Linda Seger is a legend when it comes to screenwriting coaching and script consultant. She’s been coaching for over 30 years and pretty much invented the job title. After reading her best-selling book, “Making A Good Script Great” I had to have her on the show.
She’s best known for her method of analyzing movie scripts, which she originally developed as her graduate school dissertation on “What Makes a Great Script.” She founded the script consulting industry, becoming the first entrepreneur who saw script consulting as a business, rather than an offshoot of seminars or books.
Linda Seger has consulted on over 2000 screenplays and over 100 produced films and television shows including Universal Soldier, The Neverending Story II, Luther, The Bridge (miniseries), etc.
“When I arrived I had an idea. Three days later the idea had become a complete and rich outline. Linda’s warmth, guidance and insight helped me structure my story and discover the layers that made it come alive.” Sergio Umansky
Her clients include Oscar® winning writer and director Peter Jackson, Sony Pictures, and Ray Bradbury. Unlike other screenwriting gurus, Linda Seger is not a screenwriter but has focused exclusively on consulting and teaching.
Linda Seger has written 13 books, 9 of them on screenwriting, including the best-selling Making a Good Script Great, Creating Unforgettable Characters, and Writing Subtext: What Lies Beneath. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)
Ron Howard has endorsed Making a Good Script Great, saying he uses the book when making all of his movies beginning with Apollo 13.
Not a bad recommendation. Take a listen to this masterclass on screenwriting with Linda Seger and get ready to take notes!
Right-click here to download the MP3
- Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
- Audible – Get a Free Screenwriting Audiobook
Alex Ferrari 0:46
So for for those of you for those of us in the audience who are unfamiliar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about your history and what you do.
Linda Seger 3:16
I am a script consultant. And I was actually the first script consultant I made up the name I made up the job in 1981. I've worked on over 2000 projects from since then. Then I started writing books, I have 13 books out and nine of them are in screenwriting, and I do seminars on screenwriting around the world. So I've been to I believe, 34 countries now on six continents. And I usually do those one to three day seminars, but occasionally longer. I'm going to Norway in November for five days and do a seminar in Oslo fun, so, so they're kind of exciting. It's all related around screenwriting.
Alex Ferrari 4:02
Fantastic. So since you were one of the first people if you were actually the first person to do this, can you explain to me, in your opinion, what the craft of screenwriting is, as you see it?
Linda Seger 4:14
Well, the craft of screenwriting has to do with understanding the structure of a story and being able to create beginning middles and ends. It's an understanding that a story has a plot line that has direction, and it has subplot lines that have dimension and that feed in and intersect and integrate with that plotline. So for instance, if you were doing a crime story, the plot line or the directional story is I got to solve the crime that the detective has a sweetheart and maybe a relationship with a parent and maybe problems with a boss and there's other these relational dimensional aspects. So the writer has to balance these and know how to structure them, then every movie, no matter what genre is, there is something that this movie is about an idea we might say it's about the human condition and who we are and what our identity is. And so the writer has to know how to integrate the theme. Then of course, there are characters you have your major and your supporting and your minor. The writer needs to know how to give dimension to a character, but also direction. So if the detective is solving the crime, they gotta keep on that narrative track and keep solving the crime and not just decide to take a little vacation, right? And then then drama. You know, movies are cinematic. So they have to understand how do you create images? How do you make those images cinematic, visually, exciting, original, unique? So I always say that screenwriting is an art, the craft, and it takes creativity. And the art side is mainly that voice of the screenwriter, what is it that you are that is special, that's unique, and that you give voice to the genre you choose? Through the kind of characters you decide to portray through the stories you tell? So you're always working on all three of these aspects to learn the craft to learn how to be a better artist.
Alex Ferrari 6:37
And so since you've been teaching for so long, and what in your opinion, what is what can really be taught and what can't be taught and I think a lot of people have this assumption that they go to someone like you and they'd like you're gonna write, you're gonna help them write the the great, you know, the great American screenplay, if you will, or the Oscar winning screenplay. I want people to understand what what can actually be taught and what needs to come from the actual writer themselves.
Linda Seger 7:00
The craft can be taught, you can actually learn how to structure a story. And it will immediately improve the script. The artists something you keep having to hone and learn and to have the courage to show your voice because a lot of times people say, Well, I'm going to write a script, kind of like that last big hit them, it's it's not really who they are. And so you have to find what that voice is, and have the confidence to keep letting it get out there. But all these things are craft, I had an experience which clarify this for me. Many years ago, an executive from a production company said to me, Linda, we finally figured out what you do as a script consultant. She said, we had a series of scripts come in. And they were so beautifully crafted at such a high professional level. But the artistic side and the originality was not at that same level, and we couldn't figure it out. We then discovered they had all come to you, as a script consultant. And we understood what you did that I said, I can only bring the craft, I can bring the craft up to a very high professional level as a consultant. And people can do that reading my books, or reading any books on screenwriting, go into classes, but the art has to then be raised up and said, I can't make the art get up to that professional level. But I can encourage and nurture the art. In many times learning the craft helps nurturing the art
Alex Ferrari 8:46
very much like I don't know if there's a good analogy or not like a chef you can you can teach someone how to scrambled eggs but too, and and anyone could scrambled eggs but at a certain point. It's that artistic aspect. I mean, I'm sure you've had some amazing scrambled eggs in your life. And probably some bad scrambled eggs in your life. And it's similar. It's like the person who, who understands that craft and, and really gets it and then also throws in themselves into it. As an artist. That's when magic happens.
Linda Seger 9:13
And there's so many different parts to that crap. I having worked on so many scripts, and before that I was a drama teacher. I taught theater at colleges and universities, I directed plays. And then when I entered the film industry, I took a series of classes, most of them through UCLA Extension, just to change my mind. So I started to see scripts from the viewpoint of film, not theater, and we could say film and television. And over these 30 plus years, one learns a great deal. So as the years have developed, and I've worked on more and more scripts, I look more at things like seeing Transitions. How does that writer move from one scene to the next? Are they overusing flashbacks? Are they overusing voiceovers? Or do they need more voiceovers do have they not set up their style? How do they set up their genre? And so I'm always learning. And of course, when it's whether they come to me with the class or come to me with the script, we're all in a sense, I have continued to learn about the craft and the art of screenwriting all these years. And it's a lot easier of course, for me to do my work I have a lot more to draw on. But there's so much to the art and craft of screenwriting. Some people think it just flows, you say no, the best writers, they write, and they rewrite and they hone their craft and they become more confident in their art. It's it's a continual process. And it isn't that it just rolls off of you. And suddenly you have an Academy Award winner.
Alex Ferrari 11:12
Right? There's, there's so many people who just watch a movie, and go, I can do that. I can write a script, that's easy. It's similar. Like I just listened to Mozart symphony. I'm gonna write this if it's the same concept like you can't just because you you can, you can consume it and enjoy, it doesn't mean that you can do it right off the bat. It takes years and years and years of work to do. Now, what are some of the biggest mistakes you've seen screenwriters make over the years beginning screenwriters?
Linda Seger 11:38
Well, when I first started, most of the mistakes are structural, that they didn't get their story going, they didn't get it focus. Sometimes the first turning point was actually at the midpoint. And they just did not have that clear sense of beginning middles names. As the years have gone on, I have found that even the beginning, screenwriters are at a higher level, because they have usually read books and maybe taken a seminar or two, before perhaps like they come to me with their scripts. So one of the problems is always originality. How yet, how do you have? How are you able to be unique and different, and learn to put that out there. Sometimes it's a problem of development, that the writer is not developing the characters developing the conflict, developing the storyline, they're just sort of doing a lot of things, but it's not really happening there on the page. So I think development is a huge, you know, is a huge thing as well.
Alex Ferrari 12:56
Now what, um, over the years, oh, I was gonna ask you, um, can you explain to people what a studio reader it does? Because I know a lot of people that really don't understand exactly what the reader doesn't, and what their point is,
Linda Seger 13:11
right? A reader who is sometimes called a story analyst, and I did that for several years when I first entered the business. They are the people that read the scripts, and they might be handed Tim scripts a week. And they go home, they read the script, they write a synopsis, usually a page or two, then they write a paragraph or two that says, I recommend this or I don't recommend it for the following reasons. So let me just give you a couple for instances. I was the reader on the bodyguard. And remember that the
Alex Ferrari 13:50
the original the original bodyguard, yes with Kevin Costner, but that was originally with Steve McQueen. Right. It was an older script, if I'm not mistaken.
Linda Seger 13:58
Oh, I don't know about that. It was it was Lawrence Kasdan. Right again. Okay. Go ahead. Yeah. And it's the one that was made with Whitney. We use of course, of course, when I read it, it was about a feminist comedian. And I recommended it. But because I said, I think it's very commercial. I think it's, you know, quite a good script, but it's got a big story hole in the middle of it. So in a rewrite, this has to be addressed. The person I read it read for at that time, was Jane Fonda's company, okay, and that their executive says, Oh, we think this script has problems and I said that's what I said. And it was I was reading is a tryout for an ongoing job with the company and they didn't hire me. They just decided they don't think that script was that good. Well, then the script got made. Huge, huge money maker huge. A theater piece I felt somewhat vindicated. Sure. And so my job, in a sense was in that one paragraph to be able to say, this is what is good about the script. This is where the problem is in a rewrite fix the problem, but they didn't. I was also the reader for the Christmas story,
Alex Ferrari 15:18
a great movie that plays.
Linda Seger 15:21
And there were two of us who were readers that EMI films, and we just thought it was fabulous. The two of us talked about it before we went into the meeting with the Vice President. And we both agreed, it was just terrific. We went into the meeting, and he was lukewarm. And we pushed up that. So a story analyst or reader is not a decision maker. And they're really not there with the authority to solve problems. They can just point the way, they're really there to do this synopsis that somebody can read this, who's the next person up the totem pole? And can say, Oh, yes, this sounds good. Or no, this reader has turned it down, we're not even going to bother. It doesn't have to be read by anyone else. So
Alex Ferrari 16:13
they're basically a gatekeeper.
Linda Seger 16:15
Yes. And the authority that they have is that when I, when I would be a reader, if I highly recommended something, somebody else had to read it. And if I turned it down, probably it would never get read again. So that's the only authority they have. And it's a different job than the script consultant whose job is to analyze and self assess, and help solve the problems in the script.
Alex Ferrari 16:45
Right, but they're pretty powerful gatekeepers, because if they don't let you through the door, you're not going to get any farther they might not have the power to make the movie but
Linda Seger 16:53
yes, they already go through the door and one when I read for HBO films many years ago, one of the things I would try to do is to follow what happened to the script that I recommended because if the next person disagreed with me and passed on it that really said I had not made a good decision. And most the time that script went up at least two levels above me that said I was sorting them out and most as a reader I would say I recommended one out of 25 but I knew another professional reader who said hers was maybe one out of 75 She was a great reader but somebody else said to me that's that's being a little bit too much of a filter that right you're not letting some stuff in Yeah, because you might be missing some things that are going to be terrific with the rewrite
Alex Ferrari 17:52
like like the bodyguard Yes. So um there is some unspoken rules in regards to how you present a screenplay to be seen by a reader is a general statement or by to be read by producer something like that. Things like formatting obviously. I know the the guy came in remember the way the little gold tassel things on the side of the screenplay please forgive me.
Linda Seger 18:17
Oh gold tassels things.
Alex Ferrari 18:19
Do you know the things that go into the the things that hold the script together when you Thank you.
Linda Seger 18:26
Alex Ferrari 18:27
yeah, there's like unspoken rules of like, if you put three in there never gonna look nice remove
Linda Seger 18:31
the Brad's first thing I said don't even send me the Brad's that just gets thrown away. But yes, that is the correct and you have a title page. That's the name all your contact information on there and usually, like a colored you know, front and back. And the script is generally going to be less than 120 pages. And many times similar 95 105 that is very workable, and certain margins. Most people will use final draft or a screenwriting formatting program to make it look the correct font, all that so and then you hope it's it's what's called a page turner. Read it, but keep turning the pages. Dialogue tends to be short 123 lines and then the next person has their dialogue. And description tends to be fairly short and concise. There is a saying with readers, you want to see a lot
Alex Ferrari 19:35
of white, right I've heard that I've heard that don't have a
Linda Seger 19:38
big block of dialogue don't have three paragraphs of
Alex Ferrari 19:41
description unless it has Quinn Tarantino's name on it. Yes.
Linda Seger 19:45
Whatever they want. Exactly that idea for people getting into screenwriting, to read scripts in New York genre. So if you're a romantic comedy writer, read and study that Harry Met Sally are, you know, these I twits these probably my favorite dealer that one, those are great with a proposal. I mean, whatever it is that you that has done well, maybe even a company that's been up for some awards, read them, watch the movies, see the similarity between the two, read early drafts if you can. And if you can read the shooting draft.
Alex Ferrari 20:27
Now, let me let me ask you a question that with you, you said a movie like Tootsie. And this leads into another bigger, larger question. Do you think a film like Tootsie would even be made in today's Hollywood system?
Linda Seger 20:38
I would certainly hope so. I
Alex Ferrari 20:40
would, I would, too. It's an amazing script. It's a great but in the world that we're living in with, you know, every other movies a superhero movie or a now new Star Wars movie or, or anything that's already been based on something in the past? Do you see even Hollywood being open to like I rarely ever see originality coming out of Hollywood as much anymore?
Linda Seger 21:00
Yeah, what happens is they get into the sequels and they get into reboots was good last year. And they have become, as I understand it, more and more closed to new writers. So what they do is, they come up, they want to do an adaptation or whatever, they go through their academy award list, right. And a lot of times, and things get rewritten. But the difficulty, particularly with studios, studios feel they always have to bring in another writer, no matter how good the script is. And I've been working with the script that I've been, actually, I've been sort of helping set it up. Because I happen to know, some producers I thought who would be interested who are. And they were saying, Let's go the studio, I said, don't go to a studio, they're going to take this beautiful writer off of it. And to put on another writer who's not right for the Shandra, then that writers not going to work. And I said it is going to be in development health for the next three or four Are Forever yours, it would be much better let the studio come in when you have the picture made. And I think that's what they are going to do with this. So one of my favorite scripts I ever worked on out of 2500 scripts, probably the best script. And then has been in development hell at a studio for three years now. Yeah. And it was, it was I thought it was ready to shoot, you know, now, things do go through rewrites, you get the director on board to get the producers on board. And so they say, Well, okay, that's the process, no matter how good the script is, it is going to go through this process. But okay,
Alex Ferrari 22:50
enough is enough. Yeah.
Linda Seger 22:53
But with a production company, the writer is more apt to be part of that process. And even sometimes, as a script consultant, I'm part of that process as well. So we we meet and we're a team and you're able to listen to what the producer says and say, I see what you want to do. Okay, here's where we could do it. And then I'm talking to the writer and we're all together working it out together, rather than simply taking a script and handing it to somebody else.
Alex Ferrari 23:26
Now, can you explain the concept of on the nose dialogue, which I think it is, and cliche dialogue is, which is I think when some of the worst offenders in screenwriting today,
Linda Seger 23:36
let's say dialogue, is those things we always hear? Which is yes. I can't tell you how many times as the someone says, yes. It's, it's overused. And on the nose dialogue is say, Oh, I see you're at this party. You're also eating shrimp like I see you. Right. We have so much in common we both have gone for this trip. Are you attracted to me?
Alex Ferrari 24:06
Like normal human being spotted speak,
Linda Seger 24:08
as opposed to the subtext is, you might have two people talking about the strep and saying, Well, it's very, you know, it's very juicy, I love to say, and all of a sudden they say this is really a love scene. One of the loveliest scenes to watch for subtext where it's not on the nose isn't sideways, my mile sit down with a glass of wine and she says, Why are you so into Pinot Noir? And he says, Hi, well Pinot Noir, and he says, you know, it's so brilliant and it is subtle, and you have to coax it and I think Myles is talking about himself every scene. He's really saying to Maya if you could only coax out my brilliance. Like what happens with Pinot Noir. It is so rich and it's so wonderful. And when I say The scene in a class I tell the class, well, you're watching the scene. Keep in mind, they are not talking about wine. It's the love scene. They're talking about each other. And it's so cute because you suddenly start hearing the giggles. Right? You get it? Yeah. Let's see what's going on under the surface. So you're trying and one of my books is called Writing subtext as the subtitle is what lies beneath. And the whole idea of how do you get resonance. Just to give you another example, which is going to be used in the new edition of writing subtext is that if you're doing a movie, like the proposal, and somebody like Sandra Bullock with her handsome young assistant, says, I'm preparing him for this important meeting. It's a that's on the nose. But if she were to say, I'm grooming him for this meeting, now you have another level of meaning going on, because of course, they are going to end up as bride and groom, right? So that the writer keeps working with the better choice of word that has resonance or that has an underlying meaning without just saying it.
Alex Ferrari 26:20
Right, right. Now, there's an there's also writers that actually make a living just coming into the cleanup dialog for subs and adding subtext where there was a lot of on the nose stuff.
Linda Seger 26:30
Yes, yes. And they're the rewrite that many the uncredited rewrite in many cases. And many times that person is given a very specific assignment. You remember Romancing the Stone years ago, or one of my friends triva Silverman, who was for many years, the executive story consultant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She was called in to make Joe more likable. And so they said, you know, like her. And so she started going out it was her job to go through the script. She was a great comedy writer. And just to go through the script and say, Why do I start adding of course, Joan became more likable with the cat and giving her the food when she finished her book to help celebrate. And just those little tidbits
Alex Ferrari 27:22
and adds a lot those little little, little things that you add to a character is his massive over the course of of the storyline. Now, can you can you paint a picture for me of what a working writer is in Hollywood today? Not the million dollar Shane Black's and Aaron Sorkin's of the world, but like the rest of the WGI because I think because I think a lot of writers get into the screenplay game because they all think they're gonna win the lottery same reason why filmmakers want to make a movie because they think they're gonna go to Sundance and make, you know, get get win the award and Harvey Weinstein's gonna write him a check for, you know, 5 million bucks, and the rest is history. And I think I want to kind of break that notion of the million dollar lottery ticket kind of writers, and what the rest, because there's a lot more at the bottom of the mountain than there is at the top. But there but there are working like people who make a living doing that. So what can you paint a picture of what an actual working writer is in Hollywood?
Linda Seger 28:18
First of all, a lot of writers who gain some kind of a reputation are called in either because let's say an independent producer, has option to book. And let's say for instance, they can't afford a Writers Guild writer, who might start at 65,000. And then thinking I could afford 25,000 30,000. I can't afford that bigger price. And so they optioned a book, maybe for very little money, depending, and now they're looking for a writer. Now what happens sometimes with inexperience, producers, they choose the wrong writer, they choose the person who's not writing in that genre, which is what and so they're writing a romantic comedy. And they say, well, this person is known for is really well known as a writer, let's get them and maybe their drama writer, action writer, but they need to find a writer. And so there are many experienced writers in the room Hollywood or around the country, who are very good at what they've done. They've probably written five scripts, maybe they've had one movie made, maybe they've had something optioned and they are hired to turn that book into a script, or somebody is written a script and it needs a rewrite from somebody more experience. So the writer gets hired. Now they can get right hired by a production company, maybe a small one. course they can get hired by a studio if they're well known, but they are hired specifically to write For those people who say, Well, I want to write my life story, I want to have a screenplay based on me, I've had this happen, a lot of money,
Alex Ferrari 30:10
right? Those are always wonderful scripts, I'm sure. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor.
And now back to the show.
Linda Seger 30:25
Yeah. And what happens though, is that the writer is in a bind, because this person who wants their life story told, doesn't know what a script is. And they're trying to satisfy that person, because that's the person paying them knowing that probably, it will either never get made, or it will get made low budget and never see the light of day or never get any place to get a release or anything. So what? So writers, there's lots and lots of experience, people out there, love these writing jobs. Now, sometimes, they don't get these writing jobs in Hollywood. Let me just give you a few examples. I had a client who moved to Florida, we had worked on a adorable script that took place in the south very light, lovely, charming, romantic comedy. She couldn't get it made. She went over to England, and she reset it in a village in England, instead of him. Maybe it was Alabama. And she got it made over there. So, so many times the writer has be thinking about I shouldn't go with the Hollywood Game, I don't think I'm going to get any place, right, or the writer director that does a movie, very low budget, gets it into film festivals, and maybe gets a job out of that. I had a writer director that I worked with who did a film for $7,000. And I'll tell you that film looked really good. I mean, it took place on a desert. It's called far from ascension, and I don't disclose anything I work on. But once the film is made, it's to everyone's advantage, right? It was the title of it, sure, and very limited sets. But sometimes people can get movies made for very little, or for 100,000, or for half a million. I know a producer director that I've worked on some scripts she's given to me, and I think I've recommended some and she's gotten them made. And she said I'm very good at raising money for these, you know, small budget movies, and we get them into screenwriting festival, you know, various film festivals. And she said, we get a release. In certain places. It's never going to be the release like studio film. But they get made. And actually a movie I worked on with that she did is she said we won the award for Best inspirational film, and we beat out Warner Brothers.
Alex Ferrari 33:09
That's always nice.
Linda Seger 33:11
For the award. That's pretty cool.
Alex Ferrari 33:14
No, is there a place where writers can actually, you know, where would you suggest writers send their scripts to kind of get feedback because it's, you know, stuff that stuff to get a script, a screenplay or even read, but like festivals or contests or groups, what would you suggest? Yes, well,
Linda Seger 33:29
the first thing is don't ever send anything, any place without having other people having read it. Now, there's different levels of readers, you certainly can start with people that you know, you probably know some writers, trade scripts with your friend, just make sure that you don't give your script to somebody who is negative, and is going to demoralize you. There are people that will demoralize a writer, and they won't write for years. And I know some of those, right, of course, writers. Sure. So that's the first level is just people, you know, the second level for very little money, you can have it read by a story analysts. And they're going to just do a couple pages of notes. And, you know, they'll give you some feedback. And that can be helpful to know how will a story analysts. Look at this. I know some people who are wonderful story analysts, so anyone ever wanted a recommendation or see ads all over I mean, that can be 50 or $100. For that. Then the next level is the script consultant. And that's the people like me whose job it is to really analyze the script to look at the strengths, look at the weaknesses, figure out how to make the weaknesses become strengths. So very and I have all sorts of levels of services from extremely detailed to one or two Two pages that really give writer a sense, this is what you have? Is this worth investing a lot of money in? Because maybe the story is not good enough anyway? Or you really have something here, right? No, no guarantees, and whether it'll get made, then then after you've gone through some steps to get professional feedback, entering screenwriting contests and see what happens that it would if you can get a one of the top three, like a third place, second first winner, whatever. And there are loads of screenwriting contest. So you want to try to make something happen with that. Because if you get a first place, now, when you show that to a producer, you can say by the way, it won first place that recently one of scripts script I'd worked on won first place at the WorldFest Houston Film Festival for screenwriting. And I mean, that's worth a lot that's sure full award to get. So you want to have something that if you write to a production company, they have a reason to read your script.
Alex Ferrari 36:15
Yeah, anything, anything that could give a little cachet to the script? Yes.
Linda Seger 36:19
And if you can add to say, I've been writing for several years, I've written five scripts, this one, I think fits your company. By the way, it's it's also one of the screenwriting awards, was chosen as me something that can help make them want to read it.
Alex Ferrari 36:39
Now, you touched a little bit about this earlier about other markets besides Hollywood, which a lot of people always focus us on Hollywood or just the American market. But there's so many emerging film markets around the world, you know, that are just embracing filmmaking, and just blowing up as far as the market is concerned. So how can screenwriters leverage those markets and helping them get their screenplays made?
Linda Seger 37:01
Well, the first thing is, if somebody's not from the United States, don't try to go to Hollywood go to your own country, you're probably have a better chance. I have a client coming in. Next week from Mexico, he went to Columbia film school. He said every one of us who were from outside the United States have gotten films made since we graduated Columbia 1215 years ago. He said not one of my US colleagues at Columbia Film School have gotten filming was that shows the US market is really
Alex Ferrari 37:36
tough. Oh, no, they made they made it in their own countries. Yes. And
Linda Seger 37:41
so right. And so when the US market is the toughest, so when people from Germany or England or wherever, say, Well, I want to get a film in Hollywood said don't even bother to try to get it made in your own market, because you have a better chance in that market. And then Hollywood will come after you. Because they've seen this film, and they think it's great. And well, let's get that you know, that writer. So now the other thing is somebody who is from the US can always go to another market and say what are some markets where I actually could get my script into somebody who's doing work or doing co productions at other markets. So Canada, for instance, or Germany, or England got it? If you got some scenes in Germany, go to German producers. And if you've got scenes in England, goat England, producers, and this sad kind of bypass, or if you don't bypass the US market, go to a production company, not a studio, it's hard to get your script into a studio anyway. Right? And maybe don't go to the biggest production company. Don't start with Ron Howard's company, where you probably won't give it read any way or get in the door. Try to find what those smaller companies are. Look at the credits of movies that you love, and don't look for a universal production. Look for that fourth name down that those producers and of course sometimes with smaller, you know, smaller producers are trying to find that writer who's just wonderful, but less expensive.
Alex Ferrari 39:31
Well, you're like, like, um, I didn't mean to interrupt you. Reese Witherspoon, she actually created her own production company and started taking in scripts and she got some really great scripts out of that out of that and she also produced Gone Girl, she she actually got that you got the rights the Gone Girl.
Linda Seger 39:51
And look for those actors. If you want to go after an actor look for the actors that have production companies, because you have a better chance with that. Then some other way. And then you know the thing with agents, people say, Well, can I get an agent or manager and say, well, it'll take you years, you might do better getting a deal. And then you can go to an agent, because you have proven something about yourself. It's really, really hard to get an agent. And it's very, very hard to get your agent as a new writer to work for you and make anything happen.
Alex Ferrari 40:28
Yeah, I know many writers in LA, that have that problem with their agents and managers. Oh, yeah. Cuz they just want to look, they're in the business to make money. And it's much easier to sell someone who has an Academy Award, or has a proven track record than to hustle, a new guy
Linda Seger 40:45
coming up? Yes.
Alex Ferrari 40:47
Now, do you? Do you suggest screenwriters write a short films or short screenplays to see if they can get that produced in a way to build a track record up?
Linda Seger 40:56
Well, especially if they're directors themselves, and want to do a short film short films, the raid opportunities at film festivals, and short films can prove who you are, they show your ability, I work on quite a few. I say quite a few. I mean, I work on short films. And one of the things I always look for, is to find out something in that short film that makes the writer director known. So don't just do another car chase, they can get Michael Mann to do the car chase, they don't need you do something interesting, whether it's in the writing of it, or the approach to it. So that you can start getting awards with a short film and someone looking at it says, Oh, that directors that are naturally good at what they're doing. But wonderful script, you know, great job of directing. So again, you have something to show. And it doesn't have to be a 30 minute film. There's a lot of fabulous films of six minutes or 10 Film this. In fact, years ago, I worked on a short film, it was called there is no APR. And the two characters were named May and June. Nice, too. It was six minutes, it was two women on their way to Las Vegas, where one was going to get a quickie before us. And the the writer said I want to do this little film and then I'm going to do a feature. And she was sort of dismissing that little film and I say her name was cherry Norris and I said Sherry, take that little six minute film very seriously. So she hired me as a script consultant, she hired a directing consultant in the film on audience favorite award at the Alberni Film Festival. And she then went on to do an adorable little romantic comedy called duty dating. And she might have done a film since then. But it was interesting to say everything you do you do with the same professionalism, as when you finally get the opportunity to do the feature, right. Don't ever dismiss anything. Now, the structure of
Alex Ferrari 43:17
a short screenplay, short film screenplay must be obviously much different, in the same but much more condensed. So you have to get to those beats much faster, I would imagine, right?
Linda Seger 43:27
Yeah, I still structured in the 3x structure. They're beginning, middle and end. And even with this little there is no April, I looked very carefully at the structure. She had her turning point she had her development, she had our conflict. Everything was in there, but you only have six minutes to do it.
Alex Ferrari 43:48
So it's a much it's even tougher to a chore than doing a 90 minute script. At that point.
Linda Seger 43:53
Well, I don't know if it's tougher differently, you know, tough and it is interesting to see how well many of these do I think every short film I've won I've worked on has won awards. And and sometimes I remember one one writer early on many years ago said you were the only person who believed in this. And he said and that kept me going and I did my little short and it won these five awards. And you know, what a what a nice thing is to start to see and get some kind of success because you can write for years and years and years. And that get any feedback that tells you Oh, you did a good job on that.
Alex Ferrari 44:40
Right and that does help as a as an artist. You want that reinforcement? reassurance, if you will, like hey, I'm on the right track. I'm actually good at what I'm doing. Maybe I can keep I should keep trying to do this because it's a it's not a it's not a sprint. This is definitely a marathon
Linda Seger 44:58
to figure it out. is going to take you years. So unless you love doing doing it unless you love the writing, don't even bother. No one is waiting for you. That is going to keep you going as you feel inside yourself passionate about what you're doing. And you are keep going through the learning curve.
Alex Ferrari 45:20
Yeah, absolutely not 111 thing i I've when I've been when I went to started studying screenplay writing and, and all the books and obviously yours your books on the top of that list. The one book that really kind of, or the concept, I guess was Joseph Campbell's hero's journey, which that kind of changed the game for for storytelling in the last 3040. When did that come out? He When did he release that?
Linda Seger 45:49
Well, I know that it was in the early to mid 80s after Star Wars came out, which I think was more like 77 or say right guess 97. But when Star Wars came out in Dota and George Lucas started to talk about how he had used Joseph Campbell's theories. Then people started to look at Joseph Campbell. And then Christopher Vogel wrote the book called The writer right knee which deals with the hero's journey, and I did some parts in my making a good script grade on the hero's journey in the first two editions. And I actually told Christopher, I said, you need to write a book on this. And if you don't, in two years, I'm going to that's not the book I want to write. You should write then once in a while, Chris, thanks me. He said, I really glad you pushed me because that book has been extremely well received and done extremely well.
Alex Ferrari 46:51
I've read that book. A lot of times. Yeah.
Linda Seger 46:53
Yeah. Like I do with doing seminars on that so one can get Joseph Campbell kind of put down into screenplay form by reading Chris's book.
Alex Ferrari 47:03
Right it kind of like Yeah, cuz the Joseph Campbell's is more mythology. It's not focused specifically on filmmaking. Well, Chris Chris's book is that's what I loved about his. His book as well. Now, what when they're when is there's writing a screenplay, and then there's also marketing a screenplay and getting your voice out there as a screenwriter. Do you have any tips on how you can get that script that they finally made out there until the world like, actually get seen? Yes, well, that's,
Linda Seger 47:31
that's the golden ticket. That's a whole world in itself. But one thing people can do. They can go to conference screenwriting conferences that have pitched fast. One of the best is those the great American pitch Fest in Los Angeles. That's usually in June, it is put on by a woman from Canada in Calgary, named Cigna, who is just fabulous, it is so well organized, she gets so many people there to receive pitches, hundreds and hundreds of people go. And so you have an opportunity to do that five minute pitch in front of people who actually have the ability to buy your your scout, then story Expo in September has a pitch fest, which is getting bigger and bigger. And it's the same thing. You go there you have your one sheet, plus you have your screenplay in your briefcase. And when they say I'm interested, you give them the one sheet in the next day, you send them the script, if they say they're willing to read it, get it there really quickly, very quickly. And there's been a lot of successes with something like these pitch fest. There's one, I think there is one in Canada. And I would even suggest that some of the Americans go up to Canada and do that with Canadian producers. And again, you might have a better chance.
Alex Ferrari 49:01
Just this competition is less competent, and there is a cachet. Maybe not in Canada, but other parts of the world that like oh, this is a US I'm an American Screenwriter, a Hollywood screenwriter, it might have some more cache might have more pull in a marketing.
Linda Seger 49:16
Yes, yeah. There are some things where people put their Synopsys online and you have to be kind of careful about that because it's easier to steal that and I do know some people have done well with that. I think there are some of those sponsors of those kind of Synopsys that actually say they can get it into producers and giving him the executives and maybe the executive sort of thumb through there and just take a look to see if there's anything of interest. I don't know this overall what Senate desire they're probably quite low but then everything is quite low.
Alex Ferrari 50:00
No, can you can you really briefly talk about log lines, which is something that a lot of people don't talk about and the importance of them?
Linda Seger 50:07
Oh, yeah, log lines are that one line that immediately capsulate your story. For instance, if I said a shark threatens a tourist town on a Fourth of July weekend, yes, JAWS
Alex Ferrari 50:22
I loved et et was fantastic. No joke.
Linda Seger 50:28
And something withdraws. As you listen, that log line, it has conflict on it, you use the word threatens it has high stakes is the Fourth of July weekend, which says this is the tourist dollars, as he says, and it's a shark. So it's the man against monster story in one line, you have so much information. And so a writer works and works on that logline. Because if you go to a pitch fast, you might want to have that log line to pull the person in immediately that you're pitching to. The other thing that you work on is what's called the elevator pitch, which is the 22nd pitch. So you get into an elevator and you press the 12th floor and you turn around as Steven Spielberg is standing behind you. That's when you go into your I have a script, Shark crap, and
Alex Ferrari 51:23
probably don't pitch that story to him. I think he knows that what
Linda Seger 51:26
that pitch to say. I had to say that because I just happened to have this opportunity. Yeah, let me see what that person says. And you, again, make it very, very concise. Michael Haig has written a book called I think it's selling the selling your script to 60 seconds or something like that it is about pitching and as about treatments, and you know, these these log lines, and it's that whole idea, you have to be able to get that script very, very concise that somebody immediately gets, what's the genre? What's the stakes, what's the conflict, give me something about you know, my, maybe my main character might be in there. Give me lots of information.
Alex Ferrari 52:14
So, um, I want to just to kind of close off our interview with two movies that I wanted you to kind of talk about a little bit and two of them are considered to have the great great screenplays ever written. But one and they're very different from each other. One movie is Shawshank Redemption, which is considered probably one of the greatest films ever made, at least by IMDb standards. What makes that movie so ridiculously amazing. And from NF talked to every, every scope of life, you know, for every everybody from you know, millionaires to you know, kids to, like people love that movie. And it wasn't, wasn't widely loved when it first came out, but it's grown and there's this thing about it. Can you kind of break that down? And then the other movie? Story? Sure. I'll tell you about the other movie afterwards, which was you think about? Oh, then I'll go to the Okay. The other one is Pulp Fiction. Like how that magic of what that is?
Linda Seger 53:19
The greatest movies of all time? I'm not sure I would know what
Alex Ferrari 53:23
some of them I didn't say most but some of them say
Linda Seger 53:25
they are both. You know, they're both very good. They're both excellent. And say, Well, what is it about them? Shawshank I think and the feeling for the characters, and their situation in their context is so strong when you match it with Morgan Freeman, he just pulls you into that storm so beautifully. And Robins and memorable scenes. One of the things to look for in a movie is what are the scenes you probably have not seen before that carry so much emotion so much feeling it because that's where you go into the art not the craft or Shawshank is based on Stephen King's story. Sure. When I think of Shawshank and I think of that scene where Tim Robbins goes into the room and locks the door and plays a piece of classical music, it's an opera and he puts it on the intercom and it just floods the prism everybody just as brought to halt by the beauty to bring beauty in that and oh my gosh, that feeling of that scene. So sometimes in movies when you analyze them you for instance structurally Shawshank I think the resolution is too long in that movie. And so from just a purely structural craft viewpoint And I think it could have been tighter. But from an artistic viewpoint, just a story that pulls you in and the twists and turns of the story, the fact that this guy kept getting his Rita Hayworth so he could dig behind them and what it took and themes of determination. So you can look to say it's a great story. It's great characters as acceptable roles that really bring great actors to the table. It's a theme that is expressed. And it has, in that case, the twists and turns. Whole fiction is such an original piece, you have very little money to shoot it with low budget, lots of fascinating things that mean the guy has just shot the person. And he starts quoting from the Bible. Like, gosh, what is and the sure hand, I think the thing was Quentin Tarantino. By the time he did Pulp Fiction, he knew what he was doing. He said he had spent 10 years doing a movie that couldn't even be released. It was so awful. Sure, and he did Reservoir Dogs then he did Pulp Fiction. And I remember in that opening scene in the cafe, that when he stopped that, he starts the credit in his belly dancing music. I mean, it happened. Years ago, I started surfing music, took belly dance to that Sure. Killer piece of music, starts the movie again, in a totally different place. And I totally trusted Quentin Tarantino knew what he was doing. He was not going to drop that scene where we're going to come back to it. And to feel that sense of a writer director who knows what they're doing and has a sure and confident hand.
Alex Ferrari 56:59
Right? That's a great analogy. That's
Linda Seger 57:02
how he just interwove all of this.
Alex Ferrari 57:06
And still hitting the beats still hitting that? Yes, he hit. He hit that hero's journey, oddly enough within that structure,
Linda Seger 57:15
say and he also I analyze Pulp Fiction in terms of its structure, and it's beautifully structured, I think, right at the midpoint is the story of the watch, which acts as kind of a fulcrum for the first half. And the second half does and the interweaving is really fast. And because he'll drop something for a while. But then you know, he's going to come back to it.
Alex Ferrari 57:42
You know, the funny the funny, I'll tell you real quick, funny story about Pulp Fiction is I was listening to an interview with Robert Rodriguez. And he was talking about he was he was, you know, they're best friends. And they've been and they were doing the movie at the time. And just like George Lucas had that screening of Star Wars for, you know, the Paloma and Coppola and all that and everyone said, Oh, poor George. Poor Poor George. He just Yeah, well, maybe next one, George Spielberg was the only one that kind of like, you might have something here. Quentin did the same similar thing with with Pulp Fiction. He brought in all his his his friends, which for filmmakers and writers and stuff, and Robert was the only one that wasn't there. He was off shooting somewhere. But after the screening, he talked to some people and one of the one of the directors who will remain nameless because no one knows who it is. Because quitting won't say who it is. He's like, you know, I'm gonna have a stern talking to about with Quinton about this. I mean, he needs to learn how to make a movie. I mean, this is not right what he's done. I think he's gone off course. And then he was gonna make that phone call but then Putin was over in France with a can so after he won the Palme d'Or is free calls him up it goes I was gonna give you a stern talking to but what the hell do I know?
Linda Seger 58:58
Well in Pulp Fiction has what I call the loop structure is that you loop it back and Quinton, who quotes some, somebody else says a story has a beginning middle of end but not necessarily in that order. Correct. And in my book advanced screenwriting, I talk about different non traditional structures and use Pulp Fiction as the example of loop and just an unusual structure but he knew what he was doing
Alex Ferrari 59:30
that confident hand is something that that I it's a great it's a great description of Quentin Tarantino was a filmmaker he he's gonna go down his route no matter what, what you think about it, but he knows he's gonna take you in this journey. It's kind of like when I saw Birdman last year, and, and I was like, Oh, I forgot what a real director's
Linda Seger 59:52
Yes, somebody knows what they're doing. And they this is not their first rodeo. Right? Just like took you through this. First time. I have done this
Alex Ferrari 1:00:00
and it's so I just still remember watching Birdman and going this is what a director is like you like you watch it when you watch a Scorsese movie or one of the you know the big but I hadn't seen a movie so original and completely him he took you in that journey and you trusted him the entire time. And it was it was a one and I'm so glad I won the Oscar was like such an odd choice for you know, for the for the Academy, but I thought it was a wonderful choice. So last question, my dear is the toughest question of the mall. So prepare yourself. I asked this of all of my all my guests. What are your top three films of all time?
Linda Seger 1:00:36
Oh, okay. The best for your there's so many. But let me just mention a couple I particularly find is gems. One is always Amadeus.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:50
Yeah, you're not the I just had someone say Amadeus is a wonderful,
Linda Seger 1:00:54
big diamond. A really big one. You know, like Gone With the Wind. Those are the big diamonds. You know, who say the top three films, I wouldn't know how to answer that. I could answer it in terms of movies that I am incredibly fond.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:13
Yeah, no rules, no rules.
Linda Seger 1:01:14
Like my some of my favorite. Now, people know I talk about witness a lot and I have talked about for many, many years, I think it is one of the best structured films. And these guys really knew what they were doing and telling the story. Because I have a special feeling for witness. My husband who at that time was the guy was dating sorta kind of proposed to me in the middle of the barn raising same sort of kind. And then the proposal became specific. And now we've been married for it'll be 29 years next year. Congratulations.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:51
Linda Seger 1:01:52
I have a real feeling comedies I put Tootsie shine of the top very thematic, very strong. Just a wonderful acting wonderful characters, great idea behind it. So those are three and then I'll just mention what I call a little gem, the little diamond stand by me, I love cranes are made to me as a great example of a very small film of 12 year old boys, and how a film can be about that and pull somebody in who ordinarily would not be pulled into that film. If somebody said what is one of the least interesting things to you, is I would say 12 year old boys because they make me so nervous that they walk on railroad tracks and trains are ready to come. You know, all of that. And I said, I love that film. I just think it's a great example of dimensionality and heart and having a this little directional line. Let's go find a dead body. Now all stuff about friendship. It's just, I call that the little diamond. absolute gem of a little movie.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:10
Wonderful list. Wonderful list. So Linda, where can people find you?
Linda Seger 1:03:15
Linda sager.com is my website. My email Linda at Linda Sager comm s Eg er, thank you, Bob Seger if you're not sure how to how to find me. And it's the same spelling. And they got a full website. There's a whole lot of stuff on there. So people will probably find interesting.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:37
And you have many even 13 books, correct? Yes, there's nine of them on screen writing. Okay. And then you also do court you also do consulting as well as workshops every once in a while? Yes.
Linda Seger 1:03:50
Well, most of my work is script consulting. And then I do seminars. So my next one is Norway. And I was in Europe all summer long doing Vienna, in Germany and England and Paris and tough life stuff. Listen, yeah, I did seven in nine weeks, and I just went from one country to the other with little vacation time in there. So, but then pretty easy to find.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:15
Okay, fantastic. Linda, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. We really appreciate it.
Linda Seger 1:04:20
Okay, and you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and also sign up for my newsletter.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:27
Absolutely. Thanks again, Linda.
Linda Seger 1:04:29
Thanks so much.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:30
It was an absolute pleasure talking to Linda she really dropped some major knowledge bombs on the tribe today and I really do appreciate her taking the time out to talk to us. So thank you, Linda, very much. If you want links to anything we talked about in this episode, just head over to indie film, hustle comm forward slash BPS 008 That's bulletproof screenplay, BPS 008. And guys, if you have not signed up and subscribed for this podcast on iTunes, please do so go over there. Leave a A good review, give us a hopefully a five star review. It really helps us out, especially in these first few weeks that we're out because it's going to help us rank on iTunes and get this information out to as many screenwriters as humanly possible. So just head over to screenwriting podcast.com. And as always, keep on writing no matter what. I'll talk to you soon.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
Please subscribe and leave a rating or review by going to BPS Podcast
Want to advertise on this show? Visit Bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/Sponsors