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What is Script Writing? Beginners Guide to Writing a Screenplay

“Screenwriting is the most prized of all the cinematic arts. Actually, it isn’t, but it should be.”
– Hugh Laurie.

This quote is perfect and a hundred percent true. When it comes to film and television scriptwriting, the writer, known as a screenwriter, has the most important job in the whole filmmaking process.

Maybe, though, you are not familiar with what Script Writing is and why screenwriters are so important.

Have no fear, that’s what we’ll dig into today.

What is Script Writing?

Every film or television show that has ever been produced first started off as a script.

The script is the film (or television show) in written/text form. Scene by scene playing out on paper.

Every action. Every image. Every line of dialogue. Every plot point. If it’s on the screen, it came from the script.

In the most basic set of terms, a script is the blueprint for the film you’re going to bring to life.

In the world we live in today, some people may think that the script isn’t the most important part of the filmmaking process (looking at you major studios). Some will say that if you can hire a talented actor, that actor can elevate a poor script into a good movie.

Or someone might have the thought that if the film can just attract an A-list director, they’ll be able to fix problems with the script.

The only issue is, a poor script will never turn into a good movie, because the script is your film’s foundation, and if that’s not solid, your film will never be strong enough to stand on its own.

With that said, on the other side of the coin, if you have a solid script, your film will only improve when you add talent in front and behind the camera.

We as an audience can overlook bad acting and crappy special effects if we are engaged with the story we’re watching. If we have a connection to what we’re seeing on the screen, we’re more forgiving for those other flaws because the story we’re following makes sense and we’re invested.

There’s no other form of writing quite like screenwriting (aka scriptwriting) because there are certain things you have to be able to do that you don’t necessarily do in another form of writing, like when writing a novel.

In a script, you must SHOW and NOT TELL.

This means, any information that you are going to share with the viewer must be done in one of two ways;

  1. Visuals
  2. Dialogue

If you haven’t pick one or the other, your script has been written incorrectly.

A lot of first-time screenwriters get themselves into trouble when it comes to this because they believe that they can write their script just like they would a novel.

That is WRONG.

The great thing about writing a novel is that you can really get into a character’s head. The writer can tell you exactly what that character is thinking/feeling. The character can express themself to the writer in a very personal way.

The write can reveal information to the reader that has nothing to do with the story but gives the story context. The writer can change perspectives and get into the heads of several characters in the story.

If you are writing a script and looking to write the script correctly, you can’t do any of that.

If you need to key the audience in on something you either have to show it as a visual, or a character needs to say it as dialogue.

Unlike a novel, which we the reader hold in our hands and read for ourselves, the script is never seen by the viewer. The viewer only sees and hears what is taking place on the screen.

Also, unlike a novel, everything written in a script has to be written in the present tense, as the action taking place on the screen is happening in real-time whereas a novel can summarize the events that have taken place.

This can make conveying information to the audience exceedingly difficult as a screenwriter and can lead to what we call “heavy exposition”.

You ever watch a film or television show and come to a moment when it feels like a character is just telling you, the viewer, things you need to know because they’re important to the story? That’s exposition. It feels forced if not done properly.

Think of your favorite and least favorite film and television shows. What did you pick as your favorite? What did you pick as a film you hate? If you analyze things closely for a moment you’ll realize, that while you might hate or like a film because of an actor, or who directed it, you’re remembering the film as a whole based on the story it told.

If I were a betting man, I’d say that the difference between your favorite film and a movie you hate, comes down to the story, and that is all on the screenwriter and how he wrote his/her script.

Script writing has many elements to it and can take a while to learn how to do all those things correctly. It can take even longer to become good at it. But it is also one of the most rewarding writing mediums there are.

I’d like to close out by writing a little scene to show as an example of what I’ve talked about here today when it comes to writing a screenplay compared to a novel, and how you SHOW in a film and TELL in a novel.

First, we’ll write a very quick scene as if it were inside of a novel.

Novel

Mike paces the room back and forth. He’s covered in his own sweat from having just come from the gym, a place he goes every day for at least two hours.

As he paces the room, a familiar face, Jill, enters the room with him.

Jill’s face, filled with a giant smile. She looks at Mike slightly confused having not expected to see him at this moment. She’s very thankful that she decided to come to the living room by herself.

Just moments earlier, she told her boyfriend, the man she’s cheating on Mike with, to not come out to the living room with her to investigate the noises she was hearing. If he would have come with her, Mike would certainly find out about her cheating ways.

“I didn’t think you’d be here till later tonight”, said Jill. “I was feeling restless and just had to see you right now”, Mike replied.

Jill starts to get butterflies in her stomach. What could Mike need to see her right now about? Does he know she’s cheating on him? She starts to lose her smile as she waits to hear what else Mike has to say….

Now, let’s write this small scene like we would in a screenplay and not a novel. Remember, all the information we need to convey must be in visuals or dialogue to tell our story.

Screenplay

INT. HOUSE – LIVING ROOM – DAY

Mike, paces the room back and forth. He wears his gym gear, holds a large,
almost empty, bottle of water. His face covered in sweat.

He stops pacing as he sees, Jill, joining him in the room.

Jill greets him with a big smile on her face.

JILL
What are you doing here?

Jill looks slightly behind her where the bedroom door is slightly cracked. We see a
shadow on the wall moving around. Appears to be in the shape of a man.

MIKE
I was feeling restless and just had to talk to you right away.

Jill’s eyebrow slightly raises. Her smile starting to fade away.

JILL
(nervous)
About what? Is everything okay?

Mike stops pacing the room. He looks towards Jill. He goes to speak when…
he sees the shadow from inside the bedroom with his own eyes.

MIKE
I knew it!

As you can see, we wrote the same exact scene as in the novel, except we didn’t tell the audience any information. Instead, we used visuals and dialogue to tell all the important information to the audience.

We do not tell the audience that Mike has been at the gym for hours. We show that he’s wearing gym clothes, he’s sweating, and almost out of water. As the audience, we can take this information and figure out what it must mean.

Personally, this is an aspect of screenwriting that I LOVE. Finding the right way to share information with the audience. The more you learn the art of screenwriting the more creative you’ll find yourself presenting the information.

BPS 116: From Horror Indies to The Revenant with Mark L. Smith

I’ve spoken to many people in the film business over the years but today’s guest is one of the hardest working craftman I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down with. Today on the show we have screenwriter, producer and director, Mark L. Smith. If you look at his IMDB you’ll see a list of 15 projects at various stages of development. He’s come a long way from entering the Hollywood scene some 15 years ago with his fear-striking horror screenwriting and directorial debut, Séance in 2006.

Read Mark L. Smith’s Screenplays

Mark stumbled onto writing as a hobby during off-seasons at his family’s ranch where he worked after college. Self-taught, some workshops and an inventory of specs later, his path crossed Mel Gibson’s – who bought Smith’s first-ever script written in 2001.

From then onwards, he’s been credited for successful writing and producing for hits like The Revenant (2015) and Overlord (2018) and The Midnight Sky which was just released in 2020, starring the incomparable, George Clooney.

In Overload, a small group of American soldiers finds horror behind enemy lines on the eve of D-Day.

While producing his directorial debut horror, film Séance, with friend of the show and veteran producer Suzanne Lyons, Smith was also a writer on Vacancy in 2006. You will hear more in the interview of his experience navigating the world of filmmaking on both sets, as a rookie, and the village of support he received.

Vacancy follows the unfortunate adventure of a married couple who becomes stranded at an isolated motel and finds hidden video cameras in their room. They soon realize that unless they escape, they’ll be the next victims of a snuff film.

After Vacancy, many horror projects started to open up for Smith. He worked those for a while until it felt old and he had the urge to do something different. That’s when he co-wrote the revisionist western script for The Revenant with legendary director, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu.  The film was based in part on Michael Punke’s 2002 novel by the same title. You can watch the remarkable Making of documentary of The Revenant here.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, and Domhnall Gleeson, the story sets in the 1820s, where a frontiersman, Hugh Glass, sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after a bear mauling.

The twist and turns that caused delayed production of the film and its eventual success will pique your interest. The Revenant became an instant commercial and artistic success. It grossed $533 million worldwide, earned 11 Oscar nominations, 3 Golden Globe awards, and 5 BAFTA awards

Mark recently wrote The Midnight Sky that released last year, starring George Clooney. It is a screen adaptation of Lily Brooks-Dalton’s novel, ‘Goodmorning, Midnight’ which is a post-apocalyptic tale that follows a lonely scientist in the Arctic, as he races to stop Sully and her fellow astronauts from returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe.

I had an absolute ball speaking to Mark. He’s one of the hardest working screenwriters in Hollywood. We discuss everything from The Revenant, genius-level tips on how to adapt a book to the screen to what it was like work with Quentin Tarantino on the Star Trek script that has yet to be made. If you pray, please pray to the Hollywood Gods that Mark and Quentin’s Star Trek gangster film sees the light of day.

Enjoy this conversation with Mark L. Smith.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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Alex Ferrari 0:03
I'd like to welcome to the show Mark L. Smith, man. How you doing, Mark?

Mark L. Smith 0:07
Great. Thanks for having me. Alex,

Alex Ferrari 0:09
thank you so much for being on the show. Man. I am a fan of yours for a while. And, you know, we I was telling you before we started, we have a friend in common one, a friend of the show of the indie film, hustle podcast, Suzanne Lyons and anybody who's been at the IFH Academy knows Suzanne very well, because she's one of our best selling co instructors selling courses and webinars. And you guys got a little history as well if I'm not mistaken.

Mark L. Smith 0:35
Yeah, man, we go way back before God, I think before I ever had anything made, I sold a few things. But then something got to Suzanne and, and she was just so lovely. I wouldn't let her go, you know, I just hung on. And so we just, she's just the greatest. So it's, um, so we we kept finding things, trying to put little, little indie projects together and it's okay, and as hard as it is to put like a big studio movie together to get all those. It's those little indies or even tougher, you know, it's just like trying to find all the pieces, you know, because it's got to be just right.

Alex Ferrari 1:13
Yeah, absolutely. So we'll get we'll get we'll get a little deeper in the weeds on on that project in a minute. But before we get started, man, how did you get into the business?

Mark L. Smith 1:22
I stumbled into it. I actually had a right out of college. My family had a dude ranch, believe it or not in Colorado. And it was like 2000 acres surrounded by a quarter million in National Forest. And we were I mean so remote our driveway. Our entrance was a two and a half mile old stagecoach trail, literally North stagecoach trail through canyons and over creeks. And so we we would have guests come in from May until like the first of October. And it was you know, hot air balloon rides and whitewater rafting, horseback riding camps, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:56
all they like sit like cities like city slickers.

Mark L. Smith 1:58
Yeah, the same thing, just kind of a little more of a resort vibe with the tennis courts. But it was that same sort of thing where you got that rustic, they stayed in cabins, you know, and it was kind of cool. But we were only open, like five or six months a year. And so I had to figure out a way to kill those Colorado winters. And so it was, um, they were they were very long, very cold, lots of snow. And so, after about two or three years, I start actually started writing stories for my kids, little short stories. And, um, and then I realized, I've always I just loved films, I just love movies. And so it was like, well, these stories are kind of fun. I wonder if I can combine them. So I did. And I just wrote a couple things. And now this is back, man, this is you weren't emailing scripts around and everything this is this is mid 90s, you know, early 90s. And it was um, so I started playing around just during every offseason, I would try to write one or something. And then I actually went out to the asi did a workshop there. And kind of grasped the one thing that the great thing from the workshop that I remember that I took with me was the first class he said in front of all of us, Nico's, you guys all are here because you want to write a screenplay. I'm going to tell you right now, none of you are going to write a screenplay. You all think you're going to write a screenplay, you're all going to try to write a screenplay, but you're not going to finish none of you're ever going to finish. So that to me was like, I'm incredibly competitive. And everything I do is my family and friends will tell you a little too much at times. So I took that as a challenge, you know, so it was I was going to go and so I started those off seasons starting to write starting to learn to write and then I wrote a couple things that I optioned one option to a producer at Disney, and then they they got like, I would enter in the nickels. nickels. Oh, of course, of course, they still do. And so I entered and I would get a one like, each year, I would get into the nickels finals kind of thing. And so and it finally got around to enough that I I wrote a spec and sold it to, to paramount for Mel Gibson, it was the first thing that I ever did, and back in 2001 that ever sold. And so um, so from that point, it just, it was weird, because everything kind of changed. And it was, um, I was super lucky to get it to a guy who knew a guy was just like this really weird way. But it finally got to people, you know that that they were able to buy it. And so after that it kind of people started coming to me more. And so it was from that point on, I was writing steadily and all the way until I guess the first thing I got made was Vacancy. I think it was like oh six

Alex Ferrari 4:39
years or so.

Mark L. Smith 4:41
And then uh, but all during that that period of time it was just kind of nice, nice steady work and couldn't get anything quite made. I was doing a lot of dramas that people like but they were harder to get made. And so I actually the reason I wrote things like they can see your stance on that was because horror was kind of big at that time and it was like okay, I'm Ready? I've had enough fun, just selling things, you know, it's like, let's get something in, let me see it and so on. So it worked out.

Alex Ferrari 5:07
Yeah, that's the thing that i a lot of screenwriters coming up don't understand that just because a screenwriter might have one or two credits on their IMDb have produced things that has, they could be working steadily for a decade. Oh, yeah, making well, making a really good living as a writer and and in script doctoring and, and doing all sorts of things, but only get one or two things produced. And yeah, I know. So.

Mark L. Smith 5:34
It's so even the super successful like, say, a Scott frank, I love Scott Frank is just just, he's my guide as far as writers, but it was, um, you can look and you think, Oh, it's I would have thought he was busier, you know, you look through it. But what you don't know is he's doing he's doing just dozens of jobs in between each of those, you know, he's non stop, he never stops writing. And so it's a it is it's, it's, it's a little deceiving. When you just look at credit system, you know, it's like, oh, they've only they only written that one thing or two things, you know, now what?

Alex Ferrari 6:04
What fear did you have to break through to write your first screenplay, because I know when you when you sit down to write the very first one, when you kind of really are kind of clumsy? You kind of you might have read Syd field, you know, you might have read saved a cat or something. And you might have had something like, what was that thing that you'd like? I'm going to do this. I'm not I'm done. Because there obviously there was fear, there has to be fear. Any writer who looks at a blank screen, it's free

Mark L. Smith 6:29
No, there absolutely. As I tell you, what saves me. It saved me it was William Goldman and Sinfield. And the the structure aspect is, to me is invaluable. And I tell everyone I ever talked to about it structures that thing. Because you're suddenly if you're looking, if you're really into the structure of a script or film, you're not looking at a blank screen that you got to fill 120 pages with, you're looking at a blank screen that goes well, I just got to kind of get 10 to 12 before I get my inciting incident. So if I give good characters and good, you know, some fun action do that, that's 12 pages, I can do that. And then well, now I've only got like 1618 more pages, I've got my first act, you know, so I break it down. And then it's like to my, to my midpoint. And then it's like, where I'm going to turn. And I don't outline when I write I've never outlined. And so I know kind of my beginning, middle and end. But the fun for me is discovering it as I go. And so I tried outlining a couple times. And it was like, actual writing got boring, if that makes any sense. Because Well, I know what's going to happen there. You know, I already know this, it's like, I need to be I need to kind of box myself into a corner and write my way out and twists and turns. So um, so yeah, the structure kind of helped me overcome that fear of kind of just staring at that thing. And I think part of it, obviously is too stupid to know how difficult it was gonna be. Well, I mean, so because I was, like I said, I just started, I just started writing. And back then it was, you know, everything was through the through regular mail. And so I would write a script, send it off to people for to get reads. And by the time I was hearing back, I just immediately dove into the next one. And so I was writing the next one, because it was like, I didn't even care about that anymore. It's like, Okay, what did I learn from writing that script that I can use on this one, I'm gonna write this one. And then I'll say, I just kept doing it, it just got to be in such a cycle of writing that it just became really easy. You know,

Alex Ferrari 8:19
the, the thing that so many screenwriters and filmmakers in general who decide to write as well, they don't understand the absolute insanity that it is to be a screenwriter, the, the diff, the level of, of craft that you need to write a solid screenplay is so much more difficult than reading a novel so much more difficult than writing a novel, or any honestly, other than the Haiku, I think is probably one of the most difficult forms of writing invented. Is that fair? It's,

Mark L. Smith 8:48
it's funny, it's a little bit, um, it's like, to me, I look at almost like a math problem, you know, because I do fall back on the structure of it, you know, it's like, Okay, I've got to do this much in this many, this amount of number, you know, this amount of pages. So everything goes there. So then I have to fit the words and the character and, and all of that into those little, those little sections. So the math part just helps me the structure helps me but it is tricky. And people don't, don't really realize even people that are working in it every day, there was a producer on a film I was hired, went flew over to London, doing a weekly thing, they needed a quick rewrite, they were shooting immediately, and the script was in trouble. So they asked me to do it. So I, I go, and there was I had some friends that were part of it. And so I write I'm writing like crazy. And I, I they need a complete rewrite, but they needed in 10 days. And so I wrote three straight days, gave them the first like 50 pages of the script. And the producer looked at it and she said, This is great. When do I get the rest? You know, it was like, I told her I said, I feel like I'm I'm like having to teach you like you're a small child. I have to teach where babies come from, you know, it's like you don't understand the process. This is what goes into it. You know? It's so it's not as easy as just writing the words down, you know, everything affects everything. And so that was, um, so it's just everyone, you know, it's until you've done it. I mean, it's like anything, you know, it's like, I remember my kids played, played football and stuff in high school sports in high school, and I would you know, I'd be in the stands and grumbling about the coaching and the stuff and I, and then I did some little league football and I'm coaching them and it's like, oh my god, this is so hard. You got to think about everything you got to know. So until you do it, you just never know.

Alex Ferrari 10:32
Oh yeah. Oh, yeah. It's like it's it's I think the film industry, and specifically screenwriting is the only business where someone goes, Hey, I watched the movie. I think I can write that. Like, you don't go You don't you don't pass by a mansion and go, yeah, I could build that. Like, you don't do that and any other

Mark L. Smith 10:46
bridge Game and Watch the Brom play and say, Yeah, I can get out there, you know? Sure. Was that hard? No, but it is, it is funny, because everybody can write everybody has a story. And everybody, you know, so it feels and to be honest, more people could do it. If they had the time, that was the huge benefit that I had, what were those five, six months a year off where everybody else is having to work, go to their day job, do all that stuff. I was at home in the middle of nowhere, you know, and so I could just focus on and without that, I don't think I would have been able to do it. You know, it just it is so consuming and stuff. So yeah,

Alex Ferrari 11:24
it was very, it's very shining, like, very cool.

Mark L. Smith 11:29
Yeah, but no, the writing it was so much. So I figured I would write instead of grab an axe, you know.

Alex Ferrari 11:36
fair deal. I think it worked out better for you that way.

Mark L. Smith 11:39
My wife and kids were thrilled.

Alex Ferrari 11:40
Exactly. Now, how many? This is another thing? How many screenplays Did you write before you sold your first one?

Mark L. Smith 11:51
I auctioned my first one, the first thing I ever wrote out. And

Alex Ferrari 11:55
that's lucky. It's very lucky.

Mark L. Smith 11:57
Yes, very lucky. And then it came through I entered in. It was like the Nichols and the Austin heart of film and those kinds of things that they had. And so, and it was just lucky that somebody stumbled on it. So I actually like the first two or three things I wrote. And then I got a little cute, tried to do some things differently and be smarter than I really am. And so I probably wrote two or three things that I didn't so it was probably like my 76767. Yeah, Devil's kiss was it was a Western, it was a Western thriller, that I am sold to Paramount, with no this

Alex Ferrari 12:30
and that. And and the reason I ask is because I always am a proponent. And in many people that I've talked to a lot of professional screenwriters like, say you need to just write. I mean, just write as many and have as many of those screenplays in your inventory. Like you should look yourself as a business. And your inventory and your product are scripts, the more of them you have. So when you walk into a room, you're lucky enough to get into a room. I don't like this one. What do you have? What else do you have? And you bust out two or three other

Mark L. Smith 12:54
100%? Because it's so key because good writing people will find good writing, but the stories are so subjective. You know, it's like, they may like your writing, but not like that story. So it's so valuable to have those other things kind of in your pocket that it's like, like you're saying, you know, well, I do have this, you know, you never know when one of those will click so

Alex Ferrari 13:14
yeah, absolutely. So now, when you did your first movie with Suzanne, I think that was according to IMDb. At least that's the first movie that got produced on I think it's around the same year, as Vacancy.

Mark L. Smith 13:25
Yeah, I was actually bouncing back and forth between the vacancy set, and that's that they were kind of shooting at the same time. So you were directing nothing to everything. But you were directing that one was like, so I had no clue what I was doing. And I'm sitting here it was so lovely to let me do that. I mean, of course, I would never tell them that. But it was like I was following Jeff Shaft who was who was our dp and, and, and Suzanne and Kate. And they were just kind of like, okay, yeah, you probably want to you know, you move the camera here, because I knew the story. And I knew the performances, I wanted to get into stuff. And the one thing that I realized going bouncing from the vacancy set to the SAM set was we're shooting 10 to 12 pages a day on seance we're shooting half a page, sometimes on vacancy, you know, it's like you have so much more time, right? So I had to like, I remember the actors we we just rehearse on sounds rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, because I knew I was only going to have time for like two or three takes so we had to really do it quickly. And so Um, so yeah, that was it was it was a really wild year and a half or so on those two.

Alex Ferrari 14:25
Now what was the biggest lesson you learned working on Seance because that was kind of the first like you were thrown into the deep end of the pool. And I didn't know that you were jumping back and forth between Vegas he was so you could actually see the difference in budget and in between say, hey can see cuz Vegas. He was like walk back

Mark L. Smith 14:42
into that stage on Saturday and go Oh, God, here we

Alex Ferrari 14:45
go. It's just like, what I had to bring my own lunch today. Suzanne when the hell we did that I used to run.

Mark L. Smith 14:51
There was a Carl's Jr. Just around the corner for work. And I would run during breaks to get myself a sandwich because it really was like the nr Our crew was mostly film students from, I think it was the LA film school. And so that was it. There was there was a time there was a point where we were trying to use a gurney. And I'm sorry, a dolly. And we couldn't. We didn't have anybody that could that could do the dolly. So we couldn't do the shot. You mean literally

Alex Ferrari 15:19
you had a dolly, but you had no doubt, we

Mark L. Smith 15:21
had a doubt you couldn't have anybody do it. So just the DP where he's trying to figure out a way and I'm there trying to do it, but we couldn't get anything, anybody to work. We just didn't have enough people and enough stuff. And there was one day where we walked in, I walked into the set, and the stage, and I go into one of the bedrooms, the college bedrooms, which had been gray, and it was kind of I wanted this kind of dark kind of a, you know, just a plain, plain background. And one wall was yellow, the other was bright blue. The other was like red. It was like a rainbow of color. I go What the hell what happened, you know? And this guy goes, I just thought this was so great. It would make everything pop. And it was like, but no, you know, we don't. And we're shooting now in like an hour. And so there's nothing that can be done. And so now every some of the the wardrobe, were the same colors. So there were shooting scribbles there with a blue shirt against the wall. It's like we're losing. It's like, Oh, god, it's like, okay, move over to the yellow wall. It was just like, it was a learning experience for all of us. I think it's like,

Alex Ferrari 16:19
it's like you were you see those shots with people with green shirts over a green screen. And just like

Mark L. Smith 16:24
it was it was so brutal, but it was, but it was, it was fun. If nothing else, I learned it. It was it was weird. I learned I never had time to be creative on directing. So I was talking to a director once years later, and it was like, it becomes such a machine, you just have no time. So everything has to go so fast. That whereas I can sit with a script and really kind of decide what I want to do and make choices and all of this. You're locked in. You know, when you're on set, you're locked in you're you know, that's that's it. And so you're kind of all your creative stuff comes prior, you know.

Alex Ferrari 17:02
So then you're you're doing vacancy at the same time, which was a hit. It was a hit when it came out, because that spawn to sequel and did it did fairly well. Did did opportunities really start opening up after vacancy?

Mark L. Smith 17:14
Yeah, they did. Then Then I've got every every horror project, Senator, you know, it was all of those. And then I got I saw I did a couple of those kinds of things. And then well, I did a couple of those things. And then I wanted to do something different. So that's when Revenant I actually wrote, I wrote The Revenant right after they can see came out. And really,

Alex Ferrari 17:39
yeah, also, that was a script. That was Hank did. I was an old script, he was hanging around and I wrote

Mark L. Smith 17:44
it, they wanted me to do a pitch on it. And the producers had the book gave me the book, they wanted me to come out and do a pitch. And I'm just the worst at pitching. I just can't do it. I can't tell. I mean, I couldn't pitch you The Revenant. Now,

Alex Ferrari 17:58
you know, now that's done. There's a bear, there's Leonardo DiCaprio, that

Mark L. Smith 18:02
would stumble and say, well, the bear kills the guy. And then they know he's, you know, it's like, so it's it is for me, it's easier to write. So I wrote the spec, and I wrote it on spec. And then it just turned out really, you know, I got lucky, it turned out pretty well. And so we started putting it together. And we were God, it went through so many iterations It was originally I wrote it for Samuel Jackson. That's who was going to be Hugh Glass. And I ran into I ran into Sam on another set, and on another movie that I was working on. And I said, Hey, do you remember that because he sent me this great email after we read the script. He was so excited to do it and stuff. And I said, I asked him, you remember how we we used to, we were supposed to revenue together. And of course, he dropped into some of his, you know, his efforts. And you know how that went. That went didn't happen. But we went out with it with a different director. It didn't, it didn't go they wouldn't give us kind of the budget that was necessary. And so I there were so many iterations we had, we had several different directors, we have Christian Bale was on at one point, and with another director and everything, and then Leo saw draft. And then we got all 100 and 100 came in and then it kind of all started started happening. And then um, so it was it was a really long process.

Alex Ferrari 19:18
Yeah, that's something that a lot of people listening who don't know about the business don't understand is that even if it's an indie or big budget, it it just takes for ever.

Mark L. Smith 19:29
And especially what I found was especially with like, because I've done it, I've done like three things written three things for Leo. And so the great thing is is Leo and whenever he's ready to make it, anybody will make it the tricky thing is that everybody wants Leo in their movie, so he gets sent everything and so you can write these things, but there's, there's only he's only gonna make one every year or two. So you have such a small chance that you're going to be one of those ones, you know, so it took a long time like we were getting ready to go in the financing. Wolf of Wall Street came. So they did that first. And then while that was happening 100 got Birdman financing. So that kicked revenue back a little bit further. And so it was just, you're just waiting for all these kinds of things to align. And it's tricky

Alex Ferrari 20:15
It's Yeah, you got these these kind of giant, you know, solar galaxies kind of flowing around. So you got Leo is one galaxy. Alejandro is another galaxy. The project is another galaxy, and we're just trying to get everything to align properly. Because if, you know, oh, 100 got up there. And that's what people don't understand. Like, the second you get financing on something like something like Birdman for God's sakes, that's not the most box office. I got, I have to, I have to go my friend, I have to

Mark L. Smith 20:45
know that it is a little bit like waiting for like this perfect kind of three Planet Eclipse, you know, for everything to just kind of fall off. And just, it's really tough. And so, um, so you just jump on a bill, you know, just be very grateful when it does happen.

Alex Ferrari 21:00
So Alejandro comes on. And then Alejandro starts working with you on the script, as well. He starts he starts working with you and developing the script. I mean, the concept of The Revenant, you know, with is it's, it's awesome. It's based on a true story. The visuals are amazing, feels amazing, the movies remarkable. But, you know, that's, that's a tough pitch. I'd imagine that that's not an easy that's not an easy studio project in today's world.

Mark L. Smith 21:25
No, and that's why I didn't want to I didn't see any way I could pitch it. It was because, you know, I was even when I was writing because it was like yeah, there's going to be like, I'm going to write 30 pages where nobody says a word you know, and it's going to be really quiet you know in our our star leading man is gonna just get mangled you know, so you probably he's gonna look rough for most, you know, all these different things you know, it's gonna be expensive and out in the cold and and we need to shoot it you know, outdoors are no stages and, and so I knew that was that was going to be really tough and it wouldn't have gotten made without like a Leo. It just wouldn't have known then. So no, and then so and then Allah Han and Alejandro as well. You know, you had to have that combination, but all 100 after Birdman. Right? You know, with the combination of Leo that was the key.

Alex Ferrari 22:07
Yeah. Cuz after Birdman, because they both came out year after year.

Mark L. Smith 22:11
Right? Yeah, he wanted us director for both

Alex Ferrari 22:14
years in a row. And Chico was

Mark L. Smith 22:16
kind of talented. Yeah, Chico. Oh, my God. Geez. We'll

Alex Ferrari 22:18
talk about Chico in a minute. So. So you you Yeah, so he did Birdman which exploded. And it's still arguably one of the best films I've seen in the last 20 years. It's still Yeah, I just absolutely love those genius. So it's a it's at a different level. And I got to ask you, man, because you've worked with some some of the most amazing people in the business. When you're working with someone like Leo or Alejandro? I mean, they, they are at genius levels. I mean, they their crafts is, and I'm not trying to blow smoke up anybody's but but I mean, they definitely playing with a different set of cards than the rest of us in a good way. Because they're just, you don't make Birdman and The Revenant. Right after each other in that, you know, no. Feels like there's something they're playing. Yeah. So, I mean, you've worked with everybody from, you know, low budget Indies, all the way to, you know, Oscar winning guys like Alejandro and Leo, what is that? What is it like being in the room? Not to say that you're not part of that group as a genius as well. So you have done some amazing work

Mark L. Smith 23:27
over the corner

Alex Ferrari 23:28
with the writers, but the writers generally are often

Mark L. Smith 23:34
a little stupid is that's expected. But it's no, the, the thing with 100. He's, and then you combine with chivo. And what they do, because we're working on the script, and we do something like we can pull that one off, you know, we can't really do this. And this because mark, you know, I can do this. Just let me watch. And so so it and it always worked every time that I bought, you know, there's just no way he's gonna be able to pull off that shot and make it visible in there. But he did it and antiva did it. And so and that and then Leo's performance, and especially coming off of I mean, you kind of look at you know, all 100 did Birdman and then Revenant and then Leo just did just did Wolf of Wall Street where he's just rat a tat tat with a dialogue and everything's over the top. He's doing good. And then he does The Revenant, which is all just kind of expression and so quiet and everything that I mean, when you can pull that off. I mean, again, like you said, they're just on a different level. And so it was so fun. I just, I just was on go up on set and just watch them up in Canada. It was like, this is like an all you know, but you

Alex Ferrari 24:36
were on set. So you were on set for a bunch of it. Yeah,

Mark L. Smith 24:38
it was just a as a tourist, sometimes I would go it need a little we didn't change and he had it so heavily rehearsed, that everybody knew every move. And so there was really no changing of the script. But he would say I need some background dialogue here. Can you give me something that's going to happen there so I go to the trailer and do that. But the rest of the time. I'm just standing there watching them work and it was it was just amazing. Like I said, I just I felt like I learned so much just by seeing those guys what they could do.

Alex Ferrari 25:07
And I mean, I saw that documentary that they did about the making of that Alejandro was on and I mean, it looked like hell, man. I mean that that's a hellish, hellish shoot like,

Mark L. Smith 25:19
I mean, there was there was a time I was thinking there was a scene where Leo's hang up the Rockies trying to fill a canteen after he's kind of drug itself to the river. And it is so cold up there. I mean, I've got gloves and hat and and he's laying there on the side of the river and he's filling this canteen is his elbow deep in the water. And, and

Alex Ferrari 25:37
it's not Hollywood, and it's not Hollywood water. It's real.

Mark L. Smith 25:40
This is this is Canadian, Rocky, right? He's there and they would shoot Alejandro would shoot different angles until he was just shivering so much that they'd have to stop and then put him in the suit with a with, like blow dryers heaters that would then heat him up inside the suit and he's doing doing eating soup, and then they'd go do it again. And then they do it to the shivers then pull them out and do it. I told him, I walked up to him one day, and I go and this is the only time in my life that I'm glad I'm not Leonardo Decaprio, you know, it's like, it was the most brutal thing. Again, stuff you don't really realize that actors go through, you know, and so it's not all just let's hang out in the trailer to we shoot this thing. And um, he was super, he never complained. There was never one time that he like moaned and bitched and groan or anything, he was just like, he's just the best it just, he's there to do his job and do you know, give the director exactly what they're looking for?

Alex Ferrari 26:31
I remember I remember someone saying the commentary for for God's sakes, somebody give Leonardo DiCaprio the Oscar before he kills himself? Like everything

Mark L. Smith 26:41
I mean, you know, Alejondro would ask you to do it. You know, it's like, you know, Leo just called God now, really, but he would do it.

Alex Ferrari 26:48
And, you know, he's an intense figure. I mean, he's he without question. He's an intense director, not in a bad way. But he has, he has a vision, he has a presence about him. You know, I've had him I've had I've had the pleasure of meeting Guillermo a couple times. And he has that kind of different energy, different energy completely, but has that presence and those those kind of directors, I mean, when you're going to make the revenue you you've kind of be a general like, you can't, you can't lollygag around you can't show any week. I mean, you're in jail during the year badly that elements and Yeah,

Mark L. Smith 27:23
everybody, you know, it is like your army is miserable. You know, they're looking, you know, you're you're trying, you're looking for deserters at that point, you know, because it is so brutal. And that and it's it's long and it's cold, and it's hard. And so um, he had it, he had a cool thing that he would do, he had this chime that would go off the same time, every afternoon. And when that time would hit everybody would just even if they're, you know, they would time it. So they weren't in the middle of a shot. But every but if it was pre shot for everything, everybody would stop. No, no one would say a word. Everybody kind of just look around, get get get a feel for nature, kind of, you know, remember what we're doing and stuff and then boom, go back into it. And everybody was ready. And it was every day. And it was really cool.

Alex Ferrari 28:04
That's an that's an interesting technique. I mean, it's just kind of like, because you can get caught up in the not only the minutiae, but just, you know, when you're in the battle, it's tough to just go, Dude, look where we are, look what we're doing. Take a second to breathe. That's it. Yeah. So and that's,

Mark L. Smith 28:20
I think he did it for everyone, because he knew he needed it as well. I think it was very helpful to him because he is so intense, you know, and it is, you know, there are directors that will go and it's just the job. It's it's more than the job for a hunter. Of course, this is life and death, you know, and so he's, it's, it's important. It's funny, because I did something with gamma as well, we wrote a script with him, and they couldn't be more different. You know, no, come on. You know, it's so funny. And they're good friends and everything, but they are completely different. And both so amazingly talented stuff in their own ways, but it's just yet very different.

Alex Ferrari 28:55
And how was it writing with Alejandro? Like, I mean, bringing that energy because you're pretty much a loan writer from your credits, like you generally don't partner with?

Mark L. Smith 29:03
No, I don't. And it was, I wasn't sure. But we got in it was it was kind of fun, because we would each write things that he wanted to tweak and change. I would write my 10 pages, he would write his 10 pages, and then we would trade you know, he'd send me his I'd send him mine. And then we would, you know, discuss which one was, you know, we'd have an argument about which was better, you know, and he always won. Which is, you know, that's what he should have, but it was, um, but it was, it was fun, because I got to kind of see storytelling through his eyes in a different way. And also, you know, not just kind of like the lens kind of thing, but also how the character stuff and everything that he would do now, it's funny because we made one big change that my draft of The Revenant was much more of a kidnapping. There was no Hawk there was no sun, in mind, oh, really, in your mind, the sun you actually opened with the, you see the hands of a little boy and a father and they're carving this star in To the wooden stock of a hunting rifle, and you hear the boy coughing and stuff, and you know he's sick, you're getting just a couple words of dialogue. And then there's a splinter in little boy's hand and it gets a couple drops of blood bleed into the star of the rifle. And you kind of go into the grain, you know of that rifle. And then when you pull back out, we're with Hugh as Leo now, and this age old, battered rifle and everything. So my story was when after when Fitzgerald leaves, leaves glass to die, he hadn't killed anyone, he took his rifle. And so we took the last piece of his son, he The last thing that glass had of his son. So it wasn't my story wasn't as much of a revenge to get to get Fitzgerald for that it was he just wanted his his son back. And so it was literally just to get his hands on the rifle. So it was a little different takes. So that was the one big change, I think, in the, in the two versions, and everything else, kind of more nuances, you know?

Alex Ferrari 30:54
Yeah. And that's, I mean, to be honest, either one seems to work

Mark L. Smith 31:00
fine about his version, you know, no, no, it is, it's just it's like, if you want to go really hit somebody hard with the reason for revenge, or if you want it to be something that is more, you know, a little more subtle, and I do tend, I tend to be subtle, even in, you know, in dialogue, it's like, I don't want to say anything on the nose, just like, let me take a few extra lines or a couple extra scenes to get stuff across. You know,

Alex Ferrari 31:23
now, I have to ask me, because when Chivo got involved, yes, when you start seeing this footage, come back. I mean, it's unlike, it's really unlike anything that had been shot the camera was pretty much I think only that if I'm not mistaken, was a fairly new sensor, new everything, I saw some behind the scenes shots of how they did it, you know, with these giant, you know, giant silks across the forest. I mean, like,

Mark L. Smith 31:49
yeah, it was all natural lighting. So we would have just that little window, you know, two or three hours on some days where there was light to shoot, you know, and so it was, so that's why I was so critical. They did the, all the rehearsing and everything, because they knew they didn't have any time to waste. And so um, no, and then to watch to stand there and watch them shoot, and then go watch the dailies, and they had a nice theater that we'd go to and watch the dailies and to see what was coming out of it what Shiva was, you know, what I was seeing compared to what Shiva was finding, he was like, Oh, my God,

Alex Ferrari 32:18
yeah, yeah, cuz, because we were on set. I know, he was insane. But like when you're seeing like, what, what they're shooting and you're just like, there's no light. I mean, it's an exposure, or is this gonna work? Because To the untrained eye, not knowing who chivo is, and not knowing what the heck's going on in the camera, in the sensor in the lens and all that stuff. It looks like it's amateur hour, there's no lights, there's nothing like there's no even

Mark L. Smith 32:42
flags. And it was so funny, because if you walk down there, it was along a river you walked way. I mean, you drove forever, then you'd walk there to like that. The first attack scene where the the Native Americans came in, and it was, like, you walk back in time, and everything looks so real. And there were so many layers for hundreds of yards, there would be extras, walking across getting water doing this. And if one of those people timed it wrong, which happened, all the horses would race through, we'd get some attack stuff. And it was like, Wait a second, that person that no one's ever going to notice, you know, was out of place, we start over again, you know, and so it was just my god, it was just amazing to watch.

Alex Ferrari 33:23
So then once The Revenant comes out, everyone just loses their mind. How was it? You know, Oscar night? You know, again, it gets what was it? How many nominations? Like 11 nominations or something

Mark L. Smith 33:35
like that? I don't even know a lot. Yeah. whirlwind.

Alex Ferrari 33:38
It was. So what is that like being in the center of a storm like that? Because you're just like, I'm assuming you're just holding on for the ride at this time. Yeah.

Mark L. Smith 33:44
Alejandro and I just had to do we went from New York would fly to New York to LA and back, I guess, just doing a bunch of Q and A's. And so it was just he and I and it was it was just a whirlwind. And it was so much fun. And it was, you know, we did a lot of it before, like, after it came out. But before the you know, before there was we did a bunch of stuff before it ever premiered. So we knew how much we liked it. But it was still such a different film. You know, it was kind of a, an action film. But it was an art arthouse film a little you know, so

this, you know,

Alex Ferrari 34:15
it's an art house studio. It's like an art house studio

Mark L. Smith 34:18
film. It really was. It's so it's like, you know, we weren't positive of the reaction, you know, so whenever we got the reaction, I remember the night it opened. And we're all texting and emails and, and new Regency is sending the fox or sending the box office stuff throughout Friday night of what the you know, this is it and it's gonna be this we were like, Oh my god, you know, it was so much more than we expected. So it was it was great from from both into the commercial and artistic kind of sides. It was nice. It was. Yeah, very, very lucky. It was funny because the the title, everybody wanted to change the title at the beginning because they It was like, No, nobody knows what The Revenant means. You know, it's like, let's get something that's simpler and everything but now The Revenant you know, I remember years ago seeing it be thrown around on Saturday Night Live, you know, somebody's giving someone the nickname of the revenue. It's like, it's kind of cool, you know? gonna hang around for a while. Oh, no, you

Alex Ferrari 35:10
know when you hear the word The Revenant you just think bear attack. If you just think Leo and eating, did he eat this? He ate the salmon Dendi.

Mark L. Smith 35:19
Yeah, he did that he actually ate up real liver. He ate a buffalo liver, or I think it was a cow liver. And that one thing and then threw up immediately after the camera stopped. It was just rough because he was vegan. I can't remember he did. It was really crossing a line for all hunter to get him to do it. But he got him to do it. Jesus

Alex Ferrari 35:39
Christ, Matt. Yeah. Now you've adopted a couple of books. As you as you as The Revenant. Do you have any tips on how to adapt a book to the screen? Because I know that's a lot of everyone's looking for IP, everyone's looking for existing intellectual property and kind of things to write scripts about, is there a way that you approach adaptive adaptation?

Mark L. Smith 36:00
Yeah, I find I do the things that there's whether it's theme or character, or world something about it, pulls me in, and I never really go. I don't follow the story, the structure of the novel always, it's like, it's like, I find the character and then I kind of go my own route with it. And so it's, it's a tricky thing. I mean, I love I always feel like it's cheating a little bit, you know, after writing so many originals. It's like, God, when you can adapt something, it's like everybody's doing all the heavy lifting for you, you know,

Alex Ferrari 36:35
it's a play, you're playing at that point.

Mark L. Smith 36:37
Oh, yeah. And it's, you're just finding the stuff that you love, and then using it and building off of it. And so, I don't know that I think I approached it a little differently than most. So I'm not sure I'm the best person to give advice, because I don't follow. I just don't i don't jump in where the novel starts, you know, and I don't ever do that, even with, even with The Revenant, we took on a micropump, the authors, a friend of mine, and it was we just took little tidbits, you know, and then and my first draft was was a little more loyal, close to it. The second one distance itself a little bit more, but it's just you, you kind of find the stuff that you love, you know, in a novel, and then, um, and the stuff that works, and then you you go with it.

Alex Ferrari 37:16
So basically, that's the thing, a lot of times screenwriters will look at a book and be like, Oh, well, it's not exactly like Harry Potter. Like, you know, you missed that part. Like you can't, it's you can't do an adaptation like that, because then it's gonna be a mini series at that at that point, or eight hours, or 10 hours worth of stuff. So your approach, and I think the best adaptations is they take the best of the of the, of the novel in that form, and turns it into a new plot a new a new format, because it is a brand new story, new format, everything

Mark L. Smith 37:44
it is, and there's so many things, I actually just ran into this on this. Another thing I was adapting. There's so many things in a novel that you can get away with little cheats, little things that visually, you can say something's happening on the page. But if it's on a screen, it's like, wait, no, that's not right. That doesn't work, you know, or a cheat in a plot that a plot hole that you go in? Well, I read three days ago, when I was reading, you know, the first 30 pages that that happened, this shouldn't have, you can't do any of that in a movie. So you have to you have to fix those. So there there are some novels that I have loved and wanted to adapt. But they had holes like that they had things like that, that I couldn't figure out a way to get around it cinematically, so I just didn't do them.

Alex Ferrari 38:26
Yeah. Now, you said you said something a little earlier in regards to on the nose dialogue? Do you have any advice on dialogue? And how to how, because you have some very realistic dialogue in your scripts? How do you how do you approach dialogue?

Mark L. Smith 38:39
I tried to my one thing is never answered the question. Somebody asked, you know, it's like, if you if someone asks, is the sky blue? You don't say yes, you know, you would say the sky is blue, but not not like it was yesterday, when the you know, when the storm was here or set, you know, what had just blown through or something that leads to something else, you're always every line of dialogue should kind of be telling you something about the person that is speaking it, you know, and the events and what's going on, you just want to you want to get that feeling. Because that's how people in real life, you know, they don't, you just everything isn't just a ba, ba ba back and forth. It's like things, things flow, you know, and you kind of get off tangent, and you get back and you find your ways. And, you know, it's um, it's essentially, I'll throw another name, name drop on you again. So I was doing the Star Trek with with Quentin Tarantino. And so he and I are working on that together. And when we're talking about he's writing this dialogue scene that I've written, and then he writes it. And it's like, Oh, my God. I thought I was like, didn't want to be straightforward with anything. So I'm kind of flowing over here. And then he does this thing, which is now five pages longer than my scene was. And he's going all out here and he's touching on stuff. That's way over here. And then he comes back over. And it was just beautiful. It was just so wonderful and so funny. And so it's like, he just, again, you're talking about someone that sees stuff. Oh, well, normal humans, you know. And so. And I say that, you know, reverence. It's, but it, he's just that guy. And so he's really good at not just being straightforward with that, you know? So yeah, clearly. And so that that's to me is that you just kind of, you want to take your time, don't rush, don't rush to feed information, don't just deliver information through exposition and everything, you, you just want to you want to have conversations and then let the stuff come out in conversations this did this thing we're just selling, it's a TV show with Benedict Cumberbatch. And I've got these two strangers that kind of meet in Europe. And they're each asking questions about each other, just having a conversation, but neither one ever gives a straight answer. So you, by the end of it, you kind of know where they're coming from, but you don't really know any details about either one, they're still missed your mysteries to each other. And that's, I think, is is important, you don't want to, you just don't want to know who everyone is, you know, in the first 510 minutes, because then it's like, Okay, I'm just gonna follow this guide, then it then it all comes down to and I build everything from character anyway. But if you if you do that, if you feed everybody, if you've given everybody, the audience what they need to know, in the first 10 minutes of a character, then it's like, you're now you're relying on explosions or actions, or whatever, you know, it's just, you're not really getting into the twists and turns of character. And that to me is like that. That's the fun.

Alex Ferrari 41:39
So that was I was gonna ask you, because I always ask screenwriters Do they? Do they start with plot or character. And I know they obviously need both. But some, some writers focus on the plot much more than the character but I always say is my personal experience in it. And I've talked to a lot of writers about this is like, when you think of a movie that you've loved. Rarely do you remember, it's like, Man, that plot was amazing. I mean, you could say that the sixth sense, like Sixth Sense was such a strong plot that right, that that's what you remember from it, but that was like that, yeah, but generally, like Indiana Jones, like I kind of, I kind of remember Raiders of Lost Ark, I vaguely remember Temple of Doom, because not one of my favorites. But then I vaguely remember, Last Crusade, like I get the general plot, but what I remember is Indian, his father and Last Crusade, like that's what, that's what you connect to?

Mark L. Smith 42:32
Or are short, rounded moments, right? It's moments and moments come from character, you know, unless you're in a Michael Bay film, you know where it's like. But it is it's so unique characters, everything. Like I said, I always start off with the beginning, middle end, just two lines. So I know kind of where I'm headed. And then when I my character, I start building the character, normally that middle will change, you know, what's gonna, what I thought was gonna happen at the middle no longer happens, because this character decided to do something else. And so the ending is, usually I'm going to get to the same ending at some point, you know, it, that doesn't vary as much, but it's all about, it's all about the character and where they're taking you, you know, and it's a reason why I'm not, I can't really pitch because I can't, I can't write, I don't know what I'm going to write, you know, I don't know who this character is going to be. I can't tell you like in a TV show, I can't tell you what he's going to be doing in Episode Five yet, you know, I've got to get him to the pilot. And, and there was one time I was first starting out the only time I ever pitched it was a job I really wanted. And I had a week to get ready. And so I sat down and I wrote the script. And I just plowed out the script, 111 pages or something, whatever it was. And then I wrote a pitch from the script that I'd written. And that's what I pitched. And so that's the only way I can do it, I have to actually write it.

Alex Ferrari 43:54
And fill on what you said something really interesting. And I've heard this said so many times, and I've read it in so many books, is that a lot of times writers like Stephen King and some, you know, prolific writers, they'll say this, this comment where like, all the character took me somewhere, or the character decided to do something. And I know a lot of writers listening, I get where that that statement comes from. Because as a writer, I see kind of words, certain things kind of start flowing. But I want to hear your opinion on like, what does that actually mean? Because for some for some people who are starting to write, let's say they start off with Indiana Jones like, well, where does Indiana Jones go? How is Indiana Jones talking to me? Like I think quitting says it he's like, I just let them I'm just addict. What is it a dictator, not dictator, um, court reporter Yeah, yeah, yeah. A court reporter between two I'm like, that sounds great. Quinten but for the rest of us, mortals. How does that work? Like I'm sure you know, Mr. Mr. Blonde, and Mr. Black are talking. That's fantastic. You know, but like, how like, I just want to know from your point of view, and being inside of that space in your own writing, how does that work?

Mark L. Smith 45:03
It is it's so weird. It's, um, it's like he said, it's these guys are talking, and I'm hearing them and I'm saying it, like my wife will say, I heard you, I heard these lines, you know, the dialogue, she's walking past. And it's like, because I don't even realize I'm saying them out loud, you know, and it's, I'm just doing it and it's you, they just, they do they speak to you and they change. It's like I just this one thing, I just sold it. In the in the first 10 minutes, this guy, this man and woman they meet, and you think they're gonna be this great, this this love stories can be wonderful. And then boom, there's just this like tragic death. It's kind of in a thriller action thing. And by it's a TV show, so near the end of the pilot, she dies. And that's the way it was all planned, that's whales all written. I liked her character so much, and they were so good together, that it was like, okay, we're not going to kill her now, you know, we're gonna change this, because she, she just did things that became so important. And she became such a part of the story that we never intended, I never intended that now, she is kind of the second lead in the show. So she's gonna, you know, it's all gonna work out. So that's, I guess, again, the thing that I say, I don't like to outline don't, I don't want to get too locked in, I would always recommend that to be flexible. You know, just because this is the way you thought you were gonna do it when you started. Don't Don't lock yourself into that, because there's so many moves that can be made. And, and if you find, if, as you're writing, and you find something that wow, this feels like it's really working, and I really like it, that means it's really work. And it's probably good, you know, so keep going, keep that person. If that dynamic, you need those two people to really make it work, then don't get rid of the one person. And so um, so there's, there's all that stuff in and characters again, they just, they evolve, and they write I mean, the way I write is I write as many pages as I can in a day. And then when before I start the next day, I go back and I read all the pages that I wrote the day before, and then I kind of change and I tweak and I do all that stuff in those, those first pages. And I keep going that way. So I'm always rewriting. And like, if I just stuck on page 40, I'll go back to page one, and read all the way through and start making changes. And I just keep doing it.

Alex Ferrari 47:15
So that's kind of so so in your writing process on a daily basis, you let's say you write 20 pages, the next day, you'll you'll come and read those 20 pages, and it's almost kind of like a runway to get you going to the next gen like Dodge, as opposed to just starting cold. Pick it up. Exactly.

Mark L. Smith 47:31
I'm already now Okay, I'm with them. I'm with the journey. Now. It's like I'm going I've got momentum. And so it's like, I just keep going and, and it's a quick read, you know, because you know what's going to happen and stuff, you're just kind of seeing if everything is flowing, and if you bump on anything, and then if not you just like you said to run what you just take off.

Alex Ferrari 47:46
And when I'm writing, you know, when I was writing my my nonfiction and fiction books, I do the exact same thing. Sometimes I'll get caught. And I'm like, Where do I? Where do I go from it? Let me just reread this chapter. And you just start back and it just all of a sudden, oh, there it is. And it just, it's kind of like you're picking up a signal or radio signal almost like your channel.

Mark L. Smith 48:05
Yeah, a little beacon back there, you know that you get Okay, and then I got that now I can go but it is true, there are those little things that that you've put in this first sections that you knew were going to take you to the next ones, you just sometimes have to remind yourself, you know, and just see them again.

Alex Ferrari 48:18
Now another thing and I would love to hear your point because you've you've sold a lot of scripts, you've been working in the business for a long time. When and I'm sure you probably did this originally because if not, you wouldn't have sold your first scripts or options your first scripts with the the way that the script is formatted. I've always heard that you people want to see a sea of white, they want to see as much white as possible not as not a lot of description not a lot of black. Unless and obviously dialogue to a minimum unless you turn into you know, which then you do whatever you want. That's a whole other that's another thing. And then also before I'm gonna just go sign off for a second people are always use quit and Shane Black Sorkin you know, Kaufmann these kind of giants in the screenwriting space and they're like, well, we'll quit and does this and and I was reading a quitting script the other day and there was some grammar grammatical errors. And I always tell them, dude, he could he could misspell every word. And it's still gonna get sold. He's at that place.

Mark L. Smith 49:18
That's that's so that's so exactly right. I mean, you just you don't ever pattern the way you're going to do things the way off you know Tarantino or stalking, you know, it's just you're not gonna be able to and right it's you you do want my thing is always I tried to be as sparse with words. I get very descriptive in my in my action. The because the short

Alex Ferrari 49:43
though but short

Mark L. Smith 49:45
Yeah, it's short, but it's I want people to know I it's like you get one shot at reads and read in a screenplay can be kind of a cold read. You know, it's like it's not. They aren't the warmest emotional thing. So I do add flavor I do. Mine's a little different. There. was an executive at Paramount once that told me that, you know, she got a script without a title page. And she started reading and she knew it was mine, because it was the way it was written and a lot of haze a lot of ellipses and I just, I go, and I continue action and then a lot of dialogue, and I'm, I'm doing action down here and, and I space it out, but I want people to, I want people to really invest, you know, because I've got him for a read. And if I have him for 10 pages, if I don't have after 10 pages, if I don't have him for those 10 I don't have them, you know, and so it's like, you've got to be you want to you want to pull them into the story. And sometimes you just, you know, the description for me helps it more than the dialogue, you know, you can, that was what I was gonna say on some of the ones that I, I kind of got off my path I got early on, I got real, I thought, well, I've kind of figured out the structure and all this, I'm going to get super cute on dialogue. And every single person is going to have all these really snappy lines, and it's going to sound great, and people are gonna love me and think I'm so clever. And what it was, was, every character sounded exactly the same. And they were all annoying, you know, it was just like, oh, enough, enough of the cue banter, you know, and so you just, you don't want to do that you you just want to, again, keep people keep people authentic, you know, keep keep, you know, keep them real.

Alex Ferrari 51:15
Now you you've written a handful of horror scripts and thriller esque scripts in your in your day. In your opinion, what makes a good terrifying film? Or script? Is there an element or a couple elements that you feel? Yeah,

Mark L. Smith 51:31
I mean, you need that kind of cool hook on a horror script, you know, that it's something, you know, like a vacancy where it's like, they know, they're going into the hotel and their cameras, you know, and now, you know, it's gonna be a snuff film. It's weird.

Alex Ferrari 51:44
It's a terrifying concept. Because we've all i think that's another thing, if you feel like you've been there, or are going to be there, like, Look, if there's a giant shark coming after you like, chances are, I'm not going to be that's not gonna happen to me, right. But if but going into a motel on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere,

Mark L. Smith 52:00
a lot of people have done that. Airbnb now or whatever, you know, you don't really know where they are. So that to me was that you get a hook, and it's a hook that people can relate to. And then it goes, everything goes back for me to the characters, you have to then build characters that you care enough about that the audience will care enough about that it matters, whether they get through it or not, you know, that you're rooting for them that because if they're people that you don't care, you might get some jumpscares out of or whatever, but you're not going to be really an audience won't be tense, they won't be frightened. Because they don't really care what happens, you know, the fate of the characters and so that it's it's you just have to you have to write you know, characters that people want, you know, want to love want to protect.

Alex Ferrari 52:41
Yeah, cuz if you think of Well, I mean, the exorcist. I mean, Jesus. I mean, like, that's one of the I mean, you want you want you want to save that little girl.

Mark L. Smith 52:50
Yeah, that's it. I

mean, so that's it so often, that's really what it comes down to. And I mean, any great you know, any great story is really about you just want the people to be okay at the end of it. I mean, if if it's like a thriller, man on fire denville you know, and so we've got a fan, which is just, I just love that film. But these guys these two characters that you care so much about, you know, his journey, and then this little girl in that relationship, and then all the other stuff that happens you're just so tense because you're not tense because the guns are firing, you know, you're not tense, because the cars are flying around. You're tense because the people you care about are in the car or getting shot, you know, and so, it's always you just always have to remember characters is the key.

Alex Ferrari 53:32
Yeah, I mean, you look at you look at something and everyone listening on the show knows that's one of my favorite scripts of all time, Shawshank. I mean, it's all about Tyler Hunter, because it's just, it's, it's about you know, a guy who's been thrown in jail and it's in that what is in the 40s 30s 40s something like that. Yeah, 4050s or something like that takes place. And it's you know, it's a horrible name. Let's I mean, if you think The Revenant was a rough sell, I mean, Shawshank Redemption is even more. But it's all about you. You follow? You know, Andy dufrane you following red? You? It's all about character. The plot is fantastic. Don't get me wrong. Yeah.

Mark L. Smith 54:11
No, it's I feel like it's a near perfect film. I just hate that movie. And it's everything about it. The world the character, you know, and even the stuff you know, that that was, I know was written into that because i've you know, I've read the script and the stuff that you think is just a director's choice, but it was on the page, you know, the, the vibe of what this place feels like and what these guys were, you know, no, it's it's wonderful.

Alex Ferrari 54:36
It's Frank. It's a fab. Frank is Frank. Okay. He does okay. Yeah,

Mark L. Smith 54:40
yeah. I think he's gonna make

Alex Ferrari 54:42
i think i think he's, I think he's gonna make it is gonna be fine. Yeah. That your latest film that just got released a little bit ago, the midnight sky. How did you get involved with that in George Clooney?

Mark L. Smith 54:52
It was I got my manager found the book. It was just this kind of little thing. So I'll book review on it and he sent it To me, and, and I didn't read it for a long time, I was really busy. And I said, I don't think so and everything. And so I slipped it to my daughter, and who she and I actually wrote a script together this shooting summer, but but so she said, she said, You need to read this because you're gonna want to do it. And so and she was right. So I read it and loved the characters loved the setup. And then knew I was gonna change certain things, again, kind of like we're talking about it, it was I, I grabbed hold of, of kind of a core there and then want to do my own thing with it. And so I wrote the script, we sold it to Netflix, just the pitch. I didn't pitch Luckily, but my producers are really good talker. So he loves Netflix. So I wrote it, and then it came out. Okay, and we sent it. We were looking for directors, but we were also thinking about the character of Augustine and who we could get we kept thinking about cloning, we thought well, who's a director that could, you know, that could get George and we didn't think George

Alex Ferrari 56:05
Lucas was the director who could get George George George could get George.

Mark L. Smith 56:10
But, um, so we did, yes. So we sent it, it got to him more for the acting part of it. And then he read it and said, No, but you know, I'd really like to direct it. So there were a few different directors that we're trying to get at that point. And we just loved the, the Clooney package. So we, we we did that. And it came together like incredibly fast. And probably God, three months after I wrote it, it was in pre production, it was like super fast.

Alex Ferrari 56:35
I mean, I remember when when George came out with his first when his first directorial film, the one about the Gong Show guy confessions of vessels of dangerous, dangerous, but I was so blown away by his, by his take his his choices, as a director, he doesn't get as much credit for the directing, because his persona, and his acting is so locked, that shadow is so large that the directing almost gets swallowed up. But man is accomplished director, man really so good.

Mark L. Smith 57:06
There's like an ease to it, which I think is, is sometimes people don't appreciate what the effort that goes into it also is acting as well. No, just is amazing. He makes it look so easy. That it's it is um, you know, it's not always appreciated. But, um,

Alex Ferrari 57:19
and how is it? How is it collaborating with him?

Mark L. Smith 57:22
It was great. It was really great. I mean, it was it was nice, because he loved the script. And he didn't, he didn't want to do a lot to it, you know, like some directors and then he made some tweaks. The biggest changes, I think, we ended up going because Felicity Jones turned out to be pregnant, she, she wasn't pregnant when she was cast. And so the character, her character, Sally was this kind of loner who never wanted a relationship. And everything that we'd built was this idea that she was she was traveling to space and stuff. So she would never have to settle at home and actually have a relationship with another human being. So now suddenly, we had our our character was that and now she's pregnant. And it's like, Wait,

Alex Ferrari 58:00
does that happened? immaculate? conception.

Unknown Speaker 58:05
It's different movie.

Alex Ferrari 58:07
That's a whole nother movie. immaculate conception and space. Somebody pitched that pitch that right now. That's ours. Yeah.

Mark L. Smith 58:17
But it um, so. And then. So George was in London when it happened. And, and he goes, Okay, we've got to make some changes. And I was over here in the States. And so he and Grant Heslov who they've written so much stuff together, I mean, nominee for Oscars and stuff, so they know exactly what they're doing. So they ended up working in the pregnancy angle, I didn't, I didn't do that one. And so the stuff that happened on the ship changed a lot because it became so much more about her pregnancy, because that was such a part of the story, that other stuff that was kind of built in for conflict, and everything kind of lost that. But um, but it was a trade off in some ways, because it was, it probably worked to some advantage, because there was maybe a little more of an emotional thing, because now it's like, you know, there's a child that you're kind of protecting for the future. Also, it's not just a bunch of adults on

Alex Ferrari 59:02
there. It's, it's fantastic. That's it. I mean, you have had a heck of a ride so far. Mark, I have to say,

Mark L. Smith 59:09
I know. And it's fun because it's enabled. I just get to work with this the best you know, it's just really talented people. And it's like all these people that are kind of, you know, walkthrough just watching their films and stuff. And now to be able to actually kind of interact with them and stuff. It's and work with them is really cool. I'm incredibly lucky.

Alex Ferrari 59:28
Yeah, it's and that's what I was gonna I was thought we were going to talk about earlier is there isn't a matter of luck for this. But the thing is, there's no question because there's a there's 1000 other screenwriters who are really good writers. But the differences I feel with is luck, helps once you've prepared for it. And once you you need to help it along. And then certain things kind of like the character in a story. It starts to Miranda but you've got to give it that that push that fuel. Yeah, that's what's writing constantly and getting all Those scripts out and, and putting yourself out there. And that's when these things happen. Because if you don't write those scripts, chances of anyone knocking on you don't go, Hey, can you write a script for Alejandro? and forgot? George? Like, that doesn't work that much. Yeah.

Mark L. Smith 1:00:16
I always took it like the old, you know, the old good fishermen, you know, good guys a lot of lines, you know, yeah. And, you know, you're not gonna, you know, you're probably not gonna get a bite with one. But if you throw out 10 or 12, you thought we cast out those many hooks, then you just your odds increase. And so it's luck. But it's also kind of perseverance is kind of just not never stopping. You know, it's never, like I said, if you if you write one, and then just hand it off, and hope, you know, for the best and, man, if I, you know, I should be lucky enough to get that it's not gonna you know, it's not gonna happen. You've got it, you've got to keep going. Because not only are you increasing your chances for luck, but you're increasing your chance, you're increasing your skill, you're getting better so that the, the fifth sixth one is going to be better than the first one, no matter how much you love the first script. The fifth one's always gonna be better, you know? And so it's just the way it is you everybody gets better when they you know, use the muscles,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:07
and then and also work on a dude ranch, obviously, yeah, that

Mark L. Smith 1:01:12
was one of the things that I one of my early scripts was all on a dude ranch and so did that. But

Alex Ferrari 1:01:16
that gets old did that gets old, it got optioned.

Mark L. Smith 1:01:19
It did never come later. So yeah, so. But it is one of those things that also helps to write what you know. Yeah, I was gonna say that. Yeah. Because, um, it's, it's one reason that I, I've always kind of stayed away from sci fi. So I'm, I'm not, I don't really know, I don't love writing technology technologies. I've always found if I bring into story, I use it as a cheat. You know, it's like, I want people to have to deal with their own emotions and their own conflicts and their own stuff. And I don't want to have to be able to use technology to get in and out of stuff. And I know other great writers smarter than me can use it well, but it was even like on Star Trek, whenever I told a told witness. It's like I I'm not a Star Trek guy. You know, I'm not a big sci fi guy. I know the characters. And I like the relationships and all this and I know about it, but he goes, don't worry about that. I'll take care of all the, you know, the big sci fi stuff and everything. Would you do that? And so you kind of find what you know, when you write what you know, don't try, especially when you're starting out, don't try to try to write something that doesn't feel like a fit. Because if it feels clumsy, it's probably gonna be clumsy at first, you know, just kind of build build up to that.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:20
And I have to ask, because I know, I'll get shot if I don't. How did you get involved with quitting and Star Trek? Like how? Because I've heard of the, I've heard of this, this story in town that, you know, Quinn's gonna make a Star Trek movie and he's writing a Star Trek movie. And it's going to be whatever, like pulp and fiction and space. I don't know. But so how did you and generally couldn't doesn't work with other writers? He generally is a lone wolf like yourself. How did that work? How did you guys get together?

Mark L. Smith 1:02:45
It was it was through JJ Abrams. And so it's through Bad Robot. I've done a few things with them. And so they always they kind of bring me stuff. It was like they had a tough script. Guillermo del Toro that they that he was on and so I worked on that with with him I worked on and then with Edgar Wright on a script with for JJ and stuff, which was another I mean, completely different experience, but just as much fun. But, but Tara Tino was like, he wanted to do this. And then we so we all gather in your room, and we talked about the ways in and so after that, he they just called me it was like the day later and said, Hey, are you up for Do you want to go? And if so, you know, quitting wants to wants to hook up. So I said, Yeah, sure. So and that was were like, one of the first times I ever I guess it was the first day I met when we were in the room. And he's reading a scene that he wrote, and it's like this, this awesome scene, and he's acting it out. And he's doing the book, back and forth. It's like I told him, I said, Man, I'm just so mad at my phone, like, record it. At that point, this would be like, so valuable. It was just amazing. But um, so yeah, so then it was that then I then just we started, where do I go? Right? We hang out. I go hang out his house one one night and watch old gangster films. I mean, we're there for hours. I don't

Alex Ferrari 1:04:02
know what to film on film, obviously, on film. Yeah,

Mark L. Smith 1:04:05
in his little in his theater. He's got this amazing, huge theater attached to his house on film, he actually had his projection is from his theater there on Beverly coming on coming through it. So it's just, you know, we're just kicked back and I watched some gangster films laughing at the bad dialogue, you know, and, and then, but talking about how it would kind of bleed into what we want to do. And so, um, so yeah, then it was it. I don't know. I give it 10% chance that ever gets made. You know, it's one of those things that's so tricky for him to do. It's like if he really wants to, he's got this set limit that he puts on and he keeps, he'll tell me he's got an you know, well, I can say it's not an original so it won't count against my you know, his Yeah. And so, but I think it's, it's, I would love for to happen my god I'd be I'd just be thrilled if it did. But I gotta

Alex Ferrari 1:04:51
I gotta say, though, I mean, when I heard that, I'm like, how is that how is paramount? going to give? Karen Tina one of the most valuable IP They have me Quinn's gonna do what Quinn's gonna do? Like he's not he's not gonna like, you know, kowtow to studio execs on, like, Well, you know, we're gonna make some toys like yet no, it's gonna be full blown open. So how does that like when I heard that I'm like, I want to see it. I'm first in line to see it. But like, how is a giant conglomerate going to give their biggest IP, arguably Paramount's biggest IP? Yeah, to to one of the most Renegade filmmakers of his generation.

Mark L. Smith 1:05:31
Again, it goes to like, you know, guys, like Quentin can do stuff that the rest of us can't, you know, they can get into, they're going to trust him because they know what they're going to get is going to be like, something that's going to be talked about for years. You know, it's it's just and it and it was I mean, the, the script is it is so Tarantino and it's it's hard are and it's violent. And it's you know, it's got all these great elements, and, but and I guess probably too, I mean, I guess they've gone, Paramount has done different things that kind of veered back on Star Trek, they probably feel like Tarantino's worth being able to veer off path and

Alex Ferrari 1:06:07
always be its own thing. It could be its own thing. And in the Zeitgeist of Star Trek, like it's in the Pantheon. It's not going to mix in with Kirk. I mean, maybe it does. I don't know. I haven't read the script. But yeah, no, it does.

Mark L. Smith 1:06:20
Yeah. No, we've got no it's all the characters are there and stuff. And so it would be it would be those guys, but it's like, you know, I guess you look at it probably like, all the episodes of the show didn't really connect, you know, yeah, this will be almost its own episode, you know, and

Alex Ferrari 1:06:39
it's like an adventure. It's like it's a cool episode. It's like an adventure somewhere else that kind of doesn't connect with the rest of the

Mark L. Smith 1:06:45
little time travel stuff going on. There's all this other Yeah, so it's, it's not really just stop it. You're

Alex Ferrari 1:06:49
getting me excited. Stop it, and I'll never ever gonna

Mark L. Smith 1:06:52
get more angry that it has.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:55
And the more you tell me about it, like what time travel What? What's going on? I need to know. Oh, my God.

Mark L. Smith 1:07:00
It's so great. Yeah, hopefully, fingers crossed. He'll, he'll decide that he gets so bored. And he just he's gonna do it. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:07:06
I mean, it's Yeah. Oh, anyway, Alright, stop. I gotta stop. I can't I can't stop thinking about it. Because it's just gonna get me upset. I'm sure afterwards, you're gonna get quit and what's going on? Man? Are we just happening?

Mark L. Smith 1:07:18
Some angry call from the studio? Wait, what do you know? What are you talking about? You know?

Exactly how secret.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:25
So now, what's next? What are you working on next?

Mark L. Smith 1:07:28
I am doing God. Well, we've got a Daisy Ridley film that's shooting. That's the one I wrote with my daughter Marsh king's daughter starts shooting in June, we hope and it's a little little thriller that we're really excited about. I adapted a book for another book for Clooney called boys in the boat. And that is its true story of the Olympics. 1936 The crew that um, had to go over to Germany to Berlin and kind of these underdog things. It's a it's a really cool sports. You know, I just love how the script turned out. Doing a thing. I did another thing memory wall adapted for a short story that I'm Johan rank the, the director from Chernobyl and everything he's going to, he's going to do and so I don't know another thing for JJ. Couple. I'm doing a couple things with Pete Berg, who I just Yeah, I love Pete Berg. He's insane. He's insane. He's insane. We're doing this. We're doing this as quick story that I'll get out. But the first I'd never met him before. And we were going to do this Western TV show. And I go into his office and I'm just sitting there waiting. And all of a sudden I hear this screaming, yelling and it's like, God, what is going on? And it's getting louder and louder and closer. And all of a sudden the door comes open and Pete Berg runs in with his hatchet. And he's charged him he goes this is the show. This is what we're going to do. This is our show. And so

Alex Ferrari 1:08:58
did you saw yourself sir? Did you saw yourself at that point?

Mark L. Smith 1:09:01
Yeah, okay, sir. Sure. Whatever. But uh, so it was so it's he's so fun. So I'm doing doing a couple things with him and separate Robert Redford. He was going to direct but now he's producing and so yeah, it's um it's it's it's a charmed life. Sir.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:16
You lead it's in pretty.

Mark L. Smith 1:09:19
really lucky I'm waiting for like, my roof to crumble is crashed out.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:22
I have to ask because I have daughters man. What's it like working in writing with your daughter man? Like, I mean, I have young daughters. So they're not the right the stories would be interesting now. Very interesting. They would find that structure might be a little off. But um, but how is it like just on an emotional and creative level as a dad working with someone that you've raised? Like, I'm just curious, this is just purely This is not even for the show. Now. This is just me asked dad. What's it like man?

Mark L. Smith 1:09:52
It was tricky. To be honest. Now it was funny because the we we were adapting a novel but it's about a Father gets out of prison. And he's, you know, they love each other very deeply. And, but he's not a good guy. And so it's really the story is about her trying to, you know, he, she has to kill her father, you know, instead of sending her daughter thing, you know, all these emotions that, you know, all these little secrets that she had about me, you know, she's gonna, it'll all come out. It'll flow easily for but it was, he was really good. She's really good. She she feels a lot of the gaps in my writing, you know, so she, she finds things that kind of keep it going and, and, and really good with female characters and stuff. So that that's good as well. She'd always helped me with stuff. She was always kind of the first person I would send a script to when I was done with it and let her read it and stuff. She went to NYU Tisch, and, um, and majored in writing and stuff up there dramatic. But so, but the process was tricky. Because there would be feelings hurt, it was almost it wasn't unlike, and I, you know, it's like, we can have our arguments, but 100 was always gonna win my daughter, and I learned and I could always have arguments, but I was always gonna win, you know, and so that's just the way it was. And, um, and so, so

Alex Ferrari 1:11:07
you were the 800, you were the 800 pound gorilla in that in that room? Well, 100 was 800.

Mark L. Smith 1:11:14
I know, I wish I thought to kind of do all my, my arguing and like that in all 100 Spanish accent, you know, to really get some flavor. But um, but it was good. And it turned out, it turned out really well. And we've done other stuff together since so it's like, yeah, we haven't killed each other yet.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:30
That's I can imagine that must be tricky. Because even when I I've shot some stuff with my daughters for school, and it's, I'm directing them, and I'm directing them in a scene and it's just like, it's, it's in my wife. It's hard. My wife would be sitting there like, they're not actors. They're your daughters. I'm like, and I'd get frustrated. I'm like, No, you gotta do this. And you're like, they're they're eight.

Mark L. Smith 1:11:56
Luckily, yeah, luckily, I started very young in college, when Lauren was born, so it was, she's she's older so she can take my, my kind of yelling, it's like, No, you know, structure this has to happen by Hey, what are you talking about? You know, so, but it's no, it's, it's really, it's turned out? Well,

Alex Ferrari 1:12:14
fantastic. Now I'm going to ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. Okay, what are the three screenplays every screenwriter should read? Oh, God.

Mark L. Smith 1:12:24
Oh, man, you pop this on me? See, I would I would point people I would. I would steer people away from a Tarantino script for almost the reasons you were talking about earlier. It's an outlier. He's an outlier. Yeah. You don't want to do that. Because you don't want to pick that stuff up. You don't want to get infected because because you're just not going to do it as well. You know, so you're always gonna write bad parenting and the best you could ever be is a bad parent, you know, and that's like, who wants to do that? Yeah, right. So

the

I mean, any anything by Sorkin is his he's just so clean and his dialogue so good. Scott Frank, out of sight. Oh, such a good move. Oh, Clooney film? Yeah. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:13:08
that thing Soderbergh? Oh, so good.

Mark L. Smith 1:13:10
Yeah. In the writing. It's so that's such

Alex Ferrari 1:13:13
an under that's such an underappreciated film because it wasn't a massive hit when it came out. I mean, in the head, obviously, George and George was George was still George but he wasn't no Ocean's 11 George hitting that he wasn't Ocean's 11 George yet, but he was still George and Jennifer Lopez was just starting to become Jennifer Lopez. And Soderbergh was still started becomes auto Berg as well. So it wasn't, it was a real kind of interesting film. But when you watch it, there's so much style. Some of the dialogue is crisp, it crackles. It's Oh, yeah. The cast line.

Mark L. Smith 1:13:45
No, just amazing. No, it's Yeah. Including I would talk about that one a lot. Because it didn't. To me, it's like it's probably my favorite of his films. And so but um, of the things that he started but its people it did kind of miss you know, it just kind of slipped under the radar. And I'm sure people found it later. But it's got everybody

Alex Ferrari 1:14:04
go watch out. Yeah, watch out. So

Mark L. Smith 1:14:07
via I don't know on screenplays, I'm I'm terrible at that stuff. I mean, I have my writers, you know, the,

Alex Ferrari 1:14:13
the writer so so so. Frank Aaron Sorkin, who else we study? You can't go wrong with Goldman, I guess? No, we've

Mark L. Smith 1:14:23
Goldman's was the guy that Butch Cassidy was the first movie I ever saw. So it's all in the theater. So it holds a special place in my heart. So yeah, Goldman would be the other. I mean, again, you're talking about dialogue and kind of stuff and characters. I mean, those journeys he takes, I mean, film wise, jaws is my film. I mean, that's the that's the that's my go to and um, if somebody is gonna, you know, what's your favorite guys?

Alex Ferrari 1:14:49
Can you kiss because jazz has come up so many times on the show on both my shows and it is as perfect of a film as really you can get I mean, it's such an it's a movie made in the 70s Very few movies hold the way jaw. I mean, go to godfathers and those of course but right. And there's others that the jaws man, it just hold so well. And considering we all know, it was hell. And it wasn't planned this way. And it wasn't like things just happen. It was all the mastery. It was almost like almost like a possession by Spielberg to get that made the way it was because even he thought it sucked.

Mark L. Smith 1:15:27
So scared, I know No. And what's amazing is that it holds up with a mechanical shark that was done in the 70s you know that now you look at you go got that thing. So fake, you know, but it doesn't matter. This, the characters in the story and everything are so great. And it's funny, I bumped into the only time to meet Spielberg. And it was, um, it was at this. This was after the Oscars, it was after the governor's ball and, and revenue just lost this picture. And I was kind of in a lousy mood. And I was I was kind of saying stuff, my wife, we should just go home or whatever. And she said, You better get your act together and appreciate your look over there Spielberg talk and I go, you know, you're right. So I go over, and I just introduce myself and tell him he's, he's the kind of the guy that got me into this. And

Alex Ferrari 1:16:12
I'm sure he's never I'm sure he's never heard that before. Yeah.

Mark L. Smith 1:16:17
But so he goes, Okay, which movie was it? And I said, jobs. And he goes, Okay, so you're a storyteller. And so he just starts going, because he just the judges people, and they're kind of what they see in films by their favorites. And so, so that was kind of a, it was an interesting thing, because I kind of like to do consider myself a storyteller, you know, and so it was, um, it that was that was, that's my Spielberg moment. And my jaws moment. And so it just, even jaws was always there. But it just went a little bit higher after that,

Alex Ferrari 1:16:45
right. And so jaws is number one. Fair enough, that's not a bad number one to have. It's not a bad one. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Mark L. Smith 1:16:55
Right, just write every free moment. I mean, just never, you just, that's the only way it's going to happen, you know, you're, you just have to keep, you have to keep producing content. And then once you have that content, send it out. I would also say don't send anything out too soon. You know, if you're, if you're going to write something, and you've got this first draft, you call my God, this is just the best thing and you send it to your, your very best friend, they go, Oh, god, you're genius. You know, this is also great, I would love to see this movie, don't send that to any agents or anybody that you really are going to count on. Because you're going to need to do work, and you're going to look at it yourself three weeks from now and think, Oh, God, I've got to fix that, you know, I always when I wrote it, I would set it aside. And, and then I would come back to it, I write I set aside, I'd start working on something else, that pull that one out and go through it and make all the changes that I want to make for ever let anybody read it. And, um, it's really important. So it's, you just, you just want to make sure that you um, I guess it's, if you want to be a writer, you got to love writing, you know? So it's like, you're going to be doing it a lot. And so if you find that it's a chore, and you don't want to sit down and put in and write the words and look at those blank pages. And then you're probably you're not gonna be great at it, because you're not going to want to do it for very long, you know, and I guess maybe that's what that instructor know that first guy that if I when he said to me, none of you guys are going to ever write a script, you think you are but you're not. It's probably what he was thinking. Because it's just, it's not for everyone, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:18:28
but but there are moments I'm assuming, even in your writing, where you just don't want to sit down is there or do you always like, there's moments you're like, Oh, God, I can't crack that next scene. I don't want to go in there right now. I mean, there has to be those moments, right?

Mark L. Smith 1:18:42
Every right. There's our I usually I try to have two things going. Now that never I slam into a wall here. It's like, Okay, let me go over here, because I'll beat my head against you for two or three days and realize I'm not getting anywhere. So I'll jump in this one. Fine, kind of get my flow. And then I'll go back here and do that thing where I read through again, it's like, oh, yeah, that and then gets me through it. And so it's it is kind of nice to have to

Alex Ferrari 1:19:03
know. And what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Unknown Speaker 1:19:11
Oh my god.

Mark L. Smith 1:19:14
I'm a slow learner. It really, I think it probably comes to if you think you're good at it doesn't mean it's gonna be easy. You know, I think that's what really took me a while to figure out it was like, wait, I'm writing this stuff, and it's good. And I know it's pretty good. You know, people are telling me is good, but why isn't Why isn't it selling or why isn't getting made? You know, why are they making this instead of that? And you just have to realize you have you kind of just have to trust yourself and kind of the process is isn't simple. And so you just you've got to you got to be in for the ride and and know that, you know that to be patient. You know, I guess maybe patience is the thing to learn because it's it's The good stuff rarely happens easily and quickly. You know, and it's, um, you know, the stuff, the stuff that you remember. I mean, Revenant meant so much more to me because it took seven years to get made than it would have if it got made in this first six months. You know, it's like, it was such a journey and these things that you fight with, and that you just, you know, so and patients because it's at ups and downs, so you just gotta, you just gotta be able to ride them all pay

Alex Ferrari 1:20:25
me I'm telling you, patience is my anytime I asked to answer my own question. It's like, it's patience, man. I it's never gonna go as fast as you think it's gonna go and it's it will probably go slower. And then your thinking is going to be at every level.

Mark L. Smith 1:20:40
Yeah, no, and you can't even sometimes get sucked into where, you know, like, oh, wow, these two things happen quick. Now. I've figured out the way it's gonna work. So they're all gonna happen now. It's just the next one's gonna stop and it'll be three or four years, you know? So

Alex Ferrari 1:20:51
that's amazing. The Mark, man, thank you so much for being on the show, bro. It is

Mark L. Smith 1:20:55
no, no, this was so great. No, I thank you for inviting me. Yeah, this was this was really fun. And as we're talking, I'm just, I'm admiring your room. I love all that stuff. But no, this was this was so great. And please, next time you talk to Suzanne, tell her I said hi.

Alex Ferrari 1:21:13
I will. Thanks again.


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BPS 094: Deconstructing the Emotional Pulse of Your Screenplay with James V. Hart

I’m so excited to bring this episode to the BPS Tribe. Today we have legendary screenwriter James V. Hart. James is the screenwriter behind some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters like HOOK, directed by Steven Spielberg based on an idea by Hart’s then 6-year-old son, Jake, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND, directed by Brian Henson, and CONTACT, directed by Robert Zemeckis. MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN, TUCK EVERLASTING, AUGUST RUSH, SAHARA, LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE, AUGUST RUSH and many more.

“No one has a job in our business until you type ‘the end’.” — James V. Hart

Dracula has a special place in my heart as it is one of the major influences that made me become a filmmaker.

James has served on the faculty of the Columbia University Graduate Film program. Served as mentor and advisor at the Austin Writer’s Ranch, Sundance Film Labs, and the Equinoxe-Europe Writing Workshops for over 20 years in 11 countries. Hart has also conducted the Puglia Experience for writers and producers held in the Puglia region in Italy.

During the making of Dracula Francis Ford Coppola called James up and told him he hated everything about the story and the movie they had shot. James sat down with Francis and beat up the film and story. Frustrated that this happened, James set out to develop a tool that could help him map out the screenplay’s emotion before they ever start shooting.  The HART CHART was born.

Originally launched online at the 2015 Austin Film Festival, James has developed a proven story mapping tool for serious writers working in television, film, novels, plays, and other literary forms, with a guarantee you will never face a blank page again.

James and I discuss THE HARTCHART, his journeys in Hollywood, how he became a 20-year overnight success, what it was like working with master filmmakers like Coppola, Speilberg, and Zemeckis, and how he breakdowns a blockbuster story idea.

This is one episode for the record books. Enjoy my conversation with James V. Hart.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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Alex Ferrari 0:48
I'd like to welcome to the show James V. Hart. How you doing James?

James V. Hart 4:55
So far, so good.

Alex Ferrari 4:56
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I am We were talking a little bit before we started recording. I am a huge fan of many, many of the movies you've done you, you kind of were there at the beginning of my journey as a filmmaker with with hook and Dracula specifically and we'll we'll get into all of those as well. But I mean, you've you've done a lot, sir. In your in your, your, your tenure in Hollywood.

James V. Hart 5:23
I did have a little help. Along with substantial help.

Alex Ferrari 5:28
Yes, exactly. And it's and of course, everyone always looks at you know, your careers like yours like Oh, God, he you know, he just started off with Spielberg but now he's, he was hustling a little bit prior to hook.

James V. Hart 5:41
I was 44 years old I was the overnight sensation has been standing in the corner for 20 years.

Alex Ferrari 5:47
So let's let's get into that. How did you get started in the business?

James V. Hart 5:51
Well, I grew up in the in the 60s, went to film school at a nondescript film school in Texas and and I had always my dad was a big driving movie guy. So he was always throwing us in the car and popping popcorn and going to the movies and, and we had a place in Fort Worth called the gateway theater. So on Saturdays, my mom would dump us there. 25 cents. We got two features, five cereals, 100 cartoons, and we spent the whole day at the movies. And then we go home and reenact the film's I didn't know you could I didn't know how to how to get in the movie business. And then and then we started going as teenagers on Friday night, we got really interesting. But I became obsessed with films and from very early stage and my parents were their credit never talked me out of it. And we didn't know. So I went to SMU which had no very little known film school but a gentleman named William Jones. Are the head of our department brought in some of the hidden relationships all over him all over the country. I mean, George Roy Hill came to you in 1969 with a wet gate answer print but you don't know what that is a way to answer.

Alex Ferrari 7:08
I actually didn't answer but I actually I actually shot film back in the day so I I'm aware I am a wet gate answer print of Butch and Sundance.

James V. Hart 7:17
Nobody seen it. There were just 30 of us. We spent five hours of George Roy Hill after watching the movie discussing Alan pakula brought still cuckoo Dennis Hopper hidden and and jack showed up with EZ rider. And I watched you know every co ed in the room sign jack Nicholson's arm with their phone number. So we didn't have you know, we could text in those days. Right. Right. So and so and we didn't know and we weren't we weren't UCLA we weren't, you know, NYU, or neither of us in the big film schools. But we had this amazing access. I mean, Robert armour brought mash the screen, oh my god, that's at SMU and it saved the film. They were gonna dump it because the they were doing Torah Torah or some big. They were just letters. And the reaction in Texas at the at our film festival changed the course of that film. So I was I didn't know how blessed we were. I thought everybody you know,

Alex Ferrari 8:16
Robert Altman and jack nicholson and Dennis Hopper walk and

James V. Hart 8:19
you're hanging out with him and stuff, you know, and and so and we made films, we made narrative, you know, 30 minute color films and at SMU and just nondescript film school and decided that, you know, I didn't go to Vietnam, I got lucky. And I just told my mom and dad I wanted to make a movie business.

Alex Ferrari 8:41
They said, okay, and this is what the time and this is a time when the movie business. That wasn't even a considered a career.

James V. Hart 8:48
Like that's not a thing. To the 60s and 70s were exploding in the indie film world national address. I have to point to lm Kit Carson, who came to kit was one of the leaders of the indie film movement. And David Holtzman diaries sort of set the standard the Jim McBride film, changed everything. kit was a journalist and also wrote criticism and everything was he was a an amazing person he got Wes Anderson started art BB was part of nobody starts with Andersen business. And he was part of that. So he came and lectured at our class that we only had 15 students in our film class. There were 30 in the department. Right? We were lined up bolex. As you know, I remember. And Kip came to show us David Holtzman diary, which if you haven't seen is an incredible first kind of mockumentary or first kind of documentary that wasn't really a documentary. And I asked a few questions during the session. And afterwards, he said, Come on, let's go have coffee. And he took me to the on the campus there and we went to the student center had coffee and he basically was saying, This is what you're going to do. You're going to Right. And in those days you didn't think about being a writer you thought about being a director, the director a superstar, you know, and, and it was right he was sort of outed me and got me thinking about the possibility and associate Coppola had started zoetrope there was independent film and didn't Dennis change the world with easy writer? Five Easy Pieces. Bob mapleson them in the in the money Helman. You know, were these groundbreaking directors that were doing stuff their way. So my friend and I got in our van. We sent our movie to Francis Coppola, American zoetrope and we drove to California in our van. And we went to Los Angeles and knocked on the door there at TPC at the rave, Wilson's production company, met with him. And then we drove up to San Francisco and set in San Francisco, his office reception room for a week. Really, every day we were the guys from Texas. We came here to see Mr. Coppola. We sent him our film, you know. And the dragon lady, of course said well, you know, he's really busy. And this was a British at the very beginning of zoetrope. This was like this was I mean,

Alex Ferrari 11:18
it had THX been released yet had THX been released yet or

James V. Hart 11:21
not yet. There's just just just released. He was doing rain people, right. And so George Lucas would come in and out, you know, there was a God who did the thing, the director who did write stuff,

Alex Ferrari 11:37
which was Oh, yeah, I know. He's talking about yeah, I forgot his

James V. Hart 11:40
San Francisco directors. That whole crew was brilliant. Brilliant. cinematographers cable Deschanel, Caleb Deschanel, you know, in and out. And we sat there all week long. We're back. You know, she will, you know, he's really busy. I've told him, you're here, you know. And finally, on Friday, we didn't get the hint. You know, it's like, finally she said, you know, he's leaving for the weekend. He's really not going to be able to see you. And we said, well, we'll come back Monday. She said, Well, he's going to be gone for a very long time. So about this time I see through the little glass hallway portal window, you know, your comms Copeland, he had Jerry Garcia hair in those days. Yeah. And he opens the door and walks into the reception room, we get Mr. Copeland Mr. Kabila where the guys from Texas, and I know the dragon ladies behind us going, you know, and Francis didn't say a word. He just wheels pivots and heads right back through the door and waved at us over his shoulder and says, keep making movies. And Steven and I went, Wow, Francis Coppola just told us to keep making movies. Wow. Not knowing of course, we were being really blown off. And Francis did get Steven, my my partner then in filmmaking, a drama, or Roger Corman kill that we're shooting in Texas. So he, he did come through, but years later, when we were doing Dracula, I told him the story. And he said, You know how many guys like you showed up my office? I have no idea. I can't remember a thing about this. Thank you, sir.

Alex Ferrari 13:13
Thank you. Mr. Coppola. Thank you.

James V. Hart 13:15
That gave us the bug. We went back to Texas at Princeton Kobo said for us to keep making movies, which wasn't a lot, which was a lie,

Alex Ferrari 13:22
which wasn't a lie.

James V. Hart 13:24
So we raised money in Texas and shot a film in Europe that Leon Capitan has directed who if you google him, you'll find out who he worked with the great directors and committee directors got in a lot of festivals. Ken brought it out to LA to sell it. It was it was when Dirty Harry was popular. We were doing a European style movie about two hitchhikers from North Carolina hitchhiking around Europe during the summer. And what was happening is we're more like Truffaut, we didn't have any killings or car chases or right but it got it got us It won a lot of awards at festivals and even Peter guber saw it said, I hope my first movie is this good. So we kept being encouraged. We kept being killed with kindness. You know, and, and I didn't start writing until I wrote in high school, but I never did know it was a job. And we were raising money for another couple of other bad Texas films that were nightmares. And the scripts kept coming in and I kept going, I don't, this is not good. So my friend Bill Kirby, William Chamberlain, Kirby, the Name of the Rose, that he wrote, he did Halla he wrote how he wrote stunt man a bunch of stuff, he was my mentor. And we started writing together and wrote several scripts and never got made but they they gave us a profile. And the first script I wrote by myself, I put my put another name on it. I was embarrassed. Anybody would think that I was raving about it was called frat rats, it was basically Animal House before Animal House became a big lawsuit. But I put a name of a person on it I hated in college. So you know, they're suddenly my disguise. And then people would give me criticism, not knowing it was me, which is a huge help. And also, it also taught me to be touched with developing a thick skin. Okay, and not react. But I started writing and got some I got a couple of blessing. I got hired to write my male cheerleader story, my Texas experience, which is a terrible film, but gave me a chance to get produced and find out what it was like to get paid to write. Because that's when it changes. So So paper, right, that's when it changes.

Alex Ferrari 15:51
You'll absolutely then it becomes Siri like, Oh my god, this is real. Yeah, I remember when I got paid to direct I was like, Ah, oh my god, this is this is a thing. I can actually do this. I'm not just do I'm not actually paying for the privilege of doing that somebody actually is paying me to do it. So okay, so from your male cheerleader, Texas movie, which I'm assuming that was the one that

James V. Hart 16:11
You give me an F

Alex Ferrari 16:13
Yeah, give me that's what I thought it was. Give me an FM assuming that give me an F. From Oh god, what was the covers like something from beaver?

James V. Hart 16:22
Beaver, beaver?

Alex Ferrari 16:24
beaver view or something like that? Like, oh, wow, I saw that. I was like, Yeah. Hey, you know, hey,

James V. Hart 16:30
we also when I wrote it, I wrote mash for girls. Yeah. The producers got a hold of them. Wait, we can't do that. We can't make this movie we'd have to do to an ass and you know. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 16:39
of course. So

James V. Hart 16:40
I watched the movie and I just go That was my last. My last comedy. Yeah, exactly. What I wrote was really Savage. And and and the way the girls talked and the way they thought. So more, it would be more

Alex Ferrari 16:53
kind of like, like Fast Times at ridgemont High because that was actually that was a more It was funny, but it was actually really raw and really authentic. But the producer Slap Shot slap shot.

James V. Hart 17:04
Shot. That's when I saw that. I went Hey, there it is. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 17:08
yeah. So Alright, so you go from, from your male cheerleader movie. How do you go from there to working on hook? Because this is a big jump there. There's a because in the IMDb the your IMDb. There's a big gap from 1984 to 1991. And there's I'm sure some stuff happened there. But I'm really curious on you know, that doesn't have to be the whole story. But just how did you get into the office? And how did you get that gig because I'm assuming in 91. This is pre Jurassic Park. So I know during that time, because my time my timeframe, I was working in the video store from 8788 to about 93.

James V. Hart 17:48
Kevin Smith,

Alex Ferrari 17:49
yeah, it can't turn to Kevin Smith. All that. Yeah, I was that time period. So in that time period, I'm pretty much excellent in trivia, like I know, all the movies got released during that time, and you made a bunch of them in that time. And I know from my recollection, Spielberg had already Stephen had already had a couple of, he was always Steven, and he was always a hit. But a lot of people were saying, Oh, it's over for Steven, you know, it's great. He hasn't really had a big hit in a while. This is pre special in this list and pre Jurassic Park. And a butt butt hook was a big deal when it was being produced. It was like, everybody wanted to be on the set. It was huge. How did you get that gig?

James V. Hart 18:28
Well, it wasn't a gig. I created it. My son, my son at age six at the dinner table, who's now my writing partner said what a Peter Pan grew up. It was a game we played this game. I was a very successful development deal writer who wasn't getting anything made. But making a living, making living in the development. Right, you know, made a living, put kids through private school, and my son would come home and say, dad, everybody wants to know what movies you've made. And I couldn't point to give me an app. Because when you said I showed him the wall of scripts I'd written I had written for Spielberg, I'd written for Frank Marshall, I'd written for Robert Redford and Paul Newman to reunite. I mean, it had some very prestigious gigs. None of them got made. So when it came time for I decided that there were two films that I had to make Dracula and hook. And I was actually fired by CAA and let go because I hadn't had anything made and I was in my 40s while I was writing hook and Dracula. Yeah, Dracula Dracula was set up as a USA movie for television with a budget of two and a half million dollars. And dear sweet Karen Moore, who were still friends today, paid me to write that script. At the same time, I was working with Craig, Craig Baumgarten and Adelson, Greg, Greg Thompson, on a development deal at Sony and they came to me and said, What do you have that nobody wants to do? I had tried I pitched hook all over again. When my son gave me the idea that my daughter now was part of that she just read her fourth film. When we came up with hook. It was blasphemy. You know, you were treading on sacred ground. You couldn't have been have a grown up Peter Pan. Steven was trying to do Peter Pan But Michael Jackson Coppola had tried to do Peter Pan Jose for a bunch of people had wanted, but john Hughes wanted to do Peter Pan. They all kept coming up with the same idea. The darlings, go back to Neverland are the darlings children go back in there. So there's always the same story. And it wasn't until Jake said in the doing our What if game, you know, dad did Peter Pan or up and I said of course he didn't. You know, that's stupid question being a good parent that I was. And Jake said yeah, but what if Peter Pan grew up and boom, the bells and whistles went off? we pitched it all over town. Everybody passed on it. Finally Craig Baumgarten said what do you have, that nobody wants to do? And I gave my 10 pages on Huck brought in Nick castle who I adored his film. Boy, you could fly we did. We made a lowball development deal with Jess against he had at TriStar Sony TriStar as a favor. Nobody gave a shit about what we were doing. So Nick and I went off for a year and smoke cigars and, and drink single malt and, and and took this took the idea of the story. From you know, what was the worst thing I could do to Peter Pan Europe making be a lawyer? You know? So we spent a year on the script just having a ball against he leaves Sony and Robert and Mike medavoy comes in. And usually whenever you know the drill, the studio head changes everything.

Alex Ferrari 21:42
Oh, yeah. It's all painted. It's tainted.

James V. Hart 21:44
Yes. The painted it didn't work with Mike medavoy reads the script goes, wait a minute. This is huge. I don't know this is going on. I mean, I'm trying to pay the light bill. You know. And so, Mehta boy got together with CAA, and they went out to five directors over one weekend. And I still don't know who all was on that list, but I know most of them. Stephen was the one who said yes. And and my wife always knew that if Stephen found out about hope that he would do it. Because it it lay it was a it was a it hit all of us, right. In our guts. This is we were all fathers, we were you know, Dustin was older. He had kids, Robin was was turning 40 he had kids and Steven was having a new family, you know, everybody who suddenly had that Father thing going on that responsibility of what happens when you grow up and and you've forgotten your childhood. So we were actually in Wyoming. Staying with friends, we'd rent and we rented out both of our apartments. We had the kids, you know, I was trying to help with my credit card work to pay the lunch bill, Cadillac jacks. And in those days, we didn't have cell phones. I had to go downstairs to the payphone, hope my credit card work and check my answering machine remember answering?

Alex Ferrari 23:07
I do sir.

James V. Hart 23:13
And there was a entry machine from john. And the message from john Levin has been mine was my agency a and it still isn't in my representative were like 35, almost 40 years. He said, call me. There's a very big director that that wants to do hook. So I called him and we spoke and I said, if it's not Spielberg, we're not having a conversation. Anyway, that's who it is. So I went back upstairs to my kids and to Judy, and we've all been there, you know, trying to figure out where we're gonna go next. And gave him the news. And it was, you know, it was it was a tremendous, it was like it, you know, it's one of those Hollywood stories, you know, you just it happened. And so, I and I had written the script long before Spielberg was involved. Right. Just still an issue, you know, that the so much creativity? I mean, I created roofie Yeah. You know, I created that whole multi racial last white thing we could, we had Wendy grow up with it be old and we did all the stuff we'd actually there's a lot more bury in the script. And that there isn't in in the, the Disney version, you know, so if suddenly the world everything changed. And, Nick, you know, Nick, it was difficult to watch Nick be replaced because we both worked so hard on it. That's why I insist and you get story credit, but within the same period of time, I turned in Dracula, six weeks later. Now this is an agency that fired me

Alex Ferrari 24:49
and you and but were they representing you at this point,

James V. Hart 24:51
I asked him to please stay us and I'm writing these two scripts. Well, nobody's gonna do those. Just represent me until I get to that point where I'm done. And then you can cut me loose. And my lawyers tried all over town to give you nobody wanted to represent me. While I was writing these scripts, Dracula had done 100 times, nobody was going to do Dracula. Nobody want to do grown up Peter Pan, and to john lemons credit john live and took cook, to Dustin and Robin. And they went, Stephen.

Alex Ferrari 25:22
Oh, that's how it went. So it was it was through the day went apple.

James V. Hart 25:27
Smart. Exactly. And john Levin went to Winona Ryder. And nobody could believe she wanted to do Dracula and she's the one who called Francis and said, will you read this script for me? Because I needed to know if somebody wanted to play a grown up, you know? Plus, you've stuck it to him on godfather three by walking out the door. And then we got to meet Sophia. Yes, I remember. Of course. So. So in a matter of two months, I went from the Abyss to the two biggest directors and in my world wanted to do two scripts that nobody wanted to do it that everybody everybody passed on. So I didn't handle it very well, I was, you know, all these agents, and they call you back and go, Hey, we were just kidding. You know, we didn't. I didn't make decisions, but somebody else's decision, and I'm just going you're on the same writer I was when you were gonna represent me. So I'll stick with john lemon. Yeah, that's a man. And that's, that's how I got the gig. And I watched I watched two of the greatest directors in the world struggle. I have such admiration for what they had to go through to get those movies man.

Alex Ferrari 26:41
Spielberg was dope. Yeah. Cuz hook was took was a challenging film to make, technically and creatively. And I mean, that's those sets. I remember hearing stories of everybody in Hollywood had to make a trip to the set because it says was so amazing. And it was a tough sell to I personally loved hook. And I thought it was amazing. And I and it gives me warm feelings inside every time I watch it. And now more than more than ever, because now I'm that 40 something with kids. And I loved it when I was 20 something but now it completely has a completely different connotation now, like, oh, wow, shoot, it's a completely different

James V. Hart 27:22
No, you know, your kids here.

Alex Ferrari 27:24
And now my kids seating and all that kind of stuff. But then with Dracula, Dracula was that first film, I remember seeing Dracula in the theater opening, it was a huge opening, I remember was

James V. Hart 27:36
at St. Francis his life and say, and set records, nobody could believe how big

Alex Ferrari 27:41
it was. And it was, if I remember correctly, one of the best trailers I had ever seen.

James V. Hart 27:48
It again is again, it's Oh, my God,

Alex Ferrari 27:50
whatever, a lot of trailer editor I mean, because that trailer sold the movie so beautifully. And the Witcher and then went in the way Francis went about it with this old kind of like turn of the century style filmmaking and using older technologies and reversing the film, and it was just so rich and the transitions and how he was able to do it. But you were telling me a story before we started recording that Francis made a phone call to you. Can you talk a little bit about that?

James V. Hart 28:19
grant, drat when Dracula sets for being built when hook was coming down, so it's kind of a heady time for me. But we'd had we'd had we were deep in post production and had a release date right around Halloween in 1992. And Francis had been in the editing room nonstop. And we've had two or three disastrous previews. I mean, just disastrous. And I watched this courageous man go, Oh, well, it's another rewrite. Let's go back, you know, and just the studio is panicking in there, want to shut it down and come and take over and what have you. So it was about mid, late summer. We're opening in October, mid December. I get a phone call at midnight in New York, from Francis. And when you know, Mr. Coppola calls you? You? Don't you wake up? And he says, Well, okay, Jim, I want you to get on a plane in the morning and come out here as fast as you can. To the I hate the film. I hate the script. I hate you. I hate the fact you ever wrote it. I hate the actors. I hate the studio. I hate the whole idea that I ever got involved in this piece of shit. I want to show you that movie.

Alex Ferrari 29:28
Wow. That's great sales pitch. Yay. I can't wait.

James V. Hart 29:34
So the next night on there and I'm in San Francisco and to God, I don't know how long I'm gone. I don't know what's happening. I don't know. The day trip. If I'm being fired the movies you know, I don't know what's happening. So, the next evening I'm down in The Godfather screening room there zoetrope is Francis called the Bohemian amblin you know, the big, big godfather couches and cigars and wine and liquor. And two women that spoke Romanian. I don't know why. They were there. But they were these two women. I think they were, you know, bite my throat. And Francis did even come down. He called me from the penthouse. Okay, good. You're here. You're fine. Yeah. Okay. So I want you to call me after you screen the movie, and I'll come down and we'll talk. This is about 10 o'clock at night. So, by 1030, I'm drunk. By the time the film is over, I'm kidding. I'm so angry. I'm so pissed. I mean, he was right. He was a piece of shit. You know, and I had been to all the dailies that we rehearsed, when we did this incredible prep that he prepped all the prep he did. I saw the storyboards we did. The screenplay was loaded by the actors, you know, there wasn't a bunch of people saying this sucks, throw it out, they wanted to add more. And then God, how did this happen? So then Francis comes down, and is dapper, you know, you were smoking robe and a Corvette and stuff, little pointed Turkish shoes, and, you know, and all happy and said, You didn't call me? I said, Yeah, I hate you, too. So he said, let me tell you that let me like a big kid, let me tell you the film I wanted to make. And I'm glad Didn't we just make this movie, you know, and he pitched me what I thought we'd shot. But what I begin to recognize is that during the shooting we had we set in the next two weeks and went through every footage, all the footage we had and went through the existing cut. And we begin to identify pieces of narrative that the film needed not whole scenes to be reshot. But pieces, transitions, piece of narration, and insert here, you know, and I kept saying, difference, there's got to be a way to head this off in the past. So you don't want to get the editing room, you fix some of this in the script, there's got to be a way to measure that script. And, and, and manage that script. So it's telling you a whole lot more than because we had we were thought we were golden. I had the greatest record in the world. And here we are in the interview and panicked. You know, especially indie filmmakers don't have the money to bring back, you know, when owner writer and, and Gary Ali, and everything, you know, they don't have that kind of money. They they're in the editor and going, we're pumped. Right. So this is where the heart chart came from. I'll just give you an example of the we didn't shoot any new scenes, we shot pieces, we realized that we had never seen Dracula and Mina together, I mean, his wife together before he went to battle. So when she hands him the helmet, you know, and he goes off to battle. The ending was the big controversy, because the ending didn't work. The ending, she stabs him and, and, and punches the knife into him, and she's redeemed and he dies at peace, and he's redeemed. And then she walks out the door and walks into the arms of Keanu Reeves. And the audience was like booing now, and I kept saying to Francis, that's not who they want to see. They want to see when they want to see when Ana and Gary stay together somehow, forever. Yeah, forever. So he had George Lucas and Mike. Ming, Ming Gala. Yeah. Hellboy. Watch the film, to see, yeah, we've done a cut we done, we spruce it up. And we told him where we were going to fill in these blanks and that sort of thing. We got to the end, and George said, You broke your rules, you you you don't have the right ending. She has to cut off his head, which is the rules you set up in the film, to totally redeem him. She's got to complete the mission, and then not walk out the door. Any kind of reasons aren't. So I'm here, Francis calling me and he said, okay, George saw the film. And he thinks that, you know, we got to do this. And he said, and he said, Do you think we can? I think Wynonna would, you know, come back and work with Gary, if she could cut off his head. And I said, I think that's the only way you would get her back. In law, you know,

Alex Ferrari 34:12
yeah, they had a rough a rough time on that set from what I heard legendary.

James V. Hart 34:17
So we came back and put that chapel scene backup together, he had built all those sets like theater sets, so we could just fold them out. That's incredible. Wow. Save the gargoyles. So in that last scene, where you see that all of that seamless work, some of the close ups and some of the shots are shot a year apart. And you've seen what they had to do wigs they had to do all this stuff, you know, and she cuts off his head and then Roman came up with the idea of the beautiful mosaic and the sealing of them together, you know, blend together. But I kept saying there has to be a way to in the screenplay form while you're doing the script to make Are these emotional journeys, your characters are going on in their head some of those off of the path, we should have caught the fact that she had to cut off his head. You know, we'd follow the emotional journey of what Kerry always had to do to say it by cutting off her head and taking out her heart, you know, if we, if I if I had been measuring that emotional journey instead of just admit a great scene, you know? So he said, Well, why don't you start with these three questions. And he gave me three journalist questions, which was the beginning of the heart chart. And the question were very simple. And I figured if I he said, Just answer those three questions before you start anything, again, before you start a story. And so I started using the questions. And then I expanded into 10 questions. And I started drawing these charts, these actual hand drawing charts to measure the heartbeat and the emotional journey of the characters. Not an outline, not cards on the wall, because even cars on the wall I get lost. Am I emotionally where am I pace wise? Where How important is this? So the chart? The chart was like your your EKG when you get your heart? Yeah, those of you who are old enough to do that. And I saw, so we started out by drawing them. That's the Austin Film Festival, one of the very early on. Yes,

Alex Ferrari 36:17
yes. Yeah, that's it.

James V. Hart 36:19
And then in 2015, guy, Goldstein came to me who did writers do it? And he said, I can do an app. But now we're an online app. Right? That is, that is the Dracula chart. The very first chart I ever did. Okay, there, there's the drawn one. So and I started doing it at the Austin film festival every year, but doing my films. And then people said, Well, do you wrote those films? Your your, you, you know, you did that on purpose. And so we started doing other people's films I've done Jordan Peele, get out. I've done Jamie, this is eels. lala land. Bo Burnham, eighth grade, the Wedding Crashers, you know, Batman, I mean, suddenly, you start applying these principles to it. And if you just follow this, you'll never face a blank page. You'll never be you'll never be writer's block. It does. I don't believe in writer's block. But my daughter just said it yesterday on her podcast, she doesn't believe in writer's block, either. That there are ways if you know crap, you're always jumpstarting, you're always writing and answering questions and solving problems. So the heart chart is this is my booklet. It used to be printed up and given away. That's how thick it is. How thick is Robert, Mickey's book? A bit thicker. And how much dust is it collecting on your show?

Alex Ferrari 37:45
A lot.

James V. Hart 37:47
Christopher Oliver has the only book that's as thick as makitas that should be used and listened Makita to great, did a lot for the screenwriting Training Unit. This is all you need. And it says right there and never face a blank page again. You have some shitty ones, you know, but you won't be blank. So this they finally begged me to put this together at Austin. And we just started it about three or four years ago, and it's caught on. And the app, the chart you saw is now available online. And it's an opt in opt out as a monthly subscription. And you can save everything in the cloud, every conversion you make every every change you make. And if you go to the website, you can see the examples. And you can see it come to life, I needed it because it showed me an emotional journey. What was pulling my characters through the narrative is that of being pushed. And that's what I've been doing all up until Dracula, you've been pushed, pushed everything. And even even hook I learned a lot on hook a finding character. If you do this, you will be writing character driven narratives as opposed to plot driven. And it's even now being used in some by some showrunners and TV to where they can take the chart and do a whole season. You know, really lets you see on one page, the emotional journey your characters go through, instead of an outline. You know, now there's a lot of work you do before that I mean, there's a lot of writing you do before you put it on the chart. But those three questions that Francis gave me is where where this all started, I went oh my god. And then people go, Oh, that's easy. You know, what does my character want? What do they need? What are they afraid of? What do you know? What what what what is their visible tangible goal? What is you know, is it a satisfying ending to the biggest one for me is do you have a satisfying ending? Not happy, not sad, not good or bad. But have you satisfied your audience with a journey you've taken? And I know everybody's got plenty of movies and TV series where they didn't like the ending of the series or like the end of the season. They didn't like the end of the you know, like last or so last is the battle or, you know,

Alex Ferrari 39:54
a good example of a movie that a show that did had a horrible ending that people hated was lost, but another Great one I feel is breaking bad. Like brick breaking badly ending was perfect and satisfying. And like, Vince did a perfect job. And that was a heavy, that was a lot of weight to carry, because he was so good. Almost every episode of that series was amazing. And it just kind of kept growing and growing. And if he if he missed the landing, the whole thing.

James V. Hart 40:29
Right Sopranos urban the last episode of Sopranos, you know, people like are the last even the last episode of Game of Thrones, like people pulling their hair out. So these are all things that I think you can vote on. I both agree on this, there's certain storytelling principles in the ether of the universe, you can't fuck with. Yeah, you can try and they're going to get you, right, or you could learn to manage them and use them to your benefit, like structure for me isn't is not a formula structure for me is like putting in a model. It'll actually liberate you, if you know structure. So my whole thing is about structure and about character driven narratives. And it's the only way I've survived it. You know, it's not one of those things where I'm a working writer, I use this every single day in my in my craft, I'm adapting a book right now for Scott Weiner. That's how I adapt. I actually do notes. Every day, I'm using this I use these principles, these questions, these signposts in every single thing I do. And you'll see some quotes from from some pretty big writers that that didn't want to know about it until they saw what I did with the chart. They went, Oh, my God, you know more about the movie than I do. Yeah. And I directed her I wrote it. So. So it's great for threshold writers, a lot of writers that are struggling to try to figure out how to how do I get to be that they I've seen him stop in the middle of my sessions and go and solve a problem and come back and say, I just solved it. I know what I'm missing. Now. And it's, I want it to be mechanical, not some, you know, spiritual guided talent that you can only half if you're special. It really, there really is a mechanical process to what we do. as writers.

Alex Ferrari 42:13
The one thing the one thing I and I just literally just had Chris on a couple of weeks ago, again, because it was 25th anniversary of writers.

James V. Hart 42:22
And I was on the trip. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 42:23
Yeah. And he and he's, I mean, I love Chris to death. And the one thing I was talking to him about in regards to plot and character plot and character because that's always a lot of people like on plot first only it's all only character based or um, or, you know, theme and all that. And people just try to pigeonhole themselves. But the one thing I think it was him or I think it was another guest that I spoke to, but this concept of all the great movies. What do you remember? Do you remember the plot? Or do you remember the character? Like I vaguely remember, I know I mean, I've seen all the Indiana Jones's. I remember Indiana Jones, I and I do remember some parts of Raiders of the Lost Ark plot like quote, unquote, plot, but I remember Indiana Jones. So characters are what we we don't identify with plot as a as a species. We identify with other human beings, other characters. And that's what you connect with, like you connect with Andy dufrane. In Shawshank. You know, the plot is the plot is fantastic. And but it's all about his experience in that. Did you ever heart chart Shawshank? Yes, I

James V. Hart 43:31
did. Frank. Frank, and I go way back. We did Frankenstein together. That was the last film he didn't direct. Frank talks about Shawshank in a very interesting way because a lot of writers don't want to know about structure and don't want to know about they want to be taught. They don't need any they don't have to learn anything. And Frank says will tell you that hey, I wrote Shawshank in five weeks. But he thought about it for eight years. Yes. When he sat down to write he had figured all of this out in his head structurally, character wise, where he needed a scene and why you know, he made so he did his chart in his head. Frank doesn't need my help. There's a lot of writers who do need this help. It helps a lot of threshold writers get off the dime. And I have I have writers from my Columbia classes that are now on directing and running companies and stuff and they still teach the heart chart, you know, to their incoming to their incoming writers. Shawshank Shawshank is probably one of the top 10 movies ever on anybody's list. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 44:34
it's my number one. I

James V. Hart 44:35
mean, everyone in this industry, looked at it his character, but it's also incredibly well structured. I mean, he'll be like yo bellows get shot. You know, you had to be you had to structure that character up to that point where you could not afford to lose him. And that's the point of no return. When he's dead. all bets are off. Right? Right, cuz you were like he's gonna get out. There's hope. Oh, Gotta hope there's hope and bang, pulls you right down the chart, you're up here, going, Okay, he's got there's news he's got he's gonna outrun you right down here.

Alex Ferrari 45:10
And then of course makes the villain even the the villain, even that much more villainous and like it completely just cements him as the absolute pure personification of evil. And by the way, that move that the end and by the way, anyone who hasn't seen Shawshank, sorry, spoiler alert on all this, but if he does that, and you will talk about satisfying endings. Yeah. I mean, that is that is a satisfying ending, seeing him do what he did the the, what's his name, Clancy, Clancy Browns character, get taken off, and then he's going to basically deal with whatever he was dishing out for the last 20 years himself as a prisoner. And then just that beautiful ending and from Roma, please tell me if this is true or not. The original ending wasn't what Frank had in mind, from my understanding that the studio executive said, No, they need to see meet each other on the beach. And that was added after Is that true?

James V. Hart 46:02
Yeah, that's true. Because I do think well, and that's, that's when the foot is, I don't know, where they where they came up with that where they came up with the ending part scripts days, if my my, my whole theory is you should be able to figure that out in the script stage, you're always going to learn something new from the footage. But if you track that emotional journey of those two characters, they have to meet on the beach. They have to

Alex Ferrari 46:27
and know when you say a match, so can I just kind of dive in a little bit deeper into the heart chart, because when you're saying you're tracking the emotional journey, what is exactly the heart chart doing to the character's emotional journey? Like how are you tracking this? Because it's, it sounds fantastic, but physically, like, physically, how is it working?

James V. Hart 46:45
I wonder, but they're gonna try to call up, call up one and show you. But by answering the questions, you get a series of pluses and minuses. This is good for the character. This is bad for the character, this progresses the character. This is an obstacle that stops the character, this decision that character makes is going to have a consequence is that consequence good or bad? So you begin to measure ups and downs, got it? setbacks, successes I have, I have a signpost I call the top of the mountain. And I have another one called the Cinderella moment, I have another one called resurrection opportunity. These are terms that nobody's heard before. I have veteran writers go I've never heard of a resurrection opportunity. What a great you know, and then where it goes and why on top of the mountain what I began to learn through fairy tales and really good narrative was that there's a top of the mountain dead center in your narrative. Where's as good as you're gonna get? Your it's the success that your main characters have had or something they've accomplished, where you're going. Yes, they've done it. Is it and where is it Chris Vogler. His center is the ordeal. Right? Oh, my ordeal is over here a little deeper in the top of the mountain. is is is become a term now. And how you structure the first half of your story. But this

Alex Ferrari 48:07
is the mountain but as the top of the mountain in the first act, second act, third act.

James V. Hart 48:12
Memories dead center, middle of a second. Okay. Even if you do five acts that matter. It's the dead center of your narrative. And I begin to measure certain films and look at them and go wow, I'm right. Indeed, they're good. The first one the good. Indiana Jones, the Primo

Alex Ferrari 48:31
Raiders of Lost Ark. Yeah,

James V. Hart 48:32
literally one hour into that film. He's got the ark. He's in the truck. He's got the girl he's on the boat. He's about to get a backrub you know, and, and boom, the movie is not over. everything after that is a serious complication to whether or not he's going to make it or not, or whether he and Marian are going to survive or how they're going to get to the end of the movie. Yeah. And I and Cindy and Dracula. I went back and looked at Francis cut and I timed the rules cafe scene where he gives you the diamonds and the tears and they actually meet. He takes her back and connects with her one hour and four minutes into the two hour and seven minute film. And that's as good as it gets for them. Everything else after that is complicated. And everybody's trying to pull you down the mountain Cinderella, which is where this started. Cinderella. She goes to the ball. Everybody has her phone number. You know the prince goes I'm not dancing with the sissy Edwards anymore. Mo Who were you? You know, she achieved her goal, which was in the real story was to get to the ball and plead to the prince for her father's estate to be given back to her. The Disney paid version and made it you know, I want to get married to a handsome prince. But that's the top of the mountain that's dead center in the narrative. And what happens Oh, damn, she stays too long at the ball point of no return can't be undone. You know consequences. Plan falls apart. You know the end of the second act. She's back home to change the toilets again. You know she'd never gonna get out. resurrection Oh, there's this glass slipper that she doesn't know about circulating town looking for resurrection opportunity. It gives your it gives your character that second hope and for the third act, so and I begin to measure really good filmmaking and really good even Tarantino is heavily structured.

Alex Ferrari 50:19
Oh, see, that's the genius that's the genius of quitting is because he's his films look like they were throwing together. But even Pulp Fiction you watch Pulp Fiction

James V. Hart 50:29
is perfectly perfectly perfectly structured. No, it's insane begin to be and begin to give me the feeling that structure and character go together. They're not. They're not competing with each other they are they are complementing each other. And if you, you learn this skill, mechanically, it teaches you how to do this. I don't think we're toward teachers, right? I don't like saying teach. It gives you strategies on how you're going to compensate for your work. In our chart also tells you how long it's been since you saw a character when they entered Oh, my God, I haven't had that character in 30 pages, or 15 pages or you know, so it begins to measure a pacing for you about when your exit stage left interstage right. You know, when, when a character shows up, and what their what the impact is they have one the other characters, sometimes your characters are going in opposite directions.

Alex Ferrari 51:18
But what I love, but what I love about your book, what you're with the heart, charm, love. And trust me, I'm doing this show, I've interviewed everybody. I've talked to everybody about all their different types of structures. I'm always fascinated when I hear something new that gets me excited. Because at the end of the day, we're all trying to get to the same place and we're all it's just different maps to the same place and some people might like Vogler better or true, be better or heart better. It's all relative. But what I love about what you're talking about is that you can see visually, the entire blueprint of your story. In a good word. Oh, yeah, a map or a blueprint of the whole thing, because the cards are one thing, but you can't physically you got to go into a graded. Yeah. But visually to be able to see how the emotion of your characters and the emotion of your store is being charted. Each one along the way, is fairly powerful. And when you see like there's a, there's a dip, oh, wait a minute, there's, there's no, there's a problem here. They're flat. They're flatlining. Well, you

James V. Hart 52:21
don't want to do Yeah, right. You're flatlining, you're dead. So that means there's something wrong over here. I

Alex Ferrari 52:26
haven't seen this character for a while. Maybe we should bring this back in. That is really fascinating. Can you tell me just the resurrection moment or opportunity in Shawshank? I'm trying to think in my head. I'm like, Well, where is that? Because he's lost? Oh,

James V. Hart 52:41
yes. Yes. When the restaurateur opportunity is when he was when Morgan goes into the goes into the the, the the review that he goes through all the time, and is he's been through all of this shit. And you know, they always turn him down. And this time he goes and tells the truth. He finally stops lying. And he tells the truth to the committee.

Alex Ferrari 53:05
But that's a resurrection for red but how about for Andy? Or is there an end?

James V. Hart 53:10
I gotta go back remember the movie?

Alex Ferrari 53:11
Because because i i agree with you. I think that the main character of the movie is red. It's not it's red. Red's the storyteller. It's his point of view. Everything's coming from reds point of view. But Andy, you don't see His resurrection moment because his resurrection moment is kind of shown to us.

James V. Hart 53:28
Let me think about that. Because it could be because when Gil bellows wood character gets killed, that's that's like disaster. It's all falling apart. So it's going to come after that whatever that resurrection. Opportunity is brandies and to come after that. And it may be it may be his that may be what prompts his brilliant escape. You know, his when he when he decided to get out. So in a way what he's facing in prison after Bella's is killed and he knows he knows that he's next that you know he'd the poster is the posters his fucking resurrection opportunity.

Alex Ferrari 54:07
When the one that when he when he clicks off in that first piece of plastic comes on?

James V. Hart 54:11
Yeah, but that was years before he puts the poster up. Right? Yeah. I don't remember when he did that. But the poster. It comes after guild's death. So whatever it is, it comes after Gil's death where he gets the impetus I'm getting out of here.

Alex Ferrari 54:31
Yeah, and it's it's difficult to kind of narrow it down because red is the main character and Andy's look and Andy's the back but but we actually the the resurrection moment for Andy is actually revealed to us at the end, when his entire story is kind of laid out. You're like, Oh, that's when it happened. So it's actually shown to us, but read you're absolutely right. And it's tracked so beautifully when he just goes you just tell the truth. Oh, it's people, the people who listened to the show know my affection for Shawshank Rita Frank efra and Green Mile I love Green Mile, love, love Green Mile as well. Now what is the biggest mistake You see? screenwriters make because you work with a lot of first time screenwriters. What is the one thing that you see like, Oh, god, this is the one thing?

James V. Hart 55:14
Well, again, that's why I did the toolkit. They don't understand structure. at all, they think that they think it's, it's really not your enemy. It's your, it's your friend. And once you discover the structure doesn't make every single film the same. Even though the signposts are in my work are the same. You can rearrange them can't change, appointed, overturn, can't change, plan falls apart, can't change, resurrection opportunity can't change top in the middle. You know, if you have those four things you can write, back, you go by I try to I try to unsatisfying ending. If you if you haven't know what those are, you can write backwards, you know what your first sight has to accomplish to set you on that journey. The other thing too, is I think that they're they overwrite dialog, and they say, they're not able to write behavior into their scripts, they say everything on the on the, on the nose dialogue, or acquisition all being being verbal. So I miss behavior. And executives don't like to read behavior. They like to read dialogue with a lot of white on the page. So tell me what's going on. But good writers who can write behavior into their characters. So the plan for indie, it's being afraid of snakes? You know, there's a phobia, you know, that that you know, is going to show up again, you know, that that snakes going to show up again, it's just when so that structure is anticipation structure. Maybe it should make you anticipate not go Okay, well, here comes the part where, you know, the monster is not really dead. Yeah, we know that. He's right. It's how it's delivered. And I get the my favorite example is always tell I've worked, I watched I've worked with Robin Williams, who was he and his family were great friends. And we

Alex Ferrari 57:03
know, I can imagine, here,

James V. Hart 57:05
but I watch Robin, the best structuralists I ever saw at work was run whims. Interesting. I just think that all this stuff came out of his mind he was pulled in from everywhere, you know, and all India, he did have a great database. But I watched him film live his stand up show for HBO three nights in a row. And at the end of in, at the end of each night, he would take the card out of his back pocket and start making notes and scratch things out and move, you know, and he would he would talk to you maybe maybe had dinner before or something, he would pick your brain on something and he would show up in the show. But I watched him rearrange his his cards every night. You know, to find to try to find that smooth ride that he wanted one thing led to another but it seemed like it came out of nowhere. You know? And the for those that don't believe me if you've ever seen the history of golf? My Robin Williams

Alex Ferrari 57:57
Oh, that was an amazing I love that doesn't matter how many times you watch it? How

James V. Hart 58:01
many times you see him do it. Same fucking punch line every time. Yeah. And you're laughing at all the same players that you've heard it for the first time, that structure, you know, and all your friends that do improv and dazzle you with Oh, how do you do that? It's structure. They have a set of circumstances and a set of Givens and a set of sign posts and a set of circumstances that they always resort to, to then invent inside that box.

Alex Ferrari 58:25
And and that's the interesting because I know exactly the bit you're talking about because I pissed myself every single time I saw him play do that. And and it was so and I you know what thinking back when I when I heard him doing that bit, which is like why did the Scottish create golf, and how and then the story of the dude that actually creates it, and how he builds stages sections and it's plotting and I never thought about that in joke writing because I'm not a joke writer or stand up. But he actually structured that so beautifully. Because when you think he's done, he's like, no, wait a minute, we're gonna do this, this this 18 die, and then we're gonna do Oh, yeah, we'll throw it sand in it. We'll do this. And then hey, let's do it. Eight to 10 you're just like, oh my god, this is amazing. We're gonna throw this little ball of 1000 you're gonna feel like it's a string. We'll call it a stroke. That's right. Because every time you miss you feel like you have a heart attack.

James V. Hart 59:20
You can't you can't you can't argue that he makes that up as he goes along, but it feels like it. That was his brilliance. That was it. And also anybody knows where they say about a comedian. He has good timing or she has good time he or she really knows how to land a line or that structure.

Alex Ferrari 59:35
Interesting. Interesting. So that yeah, it was it was and i and i had a short interaction with Robin, about three months before he passed and I he was such a gentle soul. And I just, I don't know, but because you were really good friends with him. There was something I felt off when I met him. I felt this kinetic thing that was coming off of him, even though he was quiet and calm that day. But you could feel that that was just the energy. I don't know, maybe it's just me, but he's just like this, this energy that just kept going on like, Oh my god, I must be insane to deal with because he was that thing that you saw on stage.

James V. Hart 1:00:11
Yeah, he's actually very shy, right? Very common, very quiet and reserved and, but but if you threw the match in the haystack, he felt obligation to he felt that obligation to perform and entertain and make everybody feel good. But I mean, when we dinner with his kids, I mean, the kids dominate the conversation and Robin would just sit, listen, but he, he was very attentive that way. And, and it was the side of him that you don't expect to see. And also just that he had a hit a lot of things going on in his life in himself anyway. I'll do a robin story is sure, please, it's my wife and I were there with them and happened to you know, what did never show up in a routine. But, and Marsha is good, his incredible life with kids. We're still very close. We were at we went to San Francisco and I introduced him to Albert do up until the very famous French comedian who he loved. And we all went to dinner at one of their cool restaurants in San Francisco, big high ceilings, and we have a long table, you know, and everybody's looking at Robin, you know, and, and on the wall, there's a group that are from Texas, or I can say this because I'm from Texas. And when I've had big hair, you know, and they're loud and having a good time. And all of a sudden we I see Robin Robin, would you do this a lot, you know, and I watched him looking up and he was starting to get kind of nervous and like he kept looking up and it was above his woman and sitting across from us and kept looking up the ceiling. And we were going and we all sort of took sneaky peeks and and there's this giant Roach climbing the wall in this super held in ritzy high in San Francisco with this giant rush the rush is that big. It is climbing up the wall to the ceiling directly above this woman's head.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:18
And Robin she's going Oh god, no.

James V. Hart 1:02:22
Yeah, and we're all going oh my god, is it gonna fall? And she starts looking at like, looking at the table, roll it and he didn't want to call the manager over Hey, there's a fucking Russian. And finally it happened. fall right up with her hair. No, Robin falls out he cannot control his laughter any longer. He is on the floor. He is guffawing you know he is sitting with the whole replaces lit up and she's like

Alex Ferrari 1:02:52
oh my god.

James V. Hart 1:02:55
And he's like I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to you. And she stands up and announces to the whole restaurant she points writer at writer Robin says Robin Williams. You're not funny. And of course then the whole Yeah. And he bought dinner and everything else but it was it was a you couldn't It was like a guest kitchen a skit a sketch out of center nightlife. paranoid calm no sound like an old old like Charlie Chaplin, you know, BIT bit, you know, and we're all we watched it play out in real time. And it was hysterical. And also fishy. They left the restaurant but he bought dinner and the manager came out and combined and a big fucking Roach in her hair. To get it out. You don't step on it.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:41
Oh my god, I must have been amazed.

James V. Hart 1:03:45
I'm so sorry. You know, you're not funny.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:48
First of which, of course, which of course everybody knows he is

James V. Hart 1:03:52
and was quiet. When she when she said that? He started laughing Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:03:56
because he's like, Oh, this is brilliant. This is I can't write this you can't write that you can't write.

James V. Hart 1:04:02
And to have sat there and witnessed it. It was even like I can't believe it's gonna fall it's gonna land right on her head.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:10
We're just waiting. You know that I could just as you're telling the story my director mind is like shot here. Shout out shout of the close up eyes like you could just you're just like it's a Hitchcock scene.

James V. Hart 1:04:22
It is it is very Hitchcock you know and and of course what what we all says was a roach went up there to commit suicide it had it I'm going to dive into a bowl of spraying it you know and suffocate brooch I'm done with this world. I'm we're out of here. We're Gone. And if I'm

Alex Ferrari 1:04:41
gonna I'm gonna do this right. Let's go all the way to

James V. Hart 1:04:47
whatever if you get tired, you couldn't hold on here with you. He give up

Alex Ferrari 1:04:51
on I'm sure Robin kept going. I'm sure he kept building up a

James V. Hart 1:04:53
backstory on top of the mountain and then put into return and disaster. That's amazing. A resurrection opportunity you're not funding changes. Anyway.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:05
Um,

James V. Hart 1:05:05
that's that now I can work that into a structure lesson. Okay?

Alex Ferrari 1:05:09
Yeah, absolutely. You should absolutely work that into a structure lesson. No question.

James V. Hart 1:05:12
I have a story. I'm sorry if I digress.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:15
No, no, no, I think it's, we it's an amazing story. And it actually works about structure, you actually turned it into a structure lesson as well. Now, I wanted to ask you, well, first of all, I mean, you've written all these amazing movies and and worked with amazing people. But I mean, obviously, the top of your mountain was writing for The Muppets. Obviously.

James V. Hart 1:05:37
They were my favorite experience. I did just under Brian Henson, I just exchanged notes recently on any birthday. Yeah. That was the that was the I guess that's the cat's pajamas or the bee's knees or, you know? That's, I mean, it was totally unexpected. Brian, Brian and I had met during hook. And another book that we wanted to do the Calico was a mandamus magic, which is a Gallico. novolin. Deputy now. And they, he, we've met and like each other. And he came to me, Disney was going to pull the plug on about the dirt around. It didn't like where it was going. And they came to me and Brent said, will you read the script? We're about that we're about to lose this project. You know, and we're having problems. Can you just read it? Give me some feedback. And I read it and there was no human beings in the script. There was no Jim Hawkins there was no lunch on sir. We were all met.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:37
Bob By the way, for people who are not catching up. You wrote Treasure Island, Muppet Treasure Island. Yeah, people might not know

James V. Hart 1:06:44
I mean, I came in and put my orange water with great people like Jerry Jewell and sir bill bought a lot of stuff later, but um, and I read it and said there's no humans you can't make this movie with no humans. You can't have Jim Hawkins be a puppet and, and and Robin long john silver via puppet you can't do it. It's like Lucas when he first did star wars are all robots. You know, you got to have the human being element. You know?

Alex Ferrari 1:07:12
Is that is that true is when Star Wars when he wrote first wrote it everybody

James V. Hart 1:07:16
was CPU Ember CPU and our 2d two they were the heroes.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:19
Okay, right. And then look showed up afterwards. Got it.

James V. Hart 1:07:22
So we would shut it up at my house in the Hudson River, which and and actually Brian's brother lived nearby and we snowstorms and piles of snow. So we spent three days working on the script. And and the reason there were no humans in the script is that Frank Oz did not like to work with children. He's got 12 of his own, but it isn't my work. And so I said, Well, let me write some scenes and see if we can convince Frank. differently. So we wrote some scenes, and they were they loved the scenes because I brought some some humanity back into the story, especially the relationship between Jim and London silver has been a seminal relationship in my my upbringing about villains. I mean, I have a whole thing on villains. why they're the good guys. You know? And so it was a you're able, we were able to do that emotional connection between Jim and john. Keep all the jokes and keep all the stuff in you know, but the funny part was casting the Muppets in their various roles because they are like movie stars. Yeah, I mean, I would, I would never suggest we they are having a hard time casting Kermit. So I would suggest and Brian was it now Kermit won't play that role? He's not he won't be good in that kind of part. Oh, okay. And, you know, what do we do with Miss Piggy? You know, but she had to have just the right role where she wouldn't do the film. But a bigger trailer or something. So you begin to understand that this that this, this world of Muppets is like an archeological dig. They have a history of the way movie stars have a history. Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Incredible. And and the people that created the character are the only ones that could do them. There was a big controversy when Jim died if they were going to continue to Kerman. Oh, wow. So and that's what's interesting. I mean, when Frank has his hand goes up Miss Piggy skirt. He's Miss Piggy. Nobody else is Miss Piggy, but Frank Oz. You know. And so that was interesting to see that that the guy JOHN RIZZO, you know, I can't remember the performers name but they were created by the puppet here by the puppeteer. So as long as they were alive, they did the characters. Did you had other puppeteers who came in and did this sort of characters but casting Kermit and casting Miss Piggy was the most difficult part of the of the show. And we missed we may Miss Piggy Benjamin again. We've been marooned on the island and had a string of pirate lovers including London silver, And actually it was fun to watch Frank work on set because he had he was staying character in between takes

Alex Ferrari 1:10:07
did he read it you see

James V. Hart 1:10:09
yes that's a terrible line. Brian Let's shoot it again you know about the ship and and so and Brian and Miss Piggy would have a dialogue you know between takes with Frank because Miss Piggy Same thing with Steve Whitmire, who did Kerman they would normally stay in character between takes unless they took a break and right should that you know shift the shadow. And then when my kids were with me on the set in London and we had that in your they're alive I mean they don't have eyes that don't their eyes. eyes don't move they don't have you know, they're not marionettes, right? No, No, they don't. And we're leaving the set and we let x etc think about a Brian, the end of the day and there's a whole trolley full of all the Muppets hanging and payable on their on their spikes, you know? Oh my god and Julia, who just arrived just to register for film? She was I think 10 then she free tested. Oh my god, they're dead. Yeah, I don't want to see this. I mean, their eyes are suddenly there is of course. Right? So it was and getting to work with juries rule and the whole Muppet Henson team was extraordinary.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:32
Wow, it must have been so much fun working with them

James V. Hart 1:11:34
such a culture such it's such a culture of caring and concern about character. You know, those characters don't change they're like movie stars. No absolutely themselves.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:48
My my my Kermit the Frog I grew up which was Jim and the Kermit the Frog that lives today. The character is the same. His all his principles as him as piggies is the same. gonzos is the same. It bazis is the same. It's they are they're movie stars. But they it's they're they're actually it's fascinating. I just wanted to touch really quickly. You said something very interesting. You believe villains are heroes. Yep. Can you touch on that? Because that's fascinating. I'd love to hear your take on that real quick.

James V. Hart 1:12:17
Yeah, well, villains are how I made my career. And it all started with as a kid when I again, why is why is longines over the bad guy. Why is why is Captain NEEMO the bad guy. You know, I started as a kid I'm gonna wait to make Captain even wants to end slavery. He wants to abolish weapons of mass destruction. He wants to end war. You know, I'm voting for President. You know, my guy is and then you are in any any advanced nuclear energy. So so far I'm getting people's going good, good, good nuclear energy. Well, no, no. And then he destroyed nuclear energy because he knew what we do whether we got our hands on it. I cried. When? When James Mason goes down with a Nautilus. I wanted to kill nedlands and Kirk Douglas for throwing the bottles and having him blow up his stuff. I couldn't figure out why he was the bad guy. Right? Same thing with lunch on silver lunch. And so we're taught so taught Jim Hawkins so much about being a man and being loyal and being a mate. You know, when Jim had a chance to kill, to shoot blown John's team and he's stealing the treasure he let him go. He learned so much from lunch. Same thing with with with Dracula. When I finally started researching Dracula, Dracula was a fallen angel. He wasn't a guy in a tuxedo just wants to suck your throat there was a story. So villains to me are the villains, advanced history, villains, forced society to change. You know, they force us to advance and to achieve new and also they're visionaries. We may not always agree every one of us, Jules burns. The man who conquered the world, you know, the all these guys were visionaries. JOHN, john Galt in, in atlas shrugged. The visionary didn't agree with his politics, but he was a visionary. Yeah, so the villains sort of come jumping out to me like, wait a minute, why why am Why is the villain so misunderstood? And so you know, and then suddenly, we don't have all these are all villains from literature. You know, for me, Jekyll and Hyde is a big one for me that what Robert Louis Stevenson intended? His wife burned his first manuscript. That's the one I wanted to read. Yeah, yeah, she burned it twice. Sure, it reveal too much about them, you know? He but he led it, he led a double life in real in real life. He led a double life with his mates, he would take him to London, give them nicknames, give them identities. They'd horn winch around. Then you come back up to his little Calvinists, you know, so, suddenly, the villain was more interesting to me than the hero. The least interesting character in Star Wars Luke till he finds out he was Father is in. Something's interesting.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:03
You're absolutely right.

James V. Hart 1:15:07
Harry Potter is another kid who's gonna learn bad magic for bar mitzvahs until he finds out who his father is. Right? Yeah. So it the villain is also what makes you special. And I think Bob and I both agree on this is what it's what? It's what forces the call to action which forces a hero to emerge the villain. So the hero, the hero is really indebted to the villain and I don't call them villains anymore as much as a nemesis. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:15:32
right.

James V. Hart 1:15:33
The villains me sound like a cartoon cardboard thing in a video game or, you know, tort mustache twirling.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:40
And that's what and that's one of the things about villains that even without a good villain, that the story doesn't go forward. Like you could have that you could have Hercules. But without, you know, all of the the like, well, perfect example in today's age Marvel movies. I mean, Thanos was an amazing villain, and that they built it up over a decade of films and how they built that up to the point where at endgame when everybody literally the entire universe Marvel Universe has to, has to come to fight him all at the same. That's why it's that's such a cathartic moment. But that without that knows, it's just, if it's a weekly and he's not as you know, it's, it's a balance, too, because when you have when you have a villain that's so powerful, that there's no hope that he could ever be beaten, then it's like, why are we watching this? Yeah.

James V. Hart 1:16:29
And that's why Darth Vader when you get Darth Vader's backstory, and that's why Georgia there brilliant job in Jedi of actually getting to see anniken as that gentle old elder man who you can see as being Luke's father, you know, and even anniken I mean, I I do this is just to my students. Why is why is Darth Vader bad? But did he do so terrible? Well, then you go back to the lore and he went to the dark side to save his wife. Yeah, he chose, he chose the dark side, he saved his wife's life. That's love. So that also gives you some redemptive quality of this worse, the script I'm writing right now, another Gallico novel, The love of seven dolls as a horrible, terrible Nemesis in it. And, and slowly began to reveal what it why he's like this. Why he can't stand it or be anything pure and uncut. He has to corrupt everything. There's a reason why. And when you find out that reason why when you find out what that villains Achilles heel is, it's not just a way to kill them, it's a way to understand them, and empathize with them.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:34
Well, like in perfect example. Thanos he just wants to know, he is overpopulation. It's too much overpopulation in the world. My solution is wrong, which is wrong, he's not wrong, how he approaches it is wrong and that's where the villainous aspect is to these characters. But it's not like the olden twisting the mustache to be bad just to be bad there's no depth there and that's what drives a good story. I mean, James I can keep talking to you for at least two or three more hours, but I'm just gonna I'm going to ask you a few questions I asked all my guests and and and then I will leave you on to write more more things.

James V. Hart 1:18:07
All the answers are in here. Okay, www bit hard. chart.com us is a 20 inch or discount code.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:16
So what three threes? What three screenplay should every screenwriter read?

James V. Hart 1:18:22
Wow, Shawshank.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:24
Oh man after my own heart. I'm

James V. Hart 1:18:28
probably godfather one. Great. And not just a transcript of the movie, but you get you know, get the get to publish the public screenplay. I'm trying to think probably Bonnie and Clyde.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:50
Another great one.

James V. Hart 1:18:54
It's me again, with the characters, not the plot, two characters. And I would I mean, I'm proud of some of the stuff I've written. But if someone someone's read, I actually read. Actually, we'll actually have George's first American RPG script. We were supposed to try to finance it for him. Godfather one, Shawshank. I would read some TV episodes too. I'd read some I read some events, his episodes of Breaking Bad. Let's see to show you what you can do in 45 to 50 pages.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:32
That pilot is a genius.

James V. Hart 1:19:34
Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:40
If someone was going to read wonders, if someone's going to read one of your screenplays, if you're like he could only read one of my scripts. Which one is it?

James V. Hart 1:19:48
100 I read Dracula.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:49
Yeah. That would agree with you. Yeah. Yeah.

James V. Hart 1:19:52
I don't know how it exists in some form or not because we we did all that extra work. Also the August restaurant I'm real proud of August 1 of the last time I worked with Robin. I thought Pearson does such a good job directing reading that film. And it didn't get the acknowledgement that it should have, because I should have put once upon a time. It's a really it's a screenplay, right? I used everything I knew about the heart chart, everything I knew about character, everything I knew about structures in that film. And to me, there's a talk about a satisfying ending. Some people are not satisfied because they don't see them together. But for me, is credibly satisfying. He, he accomplished his goal. He brought his parents together. Now I can watch it 100 times and it still gets me every time I get to that part.

Alex Ferrari 1:20:39
Now what now What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

James V. Hart 1:20:44
Well, the business has completely changed and it's wide open for for writers that way it wasn't for me when I started out. blacklist, inc, inc. Inc. Well, Austin Film Festival, screenplay contest, all of the fellowships that are being offered through Nichols and through Warner Brothers and Disney and if the international screenwriter Association, I think are wonderful. Yep, they've done a lot of I've done a lot of work for them. screencraft, stage 32 these are all platforms that didn't exist when we were trying to start out there was no helping hand. The Austin Film Festival is worth submitting to keep submitting your and your scripts are now being read. They're not just going into the black hole, they're actually being read. You know, you've got 200 readers on the on the on the blacklist that are there to find scripts, that's their job for their for their, their producers, their studios, their networks. They're they're looking that's how my daughter got her first film made was his blacklist. She just read her fourth film and Amazon I'm I'm your woman is Julia Hart. Star girl is Julia Hart. And the n plus the business is looking for the new threshold writers. There, they had it with me, you know, when they don't want to put up with us anymore. They want the new fresh voices who are coming out of not necessarily film schools, but you're coming out of workshops and masterclasses and we didn't have that access. You've also got 100 more buyers than we had.

Alex Ferrari 1:22:19
Oh 1000 probably Yeah, yeah.

James V. Hart 1:22:22
And then it'll change the COVID COVID thing will come and go, not nothing is going to go. But we'll find a way to live with it. And we're already trying to get into production. As soon as production starts. And some of that development moves off the shelf. They're looking, okay. And I think it's a great time to be a writer, especially in TV, we're finally that it is true. The writer has the power and television. You know, they used to say that and then but now it's true.

Alex Ferrari 1:22:50
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

James V. Hart 1:22:56
To listen? Okay? No, that's I learned that from Francis and a few other people to never be, never speak first in the meeting. And, and listen, and listen to everything they have to say. And nod your head a lot. And go, that's a good idea. Well think about that. make notes. And then go back and press two said whatever. Even if you disagree with everything they said. You know, you go back and you take you look at your notes, and the ones that keep haunting you the ones that keep coming back and bite you in the ass. Those are the ones you have to address. No, but I think listening is the listen and collaborate.

Alex Ferrari 1:23:37
And work can work.

James V. Hart 1:23:38
You don't want it you don't want to collaborate, go sculpt or you know, go do a painting. You know, we're if you if you're not able to collaborate, you're gonna have a hard time. And where can people find more about the heart chart and everything you do Heart, heart heart. chart.com is the website you'll find there. We just put up our for masterclasses that we filmed in Austin last year, they were available for a special bundle. The toolkit is there for download which I'm going to send you one good sir.

Alex Ferrari 1:24:04
Thank you. Sorry, I look forward to that.

James V. Hart 1:24:06
And the chart is a monthly subscription. You can get in and out anytime you want to it's 899 a month. But I recommend that everybody sort of spend time with the toolkit before they try the heart chart. It's a great tool I've just had just in this last week, we had like another 30 or 40 subscriptions based on the last masterclass that I did. And we're updating the we're updating the the story mapping tool all the time. You get a two week free trial, you can go in and play with the examples and see what the other films that we have there. Like us on Facebook, like us on Twitter, and I will be doing some more classes in some online classes in in 2021

Alex Ferrari 1:24:45
Sounds good. James, thank you so much for taking the time out to to share your story, share your information, and talking talking to our tribe. So I truly appreciate it and thank you for all the good work you've done through your career and continuing

James V. Hart 1:25:00
Now you've got to do what you told me you're gonna do now you know about the heart chart so yeah, I'll be talking about it Don't worry about it said you know this is a great I think what you guys are doing a great the podcast is a whole nother network that we never had access to so I appreciate the exposure. Last thing. Just remember when you're down and out on yourself that nobody no director no writer no no actor no producer no costume designer no dp nobody has a job in his business until a writer types the end so as the advice I can give you is go type the end.

Alex Ferrari 1:25:38
Thank you, James.


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Learn how to write incredible screenplays from Aaron Sorkin in the most comprehensive screenwriting course he’s ever taught. In addition to both improving your storytelling skills and outlining what it takes to write incredible scripts, Aaron invites you into his writer’s room for an eight-part screenwriting case study where he and his team will script, rewrite, and break down a new Season 5 premiere of The West Wing.

Aaron Sorkin first broke out with his Broadway play (and the film adaptation of) “A Few Good Men” starring Tom Cruise before creating “The West Wing” and the remarkable HBO show “Newsroom“. He won an Oscar for writing “The Social Network” and was nominated again for “Moneyball”; more recently, he wrote “Steve Jobs.”

Diving deep into screenwriting fundamentals, Aaron offers detailed lessons on narrative structure, character development, generating new ideas, and his signature style of dialogue. Aaron knows that great screenwriting requires intention and obstacle. He dedicates several lessons to explain how to create conflict, raise dramatic stakes, and keep audiences watching.

Designed to offer useful lessons to seasoned and emerging screenwriters, Aaron’s class can be enjoyed by writers of all skill levels.

Over the course of 25 video lessons spanning five hours, as well as a 30-page workbook and interactive assignments. His workbook includes an entire lecture devoted exclusively to the walk-and-talk. Sorkin is going to share “his rules of storytelling, dialogue, [and] character development,” critique select student submissions, and work with real-world examples from the decades he’s spent writing movies, TV shows, and plays.

You can ENROLL in the course now to this game-changing screenwriting course. Click here to gain access


Who is Aaron Sorkin?

One of the most acclaimed, both hated and loved and a prominent screenwriter of modern times who has made a name for himself in the industry is Aaron Sorkin. Claim to fame The West Wing, Sorkin’s signature style can be recognized and is matchless. His screenplay is unmistakable with witty and rapid dialogue or monolog, morality tales, and sharp, intelligent male protagonists.

His dialogues often hint at liberal political messages, and he is renowned for his smart stories of politics and the government. Aaron Sorkin has written both on the media industry and television especially.

Though the style gets diverging at times, Sorkin undoubtedly happens to be a brilliant writer who’s credited with the creation of modern classics like A Few Good Men including recent successes like The Social Network. Sorkin has won several Emmys, an Academy Award, and a Golden Globe and carries on still to be a powerhouse both in television and Hollywood.

Born in Manhattan New York City to a Jewish family, Sorkin was raised in the suburb of Scarsdale. His father was a copyright lawyer who had battled in WWII and had put himself through college on the G.I Bill. His mother was a school teacher and both of his siblings, a brother, and sister went on to become lawyers.

Aaron Sorkin took quite an early interest in acting and before he had become a teenager, he loved shows like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? And That Championship Season. Scarsdale High School was where Sorkin got involved in drama and the theater club.

When he was in 8th grade, he played the role of General Bullmoose in the musical, Li’l Abner. In the senior class production of Scarsdale High called Once Upon a Mattress, he played Sir Harry. Sorkin also acted as the vice president both in his junior and senior years at Scarsdale High School and in 1979, he graduated.

Sorkin got himself enrolled in Syracuse University, and in his freshman year bad luck struck, and he flunked a class which was a core requirement. It was a very devastating setback as Sorkin had aspirations to take up acting and become an actor but the drama department did not permit the students to come up on the stage unless they had passed all the core freshman classes.

Resolute to do better, he returned again in his sophomore year and then graduated in 1983. According to Sorkin, his drama teacher Arthur Storch had a great influence on him back in college, and his reputation as a director and being under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg was the primary reason why so many students aspiring to do something in the theater and film industry chose Syracuse. And it was always Storch that pushed him to do better and encouraged him on his capacity to do better. Sorkin earned his bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University in musical theater in 1983.

Shortly after graduation, Sorkin moved to New York City. Most of his time in the 80s was spent struggling as an occasionally employed actor with lots of odd jobs like delivering singing telegrams, touring Alabama with children’s theater company Travelling Playhouse and handing out fliers that marketed the hunting and fishing show, driving a limousine, and bartending at Broadway’s Palace Theatre.

While housesitting for a friend one weekend, he came across an IBM Selectric typewriter, and according to Sorkin, he felt such joy and phenomenal confidence that he had never felt before in his life.

Reflecting on his experiences that he had with the touring theater company, Sorkin wrote Removing All Doubt which he sent to his theater teacher at Syracuse University, Arthur Storch. Impressed, Storch staged Removing All Doubt for the drama students at his alma mater.

Sorkin made quite a professional leap when he wrote his second play Hidden in This Picture which was debuted Off-off Broadway (which are smaller than standard Broadway and Off-Broadway productions,) at the West Bank Café Downstairs Theatre Bar which belonged to Steve Olsen, in 1988. The content of this first two plays ended up with him having a theatrical agent.

While having a conversation with his sister Deborah, Sorkin got the inspiration for his next play. A courtroom drama called A Few Good Men. Deborah told him how she was going to defend a group of Marines who were about to kill a fellow Marine in hazing which was a direct order by a senior. Sorkin was working as a bartender at the Palace Theatre, and he wrote all that information on cocktail napkins.

He returned home and typed all in Macintosh 512K which was purchased by his roommates.

The Hits

Sorkin sold the rights to David Brown before its premiere who produced it at the Music Box Theatre. Starring Tom Hulce, it was directed by Don Scardino. It ran for 497 performances, and by the time it hit the big screens, with Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise, Sorkin had become a major Hollywood team player.

In 1993, Sorkin co-wrote Malice, a dramatic thriller. It starred Nicole Kidman and Alec Baldwin but still got mixed reviews. In 1995, Sorkin came up with The American President which took him a few years to write. With the presence of Michael Douglas and Annette Benning striking up a romance, it was critically acclaimed.

Sorkin made a comeback to the small screen in 1998 with Sports Night which was a comedy regarding the behind-the-scenes production of sports news programs. It was filled with a quick wit and snappy dialogues and garnered Sorkin a nomination in the Emmy Awards for outstanding writing. It lasted only two seasons though. This cult hit was loved by many fans and critics and won many awards too.

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Unwavering, Sorkin’s next project earned him the repute of one of the best American television writers in the history being pure Sorkin-ey. When he was writing The American President, the screenplay was huge which was cut down, and that ended up in creating West Wing which was an hour-long primetime drama revolving around the staff of a fictional Democratic President, Jed Bartlet which was incredibly played by Martin Sheen. The show ran for seven seasons and Sorkin left after the fourth with his production partner in 2003.

The West Wing was a huge hit and got Sorkin one of the record nine Emmy awards that were awarded to the show in 2000. The show is regarded as one of the best television dramas of all time. It featured a dazzling cast of Bradley Whitford, Rob Lowe, Allison Janney, Alan Alda with Stockard Channing.

The West Wing was where Sorkin earned his reputation for a particular writing style which was witty, quick, and sarcastic at times. The walk and talk are the best portrayals of his style in which the characters would be briskly walking together in hallways and fired sharp lines at each other with brilliant speed. It also earned him a repute for having quite a heavy-handed political opinion which was hated by conservatives.

The Bartlet Administration depicted the ideal progressive administration of Sorkin, and the characters would often comment in detail delivering lengthy monologs on current controversies and events. None could stop the show, and it still has a very respectable place in television history.

The follow-up series by Sorkin Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, died out just after one season. He made a comeback to the theater with The Farnsworth which failed to impress. But Sorkin found success again with a political comedy-drama which was an adaptation of Charlie Wilson’s War(2007). It starred Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.

Sorkin then centered his focus on the origins and the following legal battles behind the upheaval of the social media giant, Facebook. Starring Jesse Eisenberg as the Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, it was adapted from a book by Ben Mezrich. The Social Network(2010) happened to be a rewarding achievement for Sorkin and he won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for this screenplay.

Garnering Oscar buzz, Sorkin followed with another adaptation and co-writing the script for a baseball movie, Moneyball(2011). The Newsroom(2012) was Sorkin’s another return to television. It combined elements from his last projects, and it emphasized on the exciting behind-the-scenes production this time, at a cable news channel. The cast did an excellent job of witty banter and passionate speeches.

By the end of the show in December(2014) Sorkin had completed the screenplay for a biopic of the co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs. It was released the next year and starred Michael Fassbender as the lead. This earned Sorkin his second Golden Globe for Best Screenplay. As of January 2016, Sorkin announced he would be making his directorial debut with an adaptation, Molly’s Game a chronicle by an underground poker organizer, Molly Bloom.

Aaron Sorkin would be working with Bartlett Sher this time for an adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, for the stage. In March 2016, A Few Good Men would go into production on NBC and will be aired in 2017.

Top Ten Best Screenplays Ever Written: Screenplays Download

If you want to be a screenwriter you have to read screenplays. There’s no better place to start than reading the masters of the craft. The Writers Guild of America(WGA) published this list of the top ten best screenplays ever written and I would have to agree.

My personal favorites on this list are Casablanca, Chinatown, and Annie Hall. Click on the links below and start reading. Happy Reading…then get to writing.

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


(NOTE: For educational and research purposes only).

1. CASABLANCA
Screenplay by Julius J. & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch. Based on the play “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison

2. THE GODFATHER
Screenplay by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola.

3. CHINATOWN
Written by Robert Towne

4. CITIZEN KANE
Written by Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles

5. ALL ABOUT EVE
Screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

6. ANNIE HALL
Written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman

7. SUNSET BLVD.
Written by Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder and D.M. Marshman, Jr.

8. NETWORK
Written by Paddy Chayefsky

9. SOME LIKE IT HOT
Screenplay by Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond.

10. THE GODFATHER II
Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo.

BONUS: SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
Screenplay by Frank Darabont. I had to add this remarkable screenplay to the list.