Today on the show we have author/veteran script consultant Jill Chamberlain who’s book The Nutshell Technique: Crack the Secret of Successful Screenwriting has taken the screenwriting world by storm.
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 Argoall 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.
Since its publication in 2016, The Nutshell Technique: Crack the Secret of Successful Screenwriting was an instant classic. It is the go-to manual many professionals swear by, and it’s on the syllabus at colleges across the U.S. including the world-renowned screenwriting program at Columbia University.
Enjoy my conversation with Jill Chamberlain.
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Alex Ferrari 0:29
I like to welcome to the show Jill Chamberlin. Thank you so much for being on the show. Jill. My pleasure. So how can you? First of all, how can you share with us how you got into the business in the first place?
Jill Chamberlin 2:40
Sure, um, you know, I was a frustrated screenwriter. I was getting a note, something along the lines of, I don't understand why this character is on this journey now. And another version of that note would be something along the lines of your failing to tell a story, what you're presenting is a situation. Just kind of a devastating note to hear. But no one could explain to me the difference. And none of the books could explain the difference. So I started deconstructing movies probably partially as a procrastination technique. Right, we're always looking for those, but and also because I was truly blocked. And I didn't know how to get around this problem. And I had had some good training at Columbia University, and also some private programs in New York City that dealt with aspects of this, but no one was putting it all together. And I kind of sensed there was an answer to, to this story versus situation dilemma. And decided to figure it out. And I watched your hundreds of movies and finally boiled it down to eight sell essential elements that are required in order to tell a story. And I probably somewhat put them all I was very excited when I finally figured out that I could put this all on one page form. And glibly wrote on this form, you know, screenplay in a nutshell. And hence my natural technique was born. So it's eight essential elements that are in here's the key is they're interrelated elements, it is not like, so many of the beat sheet methods, I would call them that are out there that tell you, you're supposed to hit 15 or 22, or I've even heard 120 pre prescribed beats. This is that these are not moments in time. There's really I mean, there's two moments in time that are part of my eight elements. The other elements are not frozen moments in time. They are part of a system interactive system. And and you The key difference is, again, it's not just unconnected moments in time that there's a connection between these parts that no one else is pointing out. And and here is the difference between a situation and story.
Alex Ferrari 5:15
One of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show, obviously, is because you've written one of the one of the best selling books on story right now, which is called the nutshell, the nutshell technique. So can you kind of, can you go into those eight a little bit, or at least parts of that without giving away everything?
Jill Chamberlin 5:32
Sure, well, you know, I am going to actually give away everything for your listeners can download the natural technique worksheet was gonna be? Yeah, it's gonna be in the show notes. And I actually can't even tell you, I think it's Jill chamberlain.com/worksheet.
Alex Ferrari 5:48
I'll put it in the show notes. Make sure he gets it.
Jill Chamberlin 5:51
Yeah, you can download this is this is my method that these are the two nutshell technique forms, they're in their worksheets for figuring out your story. And it's so much easier to figure it out on a one page schematic than it is when you've already done 120 Page screenplay. And people tend to, you know, they pay me good money to analyze their screenplays as a script consultant. And I wish they come to me in the beginning, and looked and started with this form, because I don't need to read 120 pages to tell you whether or not your story works, we can actually figure it out. In fact, it's way easier to figure it out. When we're looking at these eight essential elements. We can see them right there on this visual schematic, and you can see what's working and what's not working.
Alex Ferrari 6:45
Well, can you go? Can you go in a little bit to those eight? Those eight things?
Jill Chamberlin 6:49
Yeah, um, I've tried to it's kind of visual. So um, but I'll try and hit on the I guess the main are a couple of the the elements that are involved. So first of all, I divide stories into two forms. One is for comedy and what is for tragedy. And we're why I'm using the word comedy. I'm not talking about the genre of Ha, ha ha, comedy. I'm, these are the original definitions, and even blame Aristotle, if you want to blame. Those are his definition.
Alex Ferrari 7:22
Oh, that guy. That guy. That guy
Jill Chamberlin 7:25
who told us more about story structure, then then the sum total of all the books that have been written since then, yes. And I also make it easy for you don't have to read Aristotle, which is not an easy read. I discussed in my opening chapters, the Aristotelian principles behind it, and how it comes with Arsenal. But at the at the most basic form, a story is going to involve a protagonist, one protagonist. So I'll mention, even if it's an ensemble picture, one of the characters is a protagonist. Now this can be the writer secret, by the way, this is this is for the writer to know the audience doesn't have to know this, the audience can think it's an a buddy picture an ensemble picture and not worry about who the protagonist is, it's going to be real helpful, though, for the writer to know who's truly the protagonist, and that that character's journey is going to be the backbone. And so the natural technique, if it's a comedy structure, that means basically, it doesn't mean haha comedy, but it doesn't mean a happy ending. And it means that the character has changed and learned and gone 180 degrees from an initial flaw to its opposite strength. And all I said right now is literally from Aristotle. That's Aristotle. Now what my technique does is point out a couple other Aristotelian elements that come into play that one of the things of making sure you're telling a story instead of present a situation that was something actually Aristotle talked about. He referred to it as that is episodic, actually, as we would do, but the best stories are ones that are not episodic, where there's a logic, it's not just an unconnected event, but there's a logic between the events. So that's among the things we're going to be setting up that it is, is there's a reason why we're putting this character on this journey and makes it inherent that that character is the protagonist and and it wouldn't be for a different character. And there's certain moments that are going to be are specifically designed. So for example, the break into Act Two Which goes by a bunch of people here a couple of different ways that people refer to that. And the term I use is the point of no return. And the idea is that contained in that point of no return is a, the characters getting two things, they're getting something they really want. So Michael Dorsey in Tootsie wants an acting job, who gets that in the point of no return where he gets the soap opera, the part of the soap opera, but there's it gets up that he doesn't want. And that's the catch. And the catch is going to be this perfect to Encap just gets to dress up as a woman, right, and that's going to be a character. And that's going to be the perfect test of his flaw, which is that he doesn't respect women. So those are just encompassed a few of the eight elements there. But what's the point of no return? The catch, and the flaw? That's for the eight right there. And kind of this method is about figuring out what are you married to, like in the beginning, we've got a bunch of plot, we've got a character idea and maybe some different plot things bouncing around or had some of which probably contradict each other, but in our mind, we think are working. And this is forcing you to start to put some of these on paper and figure out what am I really married to am I really married to this premise of a guy who gets apart on soap or he's gonna have to dress up as a woman, or my married to a flaw? And maybe we had a different blindness? Surely that implies that He is arrogant, which is actually one of Michael's flaws, but it's not the nutshell flaw, that flaw doesn't particularly work with this specific catch. The fact that he has to dress as a woman now happens to be the perfect test of someone whose flaw is they don't respect women.
So I feel it's gonna be I described something that is a lot easier actually, for your listeners, when they will see the form. It's very visual, you know, it's almost it's like a graphic novel, right? designed the form. And in my book, I have 30 examples of movies in the back of just every all on this identical form. Everything from Casablanca, to the godfather to Pulp Fiction to several Linings Playbook, all use to The Big Lebowski all use this identical structure. And yeah, so the goal is to help writers make sure they don't so what I found was that 99% of writers fail to tell the store, um, 99% of screenwriters present a situation.
Alex Ferrari 12:51
Now, can you can you make it? Can you? Can you explain the difference between a situation and a story? It's, um, so so we can kind of get an idea?
Jill Chamberlin 13:00
Yeah, yeah. Um, so yeah, I wrote a whole book about it, just to, you know, get into the details of it. But I can, a couple ways I can briefly kind of give you an overview is, life is a situation. Life is, this happens, then this happens, and this happens, then this happens. That's not a story. Story is, this happens, which leads to that happening, which makes it I want it when this thing happens, etc. There's a connection between the parts. And another way to look at it, it would be if I can take your protagonist out of your plot, and put a completely different one in and maybe with a couple of tweaks, it works just as well. That's a situation. That's not a story, a story. I shouldn't be able to do that a story should be unique to the protagonist. Um, one example I like to give often in my workshops is Yeah, I was talking about Tootsie a 99% of writers the writers who are failing tell a story or are writing what I call fat Tootsie. That Tootsie is let's imagine we have the exact same plot of the movie Tootsie. Michael Dorsey out of work after desperate for an acting job and gets a part of soap opera, but I'm going to make a change instead of him getting apart as a woman. He's going to get a part of a man but the man is the male character is supposed to be an obese man in this fictional survival role. Michael really wants this part. So he's going to get a makeup artist friend and a costumer to make him a fat suit and prostheses so he can pretend that he's actually a Batman and he's going to get the part. It would almost very similar to the real tuxedo. It almost works as well. You know, we tend to find it funny when when a guy is trying to pretend to be a woman, it could equally be funny to have a little guy like Dustin Hoffman pretending to be a big fat guy. And he's got to get in and out of his fat suit and grows to hate it. And, you know, going to the climax, he's going to pull off the skirt suit and reveal his little just Brooklyn. It almost works. But that Tootsie is a situation. It's got nothing to do with the character of Michael Dorsey, Michael Dorsey who doesn't respect women. Right? So we put the character in an arbitrary plot that sounds sounds like it could be amusing. But without making sure there's a connection between these eight elements. You've got a situation and not a story.
Alex Ferrari 15:51
Yeah, because it basically the mean even if you made him into like a character who hates fat people has a big problem with fat people. It doesn't ring as powerful as a man who disrespects women, and now has to be a woman to get to the point where he wants to go.
Jill Chamberlin 16:09
Yeah, we chase that flaw. If we did chase it, it would be much closer to a story, wouldn't it?
Alex Ferrari 16:14
It'd be a little bit, it would be a little closer, but not as powerful or as funny as, as a guy and drag as throughout cinematic history has shown us.
Jill Chamberlin 16:23
Right, right. But I think actually, it could potentially work as well. Yes, it's 99% of writers are right or writing fantasy they're writing. They're putting their character in an arbitrary situation. That's not that's nothing to do with the character, inner character. And that's one of the biggest flaws, the biggest flaws you can have as a screenwriter is not understanding that difference.
Alex Ferrari 16:49
Well, the so so if I understand you correctly, you focus a lot more on the character. And as far as their journey through the story, as opposed to the story itself. It's a very symbiotic relationship, as it should be, where the plot is helping the character develop. And vice versa, as opposed to a lot of stories that are either all plot driven, where you could kind of replace the the main character almost, and it doesn't really matter. Or it's all character driven. And there's no plot and that just kind of Moran during, throughout the story, if we call it that. Does that make sense?
Jill Chamberlin 17:27
Yeah, I would say, though, that, for something to truly meet the definition of a story, at least the one I'm trying to use in story versus situation, character and plot are not separate, that there are specific Inner Inner intersections between the two that you must hit in order for you successfully to tell a story otherwise. So you could have a great character with a great character arc, but he didn't develop the right plot to test that character, you still have a situation, so it doesn't matter if you're, if it's character driven, or it's plot driven, you could end up with a situation, for it to be a story that there are very specific interests, these two things are interconnected. And this necessarily so So the problem with the situation is both with people, you know, isn't isn't subject just to one or a plot approach or character approach. Either one, if you are gonna fall into that trap, if you don't find these, these intersections between the two.
Alex Ferrari 18:42
What I like about your technique is that, unlike, let's say the standard Joseph Campbell's hero's journey, you can't attach that to every story. I mean, if you try to do the hero's journey on a detective story, it doesn't work nearly as well as it does on a adventure movie. But your technique can actually be placed on every kind of story because it isn't it trickled to storytelling with this symbiotic relationship of plot and character. Yeah,
Jill Chamberlin 19:11
right. So it gets down to the the definition of a story. And it's not limited by Shawn, I went to great efforts in the book to include, you know, every genre and every time period, you know, in the history of film to show how universal great storytelling can be, it doesn't matter if it's, you know, the matrix or August Osage County, both of those have have a great story elements, that because they have all eight of these elements and to have those proper interconnections that make them a story, not a situation.
Alex Ferrari 19:49
When you start writing, where would you start with the the character or the story and then how do they interact? How do they when do you bring the other one in We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Jill Chamberlin 20:12
Well, I think it depends on the writer, I tend to be a premise. I think both approaches are valid I, I can sort of look writers into two large categories, I would say they're those who are our premise, they start with the premise. What if somebody woke up and it was the same day again? A great movie, right? And I tend to be a premise person, I start with the idea what's what you know what this happened? And, and then I tried to figure out well, what would be the most interesting character to put on that journey? Right, you made the mistake of putting the reader character the love interest in the ending McDow day making her the protagonist, we would lose the emotional, it would again be a situation on story. Because it's not test, it's not, she doesn't have a flaw that is that this journey of being stuck repeating the same day is a good one to repeat, I was saying her flaws, something like she's a little naive. That's not a, that's not really gonna be tested by having to repeat the same day, every day. It happens to be a great test for somebody who's a selfish prick. Right? Because that's gonna you know, it's gonna get tiresome it just doing that, and he's going to have to, it's going to force him to finally become a better person. Now, there are other people who I think start with a character. I think that's a valid way to start. You know, what if I had a guy who's a jerk, weatherman, who thinks he's better than everybody else? Hmm, what would be an interesting journey to put them on that would test that? I think it's a little harder to stumble upon the great premise seconds. So I tend to be the other way. But both are valid ways to work.
Alex Ferrari 21:57
I mean, if it's like Rocky, you know, what if there was a bum, who got a shot at the title? And, and he just wanted to go all the way that starts basically, it's it is a premise, but you're starting with Rocky. Yeah, yeah. And then you're working the story along the line the plot along that way. So it does have I mean, I don't know where Stallone started if he started with I think he did, if I remember correctly in interviews, he started with Rocky, he's like, what if that guy got a shot?
Jill Chamberlin 22:24
Probably. Well, I guess Yeah, I would guess them too. Yeah. Well, I think it all comes down to ultimately they are if you're succeed in telling a story that there are it's almost impossible to separate them you know, it's kind of hard to tell in the Rocky example which one you know, we can guess and I think it's a pretty good guest that he started with the character but they are you know, what makes it unique. It's not about a underdog you know, trying for a title that's not particularly unique. It's this guy doing it that makes it unique.
Alex Ferrari 23:00
Right, exactly. And if you start going through the Rocky movies, if we use going down the rocky tent terminology as I'm thinking each movie he is tested and it changes in different ways, but it's always surrounded around rocky as opposed to I don't know what's what were the situations bigger than the character sometimes almost like Jurassic Park almost Yeah,
Jill Chamberlin 23:24
right star the Star Wars. It's not just about Luke. Right now.
Alex Ferrari 23:29
It's about 1000 things going on at the same time. Yeah. Now as a screenwriter in your opinion, how do you surprise the audience? You know, what is that thing that just that because we're so savvy as as audience members now we consume so much content it's consumed over 100 years now of cinema, not to mention television. You know, things that worked in the Casa Blanca days do not work today. How would you surprise your audience?
Jill Chamberlin 23:58
Yeah, well, I'll give you I'll try and sum up one of my best tips out there so the so where we really want to be surprised is in the climax right that that and that event that starts off are x three M and because that's what everyone paid their money for. By the way you know it you know, typical climax probably only lasts literally two minutes but that's we all came to see that climax so it that's the real struggle is to find a surprising climax is is often said that a great ending is inevitable, yet unexpected. And when they say that the ending they really mean climax, so that would be the climax is inevitable yet unexpected. That's a pretty tall order, by the way. That's a pretty tall order, but that's our goal. Um, so a movie like for example, yeah, Tootsie if you saw it, especially if you saw it in today Today, it probably wouldn't be a surprise. But if you saw it in in movie theaters, when he lived on the air reveals he's a man. You never saw that coming. That's the unexpected. Once you see that, you can't imagine the movie any other way. That's the inevitable. So here's my best advice, okay about how to find your inevitable yet unexpected planet, how to find your surprising handle. Right before the climax of movie, your protagonist typically is going to be at the lowest place, and you really want them between a rock and a hard place. You can't have them between a walk and soft place, because then we'll know they're going to choose soft place. Or if they go to someplace we're not going to buy, they're going to be between a walk in her place. Two bad choices, two terrible choices they don't want to take. Alright, so now we're beginning at three, they got to make a choice. So what are they going to choose? They're gonna choose walk, or they're going to choose hard place. No, they're going to choose and now I'm going to tell you a very important technical term I use with my writers, they're not going to choose rock, they're not going to choose hard place, they're going to choose banana. Banana, that is my technical term we use. We literally use that in my workshops, we want to find the banana. It's not a rock. It's not a hard place. It's not even the same family. Right? It's not even a mineral. So when Michael Dorsey pulls up the up the way and reveals he's actually a man underneath that it had nothing it had no direct we did not see that coming because it's too bad choices before that were either continue on the show, which he's miserable about because his love interest won't even speak to him or deal with some sort of legal nightmare. When he picks banana, we didn't see that kind of so that is your That's my best advice to writers about how to find your healer surprising ending is trying to find an unexpected third choice. And, and that is easier said than done. You don't want it to come completely out of nowhere. So it they set it up in some ways that sometimes that soap opera goes live and they have to they have to add live lines on the spot and so that we believe that but they hid that well enough that we did not see we did not see that as an option, that he was suddenly going to change the wholesale proper and, and change the life and claim that he was a male character underneath the female character.
Alex Ferrari 27:51
So finding something that just comes out of left field in many ways.
Jill Chamberlin 27:56
Yeah, I think I prefer calling it left field in that just because, you know, we don't want you know, don't sex machi not it's not right. Yeah, of course, yes. Not some external thing that suddenly saves the day, it's something they're going to find in with themselves that that we didn't see coming, but at the same time, it has to have an emotional satisfying logic to it. Right? You can't you can't have the character by let you know that I hesitated left field. Just because we don't want the character suddenly doing something out of character, quote unquote,
Alex Ferrari 28:29
was gonna like it's kind of like Luke and Star Wars like he, he decides to use the force, which comes out of left field. But It completely makes sense for the journey that he's been on. But most people not most people who saw that movie never saw coming. Like what what, like, at the end of the day comes out of nowhere.
Jill Chamberlin 28:49
Yeah, he's been resisting it. Forever, right. And oh, just another random example of a movie. It just has such a great climax for me, you know, flight?
Alex Ferrari 29:03
Oh, yeah, of course. Yeah. The Robert Zemeckis film with Denzel.
Jill Chamberlin 29:06
Right. What a wonderful climax that movie has where to you never saw that coming? We go into that we've got we're going into that hearing. And we think rock and hard place we think the bad choices are, is it going to get nailed by them, and, you know, found guilty or to get to get away with that. Those are the two choices. We think that there are. And we goes in basically making that to be a hero, and that they're going to pin the blame on on his lover Katrina, who's dead by the way and won't go to prison. But you know, and it you could totally get off scot free. But we can see it in a space we never saw coming before that moment. But we totally buy. Of course. It's a great course by Denzel on top of that. In that moment, we can see it on his face. It's like the most important lie of his whole life. And he's been lying his whole life. Right. He said that two seconds before he went in there. The lawyer said you know this It's quite as coaching him and he says, Don't tell me how to line up my drinking. I've been lying about my drinking for 20 years. Good luck. This is the he doesn't have to lie. By the way. He can just say when the woman says, you know, it says to him, you know, who do you think was responsible for the vodka bottles was a Katrina, he could just say, I don't know, you know, where I don't have an opinion. He can't even do that. And you can see it on its face. It's the easiest lie he's ever been asked to do the most important wise ever been asked to do. But it can't do it. And so it's and that's unexpected, but it's also very fitting in the character where we felt this inner conflict, but he's hasn't even been in touch with the fact of this is denial of his culpability at what's happened.
Alex Ferrari 30:46
Got it. Now, let me ask you a question. Because you work with a lot of writers. What is the main difference between professional and amateur writers?
Jill Chamberlin 30:57
A number one, I would say the story versus situation, I gotta tell you 99%, of writers of amateur screenwriters are our time and time again, are presenting a situation. It's an arbitrary plot, and maybe an interesting plot and maybe a clever plot, but it's arbitrary. It's got nothing to do with that character. Can you can you
Alex Ferrari 31:17
can you can you give me an example of a movie that does a situation that's in the in the mainstream? If you can, if you can, like that's why it didn't work?
Jill Chamberlin 31:27
Um, the situation? Surprisingly, few professional movies actually
Alex Ferrari 31:34
get to that point even even even studios? Yeah,
Jill Chamberlin 31:37
um, I'm sure there are. It's a little off the top of my head.
Alex Ferrari 31:45
I mean, I hate to say it, but I'm trying to think of something like Justice League, which was such a horrible FOB. I wonder if, I mean, there's some of those characters you could just pull out of there. No care.
Jill Chamberlin 31:58
I didn't see it. But I think that is a one of the problems with a lot of superhero movies is that they are, they're episodic, right. That's, that is not. And that's another way to say situational, so they're not focused so much on telling a satisfying story, but in setting up a sequel,
Alex Ferrari 32:19
right, exactly. So you could you know, exchange one hero for another. And it would be fine because the plot will take them, you know, they'll fight the villain. They'll do all that stuff. But that's why the Nolan Batman's was so powerful. And so well done. Because every everything was about the character, his character
Unknown Speaker 32:36
driven everything they make different and that
Alex Ferrari 32:39
night probably being right one of the best written superhero genre films ever was because it was a perfect mirror. The Joker was such a perfect mirror to his Batman and every which way from chaos to structure and, and so on and so forth. It was so brilliantly done. But you're right, and when you start watching the suit, because I watch all the I'm a big superhero movie fan, Marvel, and mostly Marvel. You see, did you see the movie Logan? I didn't see like, Logan, arguably one of the best written one. Also, one of the best written superhero movies that come out last year was amazing. But it was all about what that story, you could not pull Logan out of that story and replace it, where you could do that with some Marvel movies and some other superhero movies.
Jill Chamberlin 33:23
Yeah. And I say I'm not a big, huge fan of superhero movies. Because I find them because of that issue that we're talking about. But also, I find them so predictable, especially that third eye, yeah.
Alex Ferrari 33:38
There's always a villain that comes from the sky.
Jill Chamberlin 33:42
And they're gonna, you know, they're gonna finally defeat them in the same kind of way. And I argue I you know, and I understand people love superhero superhero movies, people want to see superhero movies, they want to see movie stars, they want to see big special effects. And they make a lot of money. I would argue they could do that amount of business plus 10%. If they added the depth to it, if they did find the surprising third out that they could bring in people like me more consistently.
Alex Ferrari 34:12
What do you look at you look at the dark night, you had no idea how that was gonna go? Yeah, you have no idea. Like, what the joke like? How was that going to end? You had no idea. And it was so brilliantly written? Yeah,
Jill Chamberlin 34:25
yeah. Yeah, I consulted on a superhero movie. Recently like $150 million movie and I really work to try to add irony in some of the concepts for my book and try to make it less predictable. And I found I could not successfully get any headway, though. And on the less predictable third, and that part I couldn't seem to make any grounds. get anywhere with the powers that be about that.
Alex Ferrari 34:56
Now, let me ask you a question in your opinion, without getting yourself in trouble. What what Why do you think that's the case? Because it just feel that that's a formula that's working. And they don't want to mess with it?
Jill Chamberlin 35:06
I think so I think they're afraid they'll I think, I think they're wrong. They're afraid they'll somehow hurt their base, if they have more depth where and like I said, My argument is you could do all the business you're doing, plus 10%, if you had some more depth to it, that's my opinion.
Alex Ferrari 35:27
Now, in your opinion, today, we have this binge watching effect, that we're just now because of streaming and because of watching shows so much. How does that affect writers in today's world?
Jill Chamberlin 35:41
Well, very talking, I mean, that's really a product of television.
Alex Ferrari 35:44
Yeah, more episodic America. Because I mean, you look at a show like Breaking Bad, which had a beautiful arc over five seasons. That's a very different kind of storytelling. Does the nutshell technique work within television? Or is it strictly for cinema?
Jill Chamberlin 36:00
It does work with television. I have not unleash this to the public yet. But I am in the process of developing it for television now. It does work absolutely for television and it's but there's so I think there's a lot more variety in the types of there's so much more variety, particularly in recent years, you know, where you know, it's not just your sitcom anymore, you know, or sitcom or your one hour dramas now we have you know, we have anthology series, we don't have series of references of like something like Breaking Bad where they actually planned out the ending. And then we have more open ended most much more are gonna be open ended, right? You have no idea and even braking, Dad had no idea how many years they'd be renewed. And so there are a lot of different approaches as far as looking at it season and series wise. But I will tell you, the Nichelle technique applies per episode, I'm seeing these same eight elements in good episodic television. You have for years, I think people have said, well, but the characters don't change in TV, certainly not in an episode maybe over the course of a season. I gotta tell you, they do. You know, the pilot episode, we think of Breaking Bad, right? It's famously about a good man who becomes a bad man, right? Very first episode very first, the pilot episode. He goes from being nice to in that same episode. becoming quite assertive, by the end of it,
Alex Ferrari 37:42
right running around in his underwear with a gun in a Winnebago in the middle of the desert with meth in there.
Jill Chamberlin 37:48
Just like making this very passionate, it ends with him, you know, very passionately making love to his wife, right? I when she asked, Where do you bed, you know, and she's like, who are you? Right? That's in the very first episode.
Alex Ferrari 38:02
As your dogs he agrees. So let me ask you, I'm going to ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?
Jill Chamberlin 38:18
Right, learn story, learn how to write, story and write screenplays. And you got to write lots of them. Too many people think that to break into the business that the business is looking for screenplays, that's actually kind of a myth. They're looking for screenwriters. Right. A screenwriter doesn't just have one screenplay. How, how attractive is it going to be to somebody you know, a manager who's going to make all of you action your screenplay. That means you'll make about $4,000 They'll make about $400. Right? A big whopping 400 bucks. Right? Right. It's gonna buy them lunch in Hollywood. How attractive to the writer who has one screenplay versus the writer who has six.
Alex Ferrari 39:13
Okay, good. Good. Good. Good tip. Now, can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career?
Jill Chamberlin 39:24
I'm one that really change the way I look at things. The books out of print, although you might get it via Amazon or something, is a book called The Elements of cinema. It's by a fellow named Stefan Sharpe, who sharp sh AR FF and I actually had him as a professor when I was at Columbia, and he blew my mind. Um, I you know, I took this class I was actually a freshman. I'd never considered structuring film before that I've loved movies, but I'd never considered structure never really paid attention to. I mean, I knew movies were edited, but I and you know, that were your wide shots and close up and I never paid attention to how they're put together. And he really pulled back the curtain. And I think it's a big part of what got what got me to having my deconstructed nature of trying to deconstruct you know, what works with story and things like that, to try to pull back the curtain and parse it out.
Alex Ferrari 40:36
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life
Jill Chamberlin 40:41
ah, perfectionism is not your
Alex Ferrari 40:46
Jill Chamberlin 40:50
You just got to get it done.
Alex Ferrari 40:51
And what are three of your favorite films of all time?
Jill Chamberlin 40:55
Ah, well, okay. Paper
Alex Ferrari 40:58
Jill Chamberlin 41:00
I would say it's a masterpiece, and I know you have your screenwriters, it's great for story director should really take no, it is a it is really an masterfully directed movie. Just in particular, I think writers to look at that first act and how information is doled out how the story unfolds. And really that how that first the very first scene, you know, the protagonist is a con man, we don't know that. Yeah, he's a con man who shows up at this funeral. And without any dialogue. He kind of approaches this graveside funeral. He steal some flowers off of another gray to present them. That is that is just wonderfully delicious screenwriting right there. It's in the script, by the way checked. The stealing of the flowers. It tells us everything we need to know about this guy. Right. He's a con man we know we're know right off the back. But he also means well at times.
Alex Ferrari 42:04
He's a comment with a heart.
Jill Chamberlin 42:06
Comment with heart. Yeah. Oh, he said three movies. Yeah. Next one is the verdict. Oh, yeah. Paul Newman. Yeah. You ever hear your protagonist is supposed to be likable? Guy, right. So he's not even you know, heard of ambulance, chasing con men are lawyers, he crash and then a funeral crashes. He crashes funerals. He's a hearse chasing lawyer. He's a hardcore alcoholic. He's a liar. He lies throughout the movie, he hits a women. Um, I mean, it's it's hard to imagine a a protagonist, you know, play by Paul Newman of all people. You know, that could be more unlikable on paper, right? But even this guy deserves redemption. And that's the theme and by the end, we're totally on the sky side. To me, that's really powerful screenwriting. It's easy to get us to root for a nice guy.
Alex Ferrari 43:04
Right to get us to like a son of a bitch is a whole other thing.
Jill Chamberlin 43:07
Standing on her feet cheering for a guy himself, you know, punch a woman a few scenes before. It's kind of amazing.
Alex Ferrari 43:13
And what's the third one?
Jill Chamberlin 43:15
Groundhog Day system, brilliant film. Another great example of unlikable character. You know, there's, there's nothing he's funny. But other than that, there's nothing likable about him. And frankly, it wouldn't work if he was likable.
Alex Ferrari 43:30
Right? Exactly. If he was a really nice guy who just gets thrown into the situation. people be like, oh cares, but because he's such a sob in the movie. I mean, he is he's funny. But other than that, he's really is a horrible person. pretty horrible
Jill Chamberlin 43:45
person. Yeah. So you'll see a thing here and my favorite movies, unlikable characters, you do yourself a real disservice. If you're focusing on that. Way, it's a much more interesting feat to get us to like a character who starts out as unlikable.
Alex Ferrari 44:05
No. Do you think in today's studio world that a film with an unlikable protagonist that's not being written by someone who's established or doesn't have a big star attached to it has a chance?
Jill Chamberlin 44:17
I do think it has a good chance because if you could do it, if you could pull it off, it's you're gonna it's going to be much more memorable. Think about how much more you know how many how many nice guy protagonists, screenplays, just do the gatekeepers see from new people trying to break in and how, how likely is that going to be memorable? Versus someone who's unlikable?
Alex Ferrari 44:45
I'm just having a tip of my tongue the question if they're unlikable. Okay, I lost I lost my train of thought completely. I had a great question and it just flew out of my head. This is what happens as you get older But but thank you so much for being on the show. I really, really appreciate it and where can people find you and your book and everything you have to offer? Yeah.
Jill Chamberlin 45:09
So Gil chamber.com is my main website and I do script consultation you know worldwide via Skype. My book is the nutshell technique crack the secret of successful screenwriting. It's not going to be on you know, Amazon and some of your minor bookstores. Oh, by the way, I recommend the paperback instead of the Kindle, because I've got those big nutshell diagrams. And it's a larger format book. And with the Kindle, you're stuck with that little, you know, two inch, my beautiful diagrams are shrunk down to two inches there. And I also do I split my time between LA and Austin, Texas, where I do group workshops. And that's my group workshop. Website is the screenplay workshop.org. And you'll also find me on Twitter and Facebook under my name.
Alex Ferrari 46:02
Jill, thanks again, so much for sharing your nutshell technique with the audience. And it really does make you think a little bit differently about story, which is our goal at the podcast that trying to make you think a little bit differently when you're writing your stories. So thank you so much.
Jill Chamberlin 46:15
My it's been my pleasure, enjoyed it.
Alex Ferrari 46:18
I want to thank Jill for dropping some major knowledge bombs on the tribe today. Thank you, Jill so much for taking the time and I hope you guys learned a little bit about her technique in regards to how to crack the secret of a successful story. Now if you want links to her book, the nutshell technique or anything else we discussed in this episode, just head over to indie film hustle.com, forward slash BPS zero 23. And if you haven't already, please head over to screenwriting podcast.com. And leave us a good review. It really helps to show out a lot. And the show has been growing leaps and bounds. So thank you all for listening and for all the support. And I'm so glad that I'm able to provide some value to the screenwriting community and all those filmmakers who are writing their own screenplays. I'm so glad I could be of service to you guys. And as always, keep on writing no matter what. I'll see you next time.
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