and suspend your disbelief meaning that you for that moment feel like you're in that world in that place that the Creator has created you know for you.

Alex Ferrari 0:19
This episode is brought to you by Bulletproof Script Coverage, where screenwriters go to get their scripts read by Top Hollywood Professionals. Learn more at covermyscreenplay.com I'd like to welcome to the show, Margaret Kerrison. How you doin, Margaret?

Margaret Kerrison 0:34
Hi, how are you Alex, thanks for having me on your show.

Alex Ferrari 0:38
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I'm like I was telling you earlier. I'm excited to talk to you. I've never spoken to an imagineer before a former imaginary imaginary Imagineer. But you worked with with Disney as an imagineer for so long. And there's so much myth and mystery behind that. That's that kind of position that Walt, you know, created all those years ago. So we'll talk a little bit about that, and about your new book, The immersive, immersive storytelling and all of that. So first, first question, how did you get into this business?

Margaret Kerrison 1:10
Oh, wow. That's a it's such a huge question. But I think I always want to start it with the fact that, you know, I always wrote all my life, I always created things. I've always loved to tell stories in every kind of medium, like, I was that kid, who was making like finger puppets and like casting my family and friends into my own, like skits on my, like, huge camcorder at home and everything. And I never really thought about it, writing, but is and storytelling as a professional career. Because I didn't see that many role models growing up, who were who were in that creative field. And, you know, I was born in Indonesia, and I grew up in Singapore. And at the time, like, the creative field wasn't really that flourishing or anything like that, especially in Singapore. And when I moved to the United States for college, I was exposed to a lot more, you know, writing classes and creative classes, and just movies and TV in general, which I have always loved. So I had one, I did a screenwriting certificate course at Emerson College. And there was a professor there who encouraged me to apply to film school. And he had gone to USC and he, you know, spoke all really great things about it. And he's like, You should really think about applying to film school, not specifically to USC. But I did apply to USC, I got weightless that the first year, but got accepted the following year. And from there, you know, I was taking mostly writing courses for film and TV. And I didn't know about this whole world of themed attainment. I didn't even know about the word Imagineering until in my like, early 20s, you know, and I went to Disneyland, all of that stuff. But I just didn't know that there were these magicians, these people behind the curtains, doing this kind of work. And so it was really my thesis professor at the time. You know, she was talking to us about like, you writers need to think about different industries to get into not just film and TV, they need writers for games, they need writers for roller coasters, and she was going on and on. But I remember just pausing being like, they need writers for roller coasters. Like who does that? That sounds awesome. That sounds like something I totally want to do. And that night, you know, I was just searching on the web, like all kinds of information about like, what does that mean creating writing for themed entertainment and everything. And I was basically just sending emails to people to companies based in LA, and introducing myself and trying to get into the my foot into the door. And so one of those companies got back to me, and that's BRC imagination arts in Burbank, and I met with the founder, Bob Rogers, as well as a handful of other people. And they were really, really receptive and open to having someone like me come in. And especially, they're very, very, you know, they love having writers and working with writers and everything. So it was that was really my first professional job into this world. It was a lot of museum design. I worked on like, experience centers for like Heineken, and cosmetic company name Amaury Pacific, but it opened up my world to this possibility of telling stories, using all of your senses. You know, it's not just looking at watching a story unfold on screen. It was really experiencing it and feeling it and being immersed in that story of a place.

Alex Ferrari 4:54
It's really interesting because as you're telling this story, I mean, I mean, obviously I've been to Disney World a million times I've been at Disney And, and universal and all these kinds of stuff. And when you're in these kinds of rides, as a writer, someone had to sit down and go, Okay, when the ride gets to this point where when the audience gets to this point, this, maybe the smell comes up, maybe this, this water comes up, the heat pops up over here, a light pops up over there. So it's a lot, there's, there's a lot more thought. It seems more complicated than just writing a narrative, screenplay, which is as difficult as you can get in the writing, art.

Margaret Kerrison 5:30
Ohh definitely, definitely.

Alex Ferrari 5:32
Screenwriting is the toughest thing you could do. This is another level, even harder, almost.

Margaret Kerrison 5:38
Yeah, it is challenging, because, you know, you really have to work as a team, I think a lot of writing, at least in my experience screenwriting because I had, you know, helped to write feature film scripts for independent directors, and also for children's animation and all of this, it's really a very solitary craft, for the most part, I'm sitting with my laptop I'm writing, I occasionally get notes occasionally have meetings. But writing for immersive storytelling, and for themed entertainment. In general experiential design, there's so many different names for it. And that you really, you have to work together with all the various disciplines, to figure out how you're able to tell that story and share that story in all of these different disciplines. You know, everything from graphics, to media, to architecture, to what you're eating in the experience, what you're hearing, what you're smelling, what you're sensing who the characters, you're meeting all of that, right, you have to work hand in hand, with a talented group of people who are experts in the various fields that they're working on. And being able to be the story champion, to really kind of rally everyone together to make sure they're building the same world, the same thing, the same story, the same context, to all of these to whatever story you're working on. That's the challenge. And it's tough, because, you know, as artists, as creatives, we all have our different interpretations of what that story can be. And so being this, you know, world builder, storyteller, you really have to ensure that everyone is aligned to that creative intent, and making sure that you're all building the same place. So that's really the challenge of it is really how do you work as a team to move forward together? And to really think about, you know, what is that heart and soul of a place? And how does that manifest into design into music, into words into graphics into moving media, all of these things? It's, it's one big orchestra, you know, for lack of a better analogy, it's how do you how do you have all these different instruments come together to make this beautiful symphony?

Alex Ferrari 8:09
Is it is it kind of like working in a writers room, because at the writers room has very similar ideas to that, like, everyone's gonna be together, there's one person who's leading the charge the showrunner, and everyone's there to service that show or that vision. And kind of working is a kind of like that.

Margaret Kerrison 8:25
It's so different. It's so different, because in a writers room, it's mostly writers, or people who are have a very strong understanding of story. And sometimes you're going to work with people who don't have a good or strong understanding of story. Right? So I think that, you know, in a writers room, you typically do have a showrunner with a ton of writers who are, you know, throwing out ideas and all of that stuff, it's never that it's never that simple. You know, it's, it's, there's a lot of trying to, you know, gather people or meet with people individually, trying to socialize an idea by, you know, there's no one process or anything like that, in that is like a tried and trued method. And I think like in writing my book, even I try to, you know, simplify as much as possible, what would go on in that process. But ultimately, every project is different. Every team is different, depending on the scope of your project to if you're working on a smaller museum versus a 16 acre land, you know, that's going to be that's going to be very different, right? So I think that ultimately, you have to have this open communication in order to make that plan, set up that strategy and involves a lot of people coming together, you know, holding hands and marching together towards towards the finish. line.

Alex Ferrari 10:00
So So then how did you get involved with Disney and becoming an Imagineer? And first of all, what is the definition of an imagined Disney Imagineer?

Margaret Kerrison 10:12
A Disney Imagineer is you know, Walt Disney had created this word of imagination and engineering and put it together to make up this new word of Imagineer. Because really, it's a combination of art, science and technology, innovation, always pushing the boundaries, and always trying to find new magical ways to surprise and delight people. And there was no greater master storyteller than Walt Disney himself. I mean, he was such a visionary. He really thought about, you know, the different ways that people can feel like they're immersed, or participate in a story without merely watching, right? Like the story of him sitting in the park bench watching his daughter ride the carousel in Griffith Park, and how he was thinking about how do I take part in that? Why am I just sitting here? Why can't I be involved in that too? And why can't I participate and engage in play with my children? You know, so I think that Imagineering and Imagineers, in general, they are really they come from all kinds of disciplines. So you have people, you know, architects to, you know, audio engineers, to writers, to creative directors, producers, everyone that meets all of the various products and experiences for the Disney parks, resorts, cruise lines, all the wonderful things that you experience in any of the parks and resorts and cruise lines. So it's a really cool job. It's a, you know, I spent seven years at Imagineering and met some of the best most talented people ever in the industry. And it was really, you know, in seven years, I felt like it was a masterclass in everything in environmental storytelling, and how to work as a team in really working with some of the greatest IP on Earth, and trying to, you know, adapt that that into a story world in which other people can experience it. So it was a very, very magical journey for me, you know, for lack of a better word, and I think that it's something that I can see, you know, a lot of people having ideas of like, what Imagineering is, you know, before they come in to experience what that's really like, but ultimately, it's a lot of work. You know, it's a lot of work. And there's a lot of fun and play in it, too. But we take that play very seriously.

Alex Ferrari 12:49
Without question which I have to have to ask you being a massive Star Wars fan. You got to play and you got to play. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. In that in that playground?

Margaret Kerrison 13:01
Oh, yeah. Honor. Oh my gosh,

Alex Ferrari 13:04
I've worked on Galaxy's edge, which I haven't had a chance to go to Galaxy's edge, because of the pandemic and all that stuff. I haven't gotten there yet. But many of my friends have and I've seen obviously videos and images of it. What was your story consultant on that right?

Margaret Kerrison 13:20
No, I was I was working full time at Imagineering. So I was the story lead for Star Wars Galaxies edge. And I was I worked on a whole everything Star Wars for in my time there. So my first project was Star Wars launch bay, which was in both Disneyland and Disney Hollywood studios, worked on Hyperspace Mountain, worked on Star Wars Galaxies edge worked on Star Wars, galactic starcruiser, all the Star Wars activations on all the cruise lines as well. So I pretty much had a, you know, the privilege of a lifetime working with Luke, our Lucasfilm partners, who are amazing. I mean, they really set the bar really, really high for us. And we did not take that lightly at all. You know, when I remember one of the very first meetings for Star Wars Galaxies edge, and we had, you know, turn to the Lucasfilm Story Group and asked, you know, what kind of stories are they expecting from us and all of this and I remember, Pablo Hidalgo who's one of the executives on the storage group was saying, you know, what, we haven't told all the stories in Star Wars. So we'd like to hear from you what you think the stories should be. And that was really empowering to hear that, you know, and I think that, that that's really the magic of being a Star Wars fan is that you know, you have this like, great you know, Power, our responsibility to carry that torch and try to really figure out a way to understand like, what made Star Wars Star Wars, you know what made people over the decades? You know, come back to it time and time again and George Lucas, you know, you can't talk about Star Wars without talking about George Lucas and what a powerful story he had created and touch so many lives, generations of people, you know, I was an 80s kid. So, you know, I grew up with the original trilogy and all of that stuff and the power and the magnitude and the cultural phenomenon that is Star Wars and how that is integrated into everything in our lives. You know, 40 plus years later, people are still seeing me the force with be with you and everything like that, right? Like it is part of our society. Like you don't know, Star Wars. I don't know where you've been living. You know, your whole point.

Alex Ferrari 16:00
Even if you haven't seen the movies, you've heard of Star Wars. You know what the force is, you might know what Yoda is, you probably know who baby Yoda is, even though it's grown girl. Yeah, but you know what? That must have been so much fun working in that world was amazing. In a it's in a different scope than a John favor, or Dave alone or any of these other creators are doing because you're, you get to actually build the universe that people get to walk in and, and things that we've seen on screen for so many years, you get to walk into a cantina. Yeah, you get to see the Millennium Falcon you get. So it must have been as immersive. You must have been geeking out for years.

Margaret Kerrison 16:43
Oh, yeah, it was amazing. I mean, you know, we started off talking about that bucket list of all the things that we wanted to do as Star Wars fans. And the amazing part was in our team, there were like the people who really knew very little about Star Wars, they don't know the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. And then you have the people on the other end of the spectrum who read, you know, Arabic. And they were already basically our resident Star Wars expert, right? And everyone in between. So I think that it was so neat to work as a team to talk about, well, what is the bucket list for all the things that you want to do in Star Wars, the cantina was way high up, right? Like, we want to go to the cantina. We want to, you know, not only ride the Millennium Falcon, but pilot it, we want to be in an epic battle between the, you know, the light side and dark side at the time, we didn't even know about first order or any of that stuff, right? We didn't know about Kylo Ren, when we were starting this process, you have to remember that, like, there was no The Force Awakens. And it was very top secret, you know, and so we only got little tidbits of what was coming. But we always knew like, Okay, if we don't have the details of what the Force Awakens was going to be about, what do we know about Star Wars, that will always be true, there's going to be droids, there's going to be awesome ships, there's going to be species, aliens, you know, walking around, there's going to be the light side, the dark side, Jedi, you know, Sith, all of that, right, the light side, dark side, the force, everything. So that was it, we had a lot to work with. But we didn't have like specific details until, you know, pretty, like maybe a few months a year into the project as we're building it. And from there, we have to be flexible enough to say, okay, it has to be this era, you know, it has to be these characters, all of that stuff, right. Like, we had to work closely with Lucasfilm to do that, because we couldn't just do whatever we wanted. I mean, we have to make sure that everything was in canon, everything was going to be, you know, in evolve the stories and the, you know, the brand, the franchise all of these things. So we had a really, really huge responsibility. That was a great honor and privilege, but boy, was that a lot of pressure on us.

Alex Ferrari 19:11
By the way, did you ever get to meet George?

Margaret Kerrison 19:14
No, I didn't know. But you know what, it's funny because I had I had seen him before when I was an intern a long time ago. But I'd never got to see George because he wasn't you know, involved in the creation of the land or anything like that for sure. By then he had you know, sold Lucasfilm for billions of dollars, all of that stuff. So he did come to visit when we opened the land and everything but now he wasn't part of the process in a direct way.

Alex Ferrari 19:44
Yeah. Oh my god. I got to I got to meet him once. Oh, did you and you know what it was and he was next door to me in Burbank having lunch? No. Why is he in Burbank it was ready for the sale before anyone knew about the sale. So he was he was he He was meeting at Disney and he just having lunch next door and I had had just happen to have a star which lunchbox I got autographed.

Margaret Kerrison 20:08
To autograph your lunchbox.

Alex Ferrari 20:10
I actually didn't have the I didn't have the components to do it. So I had the receptionist, the older receptionist, walk up to him and ask him to make it out to me.

Margaret Kerrison 20:20
It's amazing

Alex Ferrari 20:23
I knew he wouldn't see he'd see me coming a mile away. But he wouldn't see her coming.

Margaret Kerrison 20:28
Ah, that was smart.

Alex Ferrari 20:32
This obviously this woman's not going to bother me. And then Mr. Lucas, my friend over there, he has a launch party, which you just sign it? Oh, wow. And it was his daughter. He's like that sign it. And I couldn't make it up to me because I'm never selling it. That's my quick George Lucas story. But yeah,

Margaret Kerrison 20:50
Women save the day for you, the receptionist, the daughter,

Alex Ferrari 20:53
Absolutely. I've been Surrounded by women my entire life I've noticed dosterone in my house at all. All I have is women everywhere. My daughters and my wife and I love it.

Margaret Kerrison 21:05
Love it!

Alex Ferrari 21:05
So you have this new book about immersive storytelling? What is immersive storytelling? And how can it be used in the screenwriting and television work? Because that many, not many people are gonna have the opportunity to tell the kind of stories you were telling with Star Wars and that kind of stuff. But what lessons can you pull out of that to apply to television and feature films?

Margaret Kerrison 21:25
Yeah, you know, immersive storytelling is such a broad term, to encompass this idea that you want to be able to tell a story in a medium that you can experience. And that meaning that you're you, as a visitor, as an audience member are part of that story. Because in a lot of the traditional media, which I love, by the way, you know, reading books, and watching film, and TV and all of that stuff, you don't have a part to play in that story, you're pretty much a passive observer viewer of those stories. But an immersive storytelling, we're seeing a lot of this really popping up all over the world, right? Where you can go into a place and suspend your disbelief, meaning that you for that moment feel like you're in that world in that place that the Creator has created for you. And this creator storyteller is using different tools and techniques in order to make you believe that you're in that place that you are present. And in that moment. And I think some of the most powerful, immersive storytelling are the ones that transport you into that world. And so there's so many different examples of that, right? There's really, you know, tiny museums or galleries or even stores, retail stores that does that. When you walk in, you're like, holy moly, what is this place? Right? Immediately, you're transported into a different dimension. And then there's some that you go into, you know, that are places for you to explore and to discover. And so I use a lot of different examples, in my book, everything from the museum's to the really, you know, epic theme park lands and attraction sort of thing. And everything in between. Because I think that there isn't any one true model, per se, of like, this is what immersive storytelling should be. Because I think once we can define the optimal, or, you know, the peak of that experience, I think we, we would have failed, I think we always need to continually develop and evolve what that means. And I think that now with a lot of various organizations and companies trying to figure out like, how do we blur you know, the real versus the virtual and digital and all of this stuff, I think there's going to be an even bigger, broader meaning of what immersive storytelling is. But ultimately, it is a place for you to physically be present, and to feel transported into a whole other world. And to be able to use all of your senses as a human being, to understand what is real to you, because what is real besides your own. You building your perception of reality, right? Everything from VR to AR to real life experiences where there's nothing virtual or digital, anything virtual or digital about it. So, you know, even when I'm thinking about like, talking about real and imagined worlds, sometimes they're one in the same I feel. So I think that it's a really great opportunity for future storytellers and the next generation of storytellers to think about how they can really push that. Because Can you imagine, even a few decades ago, a couple of decades ago, we can't even imagine being able to do something like this, right? Like you and I talking, you know, in real time and being able to see each other can see and hear each other in real time in such a way. And who knows, five years, 10 years from now, what could that mean, you know, to be able to do something that is, you know, being present with someone else, something that social, something that is emotional as well? How do you think about telling stories in an immersive way that touches upon all of those things?

Alex Ferrari 25:31
So what are the different kinds of immersive storytelling?

Margaret Kerrison 25:34
Oh, my goodness, I mean,

Alex Ferrari 25:39
Just a couple

Margaret Kerrison 25:40
I mean, everything from you know, it's funny, because like, people would argue that reading a book is immersive. If you're a very, if you're really into a book, right, you can fully immerse yourself in it, you can forget about, you know, time goes by, right. So I think that there, it just really depends on how you define it. But I think that, you know, everything from really cool museums, like I think about, one of the examples that I brought up in my book was the, the National Museum of African American History in Washington, DC, and going through that experience, and feeling completely immersed in that starting from the bowels of a slave ship, and rising up and just going from Florida, Florida floor, and climbing up to that, to experience that entire history, and ultimately realizing that American history is African American history. So going through something like that was extremely, you know, immersive for someone like me. And I think it's very, you know, subjective for a lot of people, right? Some people might feel differently about what's immersive and what's not. So museums, to me are extremely immersive. I mean, there's examples that we're seeing with places like Meow Wolf, you know, where they have a whole bunch. It's an artist collective, where they're creating a place where you can play and engage and go down slides, there's the first one was house of eternal return. In Santa Fe, New Mexico. There's another one in Vegas, and another one in Denver, Colorado, and one coming out in I believe, Austin, Texas. And it's a playground for all ages, basically, right? You can let loose, you can interact with things, you can go explore these really bizarre rooms that at first sight may not have any meaning. But then as you go through and do the little games and interactives you uncover and discover all of these things that are just kind of a layer underneath what you thought was, you know, your perception of the world. And then you uncover that there's something hidden all along, right.

Alex Ferrari 27:51
What's really interesting about what you're talking about is that for so many people listening, you know, they think that screenwriting a movie, you know, writing a movie or writing a television and television are the only two ways that you can write in entertainment. Many, you know, while ago, I had a video game writer on which was a fascinating conversation, how that. I mean, I'm like, how big is descriptive? Like, it's six feet tall, six feet tall. It was literally the six feet from the ground all the way up of papers. And that's the script. It's like, I'm like, what? And so there are other ways to do it. And I'd have to imagine that there is less competition in this space than there is in the screenwriting television space, but probably less opportunities as well. Is that a fair statement?

Margaret Kerrison 28:37
Hmm. I don't know if there's less competition, I think there's, you know, there's always a, it's a very small world, this whole industry. And I think there's always this healthy competition, of wanting, you know, whatever the competitive company or theme park, whatever it is, right. Like, we never had any ill feelings towards someone who would open an experience that's truly immersive because that that challenges us to be better. And for people who are really interested in this kind of immersive storytelling industry, I think that that healthy competition is very good. Oftentimes, these companies collaborate with each other too. So I don't think it's, it's this fierce, you know, Doggy Dog like competition or anything like that. I think that, you know, when I was an imagineer and went to Harry Potter The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time, I was so impressed. And I even mentioned it in my book as one of the examples of really excellent, immersive storytelling. So for me, as a fan of immersive experiences, I want more and more and more of it, and not only that, I want a variety of it to from the really small experiences to the really epic ones. So for me, I think that I'm Oh, yes, it is there is a healthy competition between all of these between all the companies that work in this field. But I also think that there are opportunities, but it's probably not as mainstream as like thinking about like, oh, try going for the writing job in gaming, or film or TV, because oftentimes, these listings, or these job postings aren't posted. And it's a lot of word of mouth. And it's all a lot about relationships and networking, and working with the smaller companies first or a consultant, you know, and then moving yourself up from there. So it's not as easy I would say, to get into that door, but that's changing, because there's a lot of colleges and universities now that are offering programs in themed entertainment. And so there is this understanding or appreciation for the fact that our kind of work is very nuanced and very, you know, it's, it's, it's different in that you have to think about storytelling in a holistic, multi sensory type of perspective, rather than writing words on a page and handing it off to someone who will do who knows what with it. Right. So I think that it's a lot more of a collaborative industry that you're looking into.

Alex Ferrari 31:20
So what tips do you have for writers trying to create worlds in their stories, regardless of the story? Are there any tips or ideas or things that you can tell them about? How to move from just telling a story to creating worlds I mean, George Lucas was the master of that Walt Disney was a master of that. Because when you create a world, it's it just goes on, and it started being genre Gene Roddenberry was was, you know, famous for that, obviously, as well. So how do you have any advice for screenwriters?

Margaret Kerrison 31:50
You know, I think that my main thing is always the question of, Why are you telling the story? And why are you the best person to tell the story? And, you know, with all of the other things aside of like, of course, you want it to be fun, and like you want it to be engaging, and all of that stuff, I think those are the two important questions that I always ask whenever I go into any project, is why should I care? You know, because, like me, the creator, storyteller, if I don't care, and I'm writing this or creating, helping to create this, then no one's gonna care. Because, you know, as human beings, we empathize with any sort of universal human truths. And George Lucas knew that well, when he was creating Star Wars, right? He knew about, you know, there's, it's very Shakespearean, you know, like Star Wars about how Oh, my gosh, the villain this whole time was my dad, like, it's sort of Shakespeare, you know? Mad Sorry, sorry to spoil it for you. You know, but it's that sort of thing that like, it's always these universal themes. And these universal human truths are, that's now like, you know, only in the past few years, do I really understand when people say, write what you know, and all the feelings, all the emotions, the stories that have happened to you, like, how do you take all of that, and bring it into the stories that you're helping to create, right? Because if you're just, you know, taking a template of something else, or you know, you watch something, or you experience something, oh, yeah, let's do that. And let's do it our way sort of thing. It doesn't feel true, it doesn't feel genuine. And so that's kind of my advice to screenwriters is whenever you write your story, or script, like, ask that question of like, why are you telling this story? Why should you care? Because that's going to, you know, influence why other people should care? And what's that universal truth or a theme that everyone can resonate with, that doesn't feel like it's superficial, that doesn't feel like it's, you know, something you've seen or heard of before? You know, you want to be as unique and as personal as possible. You know, I like when I talk to, or read sometimes writing samples from writers and it's very, it you can tell that there's a lot of influences from other movies or, you know, scripts and things like that, right? It's just the same thing over and over again. And I think there's a lot of fear and insecurity as a writer, to want to expose that deeper side of you. And a lot of the times I think about it, I'm like, you know, what, I think as a, as a writer, you have to write about your traumas, you have to write about the things that, you know, killed you inside. That disturbed you that really bothered you that really hurt you, you know, and, in addition to the trauma As you also write about your triumphs, right, you write about the things that like, you started really low, and you work yourself up to being able to succeed in the end. So what are those cases or situations or scenarios in your life? Where you went from that trauma to triumph, right? And that's a character arc. That's a story arc, how do people transform and change in your story, because no one wants to cheer for someone who has it all, in the beginning of the story, right? Unless the story is about a person who has it all and then loses everything in the end. But what is that arc when you're thinking about it? And so I think that really drawing upon your own personal experiences, and really going there, you know, all the really uncomfortable places, the places that you think that no one would understand, believe me, people will understand, especially if it's more specific and more personal to you. I think that there's going to be, you'll be surprised to find out that there's going to be a lot of people who feel like holy cow, like, I totally resonate with that, you know, I know what it's like to, you know, be a parent in that situation, or a child in that situation or friend or whatever it is, right. So, yeah,

Alex Ferrari 36:18
Even started even Star Wars had George Lucas's was, it's about his father. Yeah, exactly. It was about his relationship with his father. Right. So it's a certain way, you know, after speaking to so many different successful writers and directors, I realized that years ago that I realized that the thing that makes them all successful is that they are able to tap into their own unique uniqueness, their own secret sauce, as I call it, that nobody else has. I mean, Tarantino is a secret sauces you get, there's nobody else on the planet. He's not trying to write like somebody else. Many other people are trying to write like him, right?

Margaret Kerrison 36:54
I remember. Yeah. No, let's see. Who is Chris? Chris? Oh, gosh, you're you're mentioning all my heroes.

Alex Ferrari 37:02
Right, like Chris Nolan. Nobody else on the planet, really? Maybe his brother, because they write together. But there's, there's such a unique perspective. Yeah, that comes from them. And that goes for directors as well as writers. Oh, definitely.

Margaret Kerrison 37:17
You have to be brave enough to be you have to be brave. And, you know, that's a lot of the times. You know, I remember watching Pulp Fiction for the first time when I was in high school. And I was floored. I didn't know what was going on. And what is this? Like, you know, I know, this is a movie. But what is this, like this format is nonlinear storytelling. And there have been nonlinear storytelling before, you know, Citizen Kane, all of that, right. But there was such a fresh, unique perspective to it. And the characters that he wrote that are so unique and so interesting, right? At the end of the day, there are interesting people with interesting problems. And you're rooting for them as despicable as some of those characters are you your, your, you can't help but kind of explore what that is, you know, not everyone's just, you know, it isn't just black and white, a person, right, there's a gray area there. And what is that gray area? And how do you really explore and really reveal that in a movie in a story in a script that makes it interesting for people and, you know, he was a is a master of that. So I completely agree with that. It's like, you know, what is that thing that, you know, makes you feel kind of uncomfortable. You should look into that, as a writer, you know, go go into that go deep into that, and really uncover. And you know, if anything, it's some kind of self therapy to as a story. Writer, absolutely.

Alex Ferrari 38:49
My first my first book was a complete therapy session. story. It was just like, you did go deep into things. And you, I would skip chapters, because I knew where I had to go visually. I had to go emotionally to go there. Yeah, because I was like, I don't want to go there. It was like a dark corner with a door and like, I don't want to open that door. Yeah, but then like, when you go in there, just like, Oh, God, I'm in here again. And but that's where, but that's where that's where you mind the best stuff. If you look at any of the if you look at any successful writer, especially when they're starting out, that's where they start coming out with these kinds of things. And maybe later on, you know, after years, where they have such a mastery of the craft, they can apply it to any story and kind of still put their taste and flavor on it. But doesn't have to be as personal but when you're starting out personnel, I mean, the personal story is where the personal connection I mean, like we just said with Star Wars, George Lucas, I mean, Darth Vader and Luke were him and his father. Now wrapped in insane Well, yeah,

Margaret Kerrison 39:53

Alex Ferrari 39:54
But there was a chord there that we all can relate to, like, Oh, our parents don't understand us.

Margaret Kerrison 40:00
Do we just want love and acceptance. You know,

Alex Ferrari 40:04
That's for you to kill me with the force, you know.

Margaret Kerrison 40:07
Exactly, exactly. You know, it's it's so universal, like anyone can understand that, right? And I think that like, a lot of people are like, Oh yeah, I don't watch like, you know, those fantasy films like, you know, Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, because it's just too out there. And it's like, if you look at all of those stories, they are bathed, feel more real, you know, to our ordinary lives, more so than, you know, some of the other stories out there that try to be set, you know, the tracks that are set in the real world, you know, and I think that that's something that, as storytellers and writers, you just go back to, again, and again, it's like, a lot of these themes are recurring. And we want and especially like, during these times, right, when there is so much uncertainty in the world, we want and need storytellers to help us navigate through this crazy, crazy rollout. process and make us feel and feel less alone. Because when you tell those stories, and people resonate with it, you have done, you know, great work in terms of being able to open up people's minds and eyes. And every time they read your book, or watch your movie, or play or TV show or experience, and walk out with new eyes and see a better world a more hopeful world that they want to live in, then you've done your job. Well, you have helped to transform people's minds and open their minds and eyes into what's possible. And that's exactly what we need to do as storytellers.

Alex Ferrari 41:48
And isn't it interesting, though, as you're talking, the thing that came into my mind was when you see these big movies that create these massive worlds, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter star wars, the reason that those films are successful is not only because they built these beautiful, insane, wonderful worlds, but but the characters are so universal. The themes are so universal, you know, Avatar, and what, what Jim is doing with? I think he's doing five more.

Margaret Kerrison 42:21
I think so. Five or three or five? I don't know. Ambitious? Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 42:27
It's five more he's like, I'm gonna I think I heard a quote, he said, I'm gonna die on Pandora. Because this is it. This is he's in the avatar baking business. He said for the rest of his life. He's

Margaret Kerrison 42:37
Pandora or bust. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 42:39
I mean, that this is basically the way it's gonna go.

Margaret Kerrison 42:39
And come on, we have to mention the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I mean, oh, my gosh,

Alex Ferrari 42:47
Oh, that's been immersive. But that's been immersive storytelling when Stanley created that kind of world back in the comic books, and that's what comic books are. It is very, I mean, it's world building. I mean, comic books, ceiling. That's all they do. But and we've never really seen it done in cinema before. Yeah. And yeah, and what they've been able to do, whether you like them, or you don't like them? It is it's world building. And I'll use another example of a more contemporary film Top Gun.

Margaret Kerrison 43:14
Oh, my gosh. Oh, I have. I've watched that so far. Twice in the theater. Oh, my God, oh, good. One in a, you know, just the whatever normal theater AMC and one in IMAX. And I have to say when I was one, it was 35 years ago, that I went to watch it. I was eight years old. And I brought my eight year old son at the time he was a last year, you know, whenever it came out, and I brought my eight year old son to watch the sequel. And it was amazing. The sequel was way better, you know?

Alex Ferrari 43:50
So, but, but do you want to talk about immersive storytelling in a cinematic experience? There's a reason why it's now number six of all time, which is insane for a sequel, which is the longest time it's ever taken to do a sequel in the history of cinema. 36 years, 36 years for it to do its whole round. And when I was watching it, it's just like you are in that world. But you also are you also care about the characters. And there's also a little nostalgia that dabbled in for all us older folk. But my kids saw it and they didn't know the first one. I was trying to explain to them the first one they're like, who's goose? And then like, what happened to goose? I'm like, well legit, and then they see it in the movie like Oh, okay. Is but that's such a really interesting way to look at story. What they did.

Margaret Kerrison 44:44
Exactly, and you know, and that's kind of the going back to this idea of immersing yourself and transporting you into that world. And wanting to be with those characters and wanting the story to never end Right. And that's the most important thing about immersive storytelling is that once that movie is over, or the TV show is over, there is a hunger and a need and that desire for people to fulfill their deepest wishes of carrying out, you know, in their heroes footsteps, and, you know, whatever they felt like being able to fly, like, you know, Tom Cruise like Maverick, right? Being able to be up in the sky and doing all those crazy the dog fight all of those things, right? Like, how can you as an immersive storyteller, extend that story? And continue it so that people can always go back to it? Way after that movie ends? Or way after the TV show? Or whatever it is? Right? How do you think about Leto doing making games for it? I mean, I remember after watching Top Gun on IMAX, my husband who's a huge Top Gun fan, as well started, you know, wanting to play with the microphone, Microsoft simulator? Because he back yeah, oh, no, no, no, yeah, yeah, exactly. They have a Top Gun version. I think it's Microsoft semula has a Top Gun version, but one of them has a top conversion. And so it's being able to, you know, continue that like, going on that journey again. And again and again, right?

Alex Ferrari 46:23
It's so interesting, because when I saw avatar for the first time, and I only seen avatar in 3d on the theaters, I don't like 3d movies. But when Jim does it, it's done. Right. So I remember getting I went bought the game, because I wanted to live, I want to go back to Pandora. I wanted to just kind of walk around it. And I wanted to be in it. And yeah, all of that. And I know there's a Pandora experience at Disney as well, I gotta go to but it was just it was one of those times when I just he built such a beautiful world that I want it to kind of just go in and live in and yeah, knows, in 1015 20 years, what kind of entertainment will be based off of Star Wars and, and Harry Potter and this kind of stuff. And we'll we're going to be able to go with all of that. It's pretty remarkable as storytellers what we can do.

Margaret Kerrison 47:11
There are no limits, right? There are no limits, right.

Alex Ferrari 47:14
And that's the thing that I think a lot of writers need to understand is, I've also seen movies that try to build worlds. The movies fail. Yeah, because the story didn't work, or the characters didn't work. They got too busy building up the environment. But they forgot what was really important about the environment. It's a Star Wars, you can throw that in feudal Japan, and it works. Yeah, yeah. But in the wild, wild west, and it works. Right. Mandalorian is basically the wild wild west and space. I mean, that's basically what meant,

Margaret Kerrison 47:45
Yeah. And it's a lot of it is like, you know, understanding what the character archetypes that people really gravitate towards, but also in that, you know, the journey. In fact, like, if you think about the more difficult or challenging the journey is for the character, the more compelling it is for us, because we want to know, it's like, are they going to make it you know, especially if you've fallen in love with those characters. I mean, my I, I keep bringing up this example, because I rewatched it all over again recently with squid gain, and having all of the characters every single one of them, you know, all the main characters, again, some despicable some likable, you know, most of them despicable, and being able to go on that journey with them. They're very, very unique journey. I mean, that movie is so stellar in so many ways, just in terms of the like Sinha visually sort of cinematography, but the writing and the acting and the directing, was just that completely immersed me into that world, right? To the point where after I had my second run of watching all of the, you know, the first season again, I felt like okay, I want to go out I want to I want to experience these games, you know not to die, but then like,

Alex Ferrari 49:03
Do you want to do red light green light? Do you want to go red? Like you and me Alex, we're gonna go to the playground and play red light and green light. Because I remember watching it too, and you want to talk about it, you know? And that was a beauty. The beauty about that story is that it's a world that I particularly didn't want to go into that world. It wasn't I didn't feel like I wanted to go in there. Personally. It's a pretty jacked up world. I don't want to go to Blade Runner world. Yeah, Star Wars. I got a bunch of other players but that's But you knew that everybody was going to die except one. The one that was going to make it and you just really didn't know. Yeah, every episode got closer and closer. It was just a brutal beauty. Yeah, watching that, that thing. And to use another contemporary show that I consider this consider the writer one of the best writers in Hollywood right now. Taylor Sheridan?

Margaret Kerrison 50:01
Oh, yes.

Alex Ferrari 50:05
And as I watch Yellowstone, I'm like, do I want to buy a ranch? And my horses now? Is that what I want to do? Like because he makes it he writes it so beautifully and romantically and, and either with warts and all. I mean, it's a pretty brutal show. But it just, you're just like, Man, I think I want to I think I need a horse. I think I need to buy 10,000 acres and just roam free.

Margaret Kerrison 50:33
But it's, it's inspiring you to want to do something to want to be someone else, right. And I think a lot of immersive storytelling is that aspirational quality is that, you know, not only does it inspire you, but you aspire to be like that character or live in that world or live that story, whatever it is. And that's what stories should be like, right? Like they should have that feeling of, I want to I want to experience that I want to I want to walk in someone else's footsteps for a while, I want to experience a place that I've never been to before. And what does that what does that mean to me, you know, and I think being able to think like that is only going to do good in our society be having that curiosity, and having that desire to want to expose yourself to different worlds and people and situations. And all this can only make us grow as, as people. So I think that that's so important. And everyone again, like everyone has their own preferences to what that world is to, you know what kind of environment or people they want to be around all the time. But it's having that idea that you can live differently, that you can aspire to something better or greater or more like yourself, because let's not forget the people who are actually living their lives and not feeling very good in their own skin. And having those worlds or stories expose them to who they truly are. So I think that that's also extremely interesting for people, you know, if they design an avatar for themselves, and they're like, that's, that is what I want to look like, you know,

Alex Ferrari 52:21
And that's the basis of cosplay. I mean, that's where you go to a comic book convention. And I remember taking my wife to my first comic book convention deck a decade ago, and she was fascinated by grown adults, superheroes, and she would stop them. And I'm like, what do you do for a living because I'm an attorney. I'm a doctor. And like, we just do this on the weekends because we love it. But it's a way to feel like you're in that story. You're trying their that's their attempt to be part of the story that means so much to them. Story is such a powerful thing we as human beings can't live without story. It is part of its, I want to say is as important as water and food. But after water, food and shelter and the other key thing or Yeah, out story. We don't function. I mean, even if it's if you've been asked to tell you, Hey, John just died around the corner because there was a tiger there. That's a story that helps us survive.

Margaret Kerrison 53:16
Exactly. And this was, yeah, it was a survival mechanism. It was a way for us to communicate, don't go to that part of the woods or wherever, right? It's a wager. It was cautionary tales. A lot of the children's fairy tales started off as cautionary, but then it became inspirational, aspirational and entertaining, and all of these things. But stories serve so much so many different purposes. But ultimately, it's really a reflection of ourselves. And you know, wanting to experience different worlds and stories that help us to understand who we are and why we're here.

Alex Ferrari 53:54
Amen, sister. Amen. preach, preach. I'm gonna ask you, Mark, I'm gonna ask you a few questions. Ask all my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Margaret Kerrison 54:05
Keep writing. I know that a lot of writers are waiting for the magical phone call. But that magical phone call does not happen unless you work for it. So writers you got to write. And even if you're not getting paid for it, you got to write, you know, your whatever it is like if you're going to write a book or a play or script for feature film or TV, write something you're super passionate about. Don't worry about who's going to buy this or read this or any of that write the story. If there's only one story that you got to tell before you die, write that story. That's my advice, so that when someone does come knocking on your door, and you want to share that story, then that's the perfect time to do it. And you gotta you gotta write. I think that that's something you know, I need a lot of young people who are like I'm gonna be a writer one day. And I'm like, What are you writing now? And they're like, Oh, I haven't written anything for a while. Writers, right? You gotta write?

Alex Ferrari 55:11
Absolutely. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Margaret Kerrison 55:17
Oh, boy, wow, that's a good one. That's a good one. You know, one of the best lessons that I keep learning again and again, and one that I, you know, yeah, I didn't learn until like, maybe into my 30s or something, that as you rise up, you got to bring people up with you. And I think that that's so true. And I have had a lot of mentors in my life. And I see how they do that. And I'm starting to realize that how important that is, that when you do find success in whatever you do, you got to bring people with you, the people, the people that you like, the people that you trust, you know, and I think that you got to give back, you got to give back what you got. And that's something that I think a lot of, you know, when you're first starting out, it's, you often think about, you know, me, me, me, and how do I get ahead all of that stuff? And how do I get to the top by stomping on people or whatever it is, you know, I think that that's, that's not how the world works. You know, be kind, be gracious, be generous. And be generous with what you know. And you know, who you know. And I think that that's something that I always remind myself of, you know, every day, no matter you know what I'm doing, I think that you got to treat people. You got to treat people, right.

Alex Ferrari 56:48
And three of your favorite films of all time. Oh, no, don't ask me. Oh, my God, three have to take that come to mind today. You won't be on your gravestone. Don't worry.

Margaret Kerrison 57:00
Wow. Oh, I mean, I there's so many movies that I go back to again and again. I mean, recently, I've been, you know, I was I rewatched. This I mean, Mad Max Fury. Fury Road. Wow, Mike. So good. So it's all good. And black and white version? Oh, no, I didn't have to watch. Oh. Okay, okay. But I read the book on the making of the movie and everything. I was just like, holy moly. Like, all the various things that have to happen for this movie to even exist was a miracle in itself. And I had it's just craziness. And that is it was a I felt like it was creativity, unbridled creativity. You know, there was just the costuming and like, the makeup and just some of the words that people were saying. It's like, what is this right? Beautiful, chaotic mess. Like, it wasn't a mess at all. It was beautiful.

Alex Ferrari 58:08
The thing I love about that is like, from the director of Happy Feet. The Oscar winning director of Happy Feet gum. Road. What?

Margaret Kerrison 58:23
So true. So true. Oh my gosh. But Charlize throne is amazing in it. And like I mean, she can play anything, but she was really great in it. Oh, two more do I have to say two more? Oh, my gosh, there's so many. You know, I like one of the movies that I rewatched over and over again when I was in high school in college, I think was Chungking Express by Ben Hur. Why? And it was such it was so beautiful and quiet. But I love the character development. I love just just how it was such. There's simple stories about everyday characters, you know. And that also reminds me of lost in translation to like that I can watch over and over again as well. So, so many, I mean, are

Alex Ferrari 59:14
I won't I won't talk to you anymore. Margaret, where can people find your new book?

Margaret Kerrison 59:21
So as of yesterday, my book is available everywhere Amazon target in your local bookstores. I think that I'll definitely available online, in your local bookstores. So really anywhere and hopefully anywhere. So immersive storytelling for real and imagined worlds are writers guide. And I'm actually having a book signing if you're in Pasadena, California, on September 9 at 7pm in the Romans bookstore in Pasadena too, so it'd be really great to see some people there as well.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:00
It has been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much for coming on the show and thank you for building these worlds that we're walking in and experiencing and and inspiring future storytellers of the future. So I appreciate you my dear, thank you so much.

Margaret Kerrison 1:00:12
Oh, thank you so much, Alex for having me. It was really fun talking to you.

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Best FREE Screenwriting Software in 2022…PERIOD!

A welder cannot build a bridge without his torch. A rockstar can’t have a solo without his guitar. A screenwriter cannot write a script without screenwriting software.

Today we’ll look at five of the best screenwriting software programs out there in the market in 2021, and the best part, all of these choices are FREE.

Maybe you’re a first-time writer looking to try and bring the film you see in your head onto the page or maybe you’re a seasoned writing veteran looking for new software to try out. Well, let’s look at some of your best choices.

Arc Studio

Arc Studio is one of the best new screenwriting software options. It offers an easy-to-learn, intuitive interface with professional features and a free browser version (yes, totally free). It’s a great screenwriting software for professionals or beginners. One of the great things about Arc Studio is you can collaborate with other writers in real time, similar to Google Docs. You can also export your screenplay as a PDF or .fdx file for easy sharing and collaboration with other writers who use different software.

The cloud-based software allows you to access and write your screenplay from the downloadable software (Mac and PC), or in your browser, or from the iOS app on your iPhone or iPad. And it has automatic cloud storage with the ability to save to Google Drive or your hard drive, and access your screenplay from practically any device that has an internet connection.

Arc Studio also offers a great outlining tool for breaking your story and crafting your characters’ arcs.If you need production tools like colored pages and starred revisions, you won’t get that with this tool, though the Arc Studio team says those features are coming soon.

Cost: Free, with option to upgrade to the $99/year Pro version. You can download the software here


Celtx is screenwriting/pre-production software designed for creating and organizing media projects in several different formats, film screenplays, television screenplays, stage plays, games, podcasts, and documentaries.

It is one of the most well-known screenwriting software in the film industry.

With many collaborative features built into its code its perfect if you want to collaborate on a script in real-time.

There are some features that require you to pay a monthly fee to use, but if you’re just looking for software that’ll allow you to simply write and have things in the proper industry standards when it comes to formatting, you can’t do wrong with Celtx.

Celtx is also available on all devices so it makes writing at home or on the go possible.

You can download the software here


WriterDuet is screenwriting software for writing and editing screenplays and other forms of mass media.

Initially released in 2013, this software has been getting more recognition as time has moved along and is a favorite among up-and-coming filmmakers.

The software is powered by Firebase. This allows users to write together in real-time from multiple devices.

WriterDuet is an online-based program but recently the software has been given some off-line features that are free to use.

While it’s not false advertising to say that WriterDuet is free, there are some stipulations to the free title.

Unlike some other programs, WriterDuet allows its users to write their first THREE screenplays for free. After that, you either have to pay a per-month price or an annual free.

With that said, if you are a first-time writer, it’ll take you some time to fully finish your first –second – and even third screenplay. By that time, you may decide to invest some money into a full version of this software or go with a competitor.

Scripts written with WriterDuet allow the user to save their script in the FDX file format which 95% of Hollywood studios, producers, production companies use, so if you get a script request from someone in the industry you’ll be able to easily send the script in the proper format.

You can download the software here

Fade In

Fade In Professional Screenwriting Software or simply known as Fade In is screenwriting software for crafting film and television screenplays, stage plays, radio plays, graphic novels, and more.

The look of the software is very watered down allowing the user to simply focus on writing their script.

While the software is free, you can only work on one script at a time unless you want to pay a fee to work on more.

If you’re just getting your feet wet in screenwriting, the simple free version will do its job just fine.

You can save your script in FDX format as well, which means you can send your script to someone that uses Final Draft and its compatible.

With the software available for both Mac and Windows users, you don’t have to worry if it’ll work on your device.

You can download the software here


Trelby is a free and open-source screenwriting program that provides a simple, uncluttered interface for writing scripts.

This is the only open source screenwriting program we have on this list. This means any user can edit the program’s code to add new features or take away ones. This is how innovations are made.

If you’re looking for software that not only allows you to write your script but also does other things like budgeting, create cast lists, and other related pre-production tasks, this isn’t the software for you as this software has none of those features.

Trebly is designed to be clean and straightforward. If you simply want to sit down and write, then Trelby is perfect for you.

Kudos to Trelby for being 100% free. There are no extra features that you have to pay for.

You can download the software here

Kit Scenarist

This is completely free screenwriting software that you may have never heard of before because it’s still in beta, but available to download now.

It allows you to export for Final Draft, Word DocX, and PDF files.

A major feature that caught our eye that no other screenwriting program features, is a clock that gives you an estimate of the duration of your screenplay. Each scene heading includes time for how long the software believes your scene will run.

This isn’t a feature that makes all other screenwriting software obsolete, but it’s a unique feature we haven’t seen before and could be useful, especially for those writers who tend to write longer than normal scenes. It’s also a great tool in quickly assessing the pace of your script.

The layout is amazingly simple and allows the user to focus on what’s most important, writing the actual script. Everything looks clean and sleek.

While the program is free, you can choose to pay for dedicated cloud storage and also buy a mobile version of the program for your phone so you can continue writing your script no matter where you are.

The only visible downside to Kit Scenarist is that since the program is still in the beta stage you may run into some issues here and there as the programmers are still working out all the kinks to the program’s code.

But if you’re looking for something brand-new, free, with some unique features, this could be the perfect screenwriting software for you.

You can download the software here

10 Most Successful Movie Themes, Story Types, Plot Types & Genres

Before we can talk about the best movie themes in film, we have to understand what theme exactly is.

In the dictionary:

Theme – an idea that recurs in or pervades a work of art or literature.

So, for example, The Notebook has several themes, which films can and do have, but its main theme is, love.

Love is such a big theme that we’ll jump right into our list.


While we are giving you the most successful themes in movies, we are not ranking them on their importance. As you’ll see, most standout films have more than one theme.

If you’ve ever watched a film you’ll have noticed that 100% had loved as one of its themes. Think about it? There’s always a love storyline in any film. Go ahead, try and think of a film that doesn’t have a love storyline?

Can’t do it, can you? 

Love, a great theme to write about and needed to be on our list for sure. The Love Story is one of the most popular themes in movies. This is because love is the most universal emotion and love stories can touch people from all walks of life.

There are two types of love stories. One is the romantic love story and the other is the platonic love story.

Romantic Love Story

A romantic love story is a story about two people who fall in love with each other. In the platonic love story, two people fall in love with each other, but they don’t end up together. The theme of love in movies is very broad.

In fact, it can be a theme for a film on many different levels. For example, if your character falls in love with his ex-girlfriend, then it’s not a romantic love story. However, if he gets back together with her after they broke up, then this is a romantic love story.

Love at First Sight

If your screenplay revolves around a couple who fall in love with each other at first sight, then this is a romantic love story. However, if you want to create an unexpected romantic love story, then it’s better to avoid using the phrase “love at first sight” in your screenplay. It might sound too cliché.

Platonic Love Story

However, if it’s a romantic comedy, then it is a platonic love story. When writing your screenplay, you need to understand that the love theme is the most important one you have to think about. It’s the heart and soul of your story and it will be the reason why your audience comes back to watch it again and again.

Go to Genre: Romance


One of the most popular film genres is horror, and in horror, there is a ton of fear themes. If you’re writing a scary move and don’t incorporate fear, then you haven’t written a horror film at all, you’ve written a boring drama.

Horror is more than just a bunch of jump scares and gore. It has to be based on fear, otherwise it isn’t really horror at all. Fear is the basis of horror, and that means that there has to be some form of fear in every horror movie. So what is fear?

Fear can be described as a feeling of impending doom or danger. It’s the idea that something bad is about to happen. It’s not just about the idea of death, it’s also about the idea of getting hurt.

There are several types of fear, and they each serve a different purpose. The first type of fear is physical fear. This is when you have a real threat of bodily harm, like being attacked by a killer or having your house burned down.

There’s nothing scarier than thinking that you’re going to be hurt, and it will cause your body to tense up and your heart rate to increase. Next is emotional fear. This is the fear of something that is scary, but it’s not as immediate. It’s more about the feeling of dread, like being scared of something that is out of your control.

A great example of this is watching horror movies, which are designed to give you a sense of dread.

The third type of fear is situational fear, which means that you’re afraid of something that you can’t do anything about. This could be something as simple as the fact that you don’t know what’s around the corner. The best horror movies always incorporate some form of all three types of fear.

If you have only one type of fear in a movie, then it won’t be scary, it will just be boring. You have to have at least some form of physical fear in a horror film. This is because without a threat of bodily harm, there isn’t going to be any tension. There has to be some kind of emotional fear in a horror movie. Otherwise, there will be no sense of dread.

This is because if you don’t have any danger, then the story will never end. Fear can be incorporated into many different ways in a horror film. You can use fear to make a character scared, you can scare the audience, or you can just scare the hell out of them. In a horror movie, you have to scare people. That’s how you get the audience to feel afraid and want to watch more.

A good way to incorporate fear into your script is through the use of suspense. A lot of people think that a horror movie is only scary because of the gore, but this isn’t true. Horror movies are scary because of the use of suspense. This is when there is an element of surprise in a situation that the characters are in.

Go to Genre: Horror and Thrillers

Good Vs Evil

Do we even have to explain this one? Any superhero film that you have ever seen falls into this theming. Even films like the Lord of the Ring series is all about Good vs. Evil.

Good and evil are two of the most used psychological concepts in movies and TV shows. There’s a reason for it: they’re extremely easy to understand and apply, and they’re very powerful ways to help us emotionally process information we might otherwise not take into account.

The good guys are the ones who save the world and help people, while the bad guys are the ones who want to destroy the world and hurt people. In real life, however, good and evil isn’t as cut-and-dried as in a Hollywood blockbuster.

In reality, it’s a matter of perspective. Some people might be more compassionate, and others may not. And just because someone is the good guy today doesn’t mean they will be the bad guy tomorrow.

We may see a movie or TV show where a character does something we don’t agree with, but it doesn’t make us want to condemn him or her. Why not? Because of the way emotions operate in our minds.

It’s a question many of us have wondered, at least in our childhood years. The answer is simple: it all depends on what you believe in. When we grow up, we often develop a philosophy about how the world works and what values are important. As such, we also develop beliefs about what is good and evil.

But it doesn’t have to just be used in films with massive battles and explosions.

Take a look at a comedy like Due Date. Robert Downey Jr. can be considered the good guy as he’s our main character just trying to get home before his wife gives birth to their first child.

Zach Galifianakis can be seen as the evil character, seemingly sabotaging our protagonist throughout the film, until this theme slowly disappears as the two characters become friends.

Go To Genre: Action and Superhero/Comic Book Films


We’re all going to die someday. That can be a very scary thing for some and a calming thing to understand for others. Death is a major part of life so its obvious that it would be a major theme used in all sorts of films.

Usually, in high stakes type of films, death is the danger of pushing our characters into action.

A film like Inception, by Christopher Nolan, can have amazing visuals and imaginative plot points, but at the end of the day, one of the major themes in the film is death.

Inception shows us what happens when we die, and it’s a haunting and fascinating concept to think about. The film asks questions about how we go on living after we die, and how we could be brought back to life.

Inception shows us how our consciousness continues on after we die, and it makes us consider if we really want to continue living after we die. We have an interesting choice to make, whether we want to go on living or not. I’ve always wondered if we go on living after we die, but I never thought about what it would be like to die.

Sometimes, though, death is not just an obstacle to overcome but also a major plot point that can lead to a resolution. Sometimes, death is a necessary part of the story.

Death is the end of one thing, or the beginning of something else. In film, death is used as a plot device in many different ways. It can be used as a way to help the audience understand the characters or as a way to help the characters understand themselves. A character can die in a movie, or they can die multiple times.

They can even die before the story begins, or they can die after the movie ends. If we look at the films listed below, we can see how death is used to make a point.

Here are some of cinema’s greatest character are developed by using death.

Fight Club – Death is used by Tyler Durden to help him understand himself and his purpose in life. His death helps him realize that he needs to change and to become the person he was meant to be.

Memento – Death is used in this film to help the main character, Leonard Shelby, understand his own identity.

Casino Royale – Death is used in this movie to help the main character, James Bond, understand his own identity. He learns that his life isn’t defined by what he has done, but by who he is.

The Dark Knight – Death is used by Harvey Dent to help him understand himself and his purpose in life. His death helps him realize that he needs to change and to become the person he was meant to be.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Death is used in this film to help the main character, Lisbeth Salander, understand her own identity. She learns that her life isn’t defined by what she has done, but by who she is.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – Death is used in this film to help the main character, Frodo, understand his own identity. He learns that his life isn’t defined by what he has done, but by who he is. Death is used in this movie to help the main character, Aragorn, understand his own identity. He learns that his life isn’t defined by what he has done, but by who he is.

The Top Death Movies

Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now is about a United States soldier named Captain Willard. He is in Vietnam at the time, and he is about to be promoted to Sergeant. He is also having problems with the men under his command. He gets into a fight with them, and he ends up shooting the man who was leading the fight. The other men try to kill him, but they cannot.

They eventually bring him to a medic, and he is sent home. As he is on his way home, he is shot by another soldier. Willard ends up in the hospital for three days, and he then dies. When Willard dies, it is a turning point in the story because the movie has now become about Willard’s journey to find out what he really wants from life.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street is about a girl named Nancy who is a high school student. She has a crush on a boy named Johnny, and she spends most of her time at his house. One night, she is watching television with Johnny and his parents when the television turns on by itself. It shows an old woman, and she says, “What is your name?” She then tells them to leave the room.

Nancy and Johnny are trapped in the room with the woman, and she tells them that they will die if they do not get into bed with her. She then starts killing them. She kills Johnny first, and then she kills Nancy. The girl’s parents find her dead, and they think that she committed suicide. The girl’s mother is so upset that she goes to the police to report what happened.

Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver is about a taxi driver named Travis Bickle. He lives in New York City, and he is having problems dealing with his past. He is a Vietnam veteran who was dishonorably discharged from the military, and he is obsessed with the death of his girlfriend. The main theme of the movie is what it means to be human.

We see that the most human thing is to love someone and to be loved. When Travis meets Iris, he falls in love with her. This causes him to become very violent. He kills his friend, and he tries to kill a man he sees with his girlfriend.

As he gets more and more involved with his job as a taxi driver, he starts to get obsessed with the idea of killing. When Travis is talking with his psychiatrist, he realizes that he needs to get help for his problems.

Blade Runner

Blade Runner is about an android named Rick Deckard. He has been assigned to track down four escaped androids named Roy Batty, Pris, Zhora, and Zhora. He is trying to determine if they are really human, or if they are just machines. He has to track them down and determine their fate. This movie is about how we deal with death.

We see that humans have the power to destroy themselves. We also see that death is not the end. The main theme of the movie is the idea of how we live in this world. Humans have the power to destroy themselves, but they can also overcome anything.

The Shining

The Shining is about a writer named Jack Torrance who has been living with his family for many years in the Overlook Hotel. Jack is an alcoholic, and he has been working on a book about the hotel called “The Overlook” for many years. One day, Jack’s wife and son decide to leave for the day, and Jack gets drunk.

When Jack goes to check on his son, he is not able to find him, and he hears some noises coming from his son’s room. He goes in to see what is going on, and he finds his son dead in his bed. Jack is unable to deal with this tragedy, and he kills his son and then himself.

Jack Torrance is the first character that we see die in the film, but it is actually Jack Nicholson who dies. This was a way to show how Jack had completely lost control of his life and how he was not able to stop himself from killing his own son. In the end, Jack is the only one who can stop himself from killing his family.

American Beauty

American Beauty is about a man named Lester Burnham. He lives in the suburbs with his wife and daughter. He is a successful businessman, but he is bored and unhappy with his life. One day, he goes to a local bar and sees his neighbor having an affair with his wife.

Lester goes home and tells his wife that she is an adulterer, and that he doesn’t want to live with her anymore. His wife and daughter leave the house and go back to their apartment.

Meanwhile, Lester’s father is dying of cancer.  Lester takes his father to a doctor for treatment, but the doctor says that it’s too late for treatment. He explains that the cancer has spread all over his body and that he only has a few weeks left to live. Lester spends the last days of his father’s life with him, and they talk about life and death.

The end of the movie shows Lester, his wife, and his daughter sitting in a car listening to the radio. Lester turns off the radio, and he starts crying.  Lester then looks at his daughter and says, “I’m sorry, honey. I just don’t know how to quit you.”  The next scene shows Lester walking into his house.

The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects is a great movie. But what makes it so great is that it features many great characters. One of them is Keyser Soze, who is one of the main villains in the film. He has died several times throughout the film. We can see this in the trailer for the movie: We can also see this in the actual movie: What is interesting about these deaths are the different ways they happen.

In the trailer, we see him die in a way that is very dramatic and shocking. In the movie, we see him die in a way that is very funny and surprising. In the trailer, he dies with a gun in his hand. In the movie, he is shot by an innocent bystander.

This was a great way to make him die. It was shocking and it made us question if he really was Keyser Soze. It was also funny because it was unexpected. It would not have been shocking if he had died in the same way that we saw in the trailer.

Go To Genre: Horror, Action, and Adventure


Who doesn’t like to watch a film about someone getting their comeuppance? A revenge story is usually told through the eyes of a protagonist who finds out some bad news and reacts by taking action to make things right.

Films like Gladiator, Kill Bill: Vols 1 & 2, even Mean Girls, are all about our main protagonist getting revenge (justice) for what has been done wrong to them or someone close to our character’s heart.

Examples of revenge stories include the plot of The Godfather, the film about a family that avenges the death of its patriarch by murdering his killers; the plot of Reservoir Dogs, the Quentin Tarantino film about a group of criminals who plan to kill a member of their own crew for stealing from them.

This popular theme allows us the viewer (and yes, the screenwriter) to see things come to life that we wish we could do in our own lives but understand such things would most likely have us in jail, for life, with no chance of parole.

In the case of the “revenge movie,” the protagonist seeks retribution by taking out the perpetrator’s life. Typically, the protagonist is motivated by a sense of justice or morality. Revenge stories can also be used to promote a product or service—in which case they are often marketed as “my way or the highway.”

Everyone loves to see someone get what they deserve, and that’s why Revenge makes for a great movie theme.

We will take a look at how a revenge story can be told and how it can be used as a theme for your screenplay. Revenge is the most common and popular theme in movies. It’s also the most difficult one to write. Why is that? Because there are so many rules and regulations we must follow to make sure our revenge plot is done properly.

And if you don’t follow all those rules, then you risk ruining the entire revenge plot. I’ve seen it happens time and again, even to some of the best writers out there.

Why do we love Revenge?

For starters, it’s always entertaining. Whether it’s watching someone who has wronged another person get their comeuppance or watching the protagonist go after the bad guys and bring them down, we all like to watch a good revenge movie.

Revenge is fun because we all want to see someone get their just desserts. Even if you are the one doing the getting of the just desserts, it’s still an enjoyable experience to see justice done. It’s also exciting. It’s not everyday that you see your protagonist go after the people who have wronged them.

In most cases, they don’t have the resources or the skill set to do so. However, in the case of Revenge, our protagonist is an expert in the field and he’s got the right tools at his disposal to bring about justice.

Finally, it’s cathartic. We all know deep down inside that we would like to see someone else get their comeuppance for what they’ve done to us. We all hate the way they treated us or the way they did things, but we hate ourselves for being the one who allowed them to get away with it.

Go To Genre: Action and Thriller


This one, like love, is very straight forward, in fact probably more so. War stories are a staple of Hollywood blockbusters and independent films alike. It’s no coincidence that the most successful movies have been ones about battles for survival, love, independence, and freedom. And a good war story isn’t just one that shows up in a movie.

It can also be found in the pages of a bestselling book, in a magazine article, or even in a YouTube video. In order for the reader or listener to truly empathize with the hero or heroine in the story, the storyteller needs to paint a picture of the hero or heroine’s situation that is so vivid that it feels as if the reader or listener has lived it themselves.

The same is true of the war that the hero or heroine fought in, even if that war never happened. A good example of this would be the movie Black Hawk Down. Though the story was based on actual events, the filmmakers were able to add dramatic elements that allowed them to make the story feel like a living, breathing experience.

One of those elements was the depiction of the town where the battle took place. In the movie, they created an African-American neighborhood in Mogadishu, Somalia, and gave the people there a sense of pride and dignity, all while showing the effects of the brutal war that raged around them.

The same principle can be applied to other types of stories, including science fiction, fantasy, and romance.

But it works best when the author is willing to tell a story from his or her own personal experiences, rather than relying on a fictionalized account. This makes the story more relatable, and therefore more effective.

A movie war story will include one of the following elements:

  • An intense situation where you or your characters must make a choice about which action to take
  • Someone’s actions will have consequences that reverberate down the line
  • You may experience a personal loss in the story
  • Your characters may be forced to deal with emotions that are unexpected for them
  • You may need to learn to trust someone in the course of the story

Obviously, any film that is about war will have themes of war. Films like Saving Private Ryan, Dunkirk, War of the Worlds are all about war. How each film explores that theme are vastly different from each other, but the core theme is there in all of them.

Once again, this is a perfect theme for superhero movies, especially team-ups like The Avengers or Justice League, where our heroes are usually fighting some sort of alien army. 

But if you want to be a little more subtle, a movie like Scarface also has some elements of war.

Go To Genre: Action and Thriller

Coming of Age

Not only is this a theme a lot of popular films explore, but its also a popular genre. To put it simply, a coming of age a story about how a character learns to grow up, get out of his or her comfort zone and learn the necessary skills to become a mature adult.

This may include the character going through a rite of passage (such as a coming of age experience, a death, or a move to a new city), discovering his or her sexuality, or discovering his or her purpose in life. It’s a coming of age movie.

It’s the movie that deals with a group of teenagers who come of age. A coming of age story is a very important part of American culture. The first generation to truly take advantage of the benefits of the industrial revolution was born in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

They were able to rise above the poverty line and start making a life for themselves. They could also go to college, and get jobs to support themselves and their families.

The Breakfast Club, Superbad, Stand by Me, Perks of Being a Wallflower, are all films with Coming of Age as one of their themes. The list could literally go on and on.

Coming of age usually covers themes of universal experiences, which make them so popular with audiences. We all know those awkward, angsty, embarrassing, etc events we had to go through while maturing into adulthood, which allows us to connect more closely with our main character.

This is why coming of age movies have become so popular, because we can all relate to them. Coming of Age Movies are also a great way to explore universal human experiences. The main character has to grow up and learn the necessary skills to become an adult.

This can be done through many different ways, such as learning how to survive in the world, learning how to take care of others, learning how to deal with love, and learning how to be happy with oneself. It’s also a great way for directors to explore what it means to grow up and what it means to be an adult.

The Breakfast Club

One of the most famous coming of age films is “The Breakfast Club.” The movie follows five students who spend the day at detention together. It’s there where they learn to get along with each other, learn that they are all very different from each other, and learn to let go of the past. The characters learn about themselves and the world around them. They discover their true potential and what they want out of life.


This film is another coming of age film that explores universal coming of age themes. The main character is a high school student named Evan, who wants to be popular. He gets caught up in a whole bunch of things that he doesn’t understand, which causes him to fail. His friends help him get back on track by telling him what he needs to do, and giving him advice. The main theme of this movie is that we all have our own unique qualities and abilities that we can use to make the world a better place.

Pulp Fiction

One of Quentin Tarantino’s best movies, and it deals with the theme of coming of age. This movie follows three characters, Uma Thurman, John Travolta, and Samuel L. Jackson, as they go on a quest to get revenge on a group of people who killed their friend.

Their quest leads them on a journey where they learn more about themselves and what they want out of life.

Dazed and Confused

Another coming of age film that deals with the theme of coming of age is “Dazed and Confused.” The movie follows four high school students, as they spend the day in a small town.

It’s there where they learn to deal with the pressures of being a teenager. They learn to find out what makes them happy, and what makes them sad. This allows them to discover who they are and what they want out of life.

The Graduate

One of the best coming of age films ever made. It follows Benjamin Braddock, a college student, as he tries to find his place in the world. He goes on a journey to find out more about himself and what he wants out of life. This allows him to discover his true potential and what he wants out of life.

Go To Genre: Comedy and Drama

Overcoming Adversity

If you’re familiar with the “overcome adversity” storytelling format, you know the idea behind it. An underdog rises to challenge the status quo, and wins. Overcoming adversity is a great way to capture attention and inspire readers. Movies like Titanic, The Fighter, Rocky and Million Dollar Baby all use this formula.

Overcome adversity is a great theme for biofilms. We don’t make films about famous people simply because they’re famous. We make films about their lives because they are the people that battled adversity, and somehow in the end, reach their goals and accomplished their dreams.

When it comes to overcoming adversity, the best story line from a movie is the one that tells the audience why the protagonist didn’t quit, why he continued, and how he prevailed in the face of the worst adversity imaginable.

For example, in the movie The Last Samurai, a Japanese samurai is asked to train a group of American soldiers, but he refuses to do so until he is given the respect of being allowed to choose the time and place. He eventually accepts and trains them.

We all want to have that inspiration of seeing someone like us being unstoppable in their journey to a better life, because if we see someone else able to do it maybe – just maybe we’ll be able to as well.

It’s also a great theme to explore as a screenwriter because you’re going into your story already with a clear understanding that you’re going to put your character through the ringer and almost to the edge of death, before giving them their much-earned comeback.

Go To Genre: Action, Comedy and Superhero/Comic Book Films

The Hero 

When we think about heroes in films, we often think about the ones who are doing something great, whether it’s saving people or winning the battle or saving a country. This kind of heroism can make us feel good and helps us overcome our fears.

However, there’s another kind of heroism that we can draw inspiration from—it’s the hero of the story who simply helps someone else get through a tough situation. He or she doesn’t have any grand plans to change the world, but rather, they just want to help someone else out.

While it may seem that this kind of heroism is less impressive than the other kind, I’d argue that it’s actually more valuable because it’s less self-serving. When we act on behalf of others, we put their interests above our own, which is what makes it so powerful.

This is why helping others is one of the most important aspects of altruism, and it’s also why it’s such an important virtue for a society to encourage.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

This is what makes the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty so fascinating. The film follows a man who has spent his life living vicariously through other people’s stories. However, he finds himself in a situation where he needs to do something heroic himself—something that will make him feel like a hero.

In order to do this, he has to find a way to live a normal life, one that doesn’t involve him constantly being pulled into someone else’s story. This is a difficult task for Walter, since he has spent so much time living vicariously through others. But if we can look at the movie from a different angle, we can see that he’s doing a great job of overcoming his selfish tendencies and acting on behalf of others.

In the first part of the movie, Walter has been living his life as a reclusive office worker. He is content with his life, but then he gets a call from his estranged wife asking him to come home for Christmas. As he listens to her, he starts to think about his own past. He remembers how he was once a man who was driven by ambition, who wanted to do something great.

He remembers how he used to make plans to be the best photographer in the world. But after he meets Jane, he finds that he can no longer live vicariously through her stories. Walter is forced to confront the fact that he doesn’t want to be the hero in her life, or anyone else’s life, for that matter. He doesn’t want to become a hero.

Instead, he wants to go back to his old life and lead a normal one. So, how does Walter do this? The answer is simple. He just needs to stop thinking about himself and start thinking about others.

He needs to forget about his own needs and desires and start focusing on those of others. And in order to do this, he has to learn how to let go of his selfish tendencies. The first step in doing this is to stop thinking about himself.

Walter has to stop focusing on himself and his needs and instead focus on other people and their needs. This is a difficult task for Walter because he’s always been so self-centered. But if we look at the movie from a different angle, we can see that he’s doing a great job of overcoming his selfish tendencies and acting on behalf of others. He’s living vicariously through others.

The heroic theme is a popular theme because it’s obviously once again tied into the superhero genre. We all want to see the good in people, and especially in today’s world, it can feel like there are no more good people left.

Films that deal with themes of Hero allow us to see the world in a more optimistic light. The hero film can inspire us to take actual action in our real everyday lives. The hero theme doesn’t just have to be for superhero films.

A film about Martin Luther King, Jr would have themes of “the hero” too. What’s even better is that that was in fact a real, living, breathing, hero that once lived with us.

Go To Genre: Action, Biography and Superhero/Comic Book Films

Man vs Machine

A story about Man vs Machine (or Man vs. Technology) is a story about two characters whose minds are set on the same goal. It’s a story of a human trying to beat a machine at a task. That’s what makes it a good choice for movie storytelling. A character has a specific goal, and the storyteller tries to find out if the character can achieve it. And then the storyteller tries to tell the audience what would happen if the character succeeds.

The basic structure of this type of story is usually a confrontation between the hero and a machine (the antagonist). The main idea behind a man vs. machine story is that the protagonist has some unique quality or skill that makes him or her the best choice to solve the problem at hand.

The machine or antagonist, on the other hand, is the epitome of modern technology and science. The hero must use all his or her skills and wits to overcome the machine and save the day.

This could be a sports story, an action movie, a comedy, a drama, or any other genre of film. It’s a story about a human trying to beat a machine at a task. That’s what makes it a good choice for movie storytelling. The main idea behind a man vs. machine story is that the protagonist has some unique quality or skill that makes him or her the best choice to solve the problem at hand.

This is a theme that you see explored all the time in the sci-fi genre. At least once a year, there will be a film released exploring this theme. When done well, they become classics and/or pick up a ton of awards. 

Two films that fit that billing, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Ex Machina.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

At some point, humans and machines will become more evenly matched. That’s what happened in the movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day, when the human resistance sent a T-800 into cyberspace. The T-800, however, wasn’t the only machine that became self-aware and began to see its human creators as a threat.

A group of humans who are trying to survive on the Earth, have been attacked by a robot with artificial intelligence. The machine is called “Terminator.” “T2 is a follow-up of sorts to the original 1984 sci-fi film. In the film, John Connor leads a resistance movement against the machines.

Ex Machina

The premise of the film Ex Machina is fairly simple, although it’s execution is quite complex and nuanced. A beautiful young woman is brought into a high-tech research facility for an experiment where she’s partnered with a robot. protagonist Caleb (played by Domhnall Gleeson) is being tested to see if he’s suitable to be a candidate for a job at a major tech company.

His test involves being shut inside a room with an artificial intelligence named Ava, which he must impress in order to get a job offer. This is the point in the movie where we learn that Ava is not a person—she’s a “simulation” of a human being.

She looks, acts, and thinks like a person. But she’s a computer program, and it’s important to know this when attempting to communicate with her. At first, he seems to bond with her robotic companion, but soon discovers that it may not be an ideal match.

He must decide whether to trust the machine that appears to be her friend and companion or to trust her own judgment.

When dealing with the man vs machine theme, as a screenwriter you might start to fall into some classic Man vs Machine tropes. So, to keep your story fresh, figure out a way you can incorporate another theme to mesh with this main one that we might not have seen before, or at least not very often.

Obvious choices would be to go either to love or fear, but if you’re looking to make an impact on a genre and change the way Man vs Machine stories are seen and told, you might want to connect a theme like Remorse and see what interesting plot points you may be able to come up with.

Go to Genre:  Sci-fi


Remorse is a theme that has been around for a while in fiction. I’m sure there are plenty of movies that explore this theme, but I just haven’t had the time to watch them all. So, this will be my first foray into it.

What is Remorse?

As Wikipedia puts it,

“remorse is a feeling of regret or guilt that results from a belief that one has behaved in a manner that violates the values or moral principles that one holds dear.”

There are a few ways to go about exploring this theme in a screenplay: A character has an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. They realize they’ve behaved in a way that violates their moral code.

A character doesn’t have an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. But, it later comes back to haunt them. A character has an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. And, it is later revealed that what they did was wrong. And, there is no change of heart from the character.

For instance, a character who kills someone and then later realizes that what he/she did was wrong, but there is no change of heart. I’m going to be examining three remorses in this section.

  1. Remorse 1: A character has an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience.
  2. Remorse 2: A character doesn’t have an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. And, it is later revealed that what they did was wrong.
  3. Remorse 3: A character has an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. And, it is later revealed that what they did was wrong.

The first remorse I want to look at is the character’s emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. It could be anything from a crime to a moral failing.

Here are a few examples:

  • A character murders someone. They realize what they did was wrong, but there is no change of heart. They feel no remorse.
  • A character murders someone and then tries to cover it up. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character has an affair with a married woman and then covers it up. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character commits fraud. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character breaks into a house and steals things. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character embezzles money. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character steals food to feed his/her starving child. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character kills a baby. He/she feels no remorse.

The above examples all have the same element in common: there is no emotional response to the action that affects their conscience. This is the first type of remorse that I’m going to be looking at.

The second type of remorse is when a character doesn’t have an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. Here are some examples:

  • A character commits fraud. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character commits theft. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character commits murder. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character commits adultery. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character commits incest. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character commits rape. He/she feels no remorse.

The above examples all have the same element in common: there is no emotional response to the action that affects their conscience. This is the second type of remorse that I’m going to be looking at.

The third type of remorse is when a character has an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience, but it is later revealed that what they did was wrong. Here are a few examples:

  • A character murders someone. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character murders someone and then tries to cover it up. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character has an affair with a married woman and then covers it up. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character breaks into a house and steals things. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character commits fraud. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character embezzles money. He/she feels no remorse.

I hope this has helped you understand theme and how to use it in your writing. Come back to this article when you have writer’s block. Happy writing.

BPS 223: How to Tap Into Your Screenwriting Muse with Jocelyn Jones

Jocelyn Jones was raised in an artist’s community on the Hudson River just 30 minutes north of Manhattan. This idyllic hamlet is home to some of the most influential artists of our time and it was here that her interest in art, artists and their process began.

She is the daughter of Henry Jones, a character actor whose credits include some 40 films and over 300 televisions shows. Mr. Jones started out as a Broadway actor, most known for “The Bad Seed”, “Advise And Consent” and his Tony Award-winning performance in “Sunrise at Campobello”. Ms. Jones began her career at the age of 12, appearing alongside her father and E.G. Marshall in an episode of “The Defenders.” Her work in motion pictures includes Clint Eastwood, “The Enforcer” “The Other Side of the Mountain” with Beau Bridges, Al Pacino’s “Serpico” as well as starring in the cult classics “Tourist Trap” and “The Great Texas Dynamite Chase.”

Ms. Jones has appeared on stage in both New York and Los Angeles, most notably at The Mark Taper Forum, playing Greta Garbo in the world premiere of Christopher Hampton’s “Tales From Hollywood.” She has also appeared with Joe Stern’s Matrix Theatre Company, where she played the delightfully insane Violet in George M. Cohan’s farce “The Tavern” and as Constance Wicksteed, a spinster with a passion for large breasts, in Alan Bennett’s farce “Habeas Corpus”. She received critical acclaim for her role as Lucy Brown in Ron Sossi’s groundbreaking production of “The Three Penny Opera”, which famously utilized all three theaters of The Odyssey Theatre Complex for that same production.

An in demand acting teacher for over 25 year, Ms. Jones has shepherded hundreds of actors from novice to starring careers and currently works with over a hundred hand picked actors, directors and writers at The Jocelyn Jones Acting Studio.

Known as a “secret weapon” to some of the biggest stars in the industry, she has served as a confidential Creative Consultant, working on some of the highest-grossing pictures of all time. From advising artists on which projects to choose, to working with writing teams, to develop current and future projects, Ms. Jones’ consultant work has been considered an invaluable asset to many.

As a script doctor, she has served in every capacity, from page-one rewrites to final polishes- confidentially contributing to blockbuster films and television series alike. Her production company, Mind’s Eye Pictures, is dedicated to producing her own original content.

Her new book is Artist: Awakening the Spirit Within.

Jocelyn Jones is one of Hollywood’s most prized secret weapons. A legendary acting teacher, coach, and artistic advisor to the stars, she has served as a confidential Creative Consultant on some of the highest-grossing pictures of all time.

Now, she shares her personal journey—and the secrets behind her unique methodology—in Artist: Awakening the Spirit Within.

How do you tap into the power of creation? A great teacher doesn’t just tell you; they show you! With forthright vulnerability, Jones shares the memories and lessons that shaped her, both spiritually and as a world-class teacher—proving beyond question that the same creative process she offers actors can help you discover andmanifest a life in coherence with your own heart.

Whether you’re an actor looking to elevate your craft or a fellow human traveler pursuing your dreams, Artist shows you step by step how to awaken to your higher self and move confidently into the life you were born to live.

Enjoy my conversation with Jocelyn Jones.

Right-click here to download the MP3



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Jocelyn Jones 0:00
Do the interview did with it burns, and you know, look at his love. Look at the size of his passion. And then look at the size of you responding to his passion and talking about these, or you worked on this kind of camera or you worked in this, you know the level of enthusiasm. If you had you know, one of those Geiger counters, it was just charts that is beyond ego.

Alex Ferrari 0:29
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Jocelyn Jones 1:22
I'm very good. Thank you. It's lovely.

Alex Ferrari 1:25
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I am. I'm excited to talk to you. I think I think we're gonna have a conversation that's hopefully going to help some some filmmakers and screenwriters and anybody in the business who wants to be creative and be an artist. And I think it's something that a lot of things that you talk about in your book, your new book, artists awaken the spirit within is that it's things that aren't talked about publicly very often about mental health, about negative talk about self talk about beating yourself up all these kinds of things. But before we get into all of that, how did you get into this insane, insane business?

Jocelyn Jones 2:02
Well, you know, I was a little bit born into it. I was raised on the Hudson River, in an artist's community. And so I was raised with extraordinary artists, my dad was an actor. So the first wave of artists at the dinner table were actors, and they are a breed unto themselves. And then my mother remarried. And the next way my stepfather wrote for The New Yorker, and the next wave of artists at the table were painters, and this was in the 60s. So you just go to the top of that food chain, you know, drop a lot of names. But they were these extraordinary painters. And then, you know, there were dancers at the top of the field. I mean, everybody was at the top of their field. And I was young, and I was impressionable, and I was studying them. And I was very interested in, you know, when they were happy, we're going to talk about happy because I happen to watch you flip the script and be interviewed by your friend CB bato, and talk about happiness. And I was like, yes, you're on to something there. Um, anyway, and so I was very interested in when they were happy, they were working. And when they weren't working, it wasn't just actors who weren't actors go out of work, you know, they should really check into a hotel, because they're very difficult to be around, they get so concerned that they'll never work again. But it was also painters. And it was, so it was anyone who like they're in the creative process, and they are lit from within. And because these guys were at the top of their field, they were lit with inspiration, it was something beyond themselves, which is kind of what the book is trying to hook people up to anybody up to. But anyway, so there were all these actors, and then I left home at a very early age because I lived right outside Manhattan, and if you live near Manhattan, or breath away, you're like, I'm in the city by by gotta go. And, you know, when I was younger, we moved to Manhattan, we still couldn't afford Manhattan, even you know, 60s and 70s, when it was not the same city as it is now. So we would live five girls and an apartment and you know, work when I don't know how many Second Avenue bars and wait tables and go on auditions and all of that. And at that time, I was really young. And I was discovered by Eileen Ford, who was a very big Marvel agent at the time. And she saw something in me and she sent me out for test shots I recall, which were you know, photographers who were trying to get laid, but they also wanted, you know, pictures and tree models and upcoming models, whatever they would take your picture It was during blow up. So I don't remember that. But you know, they were all it was pretty wild time. And I would bring these pictures back to Eileen Ford. And she looked at them and said, Oh, God, Johnson. No, these are terrible. You look so sad. Nobody calls me up and says, I want the sad girl. Okay, that's that. So she said, you have to do something. And so I started creating characters to be in front of a camera because I was really had a hard time with the black box, you know? And so the she I brought those pictures. She said, Oh, you're an actor? And I said, No, no, no, no, my dad's an actor, one of those in the families or not. And she started sending me out on audition. So she sent me out of my first audition was for a heroin addict for Mayor Lindsay's drug campaign. And they were very real. They look like documentaries. And it won an award, I played the size perfect for the sidebar. It was about to say perfect. Yeah, good for the sacral. So, you know, that was that that was the start of my journey toward acting. And I did a number of independent films. But in my, you know, I never loved acting. I mean, I love acting. I love the part of acting, and building life from nothing. I love that I understood structure. But I never you know, you, you talked about how, you know, you found the podcast, it took you a while, but something that you'd found home, it was like a call and suddenly you happy, right? I was not happy as an actor, I I am very private person. I didn't like having to audition. I like control in my life than putting my art in front of somebody and having them say, yeah, like, No, I don't, you know, I from New York, I have a little you know.

But more than that all of this study of artists had settled in the, and I had a certain kind of leadership growing up that came from other things. And I thought teaching, you know, I got pregnant, I have a baby and being a mother and being a teacher sort of went together. And you know, when you do that thing you're meant to do, you put one step on that path. And things just start flowing really well, which is part of knowing Oh, I'm on the right path. So you know, really, I was a teacher for three years. And teaching led to you know, I worked with a lot of film stars on films in private coaching, and that led to Script doctoring. And all of that was very, you know, confidential under nondisclosure agreements, but a lot of fun, very interesting work. And then all of that led to one day deciding, I think it's time to do to leave something of my own, because my whole life has been helping artists. And I love that and it's right. But at some point, you have to look at yourself and say, am I avoiding, you know, my own voice. And so, you know, my mom died. That's a whole evolution in a person's life. Everything stopped. So I could say goodbye, and then handle her affairs. And that's when I started writing the book. And, you know, Alex, I didn't want to write another acting book. There's a lot of acting books.

Alex Ferrari 8:45
There's a couple, there's a couple.

Jocelyn Jones 8:48
I started, you know, I don't know whether this is part of me hustle. But you know, I'm quite spiritual. And so part of what I had spotted with these artists was a kind of a spiritual connection. Call it inspiration, call it the muse, call it spirit, call it whatever. But it's something beyond ego. It's something beyond personality. It's something in the ethos that great artists seem to tap into.

Alex Ferrari 9:21
And it's so funny you say that because, you know, as you know, on the show, I've had the pleasure of talking to some amazing guests and some very high performing. You know, Oscar winners, Emmy winners, Tony winners, really high performing artists. And I always love asking that question. I always ask the question, Where does it come from for you? And the bigger the star, the bigger the artist, the more humble they are about their craft. It's so funny because I've met people who are so boastful about what they do, and you can tell that they'll burn out Soon enough, and they won't have any major legacy left behind. But the bigger the Oscar winner, the more humble they are up because they are aware that in many ways, it's not them. It's coming through them. But it's not them. It's coming through their filter, if you will. So in many ways, and not to get too woowoo. But like I'm talking, I'm going to drop a name. Because I think it's important to the conversation when I was speaking to Eric Roth, who's obviously the Oscar winning writer Forrest Gump. And he just wrote doing, he's doing okay for himself. Eric, I asked him specifically ago, how did you? Do you ever just sit down and write. And when you're done writing, you look at it and go, who wrote that? Like, it's not even you can't even recognize it as your own. It just kind of flew through you. He's like, yes. And I searched for that almost all the time. But I don't always get it. But when I'm able to tap in, it just flows through you. And it's a magical thing. And I think any I mean, as I as I've written my books, there's moments where I've written entire chapters. And then I go back to read, and I'm like, who wrote this, like, it's almost like you're channeling something, as a great artist. And that goes for acting, writing, directing, it's being in the flow. Athletes talk about it all the time, it's being in that moment where you don't think it just is, and it just kind of goes through you. And you already understand the craft enough, that that's not a problem. Like, if you're going to write you have to understand English, you have to understand basic grammar. But once those basic foundations are laid out, everything else is fairly magical. And that I always find that's so interesting that they are all humbled that the biggest ones are the most humble about their process. And in this is 100% of the time I've asked this question. I don't care who it is. Everyone has impostor syndrome. It's fascinating to me. Yeah. Yeah. Everyone. I mean, again, I'll talk back, go to Eric Ross interview. He's like, Oh, yeah, absolutely. Like you're, you're Eric Croft, you've won Oscars. You've worked on the biggest movies with the biggest director? I mean, and he's like, Yeah, but I still, I still feel like at any moment, someone's gonna walk in the door and go, What are you doing here? You're not supposed to be here. So that's an artist thing. I think I think most artists in general do that. Do you agree?

Jocelyn Jones 12:36
Well, yes. I mean, I think there's an interesting explanation for it. First of all, I think intention is is such a really important thing. So when you're talking about what you just said, was so beautiful. When you're really talking about structure, you're talking about technique, which builds structure, right. And when you when an artist and those grapes, and I've worked with a number of those huge, huge stars, which I'm just facilitating them to this space of inspiration. Because the more structure you have, the more you can trust yourself. It's like building a house, and actor, built a life, built a life out of nothing. So you think of those building house, you have to put the structures together so you can live in it. So people are always talking about living in the moment, while living in the moment most actors think of as improvisational. But it's not just improvisational, you have to build the house, you know, the moment so you are building moments. And then because of the structure of those moments, you trust them. And you can fly from one moment to the next which book I like into rock hopping. I don't know if you ever spent time with country, but he knows big wonderful streams with big rocks in them, they have a lot in the in the woods and had to move around. And my favorite thing to do was leap from one rock to another. So I spent years honing this concept from my students, which I still think is a little mad, but about how those rocks are like the structure and you can only have the freedom of the lead. Because you built the rock you've created the rocks and what are those rocks come out and then we go into technique and such. So it is the intention to have that connection to the muse to something beyond yourself. So then we have ego spirit. Now we got to have ego we can't be that's the whole point is like, I'm going to be separate from you. I'm gonna have this ego you're gonna have that ego. We're energetic beings in bodies and how we identify we identify with ego, but we're really something much much, much bigger than ego, but we have no education. as to how to connect to that at all. So these great artists of inspiration, recognize that they are beyond ego, you have the actor who's all ego, it's all about being, you know, admired. And then you have the actor who sometimes accidentally trips into this space where they've entered a character, and they've created this life before your very eyes and really entered really gone in there. And they are living in those moments from the structure, they felt they're living in those moments. And they realized they are bigger. They're bigger than the personality. So then when somebody comes along and says, Oh, you, Alex, you're so great. They feel like an impostor, because I'm not that great explanation.

Alex Ferrari 15:51
It's it's really, it's really interesting, because that's a fantastic explanation of impostor syndrome, because you're absolutely right. And if you've noticed, you know, with some actors over the course of their careers, you know, the greats like a Meryl Streep can just walk in and walk out and tap into that at will, Steven Spielberg, as a director can tap into it, the great directors are great writers are great artists, they just tap in effort, almost effortlessly, at least it seems effortlessly from our point of view. And then there's, I love the way you say they trip into. So sometimes you see actors who trip into a performance, and they, they just connect with that character, but they're never able to get back to that place in their career, where they might even go all the way and win an Oscar, or get a lot of accolades, but it's whatever stops them from getting back there, whether it's ego, whether it's outside sources, but it's it happens in all all aspects of the business from directors, some directors make the most amazing film ever, you know, one of the most, and then they can't get back there. You know, and, and writers, writers as well, novelist and writers?

Jocelyn Jones 16:58
Well, you know, a lot of that's a lot of what the book is about. It's about it's about its intention, you have to intend it. So you have to kind of recognize this is what Spielberg and you know, Meryl Streep, and all these greats that you mentioned been like going to the painters, and Michelangelo, you know, they've recognized some sort of technique for themselves and what works for you doesn't work for me, it doesn't work for him doesn't, you have to give artists a lot of different colors of techniques and realize that each one is going to respond differently and make their own toolkit. But once you have that technique, you have to intend I want I intend to go beyond myself. And if once you've had that experience, two things happen. You either intend to have that experience again and chase what it was what combination that I put together that helped me do that, or you get lost in your own drums. So now I'm going to go to a really kind of woohoo word, which is vibration. You know, when you're around enthusiastic people, you're like, hey, you know, we respond to we are energetic beings and bodies and we respond to vibration, no matter how well you want to get about it. That's the deal. And so we want to be around the reason that audiences love actors is because they're looking at you know, and they go that guy's creating life when they do it right. In your in the theater. The audience releases from your own life and enters this parallel universes parallel story. And then when they come back to their seats and they walk out a theater, they go cheeses effect I can create that much life out of thin air. Maybe I could do a little better with my own. They are inspired to take control of their own life in some way. They recognize.

Alex Ferrari 19:05
Isn't it fascinating because I've I've had the pleasure of being in the room with some of the biggest movie stars in the world. And when you're in the room with them, you understand why they're movie stars. There's just something about their energy in the room and I've I've met in I won't name drop but I have met some and I walk in and just and just being around them you just go oh, oh I get it. I truly I truly get it. And in you know when you want and talking about the woowoo aspect of you know energy and vibrations of people and stuff. All you have to do is and I know everybody listening has gone through this. You've met somebody in your life. That after you got done talking to them, you wanted to take a shower because you feel slimy dirty could be a salesman, it could be customer a sales rep it could be it could be a teacher It could be anybody you know another just you just Feel? Oh, yeah. So whether you believe in the woowoo energy or not, I think everyone's had that experience at one point in life, and you just met somebody who just, oh, I just don't want to be around that person. And then vice versa. You meet somebody, you're like, Oh, my God, I, there's just so much fun to be around, there's so much energy around them. And it's, there's something about that conversation. There's no question about it, whether again, you want to get into the woowoo aspect of it or not. But I think everybody listening can agree that they've had that conversation. And if you ever do anyone listening ever does get to sit in a room and have a meaningful conversation. And even through my show, having conversations over zoom, you can sense why they are who they are some of these directors, some of these filmmakers, I've had the pleasure of talking to you, you just go wow, okay, I get it. I get it. You know, and I've had the pleasure. From the $5,000 first time filmmaker made this feature to Oscar winners, and everyone in between, you can sense where they're coming from. It's really interesting. One thing in your book I wanted to talk to you about is the stories that we tell ourselves, and as artists, you know, being an artist, and it took me a long time to admit I was an artist, by the way. That's another problem. A lot of times like, I'm not an artist, that's very pompous of you to say you're an artist, no, you got to admit who you are. And once you admit that you are an artist. I think artists, specifically artists have a special level of storytelling that they tell themselves because they are, especially people in the film industry and storytellers. Because we're so good at it. We're really good at beating ourselves up with these negative stories about what we're capable of doing, where we're going What's up and, and beating yourself up when you don't get the part or don't get the job or don't get the financing. And it's the stories we constantly tell ourselves, can you dig in a little bit about why we do it and what we can do to kind of rewrite that story to help us move forward on our path?

Jocelyn Jones 22:02
Oh, great question. Great question. Well, the way we do it is pretty, pretty obvious. And when I say it, I don't know if people will get it or won't get it. But we like sensation, you know, as people like strong sensations. So you know, you have drama, Queens, we call them drama queens. People who stir negative emotion, it's like an addiction. They're addicted to it. Why? Because of the sensations. Why do people take drugs because of sensations, we like sensations. So if you go, you know, just gonna keep doing it. And we'll keep bringing you back. But if you go to this aspect, that we are actually spiritual beings, of course, we like sensations. That's why we're here. We're here to experiences. Otherwise, we're out, you know, we're all spirit, we have no body, we have no tactile thing. So we're here for experience. And I think we're evolving and ascending, even perhaps. And so we're going from just any old sensations to, hey, wait a minute, maybe I can control this a little better. So some of the enthusiastic people you meet, they just seem naturally enthusiastic. They were well loved as kids, or they just most of the time, they were well loved as kids. And so they're settled in and they're confident and they're able to have just a more positive outlook on life and have more fun, and we enjoy them. And so it propels itself. But you can intend decide that you want more of that you can most of the people who are listening to your show right now, my guess is they're of an age where they have already let go of certain brands because they go, I want to take your power after I'm with that person. I can't do it anymore, man. You know, they never asked you about yourself. They're all complaint and the thing and most of it, you've heard a lot.

Alex Ferrari 24:07
It's energy suckers, energy suckers.

Jocelyn Jones 24:08
Yeah, their energy suckers, but we can we can also like not judging them and just say, okay, cool. You want to go but I'm not entering that. I'm not doing that. Because it's going to happen naturally in your life. I've discovered that most if you get my age, then the older people, you start losing your mom, you start losing your dad, you start recognizing the older people get, they will do this, they will kick up a lot of dust and a lot of negativity, because it makes them feel alive. You know, my mother could get apoplectic about butter. It was like this make no money here. You know, can we just go to it's very dramatic. And it was I would just so you know, I'm training myself. I'm training myself meditation. training myself in certain ways, and the biggest one is to observe people without judgment and to just look at what's going on. And then you kind of expand and you go, Okay, well, this person is doing this thing, and it has nothing to do with me. And I actually be kind of come have some compassion, understanding work, because I've done the same thing. We've all done everything. We've done all those things. So did that answer it?

Alex Ferrari 25:30
It does. It's fascinating, because, you know, we all look in our business, we run into very unique characters, to say the least. And I've had some of the most toxic human beings I've ever met in my life I've met in this business. And some of the most beautiful people I've ever met in my life, I've admitted this business, and everyone in between. And I've gotten to a place in my, my elder years, as I called, I have a little gray, I have a little gray, I'm not I'm not a kid anymore. But. But in my years walking the earth, I've realized that the more times when someone is blowing up on you, or something like that, nine out of 10 times, it has nothing to do with you. When you have a business partner or producer on a project that is egocentric, or wants control, or wants this or that or wants tension, or this has nothing to do with you. You know, it's unfortunate because you're involved with them in a project that is both of yours. So you have to figure out how to maneuver that world. But it nine out of 10 times, it's not about you. And I've gotten to the place where I feel most empathetic for people when they are acting that way. I'm like what happened to them that they feel that they need to act that way? Because that doesn't just come up like that. There's some if you start looking back, there's some deep seated stuff in there when their children are in this business, like this business can chew people up and spit them out all day, every day. It could destroy the lives it has. I mean, if you go down to Hollywood Boulevard, it's literally shattered with souls of Broken Dreams down there. It is. So it's it's not I think was David Chappelle. I was watching David Chappelle the other day. And he said, I think it was in the Actors Studio interview with Lipton, and he's like, there are no weak people in this business. If they're sitting on this stage with you, they are not weak people. It takes a special level of strength to make it in this industry at whatever level that is, and it doesn't have to be Oscar winning. It could just be making a living. He goes, there are no weak people in this business that that sustain themselves. And I thought that was such an interesting and profound comment, because you don't think of it that way. But it's absolutely true. You know it and I know it. If you're if you've made it in this business in any way you can, if you're making a living in this industry, you're not weak.

Jocelyn Jones 28:03
Yeah, yeah. Well, it goes back to story, which that was the part of the question we didn't quite answer is what's with the stories that we hold on to, you know, the stories are there to, you know, to stimulate all this negative emotion to have these experiences. But the stories are also hurt trapped pieces of self, you know, we're trained, you hurt my feelings, particularly if you're from New York, it's like, I don't care. As well, I learned that very early, but you do care. And that and artists care more than anybody. They're highly highly sensitive. We'll get into that, because my definition of artists are out there, they're more sensitive, and so they can pull this stuff out of the air. But in that sensitivity, they push a lot of things down and then people have experiences that are also horrific, and they push those things, they overcome them. But there are pieces of lost soul lost parts of themselves, that they've shoved down underneath. So people do therapy, why to let some of that out. And you know, this shaman call it soul soul retrieval, where you just create a space for a person to say out This hurt, this is what happened. Here are the tears I didn't cry, you know, and, and in so doing when you just can listen to a person, which is very rare in this day and age, people haven't been taught how to listen, you just listen to a paper person and intend to create this space for that part of themselves to be released, so to speak, you know, you create a home space and to grow and understand that, you know, you're more than yourself. When you're writing your book, Alex and it's that fluid, it's you and you, it's you and your higher self that connection. Wow, you know, I have trouble. I don't like to call this my evil. You know, I call it the book. Because it's a little weird. Just my book. You know, it's like, I feel like we just had a wonderful movie with the fish that in the seagull one's mine, mine

Alex Ferrari 30:58
Finding Nemo.

Jocelyn Jones 30:59
Yeah. Finding Nemo mine mine my book. It's not these are, you know, you want to help? That's a branding thing. You know, CB was asking, what is your brand? What is your brand? You went on two minutes, I loved it. About I was one of the two people I didn't know, I was one of many people listening? Because that's what we all want to do. We will we all want to contribute in our way, you know?

Alex Ferrari 31:23
Well, that's the that's I feel that's the goal of life is to find out what that that thing that you were put here to do, and then do it. And we're so afraid of walking that path, especially as artists, we're afraid of walking that path. Because, you know, there's been such a abuse of the artist over the course of millennia, that you know, the whole starving artists mythology, and that you have to struggle to be a good artist, and you have to be broke. And, and all of these kinds of the stories that are been told over the years. And I had I had an author on years ago, who said real artists don't starve. And it was and he was, he'd go back to like Michelangelo was extremely wealthy. And in DaVinci was extremely like these were wealthy artists of their time. So it's kind of like a myth about that you have to be a starving artist, and so on and so forth. But we as artists do, do truly have trouble walking that path. Like I told you earlier today, like earlier in this conversation, I took me a while to figure out that I was an artist, even though I was working in the business, I'm like, no, no, I'm just director, I don't have an artist, you know, because I didn't want to admit that to myself, because there was a lot of stories associated with being an artist. So once you accept that you are an artist, and you want to express yourself in a another big problem I've seen in the business, and it's something I struggled with for a long time is that so many artists believe that if they do not reach the highest pinnacle of their craft, they have failed. And that is such a horrible story to tell yourself, like, I didn't direct my first feature until I was 40. Not because I didn't have the skill set, or the ability to do so is because it had to be Reservoir Dogs. It had to be Pulp Fiction, it had to be clerks, it had to be Ilmari, it had to be a movie that exploded. And you know, I've arrived, kind of, and I think every filmmaker goes through that that you have if you haven't won an Oscar, he really hadn't made it. And it took me years to realize that oh, no, no, are you making a living? What's the definition of success in your and that's you have to define that for yourself. And those are those moments in your career where you let's say win an Oscar winning an award or work with a certain actor or work with a certain level of budget or so on and so forth. They're great, but they're fleeting. They're you win the Oscar, and then what? And now you got your back, you're back to it Monday morning. You know, so it's about that journey and about really defining what success is for you as an artist. And that could be used the analogy, if you're living in Kansas, making $50,000 a year and that's puts food on your table pays your mortgage and support your family as a filmmaker. I hate to tell you, you are a raving success rate because you're at the top top echelon of filmmakers. Yeah.

Jocelyn Jones 34:22
Well, let's define artists because, you know, that's everybody. So we're very exclusive about what as an artist, were so exclusive about what as an artist that you didn't want to admit that you were an artist, right? You know, well, I don't know that's an artist but not you said it beautifully. The stories we tell ourselves, but what is an artist? An artist is a guy who wins the Academy Awards. I don't think so. So, you know, in my teaching, I was always like, I looked for definitions, and I love dictionaries, and I looked in a lot of depth, you know, looking for this quintessential definition of artists, and I couldn't come up with it. So I came up with my own which is Basically an artist, you have to discover an artist, it's the expression of your own discovery. So the artist, if he doesn't discover something, he's going to express something that somebody else already discovered. So as to have happened to you, there has to have been an aha moment. You know, if you talk to painters, painters are fantastic, because they look at things differently. They don't look at the tree, they look at the space in between the branches, they look at the space, they look at the negative space, you know, so you have to have discovery, before you can express something or it's going to be you know, what is it called, when it's a copy, there's a wonderful word for that came from, yeah, not a representational, but there, you know, it's gonna be a clone of SO and there's nothing wrong with that we kind of have to imitate things for a while before we get on our own feet. But you want to intend discovery. So all technique and my techniques, usually in the form of questions, you know, where am I? What do I want all those questions, but there's a way to get in there a little deeper. You're Wait, you're asking the same question. And most people stop at the intellectual clever answer. Because they think, Oh, that'll look good. So they're operating from their ego, right? That'll look good, that'll sound good. that'll sell, you know, that'll be this.

Alex Ferrari 36:31
So you're telling me that there's ego in the film industry. Stop it,

Jocelyn Jones 36:40
That we really admire, you're not going to get rid of ego, we love our personalities, we spend our whole lives on them. But there's something beyond that. So even like I saw the, the, the interview did with Ed burns, and you know, look at his love, look at the size of his passion. And then look at the size of you responding to his passion. And talking about these, or you weren't in this kind of camera, or you weren't in the in this, you know, the the level of enthusiasm if you had, you know, one of those Geiger counters, it was just charts, that is beyond ego, you have elevated into joy, joy and creativity go hand in hand. So what is an artist, okay, an artist is someone who's discovered something and has the desire to express it, period. Now, and I, there's art in everyone, this is not popular, because we want to have the artists club. Here's the deal. We're not a club, you're in a body, you're creating a life you got here on the planet, however you got here, you got here on the planet, and now you're running a life. And that life is either happening to you, you know, you're just going with the flow of what's coming in. Or you are beginning to get the reins of your own life and say, you know, I'd like it to go like this. If you look at that interview with Ed burns, he has a lot of I'd like it to go like this that's out ahead of yourself that is creating it yourself. That is a story of you know, the big woohoo word is manifestation. But that's a real deal. And you manifest the best at the highest vibrations, joy, enthusiasm, joy and creativity. And the guy who's not running his life is the guy who's taking hits, you know, right, left and center life is happening. It sucks. It's terrible. I hate it, I guess. But I'm so emotional. I hate you all. That's life happening.

Alex Ferrari 38:50
It's fascinating that I agree with everything you've said. But one thing I would add to the artist aspect is that that definition of being an artist is the courage to walk the path. And that is something that we as artists don't have, you might identify as an artist. But to walk the path of the artist is difficult to it took me a long time I did everything else around myself. I was in the I was editing, I was doing other things, but not walking the path that I wanted to walk, which was being a director being a filmmaker, but I surrounded myself and was working in the in the orbit of others following their path. And I was helping them bring their art to life. And I thought that that was enough for many years for me, until I realized I was so unhappy doing that it was so scary. So it's finding the courage to walk the path and I'll go back to what you said earlier, that being an artist I think every soul on the planet is an artist because they are creating their own lives. Now I know that might be woowoo and a lot of people like oh what happens with life happens To you, and all that kind of stuff, I get all of that, look, we've all gone through stuff. But we I do truly believe that we create what we want in our life, you know, and it's all about, it's just like Henry Ford says, If you believe you can, or you can't, you're right. And it's you know it regardless. And then we're not talking about the secret here or anything like that. But whatever you believe you achieve it, it's if you're out of ego, if you're out of ego, and that is something that it's so interesting, because again, having the pleasure of talking to all these people, I ask these questions have them and, and I love listening to people's stories about how they made it in the business and how, and it's so random. Yeah, it's so random. Not one story is like another. I had an I'll drop her name, Eva Longoria on the show a few a few a few months ago. And her story was the most ridiculous story to get into the business I've ever heard in my life. She got walked got into a beauty contest, which she didn't want to do. But the first prize was books for school. So she just got in, she won it. She got the books, but because she wanted, she had to go to like the state competition. And by the way, all her all her life, she was called left Ada, which means the ugly one, her her mother, that was her nickname, The ugly one. So she was considering her own story in her own mind that she was the ugly one in the family. And the parents like don't do the beauty. Obviously, that was a fluke don't do. So she goes to the State wins, this wins the state finals. And then the winner the winning prize for that trip to LA. So she gets to LA and she goes, Hey, I like it here. I'm going to sit knows nobody. I'm going to stay. I'm going to try to be an actor. I think that'd be kind of fun. Literally, that's it. And then she got an apartment, got some roommates hustled it out for a handful years. And then one day at the end of like a 10 or 15 audition day, she goes in for Desperate Housewives. She's so pissed off. She's so everything. She's like, Whatever, I'm not gonna get this part anyway. And because of that attitude, she gets the part and her life changes. There's no logic to that. But she did have intention. And she didn't. And

Jocelyn Jones 42:24
Very high vibration of very high. You know, when you say you meet these movie stars, and there's something going I mean, it is true you meet different people that it's like this one's been around longer. This one maybe it's brand new, I don't know how many lifetimes here. People are different. People are different. And those people have a they're like you are you feel it. You feel struck by I mean, you know, it's science, we have a vibration extends about eight feet, there's a, I don't know, four feet, eight feet beyond our bodies, right? And those people even more so you know even what kind of room and you go like phone what's happening there. And it's also different. That's tricky for them having worked very intimately with movie stars, who have not trained because generally they come on the scene in a very young age, they don't train now everybody's powdering their nose and blowing air up their ass. And they get a little lost. And one of the reasons I was successful is because I really because of all those people at the dining room table, I really don't care who you are, I think in mind, I only swoon over one guy ever, which was Cary Grant. I mean, come on, you know, Grant, Cary Grant are like, Oh, well, what? But these other guys, you know, they're lost. And they're getting powder puffs. They have this big energy, but they get sucked up into their own ego because everybody's treating them in, in, you know,

Alex Ferrari 44:05
And you see it again and again. You see these stories of artists and every level director writer, they just kind of fist they burn out. A lot of times, they'll just, they're like a star, they'll burn out. I mean, I mean, a great example of it was Lindsay Lohan, who was such an amazing actress. You're such an amazing actress and to see what happened to her over the course of her career was tragic to watch. But I mean, you see some of her early work and you're just like, she is a powerhouse like she could have oh my god, the things that she could have done. Tom Sizemore. Yeah, another one who worked with every Spielberg Scorsese camera like every big director in the world, and he was an amazing actor, burned out.

Jocelyn Jones 44:56
What happened? What was the burnout, the burnout was by Lost in ego?

Alex Ferrari 45:02
Well, yeah, but that's what we that's what that's the main problem that we have as artists is I think as human beings we have to get, get a hold of our egos. We all have it, you know, and it's very, I always say that we have an MMA fighter on our shoulder. And he's quiet, they're waiting for the moment of weakness. And that's when they just pound you because you just like, you're like, I got you under control. I got you under control, I got you under control. And some someone goes, Hey, you look really good today. I think you could be the next this or that you're like, Huh, what, boom, there it comes. Just comes and knocks you out? There it is. I gotcha now, so it just waits there, it waits

Jocelyn Jones 45:40
To tell my students that, you know, they talk about their talent, which I you know, always kind of flipped my stomach a little bit. Well, you know, my challenges and my talent. And now, I'm going to tell you something very unpopular here. I don't believe you are your talent. I don't believe the actor's talent is the actor's talent. I believe that artists are the most sensitive people on the planet. And that level of sensitivity allows them to connect with our higher selves, allows them to connect with us, allows them to connect inspiration allows them to connect to the ethos and things floating around that need to be expressed on the planet right now, without acknowledging that when you do have a kind of inspiration taking on Lindsay Lohan and you don't acknowledge that, and you take it all to yourself and say me, it's me, it's me. Not good. It's like you're not acknowledging a very high conversation and a part of you knows that, and a part of you will begin to destroy yourself, because you are letting go of the most important that you were given, which is that connection.

Alex Ferrari 46:53
That connection. It's so funny. I have a great story. I don't know who told me this story, but it was a Michael Jackson story. And that Michael, I think it was either Michael or no was a prince story, excuse me. It's a prince story. And Prince called up his, you know, he he obviously famously has recorded 6000 songs that never got released, we will have a new prince album every year into the year 3000. That's how many songs are in his vault he was the level of genius is beyond what he was able. And I had the pleasure of working with some people who were very close to him. And I heard all these amazing stories. But one story always stuck out in my head was he would just call you at three o'clock in the morning. As a singer, a backup singer go, Hey, meet me at the studio. I have a song to record. And like But Prince can this wait till six or eight in the morning? It's three o'clock in the morning. He was like, No, we have to do it now. Because if I don't record it, it's gonna go to Michael Jackson.

Jocelyn Jones 47:53
Yeah. I know the story on several fronts. Hey, talk about?

Alex Ferrari 48:01
Yeah, he's like if Spielberg does it to Spielberg has said this publicly in interviews. He's like, when I get an idea for a movie, I understand that if I don't act on it, it will go to someone else within a month or two. And he's like, it's never failed, that when I've let go of an idea, three months later, I'm reading about that idea in the trades. And I've told nobody about it

Jocelyn Jones 48:26
Yes, it's in the air. It's in the ethos. My favorite of those stories is about a poet, a woman poet. And I can't remember her name, because that's my age. And she's she lived in the Midwest. And so she's out in the field, in her gardens in her fields. And she feels this poem coming on, like a storm would roll in this. And she knows it. And she knows that feeling. And so she takes off toward the house. And she's tracking for the house running running to chase because she knows if she doesn't get back to the house and she doesn't get a piece of paper and she doesn't get a piece of paper pencil that coin is going to go right by her and onto that another poet. And so she gets home and she gets her message, she grabs a paper to grabs a pencil, and she starts writing and she said she grabbed it by the tail and hold it in oh my god, out backwards. And then she had to reverse the poem.

Alex Ferrari 49:25
Wow, this

Jocelyn Jones 49:28
Ethos that's you know, and so let's talk about how because this is what I wanted to do in the book, how do you optimize that? How do you make your chance of being able to be in that space? And so here's all the technique and the questions and you have to have that as an actor because to teach you someone to know that they know how to go about it and so that that way, you know they don't do a great big movie of it's fantastic and then they have to reinvent the wheel every time so you have to give them some you No structure, so they know that they know. But how do you get to that place where you can intend and experience that opening more that inspiration more that flow. So you know, as a writer, my nose writer will probably do certain things every time we go to right. And those things kind of set up a certain thing. And then we hope that flow comes in and we start, right? Well, I guarantee you, when you look at those things that you are doing, you are in the present moment, you are not thinking or you are intending to get away from those thoughts about all of that stuff. So you can be here now in the moment. So in the book, I talk about this stuff that's been around forever. Meditation is not woohoo, it's just a really simple way to just settle in, we have so much noise going on, between, you know, I mean, come on with the television, and the media and the screens and the phones and everything, there's so much noise, and everyone wants our attention. And we don't even know what the truth is anymore. So my whole book was about, there is only one truth. And that truth is your truth. That's a connection to yourself, you have the perfect barometer for knowing what's true, if you can only connect to I call it your heart, you call it abuse, you can call it your soul, you can call it just that space, being in the present moment, it's all the same thing. You can get there from many different kinds of meditation, from meditating to sports, to you know, people talk about all kinds of different meditations for themselves. You can get there, I teach actors system, greatest exercise in the world, it's great for the planet. Just to observe life without judgment, use your intention to just observe what's in front of you, without judging. And then when you judge it, just like meditation, you're judging it. So then you become aware that you're judging, and that flexes a muscle. It's like going to the gym, you know, nature, you know, you can stay away from the ocean and think too much, you know, because that thing's going to come in and go, Hello,

Alex Ferrari 52:25
You know that, you know, that wave is fat, I could tell that wave. That wave, that wave is ugly, it didn't crest the right way. You never do that. You never go looking at a tree and go, Wow, that tree was ugly. Ugly tree. Like I have actually done that once or twice. But the tree was pretty gnarly looking. It came out of a Tim Burton movie. But um, but but but generally speaking it when you're in nature, you don't judge a bird. Or, you know, you generally don't judge that you just it is what it is. And, you know, in my, in my work, I've realized that things don't have a negative or positive charge. We are the ones who apply the negative charge or positive charge to it. And I love using the example of a fender bender. When you get into a fender bender, the person who you're driving everyone's safe, but you're getting a fender bender, you're like, oh my god, this is gonna cost me like $1,000 to get this repaired. So for you, this has been an absolutely negative experience. You take it to the mechanic and the mechanic in the body shop and the like, this is fantastic. I got more work. So the exact same event. Yeah, two different perspectives. So when you're looking at life and looking at certain things that happened to you, especially on your artistic journey, it is what it is. You can't it's not personal. It's not like you know, oh, I didn't get the fight and financing fell through. It is it is what it is. You being depressed about it or angry about it doesn't help you doesn't help the situation. If there's something you can learn from it, learn from it, grab those, those new those new lessons and move on, and to keep going but but sticking and hold. And this is something we do. I like so I did as an artist, you hold on to like I didn't get into that film festival. I didn't get that agent. I didn't get that actor attached to the project. And it just throws you for a loop and you start telling yourself these stories is that you they don't want to work with me. I'm a fraud.

Jocelyn Jones 54:29
This it's all in your head. Because trust. There is the possibility when you get into the fender bender and the guy's like hat because he has more work and you're pissed off because you've spent, you know, $1,000 however, there's also the added element of by the way you were about to cross 96th street and there was a huge accident right in the middle of 96th Street that you would have been directly hit or Oh you didn't get that Hopefully, but then if you've gotten that movie, you wouldn't have met your wife, or, you know, there is this beautiful thing of trusting. Because this is part of creating your own life, I'm in exactly the right place to learn that next thing that I have to learn to get to this goal that I'm trying to get to. And that element is trust.

Alex Ferrari 55:26
You know, it is so funny because I have written about this before where I was, I got into the top 25 of a show called Project Greenlight. Project One, green light, the old green light. Yes, Project man I was in second season, I'm in the first 30 seconds of the show. And they just use a clip of me, but I made it to the top 25 That year, I almost made it and I had like, I went through this far as you could get until they chose the top 10 or whatever it was, and I didn't make it. And I was devastated. absolutely devastated. Because you're like, Oh, my God, this was such a great opportunity, I missed my shot to be on this amazing show. And every filmmaker that made it out of that show didn't do anything. And it pretty much torpedoed their careers. Then I did another one called on the lot, which was Steven Spielberg show, which was about directors, it was on NBC for a season, I got flown out, I was right at the tip end again, didn't get in, devastated me who the guys who made it through that show, destroy their careers never got to do anything else again. So I was so just grateful that I didn't get on the shows. But that's only in hindsight. That because at the moment you feel like it's the worst thing that could ever have happened to you. But most of the time, and this is just me talking about my own experience. Most of the times when bad things happen in, in life to you, generally speaking, and this is again, my my personal experience. When you go looking back, you can see the dots are how you connected the dots. What happened because of this, what happened because of that. I'll tell you one other story. When I was coming up when I was coming up I did, I spent about $50,000 to for my directors reel shattered on 35 millimeter because there was no digital yet. That's how old I am. So I shot the whole thing, my whole commercial demo reel, and the the the DPS that I hired, and I use the word DPS because it was two of them on one show. How many times have you seen that ever happened and in the business, but I didn't know any better. And they were horrible. And I shot like a $50,000 commercial, it looked horrible. It was it was bad. And I wasn't having to play some money to get more money. So I was like, oh my god, I guess I'm gonna have to deal with this. Well, so happens that in the lab, the lab broke down and burned all of that film. It just just, it sat in the it sat in the in the in the chemicals and burned, it broke down just on my commercial. And only like a few things sort of like like, like a quarter of real survived. And I was like, This is the worst thing that's ever happened to me. I've lost $15,000 I went back reshot the whole thing with a real DP. It came out beautiful got me work as a director and I moved forward. It was kind of like the universe was saying, we don't want this out there. We need to burn this because this is not going to be good for you and your career, we need to get rid of this. It's going to be a little painful right now. But in the long run, it's the best thing that could have happened to you. So these are the kinds of stories you again, as you get older, you start looking back at your life and you just start going, hmm, that girl that dumped me probably the best thing that happened to me, that girl that that girl that I didn't get to go out with probably the best thing that you know, because then you hear other stories of like, oh, yeah, she turned into a cycle with one of your friends. You're like, Oh, God, thank God, I dodged that bullet. These kinds of things, you start seeing these things. And you just start realizing, oh, there's something, there's something and this is me getting a little woowoo I believe the universe is that good universe, I believe the universe is here to kind of guide you in the direction that you are supposed to go on. Because I've just seen it so many times. Like if you would have told me 20 years ago, you're going to be a podcast or talking to some of the greatest filmmakers of all time. I'll be going first of all, what's a podcast? Secondly, out of your mind, you're out of your mind. And look where I am today. And then all and it's so funny, and I've said this on the show before. It's fascinating that for so many years, all I would have done was the kill that speak to people like yourself to people that earn my show, to have that kind of connection to people that quote unquote, helped me make it in the business let's say and then without Trying. Now they're calling me. And the funny thing is that I have a fairly decent Rolodex. And yet I don't ever call anybody,

Them for my projects or anything, because it's just not something I want to do. It's not the kind of relationships I'm building with them. If it's organic, it's different. But it's not like when I was like the desperate filmmaker, I would have like, called up. Hey, Ken, can you can you connect with your agent? It's so fascinating to me is that that's the reality that I'm in right now. And, you know, and people listening to the show who've been with me for seven years can see the transition from my very first episode, to where I am today and what we're doing. But anyway, we've gone off tangent A little bit here.

Jocelyn Jones 1:00:44
And not really, because I love the way you say, that's not something I wanted to, because in some way, or in you, that's what you wanted. This is a really important thing. The first indicator, you know, my dad asked me when I was like, literally just an acting out terrible teenager, my dad asked me this question. He said, you know, jossey, if you could have anything in the world, barring all obstacles, what would that be? And at the time, I said, Well, I don't want to go to boarding school, I want to live with you at the beach, and, you know, go to public school. And, you know, we could, I couldn't do that. At the time, because he was an actor, and he was on location. He was terrified of me, I, you know, he was he was a single parent, and my mother had sent me to live with him at 13 and said, you take her, she fears me. So he said, You got to go to boarding school. But then I got kicked out of boarding school. So I got what I wanted. Not in the best way. But we get what we want. So the tree careful. Be careful. The trick is to listen to what is that to be able to ask yourself, somewhere along the line to get to this podcast, you had asked yourself and you'd answered the question, and you'd move toward that podcast and you discover that, hey, this thing makes me really happy. More than oil and vinegar is the podcast, I'm really you know, and I can contribute here. And this is a real purpose, we get what we want. So the trick is to like, ask that question, wait for an answer that moves in you, not an intellectual one, but one that's exciting to you. And then you know, move toward that with actions every day and trust, you know, and that's what actors do. That's why I could take all the lessons that I gave actors, and plug them into people and say, Look, you can have a more artistic life, you can have a more joyous life, you can have more control over your life, using the same techniques that actors use to create a life people use those techniques to create your life.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:50
It's so fascinating, because so many, you know, talking to so many different filmmakers over the years and analyzing my own career, there's moments that you are creating a project, let's say, because you believe that that's what the market wants, whether that's going to take you to the next level or you are trying to intellectualize the craft. Not one successful filmmaker, or writer, in my experience on the show has ever done anything substantial, when they chase the market, or when they're trying to intellectualize their craft. When they do something that is meaningful to them, and is truly coming from inside of them. It's something that needs to come out of them. That is the key to success, but to have the courage to do it. And that's what these great artists do is they have the courage to go out there and fail. They have the courage to go out there and make whatever they want to make. And that might be ahead of their time. Every single Stanley Kubrick film did not hit their audience when it came out. It took generally it's about 10 years later, every one of his films about 10 years later, is when they really go back and go, Holy crap. That's the definitive film in that genre. Yeah. And to have the bravery to do that again, and again and again. And, you know, it's funny, because if you if you study Spielberg's career, and I love I mean, who doesn't love Steven, but he had such a run in the 70s, from Jaws to close encounters, and then he's like, I can do that. And then you could see where it went wrong for a second. 1941 if you remember 1941

Jocelyn Jones 1:04:40
I do I liked 1940 Well, I know but and I enjoyed it as well.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:45
But it wasn't it wasn't something that was obviously one of the biggest failures of his career. And he does not talk about what he learned a lot from that. I mean, don't get me Don't feel too bad. He did Raiders right afterwards. So he's okay. but it was something that went astray. Something went off. And I think and I think he said somewhere in an interview once. At that point, he felt that he could do almost no wrong because at that point, there's so many people's like, You are the greatest, you are the best thing since sliced bread at a point and he's like, Hey, I can't do anything I'm going to. I'm going to do my Doctor Strange. Dr. Strangelove. That's what it was. It was his Dr. Strangelove. You wanted to do Dr. Strangelove,

Jocelyn Jones 1:05:23
Do that movie. You know, it's always the question is did you make a movie you wanted to make? I mean, I've asked more filmmakers. Sometimes they say yes. And it was a fit, you know, and it makes them go. Yeah, it was. But I wanted to internalize that go and actually not really go back to courage because there's a wonderful definition for courage, which is, you know, what is courage? How do you get create, so you think you kind of like to have to get courage up, you know, it's like, Okay, I'm gonna get the courage, there's even an expression, when I get the courage to do this thing, you don't get courage. You actually, if you think of a doorway, if you think of a threshold, you walk through the threshold, and courage shakes your hand on halfway through and pulls you in, you know, you have to, you have to move toward it. So I'm, you know, because of 30 years of teaching, I believe, like this one has courage, just one doesn't have courage. You have you. Certainly, I'm not successful with all of them, there are certain ingredients that you can't teach. You can inspire courage, though, you can inspire it, sometimes somebody's just waiting for that one person to kind of make it go click in their head, and now move toward it. It's a tricky one, courage, your

Alex Ferrari 1:06:35
Courage, and then also just dealing with fear, and dealing, I mean, I think fear in general, as, as people walking the planet, we all deal with fear and having, it stops us, it stops us from moving forward, it stops us in directions that we need to go to. And I'm talking about fears of a tiger, that's fine. Fear of a bear in the room. Definitely good. I'm talking about I'm talking about that other fear, that stops you from going down the road to write that script to make that movie to go to that audition to whatever that paint that painting, whatever that fear is of ridicule, fear of not being accepted, fear of your family, not accepting you or your peers, not accepting you, all of that kind of fear. When you can break through that. That's when that's when the breakthroughs happen. And Tony the longtime

Jocelyn Jones 1:07:26
Alex, but channel it, you know, great actors talk about, you know, they're great actors, and they talk about I thought I was gonna throw up I mean, opening nights are Yeah. But in what happens is you kind of collected and channel it. So when you teach young people about fear, or sometimes as you said, I've had seven year old people come and say, I want to be an actor, which is wonderful, that's awesome, and created acting careers for them. But when you tell them, these fears are absolutely natural, you know, those fears. Now, what you want to do is accept them and channel them into the work. They're just your talent looking for an avenue, because once you step out on stage, you're fine. Once the camera rolls, you got some place to go with it.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:15
There's this great story of Peter Fonda, who would go on on stage every night and right before every performance, he would throw up in the corner, every performance and he's Peter Fonda. So if Peter Fonda has issues, and is nervous before performance, yeah, that's a natural part of life. That's a part of being the artist. I remember having a panic attack on my first day directing my first short film, that I was arguably one of the bigger things I've done at that moment in my career. And it was, and I literally had a panic attack. I was like, it got into my own head. And I went to I'm like, I didn't do it on set, thank God. I said, Hey, guys, I gotta go to the bathroom, went out for about 10 or 15 minutes while they set up a shot and had my own panic attack quietly in the bathroom, quiet and started breathing, started meditating and I didn't even know what meditating was. I was like, I'm just gonna do whatever I've seen on a movie, close my eyes and started deep breathing and then slowly calm myself to the point where I got back out on on set because it was just so overwhelming as a director. A SEC can be a very overwhelming place for an actor, a sec can be a very overwhelming place. And having to deal with that kind of pressure. It's takes a special set of skills, experience and person to do that's what I've seen. Directors make one and they're done because they're like, I can't go through that again. Or an actor who goes through. I can't do that again. It's it's a special like I love being on set. I love it. I absolutely love being on set I love working with other people. I love all the the insanity that goes along with it and trying to figure out the day and figure out the performance and creating its art at the highest level I feel because there's a your company Finding with so many other great artists to come together to make one piece of art. It is, is one of my favorite places to be. But I can see where people just don't have it. They just don't have that thing. That and like you said, it worked itself out. If it's about how bad do you want it? Is this for you? And maybe you just have to test it to see, look, I had to open up an olive oil vinegar store and go down that path for three years to figure out you know, what? Retail? Not for me?

Jocelyn Jones 1:10:32
Wow, I mean, you do and and all of it adds up. It all adds up. But you are right. The filmmaking industry is very, very special. That you know, my husband was the director and director a lot of episodic, our long episode, and dramas. And then he taught at USC, and he was from USC. And he taught at USC. And he just the greatest thing about USC is you have to do everything those young filmmakers, oh, but except they have brilliant equipment. But they're all little gorilla filmmakers, and you put them in pods of three and five, and you have to do the sound and you have to be the cameraman, you may not think you want to do that thing at all. And then suddenly, you realize, I mean, one of his best friends from film school ended up being an Academy Award winning sound man, he thought they all think they want to be directors. But then when we're differently, everybody wants to be a director, everybody wants to be an actor. But he brought that it was wonderful syllabus that he brought to our acting studio. And we had actors, you know, making these films to discover what it's like. And we made directors, you know, out of the 30 actors who took that film course, maybe five of them are now professionally directing. So you have to be exposed to this, that you know everything because, you know, so you might want to costume or you might want to be the cinematographer. If you've never picked up a camera? How are you going to know? And we won't go into you know, education? Because I'd really you know that it's true with all education. What if we just talked to little kids and said, What is it that you think you want to do? Well, let's try that out. And what you know, the big question, if you can have anything wanted barring obstacles, what would that be? What do you think?

Alex Ferrari 1:12:22
I mean, I wanted to be an astronaut, but that's fine. I wanted to be an astronaut probably wouldn't have worked out really well for me. But, you know, that kind of made its way it worked? Why are you flying? I'm not particularly good in math, I don't have that kind of mind, I'd be a very creative astronaut. Wouldn't have been an astronaut to say the least. But yeah, you're right, you have to be exposed to some things. And just think and also, and this is a very difficult thing for some people to hear. Let's say you've had a dream of doing something, and you've had it since you were a child. And you go down the path, and it doesn't work out exactly the way you want. Because it nothing ever works out exactly the way you want it because that's just life and you real and then to come to grips with like, you know, maybe, maybe this is not what I want. Maybe it's I want to be a sound guy, or a girl. And maybe I want to do that maybe what I really want us to write, maybe that's where I find. But for the last 10 years of my career, all I wanted to do is direct but that's not working out the way I want it to work out maybe I really enjoy the writing process. Maybe I should be that's a difficult crossroads for artists to be cool.

Jocelyn Jones 1:13:37
But if you accept the fact that you're better at what you do, because of what you did, oh, so you may have wanted that thing and you did all that extra stuff and you learned all that stuff. But then you came to this thing and if you just come to this thing you wouldn't be just

Alex Ferrari 1:13:55
I wouldn't have a show today unless I would have gone to the 25 years plus of of shrapnel that I've gone through in this business. And you know, I direct when I want to direct I make my movies when I want to make my movies but I'm so happy doing what I'm doing. Everyone's like when you're going to make another movie like when I'm ready. What I'm good when I'm ready to do it, and I'll do it and you know, I like writing books now. I like doing this I like building companies. These are things that make me happy and I'm helping people so like, I It's okay, I have never given up on my directing. I think it's always going to be something I want to do because I love its addiction. It's a beautiful illness as I call it. Because we can't get rid of it. It's an it's an illness.

Jocelyn Jones 1:14:39
But then you go back to what is the definition of success. It can't just be the Academy Award. It's too small. So it's in that exclusivity that ego that says you are not if you haven't she's better than he is because she had a series for seven years and he's just starting out. It's just can't be that way That's not success, success. But the girl who has the series for seven years isn't nearly as happy as this guy who just booked his first, you know, five lines on a show. And he's like, I set out to do it. And I did it. And I'm 70 years old, and I'm acting for the first time in my life. You know, it's really about how are you doing day to day? Well, up in the morning, do you? Are you making as many grown choices, I'm living where I want to live, I'm seeing who I want to see I'm married to I want to marry two of my kids are doing great. You know, this are the components of successful life. And all of those are under our control.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:44
Yeah, absolutely. Without question, now, can you tell me where people can find your amazing book, the artists awaken the spirit within.

Jocelyn Jones 1:15:51
You can find it on Amazon, or any place that books are sold. Also have a website Johson Jones studio.com. And we are coming out with a 15 part documentary series on a masterclass that we shot with three cameras, that is amazing, that has actors who've studied with me for 2025 years, and brand new people, because that's what I like to do. And they are extraordinary. I've never seen anything like this when we went in with three cameras and shot an acting class. And, you know, we did that in eight weeks. And it's really quite beautiful. If I do say so myself, I didn't know what we were doing. I just thought, Well, why don't we and you know, just like all filmmaking, I thought, you know, your director, miles, my husband, and we did this film class, let's put some cameras in these people's hands and wear it out and figure it out. And now we've been editing it for three years, and discovered, oh, this is really a celebration of actors and acting.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:01
That's amazing. I'm gonna ask you, I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. What advice would you give a, I would normally ask a filmmaker, screenwriter, but artists trying to break into the business?

Jocelyn Jones 1:17:12
An artist trying to begging the business, I would really find a way to get in conversation with yourself, I would find your own autonomy. I would take counsel from one person and one person only, particularly as an artist, and that is yourself. And so meditation can help doing that. Just taking in nature because nature will stop your thinking a little bit because she's just you know, you go look at this, and create that space. To ask yourself these questions. What do I want and believe that you can have them but they have to come from you. Nobody can tell you.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:52
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Jocelyn Jones 1:17:57
I judgment Judgment. I came from a very, very that's a great question. Ah, maybe emotional. I came from a very judgmental family. And then very proud of an artists are very judgmental. proud of the fact that I practice that every day in every conversation, just creating space for that other person to be to listen to them and let them be who they are.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:26
And three of your favorite films of all time.

Jocelyn Jones 1:18:29
Well, it's interesting, because you've said you mentioned Spielberg and my favorite Spielberg film is Empire the sun. So beautiful. What that film just knocks me out. And then you know, for some reason, I mean, there's so many but for some reason, I'd have to say To Kill a Mockingbird because that as a child is one of the first films I just entered into a world and didn't come out of forever. And third one, God gone completely. Oh Truffaut. Oh, you know what, it is merely the film. I think it's a loose word. The couple doesn't meet each other. He has a life and she has a life and see them in the restaurant and they pass each other tickets Happy New Year, Happy New Year. And anyway, at the end of the film, they get on the airplane, you go oh my god, they're finally going to meet and you see their luggage go up that you know this dome I'm talking about.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:24
I'm familiar with it. Yes. Yeah, I forgot the name of it. But yes, beautiful. Beautiful.

Jocelyn Jones 1:19:30
I would say that my third alternative.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:33
Jocelyn, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much for for coming on the show in writing this book. And hopefully this episode has helped some filmmakers, some screenwriters, some artists out there, look inside themselves to figure out what they need to do to truly be an artist to truly make a living in this business and connect them to their to their true purpose of what they're trying to do here on Earth. So I truly appreciate you my dear, thank you so much.

Jocelyn Jones 1:19:59
Thank you, Alex. So it's been a tremendous honor to be on here. I love your show and I thought, wow, he's interested in this book. I love that. So, always a pleasure to listen to you and even more pleasure.

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BPS 218: How to Write a Screenplay Super Fast! with Jeff Bollow

Have you ever wanted to learn how to write a screenplay fast? I know I do. This is why I invited on the show award-winning producer/director, best-selling author, film festival organizer and public speaker, Jeff Bollow.

He is the author of Writing FAST: How to Write Anything with Lightning SpeedJeff Bollow began as an actor at age 12 in his native Los Angeles (credits include Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead and TV’s Columbo) before working nearly every job in production, from camera to sound to lighting — and including jobs in development, post-production, and distribution.

Jeff has worked on feature films, TV series, commercials, music videos, radio, and corporate productions for companies such as Universal, Castle Rock, Propaganda Films, DNA and the Oxygen Network.

After migrating to New Zealand, where he directed television for TV3 and co-founded the Big Mountain Short Film Festival, he moved to Australia, where he launched Embryo Films. Through his company, Jeff has reviewed over 20,000 project submissions and has edited, assessed and/or mentored over 350 projects. He has script doctored in Singapore, Australia, NZ, and the US; and has conducted over 80 live weekend workshops to over 1200 writers in 9 cities in 5 countries, with a unanimous “recommend” approval rating.

His students have been optioned, produced and won (and placed) in competitions worldwide. He designed FAST Screenplay in 2004 and began officially building it in November 2009. It was finally completed in July 2016, nearly 7 years later. Alongside it, he created the FASTscreenplay YouTube Channel, which now includes over 30 detailed and insightful free videos to encourage writers and screenwriters around the world.

In May 2015, Jeff Bollow delivered his first TED Talk, “Expand Your Imagination… Exponentially” at TEDxDocklands in Melbourne, Australia, to prepare for the next phase of the larger plan. Jeff’s aim is to build an independent film studio that inspires creativity worldwide, to help prepare humanity for the dramatic changes our future holds. When he’s not busy helping writers with FAST Screenplay, he is working on a new book, developing a television series, and planning two feature film projects. Enjoy!

Right-click here to download the MP3



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Jeff Bollow 0:00
Cause I think one of the challenges we have today is you know, so many people are watching YouTube and whatever at, like double speed that then to dial it back into the you can't watch a movie at double speed you're gonna miss, like it's not gonna, you're gonna get, you're gonna get info, you're gonna get data points, you're gonna get plot twists and turns, but you're not gonna get nuance and feeling and emotional subtlety. So you can't really watch a movie and take everything that the movie is giving you a way at double speed.

Alex Ferrari 0:28
This episode is brought to you by Bulletproof Script Coverage, where screenwriters go to get their scripts read by Top Hollywood Professionals. Learn more at covermyscreenplay.com. I like to welcome back to the show returning champion Jeff Bollow. How you doin Jeff?

Jeff Bollow 0:44
I'm great. Alex, how are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:45
I'm good, man. I'm good. Thanks for coming back on the show brother. You're

Jeff Bollow 0:48
Thanks for having me, man. It's been a while.

Alex Ferrari 0:50
It's been a few minutes. It's been a few minutes. I think you were in the hundreds. If I remember correctly.

Jeff Bollow 0:54
I think it was like, right around 100.

Alex Ferrari 0:56
Yeah, the hundreds or something like that when you came on last time. But your episode, your episode is one of the more downloaded episodes in the history of the show. It's always done very, very well. So I just was thinking I was thinking the other day, I'm like, you know, it's just back on the show, I think we we need to introduce what you do to the audience to this new audience wasn't originally to a new generation. But the new the new members of the tribe that have been listening, and I've gathered since last we spoke, which is you know, substantial since then.

Jeff Bollow 1:28

Alex Ferrari 1:31
Yes, I want to introduce here's what you do, and and who you are to the to the tribe. So for people who didn't listen to the first episode, how did you? And why did you want to get into this insanity? That is the film industry?

Jeff Bollow 1:44
Well, so I was insane as a very young child. So I literally cannot remember a time when I didn't want to be in the film industry. And so when I was like, five or six, seven, somewhere around there, I was like, constantly dreaming characters for myself on my favorite TV shows. So like, at the time dating myself a little bit here. Like it was cheers was one of my big shows that I would like, I would imagine character for myself as Sam Malone's long lost kid because, you know, used to like sleep around and all that kind of stuff. So what if he didn't know that he had a kid and I would like literally dream up a whole episode of me appearing, and being the guest star of like, Hey, I didn't know that. And I would imagine the whole show. So it was a weird, like, acting slash writing fantasy that I had as this kid. So you know, I was, I'd be on my paper route, throwing papers and dreaming up various fantasies on all these different shows. By the time I got to be 12 years old. I was like, my life is slipping away from me. So I said, I gotta, I gotta do something about this. And there was a guy at my local church who had a recurring role on a soap opera called Santa Barbara. And so of course, to me, he was an A Lister, obviously, he's probably he was probably a guy like just that was one of his few gigs that year, but But to me, he was Nayla he had the golden keys of the kingdom. So I asked him, How do you get into this and I, I, he told me, here's where you go to, to it was drama log back in the day, here's where you go for casting notices and try to take a picture of yourself and get an agent and I got an agent. I was with the kids agency, who at the time represented like Wil Wheaton and mine Bialik and that kind of stuff. And, and got some gigs here and there and just fell in love with the whole process once I was actually in it and on camera and doing the child acting thing. And once you fall in love with the process, it's really hard to you know, to forget that you fell in love with the process. So you're just like, I became a sponge and I was I just did. You know, you name it. So I don't know how far down that road you want me to go with? That was the genesis.

Alex Ferrari 4:06
So then, was there any films or TV shows that we might recommend remember you from Sir?

Jeff Bollow 4:11
I mean, the only one that people recommend remind me that the only one that people will remember today is I had a big part in a movie called Don't tell mom the babysitter's dead. Where I got stoned with with Christina Applegate, brother Oh, and I say and I said to a future X file star David do Cagni pocket yourself Metallica breath to which I begged and pleaded with the director Don't make me say this line. It's the stupidest line in the world. And when we have the cast and crew screening it got the biggest laugh of the palate for the stupidity of the lungs. So Metallica breath Yeah, guys I know Don't leave. It doesn't make any sense. But it's it was a thing for a while there.

Alex Ferrari 5:05
That is a cult that is a cult film everybody. Yes, it's called is a good word. I remember seeing it in the theater I told me to. And Christina Applegate was a huge star. She was still married with children at the time,

Jeff Bollow 5:18
It was her first, it was the first sort of foray her first big move into movies. It wasn't her first movie, but it was her first big move into movies.

Alex Ferrari 5:26
Can you imagine if a movie today was called Don't tell mom.

Jeff Bollow 5:30
Well funny enough. It was not called that originally it was it when we shot it. It was called the real world. And then as we were as it was being edited, the real world the MTV first reality show came along, and they went with change the title. So literally, we're at the cast and crew screening and they go, Oh, by the way, we've changed the title. And we asked the producers kids, and they thought it would be funny to call it Don't tell mom the babysitter's dead and we all went, Oh, God. No,

Alex Ferrari 6:02
I'll tell you what that name is. That's, that's, that's the thing that sticks.

Jeff Bollow 6:07
I honestly think that that's the only reason we still remember it today. I mean, movie, it's like, but it's like you only remember it for the title, which is a good lesson for would be screenwriters and creative people. Like if you're making a comedy. Make sure your title is funny. If you're making a horror film, make sure your title is scary, you know?

Alex Ferrari 6:27
Right, exactly. And you know, we can have Bernie's and things like that back weekend. How that movie ever got made is beyond me. And it's such an 80s

Jeff Bollow 6:36
I love that it did, though.

Alex Ferrari 6:39
And not only one, but two, of course, because the body obviously does a stink after the first

Jeff Bollow 6:46
I was gonna say like how long later was Bernie Bernie's? Two? I can't remember. Two years later, there's Bernie still will be at the ad Scott. Oh, seriously. He's so funny. So much of NATO is thinking about this the other day, so much of the films from that generation don't gonna hold up today. There's no no, a lot of cringy.

Alex Ferrari 7:11
And a lot of those movies in the 80s live beautifully in my memory. And I exactly watch them again, because like I was watching, I saw the I saw like a scene from Bloodsport. Okay. And I was like, no, no, I'm not gonna watch it. No, no, I, in my mind. It's fantastic. In my mind, the action sequences were great. And some scenes are great. The action sequences and stuff were really fun to watch. But I don't need to see the story of that. No, no, it's perfect here. Right? Exactly. Most films from the 80s and 90s, where it's good to hear.

Jeff Bollow 7:48
I mean, there's a lot of like John Hughes stuff that you're like, oh, no, love. I love that movie as a kid. And now like, oh, I don't even think I'd be able to

Alex Ferrari 8:03
We all watch home alone on Christmas.

Jeff Bollow 8:05
And it's, it's just funny how this time changes in our cultural sensibilities shift. And as they do a lot of the things that we look back on that seemed relatively normal and tame culturally, back in the day, just kind of, they don't necessarily seem that way today. So I in some ways, it's kind of encouraging because it means there's always going to be this need for new fresh voices and new fresh ideas and perspectives and, and stories. What we need to do then is tell those stories in a way that gives the today audience the same feel that we had back in the day with that with, you know, movies are of the time of the moment, you look back at 50s and 60s films. And the sensibilities were different in those times. So some of those things can transcend and hang on over the years, but some of them are really relegated to the era in which they were mammy.

Alex Ferrari 8:58
You can watch die hard and it still holds you can watch Wizard of Oz and it still holds you go watch godfather and it still holds these things transcend time and space. Pacing might be a little bit slower than we're used to and things like yes, definitely. But overall, they still I mean, I still watch Casablanca and I'm just like, so

Jeff Bollow 9:16
But how much of it is because you already have that bond with it versus

Alex Ferrari 9:22
Oh, if it was fresh, you would be like, like, well, this is does this make sense here? I remember you look at something like Shawshank, and you know Shawshank is I agree. It's gonna hold from I mean, look, there might be a time where if it doesn't cut every five seconds or every two seconds. It's not going to work.

Jeff Bollow 9:43
I think one of the challenges we have today is you know so many people are watching YouTube and whatever at double speed. Then to dial it back into the you can't watch a movie at double speed. You're gonna miss like it's not gonna you're gonna get you're gonna get info you're gonna get data points. You're gonna get plot twists and turns, but you're not going to get nuance and feeling and emotional subtlety. So you can't really watch a movie and take everything that the movie is giving you a way at double speed. So that's, that's going to force the normal speed to be faster. That's one of the reasons why we want cuts every so often now, I think. And it's like, where does that end out? You know, how does that how does that change the story medium over time? I just find that a fascinating puzzle, you know, so

Alex Ferrari 10:32
So let's bring it back to what you've been doing now for a few years. Yes. Which is helping screenwriters with screenwriting development? So the first question, we're going to talk about the fast screenplay, which is a fantastic system that you've come up with. The first question is, what are the three fundamental problems with screenplay development?

Jeff Bollow 10:53
Well, so the so we have a bunch of fundamental problems, but sort of some core fundamental problems are that at the end of the day, we're making a film, when you're writing a screenplay, you're not writing it for the end reader, you're writing it for the audience, you're writing it for the people who are going to make the film for an audience. So because we're not writing for the reader, a lot of writers often get into this place where they think they think my work has to be perfect, or it's how I see it in my head is what it has to be in it. And there's this, there's this, there's this delicacy that they treat it with, that doesn't really hold in how the industry works. The the screenplay is a is a blueprint for the production process. The screenplay is the is the is the thing around which we all huddle, and decide that this is the movie we're gonna make. It's not the screenplay, it's not the, as the writer, the idea in your head, is not the thing that's going to end up on the screen. The idea in your head is what informs the ideas and all these other creative people's heads, which is what's going to end up on the screen. Right? So fundamentally, a challenge that we have, is that, that we have to create for a creative team. Right? We also have to the another fundamental challenge is that there is not the money, particularly in the indie film world to pay for that script development. So if there's not that money to pay for that script development, how do we develop projects. So let's, for example, let's say you've written a script, you send it to me, as a producer looking for material, I look over that script, and I say, Hey, this is a great idea, this is a decent story. But it falls apart in the second act, and it doesn't really work and I need to change the end, my lead is a little bit older than this, can we age it up a little bit, like I have these changes I need to make, either I'm gonna have to pay you or someone who's skilled at doing that to fix that project. Money, which I can't guarantee is going to give me the result that I want. And money, which I can't recoup, if I don't make this film. So it's very risky for the producer to say, I'm gonna go ahead and buy this or make this. So as a result, we don't and we say no, and it's much more, you're much more likely to get a no, because there it's too there's too much required on the producer side to, to make to go down that road. So as a result, what the producer needs is for the writer to be at a higher level of development, like they need the project to come in, at least on the indie level where you don't have the money for development. They need the script and the project come in at a higher caliber at a at a more at a higher state of readiness with less what I call a viable production ready screenplay. You need that? In order to be able to say yes, so that I can at least see that if there are some adjustments, they're minor, and this writer is talented enough, they can probably make those adjustments. That's a that is one of the fundamental problems. So the so those are the main kind of kind of big sticking points now fundamentally within the industry. My belief is that one of the grand challenges we have is that most writing screenwriting is taught by writers. And by being taught by writers, you don't. What you often don't get is the producers perspective, so you often don't get what the producer needs in your project. So if you're writing something and you don't understand what the producer actually needs in your project, what they need from a packaging standpoint, what they need from a logistics production standpoint, what they need from a budgeting standpoint, you have a great idea. Fantastic. But it's got a niche audience. But your budget is like this. Like, there's a mismatch there. It's misaligned. So because it's misaligned, it's always going to be a no no matter how good that idea is. And I think part of the part of the problem is that the generally within the industry, there is not this infusion of the producers perspective, and what the what that what an understanding of that is and what that means for your project. So I don't know if that answers your question.

Alex Ferrari 15:46
No one answers exactly what what it is. And I agree with you, there's so many screenwriters just come up with an idea and a story. They don't think about the product. They don't think about how this is actually gonna get produced. I have so many screenwriters that have come to me and they're like, I have this this tentpole I'm like, stop right there. Stop. Is that Yes, exactly. No one is gonna give you $200 million. No one's gonna give you $100 million. No one's gonna give you $50 million. It is not the world we live in today. No one's buying tentpole specs anymore.

Jeff Bollow 16:14
It's possible, but it's the very peak of a very specific mountain that you have to climb up to to qualify for. If you're running a 10 pole project. You're competing with other writers who have already written tentpole projects. They know the people they know. They know the pitfalls. They know how to craft a project specifically for that, think about a Tom Cruise movie or something like like he has a very clear view of and nuanced understanding of what it takes to make a big theater film, right? That big theater experience if you don't have that experience, aiming for that. It's like, I want to play in the NBA. I want to be Michael Jordan, but I really, I still need to learn how to dribble. Like what? Like, no, you that dude spent years and years and years and years and hours and hours and hours, but writers tend not to want to spend that time and energy.

Alex Ferrari 17:12
But even if they did, so let me ask you this in the last 20 years, how many tentpole movies have been I want I need one, I need one, I don't not that there's a small amount, I need one that you can think of off the top of your head. That's $100 million plus off of an original IP that had no IP prior to that.

Jeff Bollow 17:34
Oh, I I can't think of a single one myself. I don't know for sure. But I would imagine if there are any, it would be in the count them on a single hand.

Alex Ferrari 17:44
If that if there is because I if you and I are both students at the industry, I can't remember of a movie. That not a small movie that made tentpole money, there's paranormal activity and many of those things, that's fine. Agreed. But I'm talking about a movie that walked in with $100 million dollar plus project but in a studio system off of a script that no one had ever heard of before.

Jeff Bollow 18:04
In a way it's a it's a it's a misunderstanding of how the industry works at that level. When you're thinking about tentpole movies, this is a machine this is a business enterprise, the movie is almost like an it's probably a little controversial, but like yeah, a product like a like an afterthought to what the ancillary income would be from that toys. And

Alex Ferrari 18:29
For the Disney folks, some are the Warner Brothers

Jeff Bollow 18:31
When you're talking. But when you're talking about 10 poles, you're talking about Jurassic Park, or whatever this kind of thing you're going to, you know, the McDonald's Happy Meals and all that kind of stuff, right? Like there's there, you have to be thinking about all that stuff, for it to make sense, like who's going to put $100 million into a movie, or these days 250 $300 million into a movie that can't generate that kind of response, like you like I find that writers often are not thinking through the business reality of the stories and the ideas. And it's not just about genre, it's about budget, it's about marketing, it's about how the where the money comes from it. Because I think writers often think we're going to make a movie, and the box office dollars are going to come in, and that's going to be our windfall. And we're going to like, that's not where you make your money on a movie. Like that's a that's a leading indicator of sort of the possibility of the of the long tail of the income stream from a movie. But if you don't if as a writer, you're you're you're just swimming around in your story ideas, and I have this great idea for a scene or if it's great idea for a character, which is often a motivating factor to get into it. But if that's the if that's the singular drive for making that, it, it didn't it connotes a misunderstanding of how the industry works, which is going to be the thing that's going to make actually achieving that impossible, because what I found Isn't writers quit before they actually develop the skills they need to succeed in that space, because they go into it with a misunderstanding or some wrong ideas about how the realities of how it is, and they sort of keep spinning their circles in the wrong direction, you spin your circles long enough in the wrong direction, you're gonna burn out, you burn out, you go this industry, you can't succeed in this industry, this is impossible. I think today, there is more opportunity just succeed as a screenwriter than ever before. The secret is stop aiming for the top of that mountain. And aim at where the opportunity is down here. And the niche markets in the in the television, indie film realm of television, sure, but that's also its own sort of ecosystem you have to get into, you can make, at the end of the day, we have the technology today, to be able to make movies literally anywhere in the world. If we have the technology to make movies anywhere in the world, for budgets that are down here, we also have the technology today to reach anyone in the world. It's a simple mathematical equation, to be able to create a project for a specific audience, if you can figure out the pricing structure of that and whatever sort of corollary back in office, you do the film entrepreneur thing, if you have that, if you have that understanding of it awareness, we can make small movies even that can generate an income for us, oh, God, this is and because of that you can develop your skill today in a way that we never were able to previously because we just didn't have that opportunity. So I think that's the I think that's one of the biggest challenges that writers, for writers at the moment these days, they're not focusing on, on all the opportunity they're focusing on, they're stuck on that one sort of mythical notion.

Alex Ferrari 21:52
Yeah, the lottery ticket. It's it's called a lottery ticket mentality. And they're agreed that someone's going to show up and like, Oh, I see your 100 million dollar temple, I'm gonna give you $3 million on the spec spot on this. And we're gonna go call Tom Cruise. And we're gonna go to make this thing happen. And it's that's the reality of the show the reality of the world. But there is a possibility to do something with that temple script, which a lot of screenwriters because they're only looking at the one thing, if you really are interested in the story, let's say it's an original story, but it's just too damn expensive pitch, there's no, it's a sci fi epic, or there's dinosaurs running around, or whatever it is, right. But you can't create IP off of that. You can write a book based off of it, you could turn it into a graphic novel, you can you can, there's so many ways that you can build IP around it. So that when you go off and build i plsa, take a year and build IP off this, you start selling books and all this, then someone from Hollywood comes knocking like, hey, we'd love your idea. Do you have a script and you're like, hey, I happen to have one. But you've already made money with the idea. So there's other ways to make money with an with a big idea like that. That's not about getting it produced. I have friends of mine who did the exact same thing. And a year or two later, the people who said no to the script came knocking, because they wanted to produce a series. Of course, they had IP on it. And now all of a sudden, they're like, Do you have a script? I'm like, Yeah, I have a script. I gave it to you three years ago, but we'll give it to you. Okay.

Jeff Bollow 23:24
But that's changed the change the draft date,

Alex Ferrari 23:27
Because I changed the draft date and change the title if you need to whatever. But there are other options for for screenwriters too,

Jeff Bollow 23:35
For sure. And I think that's the great thing about screenwriting is that it is something that we were talking about this a little bit before is, is it's something that you can go do right now, the thing is, what I believe is you need to do it right now, strategically, it's at the end of the day, we all want to just be artists. And yes, we all just want to dream movies, and imagine snap our fingers and make them but we can do that. But we're going to be doing that at a lower budget level. And if you're writing you have to develop skills, one of the grand challenges, even at the lower budget level is that there is increasingly endless competition for eyeballs. So you need to have stories that are going to stand out in a crowded marketplace, you have to have stories that are going to that are going to reach a specific audience to develop the skill of doing that. Well, you have to keep doing it consistently. You have to it's like a it's like dribbling practice for a basketball player. You have to practice that you have to get good at it. And the the idea that we can just step out of the gate because we've seen 1000 movies and magically write a great movie is this fairy tale. At the end of the day. These are skills the story dynamics and character arcs and and how to create something actually original rather than some cookie cutter formula. And how to say something that is that we want to say rather than just tell a story that maybe says something other Ben, what we intended, like all of these nuanced abilities and skills are something that takes time to develop. And so if you're only focused on that one impossible goal, of course, you're not going to succeed at that. And I don't want that to be the takeaway, because you can succeed out of the takeaway is stop focusing on the impossible and focus on this smorgasbord of opportunity in front of you use it to develop your skills, you want that maybe tentpole project as a showpiece of what I'm capable of doing. That showpiece might get you writing assignments from independent production companies who just have not been able to find products. They were like me, right. So it's like, yeah, if we can find the writers that are able to do that. Great. And so write your passion project, but use your passion project to build your career.

Alex Ferrari 25:58
Absolutely. There's there's a lot of ways to skin that cat, sir. Yes, exact lots and lots of ways. So then we've been telling everybody, you know, the problems and how we can't difficult to get this user. You have. Can you have the solution, sir, you you've created everything!

Jeff Bollow 26:19
I have. It's true.

Alex Ferrari 26:21
So what is the fast screenplay?

Jeff Bollow 26:22
Well, okay, so fascinatingly, my challenge was this, I wanted to make a I wanted to have so I made a little independent film in Australia with a friend of mine, I should say, We nearly made an independent film we spent seven years working on it eventually had to abandon it, because of story reasons. And it wasn't good enough and all this kind of stuff. But at the time, I thought we were going to be finishing. And so I started looking for screenplays to produce found 300 Odd screenplays literally read every single one of them over a six month span found nothing I could use. reached out to everybody that I knew they had ideas, they had scripts, none of it like it was just not possible. So I thought what I need is, if we're going to take our film to Cannes or FM or something, we, we need to have other projects in tow, I wanted to say, you might not like this, because we made it on a shoestring. But here's three other projects, see, we have the talent, invest in us on these back in the day when you can get pre sales and all that stuff. And so I couldn't find projects. So I said, what I need to do is I need to be able to take a writer from this idea that they have to not just a screenplay, but a screenplay, an independent producer could actually say yes to. So I sat down. And I said, Let me reverse engineer this process. What does a writer have to do to go through this process. And I as I worked it out, initially, I thought there were six phases they had to go through Eventually, I realized there were seven phases that they had to go through. There's four key writing phases, what I call focus, apply, strengthen, tweak, it's the acronym for fast, basically, focus, the focus phase, every single person, you have an idea for a movie, you're gonna have to focus that idea into a story, right, you're gonna take all the different ideas you have and, and make a story out of them an outline or a story plan or whatever, then you have to apply that plan to the page, which is write a first draft essentially. So every one doesn't matter if you're writing the big tentpole, you're writing a little indie thing. Everyone has to go through this process. Once you have that draft, what do you have to do you have to rewrite it, you have to strengthen it until it's a solid story, the story that you wanted to tell. That's the essence fast. Once you have that, once you have lit, you turn these straight ideas into an actual story, then you need to tweak it, you need to polish it, you need to ensure that the reader experience is so compelling that when someone picks up your screenplay, they tear through it, they cannot put it down it is literally a fast screenplay, write a fast read. And that's how you go from idea to final to the screenplay. Now the problem is great, you've written the screenplay, it a screenplay does not exist for its own purpose. It's only exists to be turned into a film. So you need to also connect with the producer or production company. So what I realized there's a fundamental dynamic underneath all of it. And that is the setup payoff dynamic. And so I said, there's actually a phase at the beginning prior to all this where we set up our imagination, so that what we're creating is more in sync with that ultimate target. And then we have a payoff phase where we find and connect with this projects, ideal producer. And that's what I thought it was I wrote a book called Writing fast how to write anything with lightning speed that goes over these six phases of the process. But along the way, after I wrote that book, I realized there's a missing phase in there just because you write a screenplay doesn't mean it can connect with a producer a production company. So there is a seven phase which is six in chronological order, which is the alignment phase and what we are every every writer is going to have to send Their work out for notes and feedback, they're gonna have to decipher that notes and feedback to see if the project lands the way they want it to land so that they know who to reach out and connect with. Most people who send their work out for for feedback, do it entirely the wrong way. They're doing it to get validation. What do you think of my script? Do you like the scene? Do you like this character?

Is this any good? Do you think have a chance to stand up? And please tell me, it's like, that person's opinion is about as valuable as any other person's opinion like it one person is an opinion, a group of people is a consensus, you need consensus opinion. And you need to have the skills to be able to decipher what people are saying, I actually really liked the story. Okay, well, why like, what do I need to change, like, you need to be able to know from what they say. So when you send your workout for notes and feedback, you have to decipher that you have to figure out what the consensus it is. And it's not about validating your project, it's about making sure that your project is aligned with its target, what do you want to say, Were you trying to reach out to, if you. So those are the seven phases, basically, right, we so if you have all of this and you align your project, then you know exactly where to send it, then it's simply a matter of hooking them, pulling them in getting them excited about reading your project. And then once they do read your project, exceeding their expectations, that's the payoff phase. So the so once I realized that, I realized that once you've been through all this, you can actually use that at the beginning to make the next project even stronger. So the system itself is iterative. So at the end of the day, you will continue to loop through this process until your project improves to the point where making a sale is inevitable. And so the problem is, people don't go through that process, there's probably 200 300 skills that you need to learn things like character development, opposition, conflict, pacing, intention, dialogue, all that stuff. So what I've done is I've taken all of those skills and have woven them throughout the process so that as you go step by steps through that process one day at a time, you're learning a new skill each day. And as you're simply going through this process, and therefore you learn by doing. And so that's ultimately what the fast screenplay system and process is all about.

Alex Ferrari 32:22
So I heard you talk about the hidden story dynamic, what is the dynamic,

Jeff Bollow 32:28
The setup payoff dynamic is the hit so the when I started thinking about the hero's journey, started thinking about three act structure, start to think, you know, all of the different story theories are kind of variations on those things. Ultimately, what it boils down to is setup and payoff. In the way I started to realize was that everything in your story is going to be either setup, or payoff, or both where it pays off one thing, and then sets up another, there's actually a fourth element, which is like a reinforcement. So you set something up, you have another thing that's reinforcing that setup. So the payoff can be bigger, but ultimately, it's setup and payoff dynamic. So like a second setup. So so if you think in terms of everything being setup and payoff dynamic, you don't have to be you don't have to land on these rigid, three act structure or the hero's journey. For example, have a love hate relationship with it. It's a it's a it's a wonderful archetype, but it's only applicable to maybe 40 50% of stories, Hero driven stories. You don't need to tell hero driven stories you mentioned Shawshank earlier. Shawshank is not a hero driven story, Shawshank takes the hero character and splits it into two characters, which is what I refer to as the protagonist and the main character. So the protagonist is the character whose actions dictate the twists and turns of the story the things they do change the direction of our story. The main character is the story whose eyes we experienced the story through read and and Andy, right, so and he's the protagonist, red is the main character, the main character is the one who changes, right? He's the one who and he doesn't really change he stays. He has some change. Not not from a character arc standpoint, he has remained steadfast through the whole thing.

Alex Ferrari 34:22
Read much read makes a much bigger change from the beginning to the end.

Jeff Bollow 34:26
But if you were if you were to use the hero's journey dynamic, it doesn't make sense in Shawshank.

Alex Ferrari 34:34
But but try to do a detective story with a hero's journey. It doesn't work.

Jeff Bollow 34:37
Exactly. So my point is that my point is the hero's journey is fantastic. As far as it goes, we have the sort of love affair with these things. And here's here's my read on it as someone who's been teaching screenwriting now for 25 freakin years is that I believe that we have the three act structure archetype we have the hero's journey We have the story circle, we have these kinds of these kinds of different ideas. Because this is a ball of string that is very a amorphous, there's no right or wrong and storytelling there is only effective or ineffective. If you you can't tell me that I can't put that scene with these two characters on page 45. Of course I can do it. The question is, is that going to be the most effective choice for the story journey we're taking the audience on. And so we we do the hero's journey, we do the three act structure, because it's the easiest way to teach this stuff, not because it's the most effective way to tell the story. So what we need to do ultimately, I believe, in the screenwriting world, is find better ways to tell more effective and more original stories. If you think about it this way, if I want to build an independent film studio, which I do to make eventually hundreds of films a year like that is my grand ambition of like with production teams all around the world, like I have this huge vision. If we made hero's journey and three extra extra stories, we use the same formula for every film. How quick is the audience gonna go? Hang on? I'm seeing the same movie here over and over again. Right? We're going to recognize the unknown originality of it. So we need originality, we tell story. TV is not told in a 3x structure story, but it still works told the 4x structure story. Why does that work? Because it's, it's used, it's using the same set up pay off dynamics in different overlapping ways. Right? So if you have, you have three storylines in a TV show, you have your setup payoff arc, in the one storyline set up, pay an arc in another storyline, you can mix and match so that you're always leaving, sort of those cliffhanger hooks and elements that are going to keep that audience coming through and wanting to know what happens next in your story. So the because a movie is a self sustained, like an encompassed in one in one storytelling session, because of that, we need it to be self contained, right, we need. And so as a result, the when we analyze existing stories, we're thinking of it in terms of those Story segments, and that structure that that sort of formula, but I think the formula hurts us more than it helps us. And so my approach to it is that process based approach where we're going to take everyone through that process of formulating ideas, that process, getting it onto the page, that process of going through your whole story, systematically, big picture, whole story, at level, scene level, dialogue level experience level, we're going to go through that and see how all the details affect all the other layers of it so that we make sure it's exactly the story, what we want to tell at the end of it, like going through the process, I think is stronger than imposing some story type on your idea, you might have a great idea and go, Okay, well, now I have to figure out where my inciting incident is upon point one. And so that's going to lead and it's going to shape your idea in a way that might not be the most effective way to tell your story idea.

Alex Ferrari 38:19
So let me I want to ask you a question. I want to ask you a question in regards to story structure. Because yes, I know a lot of you know, I've spoken to a lot of screenwriters and, and I and a lot of them at the high levels, you know, even off the record, sometimes I talked to them off. I'm like, Man, that structure of that movie seems similar to this film. And many of them quietly, like, I'm not gonna say who many of them quietly have said, Yeah, because I, I used that structure as my tip my template for my script. So I always like using plain break. I mean, anybody who watches Fast and Furious, it's Point Break with cars. Right? Same exact story. Well, I didn't even try didn't even try it. It's hidden. I mean, it was so structurally the same, even characters the same, but what do you think of going into some of your favorite mystery? Like, let's say you have a story idea, like, Okay, I have a detective story. Well, let's go to knives out or let's go to some old Sherlock Holmes structures or whatever, you know, you know, detective stories there are and using those stories as that structure template to kind of lay out a template that works with the kind of story you're trying to do.

Jeff Bollow 39:42
I think that's totally fine. I think that's acceptable. I don't see any reason why not to do that. So some of those things are gonna work. Look, the reason the 3x structure and hero's journey are these archetypes that keep getting taught over and over again is because they do work. It works. They work but they work exceptionally well. For those kinds of stories, what I'm saying is that if you're just because you have an idea doesn't mean that you want to fit into the same architect, if you do use it, I teach it, I teach the React structure, I teach bits and pieces of hero's journeys. Like, you need to know this stuff. For one thing, it's the it's the common language of the film industry. So it's like, you need to be able to speak that stuff with some degree of intelligence. But that doesn't necessarily mean that that should limit the creative choices that we make, right? So it doesn't mean that a script or story is wrong, if we're not telling it according to that structure. So as a if you're a new writer, you're just starting out, by all means impose an existing structure over your current idea, see what it does to your idea, see if it makes it work and how it makes it work and why those dynamics are what they are, at the end of the day. If you go back to set up and pay up look, Mike's backing up a little bit. And probably since we last spoke, I've come to to deeply believe that all story is about change. It's not necessarily about the hero changing. But it's about something changes. If nothing changes in your story, it's going to be boring as sin, it's not really going to engage an audience. If, because we because we are so enamored of the hero driven story of that the old that we tend to only focus and maybe executives tend to typically focus on the hero's change that character arc. But that's a specific type of story. And not necessarily the most interesting take on it. Sometimes you want your character to not change, you want the other characters in the story to make a change, or the place can change or some technology's thinking like, it's in seeing the change, that we extract the meaning from a story. That's how stories give us meaning. What changed and how and why.

Alex Ferrari 42:03
So I know a lot of people listening my thinking like all heroes, are the heroes always changing like the other day they don't, I don't absolutely know. James Bond until Casino Royale. Exactly. never moved.

Jeff Bollow 42:16
But if you had genuine character change, you wouldn't have TV shows either because you can't have a character week to week with the same comic foibles, for example sitcom or something. If they were making a change each week, like

Alex Ferrari 42:29
Sam, Sam Malone and Sam Malone, exactly, he might make a change from the beginning of the series to the end of the series. And it may slight, I mean, more, or you're doing something like they did with Breaking Bad, which absolutely that will

Jeff Bollow 42:44
That is a change for sure. And that was that they knew going into it that that was exactly you're right

Alex Ferrari 42:51
They were gonna he was Mr. Chips to Scarface like that's exactly, it was, this was this thing. But you look at something like Indiana Jones and I was just thinking as we're talking, I'm like, Alright, in the end, he doesn't really change a whole hell of a lot. But the people around them do so like I'm Temple of Doom captures character absolutely changes that she went from this this actress who was very pricy and oh my god, the jungle to a badass there at the end of the at the end of the whole thing, and even short round changes to a certain extent. But he is kind of the James Bond, like he kind of doesn't change greatly.

Jeff Bollow 43:29
And so can you imagine, like script notes on that of like, well, we need to see indeed, like grow and evolve as a character, because the three act structure tells us that,

Alex Ferrari 43:38
Anything like that, but that's not the story that they're trying to tell. That's

Jeff Bollow 43:42
Exactly and, and so and so the problem becomes that then we take this stuff that we've all been taught, or that that we've studied, or whatever, and we impose it upon an idea, and possibly take out the most interesting or nuanced or audience grabbing element of that, because we're looking at it through a very specific lens that this industry has imposed upon it. And I just, I'm just trying to push back on that a little bit and say, I don't think that's I don't think that's right, I think it's the setup payoff dynamic underneath it, that if you get the setup payoff dynamic, correct. Were the things at the beginning, you can't set something up and then not pay it off, because then you're gonna feel empty or there's gonna be holes in the story, it's just gonna feel wrong some way and you can't have this big payoff without first setting it up or emotionally doesn't mean anything to us and doesn't doesn't hit us, right? So you're not gonna be able to, if a character or scene or situation doesn't change over time, we're not going to take much away from that. And so that's sort of the approach that I go in with is is that that's our sort of guiding light.

Alex Ferrari 44:53
And I'm gonna I'm gonna go back to Shawshank for a second imagine that there is no red. Exactly. Imagine that they bring red and These character and to the one Andy character, let's say, and let's say, Andy,

Jeff Bollow 45:05
I'm not sure you could but carry on.

Alex Ferrari 45:07
I'm just I'm throwing this out there. Yeah, to prove your point. So let's say we throw these two characters together. And we follow Andy and He's hopeless at the beginning. And at the end through maybe another character outside of him, teaching him hope, but the perspective of the whole story is Andy's it is not somebody else watching Andy, it's Andy, you are with Andy, you feel his pain you're in that room with, with the ladies, whatever they call them, that did all of that stuff and you following through the whole journey. And you might, they might still be able to hold off the the payoff, which if you haven't seen Shawshank spoiler alert, when he escapes, maybe you hold all that stuff up. Let's say we build that story. It's tough. It's it's it's a good story. But there's no there's it says it's not nearly as powerful as the way it was written.

Jeff Bollow 46:02
And this is the and this is kind of what I get at is, is, that story could still be a great story. But because you're telling it, you would be telling it from a different angle, the message, the point, the purpose, the theme, in some cases, that that sort of big picture idea is, is different. And so the takeaway is going to feel different, the audience is going to feel different about the movie, all of those things come from those story choices that you're making. And so so you have to understand, like, as a writer, at least, filmmakers do, you have to really understand that the the the choices that you make story structurally, the choices that you make with the character arc, the choices that you the decisions that you make, about what that whatever that change is going to be, are the thing that give the audience the feeling that they take away from your from your film. It's what it all is about, ultimately, and little details can change the entire picture and scope and meaning and message all of it, right. So it's all interconnected. Every little piece is is intertwined. And that's the big challenge of it, because you change a scene over here, and suddenly, well, this doesn't really set it up properly. And then now how do I how do I fix that? Now? It's like, that's the that's the challenge of the of the job.

Alex Ferrari 47:31
And do you know that I think originally Indiana Jones came to be because Spielberg wanted to do a Bond film. It really I don't know, I think I think the story goes that and please, in the comments, let me know if I'm wrong. But I hear the legend is that he wanted to direct the Bond movie and couldn't I and for whatever reason didn't work out. And he was on the beach with with George, Mr. Lucas. And they said, Hey, guys, I have something better for you. I've been thinking about this, this Indiana thing or this archaeologist and he's like, oh, what? So it makes sense that they would construct Indiana very similarly to James Bond, because Indiana just goes on adventures, and arguably doesn't change much. If you had a character like Indiana Jones that changes from point A to point B like let's say like an ant like a red did and Shawshank it's just not the same story.

Jeff Bollow 48:23
It's just not it's not. If you had if you had Indiana Jones going through some personal transformation, it becomes about his transformation, not about the pure escapism adventure some that the movies about. And so because they wanted to make a sort of serial adventure story, those stories that has to go front and center. And so the change over time becomes the you know, opening up the Nazis, the Nazis open getting the thing you're seeing that change over time rather than the character change over time. And that's what drives the point, the purpose, the meaning the message, all that right, and

Alex Ferrari 49:05
Flash Gordon, and those kinds of cereals, it's all based on, they don't change they did. You know, you wouldn't want them to Superman, Superman didn't change.

Jeff Bollow 49:16
You don't want Superman to change. He's super freaking man.

Alex Ferrari 49:20
Like, you're done. You're done like, and then later on, you have to do other things. But it's always more interesting. All right, so So Jeff, let's Alright, so I have an idea. I want to write a screenplay fast. Give me the bullet points of how I can write that idea, get at least that first draft out onto the page quickly.

Jeff Bollow 49:42
So so there's a couple of things. So I do I have a whole thing that I do at the beginning. It's actually currently a part I added it as a tool to the strength to the setup phase of my system, where it's really all about what I call a fast draft. And it's it's all about getting your ideas into To dress, some people would refer to it as a sketch draft or a vomit draft or like that kind of thing. But mine's a little bit more targeted in that your thinking and planning, it's not just sit down and start typing. It's a, it's a, it's a brain dump kind of thing. So the first thing that I would do is I would say, take all the ideas that you have in your head, and write one idea on an index card. One next one idea on an index card next, and you stack up all these getting, just get all the ideas out of your head, and onto individual index cards, then you're going to scatter these around, put them up on a wall, whatever, and just absorb them and see what connections you might see. And then from that, figure out what who's the driver of the story, figure out what the goal would be figure out what the obstacle is going to be, start to see some of the thematic things within that stuff. Give yourself sort of a wireframe of where you're going from what's what's the state A, what's the beginning state of the character, or whatever it is, that's going to change in your story. What's the state be, figure out what that change is going to be? change does not happen on a dime. Change happens incrementally. So a story is about the incremental change, the plot points, the twists and turns of your story are those incremental change points. So when you think about whatever is going to change, put it up on a wall, see how it sort of sketches out? Think about that. And think about what needs to incrementally change for this to be a believable, plausible change. Then think about what are those scenes that you've mapped out on your on your index cards, whatever, figure out what are the what are the scene elements that could cause or correlate to those things and just put sort of a general framework together of what that story might be. When you're outlining or you're putting your project together, your, your, your, your getting your sketch, together, the stuff that you do, what we do in detail in the focus phase, is it's not about finalizing your story. Writing is a process of discovery, always remember that writing is a process of discovery, you will never have your story, before you write it, you can flesh it out, you can say this is what I think my story is going to be. And then you're going to write that story. But then when you see that story on the page, it's going to be different to what you thought it was going to be, it's not going to be as good, you're going to have new ideas that came up in the writing of it in his brain that has a creative subconscious that spits ideas out to us. Why is that happen? Because your brain is always working in the background, piecing things together, finding connections, seeing themes, and you don't, it's like when you're driving a car, you don't think about every twist and turn you make on a journey you can get from point A to point B and go, I don't even remember driving that distance, your creative subconscious, that subconscious is just staring on autopilot. So your brain can go off in different directions. That's It's what it's designed to do. So we want to capture that we want to let our creative subconscious out. And that happens when we simply blast stuff onto the page and then see what's there. So when you're planning when you've got this, put it on a wall, put it spread it out on the tape on the floor, and for you, whatever it is find those connections, find those things start wireframing, the thing, then you want to do is you want to blast a draft out to specific road markers. So give yourself every five pages or something like that, right, just simply write to the next five pages, don't worry about the whole thing, just worried about getting to the next five pages, because you want to have a draft until you have a draft, you don't even know the possibility and where your story could go. Once you have that draft, that's when you're going to look at it. And you're going to analyze it, you're going to think about it from the different levels and layers of your story. There's the big picture, what's the what's the idea that you're trying to get across? There's the whole story, which is like how am i How am I expressing that big picture idea, the actual story. Then there's the ACT those those like major components that comprise that story. Then there's the scenes the the blocks of action, that comprise those acts that make up that whole story. Then there's the dialogue level, which is like a window to the characters and the stories we understand sort of the the machinations that are happening behind the story. And then there's the and then there's the individual beats of your story. So if you want to get stuff written quickly, throw your get your ideas out of your head, get them onto index cards, flush them out, give yourself road markers, and then blast out a draft see what you've got and then improve that.

Alex Ferrari 54:46
I'm excited

Jeff Bollow 54:49
Oh my gosh. Can you tell that I that I live and breathe this stuff every day and have done

Alex Ferrari 54:59
That's amazing. Jeff, I know I could keep talking to you for at least another four or five hours.

Jeff Bollow 55:06
Probably would keep talking your ear off for all. Just make them stop.

Alex Ferrari 55:11
But I'm gonna ask you a few questions as all of my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Jeff Bollow 55:19
Today my advice for a screenwriter would be Think Local. Because I really believe that the biggest opportunities that we have today, to launch a career are local, there are people in your neighborhood, wherever you live in the world, that have the capacity to make movies and probably want to. And so if you're what you're wanting to be a writer, right for those people, if you imagine Steven Spielberg, or George Lucas or whatever, like, how did they become so close, they grew up together, it's like they went through the film school, they were like, they were emerging talent before they were big names together. So of course, they're going to work together like not necessarily people at that level, find your own people at your own level, locally, within your own town within your own city. You can make movies today, get good at those skills, develop those skills locally. So then you have showpiece, then you have something that you can take to the studios or the bigger levels that you want to reach out to and you're not coming with a script in your hand that they don't want to read because they don't know who you are. Instead, you're coming with an indie film. That's the first five minutes goes wow, this is amazing. Oh, and what you won, you won which festivals? Oh, and so like, suddenly, this is somebody to pay attention to. And then they they liked this little indie film. And I go, what else have you got? I've got my big tentpole project, but Alex told me not to write, right like that would be my advice is Think Local, because that's going to be your key to global domination.

Alex Ferrari 57:02
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Jeff Bollow 57:09
I remember my I remember my answer last time, but I'm gonna give you a different answer this time, this time it is let it go. Let go. Don't get me started. You have an idea of where you're trying to get. And because you have an idea of where you're trying to get, you can get fixated on that, and it can blind you to what's right in front of you. And so when I say let it go, I don't mean let go of that that goal, that passion, that is your fuel. That's your motivation, let that push you let that drive you. But let go of the outcome. Let go of I needed to look this way. Or I'm a failure. If like when I was a kid, I wanted to be a movie star. At a certain point. I was like, You know what, I'm not the leading man. I'm the leading man's best friend. Like that's just my type, right? So I'm probably not going to be the star. So if I hold on to that impossible thing. Maybe it's possible maybe a could have achieved it. But what would I have to what would I miss along the way? Because I'm so stuck on that one idea. If you can let that go. I think you open yourself up to a world of possibility. And today we live in a world of possibility. I know that I know that in the film industry. There's this general sense of it's impossible. If you can find anything you love in the world to do go do that instead. Like I hate that advice. I hate I hate that people say that. No, you can do this. This we have more opportunity today than we've ever had ever. There are no gatekeepers anymore. You can go make your own stuff. If there's no gatekeepers anymore, the quality is where it all comes from, what are you capable of doing develop those skills and get there so let go of those preconceived ideas. Wow, man, I'm rolling.

Alex Ferrari 59:12
And last question. Just three, three of your favorite films of all time.

Jeff Bollow 59:17
Oh, man, I knew you're gonna ask me this and I I hate this question. I'm always going to struggle.

Alex Ferrari 59:28
Thriller come to your mind today.

Jeff Bollow 59:31
Want to find a good sci fi love inception. I know. These are all going to be cliche but I love inception. I love the mystery. I'll tell you what another one that I really like is called time crimes. We've seen that one time crime Spanish film Spanish films fantastic if you like time travel time crimes Man Mark Mark my words you're gonna like it. It's a it's a great little film. And then it since we'll just keep it all sci fi primer. I love primer and primer is not A Primer is not something that you would look at and go, that's a well written film, because it's not about the writing. It's about the end, the end film, and it's, it's cool. I love brain teasers, and I love puzzles and stuff like that. So I lean towards sci fi, just because it's a it's a, it's a, it's a fantastic. I'm a possibilities person. And I like to think through like the, like, where we're going and all that kind of stuff and bring puzzles and stuff. I think we have to exercise this thing to get us where we're trying to go. And, and I love sci fi for that reason. So

Alex Ferrari 1:00:34
That's awesome, man. And where can people find out more about you and your work and all the stuff that you're doing?

Jeff Bollow 1:00:40
I have probably half a dozen places you can find me but I'll keep it to one which I'll just say fast screenplay. Because if you if, if nothing else, join me on the fast screenplay free newsletter. I do a I call it daily ish. Daily prompt, I used to do a daily prompt thing on YouTube where it was like, here's a little prompt to get you writing today. And so I've started doing that in email. I don't do daily because like a lot going on, but, but it's daily ish. And it'll keep you posted with all the various things that I have. And I've got some really cool things coming up. So,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:17
Jeff, it has been a pleasure and an honor to having you back on the show. Thank you for the hard work that you do. For screenwriters around the world, sir. I appreciate you man. Think and keep up. Keep the hustle going, brother, I appreciate you.

Jeff Bollow 1:01:29
Thanks for listening. Thanks for indulging me and thanks for having me really appreciate it. Alex, you I love what you do. Keep up keep doing what you're doing as well.

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BPS 208: Screenwriting for Emotional Impact (Audiobook Preview)

In this episode you get a FREE PREVIEW of the IFH Books release of Writing for Emotional Impact: Advanced Dramatic Techniques to Attract, Engage, and Fascinate the Reader from Beginning to End by Karl Iglesias. Enjoy!

There are three kinds of feelings when reading a story: boredom, interest, and wow! To become a successful writer, you must create the wow feeling on as many pages as possible, and this requires writing that engages the reader emotionally.

In his best-selling book, screenwriter Karl Iglesias explored the working habits of A-list Hollywood scribes. Now, he breaks new ground by focusing on the psychology of the reader.

Based on his acclaimed classes at UCLA Extension, Writing for Emotional Impact goes beyond the basics and argues that Hollywood is in the emotion-delivery business, selling emotional experiences packaged in movies and TV shows.

Karl not only encourages you to deliver emotional impact on as many pages as possible, he shows you how, offering you hundreds of dramatic techniques to take your writing to the professional level.

In this audiobook, you will learn:

  • Over 40 techniques to humanize a character for instant empathy
  • The seven essential storytelling emotions
  • Over 70 techniques to create them
  • Over 50 ways to craft powerful scenes, including the emotional palette
  • Over 30 techniques to shape your words and energize your narrative description
  • The most common dialogue flaws and fixes for each
  • Over 60 techniques to craft dynamic dialogue that snaps, crackles, and pops off the page

Not only does Karl Iglesias “get” emotion, but he also shares insider secrets for moving the reader from tears to laughter and everywhere in between.

Right-click here to download the MP3



  1. Arc StudioScreenwriting  Software Redefined 
  2. Bulletproof Script Coverage– Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
  3. AudibleGet a Free Screenwriting Audiobook

Alex Ferrari 2:12
Well guys, today you are in for a treat. I am bringing to you a another audio book preview from IFH books. Now the author of this book is Karl Iglesias, who is a author story guru, and been a guest on the show many times actually is one of the most popular guests that's ever been on the Bulletproof Screenwriting Podcast, and Karl and I got together to release the audio book version, which is basically a seminar based on his best selling seminal work in story called Writing for Emotional Impact. Now you're gonna get a little bit of a taste of what this book is. And if you want a free audiobook copy of Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias, all you have to do is go to freefilmbook.com And subscribe to a free account on Audible. When you do that. You get one free book and you just go to go pick up that book. And there you go. Now you could do that or you could just pick it up on Audible if you already have an account and and pick it up that way. But it is a great, great, great book. And I'm so excited to be sharing this with you guys. So without any further ado, enjoy your free preview of Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias.

Bulletproof Screenwriting and IFH books presents Writing for Emotional Impact, advanced dramatic techniques to attract engage and fascinate the reader from beginning to end by Karl Iglesias performed by Karl Iglesias

Introduction. It's not about plot points. It's not about act structure. It's not about character. It's all about emotion. There are three kinds of feelings when you read a story, boredom, interest, and wow. To become a successful screenwriter, you must create that wow feeling on as many pages as possible. And this requires writing that engages the reader emotionally. In his best selling book 101 Habits of Highly Successful screenwriters, screenwriter Karl Iglesias explored the working habits of a list Hollywood scribes. Now he breaks new ground by focusing on the psychology of the reader based on his acclaimed classes at the UCLA Extension. Writing for emotional impact goes beyond the basics, and argues that Hollywood is in the emotion delivery business selling emotional experiences packaged in movies and TV shows. Karl not only encourages you to deliver emotional impact on as many pages as possible. He shows you how offering you Hundreds of dramatic techniques to take your writing to the professional level. What you're about to listen to, is the screenwriting masterclass that inspired Karl to write the book Writing for Emotional Impact. Everything in the book is based on this seminar. But this seminar goes a little bit deeper than the book does. So you are in for a treat. I personally read this book early on in my screenwriting career, and I can't tell you what an impact no pun intended, it had on my life as a storyteller, and specifically as a screenwriter, getting my screenplays read and optioned by major Hollywood producers. I am so proud to present Writing for Emotional Impact as the first of many books in the bulletproof screenwriting audio book series, sit back and enjoy. Alex Ferrari, writer, director, producer podcaster, author, public speaker, and founder of Indie Film, Hustle, Filmtrepreneur, and Bulletproof Screenwriting.

Karl Iglesias 6:04
Thank you very much. And welcome to this seminar on dialogue. When we talk about crafting fresh dialogue for emotional impact. We're presenting lots and lots and lots of techniques, along with script examples to give you a set of tools that you can use to go over your dialogue and and make it that much fresher and sharper, and just make it like crackle, pop and pop off the page. So my name is Carly glaces. I'm the author of the one on one Habits of Highly Successful screenwriters, and the upcoming writing for emotional impact, which is all about the craft. Okay, without further ado, let's dive into what we're going to what are we going to be talking about today? What dialogue must accomplish in the script, the most common dialogue problems and how to fix them? What constitutes great dialogue. And I've actually separated into four categories emotional impact, individuality, meaning how to write individual dialogue, unique voices to separate your characters. One of the most important things how to provide information through your dialogue in a subtle way. Because what I see a lot in scripts, amateur scripts, is just plain old on the nose, really boring, an obvious exposition. And lastly, we're going to talk a little bit a little bit about subtext, which actually will be covered in depth in the next seminar, the psychology of subjects. So I'll talk a little bit about it, but I won't give you actual techniques that will be the next seminar. And you will have a lot of homework after this seminar because I will tell you give you a list of the dialogue masters that you have to read. Okay, one of the best ways to learn how to write is to read scripts, rather than going to the movies, because you can actually see how the other writer writes on the page and how we evokes an emotion in the reader. Whereas in the movie theaters, you're experiencing the emotions, from the craft of about 200 craftsman, the music, the cinematography, the editing, so there's no way to find out how to do it on the page. So the only way to do it is to through reading the scripts. And I'll tell you which writers are considered great dialogue masters for you to study. Okay, so let's start with what dialogue must accomplish. Most of the books and seminars, unfortunately, dialog tend to be glossed over. And the reason for that is that most people believe that data cannot be taught in a sense. And there's a little bit of truth to that people thinking I've ever an ear, just like a musician. You know, Downton has a good ear, that one must accomplish several things. What you read is that it must advance the plot, right? It must events provide exposition, and reveal character. This is usually the two things that teachers teach. But as you'll see right now, it actually has to accomplish a lot of different things too. And I'll go through each one carefully. The very first thing is reveal character. That's an obvious what a character says and how he says it or she says it reveals their character, it must reflect the speaker's mood, and emotions. It must also reveal or hide the speaker's motivation. The most common one is advance the action and carry information or exposition. And this is what I see in about 99% of amateur scripts. Most of the dialogue is a straight information. It should foreshadow what's to come. And of course, it should have emotional impact. And by that I mean that the dialogue should be funny, tense, you know, etc, etc. This is what great dialogue does, it provides emotional impact. So what I'm going to do is actually talk about some of the most common dialogue problems that I see in amateur scripts. And we'll talk about also how to fix them. Okay. And this will be in order meaning from the least common to the most common

So what I see a lot is what we call stilted or formal dialogue. And stilted means that it's very literary, it's grammatically correct. Another thing you see a lot is that dialects are hard to read. A lot of amateur writers create a character that's from a particular region or country and actually write and actually phonetically spell the dialect, so that when you when you read it, you technically hear it. It's good to certain point, but what I see a lot is that there, it's really hard to read, and that takes you out of the reading, you try to figure out what is he saying, okay, and I'll show you a way of how to fix that. So Dalits are to read, try to avoid, try to avoid that characters talk too much. In other words, you see a lot of huge chunks of dialogue, in scenes, characters all talk the same, this is a very, very common thing. And usually the voice is the writers, obviously, you know, it's every chunk of dialogue, you see, every character speaks the same way. And one of the ways to, one of the standards you should shoot for is to actually hide the characters names in your script, once you print it out, like the first draft, hide it and then read the dialogue. And you should be able to know who's speaking just from the dialogue customer, that's your standard. Dialogue is predictable. You see this a lot in bad television, and even good television sometimes actually see that. And this is when you're able to predict what the next response will be to dialogue. You know, if somebody says I love you, the most common response I was all the time I love you to write. And your job as a screenwriter is to write unpredictable dialogue. Dialogue is wooden, flat and bland. And this usually occurs through the exposition when you see exposition, and this is, you know, straight information. It's also flat, it's bland, it's boring. Dialogue is to expose a story. And the reason for that is because the writer doesn't know how to write, provide exposition in a subtle way. And then, of course, who can predict what the last and biggest problem is? Dialogue is on the nose, the most common problem. And under nose means that the dialogue has exactly what a character is thinking, what the character wants. character's motivation, desires, it's just on the nose when it's exactly what they're thinking and want to say. And the reason is boring. I'll talk about it in a second. I shall talk about it in subtext seminar, because that will be the bulk of this of this problem. Okay, so what constitutes great dialogue, emotional impact, individuality, meaning each character has their own voice, subtle exposition, and then subtext. Okay, so I'm gonna start now with the very first category, emotional impact. And what I'll do is actually give you the technique, and I'll show you examples from scripts, okay? And you'll be able to see it in action from great scripts, so cliche alternatives as your very first technique. And as the title implies, it just means turning nucleus taking cliches, cliche lines, as you've heard and turning them to your advantage meaning use an alternative to that okay. And let me show an example. This is from Lethal Weapon by Shane Black. Oh, by the way, guy who shot me Yeah, same dose shot Lloyd Jesus. You sure? I never forget an asshole. Okay, now what would have been the cliche there? The cliche would have been I never forget to face right that's a line you've heard 100 times shame black to deadline. It's a cliche and just tweak tweaked it just a bit. And made I never forget an s&m it that made it funny. All right. So that's one example. This is an example from body heat by Lawrence Kasdan. This is a scene where received played by William Hurt and Maddie played by kissing Turner are in the bar. And obviously they're attracted to each other. Most men are a little boys. Maybe you should drink at home. Too quiet. Maybe you shouldn't dress like that. This is a blouse and a skirt. I don't know what you're talking about. You shouldn't wear that body. Okay, great line. What would have been the cliche line there? You shouldn't wear that dress. Okay, in this case, you just tweaked a little bit. You shouldn't wear that body and just raise it to another level. So that's an alternative to a cliche. Let me give you another example is from 48 hours. I love this example.

Crazy. Oh, you guys were in like last week. You better ask around. I'm not supposed to be hassled I got friends. Hey, Park the tongue for a second suite bands. We just want to search the room. Okay, where's the well What would have been the cliche, this isn't the second response that from vents on Twitter said, Hey, shut up, or Hey, quiet. That would have been a cliche, right? But he said, park the tongue for a second. Okay, a little witty alternative. So that's three examples for a cliche alternative. Let me give you another technique. That's called the combat Zinger. This is pretty self explanatory. Now, everybody knows what a zinger is. Right? So it's a quick way to come back. That's usually supposed to attack a person. This is very common in buddy films, right? Like 48 hours rush hour, one person sets up the line, the other person just comes back with a zinger just back and forth. And I think in Saturday Night Live too they had they have a character who's like, Mr. Zinger, right and the whole thing so you understand the concept. So let me give some examples of combat zingers. This is also from 48 hours. We in brothers, we ain't partners and we ain't friends. And if Dan's gets away with my money, you're gonna be sorry, you ever met me? I'm already Sorry. Okay, so it's a little Zinger there. From aliens. One of the lines that got the biggest laughs laughs in the movie. Vasquez is a is the woman Marine, right? Hudson Hey Vasquez Have you been mistaken for a man? No Have you Okay, come back so you hear this from All About Eve great strip by the way to study because it's got like hundreds and hundreds of really witty lines and comebacks from Mankiewicz. Bill is it sabotaged as my career nothing to you have you know human consideration? Show me a human and I might have Okay, so Margo is insulting. All right. Exaggeration is your another set of techniques. And this is a great device to amuse the reader. Now exaggerations are not meant to be taking literally okay, you exaggerate something so they're supposed to be taking metaphorically and I want to show you examples. You'll see what I'm talking about. This from Annie Hall, Woody Allen. After he parks the car. Don't worry, we can walk to the curb from here. Okay, remember she parked the car a little far. Okay, that's an exaggeration. And then later on, there's another line where it says Honey, there's a spider in your bathroom the size of a Buicks. Okay, that's an exaggeration. Obviously, there's a spider is not the size of the Buick, but just the line itself. Metaphorically, it just sounds great. Okay, so exaggeration. Another example. This is from the Gilmore Girls. No, I don't watch that show. But I I've seen a couple episodes. And it's incredibly witty is like the lines just go like that. So it's a great script. I actually read a couple of scripts and it has been going oh my god, this is really great, great dialogue. My parents set me up with a son of a business associate. He's going to be a doctor, how old is he? 16. So he's going to be a doctor in 100 years. My parents like to plan ahead. Okay, so the exaggeration there is gonna be a doctor in like 100 years, okay. And from as good as it gets, Carol, an ear infection can send us to the emergency room maybe five, six times a month, where I get whatever nine year old they just made a doctor nice chatting with you. Okay, you see the with exaggeration here is the nine year old doctor, whatever nine year old, they made a doctor. So it just raises your dial up to my level when you use that particular technique. All right, call me comparison is another technique. Now this is about humor. It's a humor technique, actually. And a lot of people think, well, you need to be funny. I agree. Okay, you need to actually be funny to come up with funny lines. But if you really study humor, you come up with actually the code the sides. So universally, humor is a science in a sense, you know, probably more science than art. And if you really study this is one technique, which is the most common techniques in humor, which is to compare two things that creates the laughter and I'll show you an example. So this is technical comic comparison. Nice to meet you. Oh, and who might this be? This is Eddie. This is the dog. I call him Eddie spaghetti. Oh, he likes pasta. No, he has words. Okay. So that that laugh was generated because he's actually comparing it with spaghetti pasta and comparing it with worms. Okay, here's another example. This is from Notting Hill. Ah, there's something wrong with this yogurt. It's mayonnaise. Oh, okay. Remember that? That scene? Okay. It's comparing, you know, yogurt with mayonnaise.

Okay, next one is from Monty Hall. It's so clean out here. That's because they don't throw their garbage away to turn into television. And okay, we're talking about Los Angeles. You remember that is a great script to read to, obviously this Picture Academy Award. So obviously compared TV with garbage in this case. So common comparison. All right, moving on. Something called lists. This is very self explanatory. This is about using specific lists for dramatic effect, which can include usually, this is used a lot to show a character's frustration. Just feels a little secret there. Let me show you some examples. This is gonna be hard to read because a lot of it but this is the scene in Erin Brockovich where the love interest is introduced, and Isa is asking for her number. And she says, which number do you want? George? You got more than one? Shit? Yeah, I got numbers coming out of my ear. Like for instance, 1010. Sure, that's one of my numbers. is how many months old? My little girl is you got a little girl. Yeah, sexy, huh? And here's another five. That's how old my other daughter is. Seven is my son's age two is how many times I've been married and divorce you getting all this? 16 is the number of dollars in my bank account. 4543943 is my phone number. And with all the numbers I gave you, I'm guessing zero is the number of times you're gonna call it. Okay. So there's the list right there. So giving him a list of numbers. And this is really, really well done. Give me another example. Numbers some something's got to give with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton. Can we talk tomorrow? What for? I saw your friend you were having dinner with is that what is that what you want? It's never going to work with me. Look at me. I'm, I'm a middle aged woman. Don't let this brown hair fool you. I don't have real brown hair on my head. I'm almost all gray. That would freak you out, wouldn't it? And I have high cholesterol and my back hurts every morning and I'm postmenopausal and I have osteoporosis and I'm sure arthritis is just around the corner. And I know you've seen my varicose veins let's face it, man, that's not quite the buzz you're looking for. All right, a list of all her little ailments. Now actually, this illustrates a good point because you know you have a lot of teachers that tell you to not have huge chunks of dialogue right? Tell you only one or two liners, but this works because it's using one of the techniques or this particular chunk of dialogue has emotional impact. And the secret here is that when you have emotional impact, it doesn't matter how long your your speech is. Okay? The reader is not thinking oh, this is too long. This is amateur because he's really impacted by that speech. Okay, another example this from be dazzled. Not a good film, but the script was okay. The original is even better by the way. The devil there's nothing sinister here paragraph one states that either devil and nonprofit or corporation with offices in purgatory hell in Los Angeles will give you seven wish wishes to use as you as you see fit. Why seven? Why not? Eight? Why not? Six? I don't know seven. Sounds right. It's a magical mystical thing. Seven Days of the Week Seven Deadly Sins seven ops seven dwarfs, okay. Okay, so there's the list right there at the bottom. It also creates a nice rhythm to it, which is really important in in dialogue. All right, one of my favorite techniques is metaphors and similes. Now, I think they spoke about metaphors and similes into description when you use descriptions. This is for dialog. Jenna metaphor for those. Those of you who don't know is when you compare something you say this particular thing is something else. Like, you know, you try to describe somebody, sneaky guy and you say he's a snake. Okay, that's a metaphor, but if you say he is like a snake, that's a simile. So let me give you some examples of this from Bull Durham. Another excellent script. Is somebody going to go to bed with somebody or what your regular nuclear meltdown honey slow down. Okay. So the very first one there your your conscious comparing to a nuclear meltdown, your regular nuclear meltdown, that's a metaphor. And then later on, crush this guy hit the shit out of that one, huh? Well, I held it like an egg. And he scrambled the son of a bitch. I mean, fun yet. Okay. This is after he told him you have to hold the ball like an egg when you pitch it. The guy doesn't think I pitch the ball and he slams it like a hole for a homerun and he's trying to figure out so I held it like an egg is the simile and then he scrambled a son of a bitch. Right? Instead of saying he hit the homerun which would have been on the nose. He says he scrambled the son of a bitch. That's really interesting. Metaphor. And then of course All About Eve which has hundreds of them.

There's a sudden Sharpie out from the bathroom. You're supposed to zip the zipper not me like trying to zip a pretzel standstill. Bill grins To what a documentary those two would make, like the Mongoose and the Cobra. Okay. So just in that little three lines you have like to write, zipper pretzel, and like a mongoose and the Cobra and from Casa Blanca, another great script that has a lot of metaphors, similes, and just all around great dialogue. My interest is whether Victor Laszlo stays or goes, is purely a sporting one. In this case, you have no sympathy for the fox, not particularly, I understand the point of view of the Hound to Okay, so you're comparing what's going on, you know, the Nazis after Victor Laszlo, like a fox hunt. And this is the reason when, you know, obviously, when you don't know the all these techniques, basically, when you read the script, you're going wow, this this is also conscious reading that you're going wow, this is great writing. You're not stopping on this is it? But as a writer, you have to notice this as a writer when you have mastery of the craft. This is what we're talking about. Okay. Really funny one from Austin Powers, The Spy Who Shagged Me Dr. Evil, you're not quite evil enough. You're semi evil, you're quasi evil. You're the margarine of evil. You're the Diet Coke of evil, just one calorie not evil enough. Okay. This can also be also like lists too, because he's going through the whole list of them, but obviously a lot of metaphors there. Okay. Another great technique is called parallel construction. Now this is to create rhythm and dialogue. A lot of politician use that in speeches, by the way, the parallel construction. And like, for example, Martin Luther King, I have a dream you keep repeating of a dream. Jeff Kay's line, a famous line asked, not what the country can do for you ask what you can do for your country. That's a parallel construction. And we'll show you some examples of that. This is from Rocky. Look, Bob, if you want to dance, you got to pay the band. If you borrow, you got to pay them in me I get emotionally involved. Okay, so the parallel construction is this the first line if you want to dance, you got to do this. If you borrow, you have to do that. Okay, so it's, it's the same construction as the first line, and it just creates a nice rhythm. Let me give you another example. From Apocalypse Now. shirts. We must kill them. We must incinerate them pig after pigs cow after cow village after village army after army. So you see a whole bunch of them. You see how they're all constructed the same way parallel construction. And then from the Gilmore Girls again. Oh grandpa as the insurance biz, people die. We pay people crash cars we pay people lose the food we pay. All right. Another technique progressive dialog. Now as the name implies, this means it's dialogue that actually progresses either upwardly or downwardly. And I'll show you an example what I mean by that. This from Monty Python, flying circus. This is sketch the interview is interviewing a camel spotter. So in three years you spotted no camels? Yes, in three years. I tell a lie for be fair five. I've been camo spotting for just the seven years. Before that, of course, I was a yeti spotter. A Yeti spotter? That must have been interesting. You've seen one, you've seen them all. And have you seen them all? Well, I've seen one. Well, a little one. A picture of I've heard of them. Okay, so actually this liquid exam because you have both you have the upward progression where he's talking about the years, right? I've seen him in three years on or four. I've seen seven years, right. So that creates an effect that's progressively up. And then the last line is progressively down. I've seen one. I've seen a picture. You know, I've heard of him. Okay, so that creates a nice effect. This is another example from almost famous Cameron Crowe script. Penny Lane. How old are you? 18 Me too. How old? Are we really? 17 Me too. Actually. I'm 16 Me too. Isn't it funny? The truth just sounds different. I'm 15 right? Remember that scene. So this here we have a downward progression. creates a really nice exchange, and then a famous one from Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet. Blake, we're adding a little something to this month's sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anyone wants the second prize. Second prize is a set of steak knives, third prices, you're fired. Okay, so obviously another upward progression here. Okay, this is one of my favorite favorite favorites. techniques are called push button dialog. Now as the name implies, eyes. This is dialogue that pushes someone else's buttons.

And causes an emotional reaction. Now, it doesn't have to be a nasty thing like you're trying to insult them, they'll be like a combat Zinger. It could be also you want to make them like you want them to love you. So, you know, you also would say a line, and I'll show examples of that too. But if you if you think about your most famous of like, favorite favorite lines of dialogue in the history of movies, okay, there, chances are like seven out of 10 of them are push button dialog techniques. Okay? They're really really effective. So famous lines, like, you know, frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. That's a push button dialog. You're not too smart. Are you? I like that in a man. That's that's from body heat. And okay, let me give some examples of this from real genius. Oh, you're the new starter? Are you? Or is it dud? How do you mean start hotshot brain? Your 12 year old right? I'm 15. Does you probably know that. Okay, He's insulting his intelligence push button. Right? They're as good as it gets as a couple of them there. Oh, come on. Come on in and try not to ruin everything by being you. All right. And then later on, Carol, when you first came into breakfast, when I saw you I thought you were handsome. Then of course you spoke and other push button. And now there's a great line from Silence of the Lambs. laughter Why do you think he removes their skins agent Starling thrilled me with your acumen. It excites him. Most serial killers keep some sort of trophies from their victims. I didn't know you ate yours. Okay, cool. Push, push his buttons there. And vice versa. Actually, one of the most most memorable scenes is when both people are pushing their buttons back and forth, you know. From another example, from something's gotta give, wow, it's the perfect beach house. I know, my mother doesn't know how to do things that aren't perfect, which explains you. Okay. So in this case, that's, you know, he's actually giving her a compliment, right? So it's pushing her romance buttons there. So it doesn't all have to be negative. Okay, and this is kind of a little long, but this is the famous body heat scene. I'm a married woman, meaning what? Meaning I'm not looking for a company she chose back towards the ocean, then you should have said I'm a happily married woman. That's my business. What? How happy I am. And how happy is that? You're not too smart. Are you? I like that in a man. All right, famous line from body heat. All right. Let's do one of three more techniques under that category. This is reversals. And this is when, as the name implies, a reversal is when a character takes the opposite turn in the middle of a thought. All right, let me give some examples of that reversals as good as it gets. You want to dance I've been thinking about for a while. And Carol rises and no. Okay. You see the reversal there? That creates humor. When Harry Met Sally. I've been doing a lot of thinking and the thing is, I love you what? I love you. How do you expect me to respond to this? How about you love me too? How about I'm leaving. Okay, so you got a reversal? And actually, this is also an example of another technique you just saw. How about you love me to hop on? I'm leaving parallel construction right? From Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid William Goldman's famous script. I think we lost them. Do you think we lost them? No, neither do I. Okay, it's a very simple right very simple reversal. Creates creates an emotional impact right there. Okay. Another technique you have at your disposal is understatement. And this is the opposite of exaggeration, right? Remember, you had exaggeration in your toolbox? This is the opposite understatement. And this is when you actually that you downplay the dial up downplays you know the problem. Like the famous line in Apollo 13 Houston, we have a problem. That's a good example of understatement. All right, from almost famous, and he just shakes hands with mom and exits. As the car takes off. She'll be back in the distance we hear the whoop of her daughter. Maybe not too so that's an understatement. From psycho mother isn't quite herself today very simple. The Mother of All understatements right from last boyscout want to shame black scripts the two minute approach to door Jimmy takes out his key ring the cops are going to want to check this place out so don't disturb anything. Yes Massa Jimmy opens the door flips on the lights stopped stops in his tracks in his tracks the room has been systematically torn to pieces broken furniture shredded clothing everywhere it looks like a combat zone. I think someone disturbed some stuff Joe okay understatement.

Alex Ferrari 1:26:22
I hope you guys really enjoyed that free preview. Again, if you want to get a free copy of this audio book on Audible, all you got to do is head over to freefilmbook.com and sign up for a free account on Audible. Or you could just pick it up on Audible or Amazon if you want to purchase it outright. So if you want to get links to not only how to get a copy of this book, but also check out the other interviews I've done with Karl, all you have to do is head over to the show notes at bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/208. Thank you again so much for listening, guys. As always, keep on writing, no matter what. I'll talk to you soon.

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Screenwriting Books You Need To Read – Top Ten List

1) Screenplay by Syd Field

Hollywood’s script guru teaches you how to write a screenplay in “the ‘bible’ of screenwriting” (The New York Times)—now celebrating forty years of screenwriting success!

Syd Field’s books on the essential structure of emotionally satisfying screenplays have ignited lucrative careers in film and television since 1979. In this revised edition of his premiere guide, the underpinnings of successful onscreen narratives are revealed in clear and encouraging language that will remain wise and practical as long as audiences watch stories unfold visually—from hand-held devices to IMAX to virtual reality . . . and whatever comes next.

As the first person to articulate common structural elements unique to successful movies, celebrated producer, lecturer, teacher and bestselling author Syd Field has gifted us a classic text. From concept to character, from opening scene to finished script, here are fundamental guidelines to help all screenwriters—novices and Oscar-winners—hone their craft and sell their work.

In Screenplay, Syd Field can help you discover:

  • Why the first ten pages of every script are crucial to keeping professional readers’ interest
  • How to visually “grab” these influential readers from page one, word one
  • Why structure and character are the basic components of all narrative screenplays
  • How to adapt a novel, a play, or an article into a saleable script
  • Tips on protecting your work—three ways to establish legal ownership of screenplays
  • Vital insights on writing authentic dialogue, crafting memorable characters, building strong yet flexible storylines (form, not formula), overcoming writer’s block, and much more

Syd Field is revered as the original master of screenplay story structure, and this guide continues to be the industry’s gold standard for learning the foundations of screenwriting.


2) Story: by Robert McKee

Robert McKee’s screenwriting workshops have earned him an international reputation for inspiring novices, refining works in progress and putting major screenwriting careers back on track. Quincy Jones, Diane Keaton, Gloria Steinem, Julia Roberts, John Cleese and David Bowie are just a few of his celebrity alumni. Writers, producers, development executives and agents all flock to his lecture series, praising it as a mesmerizing and intense learning experience.

In Story, McKee expands on the concepts he teaches in his $450 seminars (considered a must by industry insiders), providing readers with the most comprehensive, integrated explanation of the craft of writing for the screen. No one better understands how all the elements of a screenplay fit together, and no one is better qualified to explain the “magic” of story construction and the relationship between structure and character than Robert McKee.


3) The Nutshell Technique: Crack the Secret of Successful Screenwriting

Veteran script consultant Jill Chamberlain discovered in her work that an astounding 99 percent of first-time screenwriters don’t know how to tell a story. What the 99 percent do instead is present a situation. In order to explain the difference, Chamberlain created the Nutshell Technique, a method whereby writers identify eight dynamic, interconnected elements that are required to successfully tell a story.

Now, for the first time, Chamberlain presents her unique method in book form with The Nutshell Technique: Crack the Secret of Successful Screenwriting. Using easy-to-follow diagrams (“nutshells”), she thoroughly explains how the Nutshell Technique can make or break a film script. Chamberlain takes readers step-by-step through thirty classic and contemporary movies, showing how such dissimilar screenplays as Casablanca, Chinatown, Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Silver Linings Playbook, and Argo all have the same system working behind the scenes, and she teaches readers exactly how to apply these principles to their own screenwriting. Learn the Nutshell Technique, and you’ll discover how to turn a mere situation into a truly compelling screenplay story.


4) The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

Originally an influential memo Vogler wrote for Walt Disney Animation executives regarding The Lion King, The Writer’s Journey details a twelve-stage, myth-inspired method that has galvanized Hollywood’s treatment of cinematic storytelling. A format that once seldom deviated beyond a traditional three-act blueprint, Vogler’s comprehensive theory of story structure and character development has met with universal acclaim, and is detailed herein using examples from myths, fairy tales, and classic movies. This book has changed the face of screenwriting worldwide over the last 25 years, and continues to do so. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

5) Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger

Making a good script great is more than just a matter of putting a good idea on paper. It requires the working and reworking of that idea. This book takes you through the whole screenwriting process – from initial concept through final rewrite – providing specific methods that will help you craft tighter, stronger, and more saleable scripts.

While retaining the invaluable insights that placed its first two editions among the all – time most popular screenwriting books, this expanded, revised, and updated third edition adds rich and important new material on dialogue, cinematic images, and point of view, as well as an interview with screenwriter Paul Haggis.

If you are writing your first script, this book will help develop your skills for telling a compelling and dramatic story. If you are a veteran screenwriter, it will help you articulate the skills you know intuitively. And if you are currently stuck on a rewrite, this book will help you analysis and solve your script’s problems and get it back on track.

Also, check out Linda’s amazing podcast interview here: Making a Good Script Great with Linda Seger (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

6) Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

Here’s what started the phenomenon: the best seller, for over 15 years, that’s been used by screenwriters around the world! Blake Snyder tells all in this fast, funny and candid look inside the movie business. “Save the Cat” is just one of many ironclad rules for making your ideas more marketable and your script more satisfying, including: The four elements of every winning logline The seven immutable laws of screenplay physics The 10 genres that every movie ever made can be categorized by ― and why they’re important to your script.

Why your Hero must serve your Idea Mastering the 15 Beats Creating the “Perfect Beast” by using The Board to map 40 scenes with conflict and emotional change How to get back on track with proven rules for script repair

This ultimate insider’s guide reveals the secrets that none dare admit, told by a showbiz veteran who’s proven that you can sell your script if you can save the cat. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

7) How Not to Write a Screenplay by Denny Martin Flynn

How Not to Write a Screenplay is an invaluable addition to any aspiring screenwriter’s shelf–and you’d best make the shelf within arm’s reach of the computer. Author Dean Martin Flinn, an experienced script reader, details the common rookie mistakes that drive script readers crazy. Flinn makes no pretense of being able to teach anyone how to write the next Great American Film–or for that matter the next Stupid Summer Blockbuster. Instead he offers information that will help keep the novice screenwriter’s opus from being immediately tossed on the trash pile (arguably a more valuable service).

As Flinn says in his introduction, if you follow the advice in this book, “you may not write a particularly good screenplay, but you won’t write a bad one.” Flinn offers practical advice on formatting, such as the proper form for a slugline and where to set your margins, and more general rules of thumb on giving the actors room to interpret their roles and avoiding dictating camera angles to the director (who will ignore them anyway). The second half of the book deals with content, also in a remarkably pragmatic way–structure, pacing, plot resolution, and dialogue that really stink are all handily dealt with.

Flinn illustrates almost all his points with excerpts from screenplays both good and bad (names have been changed to protect the guilty), giving the reader concrete examples of the difference between poorly and well-structured scenes. Not sucking is an unusual goal for a screenwriting manual, but any script reader will agree it is a noble one. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

8) The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats by Cole Haag

This book was a required textbook back when I was at film school. Some of the formatting suggestions may be a little outdated, especially if you have Final Draft or Movie Magic screenwriting software, but there’s still a ton of knowledge to be gained about proper formatting. The quickest way to spot a novice writer is by how unprofessional their script is formatted — this book shines a light on the Hollywood standard. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

9) The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier

The 20th anniversary edition of one of the most popular, authoritative, and useful books on screenwriting. A standard by which other screenwriting books are measured, it has sold over 200,000 copies in its twenty-year life. Always up-to-date and reliable, it contains everything that both the budding and working screenwriter need under one cover five books in one!

A Screenwriting Primer that provides a concise course in screenwriting basics;
A Screenwriting Workbook that walks you through the complete writing process, from nascent ideas through final revisions;
A Formatting Guide that thoroughly covers today s correct formats for screenplays and TV scripts;
A Spec Writing Guide that demonstrates today s spec style through sample scenes and analysis, with an emphasis on grabbing the reader s interest in the first ten pages;

A Sales and Marketing Guide that presents proven strategies to help you create a laser-sharp marketing plan.

Among this book s wealth of practical information are sample query letters, useful worksheets and checklists, hundreds of examples, sample scenes, and straightforward explanations of screenwriting fundamentals. The sixth edition is chock-full of new examples, the latest practices, and new material on non-traditional screenplay outlets. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

10) The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri

Learn the basic techniques every successful playwright knows Among the many “how-to” playwriting books that have appeared over the years, there have been few that attempt to analyze the mysteries of play construction. Lajos Egri’s classic, The Art of Dramatic Writing, does just that, with instruction that can be applied equally well to a short story, novel, or screenplay. Examining a play from the inside out, Egri starts with the heart of any drama: its characters.

All good dramatic writing hinges on people and their relationships, which serve to move the story forward and give it life, as well as an understanding of human motives — why people act the way that they do. Using examples from everything from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Egri shows how it is essential for the author to have a basic premise — a thesis, demonstrated in terms of human behavior — and to develop the dramatic conflict on the basis of that behavior.

Using Egri’s ABCs of premise, character, and conflict, The Art of Dramatic Writing is a direct, jargon-free approach to the problem of achieving truth in writing. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

11) The 101 Habits Of Successful Screenwriters by Karl Iglesias

You can struggle for years to get a foot in the door with Hollywood producers–or you can take a page from the book that offers proven advice from twenty-one of the industry’s best and brightest!

In this tenth anniversary edition, The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters, 2nd Edition peers into the lives and workspaces of screenwriting greats–including Terry Rossio (the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), Aline Brosh McKenna (Morning Glory), Bill Marsilii (Deja Vu), Derek Haas and Michael Brandt (Wanted), and Tony Gilroy (the Bourne franchise).

You will learn best practices to fire up your writing process and your career, such as:

  • Be Comfortable with Solitude
  • Commit to a Career, Not Just One Screenplay
  • Be Aware of Your Muse’s Favorite Activities
  • Write Terrible First Drafts
  • Don’t Work for Free
  • Write No Matter What

This indispensable handbook will help you hone your craft by living, breathing, and scripting the life you want!

BONUS: Pulp Fiction – The Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino

With his vibrant imagination and dedication to richly layered storytelling QUENTIN TARANTINO is one of the most celebrated filmmakers of his generation. He made his directorial debut in 1992 with RESERVOIR DOGS, and then co-wrote, directed and starred in one of his most beloved films, PULP FICTION, which won his first Oscar® for Best Screenplay.

Followed by the highly acclaimed films JACKIE BROWN, KILL BILL VOL. 1 and VOL. 2, and DEATH PROOF, Tarantino then released his World War II epic, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, DJANGO UNCHAINED (which won his second Oscar® for Best Screenplay), and the HATEFUL EIGHT. Tarantino’s most recent film, ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD, was nominated for five Golden Globes, ten BAFTAS, and ten Academy Award nominations.

A must-read for any screenwriter. Tarantino…nuff said! These are our Top Ten Screenwriting Books You Need to Read. We hope they help you on your journey as a screenwriter. Remember just keep writing!

BPS 198: Secrets to Creating Great Character Moments with Chris Riley

Chris Riley is a screenwriter whose first film, After The Truth, an award-winning courtroom thriller written with his wife and professional partner, Kathy, sparked international controversy in 1999 when it was released in Germany.

Other credits include 25 To Life, a dramatic thriller for Junction Entertainment and Touchstone Pictures; The Other White House, a political thriller for Sean Connery’s Fountainbridge Films and Intermedia; Aces, an action-adventure romance for Paramount Pictures; and a screen adaptation of the book Actual Innocence for Mandalay Television Pictures and the Fox television network. A veteran of the Warner Bros. script department, Riley is the author of The Hollywood Standard: The Complete and Authoritative Guide to Script Format and Style. He serves as professor of film at John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego and previously taught in the MFA program in writing for screen and television at Pepperdine University.

He served as creative director at Yellow Line Studio where he executive produced the web series Bump+ and produced the feature Red Line. He is a founding partner of the online Story Masters Film Academy.

His new book is The Defining Moment How Writers and Actors Build Characters.

Aimed at both the head and the heart, The Defining Moment plumbs the depths of the most memorable characters ever to appear on the screen, the stage or the page. The book focuses on those moments so pivotal in a character’s formation that they create a distinct boundary of before and after, moments without which the character couldn’t exist and moments through which characters can transform before our eyes. Writers, actors and storytellers of all stripes will discover a powerful new key to unlock any character they seek to develop, write or portray. They may even unlock a deeper understanding of themselves.


  • The first in-depth study of the essential principles that will redefine the way storytellers understand their characters and themselves.
  • Essential insights into the forces that create character
  • Dozens of examples of character-defining moments from film, television, theater and literature
  • An exploration of pivotol moments: birth, death, discovery, decision-making, injury and healing
  • An examination of how writers and actors employ defining moments in their deepest and most unforgettable works
  • Insights into how directors, editors, cinematographers and composers dramatize key moments
  • Practical exercises for defining and redefining character
  • Tips for discovering the moments that matter most
  • Deeply personal stories from the authors’ lives to illustrate the variety of moments that define us.
  • For every storyteller, no matter their medium, The Defining Moment will redefine the way they understand their characters and themselves.

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Chris Riley 0:00
Well, I think you do start with that kind of question. Like I know I have a character who's going to dress up like a bat and fight crime. Why?

Alex Ferrari 0:08
This episode is brought to you by Bulletproof Script Coverage, where screenwriters go to get their scripts read by Top Hollywood Professionals. Learn more at covermyscreenplay.com I'd like to welcome back to the show returning champion, Chris Riley. How're you doing, Chris?

Chris Riley 0:24
I'm doing well. It's good to see you again Alex.

Alex Ferrari 0:26
Good to see you. My friend. Last Last we spoke we talked about formatting and the Hollywood standard and how to format a script properly. And it was a very successful conversation and episode people really loved it. And when you wrote your new book, The defining moment how to write was it how writers and actors build character, I had to have you back on the show to talk about it. Because it's a really fascinating book on the process of character development.

Chris Riley 0:55
It's been a fun book to write. And it's, it's fun to talk about. Talking about script format is a little dry topic. But yeah, in this book, we get to sort of go straight for the heart,

Alex Ferrari 1:10
The more sexy parts of writing, it's like, that's the formatting not so sexy.

Chris Riley 1:14
Yeah, without, you know, it's necessary. But that's not what draws us to stories. It's the characters. And that's what this book is about.

Alex Ferrari 1:22
Absolutely. So let's get into it. How do you build deep characters in your pitch?

Chris Riley 1:28
Well, it's a, it's such an important part of the work we do. as storytellers, characters, are the most interesting thing. And it's, it makes sense characters represent people and people are the most interesting thing. So the challenge for a storyteller for a writer is the people and characters are complex, there's an infinite amount of stuff you could know about them. But what do we really need to know to go deep with characters and the idea of the book is that there are a small number of moments that define each one of us that define a character. And if we know what those moments are, that have been the moments that have most profoundly shaped a character, then we can get a deep understanding of them without knowing a million details about them.

Alex Ferrari 2:28
So you're, you're talking so so that so that the definition of a defining moment, or what is the defining moment,

Chris Riley 2:34
So a defining moment would be one of those moments that creates a before and after for us that, you know, we were one thing before that moment, where something else after it, so it can be a moment of birth or death, like literal or figurative, can be a moment? You know, we're talking to filmmakers here, the moment when the birth or the dream of making movies was born. And you're one way before that, and then after that, you're you're hustling, you're obsessed, and, and you but like nobody really could be said to understand you deeply. If they don't know what that moment was.

Alex Ferrari 3:18
So So Bruce, Wayne, was hunky dory until that night of the theater.

Chris Riley 3:24
Exactly. So that's a moment where something died, literally, his parents died. But something else was born in him what which was his drive, to stop crying to prevent other people from suffering, the way he suffered, it was also the birth of his lifelong emotional agony.

Alex Ferrari 3:48
I mean, he's got some issues. I mean, he's dressed up to the bat. So there's, there's other psychological things that he's going to have to deal with growing up. But but you know, I think the great defining moments in in Hollywood history are in films. A lot of it comes around death, the death of of a parent the death of Uncle Ben for Spider Man and Star Wars, the death of his his family, and forcing him to go with a with the Obi wan to, you know, train and so on. That seems to be the big catalyst. Can you give me example of birth and how birth? I mean, obviously, when a child is born into your life, life changes. That's in real life because I know I was one person before my kids were born. I'm definitely a person after the kids are born. A few more wrinkles and a few more gray hairs. But, but in movies, though, are there examples that you can kind of give for the audience as

Chris Riley 4:49
Well, so we can think about the events in Finding Nemo surrounding the birth of Nemo? There's deaths that precedes that Um, it's it's really a traumatic scene to open a children's movie with a barracuda shows up and eats mom and several 100 of the babies and just leaves dad Marlon, and one little egg Nemo. And so Nemo is birth represents the opportunity for life to go on for Marlin to build a family. But he also carries with him the damage of his losses. And so often, you know, birth and death are linked deaths, clears the decks for something new to come. The death of Bruce Wayne's parents leads to the birth of Batman key as you can understand, Bruce Wayne, if you don't know that moment of death that has defined him,

Alex Ferrari 6:02
Yeah, because if you look at you know, I use Spider Man as example. I mean, he was so brilliant at what Stan Lee wrote in that first step. And that first issue was, what would you do if you had superpowers as a kid? The first thing you're going to do is not fight crime. First thing you're going to do is like show off, and how can I get rich? How can I get chicks? How can like that's a teenage boy's mind is exactly what he did. And he went to go fight and he won. But when he was so self involved, he let that that burglar or that robber run by him, and then later that guy kills servitor. Spoiler alert, everybody kills Uncle Ben, which then sets him on his paths. So that was so brilliantly done, because you needed that catalysts are else who knows where spider man would have gone without the death of Uncle Ben, he might have gone into debauchery, and gone down a dark path, where he could have very easily turned into a villain. If he wouldn't have if he would have just kept going down the self indulgent ego state stick way of going about things. So Uncle Ben's death was absolutely necessary for his character development.

Chris Riley 7:11
Yeah, it was absolutely defining. And really, we've got two defining moments there. In that story, we've got the death of Uncle Ben, which sets Spider Man's course. But before that, we have the moment when Spider Man is born in response to the bite of the spider. So we have to understand both of those moments, if we're going to have an understanding of what's up with Peter Parker.

Alex Ferrari 7:37
And why and why does he do what he does and how he does it, and so on. Yeah, it's fat. And what I always find fascinating about story it is it's such a complete analogy for our own journeys. The Hero's Journey is our journey, we everything that characters go through in movies, and books, and novels and comic books. I mean, you know, to a certain extent, we go through in our own lives, we all have birth moments, we all have death moments, we all have defining moments of what makes us who we are. I was so funny when I wrote my first book shooting for the mob, which is about me almost making a $20 million dollar movie for the mafia. I said, we could talk about that later. I said it when I announced it on the show, I go, if you guys want to know what my origin story is, this is why I do what I do. And if it wasn't through that horrific experience that I went through, and all of the shrapnel that I've picked up since being in the film industry, that's what prepared me to do a show like this, to speak the way I speak about the business because I'm speaking from a place of being in the trenches, and going through it and and also having an urge to help others not have to go through those things. So if I said it out loud, this is my origin story, if you want to know where the grizzled voice comes from, this is it.

Chris Riley 9:03
Yeah, and it's, you know, it's so fascinating when we learn those things about one another or even about ourselves. And so I think it's fair to say that your closest friends, the people who understand you most deeply know that story about you. And if they don't know that story, they're more of an acquaintance. And to the extent that we can excavate our own defining moments, and face up to them, sometimes they're painful moments that we don't want to look at. We we understand and know ourselves more deeply. And we can then draw on those things. When we shape and develop character. So whether we're actors, directors, writers, we are then drawing on the real stuff of life rather then being derivative of something that we saw someone else do.

Alex Ferrari 10:04
I mean, those moments in our lives when we are tested, you know, like, the metal gets stronger. The more that you beat down on it, the more it's heated, the more it's beaten, the more it's it gets stronger and stronger. So those defining moments in our lives really do shape who we are. And if you could take those, those experiences in your own life and add them into your story. That's when you have really deep characters really deep story. That's not like you said, derivative. I always and I've said this 1000 times in the show, and please forgive me audience but Shawshank Redemption, again, it's one of those movies that has no reason to be as good as it is on paper. Not anything, particularly, you know, mind blowing, horrible name, one of the worst titles of a movie, ever. And yet, when you watch it, it touches you in a way, and it touches everybody no matter. I saw it when I was a knucklehead in my early 20s. And my knucklehead friends even felt something, you know, and I was like, if it can connect to that kind of mentality, what did Darabont do in the script that made those characters so, so vibrant, to the point that they connect with us on such a almost spiritual level, honestly. And if we want to look at Andy the frame, I mean, his defining moments, the finding of his wife, his wife is cheating on him to find the moment number one, to being charged with a crime he didn't commit, I pretty much said those are two big defining moments. But there are some defining moments within the story that he decides I'm going to fight back. And I'm going to, and then also the the moment that he finds out spoiler alert, that the rock is weak. Those are those defining moments in that movie,

Chris Riley 12:03
I think they are, you know, some of them have to do with plot finding out that you can you can cut into the rock wall is the, you know, the opportunities are different after you know that. There's this, you know, beautiful, defining moment when he makes his escape. And it is, it is a we can think about all the ways his life is different before and after. He's a prisoner. He is without hope. We actually believe that he may have taken his own life.

Alex Ferrari 12:45
Oh, that's a beautiful

Chris Riley 12:48
Yeah. And so he has at a moment of death. But he goes through this. We can all different kinds of transformative imagery. He passes through a birth canal. Oh, yeah. Into life. He has a baptism. It's a baptism in the sewage,

Alex Ferrari 13:07
Of life the sewage of life.

Chris Riley 13:10
And then he comes out, he comes out clean, he says, that is a that is a life transformed when we see him. Next on the beach in Mexico. He's a new he's a new man.

Alex Ferrari 13:24
Yeah. And so it's red. And so it's red.

Chris Riley 13:28
Yeah, red is also transformed. And red is also at that place where he could tip into death for a while. And and so he, and he has wrestled with this idea of hope and the danger, how dangerous is hope. And he's a guy who rejects hope and the before version of himself. But when he decides that he is going to go and get that message that's buried in the wall, he is choosing hope he's choosing life, that is a defining moment of healing. Now, I think the reason that it reaches us knuckleheads is because it's credible, I think it's drawn from life. And that's the great thing if if I can identify not only moments where I got broken, or where I got damaged, but moments where I actually grew and experienced some restoration or healing, then I can draw on that and create incredible moments for my characters that the audience will recognize and say, oh, yeah, me too. That is how life is.

Alex Ferrari 14:51
Yeah, I've said that as well that I feel that that story specifically is an analogy for life in many ways that we many times feel like Things are thrown up, like we're accused of things we didn't do, which could be or things happen to us. And we're punished and it's not our fault. And how he's able to transcend that almost again, it almost be I love the spiritual imagery that you use is like going through the birth canal, being baptized, you know, being coming up free. There's such there's so much subtext in those that imagery, and and that story that connects with arguably, almost anybody watches it, because I mean, it's not considered one of the, you know, ranked according to IMDb, even sometimes higher than the Godfather, you know, so it's really interesting, I always love using that as an as a movie to look at. Because on paper, it makes no sense that it's just like, it's a very basic, it's not a horror, like, okay, guy, you know, he, he's accused of something he didn't commit those through jail, escapes. Life is good. It's not, I mean, complex on paper and the pitch.

Chris Riley 16:05
The plot is not what's great about it, is the characters with the character transformation. So we both reveal character, but we also then transform character and defining moments are the basis of who we are when the story begins. But they are also the way then that we are transformed. So there, they both form the character, but also transform the character and storytelling concerns itself with both of those processes.

Alex Ferrari 16:38
So when you're writing a character, how do you discover what their defining moment is? So like, when when Bob Kane or I forgot, they just discovered someone else who wrote Batman? You know, writes Batman, like, what's the thing like I got, I want to dress this guy up isn't bad. But what does it cause this guy? What is what has to happen to this guy to dress up isn't bad, and fight cry? So like, how do you discover that moment for your characters?

Chris Riley 17:06
Well, I think you do start with that kind of question. Like, I know, I have a character who's going to dress up like a bat and fight crime. Why? Why? So that's both a a dream or a drive a goal. But it's also there's, there's damage. And so what sort of moment what sort of experience gives rise to that? The way that you find the answer, I think, is not by resorting to reading other people's comic books or watching movies. Because then your work is just derivative, I think you look to your own life experience. Why do I do what I do? Why do I go to the crazy lengths I go to achieve my goals? And why am I so messed up? And how did how does that happen? And out of that, you end up with something that is real? And that is relatable? Because, like, don't we all swim through a river of sewage hoping to come out clean? On the other end? Aren't we all? Yeah, as you say, we're suffering with shame, much of which somebody else dumped on us? And yet, how do you get clean? And so we can look to if, if we will do the hard work, first of looking at our own moments that have defined us and then pausing when we have this great idea of a man who dresses as a bad what a great vigilante, and we can just rush headlong, without pausing and asking ourselves the question you asked, why, how did he get to be this guy? And if we do that, and we think, yeah, there's probably a handful of moments that have defined him. And we look for those until we recognize a moment that rings the rings true to us. And then you grab on to that.

Alex Ferrari 19:17
It's fascinating. I'm gonna I want to bring two characters to the very famous characters into the conversation, Indiana Jones, and James Bond. Now, James Bond had multiple movies, without really is knowing anything about him. Indiana Jones had two movies, before we really truly knew why he does what he does. And which was going to bring me to my next question, can a character have a defining moment outside of the current story that happens before the story? And I think the answer is I'm going to answer my same question, I think is yes, if we use those two examples, because if you look at Indiana Jones The third part, we discover his relationship with his father And that that one moment when he was a kid, where he did the cross and all of that stuff with a guy in the, in the quasi Indiana Jones that he met when he was a kid launched him on his path. And then with James Bond, it was Casino Royale. And those are two probably, I argue, because it was probably the best Bond movie because there's so much character in it. And it's not just, I'm cool. I have a gun. I sleep with a lot of women, which is basically what James Bond was for decades. And then Indiana Jones you have that loving back and forth between him and Sean Connery is probably one of the most beloved of the Indiana Jones series. Do you agree with what I'm saying?

Chris Riley 20:37
I do. And I think that when you you know, when you find out the defining moments for your characters, you don't do it in a in a sort of a cynical Oh, that'll be a good scene and that I can put that you know, great ending back to, but you're seeking to understand the character, you don't know how you're going to play those moments, or if you're going to play those moments. In the book, I talk about my experience on the set of the movie Twister. And that movie was rushed into production before the script was finished. Helen Hunt plays this obsessive storm Hunter who's trying to place scientific instruments inside a killer tornado, which is a dangerous, obsessive thing to do. And there's a scene from her childhood in the movie where you come to understand why she does that. Well, that scene had not been written when I was on location with them. And they had decided we'll write that later, because we're not going to shoot it until later. So you can imagine, Helen Hunt the actor, running around chasing tornadoes, putting herself at risk. And you could imagine that it would actually help her performance,

Alex Ferrari 22:05
She might have done it in her own head that she created that.

Chris Riley 22:08
She's a yeah, she's an Oscar winning great performer. So she probably created that for herself. But wouldn't it be better? If she knew that, wouldn't it potentially shape her performance? If she knew that moment, even though it might never appear on screen, and for for writers and directors as well as actors? I think that knowing those moments that have shaped your characters, whether or not they appear on screen, helps you know what they'll do, what they'll say, and why they will say and do it. Many of those moments do end up coming into the story one way or another. But I would say maybe half of the moments that I developed for my characters. Really, I'm the only one who will ever know them. But I can write that character so much better. And I have more compassion for that character. So I'm not writing even my antagonist, I'm not writing with contempt for them. I'm writing with a sense of empathy for them, because I know what they've been through.

Alex Ferrari 23:22
Well, and that's the thing about writing good villains, and is that a good villain is not a villain in their own store. Nobody is the villain in their own story. We're all the heroes in our story. Even if you're doing gnarly stuff in the world and bad stuff in the world, you are that you're the villain. So I always find it. When you have the villain that is twisting their mustache at the railroad tracks. That's not very interesting. But you got someone like Thanos, who truly is actually trying to help the universe, but he's going about it the wrong way. Snapping half of it in existence is probably not the smartest way of going about it. But he actually has good intentions, if you will. The Joker, his I mean, the movie Joker, my God, you go into such deep understanding of the torture of that soul and you get it. You just you actually identify Joker as the hero of that movie. Which is is the antihero, Wolverine and other anti hero, Deadpool The Punisher, these kinds of superhero characters. But the greatest villains are always the ones that have the most traumatic or damaging backstories that you feel for them. You feel for Darth Vader, you don't feel for him in Star Wars, then you hope when you first see him, you start to feel a little bit more an empire and then you truly feel in return to the Jedi. And then when you go back to the prequels which we generally don't like to talk about. But but there are some moments in those films that you go, Oh, okay, I get why he is the way he is. So those are listening, please, when you're writing villains write something they have to have. They want it, they have to have a good reason for doing what they're doing.

Chris Riley 25:18
They really believe in the justice of their cause, even though it may be twisted, completely evil and destructive in its outflow. Michael Corleone is another great example of someone who does horrible things, destroys his family in the name of saving it. And yet, because that storytelling so brilliantly brings us along his journey, including in that moment in the middle of the first Godfather film where he picks up a gun, and guns down, the two men responsible for his father's shooting. That is the moment that that makes Michael, the godfather. And without that moment, you don't understand it with that moment. You go with him on that journey, even though you're kind of, you know, you're watching through your fingers, and you're recoiling at what he's doing. And with K, at the end of that first Godfather film, you recognize, Oh, Michael is now a monster. But like, I'm fascinated, and I get it. And it's because I was privy to the moments that shaped and transformed him.

Alex Ferrari 26:37
I mean, well, Tony Soprano, I mean, look at Tony Soprano. And there's a scene in, I think, episode five or six, that HBO had a major problem with it was a moment, it was a defining moment in his character, where I think there was a rat, or something along those lines, and he found the rat, and literally killed him on screen choked him to death. On screen, vividly, the camera was in, no one had ever done that before. I'm on a television show. Like, it was so brutal. And that's the defining moment for that character in the series, because it's also a defining moment for the audience. Because you gotta go, am I gonna follow this gut? Like, am I gonna keep watching this, this, this monster, you know, because he's not a good guy, and the whole shows about him and his family, what he goes through. So I feel that there was that that was such a wonderful moment that David Chase brought in, and he fought for it big time. That because the HBO says, like, you're gonna lose the audience. And he's like, No, we're not, he knew more about the character in the audience than, than anybody else did. Even the audience didn't even know what they wanted until they saw it,

Chris Riley 27:51
You know, exploring interesting characters who are like us in some way, revealing their secrets. I mean, that's such a draw to us, as an audience. I, I really think that, you know, one of our, one of our giant drives as people is to, to know to connect. And that's really hard in real life. People don't share their secrets with us. You know, you're at Starbucks. And you got so, you know, what was your most wounding moment that defines

Alex Ferrari 28:26
Those conversations all the time, Chris, I don't

Chris Riley 28:29
Tend to edge away from you. Right, but great storytelling, great movies, great television, allows us to know some characters better than we know, our closest friends. And I really do think we're hungry for that.

Alex Ferrari 28:45
And I think that's, I think that connection is your right, we all want connection, you know, we're all striving to connect with other human beings, and in a deep, meaningful way. And when there's lack of that, in our lives, we connect with the characters in movies. I know I did when I was growing up. You know, when you don't have friends, you can still pop in a VCR tape. That's how old I am. And and watch Indiana Jones or watch a movie and go on an adventure and connect with those characters. I mean, look at the Brockie I mean, I mean, Jesus, you you know, a movie like that, that still holds up from that there's very few movies from the 70s that can be watched today. And it still has the same impact that it did back then. Rocky is that that story? I mean, if you want to talk about defining moments in his in his story, I mean, the moment Apollo Creed shows up and says, Hey, do you want a shot? Pretty, pretty big, defining moment.

Chris Riley 29:45
Absolutely. He was he was a failed boxer sleepwalking through life, and someone opens a door of opportunity for him and he would He would talk about his life, if you, you know, interviewed him later on, he would say, well, before Apollo came along, this is me after, this is me. And that, for me is the great telltale sign of any defining moment that it creates this boundary of before and after. So, you know, your family would talk about, oh, that was before the house burned down. That's that was after the house burned down before the diagnosis after the diagnosis, before we met, after we met, not, it's not all sad. Some of them some of the stuff is good, you know, before therapy after therapy. And it is in discovering those things that we we recognize the person and we also recognize ourselves and and realize, Oh, I'm not the only one, I'm not alone. And that is, that's the great relief that comes from connecting with characters is just discovering. Like, oh, other people are, are struggling, like me, and then when Rocky Balboa is able to find meaning and triumph in life. Maybe I can do maybe I can't tell exactly

Alex Ferrari 31:31
What I mean. Isn't that interesting, though, that story is something that is so integral to us as a species. We're the only ones on the planet who tell stories. Truly tell stories. I'm going to show what some of the Apes do, but I don't think they'll you know, they're not they're not telling Batman stories. But we tell stories, it's not only that, we tell stories, it's that we need story in our life, we need that expression of this journey to help us understand what the hell this whole life thing is, it's a way for us to grasp on to something because we show up. And it's a this is a mess. And most of us walk through life as this is a mess. All this stuff is happening to me. I'm going through tragedy and going through highs and lows. What does this all mean? You're trying to find meaning in what you're doing. And story provides that, and it doesn't have to be a complex novel or movie or comic book. It could be like, Did you hear what happened to Bob down the street? That little little gossip of what might have happened? A tiger ate them around the corner? Well, there's a value to that concept, like don't go down the corner, because they're Tigers down there, and that can eat you. So there's that that function of it. But I think that I mean, without story, I don't even know how we function as as as a human being. Yeah,

Chris Riley 32:51
I don't I don't think we can. And I think that one of the insights of neurology is that when we lose track of our own stories of ourselves, and we can't remember, if we've got say Alzheimer's disease, we can't remember our stories. We're not just losing contact with our history, we're actually losing contact with our identity. Because our our identity is built out of our stories, the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. And as you say, we're also looking at the cause and effect of like, why did that happen? And what does it all mean? So a story that could look like a very lightweight comic book story may really be like, philosophically, undergirding our whole sense of the meaning of life. That's, that's what it's getting at is, what does it add up to? And the most satisfying stories help us understand what the events of the story add up to?

Alex Ferrari 34:02
And also, when you are able to go on a ride with a character and live vicariously through the character, it's a way for you to kind of almost disconnect as well, obviously, from your day to day stuff. But there's some times there's some times when especially when you're younger, you watch a movie and it just hits you in a way that you can't let go. I mean, Shawshank was not for me, believe it or not, I mean, I know it's it's just one of those movies that doesn't let go of me. The Matrix was one of those films, doesn't it doesn't a Fight Club was one of those from they don't let go of you. There's concepts in it that connect with you in a weird way you, you know, I don't connect with Tyler Durden. You know, but a lot of the concepts and ideas that Fincher and Jim rules and the writer Chuck was trying to portray in that story, connected with me personally. And in The Godfather and those kinds of things. There's just those things, but at the end of the day, it always comes back down again. Correct, because how many people say how many people can truly remember? plots from James Bond?

Chris Riley 35:07
Yeah, I mean, interesting.

Alex Ferrari 35:09
How many plots do we really remember from James Bond other than maybe something you just saw? You don't really remember plots? I vaguely kind of remember the plot of Temple of Doom, vaguely. But I remember key moments that have to do with character.

Chris Riley 35:26
Yeah. Yeah. Kathy, my wife and co author of the defining moment, and I draw heavily on Band of Brothers. Yeah, World War two series. There's so many life lessons from those characters. We think about there's a battle scene with a terrible leader, who, who sort of bogged down in the middle of battle. And winters, our main character, just keep shouting at him keep moving forward, you have to keep moving forward. And that refrain of keep moving forward in the face of Battle of danger of resistance. That's, that's something that we we draw on. And then there's, during the Battle of the bolts, there's the troops that just been there being shelled, for days, and days and days. And there's just a little line in narration that says, If a man could just get off the frontlines, even for an hour, it made such a difference. And, and we will, sometimes when we're engaged, and it feels like we're on the frontlines of the Battle of life, we'll look at each other. And so I think we need to get, you know, 45 minutes away from the front lines just to catch our breath and decompress. Yeah, and so those, those lessons of life, don't stay on the screen, we incorporate them into our actual lives.

Alex Ferrari 37:14
I mean, I mean, George Lucas said it very, very distinctly when he wrote Star Wars, and he used the hero's journey that Joseph Campbell laid out, he did it so perfectly, according to Joseph Campbell's work. He's like, stories are the meat and potatoes of society. And, you know, that's what keeps these big lessons, these big ideas moving forward. You know, there'll be generations who will watch that movie or read that that story about Star Wars, and there's obscene amounts of life lessons, that maybe you and I will look at and go, Oh, that's we completely understand that we know that we've been through, it's not that big of a deal. But imagine you're 15 Watching that for the first time. And you really haven't had those kinds of lessons before about life. That's pretty profound. It really is.

Chris Riley 38:02
Yeah, for me, when I was in that age range movies are some of my defining moments, because they taught me things about life that I didn't know. They were the first really well made. movies that I had ever seen. And the impact on me was, was life changing. I can say, you know, there's, there's me before, I saw ordinary people in the deer hunter, and there's me after, yeah. Wow. And the me, the me after, wants to make movies. And to do that, the me after also understands that I'm not the only one who struggles because those movies taught me that. And the me after also understands that because other people struggle, even though they don't look like it, they look like they have it all together. I gotta treat people with more compassion. And so I'm a different person in those three important ways after watching those two films, but I mean, these are defining moments,

Alex Ferrari 39:11
But according to Instagram, everyone's having a fantastic time. It's just me that's having horrible life. I'm just saying.

Chris Riley 39:19
Right, right. And so Instagram will not tell you the truth. That's either a news flash or a spoiler alert. But yeah, but stories can I mean, I think stories can also lie to us and send us chasing after mirages. But good storytelling can tell us the truth about us about life.

Alex Ferrari 39:46
Now, you speak about in the book, the awakening of longing in a character How do you awaken longing in a character? Because I know so many of us just as human beings walking the earth in so many ways where we're lost looking for that meaning in life looking for that thing that we're here to do. And it's so painful, become bitter and angry because you're not getting what you want. But when you happen to fall into the thing, that the door is open, that you happy, you wake up in the morning, and you're happy to go do it. That's what we're all searching for. We're also searching to be happy with our day to day business. Truly, I mean, in every way possible in our relationships with our family, you know, career based, we're looking for happiness. And but to find that meaning, and to also awaken the longing to find that meaning is not very easy. Took me a minute to figure out some get it when they're born, they get there, they know at four years old, I'm gonna sing and they become Mariah Carey, or they're 65 and start KFC. Like the Colonel Sanders did you know he started at 65? He's like, I'm thinking I'm gonna start a new company. And he was 65 when he started it. So obviously, it took him a minute to figure out what his purpose and purpose was to make chicken.

Chris Riley 41:10
Yeah. delicious chicken.

Alex Ferrari 41:13
Yes, very healthy, very healthy.

Chris Riley 41:14
I think that was one of the characteristics of defining moments is that we don't make them happen. They sort of happened to us. Bruce Wayne's, the death of his parents happened to him. But, and so the like a moment that awakens, deep longing in us, is not something that we can order up. But I, as an example of a moment where a longing was awakened, I think of my wife, Kathy's story of as a child. She had a dad who was not warm, who she cannot recall him ever saying the words, I'd love you. And I don't know that she knew what she was missing. Because, you know, life is normal to you as a kid, whatever it is. And then she was at a wedding sitting between her uncle and her aunt. And her uncle was the handsome uncle, the cool uncle. And he looked at that Kathy, he looked at his own wife. And he said, I'm sitting between the two most beautiful women in the world. Kathy had never been spoken to that way. And as soon as she heard those words, something woke up in her that said, Oh, that's the kind of man I want to spend my life with. Now, this is a little bit of a self serving story. Since I'm the husband,

Alex Ferrari 42:55
I was about to say, How did you how did you how did you end up in this story, Chris?

Chris Riley 42:58
So we'll leave it to her to say whether that longing was satisfied. But that was something that stayed with her. Forever. Sure, it wasn't there, the moment before. And then it was there the moment after, not because she chose for it to be because that experience, awakened that longing at her now she can write characters who have a moment like that drawing on her own experience. And it will be credible, because it draws on that authentic emotional experience of her life.

Alex Ferrari 43:40
It's so funny, because I look back when I was 18. And I was like, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. And one day, I literally sit that sat down in my bedroom. I looked around, I had 3000 VHS tapes that I had collected, I worked in a video store. So I collected about 3000 in my collection at the time, I looked around and I said, I like movies. I guess I'm going to be a director. And that was it. And that was the moment. And this was also in a time that it wasn't cool to be directors. There wasn't YouTube, there wasn't a lot of information about writing or direct. I don't think so. I think Syd field might have just come out. Like there wasn't a lot of information within

Chris Riley 44:17
The first one though. And it was it was tough to learn anything, right?

Alex Ferrari 44:20
There was just it was not so it wasn't like in the zeitgeist of like, filmmaking, that's a that's a career option. You know, my parents were like, what do you what? Like so, but that was the moment I never forgot that moment. I was like, I guess I'm gonna be a director. And that was, I was before that moment. And after that moment, and that was it.

Chris Riley 44:41
Right. And it's, and it's lasting. I mean, it's we're here we are sitting about

Alex Ferrari 44:45
For better or worse, better or worse, or for better or worse. It's because it has been and it's, you know, I've documented well, and I think every filmmaker and screenwriter goes through this. It's not an easy path. It is not an easy path to go down. How to be an artist in general, it's not an easy path. But that is speaking of defining moments. That was the moment that I decided. And then there was other defining moments that you decide, do I want to keep going or not? How do I keep going or not? And that's also very difficult to, to understand. And like, again, we'll go back to Shawshank How does and it uh, Frank keep going 20 years of, or 30 25 years, whatever it was, he was in there. Going through that day in and day out and read just that little, that little montage, so beautiful one red light. Some days were good. Some days were bad. You know, some days he fought off the sisters. And one, some days he fought off the sisters and lost. And he goes, I would have feared that he wouldn't have made it if things kept going that way. But one day this happened. And then this character gets introduced, and his whole life changes inside the prison because now now he can go off and he needs someone needs to cook the books. He's good at that his life change that from that moment on. But those are those things.

Chris Riley 46:08
Yeah, I'm life, I'm that quality of life, that there are these seismic moments of of shifting, right. And then there are long periods of silence. And that life consists of both things. The moment the volcano erupts, or the default ruptures, and we have an earthquake, those are the exciting moments. They're terrifying, dangerous, but exciting. It's much harder on film to render the long expanses of just keep at it, just keep scraping away with that rock hammer, dig in that tunnel. And yet life, you know, to be fair, consists of more of those moments. But those are not generally the ones we tell. I talked to students about that. So you can look at my CV or my list of credits. And it looks like I've had this, you know, great, exciting life. But I have to tell you, you know, look at the dates, there are gaps. Five years here. I talk about my Time Warner Brothers in the script department, and I was able to write the Hollywood standard based on all that I learned there. But there were long days of me, you know, just reading script after script. That's, that's finding finding typos or sitting alone in the middle of the night. We've got 300 copies of script revisions for the Dukes of Hazzard and someone has to paperclip them. And that doesn't end up in the credits list. But most of life is that in between stuff. And so yeah, I admire Shawshank Redemption, for finding a way to give a nod to that because that's where like most people listening to us right now are in those in between moments. If they're in the middle of a defining moment. They don't have time to talk listen to

Alex Ferrari 48:21
Maybe this podcast is a defining moment. For them.

Chris Riley 48:25
It can be I think it can be.

Alex Ferrari 48:27
It can be like wait a minute, I listen. I've listened to podcasts before and I'm like, I've never thought of story that way before. You know, I remember talking to John Truby. And I was like, oh my god, he just something clicked after I talked to him. I was like, I never thought of story that way the plot the way he he explained it. I was like, oh, and other people will read other books and other people will watch a movie and go, Oh, I get I get something now. So there are moments that could be this could be a defining moment. I'm not putting any pressure on this episode, Chris.

Chris Riley 48:55
But I think it can be and, and and if you know if today is one of those in between days, then we have to take that lesson from Band of Brothers and keep moving forward.

Alex Ferrari 49:10
Yeah, it's like Rocky Balboa says How Hard Can you get hit and keep moving forward? And that's what in many ways, what life is all about. It's about being able to take the hits, and keep moving forward. And it's such a great talk. He doesn't end the movie Rocky Balboa, he does this like three minute monologue. And it's all about life and how hard life hits you and it brings you to your knees. And what are you going to do? Are you going to get up and keep going? Are you just gonna lie there and in your, in your story, all that mundane work that you did in the story department sometimes sometimes I'm sure it was a lot of fun. But all those in between moments. That is what prepared you to write the Hollywood standard. Without that stuff. You couldn't have moved in the direction that you are right now.

Chris Riley 49:52
That's That's exactly right. And all of those scripts I read are what taught me how to You write scripts. So I couldn't have gotten to where I am now, without that, and you know, writing a book, there's a lot of sittin alone. I wonder what the next word is? And oh my gosh, there are a lot of words on the page of a book compared to a script page. That's mostly air.

Alex Ferrari 50:24
Yeah, I remember it's like, how many were 50,000 55,000 words? I gotta do. Okay. A lot of words. All right. But we're trying to do 500 to 1000 a day. Let's just start cranking it out and just start, keep going, keep moving, keep moving and keep moving and keep moving. Take a bite of the elephant a day.

Chris Riley 50:40
Yeah, exactly. There's, I don't know where this phrase came from. I heard it from my wife. And the phrase is embrace radical, incremental ism. You're just going to take one bite of the elephant a day, you can eat a whole elephant that way if you keep it up over time, so I've learned, even working a full time job at Warner Brothers. If I, if I wrote every day in whatever minutes, I could scrape together, I could write a movie every year. And over time, that added up to my career breakthrough. And the script that was the one that we sold first. But we were, you know, overnight successes after 14 years of taking a bite of the elephant. And that's, that's the difference between the people who get there. And the people who don't is the people who get there just kept going.

Alex Ferrari 51:43
Well, and I think you can attest to this, in this business. It's not the most talented that wins. It's the one who doesn't stop. Because there's a lot of people who are not as talented, who are working in the business right now making big movies, who aren't the best writers in the world. But they're the ones that just kept showing up. And they just kept pounding it and kept pounding, kept pounding, grinding it out, where someone who was very talented, just maybe didn't have it in them to keep going. It was too hard for them. But they were more technically more talented. And I've seen it, I've seen it.

Chris Riley 52:19
Yeah, no, I see that as well. Though, the one who quits cannot when they definitely take themselves out of the running is only the ones who keep going, who are in the place where they can develop their skills. So level, they need to be there, and they've done the work. And they you can't sell a script that you didn't finish. And and in almost any case that I'm aware of you can't sell a script, you didn't finish a bunch of drafts. And you know, if you're a director, it's so many things that you have to figure out and get to go right to to finish any film to finish a good film. Oh, my gosh, it is a miracle. And then that there are great films is that shouldn't be possible. And yet we know there are great films.

Alex Ferrari 53:18
Yeah. And I just want to put a myth to rest. The rocky story of the script being written in five days or something like that. You've heard that story, obviously, right?

Chris Riley 53:27
I've heard other stories along those lines, but usually involve like the back of a cocktail napkin,

Alex Ferrari 53:34
Where he wrote that he apparently wrote the script according to sly, he's like I wrote, I wrote rocking five days. That was draft one. But he did get the first draft out because it was so he just he just didn't stop. And it wasn't like three hours here, two hours there. He sat down for 12 or 15 hours a day and just beat it out. And then beat the hell out of the drafts again and again and again and again afterwards. So there is no, there's no genius. There's no one who just there's no Mozart's of screenwriting, there's a couple who feel like it like Tarantino and Sorkin and Kaufman. But all of them work at all of our people.

Chris Riley 54:17
People work really hard. And I I think any good movie or television episode consists of hundreds of really good ideas. And it takes time to have those good ideas to collect them to squeeze out all the hot air all the stuff that's not brilliant. And so you end up like reading a great script, seeing a great film and going oh my gosh, that person's a genius. No, they just work harder than you. And they just kept at it until they had enough good ideas to fill the thing up.

Alex Ferrari 54:52
Well, I mean, if you look at Tarantino who everyone's like, everyone tries to emulate his writing. No one can ever emulate his writing because he had what 20 years of reading, every novel watching every movie doing, the amount of work that he put in, to be able to have the the bass and the ability to retain all that information in his head and retrieve it at will, is a talent that doesn't exist. He's a he's an anomaly he is. He's a genius in that sense. But even that I know people who work with him, and he is fairly brilliant, but he does work. Like he doesn't just Inglorious Basterds wasn't written in one pass, like he could go back, you know, Eric Roth and write Forrest Gump and one pass, he goes back and beat it up again and beat it up again and beat it up again. But someone like Tarantino like that you all those years you're reading at Warner Brothers. It's him working at a video store him reading every novel. Without all that information. He can't she can't be who he is. You can't write Pulp Fiction.

Chris Riley 55:59
That's yeah, no, that's exactly right. I, I was at the Disney Concert Hall recently to hear Itzhak Perlman play his violin. And for him, it looks like it's effortless. And in that moment, I think it's sort of is effortless. But that's because it's built on decades of practice, work, mastery. And then yes, you get to go and you get to play. And you you're able to do it, but only because you've done all of that work, to reach mastery, where you can sort of dance on top of all of the skill and the discipline.

Alex Ferrari 56:48
I listen, I feel very comfortable having a podcast now after doing 700 plus 800 podcasts at this point in my career. And I can I have no no issue in first first year, a lot different conversation much more nervous much. But you start building skill sets on how to talk to people how to feel them out, all the all this stuff, just, it just comes in, but it's just grinding it out. It's just grinding it out to the point where now they're like, oh, I can jump on with it. I'm not intimidated by anybody. When I interviewed and trust me, I've interviewed a couple intimidating. But you feel very comfortable in the space, you're in like, no one's going to come to you. You're not going to feel uncomfortable about format. There's nothing really that can be thrown at you about format that's going to shake you generally speaking.

Chris Riley 57:38
Yeah, yeah, that's right. I'm very comfortable. I'd stand up in front of any audience and and feel formatting questions because I spent 14 years fielding formatting questions. And so I have learned how to answer those.

Alex Ferrari 57:54
Now, in the book, also you talk about Dr. Showers, eight character traits. Can you talk about those?

Chris Riley 58:01
Yeah. So Sidney showers is a Minnesota based pediatrician who came to LA to learn TV writing, and is really a very good writer. And she talked to me about these eight character traits that she just kind of collected this list, they come from different places. And some of them overlap. You know what other people talk about. But I think it's a really useful grid to use to think about a character just to get prompt yourself to have more good ideas. So she thinks about what is the character's drive. And that's not that's different from their goal. Their drive is just what keeps them going. Whether or not there's a story happening. So for Michael Corleone she thinks his drive is to please his father, whether or not anything else, whether or not his father is still alive, he's still driven to please his father. And then the characters goal character, you know, has to be going after something. She thinks about a character's genius, which is really interesting to think that every character is really strong in some area. So Forrest Gump genius, obviously is not high IQ. But he tells us what it is. He says, I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is. So Forrest Gump genius is love, the way he loves Jenny, his purity of heart. That's a great thing to think about. And then what is the character's most closely guarded or embarrassing secret? That assumes that we all have one and I'm going to think that's probably a safe bet. You know, what do we most not want people to know what question do I most hope you don't ask me. What What will reveal me as a fraud and So that sometimes will certainly motivate a villain to protect a secret might motivate a protagonist to protect a secret. And then there's what's the character's flaw? What is their weakness? So the flaw might have the more of a sort of a moral failing, there's selfish, they're arrogant, whatever their weakness is the Achilles heel. It's not a moral failure. But it's, you know, it's their kryptonite. What is that? What's their redeeming quality? Why do we forgive those other things the way we do our friends? Yeah, he's a bit of a jerk. But he was there for me when I was in the hospital. And so that redeeming trait is is also useful to know and I don't know if I've hit all eight of them, but it's just an example of a way that we can give ourselves prompts when we think about a character to give ourselves the opportunity to discover more.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:02
So Hannibal Lecter, what, there's something so beautiful about his character, because we'd like him, but he's a cannibal and a murderer. Some others that yeah, there's that. But yet, there's something redeeming about him. What is redeeming deeming about Hannibal Lecter? Why do we? Why do we cheer that he's going to eat somebody at the end of the movie? Yeah. It's insane. But you're sitting there going? Yes. That's

Chris Riley 1:01:36
He's charming.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:38
There's that's a superpower he does.

Chris Riley 1:01:42
He's really smart. Yeah. Right. So his genius is his genius that. And so we admire someone he's working his plan. You know, Clarice is using him. He's using her. And that's brilliant. And so we will be attracted to somebody who is very smart, and who has a plan. Now, you know, why do we want him to eat someone at the end, I think that has more to do with will root for someone if they're up against someone who's even worse. Even more horrible. And that's just sort of the the sense of justice. There is a little bit of justice. Yeah, I will root for any football team. That is, you know, going up against Tom Brady, because for me, Tom Brady is the ultimate supervillain. Sure.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:37
And the Yankees were that for the Yankees were that?

Chris Riley 1:02:40
Exactly. And you know, and I have to, I have to admire the guy. He is a great, great athlete. But, you know, for me hearing that he's coming back. It's like, well, of course, it's the zombie movie where he's just you can't kill the guy. And I said,

Alex Ferrari 1:02:56
Listen, as as a guy who's just a couple years older than him. I'm rooting for him. And I did not like the Patriots. I'm a dolphin fan. I'm a very depressed dolphin fan, for many, many years. And when he said when I heard he was coming back, I'm like, you know, what, just makes me feel good. That dude in this age is out there doing it at that level. And that's just my connection to that story.

Chris Riley 1:03:15
Well, and that's another huge key to understanding why we connect with characters we we relate to them, we identify with them. And now there's a bit of an underdog quality to he's he's fighting the clock, he's he's fighting age.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:32
He's, he's not, he's not Superman. He's an aged Superman, who is now fighting against youth against other other football players who are in better shape, I guess. But he's at such a level of mastery, that he can pull off what he's doing that nobody had ever pulled off and has ever pulled off in the history of the sport. So even though I wasn't a Tom Brady fan growing up, as he's now passed over that level, and you're right, he's now an underdog. I'm like, can he take a team back to the Super Bowl? At his age? Can he fight that 22 year old kid from Kansas City? Like, who's arguably one of the best quarterbacks playing in the game today? So it's, it's fascinating, but you're absolutely right, I think. And I guess the older guys are looking at it a very different perspective than the younger guys are. Because they don't understand what he's going through. They're like, ah, get him off the field. He's old. And we're like, Nah, man, look what he's doing. He's giving us all hope that they're still caught for the rest of us.

Chris Riley 1:04:36
Yeah. Right. And so because we identify with him, then we were able to project ourselves into him as a character. And yeah, and then we, for me, like, I know people are gonna hear me say this, and I am so I shudder to say it, but I think I might route for a little bit of, of Tom Brady's success too, for that reason, in a way I never would have in the past.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:00
And same and same here. I mean, he's caused me more heartache over the years with my dolphins. Anybody else as and you were speaking about, we are attracted to you genius. I mean, I think one of the reasons genius or superpowers of one's word, and it doesn't have to be fifth like real, real superpowers, like superhero superpowers like Superman and things like that. But someone like Maverick from Top Gun, who's the new Top Gun movies coming up? Who's I'm really interested to see what they do with that character. Because in the first Top Gun, his superpower is his abilities. But he's arrogant. And there's all these flaws and weaknesses that he has to deal with. He has a fight the defining moment of his father's history, that baggage of him carrying his body. But but we're, we're attracted to greatness. We're attracted to highly skilled characters. So Rain Man, you know, Dustin Hoffman, who is you know, artistic is artistic. Right? Yeah. It's artistic, artistic. We, and he has no other superpower, other than what he's able to do. He completely deficient in every other way, socially, that he can be. But yet we are attracted to him because of what he's able to do with his mind. That no, that seems on, it seems super power like, and we're so attracted to that. And it was just like that, that movie. If you people who are younger, have not seen rain, man, please go watch it. It's it's an It's a masterpiece.

Chris Riley 1:06:32
It's fantastic. And it's a script that we had in the the came through the script processing department of Warner Brothers as they were working draft after draft after draft to crack the ending. So that's an example of a movie that was written over a long period of time. And then paradoxically, why we're attracted to people's genius, we're also attracted to their vulnerability. And going back to Tom Brady, he's now vulnerable, he never was before. And now because of his age, he's vulnerable, and that for the first time, to me, it makes him seem approachable and relatable to me. And so then that, that sort of combination of his genius and his humanity is vulnerability makes him interesting. And maybe James Bond is another example, you read my read more interesting to me when he's vulnerable than when you know, bullets bounce off of him, then how can I worry about him? Or relating?

Alex Ferrari 1:07:40
Well, this is one of the reasons why it's so difficult to write for Superman and make a good Superman movie because he's a god, he's walking around as a god and, and that's issues with all the DC characters. They're all very godlike, you know, and where Marvel characters are much more, much more vulnerable. There's not really many Marvel characters who are Superman indestructible at all levels. They all have powers, but they all have weaknesses, you know, Peter Parker, super strong, but he can get shot. He and he also has acne. And he's a teenage boy dealing with teenage boys stuff.

Chris Riley 1:08:19
So make him relatable to teenage boys.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:22
Right. And that was the genius of Stan Lee that he was able to do with all of his the characters he created. He made it. Even Thor, who was a god are literally a god is very vulnerable, extremely vulnerable. And in a way that Superman has difficulty being. I think it was one I think one of the writers of Superman said, you know, we knew we had a problem when we had him blow out of star. Because at that point, you just like, it's not interesting seeing someone win all the time. You need to have some sort of adversity to make it interesting.

Chris Riley 1:08:59
Yeah, you want a fair fight you you don't want to know how it's going to turn out.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:04
Exactly, exactly. Now, Chris, where can people pick up your new book, The defining moment?

Chris Riley 1:09:10
Well, they can find it on Amazon, they can find it at the publishers website, mwp.com. Or they can go to thisdefiningmoment.com, which is the books website.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:25
Chris it's been a pleasure talking to always have a great time talking to you. This is more interesting than formatting. I'll give you that, as far as a conversation is concerned, but I appreciate you putting this book out and hopefully this episode will be the defining moment in some screenwriter filmmaker slots. So let's help him pray.

Chris Riley 1:09:41
I would really hope that that's true. Thanks for a great conversation Alex.

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