BPS 170: How to Master Screenwriting in Hollywood with Mick Hurbis-Cherrier

Today on the show we have author, filmmaker and screenwriter Mick Hurbis-Cherrier.

Mick  is an independent filmmaker and screenwriter. His works have been broadcast and shown around the country and have garnered prizes at many festivals including the Black Maria Film & Video Festival, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Athens Film & Video Festival and the Cin(e) Poems National Film Festival.

His work has also been featured at the Robert Flaherty Seminar, the American Film Institute’s National Video Showcase and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. His screenplays have also won prizes including the Arthur Miller Award for dramatic writing, the Lawrence Kasdan award for screenwriting and he was twice an award winner in the University Film & Video Association national screenwriting competition.

Among his film projects are: River of Things, an alternative film in four parts based on four poems by Pablo Neruda andFearFall, a short narrative satire about paranoia and the squeezing of the American middle class, which he wrote, directed and produced.

His recent commissioned feature screenwriting projects include Give Me Five, which he co-wrote (with Ron Bass) for La Petite Reine Productions, Mesopotamia 2020 for Picturesque films and Empire of Dirt for director Steve Ramser. He also penned Better That Way, the official English language stage adaptation of the film Une Liaison Pornographique (U.S. release title An Affair of Love).

He is currently completing a gangster genre screenplay set in New Orleans entitled Force of Nature, also for Picturesque films.

In 2011 Hurbis-Cherrier published the 2nd edition of his comprehensive narrative film production textbook Voice & Vision: A Creative Approach to Narrative Filmmaking. with Focal Press (originally published in 2007). In 2013 he published Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics 5th ed. (Focal Press) co-authored with Michael Rabiger.

Both of these books are among the core film production textbooks in film programs throughout this country and internationally. Hurbis-Cherrier is currently working on the book, Practical Film Analysis and Inspired Filmmaking for the British Film Institute (BFI Publishing, Palgrave/MacMillan) which is scheduled for publication in early 2015.

Enjoy my conversation with Mick Hurbis-Cherrier.

Right-click here to download the MP3



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

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome the show Mick Hurbis-Cherrier, how are you doing?

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 0:15
I'm doing great. And you did perfectly.

Alex Ferrari 0:17
I thank you. I mean, it was we were I wanted to make sure I got that name proper and didn't massacre. So I'm glad I did. How are you doing?

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 0:26
I'm good. I'm very happy to be on your show. You know, I've seen a number of your podcasts. And I think that we have a kind of a similar mission. You know, we we love films. We love good films. We want to make sure that good films continue to be made. And so we're informing people how what is a good film? What makes a good film?

Alex Ferrari 0:47
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And it is a mystery, because they're, they're becoming less and less nowadays. It's just, it's not as easy to it when I was growing up in the 80s. In the 90s. I mean, there were Matt, there were so many masters at work during that time period, and there are many of them are still at work. And every time I feel like that was a great movie on my Coumadin like, Oh, someone from the 80s and 90s. But not to say that they're not amazing artists doing work today. I mean, look at Chris Nolan. I mean, look at Fincher, I mean, these kind of guys who who came up with the Fincher came up in the 90s. But, but Nolan and those kind of guys, they're newer generation. There's so many great filmmakers and screenwriters nowadays. But oh, it's it's harder to find. But it's harder to get a made. And I think that's the biggest problem is, there's a lot of great scripts out there. But there's not a lot of great scripts that are being given the opportunities that they were given in the 80s 90s. And even in the early 2000s.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 1:45
Yeah, that's true. I mean, I think is much harder. Obviously, it's harder to sell a spec script, you know, these days. Even Even if you have some sort of property, that's an interesting property. What I've noticed recently, is that so much depends on the team you put together. Because that makes it producer that makes it production company feel more comfortable and more safe. That this is a team that has a track record, they know how to put this thing together, they recognize good stuff, I like the stuff that they've done. And then and that they don't necessarily feel like they're taking a big chance. Because you know, everybody's job all the way up the ladder is on the line

Alex Ferrari 2:28
Is always to say no, it's their job is to say no, as much as they might want to say yes, their job is to say no, because they're it's the whole town is run by fear, and hire town.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 2:39
Although, interestingly, fairly reached just before COVID hit, I went on a, you know, a pitch session to a number of different production companies. Their job is to say, no, they don't like to say no, they don't, they don't because they don't want to be the person who said no to the thing that got made. So they're very, always very positive. And then how to lose them. You know, it is telling you, Alex, I was at a pitch session. And it went well, the we pitched him there were three of us pitching. It went spectacularly it was for a television program. And the producer jumped out of his chair said, Okay, what we need for you guys, what we need to do is get money for you guys to write the pilot and get a Bible together. And I was like, Oh, my God, is it true? The first person we went to we sold the show in the room. And so I walked out and I talked to the person I was writing with was much more experienced than I am in some of these things. I said that that was an amazing response. That he just said, Yes, right away. He said, Oh, no, that's not a yes. That we don't know what that is.

Alex Ferrari 3:48
No, I mean, I've never la in Hollywood, in general, it's an art form of how they say piss off. I mean, it's really it is it really is artful and the way that they give back negative critiques. But they do it in such a way that you don't even know that you're just being told to just grow off. It's it's what because they don't want to be the person. So this is the two fears. I don't want to be fearful enough to greenlight this and then it bombs, I lose my job. I don't want to also pass on the next big thing when they when they find out about it, and I lose my job. So it's all about losing my job. So what's the bigger fear? And generally speaking, the bigger fear is to produce something that bombs because that's more concrete. So that's why they say no, but they don't want to say no, they want they want your project to be the next big thing. They want it to be a billion dollars and to launch a franchise and, and all that kind of stuff, but that's just the way the world works. But

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 4:47
You know, it's kind of a vise it's kind of a squeeze for them because you know, they need new content. They need new makers, they need fresh ideas. They need people who are good writers. They need these things. It's the last Blood of the industry, but that they are, you know, afraid of making some wrong choices. So that's sort of the thing that keeps people going is that you know, it they need, they need talent.

Alex Ferrari 5:15
But I would, I would argue that everything you just said really focuses mostly on television now, as opposed to features, features, if you notice are not new ideas, they're all based on existing IP, especially at the studio level indies are different, but indies are, are, are going the way of the dodo. They really are. And in many ways, they're it's not as robust of a business as it was in the 90s. Because in the 90s, you know, I, you know, I was speaking to some filmmakers from that era. And they said, the reason why my film got picked up was because there was a business starting to come around VHS home videos, you know, then DVDs, there was an actual industry a business way to make money with films, like slackers, and clerks, and El Mariachi, there was a business, that that that infrastructure doesn't exist now. Because there's so much competition now for it, that it's for features I'm talking about, but for televisions, it's all about original ideas. It's completely about original ideas.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 6:19
Yeah, I mean, it's really interesting, because there's no, there's no way you're going to get get, if you're not a known writer, there's no way you're going to get a commission for a feature film, it's just not going to happen. But a and and, and, you know, there's no way you're going to get money for a pitch or a treatment or something like that, to develop it. In television, that still happens. Because it's the Wild West, like which of these, you know, billion platform streaming platforms are going to survive. And in order to survive, they need new content, they need original content. And so they're out there looking for that stuff. And you know, I also think Alex, you know, a young filmmaker these days, or a young writer, somebody who wants to be a writer or filmmaker, does have to think globally, in cinema, you know, because there's still those pathways for interesting feature films happening, international co productions. And sometimes that's the avenue to open some doors in Los Angeles, even if you if you want to go there, you know, I have a very good friend, Sammy Zoabi, who is a Palestinian Israeli, fantastic filmmaker, wrote a screenplay in English that was supposed to be in Hebrew and and Arabic. Tried to get it done here. Nobody would pick it up. And then he went to France and French producers were interested, they got together with me see, it was like France, Israel and Luxembourg. And that was the CO production. That film did extremely well. It's a wonderful film is called Tel Aviv on fire. Fantastic film. And now, you know, he, when he goes to Los Angeles, people know him. He's created his own. I'm not gonna say brand, but he's there to sort of develop a profile that people now can recognize and feel comfortable with. So and he's on his way.

Alex Ferrari 8:14
Yeah, and that's another thing a lot of people think the only place you can make it is Hollywood, but you're absolutely you're, it's they would be wrong. Because it is they're such more of a global marketplace than it was in the 90s in the 80s. In the 90s. Even in the early 2000s, it wasn't as a global place because the internet hadn't really taken hold yet. And it really, and I know people listening like there's a bunch of old farts talking here. But you know, I remember logging into Netflix and looking at what they had to stream I'm like, this is all garbage. Like it's just completely before that anything was like it was complete garbage.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 8:49
You know, go down Google and thinking you can't trust any of this stuff.

Alex Ferrari 8:54
This is all business. This is horrible. Yeah. So um, button, but because of the the infrastructure that has been built over the years now with the streaming services, the war, it's it Look, look at squid games. I mean, look at a show like squid games that showed up. Like, I haven't seen a Korean based elevant show ever in my life. Yeah. And when I heard and I only watched it purely because I kept hearing everybody talk about Wi Fi squint games. There's games, good games. I'm like, What is this? I gotta watch it. And it became one of the biggest shows in Netflix history from Korea, not from America, but from Korea. In Korea.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 9:32
This is just after what, um, I can't remember the title offhand that the Spanish heist film?

Alex Ferrari 9:38
Oh, yeah. Yeah, I know what you're talking about. Yeah, there's that.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 9:42
Again, you know, I don't know were not particularly popular in Spain. But but a huge hit for Netflix

Alex Ferrari 9:49
Another hit. So there's a lot of those those kinds of things so international, and there's also opportunities internationally that they're just not here in the US because there's just everybody's here. Yeah, you know, but if you go to France and have a France, Israel, Luxembourg CO production, the amount of competition you have in Europe is a lot less than you have here to make films, especially a certain kind of genre and so on. But I was gonna ask you, how did you get started in this insane business?

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 10:22
Wow, get started in like I sometimes I feel like I have three full time jobs. You know, I love writing screenplays, I write screenplays, I don't relish you know, sacrificing a lot of things for years in order to break in, you know, I also you know, since the time I was a kid, you know, I wanted to be a college professor. That was a goal of mine being before films, that was a dream of mine. My father was a college professor. My mother was a teacher, my sister's a teacher, my brother's a teacher, you know, there's so it's in the family. So I always wanted to be a professor, and cinema. And of course, my third job, or this, the textbooks, which I sort of stumbled in more recently, but I really love writing these books. It's really a lot of fun. But cinema kinda came into my life very early on. I was a I'm an American citizen, but I grew up overseas. I was born in Izmir Turkey. And I've been in Colombia, I'd been in Puerto Rico, clearly where I grew up with Singapore. And so two things. And so this is like from the age of eight to 13. And this is most of the 70s that I'm living in Singapore. And so the Shaw Brothers were all over the screens in Singapore, and I, my brother, and I would just go to Shaw Brothers Productions, every you know, kung fu movie that came out, we were there. And we had we could not speak Chinese at all, did not matter. You know, so I mean, you know, all those feelings, you know, with those great titles, like blind swordsman, the blind adventurer, the sentimental swordsman, the one arm swordsman, you know, five Deadly Venoms? Five fingers of Death, whatever. Amazing to us. Yeah. And of course, and of course, any. Any Bruce Lee? Sure, of course, of course. So that that was like one side. And then on the other side, being an American and having never lived in America have never never been to the United States. I was obsessed with, like, absorbing any American culture I could. And so when films came into us films came, even though they were heavily censored, I would have to see them. You know, Soylent Green, was a big film in the patent was a big film, any James Bond film, The French Connection, The Exorcist arches, even though it was like, like, it was practically cut in half, you know, by sensors.

Alex Ferrari 13:08
It was a short film, it was a short film.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 13:12
But they and they still had the ambulance, you know, in the, in the parking lot, you know, promotional thing going on. And then the sting was one of my films, I must have seen that, like, you know, 15 times. I love that film. And then, at one point, I saw a film called mash Robert Altman's MASH. And only reason I want to see it is because I knew that there was American football scenes in it. And I was just obsessed with American football. So I went, and I remember, boy, I must have been 11. And I remember thinking, this film is making me feel fun. I don't know what it is. I don't quite understand what's going on. But it's not like this thing at all.

Alex Ferrari 14:00
Sure, sure. Sure.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 14:02
And I think I think that sort of started my whole love affair with films and films that does kind of push the envelope was right there.

Alex Ferrari 14:10
Right now, you've actually been teaching for many, many years. What is the biggest mistake you see screenwriters make early young screenwriters make

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 14:20
Young screenwriters? Well, you know, struggling with the language and struggling with formatting and stuff like that. I don't consider that mistakes. That's just the way it goes. And you know, young young writers, I teach at Hunter College and so not all of my students are young, young when so when I say young writer, I mean an emerging writer.

Alex Ferrari 14:43
Yeah, exactly a starting writer.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 14:46
I think one thing is that is the lack of patience to develop their craft. You know, they watch movies, they feel movies deeply. And they know how to write their For they feel ready to write a magnum opus immediately. And you know, you wouldn't feel that way listening to music thinking thinking I'm gonna sit at the piano and write a great song, though I don't know how to play the piano, right. But with Phil because we know language and we use words, and we can write, somehow they feel like what comes out right away has to be great. And I tell them to, you know, and it's because they're fueled by passion. And so I tell them relax a little bit, right a lot. Right? You know, your, your first few scripts are not going to be that great, I guarantee. But you will learn from those scripts, and you will get better and better. It's like, it's like anything. It's like playing a guitar. It's like, it's it's like, it's like Stephon curry shooting three pointers. It looks absolutely easy and effortless when I watch Democrat issue three points. I think I can do that. That's easy.

Alex Ferrari 16:04
It looks so easy. It looks so easy.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 16:07
But the amount of drilling and training and practicing that he's put in to those shots in his life makes them look so easy. So you know, I that's that's the thing I I give them the opportunity to allow them to be patient with their own progress. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 16:28
Yes. I mean, I feel to the a lot of in a distance definitely my it was definitely me when I was first starting out is there is that little thing called ego. That also creeps you it creeps in and everyone's like, Wait, I've just written my opus, why hasn't Hollywood seen my genius? And the trucks of money are just dumped in my front yard like I don't understand. And that ego, like, many, many filmmakers and screenwriters walk into the business, for the wrong reasons, meaning I want to be rich and famous. Or I want my ego stroked, I want to be on the red carpet and all that kind of stuff. And I always tell people, because I've been around the block a little bit, I got some shrapnel, I just go, what are we going to do about Bobby? And like, don't you worry, the business is going to take care of that's not a problem at all. Bobby's gonna be just fine it the other hammer is gonna come down any minute now. And if it doesn't come down any minute, it's gonna come down in five years, when he's still hustling going, Wait a minute, maybe what I'm doing is not working. And I always try to warn people about that that pitfall because I was. I mean, when you're young, you do things like that. You just like, obviously, it's like you you watch Reservoir Dogs, and you're like, I couldn't do that. And then you sit down and go, Oh, wait, what, why? Why is my dialogue not as snappy?

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 17:44
Or even worse? You start doing that, again. It's already been done, you know?

Alex Ferrari 17:50
And you're not even doing it again. Well, you're doing it again, it's derivative. So in other words, and by the way, how many I mean, for for us at a certain age, you know, when Pulp Fiction came out? Yeah, how many Pulp Fiction ripoffs came out. Within the next three or four years, it was just constant pop. And you could see the writers of those movies, trying to emulate the tone and energy of Quentin. And that's not possible. It's because there's only one Quinten there's only one Sorkin there's only one Shane Black, there's only one Chris Nolan. These these people are so specific with the way they write that you can't emulate them and you shouldn't because it's like me trying to emulate anyway, like, right.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 18:33
And also, you know, a Sorkin wouldn't make a Scorsese film, though he might, adores go Scorsese. Try and make a Scorsese film because only Scorsese makes a Scorsese film. Yeah. Yeah, you know, I've been teaching long enough that I see it in waves. You know, I remember when everybody wanted to be David Lynch and and I remembered when everybody wanted to be Oh, it's his first name is escaping me Kaufman.

Alex Ferrari 19:00
Oh, Charlie Kaufman,

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 19:01
Charlie Kaufman. That was another way

Alex Ferrari 19:04
Try to write like, Charlie, you write like Charlie Kaufman. Are you kidding me? Exactly. Are you kidding me?

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 19:11
That was the era when I couldn't sell three act structure to save my life.

Alex Ferrari 19:15
Right, exactly. I just screwed everything up.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 19:20
Anyway, and I think, you know, there there there have been others, of course, but But you know, I actually think that that's going away significantly these days. Because, and it's a very interesting challenge for teachers. And because there isn't any more that I can see a common, like lexicon a common grouping of films that most of the students in the class have watched. I'm seeing students break apart into much smaller niches. Some of them love the long form limited series television, some of them are into Asian Film, some of them are into animated films really in a big way. Some of them are into the narratives that go into video games. And they inhabit those niches with great passion. So you mentioned, you know, you know, you mentioned Chinatown. Nobody's seen Chinatown? No. You know, you mentioned there's a few films that have stuck around that you can still

Alex Ferrari 20:26

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 20:27
Yeah, God, Father, the Fight Club. Interestingly, the graduate and I that's interesting, what's asked my class, like, why do you all know the graduate if you don't know, you know, China? And they say, oh, because it's placed all the time on television. So they eventually they catch it. So anyway.

Alex Ferrari 20:49
You're absolutely right. Because, you know, I mean, coming up, there are there's a group of films, you know, there's like 100 or 200 films that everyone's seen. And it's, it's, it's very comfortably everybody understands, you know, you've seen Goodfellas, you've seen most of Scorsese's work, you know, you might have not seen after hours, but you definitely saw Goodfellas, you might have not seen Last Temptation of Christ. But you probably saw Casino. You know, like, there's, there's a handful of movies of from directors and of writers that Pete, but in today's world, you know, when we were coming up, there were less films to watch, you know, we would get maybe 20 movies a year 25 25 movies a year now we get 20 movies an hour.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 21:32
Release, everybody knew, like, what the what the Oscar nominees were, I didn't see them and the winners. And so I could go into a class and say, Alright, here's an example. And everybody would understand that example. These days. I say, here's an example. And I see like, blank faces. That's the challenging part of teaching. The good part is you can you know, you can show them you know, a film like Ed Wood and blow their minds, because nobody's seen it before. They think, oh my God, how do you know about this stuff? You know, you can you can show them Raging Bull, you know? And they're like, Oh, my God, I never imagined I had this experience. The other day, I was talking to these three students who are working together and their film has some resonance with Wings of Desire. And I said, Of course you guys have seen Wings of Desire, never saw never heard of him vendor.

Alex Ferrari 22:26
Did they see City of Angels, at least?

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 22:29
Now I know. So, you know, they pay watched it. And they call back and they said, Professor, you just changed our lives. I thought, well, that was easy.

Alex Ferrari 22:42
It's yeah, because you're right. You're right. And I've even seen that when I talk to filmmakers sometimes, like, you know, that movie that this like I was I was when I was color grading back in the day, I was working with one of the biggest music video directors in the world at the time. And I'm color grading one of his music videos. I'm like, oh, so do you want me to do this? Like very like Blade Runner esque? And he's like, what's that? And I'm like, you're a music video director. You've never seen Blade Runner? Are you kidding me? I felt like slap on the guy.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 23:13
Don't you know you wouldn't even exist as a music video director without Blade Runner without?

Alex Ferrari 23:20
Really in general,

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 23:22
Let alone all that jazz. You know, Bob Fosse is all that jazz. But exactly. I think I only got to one of the main mistakes. I think you asked me for three.

Alex Ferrari 23:30
No, no, just No, just one of the biggest mistakes. But you know, there's Can you discuss a little bit about how I think one of the biggest things I've see when when when I read screenplays from from younger or newer writers is their use of description. And they don't the concept of a sea of white is seeing as much white as possible and what that experience is as far as screen because honestly, it was I think it was Shane Black. I think when Shane Black showed up, he made the screenwriting, reading the screenplay experience, like reading a book, like reading a novel, his descriptions were so tight, so small, but so descriptive. It was an enjoyable read. And that's when I think we began to think about as this industry like descript needs to be enjoyable to read, and also not have blocks of description that are like it's, it's, it's not a novel. So can you talk a little bit about that?

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 24:31
Well, you know, a screenplay is a is a very complicated man type of manuscript, dramatic manuscript because it has a technical function as a blueprint for production correct. It also has to present to the reader as a movie going experience. But it also has to be a good read in terms of its language and it has to contain some of the attitude of the movie, the tone of the movie, the genre of the movie in his language. And this is kind of the more advanced sort of level of screenwriting. And we're seeing people more and more understanding that you can push through rules of screenwriting. No, you can push some of the things in order to have a dramatic effect or in order to develop a voice. I mean, I was just reading the screenplay for booksmart, which I have to say it was a great fun read, they break the rules all over the place, because they really want to communicate the attitude of the movie, and they really do. So you know, I tell my students and I try and do this, you know, to be vivid and pithy at the same time. And part of that means you have to know language, you can't use lazy language, and be like in a vivid way and in a visual way, which means that writers need to rate and that's one of the, that's like number two column with, with with beginning screenwriters is that they want to write but they don't read. And you're not going to get what you need by watching the film. If you read the scripts for the end, there are a lot of great scripts out there that they can read, and they can see exactly how this writer presented the material, so that the reader and the director sees it in a visual way. You know, I go back to, you know, I go back to people like Lawrence Kasdan, who I had a workshop with when I was a student, was one of the first people who really talked about this in any any way. And, of course, Paul Schrader was another one who was a phenomenal writer. You know, I just funded I helped with the republication of a bunch of books by Edward dimetric. And I worked on the on screenwriting, and I read some of his screenplays. And it's just not interesting to read. It's kind of like, okay, here are the shots. And it genuinely was a blueprint for a film and rather than a good, a good read on the page. So, you know, I think that and, in fact, this is the book that I'm currently writing as I'm writing a screenwriting book, and, and, you know, you think, oh, man, not another frickin screenwriter.

Alex Ferrari 27:35
There's what? There's like three of those out there, there's not that many.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 27:39
Alright, so this actually has nothing. This actually has nothing to do. I don't talk about structure. I don't talk about building character. I don't talk about subplots or I don't talk about any of that stuff. This is kind of a style manual. The first half of it is the proper way of writing a screenplay. It's kind of like learning a language. You know, you learn French, you got to learn the proper way of speaking French in French, one on one to French one or two. Then you go to France and people are taught saying something else. Of course, it's the same experience of screenwriters, they're taught in a class, you know, this is how you write these are the rules of screenwriting. Then they go and they you know, they read uncut gems, and they say, Wait a minute. I was told that that wasn't allowed.

Alex Ferrari 28:24
Oh, no. You know, when I started reading Lethal Weapon, and you know, all of Shane Black stuff, I'm like, this is not this is. Or Quinton, God forbid you read a Quinton script Jesus?

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 28:34
Yeah, but yeah, but don't do those scripts leap right off the page. Do they ever? You they are in your lap, slapping you around?

Alex Ferrari 28:43
As you're reading it? No, there's no question. No question. No question.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 28:46
Um, so so the book I'm writing that's it. That's what it's dedicated to the first half is like, here's the proper way. Here are like if you're a jazz musicians here, this scales, this is what you need to practice. Now, here's how we improvise. Here's how professional writers write. Here's how professional writers allow the reader as they're reading to see a movie, come off the page. And the one thing that young writers get mixed, sort of mix up is that they think, Okay, I'm wanting to give them a cinematic experience. Therefore, I'm going to describe everything that's in the scene. And that becomes overload. Right? Because a writer, a reader, who's reading a screenplay doesn't know your world doesn't know your story. They're reading and they're finding the clues to what that story is about what is important, what's not important. So if you have a character walk into an office, and you describe absolutely everything in the office, it's a flat scene. You may be describing a lot, but it's flat, and it's confusing because there's too much visual detail. If you expend Less language on the environment and more language on though and more flamboyant language on those things that are really important. Then the reader gets gets that and holds that as an important thing, the envelope on the desk. Right?

Alex Ferrari 30:16
Which is, which is, which is Yeah, because if you're putting the envelope on the desk is on an ornate, wooden desk that succeed, it looks like the one from the godfather. And it's Wait, is this and it just starts going and going and going, you just like, What am I supposed to focus my energies on here?

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 30:31
Precisely, you know, and young writers love to write about, like, the light is streaming in through the need to know that who cares, you know, the DP will take care of that, don't worry. And actually, that's another thing. Now that you're now that you're got me talking I think young writers are, are resistant to the idea of film being a collaborative art form. They want to control everything, and you simply say no control everything. They want to tell you how everybody is dressed, and what their hair looks like, where the light is coming from the color of the camera camera moves, the camera moves, the camera moves, just like you know, no, take it easy. Take all that stuff off your shoulders, and then tell your story. And then we'll get to exactly what you were talking about Alex, it's clean. It's got energy, it's got the energy of a movie that's unfolding before your eyes, you know, so it's clean, it's got energy. And the story jumps off the page and the actions reveal. Right needs to be revealed.

Alex Ferrari 31:41
I was reading the other day the script for bound by the czarsky. So this is the movie right before the matrix. And in this in the script. In this script, it actually wrote like there was there was a very big love scene between two girls. And this is also early, late 90s. So and this is made, so it's not as open as it is today in regards to that kind of stuff. And they go at the end of it they go and we're not gonna cut this scene in the script, like, and we're not cutting the seed.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 32:15
That's radical. That's a radical thing to do. Right. You remind me of I just read the script for first man. Oh, okay. Yeah. Chazelle. Okay, yeah. Now, he takes a lot of liberties in that script, which is fun. But you know, when you have a track record, and people know what you can do, you can take more liberties than when you're beginning writer for sure. But anyway, there's a scene in there where Neil Armstrong goes into the capsule for some Gemini liftoff, I can't remember the number of the Gemini liftoff. And it's a beautiful scene in the film, where everything is, is shown through Neil Armstrong's point of view, and what he hears and what he sees, which is nothing, it's just like a little, little triangle of a window, the entire lift off, which is super dangerous, is told through the image through this little triangle window. And he says in that scene, he says, when we see what Neil sees, we hear what he sees, and we're not fucking cutting away.

Alex Ferrari 33:17
It's literally said that

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 33:19
He literally says that in I don't know if I can say that on your it's fine. It's fine. Okay. Anyway, he literally writes that we're not fucking cutting away to an external shot or something. Anyway, so it's very funny.

Alex Ferrari 33:32
He's like, because he knew what was gonna happen. He's gonna go, oh, well, what can we get a wide shot on this? But he's also writer director, and he knows how he's going to execute it and so on, but he just wanted to make that clear. As a fun as a fun thing to do. Um, what was the script I was reading the other day? Just Oh, I was reading I think it was Shane Black or Tarantino and you know, you start seeing some spelling errors in it sparingly and some even grammatical errors. And I always love Phil young screenwriters who look well, I was reading a che black script and you know, he had a couple of punctuation and and I'm like he Shane Black. That's right. If he wants to misspell something, no one cares. Because he Shane Black, or he's Quinn, Tarantino or He's Chris Nolan. Like they don't they they are at a whole other place that you are not they've established themselves. And when you're coming up, I promise you that romance, and Natural Born Killers, which were the first two scripts that Tarantino sold. Were immaculate.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 34:35
Exactly. And you know, the thing the reason that you if you're a young writer, the reason why you can't afford to make any mistakes new script, is because you lose the faith of the reader who doesn't know who you are. And so if they can't trust that your writing is in order, then when you do something in the script that is clunky or whatever, or really super interesting that like it was at a mistake or is this person in control of their language? You know, so. So you have to, you know, I, you know, I have a very good friend who's an illustrator, and he was a former student of mine. And he would rather die than submit something with a mistake, even though he, I mean, he just sold a script for like 4 million bucks, you know, or 5 million bucks and one of the biggest deals in the last 10 years. And he we worked on a project and we sold. We wanted to write the scripts, but but the the people who bought it from us only wanted our treatments and they wanted to write their own scripts, because it was television, they have the writers room. Oh, sure. Sure. Sure. Sure. They, you know, they don't want to integrate new people. So we were happy, like, okay, bye, wow, okay, by, you know, pay us for not writing the script plan. And so they wrote the the pilot, and they sent it to us, just so we could give them some feedback on it. And they were like, five typos. And like the first two pages, and my friend Bill said, can you believe that? I said, Well, yeah, I can believe that they've have over 600 hours of television produced already. So what does it matter?

Alex Ferrari 36:12
Exactly at that point in time, it doesn't matter. And I think that comparison to established people or even legends or masters as young screenwriters is is rampid. I mean, like you said earlier, they're like, oh, charantia No, or and we keep using the same name or Kaufman or any of these, any of these screenwriters and they compare themselves to it and you can't, you need to find your own voice. You need to find your own path, whatever they did, you can't follow that. That path. It's so interesting. When I was starting out in the business, I would analyze every I would read every autobiography, I could get my hands on on filmmakers. I would try to study the way they got into the business. So you're like, okay, so Robert Rodriguez made a $7,000 action movie and art clerks. Okay, so he did this and he did that. Okay, great. Ed burns, okay, he did this, this and this, you know, Spike Lee did this, this and this. And, and you would start and like, okay, maybe I can get this way. And I was always trying to hack my way in. Yeah. And I, it took me years to realize you like, that's their path that can never be replicated. Yeah. Ever because of the timing of who they are. What they are like, you know, when I had Richard Linklater on the show, I asked do you think do you do you think slackers gonna if slacker shows up today? Do you think it finds an audience? And Rick and Rick, straight up? Like, you know, does it find an audience? And Rick's like, probably not. Yeah. And I said the same thing to Ed burns. I go it Brothers McMullen shows up today. Do you think you get it a theatrical? And it makes 30 million off of a $30,000? Do you think that is going to happen? He's like, Absolutely not. If they were a product of their time, where in today's world, they would, they would probably be just thrown into the soup like everybody else. Not that they don't have any talent. And not that the movies aren't great. It's just a different environment and a different audience as well.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 38:04
That's true. That's true. But you know, I'll always do a few exercises with my students to help them I guess determine, you know, to use the term of Michael Rehberger, who with whom I wrote a Corona book to define their own themes, like who are you? What are you interested in? What obsesses you? Yeah, what are the genres of film that you did you like that you can be inspired by but but how does it make it yours? What are the things? Like? Like I said, like, what are the things that obsessed you? What are the things? Who are the people you know, who are fascinating characters who were the places you've gone, that you think this would be an awesome place for a film? So, you know, you're a writer, you know, like any other artists has to find out what their unique contribution is. But getting back to reading scripts I do. When I finished my screenwriting one class, which is a about all about the shorts, I give my students a list of like, five scripts that will take their language to the next level, not to copy them, and they're always quite different genres, and then they are also as contemporary as I can find.

Alex Ferrari 39:23
So are they are they do they change or that can you get Can you give those five scripts out? Now the names?

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 39:28
I'm sure I can. I mean, there. I find these online I just say, you know, I just Googled download PDF Sure. Hetal and you find it as you know, I'm sure you know that when when award season comes around, you know.

Alex Ferrari 39:43
They're all available on bulletproofscreenwriting.tv. Yeah.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 39:49
Well, like Jeff Nichols is film loving.

Alex Ferrari 39:53
Beautiful. Yeah.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 39:54
And the script is the same. It's a very elegant, very quiet Very powerful script, the language is super precise. And it is there's no flamboyance to it but it just tells its story in in very simple language, methodically, but really accumulates power over time. The screenplays for Chernobyl are phenomenal.

Alex Ferrari 40:24
Oh, yeah. Well, Craig Yeah,

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 40:25
They're just perfectly written. You know, Jordan peels get out is another great script. You know, derece mudbound Is, uh, is a little bit more flamboyant. It's a little bit more you know. You know, really indicating shots and, and cuts, but but it's powerful. You see the movie, you feel that movie. Like I said, booksmart I like to give students all is lost, which has no dialogue. And that's like, what is it? How long is all is lost is? I think it's like 40 pages or something like that right now. Sideways?

Alex Ferrari 41:11
Oh, another beautiful script. Yeah,

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 41:13
Great script, demographics Leave No Trace is the simple script at elegant, script, beautifully written beautiful film over kind of a kind of an overlooked film, but I think it's phenomenal. So so. So that's, that's the kind of stuff I will give them.

Alex Ferrari 41:27
Now, what advice would you give on writing great dialogue, because dialogue is such a difficult thing to get the tone to get the, the energy of, of a character, and also how not to write on the nose, which is so like, it's like, I love watching great television or great movies. And I'll just go Oh, I see where they just dropped off that she's been divorced for five years without saying, hey, hey, dad, how's it feel being divorced for five years? I don't know, son, it's pretty hard. As opposed. As opposed to a look on the letter, like, look at the paperwork of oh, I have to sign the divorce papers. No one ever says anything, something subtle like that, to get that information across. But how do you write great dialogue?

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 42:12
Well, you know, the, you know, there's a first The first thing you have to think about, and I'm going back to beginning writers, the first thing that beginning writers big mistake that beginning writers make with dialogue is that they think they have to tell the story in dialogue. Because they don't trust that they don't trust yet, that an audience will see an action and understand the inner life of a character who performs that action, they won't they understand the motivation of somebody who does a particular action. They they don't trust that yet. So they'll do the action. And then they'll they'll do exactly what you just said, we'll see the divorce papers. And they'll write the dialogue. Oh, I've got to sign the divorce papers. You don't need this. We're seeing just so that's the first thing show don't tell show don't exactly dialogue that's redundant is kills your movie.

Alex Ferrari 43:04
It's just stops the momentum, it stops the momentum completely.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 43:08
The second thing is that is that there's, again, it's just that people who don't trust that their movie can that they're already telling their story is that there are many times when a look at gesture, a glance will say exactly what dialogue needs to say. So the first the first in terms of dialogue, the first step is to strip away all the unnecessary dialogue and then strip away a little bit more dialog than that. And then, you know, you need to dig deeply into your character. And you have to say, so what, what is the purpose of this dialogue? What does it reveal about my character? Not what does it tell about the story? But what is it going to reveal about the character? What kind of language would this person use? How many words would this person use? I mean, I think that loving is a very interesting script in that sense, because he has he has two characters, especially especially the male lead, who's super taciturn, not particularly articulate, and doesn't talk about things much. Right. Or first man, we were just talking about first man, you know, he, Neil Armstrong, he's not somebody who talks about his feelings. He never would have been an astronaut. So you have to understand the, you know, the language your character uses, though, and and how much language your character uses. And the fact that you have to really understand that they inhabit that story as in life. And so they wouldn't go, you know, explaining things for people who don't know what's going on.

Alex Ferrari 44:56
Right. And I always find it so irritating when When writers add backstory in a very brutal way where they're just explaining it, I think the the best the best example of writing backstory or what's the word it's it's completely escaping me when when you have to tell the exposition Thank you very much is James Cameron, James Cameron when he wrote Terminator, I think he's still one of the most underrated writers of his generation. He's not as a filmmaker, but as a writer, you read alien script, and you're just like, oh my god, one of the most perfect action scripts ever written. But if you read Terminator, there's so much exposition that has to be laid out for because we all know what the Terminator mythology is now, but in 1984, nobody understood what the hell was going on. Yeah. And he's like, if you've got exposition, write it in an action sequence, write it in something. So there he's literally explaining. Reese is explaining to Sarah Connor, what's going on as they're being chased by the Terminator, writing, shooting, boom, I'm from this, boom. And this is what happens. Boom, he's a machine, boom, he has flesh over his body, boom. It was all but it's done like this, as opposed to them sitting down at coffee like, well, you know, I'm from the past, and it's beautiful. It's a beautiful technique really is

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 46:18
Yeah. Well, you know, with exposition exposition is tough because x x, okay, what we do is we do narrative, right? Narrative is the act of telling a story. Exposition is not the act of telling a story. Exposition is the act of explaining something, right? So that's why if you don't handle your exposition, well, it puts the brakes on your story, and it becomes uncomfortable. The first thing is you ask yourself, Do I need this exposition? You know, think of Thelma and Louise. We never know what happens. What happened to Louise? In Texas? We never know what right is in Chinatown, right? We need it. We don't need it. Maybe it's better in the minds of the audience, they can imagine what happened. So do I need it? Do I need all of it? Because sometimes you can pare it down a lot? Do I need all of it in a chunk? Or can I pepper it throughout the script? And then like you say, put it in, put in a scene of action, intention, or comedy, that comedy, you know, our simple sugar that lets anything go down? And, and of course motivated, you know, you can't you can't have a scene with two lawyers, or one lawyer says the other, my client is going to plead the fifth. You know what that means? That means he doesn't have testify against him. So of course, the he knows what that means. So find the scene guy out and the lawyer goes to the to the defendants mother and says, I don't want you to worry, I'm going to have him plead the fifth. She's like, what's that? Is that dangerous? What was that mean? But it's okay. It's okay. Take it easy. It just means he doesn't have to testify against himself. And now there's a reason for exchanging that information.

Alex Ferrari 48:02
Right. Exactly. As opposed to it being the other way around. Do you know what that means? Yeah, it's like, do we know what John Wick did? Prior to John Wick going crazy? Because they stole his car and killed his dog? Like do we do all we know is that when they say his name, it's like the boogey man walking into the baddest, baddest MF guys in the world criminals of the world that like women, John Wick, like, I just watched them. Did you watch nobody?

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 48:29
Not yet? No.

Alex Ferrari 48:31
It is wonderful. It was written by Derek. Derek. I forgot his last name. But he wrote John Wick. And you can sense the John Wickesks of him. Yeah, in there. And you like in the half scenes like that, where someone's doing research on on, Saul, I can't remember. Better Call Saul. Him the main actor. Oh, Bob, Bob Odenkirk. Thank you. And when they and when the person sees it, they're like, yeah, don't pay me. I'm out of here. And that that's how much of a badass he is. I was like, so brilliant, but no one knows like, and he says that I think at one moment, he's one sentence to explain who he was. And that's it in the entire movie explains one sentence of who it was. And you're like, that's all you need. You don't need flashbacks. You don't need to see a scene of him being a badass. One thing but like, even I don't even think it's been explained yet. What John Wick is done in the past. They just know he got it for three movies. You still don't know what John Wick did or why he is just renowned. I mean, everyone just knows he's the table. I don't know what No, he did something. And there's been some little things of how he left. But the reason of how his legend became who he is, has really never been explored very often. Very much so it's it's it's sometimes better leave it. That's true.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 49:52
And I think that that's really interesting. I haven't really thought about John John Wick that much, but it would be what would be interesting to look at John Wick is Where do we get the sympathy for him? Where do we get like we like him? You know, we want all we don't want them to die, you know? And why? What does that where is that located? Because

Alex Ferrari 50:14
I'll tell you, I'll tell you why. There's, there's, whoops go back to the first movie because now the second third movie we already loved John. John seems like he's trying to do the right thing. So he's trying to he's trying to be a good guy. Secondly, they stole his car, which is a badass car. And that gets a certain demographic of the of the audience. Like you don't scratch a man's car. I mean, it's in Pulp Fiction. You don't you don't do that you don't mess with another man's vehicle. So there's that. And third, the oldest trick in the book. They killed his dog. What do you want to do to to establish a villain have them kick a dog? Of course, it's the oldest. It's the oldest trick in the book for writers. So what did they do? They killed his dog. Yeah, and of course, the villain is just such a dumbass. On top. He's not even a badass. He's a duck because he was. But there's a perfect example. The guy who does all of this and sorry for all the spoilers in NC in John Wick. But this all happens in the first 15 minutes. The bat, the idiot who he doesn't know what he's doing, first of all, secondly, if that character would have been an absolute badass, it wouldn't have worked as well. It needed to be a complete buffoon who was a complete, just egocentric over the top buffoon who did all of this. It makes it all the sweeter of what's going and then the dad is the real badass.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 51:45
So you fill it in for me because I did not. I missed the first John Wick. I picked it up because I watched I watched the one where he fights bull by Marianna vich because I'm a basketball fan. So like, oh, that I gotta catch.

Alex Ferrari 51:59
John with one John Wick one honestly is as far as action is concerned. It is such a well written script. I mean, Keanu is Keanu, even though he is he is it he is obviously Jesus. But no, but all seriousness, though, that that first film, there's a reason why there's so much love for that character, that it spawned two, and three, and now they're going to do four and five, back to back. And the thing is also that we feel for the character because he, you know, he lost his wife. He's trying to, he's trying to turn a new leaf. He's trying to reinvent himself. He's trying to all things that check little boxes inside it pull on certain strings of our heart that you normally don't see in an action hero, and that any bit and he's quiet, that's the other thing. He he doesn't talk. He's a man of action. He was he has a little bit of dialogue best. One of the best things in the first John Wick is after John that someone sent a hit squad for John Wick, and burnt his house down or about to burn his house on or something like that. And he dispatches all of them. And then the cops show up. But cops, this is what's so beautiful about this movie, the cops show up, knock on the door, and the COP is there and goes, Hey, John, how's it going? And then he looks inside says without blinking. He looks inside. He sees a dead body. He goes, you work in again, John. He's like, Nah, man. Just accident. Okay, just checking and walks back. Just walks backwards is like, I have a good night, John, like that mythology that they've created for that character is so wonderful. That peep now there's a show. I know the showrunner of the show. And he's writing a show about the world that they created a Derrick was able to create. So it's just it's just beautifully written and hasn't been it'll if we see action movies come and go. When we see action heroes come and go. And you know, this is not a John Claude Van Damme film or a seamless film. This is a well written, well performed well directed action, but that's three. But at the end of the day, it's about emotion. It's about emotion connected to that character. And it's not just about the spectacle, spectacles fun, but we've seen action before. It's his character that moves everything.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 54:25
Yeah. But what's interesting is how little how little one needs to actually because of we're so used to genres and watching films, how little one needs to actually use for all of that to come in for the audience. And then they get to the other stuff. You know, we we feel like we fill in a lot of stuff and this is one of the other things about writing. And this is one of the things about using genre. You know audiences have seen so much they understand film nor they understand Westerns they understand the the tropes that are used. They understand the melodrama that nowadays writers can use these genres as shorthand, just a little hint of noir brings the whole genre and many of the issues or the themes of the genre into your movie, so we don't use them fully anymore. We just like like a little shorthand, and and accents our films.

Alex Ferrari 55:18
And like in watching movies, like from the 70s, they had to do things so differently than now because there's been so much content from the moment of the 70s. Up until now we're talking about 50 years, that there's generations have been raised on watching movies again, and also in the 80s. When we got VHS that changed the game now we could watch things 1000 times, again and again. So there's we're so much more the audience is so much more educated, which is good and bad. Good. Because, like you said, you can do shorthand, but bad because now you're like, Well, I gotta come up with something that they haven't seen before. Yeah, yeah.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 55:55
The other thing too, is that you know, you have that generation of fans that you are filmmakers that you're talking about the finches in the territory knows and these people who are so film literate, who, you know, are so profoundly knowledgeable that and they're incorporating all this stuff. And so almost is like little What can I say little masterclass is in every film, you know,

Alex Ferrari 56:19
Every scene every scenes imagine, you watch the opening scene of social network and that's a masterclass in, in dialogue and direction,

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 56:27
That's another script I get my students to read.

Alex Ferrari 56:28
I mean, well, that's just, I mean, that's sort of, that's probably Sorkin's best script, in my opinion. And he's written some doozies. But it's just such a tight, tight, tight, tight film and the way that Fincher and it's Fitbits probably fingers best, and I love Fight Club. I absolutely adore Fight Club. And seven, seven is a masterpiece in this genre as well. But we could just keep out forever. Yeah, but let me ask you. So what's up next for you? What is the book you're writing?

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 56:57
Well, yeah, the book I'm writing is I was mentioning before, it's a screenwriting book. Really. It's like I said, it's not about drama. It's not about structure. It's not about character. Really. It's a style manual. Here's the proper way of writing screenplay. And then here's the way professionals push, break the rules, to, you know, for dramatic effects, and you can get away with a good that's a good angle. Yeah. It's mastering screenplay form and style is what it's called. Okay, so yeah, that's, that's next up. And I'm also working on a couple of screenplays. Like I told you, I just we just mean that a friend of mine just sold something to Sony. It was jet, we just sold treatments for a series. Now they got it. So that sort of freed me up to work on some other projects. That's awesome. Two scripts, screenplay projects I'm working on.

Alex Ferrari 57:49
Very, very cool, man. I'm gonna ask you a couple questions. I ask all my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 58:02
Wow, that's a I would say, force for a screenwriter, I would say write a lot. But I would find ways to get your work made. Even if it's just, you know, pulling together, friends who are directors and crew, and get your stuff. See your see your writing finished, even if you're just posting it on the web. And also be flexible with the form that you are interested in. Because writers these days, you know writing for television, if you're in a writing room, it's a different skill than if you are creating a television show or writing a feature film, it's a very different skill. Be prepared to write shorts, small shorts, for YouTube, be prepared to write for TV. We have to be a little bit more writers need to be a little bit more sort of polymaths you know, they need to know a broader range of of skill. And I would say just keep knocking on doors, you know, just keep knocking on doors. But it takes you know, it's always been like this. It takes tenacity. It really takes tenacity and always maintain enthused enthusiasm, and energy and passion for your own work. Because it can be tough, and you can start to lose that. And no producer wants to hear somebody pitching a script that they're not that a writer is not particularly interested in

Alex Ferrari 59:46
It's about skill, experience and luck. And luck has from speaking to the people I've had the pleasure of speaking to they always tell me how was lucky was the right place right time right script and but the point is you Can't put yourself in that position unless you're knocking on doors.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 1:00:03
Yeah, but there's a quote in the world of chess, which is the people who work the hardest of the luckiest.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:09
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Exactly. If you keep knocking on those doors, he's like, one day someone's gonna open and go. Where have you been? Here's a million dollars.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 1:00:20
Outdoors. Meet people don't don't draw people seek out other talented people and stick to them.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:27
Yep, absolutely. No question

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 1:00:29
Now the other thing about about about me, I'm not somebody who thinks that you have to go to film school. Although Film School offers a film school offers a broad range of experiences in a more compressed form. And, you know, my first book I wrote, basically, you know, I had a friend who said, You're writing us all out of a job. It's all there. What Why do they need teachers? Anyone that was exactly my goal with that book. But students when they're in school, that's where you form the peer group that is going to be your first professional and count first professional relationships out of school. And so you need to find those people you can work with, and start collaborating with them as soon as possible and don't don't let them go.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:17
I agree with you. 100%. Nick, thank you so much for being on the show, my friend. I truly appreciate it. And continue the great work you're doing brother.

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 1:01:26
All right. All right. Take care and it was a it was a pleasure.


Please subscribe and leave a rating or reviewby going to BPS Podcast
Want to advertise on this show?
Visit Bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/Sponsors

Want to read all the 2016-2022 TV Pilots?

Learn from the best screenwriters working in Hollywood today!