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.

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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 113: How to Rewrite Your Screenplay Like a Hollywood Pro with Paul Chitlik

On the show today veteran screenwriter, director, producer, educator, author, Paul Chitlik. Paul has worked on 80’s show classics like the Twilight Zone, Small Wonder, Who’s the Boss, and Perfect Strangers, among others. He spends his free time as a clinical assistant professor teaching Screenwriting at the Loyola Marymount University in Los Angelos.

Small Wonder follows the zany adventures of a suburban family, their next-door neighbors, and an innovative robot designed to look like a human child.

 

Chitlik’s best-selling book, Rewrite 2nd Edition: A Step-by-Step Guide to Strengthen Structure, Characters, and Drama in your Screenplay, is a gold mine of expert guidance for every aspiring screenwriter.

Veteran screenwriting instructor and award-winning writer Paul Chitlik presents an easy-to-read, step-by-step process to take your script from first draft to submission draft. He reveals the hidden structure of screenplays, sequences, and scenes, as he guides you through the process of examining your draft, restructuring it, and populating it with believable, complex, and compelling characters.

Along the way he outlines how to make your action leap off the page and your dialogue crackle. While the first edition was widely used in film school rewriting classes, it was also recommended as an introduction to screenwriting craft by a number of professors and professionals. Paul Chitlik has included, for the second edition, more examples, exercises, and applications for television, the web, and other media, using a wide range of citations in film, television, and the Internet to underline his approach.  

Paul shared so much of his creative thought process during our conversation and how he approaches cutting his scene. You don’t want to miss it.

Enjoy this conversation with Paul Chitlik.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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Alex Ferrari 0:12
Well guys Today on the show we have screenwriter and author Paul Chitlik. Now Paul has been in the screenwriting game for a long time. He cut his teeth with at sitcoms like who's the boss, amen. Small wonder Twilight Zone, perfect strangers, and so many more. He is also the best selling author of rewrite a step by step guide to strengthening structure, character and drama in your screenplay. Now I wanted Paul to come on the show to discuss the rewriting process, which is one of my favorite parts because I find it to be much easier to rewrite as opposed to right, because once you've got a nice fat piece of meat, you can start trimming the fat much easier than actually creating the meat. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Paul Chitlik. I like to welcome the show Paul Chitlik. How you doing Paul?

Paul Chitlik 3:11
Pretty good. How are you?

Alex Ferrari 3:12
I'm as good as we can be in this crazy crazy world that we live in.

Paul Chitlik 3:17
It's nuts.

Alex Ferrari 3:19
It's it is it's there's what can that what can be said that hasn't already been said about the times that we're living in. I mean, it's like a really, I keep saying this. It's a bad alternative timeline from Back to the Future. It is just it's it just does not seem real. It hasn't been real. For years now, I think but specifically this last year is been. It's just insane. So I'm waiting. I'm waiting to wake up. And Marty McFly is going to come with me. Come with me. This is the way to go

Paul Chitlik 3:54
back to the DeLorean.

Alex Ferrari 3:55
Let's go back to the future, please. Yeah.

Paul Chitlik 3:59
It's insane.

Alex Ferrari 4:00
So um, thank you so much for doing the show. I truly appreciate it. Before we get started talking about your book rewrite. How did you get into the business?

Paul Chitlik 4:10
Well, that's a that's a funny thing. When I graduated from college, I went to Europe, because I wanted to be a novelist. I had lived in Europe as a junior in college in Madrid. And I thought, well, I think I'll go back there and he'll write a book, right? Because I was 21 years old and stupid. I got there. It was kind of crazy. But I ended up living in London after that for four years, came back here. And I just took whatever job I could get. And that was translating because I was fluent Spanish speaker by that time and teaching English as a second language. And I got stuck in that world for seven years and one day, I became an administrator at Long Beach Community College. One day, I was standing at the board at the blackboard substituting for one of my teachers. And the little voice inside my head said, this is not the plan. And

Alex Ferrari 5:14
he's in your head, too. Got it?

Paul Chitlik 5:16
That same guy. So I decided I wanted to go back to writing and I did some research and found out that novelist, the average novelist makes $750 a year. At that time,

Alex Ferrari 5:29
that's ambitious, actually, that's pretty ambitious.

Paul Chitlik 5:32
Yeah. So I looked into what does a screenwriter make? And I thought, Oh, that's much better. So I started taking classes in screenwriting at UCLA extension. And I wrote a play I had written a play by that time called Casanova Goldberg. and stuff as you had me,

Alex Ferrari 5:52
you had me at Casanova Goldberg,

Paul Chitlik 5:54
yeah, so I send it around to a couple of agents and one agent. Will the Casanova group will tell you very shortly about what it's about. It's about a guy that works in one of those Catskills hotels as the tumour, the guy that, that programs, all the entertainment and stuff like that. And he's an older man, he's like in the 60s or 70s. And he needs he gets a new assistant, and he falls in love with her, even though she's in her 20s. So, alright, the reason I tell you this is because I pitched it to this agent, he read it and it turns out, he was 78 and has an 18 year old girlfriend. So he, he understood exactly what this was like. Anyway, he got me out there, and he got me my first job on something called Guilty or Innocent.

Alex Ferrari 6:44
Okay

Paul Chitlik 6:44
which was my first Oh, it was a crazy thing. So anyway, that's how I got in the business. And then one thing led to the other,

Alex Ferrari 6:52
is it isn't it funny that one of my first jobs in the business was a translator as well. I was a Spanish translator for Nickelodeon's global guts. It was a it was kind of like a show of kinda like an obstacle course show like those, like, you know, you know, Double Dare and those kind of things for kids. And they had International, an international wing and, and they came in and I call my, um, my, my listeners know that I'm Cuban. So I, I'm from Miami, and I speak from experience fluent Spanish, but then I now I do much more because my wife is is South American as well. So now my Spanish is much, much better. But then I only spoke Cuban Spanish, which, for people don't know Cuban Spanish. It's not proper, but

Paul Chitlik 7:41
it's comprehensible.

Alex Ferrari 7:42
It's up sometimes, you know, it's like Tony Montana, like really, really bad Tony Montana. But I but I could understand I could defend myself No problem. And I call my parents up and I go, Hey, I got a job at Nickelodeon. Being a translator. I'm like, you, Trent. What are you translating? I'm like Spanish. And they go well, in the in the client of the blind, the one eyed man rules and

Paul Chitlik 8:05
vote of confidence.

Alex Ferrari 8:06
And I'm like, true. And and by the way, it was great. It was it. But that's how I kind of got my way into Nickelodeon when I was PA doing pa work and stuff that

Paul Chitlik 8:16
I've worked in Spanish and I taught in Spanish around the world. Yeah, I've taught in Venezuela, in Chile, Cuba, Spain.

Alex Ferrari 8:25
Wow.

Paul Chitlik 8:25
So it's been quite a career.

Alex Ferrari 8:27
Now you you've worked a lot in sitcoms, you were working a lot in the sitcoms in the 80s in the 90s. I have to I have to kind of go through some of my favorites of yours. Because I mean, when I saw them on your, on your filmography, I was like, Well, I have to ask him about this. Small Wonder. I mean, for people not don't know about small wonder, first of all, the most probable and completely acceptable premise for a sitcom ever. It's it's absolutely not ridiculous at all. It's completely acceptable. Almost as acceptable as Alf. I think Alf was a little bit more believable.

But for whatever reason, small wonder, still hold like because there's so many sitcoms in the 80s but that one and it was only a season I think was one or two seasons right?

Paul Chitlik 9:19
five seasons.

Alex Ferrari 9:20
Oh it did run it did run a did run a while. We did 100 shows. Wow, it did. So it kept going. I always thought it was like a quick run. Great. Well, that's even better. So you did a small run on it. Can you tell the audience what Small Wonder was about and And what was your experience doing that show?

Paul Chitlik 9:37
Well, it was a crazy show. We were I was writing with a partner Jeremy merchant Fitch. And we were freelancing at the time. And we pitched small wonder which was a show about a computer expert who invented a I guess you would say a computer driven young girl

Alex Ferrari 9:58
An Android. Like an Android?

Paul Chitlik 10:01
Yeah. A 12 year old Android

Alex Ferrari 10:03
lifelike, lifelike?

Paul Chitlik 10:05
Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 10:06
physic physically lifelike, not speaking, but physically.

Paul Chitlik 10:10
She spoke with his computer voice was very, very strange. we pitched the show to them. We wrote the show. He said, this is the best one that's ever been written for this show, right in front of all of his staff, which I thought was really strange. Then he said, after they shot that one, he said, we want to do a sequel. He said, Great. So we wrote the sequel. And then he said in front of his staff, guys, what made you think you were professional writers? the complete opposite. So we walked out of there thinking What the hell is going on? Well, we knew some of the staff and they said to us, that's alright. That's his game. So I called my agent I said, You know, I don't know what's going on over there. But once you give a call, she gave him a call. We got three more episodes to do after that. So obviously, we knew something about how to do the show. was really strange. We did we did the last show as well. I think shot.

Alex Ferrari 11:09
Oh, did you did that either the the series finale?

Paul Chitlik 11:11
Yeah, the series finale, which was goodbye Hollywood or something like that. I forget.

Alex Ferrari 11:17
Look, I was I was I don't want to tell you what grade I was in. But I was I was a young man. And I would and I use the word man very loosely. back then. I was a young boy, when I watched that. And it was I loved it. It was like it was such a wonderful 80s stuff. It's just so so so great. And you and you also wrote for Twilight Zone, which is, you know, legendary legendary series.

Paul Chitlik 11:40
Well, as a matter of fact, we got the job on Twilight Zone while we were writing for a small wonder. And we were story at the Twilight Zone, we should have been producers, but it had Canadian contents that we weren't allowed to have the title. But that's what we did. We, we listened to pitches, we rewrote people's work. We wrote several episodes ourselves. And that was really probably the best creative experience ever had in television.

Alex Ferrari 12:08
Yeah, you could just jump in, you could jump to whatever every week was a new adventure. There was no through line, there was no characters, you had to kind of pay homage to every you know, and work with exactly is fresh. And it was a fresh short, every,

Paul Chitlik 12:21
every week, every week was a new thing. And I would come into work, I would say, I would come into work after dreaming and say, I had this dream last night. And it was about a guy who points at a deer and the deer freezes. And from there, we made a show why I had a dream about cave drawings, you know about cave drawings, of course, and they came off the cave and became real became a show. So you could just think about things and bang you wouldn't you made a show.

Alex Ferrari 12:53
And it was in the you can't and you can't have the the EP can't say well, you know, that's not really what the characters would do. That's really not the vibe of the show. It's like, and there's there's I know that we did that. I didn't think we released twilight zone with Jordan Peele. It was Jordan Peele It was a twilight zone. Or was it?

Paul Chitlik 13:11
Yeah. And they did it again on CBS prime or whatever it's called. So they it's been it's had at least four different lives. You know, Rod Serling was first. Then CBS did it again in the 80s. And then they did it in syndication. I was I did one for the CBS in the 80s. But and then I also ran with Joseph Kosinski and Jeremy Bertrand Finch. We ran the show for the late 80s. in syndication. We did 30 episodes. Then they did it again on UPN.

Alex Ferrari 13:46
That was the one with Forest Whitaker wasn't Forest Whitaker once Forest Whitaker crash, right? Yeah.

Paul Chitlik 13:50
And they did it again. I guess. Jordan Peele on CBS.

Alex Ferrari 13:54
The Prime one yeah, the whatever these years

Paul Chitlik 13:56
prime word they're there.

Alex Ferrari 13:58
They're streaming all access all access? Yeah. It's hard to keep it's hard to keep track of all the

Paul Chitlik 14:04
The new names.

And they've changed. Let's see, I think CBS has just changed it to paramount.

Alex Ferrari 14:11
Is that no is CBS, CBS and Paramount. Is that going to be the same? I know Paramount plus just came out.

Paul Chitlik 14:17
Paramount Plus,

Alex Ferrari 14:18
it's just coming out.

Paul Chitlik 14:19
I thought it was CBS.

Alex Ferrari 14:21
It might be another chain to get to something I don't. I don't Who the hell knows. It's just so there's so many streaming services. I think that's all gonna I think there's gonna be a reckoning for that. Eventually. We can't be sure. There has to be there has to be something has to happen because spending this obscene amount of money on content. I mean, it's ridiculous. Yeah, rididulous, listen how much

Paul Chitlik 14:44
it's good time to be a writer.

Alex Ferrari 14:46
Yeah, it is. It is a good time to be a writer, especially this last year where you basically just got to stay home and write. It's pretty amazing. I know you've had you've had a very colorful career in In Hollywood, and you decided to write a book to help to help screenwriters about on the process of rewriting, which is something we've really never discussed heavily on the show. And I wanted to kind of dive into the rewrite, because it's something that we all do. We all have to do the rewrite, I always like the rewriting process, personally, much more than the writing process. Because it's like, I've got meat that I can shape or mold clay that I can shape. It's creating the clay, that's a big pain in the butt. All right, you know, so

Paul Chitlik 15:30
the original idea, that's the hard part. But actually, the craft is in the writing is in the rewriting?

Alex Ferrari 15:35
Yes.

Paul Chitlik 15:36
And, you know, no film gets done without many rewrites. As a matter of fact, I was at a conference at the Writers Guild once, several years ago. And we're talking about rewriting and they asked the panel, how many rewrites did your script go through before it got to the stage, and the average was 25. That's a lot of rewriting. Now, it doesn't always mean that you do a big rewrite. Sometimes it's just changing place, changing somebody's gender, taking out a character putting into character, whatever, doing a Polish, but 25 rewrites, and I've done several films where I've had to do that 25 rewrites.

Alex Ferrari 16:16
Oh, yeah. And then there's these legendary stories of like Stallone writing rocky in three days. And, and Stallone ends and Stallone Actually, I saw an interview with them. They asked him that, and he's like, no, I wrote it in three days, but I rewrote it for at least another five, six months. But the for that first draft i'd knocked out in three days. So that is true. It's just, that was not what you saw on the screen.

Paul Chitlik 16:40
Exactly, exactly. Never makes it to the screen on the first draft.

Alex Ferrari 16:43
Absolutely.

Paul Chitlik 16:44
Like the first job. Actually, even even when I worked on real stories of the Highway Patrol, which was a crazy show. I sometimes wrote two or three segments a day. But I always rewrote them in the same day, so at least once, but then I would hand them off to the director and then shoot it. So it only went through one rewrite

Alex Ferrari 17:06
that Yeah, and that was because that show was God if I remember correctly, like I remember the show vaguely in my head. But it was one of those shows that just it was a syndicated show, right. It just kind of

Paul Chitlik 17:14
was syndicated show, and it had two kinds of segments. One was right along, where they just had a guy with a video camera like cops. Yeah, like cops. And then we did recreations of of special things that the highway patrol had done, you know, special hold ups, or bank robberies, or pullovers or shoot outs or whatever. And I wrote 265 of those,

Alex Ferrari 17:39
Jesus. So that's Yeah, that was Yeah, it was, you got to do what you got

Paul Chitlik 17:47
What could I do. I had a family to support in private school, and you know, that to happen.

Alex Ferrari 17:53
I know, I know the feeling my friend. I know that feeling. Alright, so how do you approach a rewrite? Well,

Paul Chitlik 17:59
that's a good question. There's a lot of ways to do it. But the first way, I usually do it in eight steps. And the first step is you got to read it over again, after putting it aside for a couple of weeks and letting it cool off. Because you're not really objective enough, if you just start the rewrite the next day, so read it after a couple of weeks. And then the first thing you need to do is read it for structure. And there are there is a structure that we use in Hollywood, that's used around the world, really, and most people know it, but I'll just you give you a quick review of it. And it's a seven point structure, that is the ordinary life of the character, the inciting incident, the end of Act One goal and plan, the mid point where it's a turning point, the low point, the final challenge, which sometimes it's called the climax, and the return to normal life. So you make sure that your script has all those points. And then you have the connecting tissue for all those points as well. And you make sure all your scenes have those points, because that's the way a good scene is constructed. And make sure that your scenes have conflict. And then you read it over again. And you make sure that your protagonist stands out, and that your protagonist has his or her own language, that we can differentiate that person's language from everybody else's. And we make sure that your protagonist has a flaw, because if he doesn't have a flaw, there's no development, your character has to change from the beginning to the end, or it's not going to happen. Michael Caine used to say, I would read a script, the first five pages of the script and the last five pages of the script. And if the character didn't change, I wouldn't do the show. Yeah, it's a good thing if your character must change. So that's their, your antagonist also has to have a goal. Your protagonist has a goal. Your antagonist has to have goals. To, otherwise they're not in conflict. And those goals have to be in conflict. So you have to make sure about that. And the antagonist has a voice as well, then you have to check to see what is the story of the central emotional relationship. That is to say the person, sometimes called the love relationship. But it's not necessarily that it's not necessarily a romantic love. It could be two brothers, it could be friends, it could be a father and a son, a father and a daughter, whatever. But you have to make sure that there is a story there, too. So there's three stories going on. There's the plot that use your action plot that you see, there's the story that's going inside your character's head, as he's developing from whoever he was at the beginning to wherever he's going to be at the end. And then there's the story of the central emotional relationship. So you have to check for all those stories. And you have to check to see that the dialogue for all those people fits those people and those stories.

Alex Ferrari 21:02
So you're kind of going in as a almost as a doctor and doing a diagnostic on the story. When you're starting to rewrite, you're going in and checking. Okay, is this here? is this here? is this here? How's the heartbeat? Is the flow going? How's your cholesterol? Do you have to reflect this?

Paul Chitlik 21:18
I've never heard it described like that. But that is exactly what it is. We first we examined the patient, we make a diagnosis. And then we make a plan on how to fix it. And the plan is make sure that you have structure, make sure that every scene has conflict, make sure that every scene has structure as well. Make sure that all the dialogue is appropriate to the characters. Make sure that the action rises and falls where you're supposed to rise and fall. And make sure that it's fun to read. So you also have to go over the description. Make sure all the description is terse, and fun, cuz you don't want to have a lot of stuff. You know, you described writing as a haiku. Yeah, we

Alex Ferrari 22:04
were talking about that earlier. Like we were saying writing is arguably very difficult, just good writing period. But writing screenwriter screenwriting is arguably the most difficult form of writing, in my opinion, other than a haiku, because you can write a poem and then you can write a haiku and Haiku has to be so much more every single word has to have meaning so that the construction of Haiku is so much more complicated and harder than just a poem. Same way writing a novel and writing a screenplay are complete, you could tell the same story, but it has to be done so differently. So there's so much it's such a more technical writing, it's a skill set. That is, it's not for everybody. You could be a fantastic writer. I know. There's I mean, perfect example. So many great novelists. I mean, I don't think Stephen King has ever written an amazing screenplay.

Paul Chitlik 22:54
I don't know. Yeah, I mean,

Alex Ferrari 22:56
he, he's

Paul Chitlik 22:56
his stories have been the basis of amazing he

Alex Ferrari 22:59
is he is arguably one of the most prolific and best known and best selling authors of all time, definitely, of our generation, without question, but yet when he's tackled a screenplay, I don't remember. And he has written a few of them. But he's, they're not Oscar winners. And they're. So it's tough.

Paul Chitlik 23:21
Yeah, it's a it's a hard thing to do. I mean, there are there are steps you have to take in there things you have to keep in mind. But as I was saying about description, you know, it has to be like a haiku. It has to be very succinct. But it also has to create an image in your mind. So when people are reading it, and you, you're going to have somewhere between 150 and 5000, people working on your screenplay, they all have to have a document that they can look at, and see the same thing in their head. So that requires you to be very succinct, very clear, and you're writing, but not writing too much, but still writing enough. So it is a very hard technique to learn, but it's not impossible to learn. So that's what I get out of my book, there's, there are steps to take that you can do to improve your screenplay at any stage. And as a matter of fact, as I recommended my book, once you've done your first rewrite, set it aside again, and do another rewrite.

Alex Ferrari 24:26
Now can we touch upon just quickly structure because and I've talked about this on the show before but I just want people listening to really get understanding of this a lot of people's like, Oh, I don't, I don't go through like you know those seven steps that's going to block me in that's not creative. You're, you're not you know, it needs to flow and needs to go in like and be a lot of screenwriters arguably not professional ones, because I've talked to a lot of professional screenwriters at all of them. They might not follow the the, you know, Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey or they might They might not do it. And some of them might not even thinking about it. But when they write, they're such craftsmen and grass women, that they are doing it instinctively. And they've said that they've said, they've said that to me. They're like, I don't think about I don't like sit on page 20 this happens. But I go, but on page 20, that happened, he goes, Yeah, but I didn't think about it. I just, that's just the way it came out. Can you talk just a slight bit about structure and the importance of it? Sure.

Paul Chitlik 25:26
Well, I understand the idea that you want to be free to create what you want to create. But we all understand that most automobiles have four wheels, a transmission, a motor, a steering wheel, brake, pipe, and an accelerator pedal, even electric ones. So we all understand that and how many forms of automobile so we seen 1000s 1000s I mean, a Ferrari is not a Fiat. They all look different. They all have different purposes. And indifference 500 cars different, the same thing with movies, but you still have to have the steering wheel, the four wheels, the brake, the accelerator, the motor. And so that applies to screenwriting. And there are certain things that work. And it's not always the same thing. And it doesn't always have to be in the same exact order, you can have the 12 steps of the hero's journey, but they can be in slightly different order, or slightly more emphasis on one step in another step. Same thing for the seven steps that seven points that I talked about. This is the way a Hollywood movie is formed. And even when, before this paradigm was set out, before Syd field wrote, you know, here's the three act structure, the Wizard of Oz has it. All the other movies that were made at those time had it because you just instinctively if you're a good writer, you know that this is what has to happen. Now we've made it more of a science, so that more people can access this kind of art. But you still have to follow it. Now, that doesn't mean that there are other ways to make a movie. I mean, you make a German movie, or a French movie or a Greek movie, they're different. I mean, in a French movie, everybody commit suicide, if you hadn't, you know, it's in a German movie. Everybody suffers, you know, from

Alex Ferrari 27:20
Italy, Fellini definitely didn't work with with the standard structure.

Paul Chitlik 27:25
Exactly. And those are fine. And those those are great, but you know, those stand up? On the other hand, how well do they do worldwide, not the same as avatar, which has 1007 point actually pops the 12 point structure, not the same as Star Wars, which follows the 12 point structure. But also you can leave that seven point structure right on top of that, and it works perfectly. So yeah, there are other ways to go about things. But you know, how many people see Chinese movies? You don't they don't do well around the world. They do well in China, but they don't do in the United States. It's not just because they're in Chinese. Because we have seen some films out here in Chinese with subtitles. It's because everybody's expecting be told in a certain way. Because we've been expecting that for the last 2500 years. Right? You know, when Aristotle outlined how a story goes, in the days of Greek theater, he was he didn't invent it. He was laying his structure on top of Europe at ease and Sophocles and all those guys. And just saying, Well, here's how it goes. His poetics is not something that he just invented. It's something that he saw the structure of and just presented the three act structure to the rest of the world. So we're used to hearing stories that way. And that seems to be the best way to tell a story. There are other ways to help tell a story and find if you can make that work. Like, I'm just thinking of Koyaanisqatsi. Have you ever seen that movie? It was a documentary, kind of a documentary. And it told a story visually never used any words.

Alex Ferrari 29:05
Oh, yes, yes, yes. Yes. I remember that one. Yeah,

Paul Chitlik 29:07
yeah. Crazy, crazy story. But it didn't follow the seven point structure, but doesn't matter.

Alex Ferrari 29:13
It's art. But it's art. There's a difference between art and commerce. And if you want, if you're spending $200 million for a movie, you got to get a return on investment. And you can't you can't create a $200 million art project.

Paul Chitlik 29:27
Well, it can be an art, it can be artistic. Absolutely. But it's not an art film. Right. You know, so there's, there's room for every kind of film. As a matter of fact, this week I I'm I recommend to my class to read a script, one of my classes to read a script every week. So last week, they read Deadpool, which is a kind of a crazy,

Alex Ferrari 29:49
amazing, crazy, crazy,

Paul Chitlik 29:51
crazy movie and it's really big and it's very action adventure and it's very sarcastic and, and it's very clever. This week, they're going to read Side Ways completely different kinds of

Alex Ferrari 30:03
very much, right? So

Paul Chitlik 30:05
because you There are all kinds of films, there's room for all kinds of films. But if you look at those films, they both Deadpool and Sideways both have seven point structure. And if you follow that structure, you have the ability to freelance, you know, all kinds of ideas into just what I call greenlight thinking. You can think about all kinds of things within that structure, just like you can think of all kinds of different form for an automobile to take.

Alex Ferrari 30:43
What advice would you give killing your darlings, as they say, which is the most one of the most difficult things for a writer to do? And also, I mean, honestly, for a director in the editing room? Oh, yeah. Like you got to cut out a whole scene that took you three days to shoot or it costs x, but it's not working and all of this stuff. What advice do you have, when you have to kill those darlings in your script?

Paul Chitlik 31:08
Well, you have to look at your script. From a realistic point of view, there's, you have to look at every scene and understand what the purpose is of every scene. And there are only two purposes first scene. Purpose number one is to move the story forward. If it doesn't move the story forward, you don't need that scene, it can be the funniest fucking scene that you've ever thought of. But it doesn't move the story, take it out. second purpose to tell us more about the character. If you don't tell us something new about your characters, we don't need that scene. So it has to tell us more something new about the characters and move the story forward, one or the other. If it doesn't do that, you have to take it out. So how do you do that? How do you do that? Well, you you read your script and you ask yourself at the end of every scene, does this scene move the story forward? Is there conflict in the scene? Do we see something new? Do we learn something new about the character? If you can't answer yes to those questions, you have to take it out. And if you want to shorten your scene, there's another way to if it's an important scene, and it does move the story forward. And it does tell something new about the character. But it's too long. Well, there's there ways to cut it. First way you can cut the heads of the tails. So that means enter early, enter later, and exit earlier. So that's a way to cut down your scene. Another way to cut down your scene is to look at every word of view of dialogue, and make sure that every word of dialogue is necessary. Have you repeated dialogue. Do you need to do that? Sometimes some characters repeat themselves on purpose if you've done it on purpose, okay? Is every word in your description necessary? And I'm talking about every uh, every the every is? Are they all necessary? If they're not take them out. So you can shoot. I've never read a script I couldn't cut by 10%.

Alex Ferrari 33:04
Wow. You've never you've never I mean, depending on where they are the rewriting process, obviously, but but Fat Fat script? Yes. I get what you say. If it's Yeah, you're right. And I've gone through my scripts before in the past. And I've literally just started because it's like, oh, it's too many pages. I've got to cut this down. And then you start going to the descriptions and and you get down to that that kind of minute level of, of the thoughts and the A's. And can I shorten this sentence somehow as opposed to kind of kill those three words? It's it's just this honing in. It's It's, um, it's masonry, your brush, chiseling and scolding the corners.

Paul Chitlik 33:44
The other analogy I use is sometimes sculpting. Yeah. So you cut a piece of marble out of the mountain, you have a block. Now, where do you go? Well, you cut away as somebody asked Michelangelo? How he did the PA top? Yeah, I said, I just took away everything that wasn't the Pi top? Well, yeah, that's easy. No, first you carve up kind of a rough copy of the shape that you want. And then you start carving it down and down and down in it. And then you polish it and you polish it a little bit more. And you smooth it and it just it's a process. You don't do it on the first cut.

Yeah.

As the PA top.

Alex Ferrari 34:27
It doesn't it doesn't you can't even though even a master like like Michelangelo could not do that. Because it's not. It's just not the process. It's not the process of any art form. Almost you can't. There's Oh, you could always go back and tighten and

Paul Chitlik 34:43
tweak. You have to go through the process.

Alex Ferrari 34:45
Yeah,

Paul Chitlik 34:45
you have to respect the process.

Alex Ferrari 34:47
And I think that's something that a lot of screenwriters don't do especially young young screenwriters who are new to the craft. They don't understand the the amount of work that is needed to really hone a screenplay to a place Where it's good enough to even be read. And, and then I'm not even talking about the idea. I'm not even talking about if it's marketable, I'm not even talking just the craft of a good, well written screenplay. That's why a lot of agents and please correct me wrong, like agents and managers will read a script and like, yeah, this will never get made. But I see the talent here. Now let's put them on a project or get them into a writers room, because he or she will be able to do really well. Even though this this script is crap. As far as Mark ability is concerned, it will never ever, ever get made. But I see that they have, they have an understanding of the craft.

Paul Chitlik 35:40
Sure. And that's what a spec, a good spec script should have. Not necessarily a makeup script or shootable script. But it should be crafted, it should be well crafted, we can see not only well crafted, it should have something different about it, it should have that particular writers voice. And that's what really sets it off something that speaks directly to the person, but it also speaks of the person so that we're talking person to person, and you can see in your head, what I was seeing in my head

Alex Ferrari 36:16
when I was writing story. Now, um, can you talk a little bit about that central emotional relationship with those characters, you kind of go deeper into that?

Paul Chitlik 36:27
Sure. Every film that you see has a central emotional relationship, every good film, then not every film is good, but every good. And romantic comedies are more complicated, because that is about the central emotional relationship. But there is there's always something else going on at the same time. Like you've got mail had something else going on at the same time, the bookstore story that was going on it besides the romance. So the central emotional relationship is something that people could in movies to see they go to the movies to see people and their relationships with other people, not just action, but their relationships with other people. Even fast, the Fast and Furious franchise, which is I don't know what they're

Alex Ferrari 37:16
nine or nine, there are nine right now. But as Vin Diesel says also many times in the movie, it's about family.

Paul Chitlik 37:26
Okay, so it's about family. It's not about cars and racing, right? It's about family, it's what we see the relationship between those characters. That's what's important. And so every film has got a central emotional relationship, the relationship that your central character your protagonist has with another character. Usually, as I said before, it could be a romantic relationship. It can be a familiar relationship, a father and a son, a mother and a daughter, sisters, brothers, whatever, it doesn't really matter,

But it's always about people. So that relationship also follows a seven point structure. So there's an ordinary life that, let me back up a little bit. That relationship has to either be created or resuscitated in the film, because a lot of times, you'll start off with a film where there's a bad relationship between two people. And they have to fix that relationship along the course of the film,

Alex Ferrari 38:32
like rain man would be a great example of that

Paul Chitlik 38:35
there's a good one, very good, he has to establish a relationship there. And he has to fix the relationship. So we have the ordinary life where they first meet, or we see them individually, then they first meet, and that would be the inciting incident. At the end of that one, your central character has to think about forming that relationship. I want to be with this person, I want to fix this relationship, whichever one it is, if it's a romantic comedy, I want to be with this person. Or if it's one romantic comedy about divorce people, so I want to fix this relationship. His golf, his girl Friday is about that. That's a no film, but he wanted to fix that relationship. That's what that was, that movie was really about. There's a midpoint where that relationship goes to another level. So it doesn't always have to be a sexual level, but can be just as friends, they go to another level. But if it's a romantic movie, they go to another level, usually physically, they kiss for the first time, or they make love for the first time. Something happens that's different than what's happened before that. But then they screw up, because people screw up. And it's because of their flaw that we talked about earlier that every character every protagonist has to have a flaw and they screw up because of that flaw and they screw up that relationship at the low point in the film. And now they have to fix that relationship. Before they can get into the climax of the actual plot of the film, so they have to fix that relationship, they have to overcome their flaw, then they can go into the climax, or the final challenge, as I call and, and come out victorious. And then there's the return to ordinary life with your central character, and his or her central emotional relationship, and we see them enjoying the fruits of their labors.

Alex Ferrari 40:28
Right, then, so as you were talking, I'm just running Rain Man in my head, as you know, the relationship in the, in the seven points in that relationship, where I think that that that next level where they they start with Tom Cruise, and Dustin Hoffman Finally, changed the relationship is when he gets dressed up to go to the to the casino. And all of a sudden, they're working together as opposed to being completely at each other on each other's throat. I mean, Tom Cruise is just that doesn't doesn't happen does not change. He's, you know, Raman is Raman. But, but then it's followed right afterwards, with the low point, one of the low points is that he's like, Oh, my God, this relationship has changed, we're finally going to be brothers. He goes to hug them. And he has a complete meltdown. Because he can't handle that, because. And that's I felt that was like, one of the lowest parts of that it was such a powerful secret. Am I right in analyzing that?

Paul Chitlik 41:30
Exactly. And you see that the part of the film that you remember the most. And you remember the relationship between those two men? That's what that film is about?

Alex Ferrari 41:41
Yeah.

Paul Chitlik 41:42
So it's all about just, it's such a movie like that wouldn't ever get made in the studio today. It just wouldn't, unfortunately, but the transformation of Tom Cruise's character throughout from being that just arrogant cocky in it for myself only selfish character to the end, literally willing to give up everything for his brother, sorry, spoiler alert, guys, but it's on you if you haven't seen the movie. And being able to give give of himself, even though at the end, he just he what, what doesn't have to need he can't give him. It's true.

But the Tom Cruise character did change, remember, very much. So huge character arc, he changes from the beginning to the end, he starts with the fly, he ends up a better person. And that's what we go to movies to see.

Alex Ferrari 42:32
Yeah. And that's why it was such a huge hit, because it was just, there's no action. Now. There's no explosions, there's nothing. I think that's one of the things that Hollywood sometimes forgets, depending on politics and other things, is they'll make a movie like battleship. And they through every single visual effect monster action, which was all executed beautifully on a technical standpoint. But it's shallow, because there's no character development. There's no connection, where then you can watch something like Titanic, which is as action packed as you can get is a very action packed film. But the emotion that movie is all about no one talks about Oh, did you see when Titanic when when the Titanic broke in half? Did you see that scene where the water was rushing? No. It's all about why didn't she just hold on to jack there was room for both of them on that damn plank.

Paul Chitlik 43:28
You know, and it's a Romeo and Juliet story that story has been told. Yeah. Oh, and it's the central emotional relationship that makes us want to go to the movies. As we want to see explosions, we want to see fun buildings and all that stuff. But what we remember is what the central emotional relationship was all about. And that has its own structure, just like the the structure of the plot, the central plot,

Alex Ferrari 43:57
I bring up Marvel often on the show, because it's arguably one of the most one of the best examples of storytelling in the last decade done at such a high level. Regardless, if you'd like superheroes don't like superhero movies, there is something they're doing right. And arguably one of the characters since we're talking about emotional, central emotional relationship, the character of Iron Man, from the very first time we see him being this arrogant, selfish, self involved character, from the very moment we meet him to the end of endgame, where he gives the ultimate sacrifice to save the entire universe. Talk about what a complete change and they did that over 10 films and or 10 years and, and he you know, how many films was he and but he was always part of so many different, but that character arc is there in that 10 years that they were making films and it was an emotional is absolutely an emotional journey for that's why people just ball at the end of endgame people who are invested in these characters which just Yeah, oh my god it's just offered. It's it's, it's remarkable.

Paul Chitlik 45:13
Yeah, well people go to films to experience emotions. This is what Aristotle was talking about 2500 years ago, people go to cleanse themselves, to cry, to laugh, to take themselves out. To entertain in Spanish, you know the word in Spanish. It means internet, internet. Yeah, to hold yourself in the middle to add to hold, you know, it's between things. It's to get out of yourself for a moment, and to cleanse yourself and to be a different person when you walk out of it. You know, it? It, we need entertainment. We need entertainment, and we need entertainment. That's emotional. And emotional doesn't always mean crying can mean laughing, scared shouting, it could be anger, whatever it is, we don't.

Alex Ferrari 46:05
Yeah, and. And that's the safe way. And that's why during the pandemic, Netflix has exploded and streaming services exploded and we're all just clamoring to for stories. It was remarkable. It was a human experiment on a global scale of like, sorry, guys. There's barely any real big news movies out for this not last year, we've been been being promised these films, but they don't come out because of the pandemic. And that's why people like I mean, personally, I've, I've binged so many shows, I've gone into shows and just watch shows and shows and shows. And it's because that need of going through that and it is a need, it's an absolute human need to get to it love the word juice cleanse, to cleanse yourself through. Because sometimes when you're feeling down, you go to a funny movie to help you come up. If you want it, you want that thrill of a horror movie, if you're into that, like you really want that kind of like, Oh my god, I'm gonna die, that adrenaline rush, but I know nothing is gonna happen to me. It's really, it's not saying that we do important work, but we kind of want to saving lives. Let's just put ourselves in this in the scope of what we're doing here. But it is a very important job. It's very important job.

Paul Chitlik 47:21
I mean, I'm just trying to think of gfrc sylvans. Travel travels.

Alex Ferrari 47:26
Yeah, of course. Yeah. Yeah. persisters.

Paul Chitlik 47:29
Southern travels is about the importance of film. Yeah. Yeah, you're right. So it is important. A television is important. But what will we be doing without television right now? I mean, good. luck, I would be stuck. So we were killing each

Alex Ferrari 47:46
other. Yeah, people will be reading a lot more I would imagine. We were reading a lot more. You talk about life support for your protagonist in your book, and you kind of dive into that a bit?

Paul Chitlik 48:00
Yeah, when I say life support, that means you protect this test to have people around him. or her. I say him or her. Sometimes I just say her sometimes they just say him, but it's always him or her. or non binary. If you want to get into what we do know that the people around your your protagonist, have to have a reason to be around your protagonist. Why is this person in this film? Does this person bring out something in your central character that we need to see? Does this person tell your central character something that he or she needs to hear? So those supporting characters are really important in films? And we remember the supporting characters if they're good, and so it's something to think about when you're writing supporting characters. Number one, why are they in this scene? How are they helping move the story? are they helping our protagonist understand what he or she needs to do? How are they hindering what your protagonist needs to do so that the antagonist is a supporting character in most films. So these are people that lend reality to films, they lend depth to films, and they give the opportunity to the to the protagonist to develop as a person within the film. So the central emotional relationship is a supporting character. The antagonist is a supporting character. Even the guy in the in the clothing shop that makes the espresso in the Eddie Murphy film Beverly Hills Cop. Do you remember? Oh, of course.

Alex Ferrari 49:39
Yes. Yes. Yes. The Yeah. With Perfect Strangers guy.

Paul Chitlik 49:42
I forgot his name. Exactly. And I forgotten his name, though. Right to pachow Oh, god,

Alex Ferrari 49:46
I'm hot. Not hot. Was it hands or search? Search? Search? Search? Yes. sighs we remember him. Yeah,

Paul Chitlik 49:55
from that film.

Alex Ferrari 49:56
We do. You stands out and

Paul Chitlik 49:59
if you have characters like that, it gives a mix a wider, more interesting tapestry in your film, so that we have much more to look at much more to see much more to remember.

Alex Ferrari 50:12
Now something like surge. Let's dive into that. Just real quickly surge is a relationship with Axel Foley in that movie. I think he came back a couple times. And it wasn't just was he only in one scene or

Paul Chitlik 50:27
two scenes.

Alex Ferrari 50:28
He's interesting. I think he came in and out. But it was a funny scene, obviously. And it was it was that was a purpose of his character. But I think it was also just a I mean it, can you I'm just trying to think the reasoning why they were put to that other than just being funny that that scene, if I remember correctly, it's been a year since I've seen that movie. But that scene was moving the story very much more because it was very crucial part of who killed who and you know what that where the money was in the drugs and all that kind of stuff. And surge was kind of like a tapestry in that. But at the same time, it kind of also was another fish out of water scene because Axl had never run into a character like surge ever in his life. So it was a learning experience for for Axl, as well. As for Serge.

Paul Chitlik 51:10
It taught us something about Axl. And that's what that seems, therefore, was to open axos eyes to the possibility that there are different kinds of people in the world and that they're valuable. And even if they're strange, and they rub you the wrong way. They're valuable. So or the right way. I've never seen a person like that. So what the hell, what else is going on here? It opens his eyes. And that's the point of that person. So supporting characters can help your central character and it can help your audience to to appreciate your central character.

Alex Ferrari 51:44
Have you been watching shits Creek? Have you ever seen that show? Oh, God. It is. I just finished benching that show a little while ago. Oh my god, such a great cry. It just the characters are so wonderful. The whole town talk about supporting characters, I mean, that town, every from the from the diner, the owner of the diner to the boyfriend, that garage that they're all just so wonderfully written and performed

Paul Chitlik 52:16
by the central characters in that story changed. Oh, it was so selfish and self centered at the beginning. Yeah. And they all opened up. It's all about love. That series five epic five seasons of love.

Alex Ferrari 52:30
Yeah, it you're absolutely right. It was about and it's slowly and it was a slow process. They took that they took their time carving and chiseling those characters into who they became at the end, where when they first got there, they just want to leave. But at the end, like I don't want to go. Even when given the opportunities to go back to their lives. It's even the most self centered.

Paul Chitlik 52:55
We're open to sharing their lives with other people to helping other people to sacrifice self sacrificing. Yes.

Alex Ferrari 53:04
Yeah, it was. It was a beautifully, beautifully done. Now in the rewriting process, we were talking about descriptions. descriptions, arguably are one of the two big difficult parts of writing a screenplay dialogue and description, obviously, are the two major parts of a screenplay. Sometimes, and I heard this from one of my former guests, you want producers and readers want to see a sea of white, a sea of white on the page, as you know, as little they have to read as possible. And that's a sign of really tight, good screenwriting, as they say, how that's arguably depends on who you're talking to. Because if you look at a Tarantino script, I mean,

Paul Chitlik 53:49
it's different. It's true. But there's a problem there. Because you want to make them see the film in their heads, how you going to make them see it if you don't describe the situation. Now, a lot of people do skip over that. And some directors even cross that stuff out. And just go into the dialogue and say, well walk or create the scene using this dialogue. But you have to have some description. Now, the trick is to spread it out. So you don't have paragraphs that are 10 lines long, because people are not going to read it, it's too black. So you have a paragraph that's two or three lines long, or maybe one line long, or maybe one word long. You can do that. And that's a good idea. And then some dialog and then sometimes you don't want to have page after page after page of nothing but dialog either because that will say Well, what's going on what's happening?

Alex Ferrari 54:44
Unless Unless your name is Tarantino then you can do whatever

Paul Chitlik 54:46
well. You can have, you know 15 minutes seems to be exactly the scene in the downstairs in the restaurant where

Alex Ferrari 54:56
they're all glorious bastards. Yeah. Oh

Paul Chitlik 54:58
yeah. Glorious bastard. I mean, oh my God, what a long 22 minutes I believe

Alex Ferrari 55:04
the opening starts opening just the opening sequence at that movie is a masterclass. I mean, yes. Oh, Jesus. All right.

Paul Chitlik 55:13
And the page, here's the difficult thing you have to create, you have to write visually. And they tell you this all the time. And they looking for this all the time. So that means you have to have description. But on the other hand, people don't like to read description. So what do you do, right? So you have to write it, you have to sneak it in there. That's why I tell my people not to write more than four lines at a time in description, six at the most, if you have to, you have to break it up into shops to make it look wide to make it easier to read, so that your eyes go down the page faster. So if you break it into shots, for example, if I'm writing about your, your office right here, I might do a wide shot on the office. And I would say Alex is sitting in his office, I don't have to describe every part of your office. But if I want to do something specific about your office, I would say, well, there's a figure of Yoda wearing a cap in the corner. But I would say I put that on its own line, Yoda and I would capitalize it, Yoda. And then I would skip a line is standing wearing an overcoat and a cap. So we would direct the readers eye to that. So we would direct the reader to see that in his or her head. And then we would do some dialogue. And then we will get back to some other part of the room.

Alex Ferrari 56:36
Isn't that a lot of a lot of times screenwriters, when they're writing screenplays, they try to do it like a novel. So novelists extremely, you know, writing about my office, let's say as an example, can go into the detail of Yoda and the Lord like the the lanyards around his neck and, and the posters on the wall and the, the sculptures in the back and, and they could go into this. They could write a page just on this office if they felt like but a lot of screenwriters do that. And I've seen screenplays do that, that they write 6789 lines explaining this room, unless the room itself is the central character. And even then you wouldn't do that. You just don't do that? No,

Paul Chitlik 57:21
I tell my students, for example, if you're writing about a college classroom, all you have to say is his college classroom. That's all you have to say. People are gonna figure it out. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 57:31
unless it's a specific unless it's a specific thing that you need to do. So like in goodwill hunting, I doubt that they went into a great amount of detail in the in the hallway that that will does. The thing is there's a chalkboard on it. I'm sure it was just very simple. And it wasn't like this long, like in use in what is it MIT, the hallways are really built, you know, they drip with, with brick on the wall and no one cares. It's a whole it's a it's a hallway, guys. It's a hallway.

Paul Chitlik 58:02
Now, if there's something important in that hallway for something important in the classroom, it's a classroom setup for COVID 919. Yeah, so then we would see a different hallway. I mean, we different classroom. If it's a classroom set up for people with wheelchairs, we will see a different classroom. So if it's important you write it, you have to remember that everything that you want to see in the screen. That's important. You have to write in your screenplay, write everything that's not important that ever the people deal with it. And they'll fill it out. Same thing goes for the wardrobe.

Alex Ferrari 58:35
Oh, yeah, took it,

Paul Chitlik 58:36
you don't have to describe all the wardrobe. I can, I can just say, college students. And I don't have to describe what they're wearing. Everybody knows what college student wears. However, if I describe a college student who's non binary, and is wearing sweatshirt, and green, tennis shoes, and has purple hair, then that's important. I want to write that

Alex Ferrari 58:58
it's a characters like this characters dressed like he stuck in the 80s. That's all you need to know.

Paul Chitlik 59:03
That's exactly it. You don't have to say big here, big, big shoulder.

Alex Ferrari 59:08
Because that's not because I promise you, whatever you write will not be on the screen. If you go into great detail in what that person is wearing on your script, I promise you wardrobe and the director and the actor will all have their say on how that actors is I mean, unless this is a completely central part of the story, or the character or something in the wardrobe is magical. That case carries the story forward, then write it like you said, if it's important to the story, write it If not, you automatically get like all that out of a scene from the 90s out if they look like they just walked off the front set. You're done. You know exactly where that you are.

Paul Chitlik 59:45
Yeah, it's all about being very specific, and letting people create the image in their own head.

Alex Ferrari 59:51
Now, one of the things you talked about in your book, which I found interesting is that you discuss how to surprise the reader by Going outside the rules? Do you have any advice on how to do that? Because it's very similar to like, like we were saying, with Michelangelo, I just took away the stuff that wasn't supposed to be there. It's it's easy to say that said, Yeah, just work around the rules and surprise your character. How do you do that? We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Paul Chitlik 1:00:25
Well, that is that is a tough question. Because that has, you have to surprise yourself. Right? When you're writing, you have to say, what would this character do? That I wouldn't expect? But that, once I see it makes sense, because I know who that character is. So that's a hard thing to do. For example, let's say that your character is a police officer. And you would expect that character to enter a crime scene and do something, you know, examine the the body, look at the where the bullets are, see the blood, but you wouldn't expect that person to go down and put their finger in the blood. That would make sense, if they want to smell it, do something that's a little bit out of the ordinary. But that makes sense from this character's point of view. So that's harder to say, here's what you have to do. There's no,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:25
it's case by case. Yeah, it's a case by case basis, but something like arguably one of the best written shows in history, in my opinion, Breaking Bad. What Vince Gilligan did, I remember the character of Hank, the, the DEA agent, who had the biggest kingpin under his nose his entire time, he had a collection of rocks like he collected he was, I forgot what the term is when you collect rocks, like, Yeah, but anyway, he was really into rocks. And just like, that's really interesting. And then you start digging into that in your mind, like, why did he? Like, why did they throw that in there? But it keeps it interesting. It completely is outside of what you think of as a DEA agent.

Paul Chitlik 1:02:09
Right? It's something to give the character more depth.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:11
Something Yeah,

Paul Chitlik 1:02:12
yeah, we don't want to have a two dimensional character. So every characters got something a little bit different. I mean, I've never met a person that didn't have something unusual about them. One of the questions I asked about my students in the first day of classes, what is your secret talent, and they, they almost always come up with something weird. And it's very, it could be, you know, they can make their bed, they can bend their finger back to their elbow, or they can touch their nose with their tongue. Or they can play the violin. And, or they can do a magic trick. I had them do it in the class. And that gives us depth, but it's also something I do in class to teach people how to write a character. characters will have these things.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:57
That's why that's why a lot of my listeners, always freak out. When I tell when I've mentioned that a few times on my shows. I was like, Yeah, I used to own an olive oil and vinegar gourmet shop in Los Angeles. And they're like, what, like, Where did that come from? I'm like, Oh, yeah, if you need to know about olive oil, I can tell you how to pick a proper olive oil, how to sip it, how to taste it, how to buy it, you know, what's a good 18 year aged balsamic? And they're like, what is that about? Like? It's so that's like a little like, nobody would ever think that I owned the largest olive oil and vinegar tasting shop in Los Angeles in Studio City. For three years.

Paul Chitlik 1:03:35
I think I was there.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:37
Which one was it was in studio sitting right by Laurel Canyon. Yeah.

Paul Chitlik 1:03:40
Yeah. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:03:40
that was my shop.

Paul Chitlik 1:03:41
I can't remember that. But yeah. I don't know if you can see this in my I'm trying to see if you see that. No, not there. Look at it. I've got a circuit. I have a poster on the wall of circus Vargas. Here's a little background.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:59
I see I

Paul Chitlik 1:03:59
see it in the reflection. Right behind you see reflection. I worked as a as a Rasht about in circus Vargas. What's the rest about? Rest about is the kind of guy that does everything. If I set up to 10 I put in the seat so you work you ran away with the circus is what you saw, I ran away with the circus. And there you go. Alright, so that's a part of me that most people don't know. But there's a little bit of an interesting thing. Now why would I bring that up in a movie? Maybe to show that I'm, I'm a small person. But by small I mean, I'm five foot six. But I'm strong. That was the hardest work I've ever done in my life. The first day I did it, I had blisters all over my hands. The second day I did it. I was wearing gloves, leather gloves that tour. That's how strong that's how tough the work is. So and I can describe stuff about the circus. Now that leads me to something else I we haven't talked about. And that's research. Hmm, yes. And I see this all the time. In my Didn't my students do? One of my students is writing about San Francisco in the 60s. Now I was there. So I know it. And I know what they said. And I know what they did. And they don't know. And I also had a student once, who was writing about Spain in the 1600s. And she was having a messenger, come to the door of a noble woman. Now, first of all, the noble woman answered the door, that would never happen. Second of all, the messenger was delivering a telegram in the 16th century, now they would,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:36
not so much, yeah, didn't get an email. They didn't get text. No, I didn't get that.

Paul Chitlik 1:05:41
So I have my people do research. And research gives depth to the depth to the characters. So it's an important part of your writing. If you're writing about something that you're not completely familiar with, you have to do the research. You can't

Alex Ferrari 1:05:58
write about what you don't know. It's so funny, because when I wrote a script that I had a short film that I wrote about a current carnivals, Carnival workers carnies, and I interviewed a carny. And I got a got what a carny actually didn't in my if you watch my film, you see things you've never seen him. Because no one had gone that deep into like the after hours of what a carny does and things like that. And it was fascinating as well. I'm just writing down I was like, Oh, this is all gold. He's just giving me gold, gold gold as I was interviewing them. And it's, it's amazing. If you look at some of it, like Michael Mann, I know does and it's sane amount of research. Oh, he writes, I mean, he's legendary for his research. Like he handed Jamie Foxx for collateral, like a binder, like this is where your character lives. This is his history. This is where he went to school stuff that will never ever, ever see the screen. But it gives so much depth to those characters. It's remarkable.

Paul Chitlik 1:06:55
That's one of the first steps I do have my students do is to write biographies of the main characters. And in those biographies, we go into depth where they were born, how many people were in their family, what kind of a family was it? what language they speak, what what school? Did they go to? How many years did they go to school, when they study what the Father do for a living with their mother do with their, maybe they had two fathers, maybe they had to mothers, maybe they were brought up by the grandchildren of their grandparents. All these things are important, the deeper you get into the character, the better you're going to write to character. The deeper you get into a situation, the better you can write that situation. So research of your character development and character is important in research into the media that your characters in is extremely important.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:45
And if you're in the rewriting process, and you go into a scene or you see a character's, you know, arc and stuff, like it's not working, maybe even during the rewriting process, you will go You know what, let me let me go into what like whatever they're, let's say, they're Carnival workers. And you're like, you know what I there's, it seems were way too one dimensional. You go do research, and then you go back into the rewriting process. And then you start adding all the nuance, as well. So research can be at the beginning, and could also be there for life support or helping revive the the patient if you will.

Paul Chitlik 1:08:18
Exactly, exactly. Now, we're getting back to the doctor analogy, what we're doing with the script,

Alex Ferrari 1:08:24
right, exactly, exactly. Now, I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read? Well, I

Paul Chitlik 1:08:36
think every screenwriter should read

Groundhog

Alex Ferrari 1:08:40
Day. For one masterpiece.

Paul Chitlik 1:08:43
It's a masterpiece. Shakespeare in Love is another one great script. Shakespearean love was good. There's an interesting structure. You can lay the seven points on top of that, but it's a 5x structure. Because Shakespeare's plays were five acts now. If you look at that screenplay, you'll see five acts. And I think that's very important. Um, let me see what else what I would do I would recommend I find Inglorious Basterds was a good one.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:10
But like, even so, just to touch on Tarantino, for a second, if you look at Pulp Fiction, which is completely all over the place, story wise, the storylines it's not, it's not a coherent story when you know from beginning to end, if you still lay the points down, um, they're there. They're there. And that's the brilliance of that script. Because even though the character is in a completely different place in the timeline of the story, in the timeline of the script, it's still following that structure. And that is the brilliance of, of pulp fiction. Am I correct?

Paul Chitlik 1:09:44
Yes, I'm trying to remember this another screenplay I recommend and suddenly I can't remember the name of it. It's

memoria, memoria.

What is the one it starts backwards? Oh,

Alex Ferrari 1:09:55
momento momento. momento. Noland Norman's momento. Yeah, yeah.

Paul Chitlik 1:10:00
Also, that's very interesting screenplay because it's told in reverse order. But, but the the color, the thing that's in color is in reverse order, the stuff that's in black and white is in forward order. Both of those stories have seven points.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:17
It's the same. Now that's another. That's another script that you just him and his brother wrote that and you're just sitting there like, I just, you know, that's but that's Nolan. I mean, now, Nolan is who he is. But I mean, just absolutely brilliant. Great, great, great scripts. Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Paul Chitlik 1:10:37
That's the hardest question there is, I would say, write and then write some more. And I would say, then write some more and rewrite it. So you have to have, at least if you're a screenwriter or a television writer, you have to have at least three original screenplays ready to go in preferably in three different genres, I would say, because you never know what people are going to be looking for. And right from your heart, right? Something you really know, don't write something about 17th century Spain, if you don't know it, because it's not going to work, right? Something you really know. And put your heart into it. And then rewrite it a couple of times, and then rewrite it a couple more times. And then start asking around and going to events. Well, when when we can virtual virtual events, virtual virtual, good, as many virtual events as you can. But as soon as we can go to real live events, go to real live events and start talking to people. And it doesn't matter who it is. You can go to a Screen Actors Guild event and talk to a screen actor. You can go to the Directors Guild event and talk to a costumer, you can go to a Writers Guild event and talk to somebody that is a first ad. They all know people you know who the best people to talk to our makeup and wardrobe people. Because the best thing to do for a new screenwriter is to get a star attached to it. And who talks to stars more than wardrobe people and makeup people. Nobody. So if you can talk to a makeup person and say so what do you been working on? And I'll tell you what, I've been working on shits Creek. Really? What? Would you be comfortable reading a script I have that I think Daniel lovies be really good for? Well, yeah, sure, why not? And they read it and then say, yeah, I think that'd be great in this.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:39
Then McCollum wrote to me. Yeah, I'll call him real quick. Yeah,

Paul Chitlik 1:12:42
I call because they're the people that know that can call them. Now you can talk to agents and managers and do the same thing. But I think talk to the craftspeople you can even call the cinematographer and talk to cinematographer or talk to a props person. Props persons know that the actors too.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:01
Oh, yeah. Yeah, some of my first big I got an academy nominated actor because my dp worked with them on a film. And he just called them up. And that's how it works. It works. It was it was it's pretty, it's you're absolutely right. One of the best pieces of advice on screenwriting I ever got was from a screenwriter, the screenwriter of Fight Club, when I asked him that question, and he said, All the best, here's what you need to do sit down, you write a script. When you're done with that script. Don't rewrite it, take it put another drawer, start writing a script number two, when you're done with that script, take it put in a drawer, start writing script number three. When you're done with script number three, go back to script one, number one, and start rewriting it. Because at that time you have already you've already become a much better writer.

Paul Chitlik 1:13:45
Exactly. He's totally right. He's totally right.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:48
The more you write, the better you write. Absolutely. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Paul Chitlik 1:13:57
Wow, film industry or life on film industry is when you keep my mouth shut when you talk.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:04
Great advice.

Paul Chitlik 1:14:07
And in life that applies. Oh, yeah, preach

Alex Ferrari 1:14:10
my friend preach. Absolutely true. Absolutely. God, the stuff that came out of my mouth when I was in my 20s, I would just be like to shut just shut up. It's not about you. It's not about you. Please just shut up. And

Paul Chitlik 1:14:26
it's about making the product.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:29
Yeah, it's about making it's about making that that show that movie, whatever you're working, making it better. Absolutely. That's your job. And where can people find out more about you and your work and your book?

Paul Chitlik 1:14:41
Well, I'm over Google, you can always Google me. imdb. You can go to WP comm which is Michael we see productions.com they have all the books that I've written on screenwriting that's only two but they also have a ton of books. about making films. I think it's the best film publishing house there is. And they work with people. So if you have an idea for a book, those are people to talk to. To find out more about me, I just go on the web. I'm there. I'm all over the place,

Alex Ferrari 1:15:19
not hard to find not hard to find. And I'll put all that information in the show notes. But it is thank you so much for being on the show. It's been an absolute pleasure talking to you, my friend.

Paul Chitlik 1:15:27
It's really been fun. I enjoyed it. Thank you.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:31
I want to thank Paul for coming on the show and dropping those knowledge bombs on the tribe. Thank you again, Paul. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, including how to get his his book rewrite a step by step guide to strengthening structure, characters, and drama in your screenplay, head over to the show notes at bulletproof screenwriting.tv forward slash 113. And guys, if you haven't already, head over to screenwriting podcast comm subscribe and leave a good review for the show. It really helps us out a lot. Thank you again for listening guys. As always, keep on writing, no matter what. I'll talk to you soon.


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Aaron Sorkin MasterClass: Learn Screenwriting from an Oscar Winner

Aaron Sorkin masterclass

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.

BPS 086: How to Create a Story Map Beat Sheet for TV/Streaming with Daniel Calvisi

Today on the show we bring back author and Story Maps guru Daniel Calvisi. His last episode was one of the most popular in the history of the podcast. The concept of story mapping has been a huge help to so many screenwriters. This is why I wanted to bring him back to discuss how to use his story mapping technique on the television/streaming script. This is based on his best selling book STORY MAPS: TV Drama: The Structure of the One-Hour Television Pilot.

Daniel Calvisi brings his Story Maps screenwriting method to television as he breaks down the structure of the TV drama pilot, citing case studies from the most popular, ground-breaking series of recent years, including THE WALKING DEAD, GAME OF THRONES, HOUSE OF CARDS, TRUE DETECTIVE, BREAKING BAD, MR. ROBOT, SCANDAL, and MAD MEN.

Story Maps: TV Drama offers the first beat sheet for television screenwriters (“Save the Cat” for TV). This is the structural template that aspiring and professional TV writers have been looking for. A clear, practical, step-by-step method for writing a pilot that adheres to Hollywood standards.

How to write a TV pilot has never been easier. Writing a pilot begins here.

This book first introduces you to the key formats, genres, and terminology of modern TV shows then details the major signpost beats of a teleplay and the crucial characteristics that must be present in each act, using specific examples from our new “Golden Age of Television.”

Enjoy my conversation with Daniel Calvisi.

Right-click here to download the MP3

LINKS

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Alex Ferrari 0:47
I'd like to welcome back to the show returning champion, Daniel Calvisi How you doing my friend?

Daniel Calvisi 3:04
Good, good. How are you doing?

Alex Ferrari 3:06
I'm good. Well, you know, just hanging in there in this crazy upside down world. It's, I keep telling people, I feel like we're back to the future too. And we're on the the other timeline, we are just now living in a alternate universe that I didn't sign up for.

Daniel Calvisi 3:23
I know, it doesn't feel quite real. It's like everything's kind of on hold.

Alex Ferrari 3:27
Everything is just a weird place to be. But but as they say, in the business, the show must go on in one way shape, or form. And, and the creative process has not stopped. writers are writing and creators are creating. And we're here to help as much as we can. So the first time I had you on the show, your episode was very, very well received and has been downloaded 1000s and 1000s of times. So I wanted to kind of bring you back on to discuss your amazing concept of story mapping. But specifically for television, because television is the and when I say television, everybody I mean streaming. I mean, traditional television will just say television for lack of a better term. But that includes Netflix and Hulu and all the other places we're talking about. But I want to kind of focus on that because a lot of people are starting to write more and more for that. I think there's much more opportunity in television now than there ever was that there there is right now in film and independent film. If you're a screenwriter you more likely will get a job in television than you will you know writing up a blockbuster. Is that a fair statement?

Daniel Calvisi 4:40
Yeah, definitely. Yep. There's a lot more opportunities there's a lot more jobs. They're just I mean, writers are getting hired off Twitter in some cases, for to staff on shows, you know, how

Alex Ferrari 4:53
does that work

Daniel Calvisi 4:54
with with studio features?

Alex Ferrari 4:56
How does that work? Is that a specific story you know, of it? It's

Daniel Calvisi 5:00
Yeah. Well, I mean, they're the biggest story was Rob Delaney, who was kind of already kind of a famous comedian. But he had a big Twitter presence. And he was noticed by Sharon Horgan, who was well known for TV and in the UK, and they ended up co creating that show catastrophe. And so he's really big. That was a really big show for Amazon. Yeah, he's really big now. And it was mostly because he was just hilarious on Twitter, you know, but there's many other instances, mostly in comedy, because people can just kill on Twitter. And then they get noticed, and somebody emails them and says, Hey, you know, do you have a pilot?

Alex Ferrari 5:42
such as such a crazy ridiculous story. But yes, it makes all the sense in the world because, and I say ridiculous, because it's, it's kind of ridiculous. Like, how is that? I know, a lot of people listening to the like, I've been busting my ball, and all I have to do is do a good Twitter account. I'm like,

Daniel Calvisi 6:00
it. I think the key the key with any social media is consistency. Like if you do it every single day, you're gonna get noticed, you know, like, it used to be YouTube stars. Now it's Tick Tock stars,

Alex Ferrari 6:13
Instagram,

Daniel Calvisi 6:14
Instagram, they put out something every single day, which is, which I could never do. I don't have. I don't have the patience. And you know, I was telling you offline that I need deadlines and stuff. But people would do that. They prove that they have a work ethic. And then they back it up with talent. So

Alex Ferrari 6:32
it is a weird world we live in my friend how weird worse not. It's not 1982 anymore. that's for damn sure.

Daniel Calvisi 6:39
So I wanted it occurred to me the other day. I'm like, it's not 1982. It's

Alex Ferrari 6:44
not good. though. I actually saw something on on on Facebook or Twitter that was an image is like, there was a highway and there was a turn off. And it's like 2020 straight ahead. 1980 turn off if you want to go back the car, the car was taken off? I don't know. hard, right? I don't know. I might, I might I might if I could go back with what I have in my head. Obviously, right away. Let's go back to 1980. It was simpler times. It's simpler times simpler times. So first and foremost, how do you story map an idea for television? Well, you

Daniel Calvisi 7:18
start with what I call the basic story map, which is things like your protagonist, your theme, your compelling crisis, your compelling crisis is really the core concept of the core conflict of your concept. It's essentially like your logline basically, and it has to be an engine that can continuously go and continuously generate stories. So let me give you a few examples here. So Breaking Bad, and this will this will kind of sound like a logline, but it's really the engine for the whole show. a mild mannered high school teacher becomes a drug lord under the nose of his brother in law, a DEA agent. So that's like the core of it. And you can imagine, okay, that could generate six seasons, you know, and it did. Sons of Anarchy was Hamlet and a biker gang. Okay, it was stepfather and son like to keep a gun running biker gang together. And it's corruption, betrayals and escalating violence, the Americans to Russian sleeper agents in the 1980s pose as the perfect suburban couple by day as they run missions by night which ironically, bring them closer as real lovers. So if you can get that engine, you're off to a great start.

Alex Ferrari 8:36
So like so a logline? So those all those log lines, you have to kind of think as a writer, you're like, Okay, I just I love the term story engine. Because it's like, you know, when you when you throw something like the Breaking Bad logline in it, it just writes itself, almost like oh, yeah, you can, there's so many stories you can put out there, but like, oh boy meets girl and boy loses girl and girl. And then they get back together. That's not much of a story engine.

Daniel Calvisi 9:05
Yeah, and it's and that not only is it not specific, and you want to get as specific as possible, but that suggests a closed ending. And with TV you don't want closed endings like you do with feature films to keep going

Alex Ferrari 9:18
right so Breaking Bad, arguably could have gone for another three, four seasons. I think

Daniel Calvisi 9:23
Yeah. competently keep evading the law basically.

Alex Ferrari 9:26
And it But at a certain point it wears it's it's wears out it's welcome. You know like I mean any of these any of these cop shows like Hawaii Five o I think just went nine to 10 seasons and they just they just stopped it. But those kind of those kind of shows are like SWAT and I, you know, no TV shows are not really in vogue right now. But our police a police TV shows Yeah, procedurals are not really in vogue right now. But, or like a show like bones, which ran for 12 seasons, I think it was it was

Daniel Calvisi 9:55
Yeah, something like that.

Alex Ferrari 9:56
It just keeps it's just you will never end It could never end it's up only basically when the audience just says, you know, we're good.

Daniel Calvisi 10:05
Yeah, that's what they call the case of the week, you know, or like on X Files and a monster of the week or the alien of the week, you know, something like that. But so

Alex Ferrari 10:14
there's there's so on those procedural shows, well, on those kind of shows, like X Files is a great example. There is the week, the monster of the week, but then there's also the underlining season story and then the underlining story engine of the entire series. So the entire series is the truth is out there. molder is trying to get the truth. So that's Yeah, the engine. But the that year, it's like, whatever, like I was caught Cancer man, I think he was

Daniel Calvisi 10:42
smoking man.

Alex Ferrari 10:43
Yes. So there's a whole season on discovering who that guy is, basically. And then after that, then there's the next big. So there's this underlying story that kind of keeps going into kind of dabble on to it, even when they're dealing with the monster of the week. And they kind of go back to it.

Daniel Calvisi 10:56
Is that true? Yeah. Yeah. So in that case, you would call that a hybrid, a scripted and procedural hybrid. So not only is there the procedural case of the week, but there's ongoing arcs below it like, like with Mulder, it was related to the disappearance of his sister, and he believed that his sister was abducted by aliens. And I'm not sure I don't think that lasted the whole, you know, 10 seasons, maybe that was like the first three or four or something. But that pushed it, that was the arc behind it. So it would come up every few episodes. And then as it went on, as it kind of got into the more modern era of television, it became more of a narrative scripted series, where there would less of the monster the week type of thing, right, I was just watching happens when just the audience gets sucked in, and they want they want more character work

Alex Ferrari 11:50
is more about the characters, right? As opposed to just like the monster of the week, kind of kind of deal. So like, like, I, my wife, and I watched all of bones, you know, cuz we were just catching up on all the shows. Were in quarantine. And there was always that one thing I forgot, I think it was that the for for the main character, the the female, she bones herself. It was the father or something like that. And she could never find the bones or something along the something that kept her going for a long time. With castle, it was the same thing for Beckett, the character, the main character, her father was killed and she could never discover who it was. And that kept going for like four or five seasons, that show went on for like 10 seasons as well. But then you're right after like three or four seasons, it kind of either, you know, they can't keep that going for 10 years. They'll they'll go for three or four years, and then they'll pick something else up. And and and take that and kind of keep driving the show. Correct?

Daniel Calvisi 12:49
Yeah. Yeah. Like I think it was the blacklist on NBC. And I don't know if they four or five seasons, then finally they just said Yes, he's her father. Yeah. Then they went on with it from there. You know, it wasn't as much of a mystery anymore.

Alex Ferrari 13:06
Yes, spoiler alert by anyone who has not seen the blacklist I just finished I just finished watching the blacklist. So I completely understand. Oh, yeah, it was like that whole, that whole thing? Like Is he the father is the the Father, we all kind of knew it was that but then then there was the other thing like, well, when What's his what's a secret? And, and what a sheet and now she's turning badly. She's gone into this whole breaking bad thing in that series, like she's gone.

Daniel Calvisi 13:29
I haven't seen it. You know, I haven't seen it recently. I kind of just watched the first season. So it gets it gets

Alex Ferrari 13:35
better, it gets a lot better, it gets a lot better than the first season. So you should you have time, might as well pick it up again. Now, how do you create a compelling character that can carry a series? Because a lot of times, you know, I watch a series and it's starting out, and it's just the characters, the character himself or herself is not strong enough to hold the weight of a whole series, it might hold the weight of a movie might hold the weight of a few episodes, maybe a season, but not for the entire night for a run of 5678 seasons. What What do you do to kind of create that compelling character? Well, I

Daniel Calvisi 14:12
think they have to have a compelling backstory or what you might call their ghost, like Don Draper on Mad Men, he had this backstory where Don Draper wasn't his real name, he assumed the identity of a guy that he was serving in Korea with. And this this officer in Korea, they were in a battle together. The officer whose name was Don Draper died, and they confuse the two. And they thought he was Don Draper. And they thought the guy who died was dick Whitman. And so he just assumed the guy's identity and totally rebooted his life. He came to New York, and ended up becoming an ad advertising executive. So he has this whole backstory which essentially is is a federal crime, right? So he's kind of he's kind of evading the law, like he doesn't want people to know his secrets. And it's all about this duality that he's pretending to be another person really the whole time, which matches up with and kind of parallels the his occupation, which is advertising, you know, advertising is pretending this glamour, you know, this glamorous world to sell baked beans or whatever it is. So that's an example. But in my story map, I say there's four things that you want to define for protagonists. So this is right off the back before we even start, or even start writing the pilot. This is just your initial outline. So I go with defining characteristic scale misbehavior and Achilles heel or flaw. So the defining characteristic could be their occupation, or it could be just something that could be something they're good at, it could be just some way to capture them. Okay. The skill is something that they're really good at. So like Walter White, his skill was obviously chemistry, you know, so he was good at that. So he was able to make that the misbehavior is a quirk or trait that consistently generates conflict. So maybe they have no filter, and they're always talking out, maybe they're making funny asides. Maybe they're a snob, you know, something. And then the Achilles heel or flaw, which may relate to their ghost, is that thing that can destroy them, you know, so like, in in, I would say, probably in madman, Don Draper's Achilles heel, heel or flaw is that he's actually dick Whitman. He actually is not the person that he's saying he is, you know,

Alex Ferrari 16:42
so like, I'm Tony Soprano, like Tony Soprano's ghost or secret is you can't if anybody in his crew found out that he was going to a therapist, it'd be

Daniel Calvisi 16:51
Yeah, it'd be done. Yeah, I would say his therapist. Initially, I was there was a lot with his mother, right? Like, he kind of had a big mother complex, right? So she was almost kind of his Achilles heel as well. But his defining characteristic, I would say, he's kind of impatient, or he's, I don't know, the frustrated leader, maybe like he kind of doesn't want to be the leader. In some ways, you know? And then his skill is he he is a pretty, he's a pretty good leader. And his misbehavior, maybe is that he's, he's violent, you know, he has those violent, he has a temper, temper. Right now he'll go off the handle. So those are characteristics that go into him. And that you could use to write him, you know,

Alex Ferrari 17:41
so those kind of so those four elements really do help to set up a compelling character and sex that could hold the series for a while.

Daniel Calvisi 17:49
Yeah, yeah. So I think that's like the minimum that you would need.

Alex Ferrari 17:52
Now. I mean, I'm sure you found this, a lot of times when the shows start, you know, as they say, jumped the shark to refer to happy days back in the day, when I show jumps the shark A lot of times, either that story engine has run out of gas, or the character it's himself or herself has kind of either caught they, whatever was interesting about them before is either been weighing it's watered down, it's been resolved, and they haven't been able to pick up another thing to keep that character going. Because obviously, I have not seen madmen, believe it or not, so I'm not sure somewhere in the series that did they find out his secret? And, you know, yeah,

Daniel Calvisi 18:32
certain people along the way. Well, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 18:35
But is it like an explosion, meaning like a story explosion that like everybody, the cops come in? he's arrested? Like,

Daniel Calvisi 18:41
is there a moment like that? There never really is no. Okay. So I kept that. The first Yeah, the end of the first season, there's a big confrontation, his nemesis tries to turn him into the boss. And the boss says, Who cares? It's kind of funny. So he ends up winning. That's right.

Alex Ferrari 19:00
All right. But so a lot of times if you're not able to keep that, that thing going, the show just dies, because it's not interesting. And I found that it's a lot of times when I like I was watching, I watched I think six seasons of The Walking Dead. And it just got to a point where I was just like, I can't anymore. It's Yeah, it just kind of Yeah, just I mean, it was great at the beginning and it was awesome, but it's just at a certain point you just like

Daniel Calvisi 19:28
again and you think it was that you it was just the devices kept being repetitive or that you didn't care about the characters anymore?

Alex Ferrari 19:35
No, the specific group, I can tell you exactly the moment when Deegan showed up. When diggin the arch, which is supposed to be the biggest baddest, bad guy, nega nega sorry neguin the biggest bad guy in The Walking Dead universe, according to the comic shows up and everybody was so excited when he showed up and everything. His bat his antagonist was so brutal In the point where the, the good guys could not get a lickin, so it was too overpowering. It's kind of like when the when the villain is too strong, and the May and all the other characters, nothing they did that he just constantly beat them and beat them and beat them. So even in a fight, even in a rocky fight, you know, Drago beats him up in Rocky four and is beating them and you're like, oh, but rocky gets in a lick and cuts them. And then you're like, oh, wait a minute, there's a chance. So it's just like, you know, it's like, the rock going after a five year old, like, there's nothing to five year olds gonna do that's gonna physically match up. And at that point, it gets boring. And then also, I've also built up a love for the characters. And I don't want to see my characters constantly get just abused again, once in a while, but it was just constant. And I just like, both my wife and I just said, you know what we can't, I can't, I can't say and it was a season of this. And even at the end of the season, it was really no, the guys still there. gotta win. They didn't Not really. And if they did, I didn't remember it. It wasn't it wasn't. It wasn't appeasing enough for me. So I just, I just, I just walked away. And now I'm hearing that, you know, what's his name is coming back. And after he left the show, and I'm like, Oh, that's interesting. But I think I can't I goes negative Oh, and he can still run. I don't want to I don't, I can't. And like if they would have killed him in the NFL season, that would have probably kept going over the first time he showed up, but he just keeps coming back. So that was my feeling. That's

Daniel Calvisi 21:31
Yeah, there are shows that are just too dark and you get sick of it, you get sick of your characters losing, right? You want them to have a when they need to have a win every now and then, you know, and you need to root for them to have a win. But if you know they're just gonna lose, and it's just gonna be a complete downer. Right? then yeah, you might fail out of a show.

Alex Ferrari 21:51
Brian, that's a lot of times when people bail out of their sports teams, because they just keep getting beat up all the time. And you're like, well, there's the only reason you watch a sporting event or you watch a movie or a show is because you hope that whoever you're rooting for has a chance. So like the Avengers, perfect example. Thanos was fairly an unstoppable object, I mean, and they said they established him so beautifully in Infinity Infinity War, where within the first 10 minutes, he literally wipes the floor with the whole, which is arguably the biggest, baddest guy in the Marvel side of things. And everyone just said, Oh, man, so even Thanos who has this power that is just so overpowering, and he won. But yet you felt that there was hope. And they did get a couple licks and and there was a way to do it. And it was gonna take the entire Marvel Universe against this guy to beat them. But there was still hope there. What if that'll just kept beating on everybody? And it was it's boring. It's boring.

Daniel Calvisi 22:55
Yeah. And you notice the only real movie with a dark ending was Infinity War, which is,

Alex Ferrari 23:01
which is basically the Empire Strikes Back at the end. It's like the middle part. It's the middle part. Yeah. To partner. Yeah.

Daniel Calvisi 23:06
But if so if every Avengers movie, or every Marvel movie had a dark ending, yeah, that audience would have been turned off a long time ago, I think, and also an ad successful.

Alex Ferrari 23:16
And you also knew that endgame was coming. A few months later, however, it like everyone knew like, okay, we're not waiting two more years for this, like, it's coming next year, it's coming next summer or something like that. And we know they're coming back. Good. But with something like walking dead, they didn't. They just, it was just this constant pounding. So that's something that everyone listening, make sure whoever your protagonist is, give them a win. Even if they have a very powerful foot, which you need. You need a powerful foe to make this thing go, right.

Daniel Calvisi 23:51
Yeah, you need to go to antagonists, you need to get nemesis. But yeah, I would say by the it can still like your pilot can still end on a dark moment. Yeah, sure. It has to end on a trigger that triggers the first season's engine. So whatever the main conflict is going to be for that first season, it has to be generated, at least by the end of the pilot, you know, and that has to be compelling. And that has to be something that you can see generating a lot of episodes now. It could be a loss, I guess, but it's probably a little bit better if it's a win. But really, the way I would characterize it is usually pulling the carpet out from under the protagonists like something you didn't see coming, they didn't see coming, they never thought it would get this bad. This, whatever, maybe they're going through a gateway, maybe a door slammed in their face, some kind of opportunity, but the rug has been pulled out from under them. And it's like the oshit moment, basically, at the end of every pilot, which then triggers the first season you know, so like in scandal You find out during the pilot that she had a affair with the president, President of the United States. And he has hired her, because he's been accused by an intern of, of having an affair, right. And she doesn't want to believe it at first. Well, by the end of the episode, she knows it was true. And so the trigger at the end is she starts representing the intern, the accuser of the President. So now she's diametrically opposed to the President, as opposed to being his former mistress and trying to help him. So that really gives you that like, Oh, crap moment. So now Oh, this first season, she's going to be taking on the president, in addition to new cases coming in during the week,

Alex Ferrari 25:46
and if you just finished watching, how I got it, How to Get Away with Murder, which is also another shot of that, is that good? It's, it's amazing, especially that first season, where I mean, in the pilot, it's about Whoa, who killed this dude. And like, the whole seasons about who killed this person. And what's done so beautifully in that show is at the beginning of every episode, you're taking, there's a flash forward to, or excuse me a flashback to the night of the murder. And they just little by little, every episode gives you just a little bit more information, a little bit more information until you finally get to the answer. And it's not at the end of the season, generally, you get to the answer, by the middle of the season. And then the rest of the season. They're figuring out how to get away with it.

Daniel Calvisi 26:40
So it's okay.

Alex Ferrari 26:42
It's really wonderful. It was a very unique structure of how they were able to do it. And we were hooked from, from the moment you watched the first episode, you're just like, okay, I heard this is good. Let's watch it. And you're just like, I gotta know who killed them. And the way they set it all up, and then like, and then that she's a teacher, she's a lawyer, who's teaching people how, you know, how you would get away with murder? How you would defend that person who got away with murder? It's just it's, it's wonderful to see. And

Daniel Calvisi 27:10
does she take the case at the midpoint of the season? Does she end up defending the murderer, or they're just kind of all she's out? She's,

Alex Ferrari 27:19
she's kind of involved. But she doesn't actually, she actually never kills it. But she's always in the hurricane. She's always inside. And it's very close. So I mean, I'm not giving anything away, they kill her husband. So and you know, it's her husband. So you wondering, did she do it? Did her students do it? The the sister do it like and you're just like this, who done it. But she's a really amazing attorney. And she you know, and, and she's like a force of nature. So then she has to defend herself because she's accused, and there's all sorts of it just constantly, you don't know. And that's the one thing I love about that show specifically. And I think if if you could do this, as a writer in today's world, you you have a job, if you can come up with something that has not been seen before or not not seen before. If you can write the story in a way that I can't tell what's going to happen next. Because Yeah,

Daniel Calvisi 28:18
you and I are be surprises, surprising turns. Yeah, you

Alex Ferrari 28:21
and I are both fairly educated in the story spectrum, I've seen hundreds of 1000s of hours. And most people have seen that even if we're not in the business of constructing story. We've just seen enough to know, oh, that's the bad guys gonna do this. Oh, she's gonna do that. I love this, show them like I have, I'll turn to my wife. And I'll just go, I have no idea what's happening. I have no idea where this is going.

Daniel Calvisi 28:48
And that's a good example that you said it was the Hutt, her husband who was killed. It has to be a consequential person, if you're gonna hang a whole season on on a murder case, it has to be consequential or even just any engine. So like in scandal, she's not just she didn't just have an affair with like some lawyer or some CEO, she had the affair with the President of the United States. It's How to Get Away with Murder. It wasn't just some random person that was killed. It was her husband, you know? So think about that. When you write your concepts, you know, that's what makes it high concept and that maybe the better term is high drama, you know, high consequences.

Alex Ferrari 29:31
And it's funny enough that that first season, that story engine, the ghost of that even after it's resolved, it kept coming back. And they kept coming back because they got because they because you got away with it. That's the name of the show. You got away with murder, but it's always lingering. Is that secret like a madman? It's like that thing. And there's multiple people involved is anybody going to talk is and then sometimes they do and sometimes they don't and what's going to happen and who's dead now and oh my god. And it just constantly kept that engine going in. It did finish I think we it was season. This was the last season. They did six seasons of it. But it could have kept going. But at a certain point he started like, how many times a week? How many times can this person away with murder? Like how many times can you do this? But it for the run? It was fantastic. It really, really was. Now you see, I don't know if we've spoken about this specifically, but the compelling crisis. Can you talk a little bit about the compelling crisis?

Daniel Calvisi 30:31
Yeah, so it's the it's the core conflict? Excuse me, sorry. It's really the core conflict. It's the core engine. I mean, we basically touched on this at the beginning. It's that engine that's going to push the story. It's that dramatic construct, right? It has to be interesting. It has to be compelling. So this is basically your elevator pitch. So if you're telling someone the story, like the this is a chemistry teacher turned meth cooker, you know what it has to be fascinating in its construction. And that's tough to do. Because obviously, if it wasn't tough to do, everybody would come up with a great high concept every single week, you know, but it's tough to do

Alex Ferrari 31:19
it. Can we can we just discuss what a horrible pitch Breaking Bad is? Just like on paper money. The

Daniel Calvisi 31:28
they called it? It's funny, I've seen it referred to as the greatest pitch of all time. Yeah. Because the the initial tagline the initial pitch was he goes from Mr. Chips to Scarface, right. So that right there, you're like, Okay, well, that's at least five seasons, you know, maybe more. Here's this mild mannered guy who's gonna become this huge drug lord, you know, just absolutely ruthless guy. So that in itself, was considered to be a great pitch. Now, the the kind of the logline that I gave at the beginning is more of the specifics, you know, his, his brother in law's a DEA agent on his tail. And he Well, he's the chemistry teacher, who then is good at cooking math. And eventually, he gets kind of more and more power, little more more brutal. Well,

Alex Ferrari 32:16
the way we're presenting it, and the way you just presented, it sounds fantastic. But when I've seen interviews with Vince Gilligan, and he's like, on paper, you're like, Oh, yeah, she his wife has cancer. And then he's a, he's a chemistry teacher who starts selling meth on the side to pay for the or no, he has cancer. He has cancer and, and like, on paper, it just didn't. Nobody

Daniel Calvisi 32:38
was depressing.

Alex Ferrari 32:38
It sounds depressing. Like, why he's got cancer. He's a chemistry teacher. He's gonna sell math. What should what network is going to run this like, and he got and it was turned down by almost everybody. Except for AMC who just said, Hey, we'll take a shot. And even then, they were like, the hatchet was just hanging over their heads for the first season. Just any moment now. And it took a minute before it got it got up and running. Yeah, yeah. Before people started, it took

Daniel Calvisi 33:06
a little bit. There was a whole kind of class of shows that came out of the writer strike. Yeah. And yeah, was that Oh, wait. Yeah, it kind of cut the season in half. Yeah. And a lot of the network's found out that they didn't have enough content. And so they took a chance on a number of shows like last Mad Men Breaking Bad, and a lot of these great shows came out of that period. And it's probably because they took a chance on creators who weren't super established like JJ Abrams. And last, he was established more in features. Not in TV. He was kind of a newcomer, well, actually, he done little, he done Felicity,

Alex Ferrari 33:43
it needed to deal with it. And he did alias. Yeah.

Daniel Calvisi 33:47
But they took a chance on Damon Lindelof, who was a newer showrunner as well there. And just the concept was crazy. He's like, Oh, yeah, there's 18 main characters, and they're gonna stay on this island for the whole run of the show, you know? So I think it It turned out well, and it really affected kind of the history of TV because they really took a chance, you know, something like, True Detective was really taking a chance as well, one director for the whole run of the season. One writer, he didn't have much experience in TV at all, I think he'd been like a staff writer on one show nic pizzolatto. So you know, when you take chances it can pay off. Of course, the landscapes also littered with canceled shows where it didn't pay off, you know, right. But write something that you want to see, right, something that does take some chances, and that's how you're gonna stand out. You know, it's your unique voice that's gonna make you stand out.

Alex Ferrari 34:44
So is there a difference in structure regarding and just story mapping ideas in general with sitcoms and maybe a 30 minute dramedy as opposed to the one hour drama?

Daniel Calvisi 34:55
There is Yeah, if you really want to get technical, and the story map breaks this down into Beat sheet. So a one hour pilots, that structure is going to be either teaser plus four or teaser plus five. So basically, that's if you're considering the teaser as an act, that's five or six X total. And then with a 30 minute, either sitcom or drama T, it's usually going to be cold open slash teaser. Sometimes they call a cold open, plus three x or plus four x. Your average sitcom, let's say one that I've mapped would be the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix, that was teaser plus three. And then dramas like Atlanta on FX that was teaser plus for maybe you would say, okay, drama, these have a little bit more complex storytelling, that could be the case. As far as the actual pilot script themselves, this is the pilot that you're going to submit to an agent, manager, student, network, executive producer, whatever, your one hour pilot script is going to be, like 54 to 60 pages, I recommend you don't go over 60 pages if you're a newbie, and then a half hour script, whether sitcom or drama, it is going to be more in like the 32 to 38 page range. And people ask, okay, well, if I'm writing a network sitcom, with commercials, the sitcom actually only ends up being 23 minutes, you know, so should I write a 23? Page script? The answer is no. You should still write a 32 to 38 page script, maybe 30. Because they're going to end up cutting some material because the actors are going to deliberate faster. I mean, comedy is all about pacing. So that just is the industry standard that you're going to write in that range. Now if you're a newcomer, I wouldn't say 38 pages, I'd say keep it 32 to 35, something like that,

Alex Ferrari 36:54
you know? And do you um, and all the all the same idea as far as a compelling character, the story engine, because sitcoms are different, like the sitcom, The logline just has to kind of like, you know, all in the family. I mean, it's basically that blog like Golden Girls, you know, I'm going old school, sorry. Or Big Bang Theory, you know, bunch of nerds trying to figure out life with, you know, a hot girl cross it Hall, essentially. And how that works out. That means that I mean, I don't know if that's even the logline. I don't even know how but the logline of a show like that is,

Daniel Calvisi 37:28
but be very is are the are the elements the same. They're basically the same. I mean, you do have a protagonist who probably has a quirk or a misbehavior. And they may have Achilles heel, but the stakes aren't as high, you know, obviously, it's not going to be life or death, if it's a sitcom. But one thing that and then there is a compelling crisis, there's an urgent crisis for that particular pilot episode, okay. So they may be the same, they may not so like the compelling crisis of let's say, Big Bang Theory may be these guys trying to negotiate the real world, even though they're the biggest nerds on the planet and kind of get along with girls. Okay, you know, as frontline by their neighbor, but the urgent crisis of the pilot is that particular story that week, that particular challenge that they have to deal with, and I don't, I don't know, I don't remember the pilot. But one thing, if you talk about the 30 minute drama t, which is the hottest format today, in which you see a lot more shows, using that format, a lot more shows on Netflix, using the 30 minute drama ad format, a lot more on Amazon shows like dead to me on Netflix, love on Netflix, and Atlanta, like I mentioned, Master of None, and different networks. So they really focus on a subculture and the subculture of the drama, it is really important in those cases. So you really want to drill down into a world that we haven't seen before. Okay, transparent, for example, it was examining the impact of a parent who is transitioning to another gender and the impact on his adult children. Okay, and that was something we hadn't seen before. You know, it really kind of changed the Zeitgeist. And it's a really unique, interesting show. And there and transparent there really was more drama than comedy, although, there were some really funny moments. But it was really more like kind of 70% Drama 30% comedy if you if you had to,

Alex Ferrari 39:38
you know, so Master, so like a show like master of none. What is the subculture there? Because I haven't seen the show in a bit, but I'm trying to remember good question. I

Daniel Calvisi 39:46
would say it's the Indian American, right man who and his family because we do touch on his parents and there are flashbacks to his parents in India coming to America. So it's Indian American man. Trying to struggle as an actor. Okay. And then we get into there's other characters there's the Lena wave character who's a gay black woman. And her family also is examined. There was a great episode which I may have won the Emmy called three Thanksgivings. And three or four Thanksgivings. And it goes back in time, kind of showing her coming out of the closet, with each Thanksgiving when she was younger with her family. So we examined her family, you know. So his family dynamics, it was a struggling actor, it was a young guy, trying to find a partner, you know, trying to find a woman and settle down, his friends are settling down. And he's still the single guy in the city. Kind of trying to grow up, basically, you know, Rami on Hulu is also about a guy trying to grow up in the modern world and become an adult, as he lives at home with his family. But the subculture there is Muslim America. So he's, he's a Muslim. And really, I haven't seen any other show that really had a main character who was a Muslim that was kind of really broke out, you know, and Ramiz a great show to look at. That's a great drama it.

Alex Ferrari 41:14
Now as a writer, do you if you're creating a pilot for any of these shows that 30 minute drama, a one hour drama? Do you need a story Bible? Well, it

Daniel Calvisi 41:25
depends if your Do you mean like a pitch Bible that you show to people?

Alex Ferrari 41:28
Yeah, I mean, yeah, like if you need to understand where the series can go, at least for the season, and then possibly for two or three, and then ideas for two or three seasons ahead of that?

Daniel Calvisi 41:39
Yeah, yeah, you do, you need to understand that. And I would say it would be good to have that written document. Today, you see a lot of pitch decks where there's a lot of visuals, you know, a lot of images. And they talk a lot about tone. And they show like pictures of actors who capture that the essence of that character. So there are a lot more visual, but you can do one that's purely text based. And yeah, you wanted to find the characters in more detail so that you know going forward, what their arcs are going to be and who they are really, so you can write them better. And the arcs going forward in season one, and then ideally, season two, season three, maybe beyond that. But you don't need to have like the entire first three seasons mapped out. But it is good to have a good idea of the major arcs.

Alex Ferrari 42:30
Now, can we discuss a little bit about theme within shows because theme is obviously a very powerful thing that in a lot of times gets lost in the writing process in television shows how like, Can you talk about certain shows and see what the theme underlining theme is of each show? And how important it might be to the success of a show?

Daniel Calvisi 42:54
Yeah, yeah. Well, basically theme is what is your show about? Like, why are you telling this story? What about it fascinates you and should fascinate the audience? What emotions and ideas do you plan to explore, and that can lend itself to inspiring what the characters will do their actions and the plot lines and the beats? theme to mention madman again, the theme would be the pursuit of happiness in an increasingly cynical and chaotic world. Now, that is pretty broad, but each character is is dealing with trying to be happy in this chaotic time of the 1960s in New York City. And it's really, the world is throwing things at them. And they're just trying to get along with their spouse or find a spouse or raise a family or balance the job and home life. There's a lot of dealing with sexism, there's a lot of dealing with racism. And in that case, it was really, it was really key that it was that subculture of Manhattan in the 1960s. But other shows, I would say Breaking Bad the theme of sacrifice comes into play time and time again. Walter White is put in these impossible situations. And the idea is, what is he willing to sacrifice to save his own skin? In some cases, it's literally his own skin, like he'll be tied up. And he he, you know, Jerry rigged a something to burn the, the, the ties on his wrist or something and he and he burns himself to do it, you know, like, is he willing to go through that much pain? Or is he willing the big overriding theme is he willing to sacrifice his family and that's the big thing. That's really his goal from the beginning, is to make enough money to support his family, if he dies from cancer, so after he dies, and the cancer element is taken out of it at a certain point It's when it's more about him being Scarface, you know, it's more about his power. But at a certain point late in the game, his wife does found find out that he is this meth cooker. And she gets in on the business and they run the carwash, which is their front. You know, that's how that's how they launder the money.

Alex Ferrari 45:19
It's literally a car wash, which is so beautiful. It was like they're literally wildly

Daniel Calvisi 45:24
intentional.

Alex Ferrari 45:25
Oh, obviously, yeah, there's no, like, oh, we're gonna wash money at the car wash?

Daniel Calvisi 45:31
Yeah. It's, it's and the pilot, the end of the pilot is he's, he's washing and literally drying his money, he has cash in the dryer. Literally, like he's washing the money.

Alex Ferrari 45:45
Now, what are some of the biggest mistakes you see writers make when putting together a pilot?

Daniel Calvisi 45:52
Wow. Well, using too much of a closed ending, so that there isn't that season one trigger to trigger the rest of the show. The scenes are too long. And the acts the act breaks are not where they should be, you know, my beat sheet defines your X ray defines the signpost beats of your plot. And it also defines where they fall in the script. Okay, so I have I have a very specific page range paradigm that I've constructed, but it's based on produce shows, hit shows, and pilot professional pilots that I read. So like, for example, I have the teaser of a one hour drama should be two to 10 pages act, one should be 12 to 15 pages at two should be six to 10 pages, and it should end around page 30. And I continue through to act five. So if you read my book, story, maps, TV drama, then you'll see these breakdowns. And you'll know basically how long you have for each act. And it really is empowering. And it gives you kind of a deadline and a target, you know, and it is easier to write if you know, okay, I'm writing act two, and I only have 10 pages, and it should end around page 30. You know, it's actually liberating. Because then you don't write 35 pages, and it gives you some discipline to know that this is the industry standard structure. You know, I don't know if that answered your

Alex Ferrari 47:35
Well, no, it does. It does. It does not Are there any bad habits that screenwriters writing a show have that they should kind of rid themselves of like you've seen this again and again. And again. You're like, Oh, God, please stop this. Well, it's

Daniel Calvisi 47:49
funny, I heard, I had heard years ago that there was a huge flood of pilots that were just like Breaking Bad. Like that pilot, you know, as it was so popular at the time. But uh, yeah, like I said, the trigger, there isn't a trigger to trigger season one, there isn't that compelling crisis, really, it's it's a one off story, you know, so there's not that fascinating conflict that can keep repeating. Just the characters are not that interesting, there is a lack of conflict, they really have to generate conflict, and each scene has to have conflict, and ideally increasing stakes. There isn't a midpoint, like there should still be a midpoint and a pilot, just as there is a midpoint and a feature. And that should be really strong. And then there should be an all is lost moment that really hitting bottom moment that happens at the end of Act four. If you're talking about teaser, plus five x knows and all is lost in in the 30 minute structure as well.

Alex Ferrari 48:50
Now how do you approach rewriting the rewriting process which is just brutal?

Daniel Calvisi 48:56
Are you not at not do well with rewrites?

Alex Ferrari 48:59
I mean, I don't mind rewrites Actually, I actually enjoy doing going back and rewriting because it's just honing what you've done before. But for for when I'm doing stories, specifically, nonfiction is a lot easier. But for fiction, you start killing those darlings. And it's hard. It's hard to kill the darlings. And that's one thing I know a lot of writers like I've read so many screenplays that are you know, you know, it shouldn't be 135 pages, you know, it really needs to be 92 you know, it's just because they just you just need to be 135 Yeah, really doesn't you know, um, you know, is this Braveheart? No, I don't know. It's so a certain point. It's hard to cut those out. So any suggestions or any advice?

Daniel Calvisi 49:43
Well, yeah, I would say you have the story map paradigm. You know, that comes from my book. And the worksheet if you your your listeners if you want to email me at Dan at act for screenplays.com. I will send you a worksheet for the one hour drive And 30 minute if you want. So you have that worksheet in that paradigm. So you can do better at hitting those page points in your, in your subsequent drafts. And then as you know, you want to give it to friends and get feedback from other people. And that's tough, because you do end up killing those darlings. You know, that favorite scene that you love someone you hit, give it to three friends, and two of them are like, you don't need that scene, you know, you should cut that scene. And that's when you that kind of separates the men from the boys. You know, that's the tough thing that you have to do, that professional writers have to do is be able to cut those scenes that just aren't working, aren't pushing the story forward, they don't have enough conflict. They're just not crucial, you know,

Alex Ferrari 50:46
right. And a lot of times, it's just like, there's a cool line in that scene, or there's a cool thing that happens in that scene. But it's not really moving the story forward, it's fluff, but it's really cool fluff and it's tough to cut those.

Daniel Calvisi 50:56
Yeah, and every scene should a move the story forward, be reveal crucial character, or see really explore the theme, you know, in a unique way that isn't explored in other scenes. Ideally, all three of those, but it should hit at least one of those. And it should, you know, the most important is moving the story forward.

Alex Ferrari 51:17
Now, I'm going to ask you a few questions. I ask all of my guests, sir. I mean, what are three television pilots every screenwriter should read?

Daniel Calvisi 51:28
Okay. I would say and I'll try to I'll try to deviate from just the ones in my book because I have seven in my book that I break down. I would say Breaking Bad Ozark. I really love Ozark these days. And wow, I would say to throw in a half an hour one I would say dead to me also on Netflix. Okay, so two to Netflix and an AMC.

Alex Ferrari 51:55
All right. Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Daniel Calvisi 52:01
Write a lot have more than one sample that is ready and polished. I mean, if you have the greatest script in the world, you only have one yes, that can launch your career. But you want to show a manager or an agent that you're not just a one trick pony. And that you do have more than one script. So I would say have a portfolio of two to three really strong pilots. And ideally secure a manager first before and then they can they can get you staffing jobs, but 99% of staffing jobs are in LA. So if you're going to be a TV writer, you do want to eventually I would say come to LA

Alex Ferrari 52:45
and where can people find you and the work you're doing.

Daniel Calvisi 52:49
You can find me at act for screenplays.com. That's AC t fo you are screenplays.com. I have a bunch of interviews around on the internet and like film courage and indie film, hustle and La screenwriter. I have books on Amazon. My most popular book is the one that is on the one hour film structure, which is called story maps, TV drama, the structure of the one hour TV pilot. And I have webinars also that you can get on my site at ACC for screenplays.com. There's a webinars tab, I have one called the screenwriting secrets of Netflix. And then I have some that detail the one hour beat sheet, the 30 minute beat sheet, and the 30 minute drama. So there's a whole wealth of of ways you can learn from my methods. Daniel, thank

Alex Ferrari 53:39
you so much for being on the show again, sir and and dropping those knowledge bombs on the tribe today. So I appreciate it, brother. You're welcome.

Daniel Calvisi 53:47
Well, thanks for having me. I always enjoy it.

Alex Ferrari 53:49
I want to thank Daniel for coming on the show and dropping those knowledge bombs on the bulletproof screenwriting tribe today. Thank you so much, Daniel. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, including copies of his book, and other services that he provides, head over to the show notes at bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/086. And guys, if you haven't already checked out our new course at ifH Academy called the foundations of screenwriting story development, taught by Jeffrey Calhoun from the script summit. And in the course he talks about concept development, understanding theme, character development, character sheets, internal versus external conflict, sympathy versus empathy, and so much more. If you want to get access to it, just head over to bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/storycourse. Thank you so much for listening, guys. As always, keep on writing no matter what. Stay safe out there, and I'll talk to you soon.


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BPS 079: How to Write Dialog that Pops Off the Page with Linda Seger

Today on the show we have returning champion the legendary Linda Seger. Linda and I discuss her new book You Talkin’ to Me?: How to Write Great Dialogue. We do a deep dive into how to write great dialog. Here’s a bit about the book.

Unlike the chitchat of everyday life, dialogue in stories must express character, advance the story, suggest a theme, and include a few memorable lines that audiences will be quoting for decades to come. The best stories have dialogue that sparkles, but it’s easy for inexperienced writers to fall into common pitfalls like creating dialogue that’s wooden or too on the nose.

Other writers end up with exposition awkwardly inserted into conversations, actors tripping over unnatural phrases or characters who all speak exactly the same way. In You Talkin’ to Me? Linda Seger and John Winston Rainey are here to help with all your dialogue problems. In each chapter, they explore dialogue from a different angle and discuss examples of great dialogue from films and novels. To cap it all off, each chapter ends with examples of poor dialogue, which are annotated by Linda and then rewritten by John, so readers don’t just learn how to recognize when it’s done well―they also learn how to make the dialogue better. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, for the screen or for the page, this book will get your characters talking.

Ron Howard says he never starts a film without her book. Having authored nine books on scriptwriting, including the best selling Making A Good Script Great, Linda is one of the most prolific writers in her field. 

Enjoy my conversation with Linda Seger.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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Alex Ferrari 0:40
I'd like to welcome back to the show returning champion Linda Seger. How are you Linda?

Linda Seger 2:45
I am just fine in spite of everything.

Alex Ferrari 2:48
Yes, it is. It is a crazy, wacky world we are living in. But I think storytellers filmmakers screenwriters are more needed now than ever before.

Linda Seger 2:56
And it's a good time to do writing. Yes, we do. You know, you

Alex Ferrari 3:03
would think you would think but yeah, you're you're quarantined? Do you have no excuses anymore? Yes. You can say, Oh, I have to go out to do this. I'm like, no. So now you actually literally have to face not only the white page, but you also have to face yourself. So we're here to talk about your new book. Are you talking to me? Are you talking to me? Sorry, I have to do the whole De Niro thing. You talking to me how to write great dialogue. And I haven't really had a full episode just dedicated to dialogue. And it's such an important part of screenwriting. So that's why I was so intrigued by your book. And I wanted Of course, anytime I get a chance to talk to you, as always a wonderful, wonderful time. But so to get into it, what makes great dialogue, in your opinion,

Linda Seger 3:49
great dialogue is really very specific to the person and the context, and everything that goes around wrong with that character. So it includes the vocabulary, it includes the rhythms, it includes the backstory, sort of who is this person and how do they express it, versus how somebody else expresses it? So it's not it's not just saying the text is not just saying I have to go to Milwaukee. It's finding an interesting way. To get some more that Schlitz beer here I go.

Alex Ferrari 4:26
Right. So that that's two different so that's two very different ways of saying the exact same things that you got to go to Milwaukee, but one's a lot more interesting than Hey, I'm going to Milwaukee.

Linda Seger 4:38
Yes, yes.

Alex Ferrari 4:40
And is that what makes dialog kings like Tarantino, Mamet and Sorkin so good? I mean, because I mean that their dialogue is just so crispy and it just pops off the off the screen and off the page.

Linda Seger 4:53
Yes, and then know how to define each character. So there are different rhythms. They know how to work with subtext the underlying meanings of dialogue. I love that opening scene of Inglorious Basterds. It's just so rich with subtext is here comes these Nazis and the farm guy who's ready to bring them into the house. And he tells his daughter, you know, go into the house Don't run. Well, if you think, oh, obviously something is going on and also Why is he so nervous? What what's happening here they're just having a nice normal conversation but over something else is happening here. And it's it's literally

Alex Ferrari 5:39
under the floor. So it's like like literally it's like so he's talking about this is visual subtext. It's fascinating that

Linda Seger 5:46
we find out that Jews are hiding under the table and plus on top of the little carpet, which is under the floor and coats the Nazi guys seems to know all along. There's something here and he is going to find it out.

Alex Ferrari 6:02
It's it's fascinating because I honestly think that scene was what kind of locked him in for the Oscar when he won the Oscar for Inglorious Basterds? I mean, it's just such a it's a masterclass in dialogue.

Linda Seger 6:12
Yes, he he has a real voice as a writer, meaning that he is an artist has a specific way of doing his films. You can go to the movie theater and say, oh, what what is this movie? Who's it by? And within a couple minutes, say, Oh, I'm watching a talentino film, because he knows what he's doing. He knows his rhythms. He's just very good at what he does,

Alex Ferrari 6:43
as far as you mentioned, backstory, how important it could please can you tell the audience the importance of backstory to not only character but to dialogue, because the backstory a lot, a lot of times when I read scripts, the characters are kind of wooden, you know, almost made of cardboard, because there's no depth to them whatsoever. And then hence the dialogue isn't doesn't have any depth to it. I think what makes Tarantino and Mamet and Sorkin so good is that there's so much depth into their characters, that allows dialogue to come out so wonderfully, that makes sense to do it, as opposed to just kind of like painting an old fence, trying to make it new again, there's no depth back there. And maybe that's not a good analogy, but you know what I'm saying? So what do you think in regards to that?

Linda Seger 7:29
Well, backstory is really what went on before the character entered the movie, what, what kind of family do they come from, what kind of education, what kind of socio economic class, all what kind of religion all of this information can be used by the writer to make that character much more specific. So for instance, I'm from a little little town in northern Wisconsin named peshtigo. And if you, when I say the word about, you will hear a slight Canadian or northern Wisconsin accent. So people have these various accents that they know or dialects that they bring to it. And they also have phrases that they use, or they have a sense, for instance, if we were driving past a group of cows, and I might say those efforts. And you might say, How does she know that? Well, Wisconsin is coal country I grew up around, I wasn't on a farm. So you think about all these details of how we thread our speech with with things that tells somebody else Oh, I hear a little bit of Alabama there. Or you have a you insert a phrase in the dialogue and that says, gosh, that's so Southern, like give me a little sugar, honey, but you know, tell us to give them a sugar bowl, just to say, Oh, I know what that means, or in the sell zone as they say, God bless them, which really means he's God's The only person who could possibly bless that kind of stupidity. So we you know, various countries, various cultures have these sayings and sometimes just putting them in, they tell us the backstory, they tell us where is that person from? And I will leave in talk in a different rhythm. For instance, being a Midwestern or listen to me, I probably don't have the same hurried rhythm of a New Yorker, or the same language rhythm you might get from somebody from the south. Now I know you're going to talk to my co author leaders on Winston Rainey. JOHN has been all over the place from Oklahoma, the Michigan to New York And when you start thinking about all the accents and patterns that someone like that has picked up, versus me who stayed pretty much in peshtigo, Wisconsin till I was 18.

Alex Ferrari 10:14
So that So, so like a movie like Fargo, if you would put Fargo into Los Angeles, it's that really isn't. It's that I mean, you can have the exact same dialogue. But some of that dialogue won't even make sense because you're in Los Angeles, because it's so specific to the region. But what makes Fargo so one of his that's the kind of first time I'm in. I'm from South Florida, originally and raised in New York and South Florida now in LA. So I had no idea about Wisconsin or Montana or those kind of upper northern states. The first experience I had with it was Fargo. I was like, What is that accent? I've never heard of that before.

Linda Seger 10:53
Yes, because all those Scandinavians settled in the North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin. And so you do have these speech patterns. And it's, it's so cold.

Alex Ferrari 11:10
I mean, it's cold, it is so

Linda Seger 11:11
cold. I came from a place where sometimes 50 degrees below zero and I could identify with Fargo and where they were all that snow

Alex Ferrari 11:21
all the time.

Linda Seger 11:25
And then when March at the end says, you know, how could you have killed someone it's such a beautiful day, and it's nothing but a whiteout, snow and you say yeah, that's somebody who's been around snow and cold. They'll see the beauty.

Alex Ferrari 11:40
So that's another thing you were saying about tempo. That's something very interesting. That's that's something I hear very often when this when people are discussing dialogue, tempo of dialogue based on region based on dialect of the character is so important. So you just kind of touched upon that. Can you elaborate a little bit on that?

Linda Seger 12:00
Yes. So tempo and I'm going to actually read a touch the dialogue, okay, go for so when you have a number of different kinds of writers who use different rhythms and tempo. So for instance, Harold Pinter is known for his pauses, and everything is slowed down. So, Emma says, You know what I found out last night, he's betrayed me for years. Now, you can see how the writing forces you into that. And then you have a movie like network, he says, I'm going to leave you alone, I want you to get mad, I don't want you to protest, I don't want you to write, I don't want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do. And at the ends, he says, you've got to say I'm a human being goddamnit My life has value. Now you cannot read that slowly. It is it is written with that sense. And a good great dialogue means that anyone can read it and sound relatively good. So when I read that, it probably wasn't awful, right? I mean, there was I was getting in the rhythm it now I'm a terrible actress, I, I got a C and actually, in graduate school, I was not allowed to go to the next class because you had to get a B to go to the next class. So I mean, that's we're talking about pretty bad. But when you have this kind of great dialogue, do it it starts the actor in that rhythm and then you hope there's a great actor who's going to go further and start getting nuances, you know, as well. And when you get into accents and dialogues, and dialects, then you have different rhythms like the Irish rhythm, we have a quote from riders, the SeaWorld together now Miko, and Seamus tonight, and you get this Irish lilt, or the Cockney as a song. There's a room somewhere far away from the cold night app is Ed resting on my knee and the all these details when are the H's dropped when do people not say the IMG When did they say gunna instead of going to which tells us educational level tells us informal versus formal speech. So the writer needs to be aware of all those layers and sometimes that means the research you you go someplace you say I just got to listen for a while and then I have to repeat those rhythms to myself and get them inside me. So when I write I am waiting for that person in that particular rhythm. Yeah, I

Alex Ferrari 15:05
realized, even in my own writing, but when I've read other people's scripts that a lot of times when it comes to dialogue, sometimes they'll just go, Oh, it's gonna go there. Or they'll use a slang but there's no there's no basis for it. They're just kind of like on the on the whim. It's kind of like just your jet. It's like jazz. They're improvising as they go along. with certain that's, that's where you start seeing like, Oh, that's, that's not working that character. And then there's when you don't feel that connect, that that straight line from the beginning to the end of the movie with that character, from that character's point of view. So if Marcellus Wallace from Pulp Fiction, all of a sudden starts talking in a Cockney tempo, or, or in an extremely educated, not, you know, you know, Harvard level Professor authorial dialogue, like dialogue, it doesn't work at all for that character. But sometimes that's where writers make a lot of mistakes. You agree?

Linda Seger 16:03
Yes. And they just think that in order to have informal, vocals, audio speech, as opposed to what's written, they have to put them in the gunners in the one as an insult, but it doesn't fit that character, because you're trying to clarify, that's not an informal character. That's, that's the professor that was talking. And it doesn't mean a professor will never say Glenna. But it does say you want to establish that professors a different person than, let's say, the rancher who might have different than only those kind of informal speeches, but also certain patterns. And now I live in Colorado, and cowboys will say, You see what I'm saying? Now, you really can't see what they say, all the time. And in Colorado, people say cool, almost like it's spelled ke wl as opposed to cu, which might be a more jazzy way of saying it. So you, when you go into another culture, sometimes what you want to do you're not only listen, but get file folders and start saying this is my kabwe speech. This is my educators speech, this is what I heard a scientists say, so that you have that to draw on. When you're doing that kind of character. You can say, let me open my, let me open my folder. Because I have to write my children's dialogue. And I am just trying to think where to go with that. Wait a minute, I copied down children's dialogue over the last 10 years. So I can look, you know, I can look at it.

Alex Ferrari 17:58
If you look at a movie, like Shawshank, which is a movie I talk about constantly is one of my favorite scripts, and movies of all time. You see all the individual cons in the film convicts that are playing around, they each have very specific voices. You know, Andy, obviously, Andy and Morgan Freeman and read, they have their specific tone. It's always funny, I always loved the story that red was originally Irish, and set the name red. But when Morgan Freeman, he got the part, which makes that character so much where it's just thing. But these other characters have their specific tone accents, points of view even. And it's just such a wonderful collage. I think that's one of the reasons why that that works. So well, even to the old man that, you know, at the end, you know, spoiler alert, the hangs himself. He has a very specific point of view, because of the time period and his age and all of that. So, I mean, do Greer, that's a good example.

Linda Seger 19:02
Yes. And it's a good thing for writers to watch movies like that several times, then to also read the script. Usually, you can get the script pretty easily. If you can't find a go to scripts city in Los Angeles, because Dan will send you whatever, you need to have to read it and then read it to yourself and read it out loud to begin to feel the difference between these different characters. And then when somebody writes a script, decide this morning, I am only going to do Amy's dialogue. And I'm going to look at everything of Amy and make sure she's consistent and interesting. And I'm going to shade it in and new onset. Now this afternoon, I'm going to do Jim's dialogue and just work on that and then say it out loud because the other thing with dialogue, you need to be able to say it and there's a lot of tongue twisters. That writers put in that they really don't mean to. When I was in college, I was in a great play Hecuba. And I had one line of dialogue. Only one because I wasn't the connectors. And the line of dialogue was, surely no man could be so callous. And so heart of hearts that he could hear this woman's heartful heartless cry and not be touched. Wow, cannot say that line of dialogue. Well, they finally took it away from me. So I was simply an ugly person in the chorus. And the person who then was handed the line. She couldn't say that line well, either. So there are times when you why it's really important for writers read the whole script out loud, and find those places where the actor simply cannot say it no matter how good that actor is.

Alex Ferrari 21:00
Yeah, I was watching the behind the scenes of Star Wars, the original Star Wars. And Carrie Fisher was just saying, George wrote this dialogue that's so hard to you just like rattle off. Oh, General stuff, I heard your file extension. And it's just this whole thing. It's like you, you can write they say you can write this crap. But you can't say

Linda Seger 21:21
yes, yes. And, and you have to help the writer, the actor with that, which is another reason why john and i, in this book, recommend people take acting lessons that writers should have that experience to say, Now I know what it's like to think through this role, and try to get all my clues on how the character is who the character is. But I also need to know how to read a line. And I end to assess whether or not that line can be said and carries the meanings that we want it to.

Alex Ferrari 21:59
Now can you talk a little bit about how dialogue can help reveal the world of the character? Because it's something that a lot of times I think it's lost opportunities when it comes to writing dialogue?

Linda Seger 22:10
Yes, well, we all live in a context. And we have backgrounds and in different careers, for instance. So in the writing world, if I said to you, well, you know, I think the first turning point is a little late, you would know what I'm talking about. But if I said it to someone else, they might say, Wait, are you talking about ballet? There's a movie called The turning point is, no, I'm not talking about ballet. And one of the trick is to find the specific dialogue and make it clear enough that you will know what I'm talking about. So my co author john Rainey and I are both musicians, we both play piano, we would do duets, breaks. And so if I said to you, I think we should do a glissando at the end of this. Now, you might say I don't you in the audience might say what in the world is the glissando? So I might say, let's do glissando here. And then I put my fingers on the keys, and I roll all through the keys, you know, like 20 keys, this foolish and say, Oh, now I know what a glissando is, or I come out of the horseback riding world. So if I said to somebody, a character, do your flying lead change in the middle of the circle? It's a Well, a lot of people don't know what a flying lead changes on a horse. But if I had a close up of a camera and say now, and you see the horse shift its feet, like a little skip. You say, Oh, yeah, that's it. So there are times you take a word or a line of dialogue and say, I got to illustrate this, because many people won't know what it is. Other times you might have a medical person, just roll out all the dialogue with all these words you've never heard of and you think it really doesn't matter that I need to know what's going on with the person's esophagus. What I need to know is when the doctor says get this person to er fast. After saying three lines of something, I have no idea what he's talking about. I got it. I said I I don't need to know exactly what this is in this case. And what happens a lot of times this writers get so deeply into having the specific vocabulary that no one knows what they're talking about. Or they are so concerned about the clarity, that they don't get the specifics. So One of the things john and i talked about is that dialogue is communication, and expression. And you're always balancing the thing to say what is the audience need to know? How do I clarify it, while still expressing each character very, very clearly.

Alex Ferrari 25:18
Very cool. Now, one of the other things I find with dialogue, especially when I'm writing is the conversational aspect of it, it sometimes becomes a little too sterile or a little too academic, meaning that it's your writing like your your writing dialogue, as you would write, not as you would speak, what advice would you give to make dialogue a little bit more conversational?

Linda Seger 25:42
Well, one thing in screenwriting, the dialogue is like a tennis ball. You never want it to be in the other person's court for very long. So it goes, you know, we could say it goes back and forth from one character to the other. And generally, in screenwriting dialogue is about two or three sentences, before the ball gets sent back with the next piece of dialogue, the other person, so there is a flow, sometimes in novels once in a while, and films and screenwriting writing, you will see a longer speech

Alex Ferrari 26:17
turned to notes,

Linda Seger 26:18
it's pretty, you know, it's, it's pretty unusual to see that. So you're always looking for what that flow is, which makes it more conversational. And then you are looking for the words that make it more conversational. So we probably are not going to use any really, really big words in this interview. But if I'm writing, I might decide to do some big word because I think it's kind of carries a lot of levels of meaning, or it's sort of a delicious kind of word. So you're, you're always balancing this. But another thing is simply to listen to people talk, write it down, and then say, Ah, this and see if you can figure out from what they say something about the specifics. So many years ago, I interviewed one of the writers of Rain Man, and he kept using words where I said to him, Are you a Buddhist? And he said, actually says I'm a Presbyterian. But he said, I actually feel very connected with Buddhism, because words, let's, let's say a word like detachment or a word like mindfulness, you know, you start hearing these words, and you say, Oh, I'm getting hints about something about that person. So it's always saying, because dialogue is so refined, you know, you're saying what's, I can't do my eight sentences? How do I really hone this? So you start honing it for those specifics? And so much of dialogue writing is you rewrite any rewriting rewrite to you, you work for the right word, you go for the right rhythm, you say it doesn't quite sound like a Alabama person. Okay, I need to do a little more research on Alabama. And oh, now I need to do research on scientists at Alabama. So in many times, you say, Who can I talk to? Who would know about this? Or who can I have read this? To feed back to me, you are off. So for instance, in the hutterite grade dialogue book, we have a chapter on accents and dialects. So I found a acting coach in New York, who teaches people accents and dialects. And she graciously without even charging me agreed to read the chapter and give me feedback on that chapter. So you don't want to just throw something in there. In the same thing, I sent that chapter two my friends in England and said, check those few references to England. And then, you know, john was working on it and he knows all the southern stuff. And he had a friend who knew about dialects too. So you always think about how do I make sure I got it right. And how do I make sure I got it artistic.

Alex Ferrari 29:38
Now, there was a there was a it was very interesting in regards to dialect. If you remember Forrest Gump Tom Hanks, who obviously won the Oscar for that amazing dialect. Originally the dialect the director Robert Zemeckis wanted him to if wanted the kid who played little forest to follow Tom and try to earn but sounds like No, his his accents perfect. And he actually started finding that accent. But it was interesting how he just like the the tones, the beats the he wouldn't have been able to come up that without having little forest around. Yes,

Linda Seger 30:14
yes. Yeah, and that is one of the things the listening and sometimes called the flavor of the speech. So there are times when you get so deeply into the dialect, that you can't understand what the person is saying, I've seen British movies as I, I have no idea what I made they. And they are so clear about their expression, and maybe people in England understand what's going on. But I need subtext, you know, in subtitles. But that is, you know, when one of the things is sometimes said is you get the flavor of the Southern accent, because if you did Tennessee, too much, you might be like a foreign language. And, you know, the certain Southern accents has no idea what they're talking about. So you say okay, what what do I need to go after I need to go after maybe dropping the H's or I need to go Be careful of my infjs. Or, you know, or use the d sound instead of the th sound, which you might find in Huckleberry Finn, for instance.

Alex Ferrari 31:26
But do you actually when you're writing the dialogue, do you suggest dropping the H in the dialog as you're writing it? Or do you suggest that how's that work?

Linda Seger 31:34
Well, there's there's different opinions on this. But I think if it's still understandable, when you read it, then I would say yes, you know, give as much of a flavor as you can in the script itself, then you expect that the actor will then go to a coach, if it's not sure what their background is. Mary McDonald, you know, who's in Dances with Wolves? She was in another. I think it was when she did passion fish. And she said, the director said, Mary, you have just crossed from Georgia, North Carolina, your accent? So you really often need that coach to say no, no, that is not sounded that way. And think about people who are so good at doing these, like Meryl Streep, for instance. Just a master and of course, as a coach.

Alex Ferrari 32:31
Yeah, I mean, I've seen movies that have a strong Boston accent that I can't understand or in the, you know, by you, in the by you like that, that accents so strong, they just like I need subtitles, I literally will turn on closed captioning, right?

Linda Seger 32:47
Yeah, I think that standard English is actually considered from Iowa. And there are people like us from Wisconsin in the Midwest who think we don't have an accent. When I went to college, and people said, Are you from Canada? I said, why would you think that? Well, it's certain words, I say, that's kind of like Canadians came down into northern. It's like

Alex Ferrari 33:12
Canadian ish. It's like, it's like a little bit of a flavor, if you will. You're not a full aboot. But you're getting close.

Linda Seger 33:20
Yes, yeah. And one of the things they said, I think in the Full Monty is they said that the accent was actually 30 miles away from where it took place. And it cuts the size. Because it wasn't exactly i think it's a Sheffield accent. And then in Billy Elliot, they consider trying to tone down that accent when they did the New York play. And there was such an uproar. They said No, we'll just try to get the kids to enunciate well enough but these you know, all these accents, very, very specific from one, you know, one place to another.

Alex Ferrari 34:00
And it does add a tremendous amount of flavor to a character when you when you give them those accent. I mean, like we were saying with Fargo, I mean and other. What was that movie, though? The one the town with Ben Affleck.

Linda Seger 34:14
Oh, yes.

Alex Ferrari 34:15
I mean, I mean, I've heard the Boston accent before I've gone to Boston and something but in that movie, it's so it's so there. Yes,

Linda Seger 34:25
yes. And one of the things with accents and dialogues, dialects also has to do with you have to be careful about it falling into cliche, right. So for instance, Huckleberry Finn has eight different accents in it. But as the light and as the pike county and it's in the black, lower educated black and lower educator widen and it does sometimes get a critique of that. But one of the books I love looked at was this was this was Hurston classic thunders forget her per se. But it was her book about the last slave that came in the last slave ship in 1860 and died in 1927. And she interviewed him and really looked at his language. And what's interested me was his language. In many ways. It was much like Huckleberry Finn, the de dat indem. And I tried to do some research on this because this is this a stereotype? Or did they actually hear this, but the research I did said that is what happens because certain cultures can't say the same words we say in English. So green says the Japanese culture, the elves use really hard to say the LC you can't say lollygag

Alex Ferrari 35:59
Yeah, I don't know when the last time I use the word lolligag is but obviously I need to use it much more often. It's like cornucopia cornucopia, like you need to get how often do you use that word.

Linda Seger 36:10
I had a Japanese doctor and as a chiropractor, and he would actually ask me to give him some good l words. So he can practice. I'd throw off these kind of words. And I can't do a double r like for Spanish. So I guess I can do is pero which is different than the word for dog which has the rolled to ours. So that would be if I made my VC bolts in Bethel. Yes, you can do that. And the thing we also understand to some extent is that we grow up and we train our models to do certain words, because that's what we learn. We know in our culture, and then we try to do another language. And a lot of people like me, can't do it. Because I didn't grow up with another language. And there's there's certain of those tongue things that I'm not able to do. But you did. Excellent.

Alex Ferrari 37:13
Yes, well, I've been I am a Cuban man. So so it took me I lost my I lost my art when I was a kid. And then now I actually have I've picked it up later in life. But before it was barrel barrel for a long time until I finally got got that AR. It took a second but I got it. And you were talking about stereotypes. One of the most famous Cuban stereotypes of all time is not only Ricky Ricardo, but also Scarface, Tony Montana. And both of those guys. You know, Ricky spoke, Ricky Ricardo spoke like, spoke like a acumen of that time period. But then Tony Montana took it completely to the stereotypical side. I still love his performance. And even though he's an Italian man, Mr. pitino, but it was almost cartoonish. Yes, in the way. And that whole movie is very big and cartoonish, in general, with the violence in the way it was portrayed. But talking about going into, into almost parody, it was getting close to parity.

Linda Seger 38:22
And we suggest in writing great dialogue, that people don't shy away from accents and dialects that they actually take that as a challenge. And you do your research. And you listen and you say how am I going to write this to get the flavor of it? And how is the actor going to do it to actually add some other details as well. So I think what happens people get scared, but then they aren't differentiating their characters well

Alex Ferrari 38:52
enough. Exactly. Now, one of the biggest mistakes I've made when I started writing that I got called out on and that every time I read a script, or we do coverage on a script is on the nose dialogue, discuss on the nose dialogue and how the heck to avoid it.

Linda Seger 39:12
Yes, well, sometimes you need to write it on the nose to say, yes, this is what this is what I need to get across. I'm going to Milwaukee and we're going to take route 80. So say I got that. And I might have to write that in the first draft, maybe even the second or third. But now I'm going to go back and I'm going to start honing and tweaking and finding ways to do that more interesting. One of one of the chapters in your talking to me, is about the mission or the intention or the objective of the character. And one of my favorite pieces of dialogue comes from the fugitive, where Sam Jared says your fugitives name is doc Richard Kimble, go get them. Right now, what he's really saying could be the first or second or third draft is is it could have been go find him or your job is to go get him is to go find him and arrest him. Or, but go get them that's what you say to a pitbull that the you know, in so you get this immediate thing. Sam your artists a pitbull and he will not let go of the person he is after. So you could imagine someplace along the draft after writing the text, say I No need to do it that it layers. So how do I write a sentence? What do I want to say about this character? How might he say this? versus somebody else who's not like a pitfall but somebody who's maybe more intellectual? And so you, you hear all of these the Listen up. You know, a guy is someone who says guys instead of fellows who says fellows instead of Hey, you all so you're saying I might have to go through that stage of writing it on the nose. One of the people who endorse this book is prima Silverman, who was the first woman to win an Emmy Award. And she wanted for The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And I asked her he Relenza said, Well, how often do you rewrite dialogue, she said, This morning, it was 22 times. Now she's a comedy writer, I honestly don't know if it was 1912, or 20 to 22 probably sounded better than that morning. But what she's saying is, you don't just write it and say there it is. You rewrite and rewrite, I often have a saying even with my writing, book writing nonfiction writing, if I have not rewritten the sentence 10 times, it's probably not good enough. And I just say you can just rewrite and rewrite because you're going to switch the rhythms and you're going to say I don't like that word. It's not rich. When john and i were writing this book, done had a tendency sometimes to use big words. And I certainly wasn't going the dictionary. And if I don't understand that, probably most people will. And so sometimes we'd say, okay, you can use the word, but you have to define it right out. Like a nice phrase that makes clarifies you know what it is? And so, I think, finally, at the end out of humor, I said, How about this, john, is, you can do one really big word in this whole book that no one will understand, but only one is that okay? Yes. So we had, we had a really good relationship, writing this book together and pulling these different ideas about writing and about dialogue and different you know, all these different techniques, etc, that you have to pull together when you co write.

Alex Ferrari 43:30
Yeah, and I agree with you, when I was writing my books, as well, I, I will, I'll write one just to get so there on that night, there was the fiction what there was a kind of autobiography. And then there was the nonfiction book. And with the nonfiction you just write off, just get it all out, get everything out first, and then go back and you start, you get start, you know, you add it, I like to say you, you're laying down the foundation, you putting up the framing of the house, and then and the walls and then slowly you go back and you start painting the walls, you start decorating, you start putting things where you want it to go, but but the base is there for you to kind of go go and do that work. And it is super important. And I think that is one of the mistakes of especially screenwriters make don't write their first draft. I'm like, Okay, that was easy.

Linda Seger 44:13
For me to say no, you're just set the beginning stage now. 50, the very,

Alex Ferrari 44:16
very, very beginning. Now, what are some other things you should avoid when writing dialogue?

Linda Seger 44:24
Actually, the last chapter is about what we call the red flags. And a red flag is sorry, or Yes. It is I've read Yes, in a in a script with an exclamation point. So yeah, and so all these kind of cliches that are saying you know very much on the nose. Sometimes people write screaming in the parentheses Next, the character's name when it is very clear. But if you see if the dialogue is get out of here, you're probably not going to see it.

Alex Ferrari 45:11
Or, or could depending on the performance choice. And if it works, it might be much more terrified to say,

Linda Seger 45:17
Yeah, yes. The actor might then approach that line and say, What am I going to do with that? So it's all of or the one that says, you're going to be okay, you're lying on the ground, you've just been shot and ready to do your last breath was for that or the person? be okay. The best thing to say is, you are ready to die. Last, not, not last phrase. Is there one last word you want to say, at that moment? So you it's really avoiding a lot of a lot of cliches. I think the other thing in writing one has to be careful about something I said in many, many of the scripts I consulted on, be careful of indefinite pronouns. So What'd he do? Well, no, wait, there's three. He's in the room, which he are we talking to? And so there's that unclarity of writing that people sometimes do and say, I don't know what you're talking about. Go for clarity and communication, if needed, and then find interesting way to maybe repeat that he or his name, whatever. Another thing is introductions. JOHN, this is Mary. Mary. This is john John's from Chicago. Oh, I've been to Chicago. What do you do there? Well, I, I call it date chat. You know, first day chat is say, Oh, no, no. You know, we played john and i would play around with things like, you know, I'm going to Chicago and the woman says, Why would you want to go to Chicago when there's so much fun here? There's like have fun with your dialog and say, How do I get these layers? Under I get all the you know, what do we see what's what's beneath? Was was me that, I guess, you know, I have a book I'll call writing great subtext, you know, writing subtext. And so subtext is that underlying meaning, and then you talking to me is we have a whole chapter on subtext and getting the rumblings and undercurrents that go into what are you really trying to say here?

Alex Ferrari 47:50
Now, there was a chapter that in your book that absolutely intrigued me and I have never even thought about this, but I think it's something we should definitely talk about. How do you write dialogue for animals, aliens and other critters? Yes. Oh, that

Linda Seger 48:04
was such a fun chapter. So one. Because it is true. People say, I'm never going to write dialogue for animals you say you probably will. You might have a dog in your movie. At least give them a wolfin out Worf enough. Bow Wow. And figure out when they say one sound versus another it because dialogue is the is a communication of sound, it does not have to be a word. If you say to your dog, will you go get the paper and the dog goes woof, woof and then goes get the paper and is he's ready to put it down. He grows, there is communication. And I'm always surprised how many times there are animals in a movie. And the animal doesn't have the dialogue. Like for instance, in both c Seabiscuit and Secretary it was animals. The owners kept talking about how wonderful those horses were. There was no communication, there was none of the little thing or the or the snorting or all the things that animals do. So when john and i started talking about that factor, we started going back to what do we know? fuzzy Oh, because I had horses for 13 years. I went to my horse trainer, I said, let's talk about all the different sounds like a horse will actually squeal sometime. It's all sounds like a pig. Well, it usually means you're hurting them really stepped on his long tail or a splitter or something like that. And I had a course where the first time he isn't a horse show trainer rode him, he got to the middle of the arena. And he lit up this plane tip May, that it was like, Where are my friends, I'm all alone in the middle gear. And you knew exactly what was going on with that horse that at that moment of uncertainty. So one of the things people need to do is to actually analyze, what do I know? And if you don't know a lot about that animal, go and talk to people who know those animals. I worked on a dragon script one time when the dragon didn't do anything. And so I applied my horse knowledge to say, Well, here's a number of different things because the dragon is sort of like a horse, but not sure

Alex Ferrari 50:49
why not. That's

Linda Seger 50:53
another thing I did before writing that chapters when my cat would purr, I would, I would, I would actually vocalize with the cat. And then I go the piano to see what note is he purring on. And it was the eight below middle C and said okay, if you wrote a cat, you want to get that? It's perfect. I mean, babe is so great. Let me see if I can quickly find the bin here. Because one of the things that's so fabulous about babe, is that the like the sheep, goat Ma, yeah. Talk about the one sheep is the MA. And you have this animals chapter so? Yes. So so like, for instance, and babe. Ma says a heart a gold and the sheep respond hard gold. And the kopecks. The cat says pigs don't have a purpose. Just like ducks don't have a PR. That's that. I mean, what a justice. It's such a marvelous movie to look at to hear how every animal is differentiated and thinks what are the sounds that that animals vocal cords make? The little vocal cords is a big, you know, then arrival. The aliens have this very particular. It's not only a deeper sound, it's almost like a fluttering sound of the vocal cords.

Alex Ferrari 52:40
Yeah, like a predator too. I mean, the predator has those those things, even aliens and those kind of characters. Now are you specific? So baby, something specific, obviously, because the animals talk in that. So obviously, you would need dialogue there. But when you're writing an average, not average, but a normal script that has an animal that has an animal being an animal, like a dog or a cat or horse, are you suggesting you'd like horse or whatever the character of that that animal's name is and you put by or wolf?

Linda Seger 53:08
Well, there's two ways of doing it. One has to do it in the description and say the dog rolls. And then the owner. JACK says, Stop it. It's okay. Good, quiet down. You know, another one is that jack that the dog you have dog flicker the dog Fido. And under, there's girl. And then jack says quiet down. And it's, I think it's okay both ways. And some of them it has to do with whether or not you're trying to get a flow of dialogue, right, back and forth. Because the page will give more of a sense of the flow of you write it like dialogue. And, and also to be aware of how many different animals have far more ways of communicating than we, you know, we think we do. I mean, I'm surprised with the cat. I could literally as we were unlocking the door, the cat would meow and I'd say Here we are. And cat would meow. And I mean literally there was a back and forth with meow. And and then you tune into what kind of reality do at any one time? Because they do have different kinds of meals as well?

Alex Ferrari 54:24
Yes, they do. Yes, they do.

Linda Seger 54:26
But if you I think that part of what we're saying is if you are going to have an animal in your script, use the animal is to actually use it as part of the dialogue and the richness of what you're writing. And you just have to turn on the TV to see how many animals are advertising things these days from a pig so the L's two boxes two.

Alex Ferrari 54:53
I always tell people if you want to make a successful movie, just have a dog save Christmas and it's gonna get sold.

Linda Seger 54:59
Oh yes. As they say, in Shakespeare love the bit with the dog. Don't forget the bit.

Alex Ferrari 55:08
Exactly. And I wanted to ask you, you also talked about something in your book called visual dialogue, creating a visual with a dialogue. Can you kind of touch upon that a little bit? Yes, think

Linda Seger 55:18
of how often we use sensory words to say something like, it's a great day, or I am in the pink today, or I slept like a log, or, you know, we, we use a lot of sensory language. And one good thing to do is to start thinking of that because it makes the line of dialogue pop. It's one thing to say, well, well, I mean, I can say I'm a little down. That's a sensory, but I can say I'm a bit blue. And blue is low. Is is sort of different. What you get is that image that goes with it, and is Oh, yeah, I'm getting a little more information. I loved and ordinary people when the the boys said, it's a great day. So much better than saying, Oh, I'm not doing or how are you doing today? I'm not too good. But if you say it's a great day, Oh, my gosh, this is so rich. No, so interesting. And so a good exercise is to write down all those sensory words that we tend to say Anyway, you know, it all handed on a high note. Or, you know, whatever my husband's favorite phrase is, it's not over till the fat lady sings. Right?

Alex Ferrari 56:47
These are all cliches, and you have to be careful not to be cliche about some of this as well.

Linda Seger 56:51
And sometimes what you do is you play with the cliche and you twist it in a slightly I think in Steel Magnolias is a line about, you know, his feet are planted firmly on the quicksand

Alex Ferrari 57:10
and they're different Absolutely. And it pops it pops a lot I was thinking of and I mean, I've Tarantino has he writes so visually, but he uses pop references to kind of help along with those visual things. So like, I'm going to walk the earth like came and kung fu like Yes, yes, you're you're there so quickly in your head. And there was all it was gonna be cool little Fonzie are all gonna be cool little Fonz. He's like, everybody got that right away. It was pretty amazing. But yes, something along those lines is just talk about being visual.

Linda Seger 57:43
I love James Brooks. movie as good as it gets. Yeah. And how they take the cliche, like there's a line where Simon instead of saying Do you know how lucky you are? He says, Do you know where you're lucky? Interesting. It's kinda like I like the same but it's a little twist on it. And there's a lot of we have stuff in the book from Steel Magnolias considers Just so you know, it's just so rich. Even weezy says I can't get enough grease in my diet.

Alex Ferrari 58:26
I mean, that's, that's general for everybody. I'm assuming. It's like, um, Martha's not Martha Stewart. I'm Julia Child's like, everything's better with butter. Well, yes, me You could put shoe shoes and base it in butter and fry it. It's gonna taste better. Right, right. Um, so So what are you up to now, Linda, after this book? What's the next thing for you?

Linda Seger 58:51
Well, I officially retired on June 1 from consulting and seminars. So the focus is now on books. One of and I'm going to show you first what we're doing. You see, these are called sacred notes. We will remember the cliff notes that we all read. Yes. So these are coming out the first of every month and this is the third one which will be out July 1. So we've done African Queen, and sideways in this third one is Shakespeare in Love your $5.25 online and they're generally pretty close to 5000 words. So they're Wow, there's actually no like books. Oh, yeah. So they're not a book or anything. There's, and they're written in order for people interested in film, to say, what are the things that that film does that I can learn from? What was the challenge of writing that script? And how did they solve that because I want to learn from the masters. So everyone is is what I would call a A great example of something specific. So my next one is going to be Jojo rabbit. Yeah. And I will be starting to work on that because I have to have them done by the 15th. And then I send them to the publisher with some toasts, and the woman publishers legwear Houston, who's the daughter of john Houston. And she is just great. She's, I've really been enjoying working with her. So first of every month, and yeah, you can find them either by going on my website, Linda sager.com, or going on to remember, exactly, it's the

Alex Ferrari 1:00:48
cash. I'll put it in the show notes

Linda Seger 1:00:50
on my website, Linda seger.com. I'll, and you can also just look up Sager notes, but just go on Linda sager.com. And you'll see the informational Sager notes. And then of course, the dialogue book. Yes. And so I'm turning my attention to some other books as well. I want to, I want to write about creativity and spirituality, which has been leading for 30 years. And I'm going to write another book for Allegra. On her company on the doing a thing called the things the stuff they never teach you. And so I'm going to write a book on how to teach a class in a seminar. And, and so, you know, but the sacred notes are, are out as of June 1, so we did to June 1, then we're doing one a month.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:49
Nice. Well, it seems like you're busy. Seems like you're busy.

Linda Seger 1:01:52
Yes. Yeah. I'm not without anything to do. And I'm playing a lot of piano.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:58
And one last question, I try to ask all of my guests, and you haven't had this one before? What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?

Linda Seger 1:02:09
Ah, yes. Um, that's a very good question. I tend to always end up putting witness on that list. Because it's such a perfect structure. And it is so good at kind of getting into another culture and you know, community. And I think I'm a deus I call Amadeus, the, the big diamond of the Emerald. I call stand by me the little little diamond. And then I think it's an interesting thing for people to say what scripts spoke to me? And was, was there ever a movie that changed my life or impacted me or taught me something new that change? You know, attitudes, and maybe just read that one? And to better understand how it affected two people sometimes asked me, they said, was there ever a movie that changed your life? And I said, Oh, yes. City Slickers city. This city slickers got me back to riding, horseback riding, and I went on a cattle drive up to city slickers. And then that got me into riding around the world. I mean, I wrote in France and Italy and Spain, and you know, lots of Wyoming, I took riding vacations I entered or shows, I mean, I just did that for quite some time. And so any of those movies where you say, they're just great movies, I would put one more on the list, because we have a whole chapter on theme. And we use the movie, The Defiant Ones, and trace how the theme keeps changing and transforming through that whole film. It's a really in depth analysis of how you can work with the theme through dialogue. And that's a great movie to watch this great movie is great script to read.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:14
Linda, it is always a pleasure having you on the show. Anytime. You're always welcome back. It is I learned so much every time I talk to you. So thank you so much for coming on the show and and dropping the knowledge bombs on the tribe today. So thanks again.

Linda Seger 1:04:27
Yes, thank you. It's always a pleasure for me as well.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:31
I want to thank Linda for coming back on the show and helping us write some amazing dialogue that pops off the page. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, including a link to the book, please head over to the show notes at bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/079. Thank you so much for listening guys. I hope this episode was of help to you on your screenwriting journey. Thanks again, as Always keep on writing no matter what. I'll talk to you soon.


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BPS 077: Wired for Story – How to Become a Story Genius with Lisa Cron

Do you feel like you have a screenplay inside of you but don’t know how to bring it to life? Today’s guest Lisa Cron might be able to help.

Lisa is story coach and the best-selling author of Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence and Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere).

Lisa has worked in publishing at W.W. Norton, as an agent at the Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency, as a producer on shows for Showtime and CourtTV, and as a story consultant for Warner Brothers and the William Morris Agency.

Since 2006, she’s been an instructor in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and she’s on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts MFA program in visual narrative in New York City.

Some of the things we cover in this conversation are:

  • What your audience’s brain is hardwired to crave in every story they read – and it’s not what you think.
  • Why writing a successful screenplay is not about having the innate “talent” that only a lucky few are born with, but something you can learn!
  • How to become a more confident screenwriter, and make whatever you’re writing now deeper, richer, more compelling, and able to do what all stories are meant to do: change how the audience sees the world, themselves, and what they do in the world.

Enjoy my conversation with Lisa Cron.

Right-click here to download the MP3

LINKS

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Alex Ferrari 0:34
I like to welcome the show, Lisa Cron How are you doing?

Lisa Cron 3:29
I'm doing great, which I probably shouldn't say.

Alex Ferrari 3:33
You know what, whenever we have a great moment, in this time period that we're living in now, just just own it, own it. Because it could last for a second. It could last for a day. Just take it when it comes. You have a point?

Lisa Cron 3:45
Yes, I'm doing great at this particular moment.

Alex Ferrari 3:48
Yes, because it could it could go downhill very quickly, Lisa. And I think we thought about a year ago. So I completely agree. I mean, we were talking OFF AIR a little bit of how crazy Our world is right now. And I you know, like I was I was telling you like, I feel like I was driving around and I saw this testing station. And I just and just you look around the world, and I just literally physically just look around your neighborhood just like, what is what is going on? Like, are we in a dystopian, like, you know, spin off of the Hunger Games slash blog Blade Runner, like, I don't know, it's just such a weird place to be in our world today. I truly believe that we are living in an alternative universe. Like

Lisa Cron 4:33
right I mean, I'll tell you I, you know, I've spent more more decades than I want to admit to reading you know, manuscripts, you know, novels or or scripts or memoir, and especially with scripts and with the with the novels, there will always be that sort of, you know, strange dystopian thing going on, and I would kind of think, a bet that somewhere in the world, this is actually happening. It actually is Reality is almost out just opening dystopian novels and scripts. It's very strange.

Alex Ferrari 5:06
It's a very strange world we live in. And we as storytellers have, I think, a bigger responsibility to help heal the world and help the world through this because it is through story that we process, the everything, the experience, that is life without story, we we really don't have a way to, to process it. It really does help dramatically. Would you agree?

Lisa Cron 5:35
Oh, yeah. I mean, the truth is, we think in story, it's hardwired into our brains. I mean, we don't need a story, to translate it, we automatically translate everything that happens to us into story into narrative, you know, everything we evaluate everything that happens to us, based on you know, one thing and one thing only, and that is, how is this going to affect me, given my agenda. And and I don't mean that just in a, you know, transactional way, but just literally in, I need to feel safe. I've got what I need to do what I want to do, what my agenda is going forward? And is this going to get me there? Or is this going to stop me from getting there. And and that doesn't necessarily, again, mean, my agenda is here to make a million dollars and to you know, to be powerful, but just even, you know, my agenda is to try to make a more equitable world. So is this going to help me do that? Or is this going to hurt me to do that, and everything we make sense of we make sense of in our lives, via story, because that's what contextualizes it, that's what gives it meaning nothing has meaning outside of the meaning that we project onto it, besides be our own individual story. And that's why when we're lost in a story, we're in someone else's head, and we're processing information in the same way that they do if that story is successful.

Alex Ferrari 6:52
We are all the heroes in our in our story.

Lisa Cron 6:55
Oh, absolutely. We have to be. I mean, it's like, it's like that old thing of, you know, back back in the old days, when we would actually fly on actual airplanes. And they'd have that, you know, put your oxygen mask on first. You may remember that back in the olden days. Yeah, that doesn't make us bad. It doesn't make us feel like we're the hero. But it's that in order for us to literally survive to see tomorrow, we have to come first. And we're biologically wired to come first in that way. And I think one of the scary things is that we're wired to live in a world we don't live in and so that sometimes some of that gets in our way.

Alex Ferrari 7:36
Right? I've talked a lot about the the reptilian brain and that kind of that thing in the back of your head that is, is there just to protect you. I've said many times on the show that that your brain doesn't care about your dreams, doesn't care about what you want, or want to have love or anything. It cares about one thing and one thing only protecting you.

Lisa Cron 8:00
That's the only thing i would i would say to that is they've kind of debunked the whole reptilian brain notion. It's one thing, it's not that's the old part. And this is the new part. Is that Is it the way that we're wired? Yeah, is your brain when it's in fact, that's the really sad thing for writers, you know, when you when you read something, and I think we've all had this experience as writers, you know, you're writing it, you think it's great. And then you read it the next morning, and you go, Oh, my God, what am I seeing this? You know? And that is that part of and you think that voice? Right? We've all got that voice? And the ironic thing is, that voice is trying to protect us. It's like, yeah, if you put that out there, but the thing is you and you don't want to be laughed at. So be careful. And that voice is often wrong is the point.

Alex Ferrari 8:51
The point is, as well that that it's all about perspective. So your perspective of writing, this piece that you're writing is either to get it sold, get it move your career forward, tell the story that you always wanted to tell, put it out there help other people with your story. There's multiple different perspectives, or yearnings, if you will of the writer and why they're doing what they're doing. But the brain is there for one thing and one thing only, it's to protect you from not only yourself, but from the danger that it doesn't know about. So I always tell people like well, when when you were wondering back in the day, if you went around that corner, and you've never been around that corner, before you turn that corner, your brain is going to go Don't go down that corner because there could be a tiger there and it could eat you. So we're always avoiding the tiger, that the potential tiger, whatever that Tiger might be, could be, you know, maybe make a fool of people rejecting you. And then if you go into rejection that goes into a whole tribal thing in our brain as well. That's why rejection is so difficult. That's why people think that speaking in public is it's they're more fear of speaking in public and they are of death. Because if you speak in public and you're ousted by the audience, which is almost a tribe, then without the tribe, you couldn't survive alone as a human being back in the day, there's so many different layers of things that our brain is built to do for us. But it's built for an old time, like you said, it's not built for the current world,

Lisa Cron 10:22
right? No, because our biggest fear is, you know, as you're saying, turning that corner, our biggest fears, the unknown and the unexpected. And we're wired to, to have, you know, what they call homeostasis, meaning, it's a biological term. And it means once you feel sick, you know, for any for any, like biological creature, once, once they're safe, you know, the temperatures, right, they've got the food they've got, you know, the space, it's not just that they want to maintain balance, but they want to maintain that balance. So anything that threatens it terrifying. And that's, you know, that the sort of colloquial term we have for that is our comfort zone. But the thing that sort of kills me is that we tend to think of these things as if we have a choice is if, you know, our desire to stay in the comfort zone is because we're kind of weak. And if we were stronger, tougher, or whatever, we would be able to go out there into the unknown. And the truth is, it is our biology that keeps us there. So it isn't to say that we can't overcome it, or we can't see it for what it is. But the fact that it's difficult isn't a feeling or a weakness, it's biology, the same thing, just to go a little bit deeper to what you were just saying about belonging to a tribe, which talk about something that we're seeing,

Alex Ferrari 11:34
you think you think there's some tribalism going on right now.

Lisa Cron 11:38
But the reason is, is that they feel that, you know, when our brains had, you know, last big gross for about 100,000 years ago, and, you know, scientists thought for a long time that that was at the time, and the reason for it was that we, you know, got critical thinking, you know, we can analyze things at a political thought rational thought came in at that point. And what they realized now is that the real reason for that big change is because at that time, we had kind of, you know, obviously a very, very, very minor, you know, basic degree, learned to navigate successfully in the physical world. And now, if we were going to do you know, basically what we've since done, which is, you know, take over the world, we need to learn to work together well with others. And that's where the need to belong to a group became, it's hardwired, you know, people go, I'm a lone wolf, I always want to go, dude, there are no lone wolves, even in the wolf community. In the wolf community is a wolf that's been ostracized from the back and is left to die, wolf traveling pack, there's no such thing as a lone wolf. But at that time, and here's the really interesting thing to go to your point. At that time, because we already had the neural pathways for physical pain, they feel that because to be ostracized from your, you know, your pack your tribe, which at that time was obviously much smaller thinking of Dunbar's number, probably not any bigger than 150. To be ostracized, meant death. So it's isolation. Instead of your brain, like creating other neural pathways for that pain, it just traveled the same pathways as regular pain, travel, meaning physical pain, so that that's why when you come up to someone, and which I think a lot of us are having this experience now, and the facts wrong, and you think I'll just correct them, I'll just tell them what the correct facts are. And then they'll understand that we'll be on the same page, and you, you try to correct them. And often you get a screed back. And you think, Oh my god, what's wrong with you? You're such an idiot. And the truth is, because when you merely question their beliefs, it comes across as fighting words, you've questioned their identity, and you've questioned their place within their tribe. And for them to even consider what you're saying risks that kind of social ostrich never say this word. Austria is a Austria to the asterisks. Essentially, I

Alex Ferrari 13:55
can solve either, but yeah, I get you.

Lisa Cron 13:57
For some reason. But but so. So that comes across as fighting words. So it's really interesting, how deeply hardwired it is, and I think it can, understanding that can help give us empathy for other people, and let us know, okay, they're not they don't believe those ridiculous things they believe. Because they're stubborn or stupid, or, you know, or or just haven't done the work. It's because everything in their life has taught them that those things are true. That's what their tribe believes. So to even consider something else, it takes a massive amount of

Alex Ferrari 14:29
courage. No, absolutely. If you're in, you know, if you're in a family that is super religious, and you come out to be gay, in a community that doesn't like you know, doesn't approve of that, that becomes an issue. And you have to become so strong to break free from that tribe. And just stand on your own two feet. And that could be as simple as, hey, I'm going to go be a writer and you're your parents or a lawyer and a doctor like, no, you're not you're you're going to last Cool. You're like no. And it's like that's, that's another example of it. And to go back to what we were talking about earlier, as far as the unknown, a lot of times people think well around the corner, there's that tiger, that Tiger could be positive or negative, it doesn't have to be danger, it could be something it's not accustomed to. So if you and I've had this experience myself, when you if you have, and this is a great character, by the way, this is a free character trait that you can use for your characters guys listening, when you when you have a character, who meets someone who's obviously, like, if you have a girl who meets the good guy, then that good guy who treats her well and treats her nice, and he's a good looking dude, everything. If she's never been treated, right, or for like, if he has never been treated, right, in a relationship, it will be completely scary to be with someone like that. Either way opposite or or, you know, for someone who takes care of you or abuses you. That's and a lot of times they self sabotage a relationship because things are too good here. I don't like this, this is completely unknown territory. I'm going to sabotage it and it does it. They do it on a subconscious level. It's not like they sit there and go, Oh, I'm going to sabotage this relationship. They just start doing things to know, they know that they'll sabotage Would you agree?

Lisa Cron 16:18
Oh, yeah, I mean, I mean, 100%. That's what people don't realize is that all change is hard and good changes as hard as bad change. And we don't necessarily assume that. And when we stick with our comfort zone, what that really means is the familiar. And you're right, I mean, there are a lot of people who would rather be with someone who is very difficult to be with, because they know how to do that. It's reliably it's

Alex Ferrari 16:40
it's, it's the known, it's the it's like they say the devil, you know,

Lisa Cron 16:44
that's why we stick stick with the devil, you know, but I would say that in a story, if somebody is going to do that, that's a what, you know, any kind of a trait is a what? And what you want to get to in order to earn that trait and give it meaning is the why. In other words, what happened in that person's life probably early on, that caused them to miss read, when you know when someone is is nice to them. For instance, can I give you a quick for instance, sure, of course, sample I use a lot because what I call this, the misbelief, that characters come into a story with a misbelief something that they believe about human nature that they learned when they were very young, that's kept them from getting what they want, probably from an early age, up until the moment we're gonna shove them onto the screen. And now they're going to have to go after what they want, but overcome this misbelief in order to get it. So let's imagine that because I use that example a lot it the example of an i would say i would i would sum up what you said is that somebody's misbelief might be the nicer someone is to me, and the more they want to get to know me, the more they really only want to use and abuse and manipulate me. That's why they're doing it. And so something like that might come in, I'll give you a very quick example. Like imagine that protagonist, let's say is going to be a 29 year old woman. But when she's nine years old, she comes from a very dysfunctional family. I don't know what a functional family is, if there are any,

Alex Ferrari 18:08
but there might be there's a couple I mean, we're all listen, I'm trying to create a functional family. But obviously, in my perspective, I'm the hero, dad. So you know, my daughters will probably tell me something differently in 20 years, I don't know.

Lisa Cron 18:21
There's always something it's always like, I never said that.

Alex Ferrari 18:27
I didn't mean that horse

Lisa Cron 18:29
Exactly. mentioned this girl, she's nine, she's you know, she comes from as a single mom, she has a feral sister. And she's nine years old. And she feels like no one ever pays any attention to her like she's just lost. And so it's school, all the girls have decided to get together and form this club around this little Japanese anime character. And to get into the club, which they're about to form, you have to have a doll of this character. And she thinks, okay, great. I can save up my money, I can save up my allowance, I can get it. These, these girls are my people, I will be able to do it. So she saves her money. And she finally has enough the day before they're about to do it. The next day, she opens her bank. And malls come out with nothing. It's gone. And she's be wrapped. It's like, it's all is lost. There's no way out at all. She's sobbing. And about an hour later, her older sister comes in and says, You know, I know we don't talk but but seeing you so sad. I've asked around I know what's going on. I know about that club at school and you saved all your money. And you know, it's somehow it's gone and it broke my I broke my heart. I couldn't stand to see you sobbing like that. So I took my money. And I went out and got a bigger version of the doll. Now at this point, you know, our protagonist is thinking, like, I don't need those girls anymore. This is great. She saw me. I didn't have to even ask she got to know me. She knew what I wanted. She went and got it for me without asking. And I mean, truly isn't that what we on one level all want more than anything is somebody to anticipate what we need and give it to us? Before we even have to ask. I mean that's just

Alex Ferrari 19:59
yeah Very Genie like,

Lisa Cron 20:01
Yes, exactly. So, so but at that point, the sister goes, but you know, I used all my money to buy it. And I'm going out with Ralph tonight. And if I don't pay, he's gonna dump me and mom hasn't given me my allowance since I crashed the car. And no, that's not my fault. And she's got that $100 bill in her purse. And if you could just distract her. You're so cute. All I want you to do that. I know that the money's for food, but I'm not hungry for you. I'll just take it in. And in that moment, that character has an aha moment, which is, wait. She's thinking, you didn't do that to be kind to me. You probably in fact, stole my money. And you're just doing because you want me to help you steal? You're trying to use me now in that moment. That belief is true. That is probably what she was doing. And in fact, our protagonist could look back to other things earlier and go, Oh, yeah, I know that I'll make. And so that belief, the nicer she is, to me, the more she seems to want to get to know me, the more she's only going to use and abuse me. That was adaptive in that moment, it probably helped her survive in that family. The reason these kind of misbeliefs tend to come in when we're young, is because when we're older, if someone came up and you know, similar thing where you meet someone and they're finishing, you're finishing each other's sentences soon, and you feel like, Oh, this person knows me, we've got such simpatico. And then they go, you know what money you've got? I'm starting this Ponzi scheme, oh, would you like to invest. And at that moment, you go, Oh, my God, this person is a jerk. I know a lot of other nice people, I'm just going to get this person out of my life. When you're nine, it's not my sister's a jerk. It's Oh, this is how people are. I have to be careful. And so that misbelief would have grown escalated and complicated up to the point in exactly to us, it's amazing that you use that example, because it just matches exactly, you know, this the story that I just happen to have on the tip of my tongue, because I use it all the time. But that would explain and so that's why when you're thinking of, you know, what your character might do your protagonist, what kind of, you know, quirk or belief or desire misbelief they've got, it really pays to go back and, and not just get the what, but the why. Because the Y is what your story is, is going to be about your y is about. That's what stories are about. My son actually is a producer, we're talking about a movie that they were that they were giving notes on to the writer about a year or so ago, making movies. And, you know, he said, Yeah, she said, because the the story present is what makes the unconscious conscious. And that's the whole point. By the time the story starts, this misbelief has become the lens through which the character is evaluating everything that's happening, just like we all do does is make me safer, doesn't it? And so what happens in the story, forces that character to reevaluate that brings it back to the surface, not that they're thinking it, you know, like a bumper sticker, but because it's been incorporated into how they're making the decisions that they're making. And that's what we're watching.

Alex Ferrari 23:03
I did an episode A while ago called why we're why screenwriters are programmed to fail. And it was an entire episode, basically discussing similar concepts of what we're talking about now. And I use an example of why why the rich get rich, it's a rich and the poor, stay poor and stay poor. And it's because of, and I've studied this, to my knowledge, I'd love to hear your your thoughts on it. When when how many rich people have you met in your life? You're going peace guys aren't absolute, it's got some idiot? How has he failed up? How is? How is it? How is this possible? How does he keep making money when he has no foreseeable skill? And he's, he's a moron in so many other places, but yet he keeps able to make money. And it's not because daddy or mommy is helping him. It's just because he's kind of programmed to know what to do. And then why is this person who was born into a poor scenario, who's really smart, but yet has blocks where they can't generate more revenue or more money in their life. And I'm using money as an example here. Then, then their parents did. And is because that we as as children, we absorb it like you were just saying, it's not just my sister did that. It's all people did that, right. So when you're a child and you're born into a millionaire family or something or billionaire family, everyone just does what they start absorbing everything that they see their parents do on a subconscious level. So when they get to the, to the age of to generate revenue, they just already kind of know what to do because they've been doing it. It's the same thing for a family who was born into a family of acrobats, or a circus or circus folk or filmmakers. I mean, look how many Bryce Bryce Dallas Howard is becoming a director now. I wonder how that happened. Yeah. I mean, she's Ron Howard's kid. I mean, she was on sets all the time when they were growing up. So they kind of absorbed these things. Do you? Do you feel that, um, and again, going back to character, that's a really interesting kind of way to look at a character as well, because depends on what their what their upbringing is. And based on that upbringing, they have certain blocks that they just can't get through, until they consciously break through. So, you know, like, I've heard poor people mentality, which I've found, fortunately, I'm a card carrying member many times of thinking, like, you got to do this, you got to do that. And, and you got to do this. And that where someone who was, who was raised in a different environment, has completely different beliefs about money, where I might have had beliefs about money, because that's the way my grandpa worked hard all his life. And his his definition of success is getting a job and working hard, as opposed to someone raising another scenario is like, no, it's about money working hard for you, and you're not working that hard. It's, you know, it's different. So I just let them hear what you think about that.

Lisa Cron 26:08
Yeah, I mean, I mean, I the only thing I would say about that particular analogy, and it's close to, you know, creating characters as well, is that, you know, so often, I mean, I guess, you know, part of it, it's like so on all of our minds right now, is that there's also, I mean, if you're, if you're born into a wealthy white family, particular person at the moment, you know, you have when it's not just what your parents, you know, the way that they saw things, but it's also that you're that you're white. Oh, there's privilege. Absolutely. There's provision. Yeah. So So for a lot of people who are poor, it doesn't, it doesn't matter. I mean, I think the best example of that is the fourth season of the wire, I think, more or less a job. Yeah, it was, it was so good. But it did an amazing job of really showing if you're born into poverty, and you're born into, you know, systemic racism, which is what we're talking about a lot. Now, no matter what you do, it is just impossible. Just there are no other options. And I think that, that that's what can make a much more interesting story than somebody just, you know, suddenly finding, you know, rags to riches because they've got the gumption or whatever to do it. But more what happens to people who would have had had that would have no matter what they do the opportunity either slammed in their face or turns for something that you know, is of no fault of their own. But yeah, I completely agree. I mean, I think that's what all stories are about. All stories are about an internal change the big mistake that the big mistake that writers may and screenwriters it kind of in particular? I can tell you when I was reading screenplays, and I spent decades reading screenplays, I guess, it was almost like every screenplay I read, I would think, Okay, wait a minute. No, this is the person who's never seen a movie.

Alex Ferrari 27:57
No, no, it's this person was

Lisa Cron 27:59
other people. But if this one because it looks easy, you know, like 120 pages and all that whitespace How hard could it be?

Alex Ferrari 28:06
Super and I've seen movies so I mean, I should be able to write one that's kind of like I listen to Mozart, I should should be able to write a song

Lisa Cron 28:15
You know, it's so hard but it's not about any story. It's not about the plot. It's not about the things that happen it's about how the things that happen affect someone and affect an internal change that is what stories are about that's what routes us what routes us isn't big giant things blowing up one way or another it's what those things blowing up what how and what that's going to affect someone and not just affect them in general like we have your building blows up in your insight that you're in trouble that's what there's there's that right there is that but it's it's why things matter. It's like to give you a very quick example it's like the movie diehard which which I have

Alex Ferrari 28:56
I did an entire episode Christmas explaining why it's the greatest Christmas we'll move on so we were on the same page there it's it's arguably one of my top five it's on my top five action films of all time.

Lisa Cron 29:09
I agree. I could not agree with you more. But but but but what my heart is about it's not about you know is Bruce Willis going to kill the pseudo bad guys that are terrorists. It's about is Bruce Willis. And it's not even about people go well, it's about is Bruce Willis going to save his wife and it's not about that either. It's about is Bruce Willis gonna be able to win his wife back, she's left him. Is he going to be able to win her now? Of course. I mean, obviously, he's got it. He wants to save her as well because he doesn't want to win her back in a body bag. That would be a Pyrrhic victory if ever there was but that's what and that's why we care. That's what's pulling us all the way through. It's not just you know, is he going to kill Hans Gruber? Which I mean Alan Rickman a moment of silence for his passing

Alex Ferrari 29:51
recipes, my friend Oh what such so he's such a great actor but that character a lot for people listening like you have to understand I heard in the theater when I was a teenager. And can you imagine walking into like, Oh, isn't that that guy from moonlighting? Let me go, let me go watch this. There's something blowing up. Let me go watch and you walk out going, what did I just see? Perfect movie. It's so perfect. But the thing that's amazing for people that don't understand it created a genre of film, it's Die Hard on a boat, Die Hard on train, Die Hard in an arena. That hard everywhere because it was, but the difference between all of those movies and diehard is exactly what you're saying. Is this. It's not about what's on the surface. Yes, that's all cool. And yes, that he's very vulnerable. He's wearing no shoes. You know, he's the every man there's like, there's so many things that make McLane such a wonderful character. But you're right, it's about is there our thinking to get back together? And it's, it's subtle, it's not, it's not heavy handed.

Lisa Cron 30:54
It's subtle. I mean, in the same way that in the same way that the Hunger Games trilogy is about our Katniss and Peeta going to get together? I mean, in the beginning, is she gonna realize he likes her? And is she gonna have to kill him? And that's what really is pulling us through all three books, which I think are fabulous. I think even the movies were good. I, I, I devoured those. But yeah, it's a human story. That's what we care about. We don't care about the other. And we'll help that you just have what what most what most screenplays and most, you know, novel with manuscripts are, is honestly nothing but a bunch of things that happen. That's, that's Damn.

Alex Ferrari 31:35
Yeah, it's very, it's very superficial. Without questions, so like a movie like lethal weapon, which is also on my top five of all time. You know? Do we care? Why'd Why do you care about Murdock and Riggs? It's like, well, his rigs gonna be his he can not kill himself. End of this thing. Like you're you're holding on to, to that and then and then combination of those two together? It's just such a magical thing. What is your What is your What is your take on the the reason why Lethal Weapon if you watch it and chain blacks, a lot of shame black scripts have this have this this kind of underlining emotional tug.

Lisa Cron 32:15
I mean, I can't I saw it. I saw it when it came out so long ago, that I couldn't talk to it other than to agree with you that, you know, any movie we're pulled into, that we care about, it's because we care about the characters, but not just care about them in the situation that they find themselves in. But what being in that situation is going to mean to them, given what they walked onto the, you know, onto into scene one already wanting? I mean, and that goes to what you just said, Yeah. Is he going to kill himself? Well, that was something if he is or isn't, that was something he already wanted to do before he walked on to the screen. So it always I mean, I mean, what I am always saying to writers is, is that all stories begin in media stress. And I don't mean it, it's funny, the first time I heard that term was as a screenwriting term, and it which means it's a lot, it's Latin, and it means in the middle of the thing, and, and in screenwriting, it tended to be meant, you know, if you're going to start a scene start in the middle, right, you start at that moment, where if you wait one more minute, it'll be too late. If you start too early, people are going to get bored. But that's not what it really means. What it really means is all stories beginning this resonating, literally, the first scene of the movie, or the first page of the novel is the first scene or page of the second half of the story. The backstory is the most crucial and important layer of story. Without it, you have no story. And I think the biggest problem that writers have is that they'll start on page one, and think they have to read forward or and I'm going to say something now that probably especially in the film community, who sounds really, really incendiary, and it isn't literally and figuratively, if it was up to me, I would burn every copy of the hero's journey, or the Vogler book or save the cat or any of those books, because they claim to be about story structure. And that's a misnomer. They're about plot structure. And the story is not about the plot and the line in those books besides the fact that things don't always happen in the order that they do. or God forbid, with the hero's journey, which I particularly detest, you know, we have to have the temptress, it just, I just like what is boiling, I've got to take a deep breath. But it's not about the plot. And the line. The book is when they give you examples, they give you examples of movies and books you are familiar with. And so when you think of those plots, you're already supplying that that emotional internal tug of the struggle that the character is going through. So you go Okay, yeah, this has to happen at the end of Act One. And now here's the actual climax. And now, here's the So writers are writing things from the outside in. And story structure is organic, it's inside out story structure is, is the byproduct of a story well told, not something you can plan as you begin to write the story, and I think that's what tanks, so many scripts in so many manuscripts is that they're looking at, well, knowing the character who's going to be the one who's going to mention what the character needs to do. So we put that in there and knowing something really big to happen here, because that's the mid at climax, and then they'll turn and they'll reach into this external grab bag of, of supposedly dramatic things, and throw something in, as opposed to no story is a complete cause and effect trajectory that began usually with what I call the protagonist origin story, the moment where that misbelief was born. And it's cause and effect from beginning to end if you can do one of those, those card things, you know, where the where you go, you know, write these things on cards and move them around, if you round you don't have a story, it's cause and effect, you can't move them around story is, again 100% cause and effect this happened Wait, therefore that this happened, but that

Alex Ferrari 36:09
anyway, so we were talking a little bit by the way, I it's it I love bringing people on the show that have different perspectives, because I've had every one of those people that you've talked that had them on on the show, and they all have different perspectives on story. And

Lisa Cron 36:24
I think I'm gonna interrupt you there one second, and this is where I do not play well with others. I think they're wrong.

Alex Ferrari 36:29
And that's fine. And that's fine and you're completely and there's points that you've made that make absolutely all the sense of the world and nor will I try to debate you on it because I I don't have a strong that I don't have a strong affiliation either way. But I always love bringing different perspectives of story because you never know what what is gonna click with a certain writer. It's, you know, like I, I believe, you know, like, early on in my in my in my writing career, you know, the hero's journey and and that whole process, and then I had john Truby on. And then john Truby goes, you can throw the hero's journey on a detective story, let me know how that works out for you. And my mind exploded. I was like, what, wait a minute, but all stories are the hero's journey. Like No, no, no, not all of them. And you were like, oh, okay, that's, that's okay. All right, then. And then it just starts changing the way you look at things. So I completely I completely understand your point of view, no question about it. Now what the one thing that we were talking about earlier about the, the the the backstory of the character, isn't it interesting that a character who was in cinema for forever, named James Bond, who basically didn't have a true backstory, he was just kind of like, he was very one dimensional, he never changed. He, he was not a character that changed from beginning to end of every story. He was basically James Bond at the beginning at the end. But when Casino Royale showed up, and they gave him backstory, and they gave him all these other things that drove him to be who he is. It became honestly the best Bond film ever made, in my opinion, would you agree?

Lisa Cron 38:12
Yeah. 100% I mean, 100 I think the reason though, yes. 100%. I think without backstory, it's very easy for something to become a bunch of things that happened. I think, things like James Bond, the world was changing, then cinema movie was were changing at that point. And so we were seeing things that were new anyway, so people could get away with other stuff and not go as deep as as they can now not be willing to do it. And I think that with mysteries because people will say the same thing about well, what about Sherlock Holmes? Or, you know, other detectives? What about perot? Or what about? You know, Philip Marlowe? And I think that the answer there is that mysteries themselves are always about not just who done it, but in order to know who you got to know why. And we come to story. I mean, I think I think we come to story for exactly the reasons that in the beginning of Citizen Kane, you know, where you've got the the newsreel director going, Nothing's more interesting than finding out what makes people tick. It's like, yeah, that's what we come for. So if we're going to get a detective isn't going to change. That person is looking at evaluating what's going on based on trying to figure out what made you know the murderer or whatever whoever the person is, do what they do, and then the cleverness of trying to figure out okay, here's a really hard thing. How could you possibly make that happen? And if you notice, and I can't give you an example of this, because we're just I'm just talking off the top of my head, but it's something I say to writers all the time is that it's never just some logistic, cleverness. There must be blood and I'm not talking about the movie must be blood, in other words, whatever is happening, whatever the person believes, whatever Doing, it isn't just a factual thing, it's something that is going to in some very human way, hurt or help someone else, in terms of getting something that they really, really want or are afraid of, it always comes back to that meaning always comes back to how it's going to affect someone emotionally. And I don't mean that in a pejorative sense at all, I think as a, as I was saying to you, before we started, I mean, emotion is such a deeply misunderstood biological system. I think we purposely misunderstand that not just in our culture, but around the world. Because every decision we ever make, is driven by emotion. And that's positive. If we didn't feel emotion, we couldn't make a single rational decision. emotion. It's not just emotion, it's obviously emotion. And, and reason we've been taught that they're their opposite. There's our binary, right? Either emotion or reason. And the truth is, they work together. And the truth is the driver is emotion, not reason. No matter no matter how we always think I'm a master of my own ship, it makes you feel so safe, it makes you feel so secure. But whatever decision you make, you don't make, because it's the rational argument, you make that decision because of how the rational argument makes you feel. It always comes back to feeling and so in a story if there isn't that, in other words, if we're not in the character's skin as they're feeling something, we jump ship. Yeah, no,

Alex Ferrari 41:32
no, I've seen movies as well that I call it kind of intellectual writing versus emotional writing, where you could just see that the writer is trying to be cool. And trying to be it trying to be clever. And look how, look how much promise I have over the craft that I can do this, this and this, but you feel nothing.

Lisa Cron 41:53
And it's annoying to Yes, yes. So what did the writer you think you think you're so full of yourself? It's like hot, you're annoying. Go away? Yeah. Yeah. Right.

Alex Ferrari 42:01
It's like, look how cool I am. Look. It's like kinda like writing. When you have your I'm sure you've read a screenplay that has 75 cent words in it? Oh, yeah. Oh, oh, yeah.

Lisa Cron 42:09
I worked once with a lawyer who was writing a novel. And he said, he's a trial. My career, the bigger the word, the less emotion it conveys. Yeah, correct. Yep. Last thing, you want to use our $25 words, let alone $75 words, the simplest words are usually the most powerful. If there's meaning behind words, in cells or nothing. It's the meaning they're conveying. And that's what comes from the story. And that almost always comes from from backstory, because backstory is what is what is what creates, again, the lens and the meaning that your protagonist is reading into it. It's just one thing really quickly, I just finished reading a book. It literally called your brain as a time machine by a neuroscience. I think he's, I think he's out of LA. And he says, basically, and of course, all of the research, you can find this all over, but he's here, the sole purpose of your brain is to record past memories in order to predict the future. So in other words, if you have no backstory, how can they? What do they have at stake? Well, that's

Alex Ferrari 43:12
powerful. That's what's so powerful.

Lisa Cron 43:15
Yeah, I mean, and again, when you're writing a character, a character is a person, like you or me, and that's what we do. And that's me, I could go into the whole neuroscience behind it, but

Alex Ferrari 43:25
which we might in a second because I'm a neuroscience nerd, as well, but I'm gonna my name and I neuroscience now is already I just lost my train of thought.

Lisa Cron 43:37
All the time. It's so funny when you do it in the middle of talking. I've done that. Where was I going?

Alex Ferrari 43:43
What was that guy's like? No, there's too many ideas flying into my head right now. That I know we're going to talk about something I want to talk about something really quickly that I know is going to divide our audience, which is great. It's the Marvel movies. You were talking about emotion. And you watch a movie like Avengers endgame. And generally what Marvel has done throughout their 10 years of putting what they've done is unprecedented how they've created so much. And by the way, I think those whole all those movies are emotion delivery systems. I don't know if you like them or not. And you could tell me in a second, I'm going to tell you from my point of view, who is a fan have been a comic book fan for a long time. And when you get to endgame, by the way, spoiler alert, guys, if you haven't seen endgame, it's not my fault. Made it made like $3 billion. I'm sorry, if you haven't seen it, you can't blame me. But at the end, when Iron Man does that ultimate sacrifice, and you see him go, there's so much emotion. And if you want and you watch like when they're like at that moment where they're about to the Thanos is about to destroy them, and like it's only like We have them as Iron Man, Thor and, and Captain America. Then everybody starts coming out of those, you know, magical Doctor Strange circles. I've heard the reaction I was in the theater, but I also watched them online, the people lost their mind. And the reason why they lost their mind was because it was 10 years of emotional, emotional context or connection with all of these characters coming out and you're like, all of them are coming out at once together, it was just such an emotional thing for me watching it, and I've seen it, obviously, it hit a chord with somebody, because if it was just blowing stuff up, then you would have the DC Universe, which is the Justice League and how that was a complete failure. We'll see what the Snyder cut says when it comes out on HBO Max, but it was a complete failure because there was no backstory, there was no emotion at all. What do you I don't know how much you know about our into the comic book films, but I think it's that since they are the most popular form of entertainment right now in the Indian in the industry. It's not a bad conversation to have.

Lisa Cron 46:14
Yeah, no. And, and I to be completely honest, I am not a I'm not a fan. So I've seen I've not seen I've not seen any of them. I mean, maybe one or two. But I mean, just comment. I mean, just even when you're invested in characters, like you said, 10 years of them. And and I mean, you know, their backstory at that point, whether, you know, whether it's ever been been stated on the screen or not, because you watched it. You have that. I mean, it's funny, you know, I said before about the fourth season of the wire, the fifth season of the wire, which was I think only a half a season it was dreadful. Didn't matter. They watched every minute of it because I loved the characters. I wouldn't watch anything. You know, at that point, you're so deeply invested that it's like Yes, just keep going. I mean it you know, just just I just want to watch them getting into character I'll watch anything it doesn't matter because

Alex Ferrari 47:05
you love because you love those characters like that and but that's the that's kind of something very interesting with with them with television now because now we binge so much like when I saw that I binge the wire watch the whole series. And once you go down the road, you're in three four seasons unless they do something super crazy. You're pretty much in Yeah, big you know like I was when I watched The Walking Dead probably about six seasons in maybe. And then the when it turned for me I don't know if you've ever watched a walking dead but when it turned to me is they had this one villain that came in and he was so abusive to my characters that I loved. And they never gave those characters a moment of victory. Like there was the whole season. It was just like someone was beating up on my characters constantly. It was never going back and forth kind of fight it was just kind of like a pummeling. And that's the problem with like, when you have a villain it's so overpowering. It's not fun anymore. I don't want to see my characters my favorite characters get beat up. I stopped watching because they just went too far. They could have still had a very powerful protagonist, but yet give give some victories small victories something Yeah. And by the time that victory came it was too late. I was really lost.

Lisa Cron 48:28
Yeah, I agree. I stopped I've watched I think the first three seasons of it. And I can't remember why I think I just failed because I guess it was just I just got tired of watching people eat people or

Alex Ferrari 48:39
if you don't like the eating it's probably not a good thing

Lisa Cron 48:42
to not being either a horror fan either so it was like I am surprised and it's a testament to the show that I lasted that long because it isn't you know usually what I like but for something to be a horror it's got to be something like get out or something that's just so good that you know I'm completely willing to stay to stay hooked and you know, I mean everybody's got their I guess their preference again. Probably comes back to for me. I tell you this literally, I don't understand. I don't understand why people love watching horror movies. Because I can't imagine getting off watching somebody get hurt I have a hard time with things some things I'm never going to watch again. I did not watch Bosh when all this happened it's like I'm never watching another cop show ever again but Bosh

Alex Ferrari 49:27
is so good.

Lisa Cron 49:29
I yeah. Season went You know, when the majority boy died and it's like okay, I'm I've just I couldn't live it's interesting. I literally you know, we watched one one at one episode after it was like I absolute can't do this. I just can't do this.

Alex Ferrari 49:46
I mean, like the canceled cops for God's sakes. And and I started two years and all I mean and how many cop shows are on television like Blue Bloods and, and, you know, law and order. You can kind of it's more of a But yeah, but law and order and SBU unit like there's everything's a cop show.

Lisa Cron 50:05
So, drama, you know, by definition

Alex Ferrari 50:07
it's automatically built in drama so like Chicago PD and all of those things. How is it? How are they going to come back? Like I'm assuming of it? Look, we're gonna see a cop show again. We're gonna see cops on the movies again. I just don't know. Different hopefully it'll be different. Like you can't release Lethal Weapon today. No. Laser, like, you know, the rogue the rogue cop doing it playing by their own rules. That's pretty much the 80s

Lisa Cron 50:33
Yeah. Oh, well, even with I mean, you know, talking about the way things change moving away from cop movies for me. Try watching old john Hughes movies. You can't there's there's massagin is the racist

Alex Ferrari 50:47
like there's there's definitely some rough there's some rough stuff in the old I haven't watched. I haven't watched the jaunty I mean, other than home alone. But like if you watch him I haven't seen Breakfast Club. I

Lisa Cron 50:58
don't remember there being love isn't so bad. Yeah, I

Alex Ferrari 51:01
was gonna say I don't remember Breakfast Club. I know. Like Pretty in Pink. Yeah.

Lisa Cron 51:07
16 candles. Forget it.

Alex Ferrari 51:09
Oh my god. It's that I remember. Like, even then I was like, Dude, that that seems a little it was just it was it's it's a weird, like, Yeah, but and now they were pulling movies off like they pulled off when they pulled off Gone with the Wind, obviously, for obvious reasons. But there was they made a disclaimer on aliens on aliens because of Okay, what's her name isn't Marquez, what's her name? The the actress who played the Latina Marine, but she was but she's not Latina. She's She also played like, you know, an Irish, Irish peasant in Titanic. So. And they were like, they had to warn about that. I was like, Well, you know, at a certain point, like, I don't know, I don't want to stand on one side or the other or something like that. But it's getting to that place now that we're, we're going back and there has to be some social context. Because the things some things do not eat. I hate to say a Birth of a Nation does not age well.

Lisa Cron 52:10
Age. Well, oh, my God, Jesus Christ. You know? Well,

Alex Ferrari 52:15
it was it didn't age well when it came out. But but there's, I mean, remember, john, remember john wayne, you know, what was this famous line? A good Indian is a dead end. Like that's can't say things like that anymore?

Lisa Cron 52:29
And we never should have been? It is hard, though. I mean, I think that we'll have a reckoning going forward. Because I mean, I yes, it is really, really hard. Because I think part of it, part of it. I mean, think about it for one second. I mean, I mean, first of all, as we can see the world has changed in 200 years, massively. So that if this was if we didn't have film, and or social media or the internet, right, it was just even books, whatever was done or written before, would be pretty much forgotten. But because we have film and social media, is gonna pull up anything anybody said 30 years ago, and suddenly, here it is. It old, everything always stays current. And so it's hard. And I'll tell you, I had my own. When I wrote the first book, I wrote wired for story. And I wanted to give an example of, Okay, here's a story, here's going to show a word I would never use, again, theme, I don't believe in theme at all anymore. But theme and plot and I forget what the third thing was. And I wanted to find an example I could give that that I thought, okay, everybody's gonna know this, I can't pick something that I've read, but no one else has. And so I did research. And I picked it on with a wind. And so I talked about Gone with the Wind just solely about, you know, the plot, what's about etc. And about two or three pages. And I've gotten I got an email yesterday from someone saying, you need to pull that out, you know, you're promoting white supremacy, how can you do that? And it's like, I want to go I, if I could, if I pull the whole chapter, I'd actually because I would rewrite it. But what you don't know, it's, it's hard to say it. I'm stuttering right now. Yeah, I didn't think of that. It didn't occur to what

Alex Ferrari 54:17
it wasn't. But it wasn't something that was, you know, no, surely there was no, it wasn't culturally there. And it's,

Lisa Cron 54:25
but it's so hard, but it was, so it never occurred to me and going back to the

Alex Ferrari 54:30
Yeah, you know, hurt anybody. I mean, it's very,

Lisa Cron 54:34
unless you were black, and then it probably did. That's the point.

Alex Ferrari 54:37
Right? Exactly. And that's the problem that, that everyone's protesting and walking the streets about.

Lisa Cron 54:44
I mean, we're all you know, I'm just reading now how to be an anti racist. It's, there's, I mean, again, the same thing is true of the one that I happen to think is the last although we have been talking about in big ways in the past couple years, but the last acceptable bias Which is misogyny? Um, you know, I think I think that that that's,

Alex Ferrari 55:05
um, I had I had, um, Naomi McDougal Jones who wrote this amazing book. She's a female filmmaker, and writer and she wrote this amazing book, I forgot the name of the book cuz I haven't released the episode yet. But it's about how, how Hollywood is completely screwed over women. Basically, in the end, she talks about the entire history of Hollywood. And she lays out like, every female director, who's been who's won an Oscar or been nominated for an Oscar is either and I couldn't believe this is either married or was married to a powerful man, and or was a father was a sibling, a sibling, or child or a child of a powerful male. So we were just talking about Bryce Dallas Howard. Sophia Coppola. Oh, God, what's her name? Oh, God, Director Point Break. Zero Dark 30?

Lisa Cron 56:07
Oh, oh, I can't I can't get it.

Alex Ferrari 56:09
But she was she's, I can't believe I can't read Kathryn Bigelow. Thank you. Kathryn Bigelow was the ex of James Cameron. You know, and, you know, I heard I heard, you know, would have, she would have never been able to get a movie like Point Break off the ground without James Cameron as a co producer back in the late 80s, early 90s. You know, she was more than talented enough to do it. So it was fascinating to watch. And then she starts going into, which is so fascinating. And you start thinking about it, like, how many characters are on screen, a female characters who don't talk about men who don't talk about sex, who don't show themselves as sexual objects, like and you start dwindling down those things to the point where like, it's a it's like, 3% of females talking to other females about things that are other than men and sex.

Lisa Cron 56:57
The big tell rule? I think it's called. Yeah, I

Alex Ferrari 57:00
think she mentioned that. Yeah.

Lisa Cron 57:02
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I'll be honest with you, I think nothing to say here, I suppose. I literally stopped watching most movies, I won't watch a movie. If it's just about men, I just won't. It's like, I don't care that I don't want to see things from the male gaze, I don't want to see I just, I've got I've spent my entire life I'm filled to the brim with it. You know, it's just enough. So,

Alex Ferrari 57:26
you know, I I completely understand. I think that's why it's so important for writers and filmmakers, of different backgrounds of different ethnicities, of different sexes, to come out and tell their stories from their point of view. It's so so so important to have that, because it has been, you know, for lack of a better word has been white dominated white male dominated for the history of Hollywood. And it's not Hollywood that did that. That's just a reflection of society. Right?

Lisa Cron 57:56
Exactly. Yes, no, everything is just a reflection of what there is. That is the whole point, as we were saying before, to take it back to a granular level. Each of us reflects where we came from, and the culture from which we came in. That's our tribe. And we tend to think the problem is, we tend to think, well, that's the way the world is. And that's the way the world's always been without going, No, wait a minute, that's just the way my family is or my world is and then we reflect it back. So it makes total sense. Yeah, it's not Hollywood didn't get together and conspire on that level. That's the way the world was. And they were just presenting it as it was an acting as it was. And there's so many, let's see, one real interesting, just a quick little tidbit, that just goes back to just even technically how it is, wait, I'm gonna Mangle this because the one thing I sort of suck at is getting, like technical details exactly right. But I was listening to a podcast talking about the beginning of radio, like literally when they could first transmit anything in radio, and the pitch that they the bandwidth that they used, was what reflected the male voice. And the female voice, which had a different pitch came across very shrill, and that had a lot to it, it was purposeful, actually, and it had a lot to do with why the male voice once we could hear a male voice or any voice, you know, other than just somebody standing in front of you talking, you know, became the voice of reason and the voice that we that we pay attention to and listen to because we're wired, you know, we're wired to hear a voice and to feel like that voice is talking to us, even if it's talking to everybody. And you know, I mean, it's just it's just fascinating, so many different pieces that went into, you know, that that were put together to create this again, this reality that hopefully now, you know, we're breaking out of a little bit, you know, booked with me too and now with with with black lives matter.

Alex Ferrari 59:52
I mean, it's since you brought up Me too. I mean, I mean, I remember it's something that was a joke as far as like, oh, the casting couch. Right? Yeah, that was that was just a way it was in movies. Yeah, it was it was just a way of doing business that no one ever even thought twice about, like, you know, as I was coming up, you know, I'm a man, but I'm a Latino man. So I have a different perspective. But generally speaking, I heard those stories of the casting couch. I heard about those things. And it's just like, you know, every time I ever do a casting, I was always very, very careful. And always very courteous to everybody who walked in actors just get destroyed on these casting calls. Sometimes. It's horrible. The abuse that they take, not me to abuse, but just verbal abuse as well. But it was just part of the culture was ingrained systemic inside of Hollywood, until finally, the dam broke. Thank God.

Lisa Cron 1:00:53
Right. Well, that's exactly right. I mean, you need somebody as just blatantly awful as Harvey Weinstein to be the one that's gonna. I mean, I mean, there were so many others. I mean, Les Moonves, I mean, we could go, we I'm sure I'll delete this for now. But But it took the same way as a horrible way to put it, but the same way with George Floyd. You know, it just took this moment as Will Smith or who said, it's not like, it's only there's more, it's not like, there's more racism. It's at the more filming of it. You know, it hasn't got Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:24
it's not Yeah, it hasn't gotten worse. It's just this. There's more cameras, there's more eyeballs on it is.

Lisa Cron 1:01:28
I think that that's another words, when something breaks in a big way, that way, it's never that's the thing that that did it by itself. It's that that's the last straw. Right? There were 1000s and millions of other straws. That one's just the last one. Because in both cases, they're so incendiary that, you know, you can't you can't look away. And and I guess, you know, the George Floyd coming. In the midst of the pandemic,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:55
it was a perfect storm.

Lisa Cron 1:01:57
Right, right. I mean, it was a perfect storm. We're all enclosed. And I think also there's a there's a point as well, where we're all in quarantine, and and many, many of many Americans specifically have lost their jobs. And they, a lot of times, we think as a country that we're invincible. But the second that this happened, we realized that we weren't. And they're like, oh, wait a minute, and we're also a couple of paychecks away from being on the street. So that combination with those images of George Floyd, I think it was just this perfect storm of stuff going on in the world that just exploded. And I think you're right, because it put the pandemic, put everything on pause, all the like, we talk about all the different, all the different problems that come together to create something seamlessly like, you know, the way Hollywood was, okay, that's not didn't create it, it's a microcosm of it, and it was created, but all these other things with the radio and the way women, you know, just even their voices and the way women are dressed and the way, you know, politicians come in and away religions are all you know, definitely women are always second class citizens. And they were like, all of that came together. But before the pandemic, to deal with any one of them felt like, Yeah, but I got to do this. And there are so many bright you having things continually coming at us, but nobody could ever as a whole function on any of it. Now, everything's like on pause, and it's right there in front of us. And it's we're going Okay, wait a minute. We're seeing the effects of it, and what can we do about it? And I think if anything, possibly good comes out of this. It will come from that.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:39
Yeah, I agree. I mean, this conversation is definitely taking a turn. And I think it's actually this, this entire episode has been, I had a list of about 20 questions, I've asked two of them. And it's, it's, it's fine. Because I think, you know, we've kind of gone in sections of this interview, we've kind of gone inside the writers brain, and what and what makes characters and what motivates us. So it's a kind of like, it's almost a therapy session, I think. I think this episode is is semi therapy for everyone listening to it to kind of just kind of process their own their own world, but also maybe understand, and hopefully, I'll put a list of books in the show notes of neuro neuroscience books that I've read, that are amazing and really understand why we do what we do. But because writing and storytelling is just a reflection of life, and us trying to process what living is. If you understand more about who you are as a human being, you'll be able to write more engaging characters and be more emotional characters. Would you agree with that?

Lisa Cron 1:04:46
Yeah, I mean, I think that I think that the key thing when you're writing anything, you know, as you were saying before, we want to get a message out and the point of stories isn't just to feel emotion per se, but It's feeling emotion as you're making a particular point. And I think that's what makes storytellers so powerful, whether they're aware of it or not. Because, you know, we're affected by stories every minute of every day, whether we know it or not. And usually we don't stories change us, because stories when you're just talking about this movie, but when you're when you're watching the story, it's like a Vulcan mind meld between you and that protagonist. It's like they're your avatar within the story. And they go through this internal change that we're talking about, in other words, a change in in them seeing what makes people tick, you know, a point you're making about human nature, when they have that big aha moment toward the end, again, that your character characters are protagonists by all characters, but particularly the protagonists will have a small aha moment, every scene because in every scene, they're trying to move that agenda forward. And in every scene, they're going to learn something that's going to change it not just logistically what they have to do, but sort of internally as to why it matters, or why someone's doing what they're doing, perhaps forces them to reevaluate their plan or change it. So they have a small aha moment, a small change in everything. But when they get to that big one at the end, and now suddenly, they look back to the beginning. And they see things differently. Again, like we're saying before, story makes the unconscious conscious. And at the end, you're questioning a misbelief. And at the end, that misbelief comes up, and you realize it for what it is because misbeliefs, we don't think they're misbeliefs, we think they're true, and we were very happy to alert them at a very early age. But at the end of the story, you're realizing Wait a minute, you know, as the end of diehard he realizes how much he means to him, he realizes that you just have to be this macho guy, and you know, wherever you go, there you are, doesn't have to even necessarily stay in New York could have come out to LA with her. And when he realizes that that's what gives him the courage to then go. And, you know, because it's right before that scene where he's talking to Rachel Bill Johnson, I got a bad got a bad feeling, I don't think I'm going to make it you know, he goes, when all this is over, I want you to find my wife. Don't ask me how by then you'll know, tell her, you know, you heard me say I love you 1000 times, you never heard me say I'm sorry. And like, at that moment, we've watched him build to that. And that's what gives him again, the the courage to go forward. And to, you know, to kill all the bad guys, of course, because we're all so excited about that. But it's that change that we come for. And when you're writing, that's where your power is, how do you want to change how your viewer sees the world because you will, whether you want to or not, even if you're writing, you know, and even I don't mean to even bring an action movie, they're gonna come out change, they're gonna commit to seeing the world a little bit differently. And that's what gives you that's, that's why writers are the most powerful people on the planet.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:37
Do you agree with when with villains that have, like, I think all great villains have a particular perspective on on life in the sense that the mustache twisting villain is so one dimensional, and it doesn't, it doesn't work. But when you have a villain who has, he has a point of view, his point of view could be so off Park like, you know, perfect example. And I know you haven't seen the Avengers, but Thanos Thanos is, you know, this monstrous, you know, foe, but just so you know, his perspective is that he wants to when he was younger, there was a lot of famine. And, and he had a lot of issues on his planet, where he didn't have enough. So he came up with the idea of what Well, the only way we're going to survive, this plant is going to survive, is if half of us are killed off. And it's a very scientific way of looking at things just a very pragmatic, like, Look, if this planet can support all of us, so half of us have to go. And because he was ostracized for that, for obvious reasons, he went off, came back did it anyway. And his goal to get the gauntlet of power is to be able to snap his fingers and do it to the entire universe.

Lisa Cron 1:08:59
Yes. 100%.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:01
Yeah, that's his perspective. So it's a horrible perspective. Right. But he's actually trying to do

Lisa Cron 1:09:07
good in some way, even though it's horrible. Exactly, because everybody thinks they're doing something for the good. I mean, and also, also, if you just have a what, and you don't have a why, then the only way you can fight something is just like a zombie. Right? You can just kill it because there's nothing behind the zombie other than it's going to come at you. And either it's killer be killed. villains are not the least bit interesting if they're just snidely whiplash, you know, black and white at the end of the day, if you look even at Darth Vader, you know, I mean, his what he wanted at the end in the, you know, the second movie, I mean, he's standing up to the actual whoever can remember the main bad guy who

Alex Ferrari 1:09:50
rarely saw that would be the Emperor.

Lisa Cron 1:09:53
Right? The Emperor wants him to kill Luke Skywalker, and he's like, No, no, I can convince him not to and the reason he wants to convince him is because he's his son. Sure he can kind of bring him over to the dark side. That's why we care, you know, on that on that level. And also if there isn't some reason why, because we come for what I mean, again, biggest point is, we don't come for what someone does we come for why they do. It doesn't mean what they're doing, like you said is right. But we go, Oh, it's not just that they're an evil person who wants to kill people for the pleasure of killing people. There's, there's a reason behind it. That's really and also, if there's a reason behind it with some villains, it means they're capable of change. They might not be capable of it, but but you could see how you could change them. You could see maybe there is some hope. Because again, with a snidely whiplash, you know, just completely black, you know, I think he's like, completely bad guy. Who's got no, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:10:48
if you just think about the mustache, yeah,

Lisa Cron 1:10:49
yeah, exactly. There's, there's no way that you can, there's nothing there's, you've got no hope. It's just it just killed him. Or, you know, or that's the end of it. Way more interesting. If there's some more if there's some the other good part about that, is that if you give them some humanity, like what you were saying about Santos, you know, if for instance, we'd seen a moment where he, you know, then maybe we did I don't know you can do? You did, but you know when he's a kid, yep. And he and he wants to and he wholeheartedly believes it's good, and he gets slammed, you can have empathy for him. I mean, you're gonna go oh, my God, that poor kid he didn't mean to. He didn't know it was that and look, now he's being treated so horribly. I feel bad too. And well,

Alex Ferrari 1:11:31
yeah, so it's the whole Loki Thor scenario where Loki was the main villain of the first Avengers. And it's he's he just wants his father's love, because Thor took all that love and he was his favorite. So that's why he wants to bring pain to Thor. But yet he still loves Thor because he's his brother in some weird way. But he's always trying to, to kill him or screw him over. But yet, when when the fit hits the Shan he's there for him like, oh, wait a minute, I'm the only one that is allowed to kill my brother, no one else is allowed to kill me.

Lisa Cron 1:12:02
And here's one other thing that writers really think about, which is things only have meaning in life. And life isn't literature. If they cost something? Yes. And what you just outlined was the cost. I want to kill this guy, but he's my brother. I love him. What am I going to do? You know, I mean, when you think about the Godfather, it's exactly that coming in. You're the original. The first Godfather, there's Michael who's like, I want to leave the family business, you know, and meaning he wants to do something good. He's idealistic. It's not like he wants to, you know, leave the Corleone to start the sopranos. He wants to do something like that. But his loyalty to the family, but what's gone on with the family? What's he going to do? And that's the cost you're looking for, as I call it, I don't like using this word cuz it sounds the word being moral. Like the moral Crux, here's what I want. Here's what it's going to cost me. And that's with every character, this is what I want. This is what it's going to cost me. Can I get it? Can I give this thing up in order to get this other thing that I want and want to watch that struggle all the way through? Otherwise, it's flattened cardboard, they're just going to do what they're gonna do. And you don't need to watch anymore, because there's nothing that can surprise you. snidely whiplash is always going to do what he's going to do. So, you know, what difference does it make? You got nothing to learn there?

Alex Ferrari 1:13:13
And yeah, if he's a bad guy who's just doing bad things, for the sake of being the bad guy, then who cares?

Lisa Cron 1:13:20
Anyway, there is no such thing as that. There's always a reason

Alex Ferrari 1:13:24
that you're absolutely right there. If you're a human being and you're doing bad, it's because something happened to you in, in your past that yeah, that is spawned this in one way, shape or form. You know,

Lisa Cron 1:13:37
even psychopaths, in the sense that they say there are a lot of people who are, I guess, you know, if you did a brain scan or whatever, have whatever have it makes you a psychopath, but not all of them turn into, you know, killers, something needs to happen that triggers that part of it.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:53
Right? They're not born, they're not born. You know, you're not there. psychopaths aren't born. They're made.

Lisa Cron 1:13:59
Right. Well, but but there is, yes. psychopathic behavior. I think on that level, yes. Right. But take a psychopath he is a is a you know, is a brain anomaly.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:09
Correct. But there's something that triggers that could I guess you could kind of it's, it's it's the degree of psychopath. So you could I love this conversation. This is fantastic. So if you only kill one person, or you can kill a million people, that's a different level of psychopath.

Lisa Cron 1:14:27
Very true, very true.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:30
This is horrible. Please forgive me everyone listening, but it was just an example. But this at least we can keep talking for at least another two hours, I'm sure. But I'm gonna I'm now going to ask you questions that I asked all my guests. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read? Oh,

Lisa Cron 1:14:49
tough one. No. I don't know that I could. I'm really bad at answering stuff off the top of my head. I don't think I can could answer because I would have to go back and think, what movies do I love? And then why? And then

Alex Ferrari 1:15:07
three films that just popped into your head.

Lisa Cron 1:15:09
Well, the movies that I love I mean in most of the movies that I love, I think are current off the top of my head. Okay, I love I love the apartment, the, you know, Jackson MacLaine movie, I think that is absolutely positively one of my favorite movies of all time. God and other movies, I'm trying to get movies, I love that I wouldn't really recommend writing the screenplays because they're just weird. movies on one level, um, a screenplay? I can't shoot. It's fine. It's fine. I'll be able to be a part of

Alex Ferrari 1:15:46
the apartment it is. Um, now what advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Lisa Cron 1:15:55
That's a really hard one. Cuz it's hard. I mean, those sugar coated Lisa? Yeah, it's so hard. I think just just read a lot, write a lot. You know, watch the movies that you like, really dive into I would say do not use the story structure books, like really do not, I think really dive into story. I think any kind of any kind of job you could get. If there's anything you can, at any to know people, because I think that it that, you know, this is a business where to, you know, in a big way, if you can get a job as a reader anywhere, if you can read for anybody, if you can offer to read for someone, I think that really, really helps, because then you'll be able to see what's out there. Um, yeah, I mean, I would think it was that and just, you know, just just just keep writing.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:48
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the in the industry or in life?

Lisa Cron 1:16:59
Lesson? I don't? I don't know, longest to learn? Hmm. I don't know. I mean, I don't know. Because it sounds like I mean, there are two different ways to answer that question. One would be, like some some personal thing that you've gone through so much experience, and you try and get it. And that might be for me, for me, it might be setting up boundaries. I'm really bad at that. It's not like I'm learning to actual set up time boundaries, and value, what I do. And that's a strange thing, when you do something like what I do, because what I do is I work with writers I spend, it's part of the reason why the you know, being locked down is my normal life, because I literally probably spend somewhere between four and seven hours a day, on the phone with writers. That's what I do, and I love it. But, but it could be it could be hard to go, Okay, you've sent me too much. You've sent me too much for what we've contracted for. So So putting up boundaries like that, or keeping the phone calls to an normal speed, which is my fault, not anybody else's. Because right, love to talk. So it's that both setting up boundaries with other people and, and setting them up for myself, which is way harder.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:16
Fair enough. Fair enough. And you also wrote a couple of great books story genius and wired for story, which I highly recommend for people to to pick up, I'll have those links in the show notes. Where else can people find you and if they want to get in contact with you and and work with you?

Lisa Cron 1:18:35
Yeah, you can find you want to work with me personally, my website which is wired for story.com. I also have several classes on Creative live, which is a an education platform. And I actually also have a class on lynda.com, which I think is now LinkedIn learning. But anyway, I'm all over the place.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:55
Lisa, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. I really it took the conversation has gone into directions I did not anticipate, which is always a great, great interview when I am able to not see what's coming. I actually like the unknown when I do interviews

Lisa Cron 1:19:12
Corners and no lions ate us

Alex Ferrari 1:19:14
No lions ate us we are all still here. Thank God. So Lisa, thank you so much for being on the show and dropping those knowledge bombs on the tribe. So thank you.

Lisa Cron 1:19:22
My pleasure, take care.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:24
I want to thank Lisa for coming on the show and dropping those knowledge bombs on the tribe. Thank you so much Lisa, for your insight into the ever complicated and deep subject of story. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, including links to her courses, and her books, head over to the show notes at bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/077. And guys, if you haven't already and you are capable of doing so, I have set up a link to help people struggling with food insecurity due to the Coronavirus at indie film hustle.com forward slash help, and whatever you can give, can help a lot of people out there struggling right now because of this COVID-19 pandemic. And the link goes to feed America. So again once more time that link is indie film, hustle comm forward slash help. Thank you guys for listening. I hope you guys are doing very well hanging in there in this crazy upside down world that we're living in right now. And I hope you're writing a lot. So as always, keep on writing, no matter what, be safe, and I'll talk to you soon.


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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.

X-Men Movies Scripts Collection: Screenplays Download

X-men is the film that launched the superhero centric Holywood we all know today. With X-men, there would be no Marvel Cinematic Universe (read those scripts here). The screenplays below are the only ones that are available online. If you find any of his missing screenplays please leave the link int he comment section.

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.


Click below to download (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only).

Wolverine and the X-Men

by Gary Goldman

X-Men

by Andrew Kevin Walker

X-Men

By Ed Solomon & Christopher McQuarrie

X-Men

by Ed Solomon, Christopher McQuarrie, Tom DeSanto, Bryan Singer

X-Men 2

by David Hayter (story by Bryan Singer and David Hayter) Current revisions by Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

by David Benioff & Skip Woods

X-Men Origins: Magneto

by UNPRODUCED

X-Men: Fear the Beast

Written by Byron Burton (UNPRODUCED)

The Wolverine

by Christopher McQuarrie

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Written by Simon Kinberg

Logan

Written by James Mangold

Deadpool

BPS 070: The Secrets of Story with Matt Bird

You’ve just boarded a plane. You’ve loaded your phone with your favorite podcasts, but before you can pop in your earbuds, disaster strikes: The guy in the next seat starts telling you all about something crazy that happened to him–in great detail. This is the unwelcome storyteller, trying to convince a reluctant audience to care about his story.

We all hate that guy, right? But when you tell a story (any kind of story: a novel, a memoir, a screenplay, a stage play, a comic, or even a cover letter), you become the unwelcome storyteller.

So how can you write a story that audiences will embrace? The answer is simple: Remember what it feels like to be that jaded audience. Tell the story that would win you over, even if you didn’t want to hear it.

Today’s guest Matt Bird can help you. He is a screenwriter and the author of the best-selling book The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers

The Secrets of Story provides comprehensive, audience-focused strategies for becoming a master storyteller. Armed with the Ultimate Story Checklist, you can improve every aspect of your fiction writing with incisive questions like these:

• Concept: Is the one-sentence description of your story uniquely appealing?
• Character: Can your audience identify with your hero?
• Structure and Plot: Is your story ruled by human nature?
• Scene Work: Does each scene advance the plot and reveal character through emotional reactions?
• Dialogue: Is your characters’ dialogue infused with distinct personality traits and speech patterns based on their lives and backgrounds?
• Tone: Are you subtly setting, resetting, and upsetting expectations?
• Theme: Are you using multiple ironies throughout the story to create meaning?

To succeed in the world of fiction and film, you have to work on every aspect of your craft and satisfy your audience. Do both–and so much more–with The Secrets of Story.

I dig into Matt’s story system and breakdown the secrets of story. Enjoy my conversation with Matt Bird.

Right-click here to download the MP3

SPONSORS

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

Alex Ferrari 0:09
I'd like to welcome to the show Matthew bird Matt. How you doing my friend?

Matt Bird 3:33
I'm fine. How are you?

Alex Ferrari 3:34
I'm good man. Just live in the quarantine life, sir. Live in the quarantine life.

Matt Bird 3:39
It is crazy. This is absolutely insane. It's it's hard to read. You have to remind you every will every morning. I've always had sort of apocalyptic dreams. And then I wake up in the morning and I'm like, oh, it's apocalypse. The apocalypse. I'm like, Oh no, it was a dream. I was just dreaming. It's my normal life. And now I've been waking up every morning going like, oh, it's the apocalypse apocalypse. Like no, that's just a dream. I'm like, no, no, it's not. It's not a dream. This is the apocalypse is happening. I can't shake this one off.

Alex Ferrari 4:05
No, I heard the other days like can we put 2020 in a bowl of rice to see if it could fix it or something? Because it's I mean, this is an insane insane year and we're not even halfway through yet. So as of this recording, so buckle in, see what happens but but we're here today to talk about story and I wanted to first before we get into your book and and your concepts and what you teach. How did you get started in the film industry? Because I think you had your origins in the film industry.

Matt Bird 4:41
Yeah, sure. I was always making films and I was I considered myself sort of like a punk DIY filmmaker back in the day like and I was always like working with the stuff that had just come out so I worked with a little bit with to braid and then when DV when mini DV came out, I was like this is great. I can make my own movie I made a feature film. What at first That's not that's not even true for me to feature film. That was the thing. I was always I love features I never, I was like I forget shorts, I'm gonna put in the work, I made a feature on sbhs when I was in high school, or when I was in college, and then when I was out of college, I made a feature on mini DV. And I shot it having no idea how I was going to edit it, because there was no editing software at the time, right. And then right as I finished production that came up with Final Cut Pro 1.0. And I was like, I'm gonna buy it, the first day it hits the store, and I was first community who had figured out this program, which was insane program. And then I've made a feature there. And I was just doing, I was doing whatever I could and then eventually I was like, Okay, it's time to get serious. I went to film school, I went to Columbia University, film school, and I spent a fortune that I did not have a fortune that I may never have, I'm still paying off my loans. But I went ahead and I mean, sometimes there, I shifted my focus there to screenwriting, which I think was wise, I won some awards, I was, you know, they, they basically announced at the end of every year at Columbia, we are going to pick 10 students who we are going to push as you know, people who we're gonna try to help get representation and sales and everything and the other 70 Kids are cut loose. We're not gonna help you guys, but we're gonna help you send kids. So thankfully, I was one of the 10 they, you know, I took a bunch of meetings, New York, and La got a very big deal manager was, you know, got just a few gigs. I was hired to do an adaptation of novel and that went, Okay, I was I set up, you know, I, in screenwriting, it's all about setting up, like, Oh, my God, I've had such a test. As a screenwriter, I've set up this project here, and I've set up this project here. And I've set up this project here. And I'm working with this person, and this person and this person, give her like, oh, how much did you make? Oh, nothing. Like, oh, no, no, the money, the money. That's all that's a bank account, that money is being always money is being held back by a dam, right in front of me. And but it set up. So that means that there's cracks in the dam, and the whole thing is about to flood. And don't you worry. And then eventually, I decided, you know, it wasn't the unsuccessful projects that killed me it was the successful projects, it was the ones where I got paid. And I was like, I can't stand being treated the way I'm being treated. And I can't stand, you know, just, I've just wasn't built for it. I just wasn't built for it. And then I started and then I got really sick. So that didn't help. And by the time I was better than all my heat was off me I was no longer getting meetings, and I started a blog. And at first it was just a rewatching movies blog, or an underrated movies blog. And then I couldn't, I eventually got to a point where it's like I was, you know, this isn't the heyday of blogging in 2010. So it's like, I have to watch a movie and blog about it every day. And I'm like, this is gonna kill me. And so I should start just giving writing advice as an excuse to give myself a day off. Like, instead of doing something hard today, I'll just write some writing advice. And soon that just that just built up and built up and built up. And people were like, Matt, all the stuff you've done your life. This is, this is your passion. This is what you're really good at, you're really good at giving writing advice, and you're into a book and you should do this and that. So soon I turned into a book, it was the secret, some story published by Writer's Digest. I started doing manuscript consultation, I started doing all that. And it became very big, you know, the book became an Amazon bestseller. It was, you know, I've now got the secret straight podcast of the Secret Story YouTube channel. And it's been wonderful. It's, you know, you never end up where you think you're going to end up. But this is turned out to be my passion. It's turned out to be what I'm good at. And it's been great.

Alex Ferrari 8:48
It's been your your own hero's journey, if you will, sir.

Matt Bird 8:52
It's been pretty much my hero's journey. I mean, if you in my book I talk about, you know, the great talking about stories about when I got sick, and when, you know, it was I found myself ironically living out these heroic narratives that I was learning about and trying to write about, and it'll end up being deeply ironic, but I wound up coming out on top. So maybe not on top. I can't, you know, somewhere

Alex Ferrari 9:17
above water, above a water above the water, the water. Now in your book, you talk about the 13 laws of writing for strangers, which is a just a great writing for strangers is a great idea because that's what we do. Basically screenwriters you write for strangers, generally speaking a lesser, Chris Nolan. And even then you're still writing for strangers because someone else is financing it. So you have 13 laws. Can you talk a little bit about a few of them?

Matt Bird 9:43
Yeah. Let me see. How I go. You know, I wrote this book five years ago, who knows what the rules were. Okay. So the number one was screenwriting. Well, I should say no, the number one wants story. This is for all kinds of story writers. You must write for an audience, not just yourself. Because I think a lot of people, I think the worst piece of advice people get is like, oh, you know, tell a story that you love. And then it'll be a great story. It's like, I don't know about you. But when I was a screenwriter, I loved all my stories, like it was, that was a very low bar, trying to get a write a story that I love, I would write it, I would love it, I would send it out into the world. And a vision, everybody's like, Oh, right, I'm not just writing for myself. I'm writing for other people. I am writing for strangers. And I have to figure out what a stranger wants. And guess what strangers have a lot higher standards than you have for yourself. And some people are really, really hard on themselves. And they're like, you know, you know, like, Miles Davis had a quote something like, you know, like, I, I'm the toughest audience there could possibly be, so I can please myself, I know, it must be great. But I'm not Miles Davis. And I was that hard on myself. And it was only when I realized, okay, I'm writing for strangers. I'm writing an audience writing for an audience, not just for myself. Why? Number two is audiences purchase your work based on the concept, but they embrace it, because of your characters. I think this is, you know, we tend to overvalue a concept. Concept. We're like, Oh, my God concept, it's gonna sell itself, it's gonna write itself. Like, no, it never writes itself. And it's probably not going to sell itself either. Like, yes, people are gonna want to hear you have a haircut. So if they're like, they're like, that's great concept. Now, have you read it. And then as soon as they read it, they do not care about the high concept. They do not care about any of your big ideas about your big concept. All people care about, and they're going to give you five pages. And they're going to read five pages, which road and then like, do I fall in love with this character. And if you do follow the character, and then you never get around to delivering that high concept you promise, they won't even notice. They're like, Oh, I don't really have that concept anymore. Give me a character I love. I'll go anywhere with him. Give me a character I don't love. Forget it. Even if it's the best, hottest, most wonderful idea in the world. Forget it, I'm not going to read it. So that's one, number two. Number three, audiences will always choose one character to be their hero. I feel like this is people a lot of times are like, well, you know, do you think one person see her for the first 10 pages, and then I kill him off. And then you're gonna think that someone else is there for the next 30 pages. And then you realize, now now, it's really that person in the background. Now, of course, you can always think of exceptions. Alien is the ultimate exception. You have no idea who the hero of alien is, until you're about 40 minutes into that movie. And suddenly, you're like, wait a second, that woman in the background. She's the hero of the story. Like I thought the hero was Tom Skerritt who just got killed off. But that is a huge exception. And usually, you're gonna want to convince you know, your the hardest part of writing is getting people to go like, I am invested in this character. And I'm going to follow this character through the whole story. And if you want to write in, that's fine. If you want to convince people to invest in one character, and then kill like a drug, and then go like, no, no, no, I'm gonna convince you to care about a whole nother character. You can try it, but doesn't tend to work.

Alex Ferrari 12:55
It's funny. It's funny, when you were saying when you're talking about like going with a character on a ride, you read, you watch Raiders of the Lost Ark. And you're introduced to indie. And if I remember, there was no dialogue or like a minimal dialogue, all throughout that first part up all up until almost none, I think he had maybe one or two lines. And that was it. Until the until the boulder came down. And after that sequence, you you were in like, you have no idea his backstory, you have no idea what he like, all you know is like, I wherever he goes, I want to follow him. Because this is awesome.

Matt Bird 13:37
Because he's doing awesome stuff. He's got a whip. I mean, he has a whip, the whip for all kinds of stuff. And then he gets, he does awesome stuff. But he fails and he gets humiliated. It's not about him being an awesome badass, you know, it's not like, hey, you know, here I am with the idol. And that proves how awesome I am. I just recovered this idol. Now we love Him because He does all this awesome stuff, get the idol and then fails to get the idol. And he fails in a way that prefigures the whole movie. What I mean? First one was how does he really fail? He fails because he's like, Well, I've got an idol. And I've got a bag of sand and a bag of sand in the idle way, the exact same amount. So if I switch out the handle for the bag of sand, they're the same thing. And of course, what's he doing is he does not realize the power of faith. He does not realize that, you know, there is a religious value to this idol that the bag of sand does not have. And because he is blind to the religious value, he almost gets killed. He almost gets run over by a boulder because he cannot tell the difference between a religious I don't want a bag of sand and then that takes you right through the end of the movie where it's like he finally at the end of the movie. He says close your eyes Marian because he realizes that you know Oh, this isn't just the ark. It's not just a bag of sand. The Ark is a religious thing and now God is going to rain vengeance down and melt that guy's skin and turned into milk. And that is that is it's one of the most brilliant openings movie ever. Yes, without question, but see. So it seems small. Number four, audiences don't care about stories, they only hear about characters. What number five, the best way to introduce every element of your story is from your heroes point of view. Again, lots of exceptions. I love the exceptions, some of my favorite movies or exceptions. But man, if you can just get people to care about your hero, then we'll care about what your hero cares about. And if we don't care about your hero, or if your hero doesn't care about the story, that's one of the worst mistakes you can make is like, oh, you know, my hero has a lot of onwy. And he is not invested in the story. The story is sort of going on over his shoulder, we're sort of peeking around his head going like, hey, heroes, there's a whole story going on back there, pay attention to it, and the hero doesn't care. It's the worst one. And it's very hard to get audiences to care about any hero because they're afraid of getting hurt. I think this is this was one of the big ones for me, when I realized this, it's that audiences, if you were writing the very first story anyone had ever written if you're a caveman, and you're like, I've just invented this concept of storytelling. People are like, Oh, well, that's fascinating. Tell me more. But as it is, people have spent their whole lives reading books, watching movies, and most of them have been bad. And every time people read a bad book, or watch a bad movie, then it hurts, it's painful to read a bad book, it's painful to watch a bad movie. Because though a story asks you to care, a three asks you to invest your emotion, Noah's story is not just something that you passively stare at, you're not just sitting in the theater going like, well, I could look at any one of these four walls, but I'm gonna have a look at the wall that has the pictures moving on it, you are getting sucked in, you are being asked to care. And usually you're being asked to care about a useless hero going on an uninteresting story. And you know, I wouldn't say most of the time, but a tremendous amount. A tremendous amount of stories are bad. And what do you say, when you see a bad movie or read a bad book, you say, Well, I'm never doing that, again, you say I was tricked into caring about this hero, and then he turned out not to be worth caring about. So I'm not going to care again. So every time you write a book, or you write a screenplay, or you make a movie, then your audience is people going to be like, first of all, I know, this is all wise, you're not going to trick me into thinking this is a real person, right? And then you're not going to get me to care. There's no way I'm gonna care about this person, because you're just going to hurt me, I don't wanna be hurt again. And so that is a huge hurdle you have to overcome is realizing that getting the audience to care is going to be the hardest thing in the world. Or number seven is, your audience need not always sympathize with your hero, but they must always empathize with your hero. So I talked about how like, you know, we, when we were in film school, it was like the heyday of Mad Men and The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. And they were like, Oh, these heroes aren't sympathetic. So that means these are successful here with neon sympathetic semi Do you no longer have to write sympathetic heroes anymore. So that means you can just write about anybody, and you can write any story you want to do, and they can just be the most loathsome hero in the world. And people have no choice. Now they have to care about it, though the whole rules have been thrown out the window, we did not realize how hard these writers were working. First of all, we didn't realize that all of these writers had gotten their starts on shows where you cared very much where the hero was very sympathetic. So for instance, did you know

David Chase, who created the sopranos, he had gotten a start as a writer on The Rockford Files. There has never been a more lovable hero in the history of TV than Jim Rockford on The Rockford Files. And so he knew he was not somebody coming along going, like, Gee, I don't know how to create a synthetic hero. So I'd better create a yeah, I'd better create Tony Soprano instead and create an unsympathetic hero. And, you know, hopefully people will like him. No, he knew how to create sympathetic heroes, and he knew how to get us to love Tony Soprano, even though he was an awful guy. And he knew it was because we wouldn't sympathize with them, but we would empathize with him, we deeply empathize with him. And that's why your story about a sympathetic ear. That's why people are saying, Oh, I hate your story. Because it's an unsympathetic hero and you're like, but But what about all these unsympathetic heroes out there who are great heroes, when they're really mean to say is not that they can sympathize with the hero, they're saying, I can't empathize with your hero. And that is death. That is you can have the least sympathetic ear on the world, but if we can't empathize with him or her, forget it.

Alex Ferrari 19:21
So then you look at a character, which arguably, I think is arguably one of the best television shows of all time is Breaking Bad with Walter White. I mean, his transformation from like, like, I'm gonna Gillean Vince Gilligan said he's like, Mr. Chips turns into Scarface, and, and you know, when I started watching that show, it's it just, you see him slowly turn into a monster, but yet he turned into a monster for the like when he started the journey. It was for kind of the right reasons. Kind of it's a gray area. Have you want to say the cell math, but I get it, I get it. But then afterwards, it stopped being about that. And it was all about his own ego and he literally turned into a monster. But yet you still were empathetic with him. Like it was so brilliantly written and performed as well.

Matt Bird 20:17
Yeah, if they had, I don't I don't know if they had gotten they originally offered the show to both Matthew Broderick and John CUSEC. And I don't know if Broderick in case I could have pulled it off. I don't know if we would have you know, we would have cared as much about Matthew Broderick or junkies, I could say had gone on that journey. It was really it was all about, you know, don't get me wrong. Vince Gilligan scripts were amazing. They were insane. They were brilliant. And Better Call Saul is still brilliant. I'm I'm watching the most recent season that right now. But, you know, Bryan Cranston, come on? I mean, so good on that show, he made that show. He was amazing on that show. And it was so good. But no, I mean, you know, I mean, if what might have happened sick, you know, if he had not been, you know, it was so important that he had been sick, it was so important that he had been screwed out of his previous job. I think that, you know, the best motivation. It's like, how, first of all, once you got to the point where Walter White had made an insane amount of money. And, you know, obviously, it got harder to empathize with him as the show went on. Because he had was, he was no longer sick. First of all, he had, he was no longer conceivably doing this for his family, because his family now was, you know, his wife had found out and hated him for doing it. So, you know, in order to make his wife happy, that was it. But the real, I think the hidden motivation on that show that made it that didn't justify but strongly motivated all his actions, is that he felt he had been cheated out of a billion dollars. He felt that when he had been forced out of this company, right, that he had, I think greymatter was the name of the company. And he, he felt like he had this burning resentment inside him from feeling like I was part of a billion dollar startup. And then I was forced out. And I was cheated out of this money. And so that gave him the bottomless pit. Because, you know, in the end, the illness wasn't abundant was paid for, you know, trying to trying to satisfy his family wasn't one was bad. It was that resentment of feeling like I and I think so many of us feel that way. So many of us have, like, you know, like, that was my fortune, you've got my fortune. We all have that person. We know, who made it when we didn't make it, and who she was out of the thing. And it was, I think that is one of the most underrated or underrecognized elements of that show of why people love that show so much.

Alex Ferrari 22:37
Yeah, and it's still it's still going. It's still going and it'll go on and it ended. It had a beautiful one of the most beautiful endings to a show ever. So brilliantly, brilliantly done. Did you happen to see the Colombian version of Breaking Bad?

Matt Bird 22:54
No, there's the Colombian version there is that they literally took

Alex Ferrari 22:57
the scripts and test translated them into Spanish. And then they licensed it. And they licensed it to a Colombian set of actors, and they did everything down there in Colombia, and it's a telenovela. Basically, they made it into a telenovela. If you want, if you can get just a few if anyone out there, if you can send it to us somewhere online. Right, Bradbury. He saw one of

Matt Bird 23:22
my favorite TV shows, one of my favorite TV shows of all time is slings and arrows about life in a Canadian Shakespeare Festival, which doesn't sound like it would be a great show. But and then I found out that the director of City of God, yeah, made and, and oh, and he just made another film that was really great. But the director of city Oh, God made a Brazilian version of slings and arrows. So in this case, it was my life in a Brazilian Shakespeare Festival. And that's like my holy grail of stuff I want to find. I want to find the Brazilian version of Oh, and he just made the two pups. Oh, I was watching the two pups and two pups was brilliant. I loved that movie. And I was like, Man, this guy made its own version of slings and arrows. That's what I really want to. I don't know if anybody has even dubbed it and I do not speak Portuguese.

Alex Ferrari 24:10
Right. So how committed are you sir? Will you learn Portuguese just to watch?

Matt Bird 24:17
Well, that's what Pete Buddha judge did. Right? Pete Buddha judge taught himself Norwegian because the he was reading a book series that was translated from Norwegian. And then the final books were not translated from Norwegian. So he taught himself Norwegian just to read the book series.

Alex Ferrari 24:29
God bless him. God bless.

Matt Bird 24:34
See where he ends up?

Alex Ferrari 24:35
Yeah, exactly. So let me ask you a question. So yeah, I don't want you to give all your 13 laws away. I want to be somebody who can actually buy the book. But yes, what is your process for coming up for an intriguing concept for our story?

Matt Bird 24:52
Well, I think that, you know, I don't always agree with like, Senator, but I think Blake Snyder, you know, was right on the money when he talked about the importance of irony that You know, it's gonna be, you know, a schoolteacher cooks math, you know, not a drug lord cooks math, you know, not the son of a drug lord cooks math solver, Adobo cooks met Montessori, school teacher cooks MEB. That's the story. There's got to be an ironic element to it. I talked about on my blog, I've got a whole series of how to generate a story idea. And, you know, I talk about, for instance, there's all sorts of ways into it. Like one way, you know, one of the ways to generate your idea is, you've always thought she, the thing you've always wanted to do, but you know, you would never do so it can be the the science fiction version of that is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Like, gee, I wouldn't you know, I've gone through a bad breakup, I would really love to, if I could just have a machine that would wipe out all memories of this relationship from my head, then that would make me happy. And anyway, would that make me happy, and then boom, that's the story. You're off to the races. That's a great story. But it can also be a way to get a non science fiction story. Like, you know, I've just gone through another bad breakup. Some stories begin with bad breakups. I've just been through a bad breakup. And what if I tracked down every girl who's ever come to me, since elementary school, and tracked debt and made a list of the top five girls who've ever done and track them down one by one and interview them about why they dominate? Well, again, that's something that Nick Hornby did not do. I promise you he did not do that. I promise you that no one has ever actually done that. But it's something we've all thought about doing. Like oh, wouldn't that be, and boom, that's a story that got turned into the novel, high fidelity, and then the movie high fidelity, and then the TV series, high fidelity. And that's, you know, that's essentially he's doing the same thing, that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had going, like, you know, what's, what's an idea I had, of course, I feel like, the best way to probably create a story these days, if you want to create something big, if you want to create a big sale, I talked about the Hunger Games, how she was reading about the legend of PCs, and all of it, all of the Hunger Games in the legend, PCs, so that they were like, you know, oh, we've got an empire, we're rolling over all these kingdoms. Once a year, we're going to have all the kingdoms and, you know, they're beautiful young people too. And then we're going to put them in this labyrinth, and we're going to force them to compete. And this will be a way to, you know, to show them that we have conquered them. And that, you know, we could kill them on a times, but instead, we'll just kill their two most beautiful kids, and force them to fight to the death just to show our power. And she was like, well, she could have done three things. She could have said, Okay, well, let me just, you know, this is IP, a PCS is IP, why don't I just go back? And it's, it's the best kind of IP, it's IP that's in the public domain. I just read a book about Theseus, but then she was like, but you know, then first of all, you shouldn't really own it, because anyone can write a book about PCs. So she's like, well, what's a version of PCs I can own? And I could sell it in modern day, but that would be kind of a stretch. She's like,

Alex Ferrari 27:54
you know what, you know what? We're not too far away. I would have said that. Yes, you borrow it. I would have said I would have said that a few years ago. But now what what you thought was impossible is not possible, sir. So don't don't authority.

Matt Bird 28:06
But then she was like, why don't I make this the post apocalyptic version? And all she did was take an existing story. All she did was take existing IP. And she was able to make that into a billion dollar franchise herself. I don't know. Does Susan Collins have a billion dollars? She spent a billion dollars find out right?

Alex Ferrari 28:29
Between a couple of them shirts. I think she's she's done. Okay. So basically, she just took she just basically took Hamlet, let's say, and made it into a long sea or something that's completely in the public domain. And just made an entire IP out of it.

Matt Bird 28:42
Yeah, she she took she took free IP is what Disney spamming him with. That's my endgame. Yeah, with Disney has been doing for a long time is taking free IP and, and turning it into something they can been owned and try to, you know, force everybody else to, you know, try to, they like to pluck things out of the public domain and then suddenly claim to own them, which is a neat trick. But she that's what she did. She she took something in the public domain, plucked it out, made it hers and made a fortune. You know, I talked about but I talk about other things that aren't necessarily sci fi related. I talk about the importance of a unique relationship. I talked about how, you know, you kind of bully and a boy, a boy who's being bullied. Well, that is a story we've seen a million times, but then the bully hires, but then the boy hires the meanest body to protect him from the other bullies. Then that's the movie my bodyguard. That is a unique relationship. We've never thought

Alex Ferrari 29:38
I love that movie. I love that movie. So I can't believe you refer to that. That's it was released in 1980. I remember watching it as a kid, and I thought it was the most awesome frickin movie with Matt Dillon. Is it Matt Dillon? Adam Baldwin, yeah, Adam Baldwin and Matt Dillon with the two picks. They weren't big Stars then but those are the stars. Oh god, I can't believe you made a reference to that movie. It's like one of my favorite movies of all time. I love that movie.

Matt Bird 30:05
But that's, you know, we've seen both those characters many times. These aren't unique characters, but it's a unique relationship we've never seen you know, the week kid hired the bullied to be as bodyguard before, or you know, work at another high school movie like election, you know, about a war between a girl running for student body president and her civics teacher. And it's like, okay, we, you know, we've seen characters like this before, but man, that's a unique relationship. We have never seen that relationship before. Or, you know, I talked about paper, Moon, you know, a con man and his 11 year old accomplice who may or may not be his daughter. And it's like, okay, this is if you can, you know, you don't have to be science fiction, obviously, one of my ideas, you know, it's like, okay, I mean, these days, gentlemen, people talk about high concept. They talk about science fiction, they're talking about like, okay, you know, here's a high concept idea. It's, you know, we've got it's 1000 years into the future. And it's like, well, what's up there? You can, you know, the simplest high concept idea out there the simplest type concept. You know, the, if a pure high concept is something where you put together two words, and you sell it for a million dollars, and to me, the ultimate example of that is Wedding Crashers. Two words. Wedding Crashers, boom, done sale. Make a movie. It's a funny idea. It makes you laugh, like, oh, people are graduating and you're like, oh, you know, you just you're instantly like, I can't wait to meet these guys. I can't wait to meet these guys who crush other people's weddings. Or what if not big budget. Easy and easiest thing in the world to make?

Alex Ferrari 31:35
Yes. Like what if? What if dinosaurs came back? We can bring the answers back. That's done. Yeah. And we opened the park but

Matt Bird 31:44
it's so funny that they've never really there's never really been a dinosaurs rampaging through Manhattan movie. Isn't that strange?

Alex Ferrari 31:53
I mean, last world. They did do not in Manhattan, but they did he they did come towards

Matt Bird 31:57
Spielberg. Spielberg loves the suburbs. So you know, Spielberg is like if I'm gonna have a T Rex going through America, I'm gonna put them out in the suburbs, but it's really weird. I was working in idea for a while I never kind of done you know, obviously, that may be one reason why it's harder right than you think. But you know, it always struck me in the Thor movies. We've never really had a like frost giants attack downtown Manhattan moment.

Alex Ferrari 32:24
But you know, a lot of things if attacks Manhattan over the years, I mean, we were we're good if it's between a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man Godzilla. I mean, Manhattan's had its day don't get there's no lack of things attacking Manhattan over the course of movie history. I think we're okay. But yes, I've never personally seen a dinosaurs I think shark NATO I'd never seen any the movies. I'm assuming there must have been a shark NATO in Manhattan at one point or, like, that's a perfect thing. Shark NATO that sold. So, I love this. There's one little meme that's on around going on social media is like remember when you think you had a bad idea? Remember that one day once there was a guy in a room who said let's put sharks in tornadoes? You know, I mean,

Matt Bird 33:15
that's, that's and then and then seven movies later how many of those movies that they made my

Alex Ferrari 33:19
god so much money they've made? It's ridiculous. So then how do you so we would talk a little bit about characters with like Indiana Jones and, and Walter White, let's say how do you write that enduring character? That character that that just sticks with you like like an indie like, I mean, we can we can analyze indie we can and a lot analyze Han Solo if there's two to Harrison Ford characters

Matt Bird 33:46
to George Lucas, there's unfortunately no

Alex Ferrari 33:48
Yeah, or, or any of these characters that you just like, oh, like forever I will be with this character, James Bond is another one of those characters that endures, regardless of how he's transformed, transformed over the course of his journey in history of filmmaking. So what do you how do you do it? How do you write an enduring character?

Matt Bird 34:09
Well, when I talk about in the, I think the title of my next book, depending on how the publisher actually feels, but will be believed care, invest. And I talked about how like, you know, again, you've got they're going to give you five pages, maybe 10 pages when they read it, and what they're gonna want to do it and those five pages are going to want to believe, care and invest. And they're going to want to say, You know what, I was just talking on the next episode of my podcast about this. How, you know, Ray in Star Wars ray in The Force Awakens is a classic example of like, right away, we're seeing her and her wife is so strange. If it's so filled with like, she makes that bread, that spherical machine she's got wherever that was awesome. Yeah, that causes you to totally believe in this world because you're like, Okay, that's so weird. You couldn't make it up. You know, like, Okay, this must be real. This must be a real world like so any thought I had going on? have like, Okay, this is all going to be wise this is going to be fake button pushing manipulating character, like, okay, no, this, this feels real. And then they get you to care because the characters suffering the characters being embarrassed. You know, in this case, she's living hand to mouth, she's living this very hardscrabble life and then they get you to invest because she's taking care of herself and she is taking care of herself wonderfully. First they show you that she is doing all she can to make all this money, she's doing all she can, could work very hard. And you know, is like doing going to, you know, we see a rappelling down into a destroyed Star Destroyer, we see Oh, see, you're going to do current length, and then you get the point 10 minutes and where we've already seen her desperately trying to get money from the pawnbroker or from the scrap dealer, and she'll do anything to get this money. And then she gets destroyed. And the droid says, And finally, the scrap dealer who she's always been trying to make this money off of. So that'll pay a fortune for I'll pay a fortune for eBay. And she says, and then suddenly, she says, I'm not selling, I'm not gonna set one. And oh, my God, we love this character five now, because we've seen that she's, we believe in her, we care about her, we've invested in her, and we desperately want her to make that money. We at this point, we want her to make that money, we want her to be successful. And then she gets a higher calling. She says, No, this is about more than me, this is about bigger than me. This is about BPA, I am going to not sell him. And like what better example this could be where we talk about, you know, The Hunger Games, Why can the Hunger Games, you know, we talked about save the cat. And, oh, it's so important. It's so important. You kind of have your character save the cat right away. And it almost, it's almost always a mistake to have your character save a cat. Because we don't identify that we, I've never saved a cat, you have never saved a cat. It is a very rare thing to actually save a cat. That's not the sort of thing we see. And it's like, oh, that's just like me, I save cats all the time. What is what is the first page of The Hunger Games, I think the second paragraph of the Hunger Games, she wakes up in the morning, and she sees the family cat. And she thinks, you know, I really want to kill that cat. I almost killed that cat before I tried to kill that cat before I didn't succeed. I really want to kill the family cat today. And then she decides not to kill it. So she sort of saves the cat, right? Because she almost kills it and then decides not to kill it. So that's one version of saving a cat. But then she leaves the house and she kills a different cat. Within five pages later, she sees a noble mountain lion and she concerns landing. And it's like, no, I'm gonna kill it and cook it. And she does. So it's like, this is the ultimate opposite of Save the cat. This is like literally she almost kills the family cat and then does kill another cat. But we believe we care. We invest we believe in her life because it's filled with, you know, even just her story of almost going to family cat. It's like, oh, that doesn't sound fake. Because that sounds like because no one would make that up to manipulate me because that makes me not like her like, Okay, this must be real. And then we care so much because oh my god, she's poor enough where, you know, she would even consider that. And then we've asked because what's the next thing she does, she goes up, there's an electric fence, I'm gonna slip through the electric fence. I'm gonna take out my bow and arrow, and then I'm gonna go hunt. And oh my god, like we love her. But then so we believe in her. We cared about her, we invest in her. And then what happens on page 10, or page ad or no 25 or so is she is so good at looking out for number one and taking care of number one and making sure that she survives, she'll do anything to survive. And then she volunteers for The Hunger Games to save her sister. And she rises up above it. So we totally believe in her world. And then she rises up above it. And oh my god, we absolutely love her now. And now you're in. Now you're in

you know, it's James Bond is the perpetual exception. I just rewatched I was all prepared. The new James Bond movie was supposed to come out. And I watched all 25 James Bond movies. Wow. And then I was all set up. I was timing it exactly. To the moment the movie came out. And then the movie was cancelled. But James Bond is the perpetual exception. You know, certainly before Daniel credit comes in, he never changes. He never learns he never grows. He doesn't. He doesn't really get humiliated. He does though. Like that's such a key Amen is your hero getting humiliated? And there are key moments, you know, if you look at Gold finger, you know, he's, he's, you know, could not be more suave. And when he blows up the tanker, and then you know, takes off his wetsuit and he's got on a tux underneath and then But then he goes to the woman's house to have sex with her. And then it's it's the most ludicrous thing that he sees in reflected in the iris of her eyes. Someone coming up to kill him. And then that's a little bit of a moment of humiliation. You get just enough in the Bond movies. Okay, I I definitely you mentioned some he's getting a little bit of humiliation here. And then of course, he turns the girls so that she gets knocked on the head instead of himself, because he's despicable. Don't get me wrong. He has a despicable human being. And but he's the exception. You know, certainly you look at Indy, you look at Indiana Jones and, you know, instantly right away he misjudges the whole bag Same situation, he gets betrayed by his assistant, Alfred Molina, he then has to run through the forest. And then he gets forced on his knees to hand over the idol to duck and then add on of course, he's also he's free to snake. He hate snakes, and he gets away and there is a snake in there. So this guy who was seemingly not afraid of anything, is somebody terrified of snakes. And, you know, he can do it. He's got the skills, he does amazing work, and yet he horses and he gets humiliated. And yet he gets knocked down in a way that speaks not just to his interpersonal failings, but to his inner his intrapersonal failings into what is really wrong with his character. What is his deep personal flaw? It all speaks to it. We love him. We love him so much. That's what it's all about is you know, you you believe care, invest. And then, you know, and then suddenly, there's a moment where it kicks in. Suddenly, there's a moment where you're like, wow, okay, now I'm really on board with this person.

Alex Ferrari 41:00
Well, you look at you look to characters like the like bond pre Daniel Craig, because I think I think still Casino Royale is the best Bond movie ever. In my opinion. There's just it's, it's It's a masterpiece of the whole canon of James Bond. But you look at characters like bond or Sherlock Holmes. And they're both basically superheroes in many ways. They are godlike, and they generally didn't change. Like, you know, Sherlock generally never changed that people that change the people around him, like, Watson is kind of like the person who's learning the lessons along the way. And we kind of identify with Watson, in that sense, but Sherlock never sure looks the same violin playing dude, from the beginning to the end. And same thing with the older bonds. So there are those kind of and that's why I think it was so difficult to make a good Superman movie, other than the original Donner movies, because you can't write for a guide. It's hard. It's hard. That's why the mountain lip is all of them were human. Basically, all of them were even though there were gods, they all had the same failings of humanity. So

Matt Bird 42:11
what's interesting, both Sherlock Holmes and James Bond are addicts, you know, like James Bond, they talked about in the original movies, they talk about, you know, like, oh, you know, you've got liver problems, right, from right from the opening movies. And, you know, they talk about, you know, people always act like, oh, you know, the Bond movies were set back in a time when it was great to be, you know, this swaggering dude who had all these things. It's like, he gets criticized right away, you know, like, he was seen as sort of a monster like, Sean Connery was perceived by the people around him in those early movies, as being this sort of Monster is dude, and who had serious flaws who had serious problems. Yeah. And you know, we go today like, oh, he was a womanizer. And he was he drank too much and he smoked too much and Oh, of course back then when they made movies they didn't even realize that was problem like no they did they realize that was from and of course Sherlock Holmes was addicted to opium he would inject himself I mean, I opium he would cocaine, you wouldn't have to myself with liquid cocaine, and, you know, with a very troubled person, and in the in the stories, and I think that we tend to, we tend to women, we tend to think like, oh, they're the past, where heroes were allowed to be perfect. But as he said, even with the gods, the cons were, you know, in the Greek gods, the gods were very flawed. I mean, I think the oldest piece of literature that is still with us is Gilgamesh and Gilgamesh you know, could not you, you I dare you to find a screenwriting gurus book where anything in it does not apply to Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh could not be a more perfectly fine hero, his journey cannot fit modern story structures better. So you've read Gilgamesh, and you're like, wow, nothing has changed, like nothing has changed. And the reason why nothing has changed is because good storytelling it rise is based on human nature is based on what is the fundamental truth about what it's like to be a human because that's what stories are about stories are about what is the fundamental truth about what does it mean to be a human in this world? And even if you go back to ancient Mesopotamia, even if you go back to the, you know, 3500 years BCE, it's human nature was the same. And you read Gilgamesh, and you're like, Oh, my God, it's, it's, I it may be my favorite book. And it's the oldest book we've had.

Alex Ferrari 44:23
Yeah, and it's just you know, it's, it's, it's similar to what we're dealing with today is the human condition just with less iPhones. Essentially, exactly. Now, structure is something that is talked at nauseum about in storytelling, and specifically in screenwriting, is like you need to follow this formula, the hero's journey, the three act structure, at page this you have to have that happen a page that that happens. What is your take on story structure in general?

Matt Bird 44:56
Well, you know, at first I was like, oh, all this The writing gurus have taken that have covered that it's fine. Everybody has their structure, I don't need my own structure. And then of course, inevitably, you start giving writing advice. And everybody, you always end up with your own structure. And every, you know, I sort of ended up with sort of 14 points where I started out, what I realized about structure is that, you know, you have people you have people like Robert McKee, who are saying, well, you know, I, here's pharmakeia, you were on a cruise, you have paid for the Robert McKee cruise, and I'm going to tell you what all good stories are like, and then somebody stands up in the back and they go, my stories don't like that. And then Robert McKee can tell them, Okay, leave the boat swim home. My, my, my structure doesn't apply to you, he has to claim that all structures apply to him. So he talks about like the micro pod and the mini pot, and things like that. And that's what gurus tend to do is they drive themselves crazy trying to cover all the exceptions, I realized right away, I'm not going to try to cover all the exceptions, my structure only applies to stories about the solving of a large problem.

Alex Ferrari 46:08
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Matt Bird 46:18
So, I mean, the biggest problem you can have when you're trying to structure is like, okay, all good movies are like this. And then someone says, Pulp Fiction. And you're like, exactly, both fiction does not have a modern structure. And Polk fiction does not have a structure that matches the structure of any other movie. And because Pulp Fiction is not about the solving of a large problem, it is an ensemble film, it is about several different stories, it is they overlap, the time is crazy, but if you're going to write, but I'm like, Okay, you be you, you go off and be Pulp Fiction, you're brilliant, don't change, never change. But most stories are about an invoke an individual solving a large problem, my structure only applies to those stories, not gonna apply those others. And then I realized what story structure really is, is it is not a set of rules for that Aristotle, or Mickey, or that anybody else has said, I'm going to dictate to you what the rules of story should be. It is merely an attempt to list the steps and missteps that people go through when solving a large problem in real life. So in human nature, we tend to go through a series of steps and miss steps on the way to solving a large problem. And when you see a story, and when somebody says, Oh, the structure is not good on your story. They're not saying, oh, you know, you didn't read Blake Snyder and hit all his beats. What they're saying is that this story does not ring true to me, this story does not ring true to human nature. To me, this does not feel like an identify for believable journey from becoming aware of a problem to solving that problem. Or to succumbing to the problem if the movie ends tragically. And that's what they really mean. So you can't just go like, well, I don't believe in your stupid structures guy, I don't, you know, I'm

Alex Ferrari 48:10
an artist. I'm an artist,

Matt Bird 48:12
I'm an artist, I don't do paint by numbers, man, then you're like, Okay, that's fine. That's great. You're an artist. And that's wonderful. But your story is not ringing true. And if you want to say, okay, you know, if you're writing, there will be blood or something, if you're writing something where it's like, okay, this is about a strange person who is not interested in being your hero, who is not interested in doing that, that's fine. You know, if this is not something where it's like, I'm going to invest in this person, I hope this person solves all their problems, then that's fine. But if you are, and you probably are, then you will need to follow the steps and missteps that most people will tend to follow in real life when solving large problems. And that was how I generate my structure now. It's funny. So 13 of my 14 main steps in my structure, applied event, there's one that doesn't, and it's the one that was it's necessary to solve a paradox of storytelling. And that paradox is the break into act three, I don't refer to x one, two and three, I talk about the four corners of your story, but the move from the third quarter your story to the fourth quarter your story, or as it's usually referred to by screenwriters, the break from act two and act three, then we all know that the hero is supposed to be proactive at that point, right? supposed to have a proactive hero, the hero has realized what his problem is realized what the problem in his world is. He's confronted his flaw, and now he's ready to take on the world. He's ready to bring the fight to the bad guy. But do we actually want in the final quarter of the story? Do we actually want the hero to just show up to the bad guy's house and beat him up? No, we don't want that. So this is a paradox. Like if we want the hero to take the fight to the if we want the hero to have changed enough as a person and to have gone through the personal transformation necessary to now say I'm ready to show up at the heroes house and beat him up. But then we don't actually want to see that happen. So what happens? Why, why is the hero giving the writer conflict? Why is the audience giving the writer conflicting signals here. And of course, it all comes down to Star Wars, and even my mind in the original kind of Star Wars, that's exactly what happened at the end is they're like, we have the plants of the Death Star. And we're gonna just show up at the heroes front door and beat a pup, we're gonna find the Death Star, wherever it is, in the middle of the galaxy. We're gonna fly there, we're gonna shoot, we're gonna shoot it the fawn the Death Star, and we're gonna blow it up. And nobody likes the movie. George Lucas was showing this movie to people and they were ashamed. They were like, Oh, George, I'm so sorry. Well, you know, maybe the next one will work out for you. You know, this one's just, it's not working. And George did the number one thing that everybody should do, he went back to his wife. And he said, Honey, why isn't this working? And she said, Let me fix it for you. And she said, Well, duh, your problem is, it's good that your heroes now have the information they need. They've got what they need to defeat the bad guys. But then the bad guys show up on their doorstep. And she just we ended the movie and redubbed the movie, and shot new insert shots to create an entire storyline that was not there in the original film of, okay, yes, we know, have the plans with the desktop, but then the desktop shows up to blow us up before we can go there to blow them up. And they are about to blow us up. And, you know, you look at this in suddenly, once you see this, you see it everywhere. So that is you see it everywhere. That, oh, you know, I have personally transformed it become a productive person. But then the timeline gets unexpectedly moved up. And suddenly they're here. So it's the one step in my structure where it's like, Okay, that one is there to address the paradox that is, you know, because in, but it doesn't happen in real life anyway. Yeah.

Does, it doesn't happen that time, like, does tend to get moved up. But it doesn't. But that's not necessarily something that's based on real life, it's not that the timeline always gets moved and always gets moved up in real life, although that does tend to happen. You know, I talk about my structure, how, you know, I would, I would sit there and I'd be like, Okay, I need to master this structure. And I need to do this, you know, this writing job that I've just gotten. And I would go like, okay, so I think I've messaged the structure, I'm gonna do the writing job. Okay, first thing I'm gonna do, when I do the right job is I'm gonna, I'm gonna sell them a pitch, they're gonna like the pitch, you know, for how I'm gonna adapt their novel. And then I'm gonna come up with my beat sheet, I've got the beat sheet, and I'm going to pitch it to them. And they like the beat sheet, they go, that's good. Write it exactly the way it is on your beat sheet, and you'll make a million bucks, we'll make a million bucks, we're all gonna get rich. And then you sit down, and you're like, and they tell you, Okay, you have to determine the screenplay in six weeks. And you're like, This is fine. That means I just have to write like three pages a day, it's gonna be beautiful. And then you're writing your pages every day, you're writing your scenes. And then you get halfway through, and you realize this beat sheet that I sold them that they love, it sucks. Like it is, you know, I have my plans have unraveled. And I now realized that this beautiful plan I have, I have to throw out the window. And I have to start over even though I this is what they told me to do. Even though this is the approved plan, I have to repeat this thing. against the rules, an outward repeat that I have to do in order to actually write something that's going to be good. And then I'm gonna have to sell this to them that sell them the thing they don't want. And it's going to work and I realize like, Okay, this is what happens when I would get hired to write screenplays. And it's also what happens in screenplays because this is proof of what I was saying that the story structure is the structure of how you solve problems in real life. The when you're writing your story structure and you're creating a btw story structure, you will end up following the same storyline where you will end up having to in any good movie, they throw out the map halfway through, they get to the halfway point and they're like, Okay, crumple up these plans, throw them out. We're proactive now we're improving. We're having to solve this problem from scratch. And this exact same thing will happen to you Ironically, when you're trying to write it, you will get halfway through and you're crumple up your beachy, throw it out. You're like oh my God, I am winging it from now on. I'm running. Gotcha. And if you don't do that, it's gonna be terrible. If you just write the exact pitch that you sold them Yeah, it's gonna be terrible.

Alex Ferrari 54:41
Now one one thing I wanted to ask you is something that I guess does not get talked about very much in in screenwriting in general and I'd love to hear your take on it tone. Can you discuss tone because tone is so so important. You know if it It's just so important, especially to all the great movies have good tone, or have appropriate tone.

Matt Bird 55:07
And if and if you can master tone, then you're set. Because if you can, you know, tone is about setting expectation. And if you can set the audience's expectations, if you can tell them like, Okay, here's what to expect from me, here's what I think you should expect, here's what I think you should want, then, and then they want it and then you give it to them, then they will have no idea that you are a master manipulator, who has tricked them into liking this story that they would not actually have liked, that they would have had, you know, I always say the ultimate example of challenge is go back, I'm going to re edit Star Wars, and I'm just going to change one thing, I'm going to take off the opening frames of the movie. And so now instead of saying, Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, no, I'm sorry, what does it say

Alex Ferrari 55:54
a long time, a long time ago, in a galaxy far,

Matt Bird 55:56
far away, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. And I'm going to take that title card off the front of the movie, and instead, I'm going to put a title card that says it is the year 25,193. And then boom, and then you have the whole rest of the movie, the movie would suck. That would suck if Star Wars was not set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but it was set in the year 25,193, then we would go okay, so this is a science fiction movie. And this is going to follow the rules of a science fiction movie. So they are going to we're going to be dealing with explosive decompression every time that an airlock is opened, we're going to be dealing with supercomputers that have been programmed to take over the world.

Alex Ferrari 56:41
No sound, no sound, no sound in space. No sound

Matt Bird 56:44
in space, of course, no sound in space. Close. And then you're going to be watching this movie. And you're going like this is not the or 25,000. We've got wizards. We've got princesses. We've got you know, we've got storming the castle, we've got all these things. And this is a fairy tale. This is a story that should be said a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. And you you have not delivered the story that you promised to deliver. And that is tone. You know, I think that 90 If you're not a screenwriter and you're watching that movie, you're like, oh, that's sort of funny that it says it said a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. And you won't realize what that is doing for you that that is solving the movies problems by establishing that tone. That that is saying like, nope, not, it's not what you think it is. It's something else. It's my thing. Let me tell you what my thing is going to be. And I talked about, you know, I when I break up tone I talked about with tone, you know? So the first part tone is genre, establishing your genre establishing your sub genre, that was what that's title card was all about establishing like, no, no, no, no, no, this isn't what you're expecting sci fi. This is a sub genre. I talked about how satisfying genre expectations how you've got to satisfy some genre expectations, but not a lot of genre crustaceans. I talk a lot about on my blog about Game of Thrones, and about Game of Thrones, you know, they satisfy just enough genre expectations. And then they just didn't satisfy so many of them. First of all, they kept killing off the hero. They're like, Oh, by the way, Ned Stark's the hero. No, no, wait, he's dead. Okay, now Rob serves the hero. No, no, no way. He's dead. So that was all about upsetting expectations. But man, if you love fantasy, you still love that series. And it's, it's if you don't want to fail, I mean that that's the dream is Game of Thrones. Because if you love fantasy, you'll love that series. And if you don't want fantasy, you'll love that series. And that if you can satisfy the fans of the genre enough so that they're the ones who want that book for the first 10 years of Game of Thrones existing only Fantasy fans, only Fantasy fans barn and read it. And I don't know if you knew any of these people, but these people kept going to people who work fancy fans going like, Oh my God, you have to read these books. They're amazing. And the manager like Gone, forget it. I'm not gonna read these big, thick fantasy books. Like I am a serious human being I am an adult. I do not read big, thick fancy books, and all the fantasy fans that was driving them crazy, cuz they're like, No, you will love it. It is literature. It is great. It is entertainment and literature and everything. And so that is such a big part of it. I talked about framing I talked about obviously, the dramatic question is something that screenwriting people talk about a lot. How, you know, establishing what Frank question is establishing what the what, what you're going to address at the end and what you're not going to dress and when it's going to be over and when it's not going to be over. You know, Star Wars is not about toppling the Empire. And if you get to the end of Star Wars, and you're like, what the Empire still standing, you know, this movie sucked. That would be that would be bad. They have to you know, they establish the drain question right away and always go like We have to get we have to get these plans to the rebels in order to because we have a plan for how to blow up the destiny. We got to plan for birth or we have to get it to the rebels. And then we're going to bought the Deathstar. And that's what this movie is about. And yes, you know, they don't even kill off Darth Vader. They leave it on unclear about whether he's dead, but they don't even clear up Darth Vader, and they don't. They certainly don't, you know, conquer the galaxy. And they have to establish their dramatic question right away. I talked about framing sequences I talked about parallel characters are great if you every time your character meets. And you know, your character should be constantly meeting characters that are like, Oh, I could end up like that. I could. This is the extreme version of what I'm thinking about being like, Oh, my God, this this person I'm on the verge of becoming, do I really want to become like that, look, this other character? Or if I don't do it, look at this other character who ended up dead. And that is a great way of establishing expectations. If you establish like, Oh my God, look at all these people. I could be this person. I want to be this person. I don't want to be this person who, you know, who tragically ended up dead because they didn't do the right thing. Or because they didn't do the right thing. What am I going to be? What is that?

Alex Ferrari 1:01:12
So it's like, are you going to be Darth Vader? Are you going to be Obi Wan? If you're Luke? That's the That's the question. Because you can go either way

Matt Bird 1:01:19
towards you're gonna be hot. Are you gonna? Or you're gonna reject the force? Yeah, does

Alex Ferrari 1:01:24
exactly. So there's, there's that as opposed to the the prequels, you know, which have their place. But anagen had the choice of becoming Yoda. Or, or, or becoming who he or becoming the Emperor, essentially. And he chose poorly. If I may use Indiana Jones. He chose poorly.

Matt Bird 1:01:49
But we can see now

Alex Ferrari 1:01:51
there's a whole there's a whole episode that you and I could sit down and just deconstruct the the prequels

Matt Bird 1:01:59
for the rest of this because nobody's done that.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:04
I'm sure no one. No, no, Georgia. People, I think, I think genius character. What are you talking about? Oh, I'm sorry. But this was awkward. Like, you know what, but with all that said, when you saw the trailer for Phantom Menace, oh, my God. Don't tell me you didn't.

Matt Bird 1:02:23
I worked in a movie theater. I and we could watch it over and over. And we did it. Trust

Alex Ferrari 1:02:28
me. i We all drank that Kool Aid. And when we walked in, I promise you when you walked out a Phantom Menace? Because you're you're of the similar generation as I was. You're close to my vintage, sir. You walked out a fan of minutes and said, Oh my god. That was amazing. The pod right? I mean, I did. I did.

Unknown Speaker 1:02:50
And then I did not. You did not. You did not like it. You did like it like I did not like

Alex Ferrari 1:02:55
so you didn't talk. I drank full kool aid on that one. But then I watched it. I watched it with my daughter a year or two ago. Just to introduce her. She's like, well, let me see that. You know, Anna, and I'm like, All right. Well, Jana, so we watched Phantom Menace, and I could barely watch it. It was so bad. It was so so I mean, great action sequences, great lightsaber battle, great pod raise. That was fun. But it was mind numbing. He was he was really bad.

Matt Bird 1:03:31
But anyway, really bad.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:32
I like I said, Well, like you said earlier. It's like you said earlier, we're not the first to discuss the prequels on the internet. Now, before we go, I'm gonna ask you a few questions to ask all of my guests. What are three screenplays that every screenwriter should read?

Matt Bird 1:03:46
Oh, man, see, I listened to some of your old episodes. And I remember hearing us at and I thought, oh, okay, I shouldn't I shouldn't make sure that I that I answered it. And I don't, you know, a really underrated screenplay. When I was in film school. At one point they were throwing out a bunch of old issues of screenplay magazine. And that would always print for screenplays in the back. And I grabbed one I'm like, hey, that's good screenplay. I'll pick it up and read it. And I thought just on the page, one of my all time favorite screenplays is Donnie Brasco by Paul snazzy. Oh, no, it's great. It's great. Great movie and just brilliantly written on the page. And there's never been a better monologue in film history than the forget about it. monologue where they're talking about all the different all the different meanings of the phrase forget about it. I think that that is an absolutely brilliant screenplay. You know, if you're talking about my all time favorite movie, you know, that's Harold and Maude. And I feel like that is a perfect screenplay as well. And an absolutely absolutely brilliant absolutely heartbreaking. You know, there is no better ending, I think in film than the ending in that film. Um, let's see what I would say hard to choose. It's so hard to choose.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:01
I mean Spaceballs. Spaceballs obviously. Well,

Matt Bird 1:05:04
obviously, oh my god. On my own podcast, I just found out that my my, my co host has never seen Blazing Saddles. Oh, oh, it's just assumed it's bad and it's never seen it. So I'm gonna say so in honor of him. I'm gonna say Blazing Saddles for the third month, although, of course, let me tell you all right now, don't write Blazing Saddles. Today. You were never there amount of trouble or trying to do that.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:29
I when I saw I saw Blazing Saddles. When I was in the video working at the video store in high school, I saw Blazing Saddles. And at that point, I said, in the late 80s, early 90s, like, how did this movie get made? Like, even then, I was like, it was not nearly as taboo as it is today. And you watch it, and you just like, I can't believe you got away with it. And I'm like, they'll never be another movie to do something like this. And then bore out came out. I was like, okay. All right. That was and that was the last one and nothing like Bora has has has ever come back on screen since that. But those two specifically, they just pushed that envelope. So good, good. Good choices, good choices. Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Matt Bird 1:06:14
Well, hear is, you know, let me can I just, you know, I was thinking like, Oh, he's gonna ask me about business stuff. And that's not really my, my brand. But that's like you I do, because it's not my brand. I do have say about business that I haven't said a million times before and a million other podcast. Can I talk about the number one thing I wish that I had heard before, I had my heat and I was selling? Yeah, and that is what happens in a meeting. Okay? If you're on the counter and water tour, if you're going around, it's good. Bottles, couches, you're getting them you're getting the water. Here are the things I understand. The first thing I didn't understand is that this meeting is a consolation prize. You are getting this meeting because your manager agent sent you sent them your screenplay. They loved it. But they decided not to buy it. And they said, as a consolation prize, we're gonna meet with the guy. So if they had watched your screenplay, I always thought in like, oh, they asked me what you mean. That means like, what my screenplay, that means they're gonna buy it. And I would go in like, oh, I would go in there like, hey, you know, we're here to talk about how you're buying my screenplay. I would have this heartbreak every time of like, you're not even Why are you meeting with me if you're not even gonna buy it, because this is a consolation prize. So that's the first thing and is that they've read it. They loved it, but they decided not to buy it, they asked to meet with you instead. And then as a result, there's three phases to a meeting. And this took me forever to learn. And that's the first faces you talked about the thing that they read appears and they loved and they decided not to buy, and you maybe can talk them into buying in any way. But you've got to be very clear that that's not what you're doing. Like you understand that they loved it, that they're not going to buy it, and that you're not doing but you know, you're suddenly going like, maybe you should have bought it, maybe it shouldn't be your manager. So that's phase one. So there's three phases of beating. Phase one is talk about the thing that they read of yours that they liked, and maybe try to convince them by afterall. Phase two is open assignments. Hopefully, your HR manager has asked them in advance. What open assignments does this production company have? That that they are looking to hire writers for? What novels have the option that then they couldn't get anybody to crack? What what you know, idea, crazy ideas this producer have that he's trying to hire some screenwriter to do that. You want to find out what are your open assignments and you want to pitch them on what the open assignments are. Hopefully you found that advance with the open seminar and you prepare to pitch in advance. And then step three, is you're going to pitch them on your new one. And you're going to pitch them like then they're going to ask so what are you working on? And you're going to say Oh, I'm working on you know, it's about a cow who goes back to ancient France, you're working on whatever you're working on and you're gonna pitch them but that's the least likely thing that's going to come out of it is they're just going to buy a wild pitch from you. And because here is the number one thing I learned from selling and more importantly from not selling, and I have never gotten into reading a bunch of sales books and I'm sure there are sales books out there that say this but I've never encountered one. And to me, this is the number one lesson of sales. And then is that do not sell them what you came to Sell. Sell them with they came to buy. Oh when you were meeting with that's good when you were meeting with a buyer. They the only reason anybody ever meets with a salesman and that's what you are. You're a salesman. The only reason why anybody ever meets with a salesman is if they have to buy is if they are in trouble and they are out of product and they need new product and they're going to get fired if they don't buy new products. That's their whole job is to gather up new product and they're out of product. They're running out there in a panic they need to buy but they're not going to buy what you came to sell. They're going to buy what they came to buy, and they know that dynamic you don't you If you're just a young screenwriter, you don't know that yet. But once you have figured that out, then the game begins, you're playing a game, you're playing cat and mouse, where you are trying to trick them into telling you what they came to buy. And they are trying to hold their cards close to the vest. And they're, they want to hear your pitch and see if it's what they came to buy, they don't want to accidentally reveal to you the secret of what they have come to buy, because then you will pounce and pitch that to them. And this is true of if you're writing, you know, if you're writing specs, this is true. If you're writing, this is true, if you are doing adaptations, if you're pitching your take on a novel so that you can get hired to do the adaptation. Here's the biggest occasion I ever get hired to write, here's how I get cuz I'd worn this at this point. And I said, Oh, you know, this is an amazing novel. And it's going to be so tricky to adapt, because you can either go this way with it, or you could go this way with it. And then I shut up. And I said, Oh, it's so tricky. You can go this way, or this way or that. silence, awkward silence. Awkward silence. And they're like, Yeah, well, obviously, yeah, you got to do a, and I'm like, exactly.

I pitched them option A. Now I if they had said option fee, I would have pitched them option B. But you have to treat them that's into telling you what they came to buy. You know, the same thing is true. You know, there's a great story that Simon Kinberg told me at Columbia, because he went to Columbia. And then he came back to talk to some of the people there. And he talks about how, you know, his agent was like, I'm going to sit you get you set up, you're going to be pitching to universal. They want to hear horror pitches. And he of course is first thinking I'm going to sell them when I came to sell. I've got great horror movie. It's great. I know. It's great. They're gonna love it. I'm gonna I've got a half hour pitch for this great horror movie goes in pitches that they're like, no. It's like, Oh, crap, says, Well, I've got in the back of my head. I've got some 10 minute pitches for other good horror movies, pitches, 310 minute pitches, they're like, no, he's like, Well, I've got some five minute pitches. I'll try some of those. No, shut them all down. He's like, Well, this brings me down to I've got six different one line pitches, you know, or just titles, and he starts pitching those. And then he gets to his final pitch. He says, I just got to words, Ghost Town, and they say sold a million dollars, boom, here's the check. And he and then he said, and of course it's never got paid. And then of course after he had cashed the check, and he was like, you know, ci, you know, the other things I pitched you were so developed and they had these brilliant you know, twists and characters and, and everything that a story is supposed to have goes down, didn't have any of that watch by goes down. They're like, Well, what we really wanted is we won a horror movie that could be turned into a attraction at Universal Studios, Hollywood, and Universal Studios, Ryan, oh, and all your other movies you pitched us couldn't be turned into attractions at Universal Orlando. But as soon as you said Ghost Town, oh, it's a movie about an evil ghost town. It's about a haunted ghost town. And boom, we know how to do that we know how to build a ghost town at Universal Studios. And they and they did not tell him that at the beginning of the meeting, they did not tell him what they had to modify, because they know they are more specific than you are. They know that. If you are sophisticated, that if they tell you what they came to buy, then you're going to go well, what a coincidence. That's what I came to sell. So they know not to tell you what they came to buy. But they know in their heads, they they have come because they need to buy universal. That executive at Universal was told you have to do what nobody likes to do, which is you have to meet with sales. Nobody in the world wants to meet with a salesman. Alright, but you have to go out and meet with a bunch of salesman. Because we're out of material we don't, we need to build a new attraction at Universal Studios theme park. It's got to be based on one of our movies, none of our movies can be turned into attractions, Universal Studios in Bern, we've got to meet with some people, but let's not tell them what we want. Let's not tell them what we came to buy. And let's hope that they have something to sell. That happens to be what we want to buy. And your job as a screenwriter is to figure out what they came to buy and sell it to them.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:14
That is one of the best answers to that question ever. Now where can people find out about you and your work what you're doing?

Matt Bird 1:14:27
So, first and foremost, you can buy my book, The secrets of story, innovative tools for protecting your fiction and captivating readers. You can listen to my podcast secrets or podcasts, you can watch my youtube channel on the secrets of three YouTube channel. You can hire me to do manuscript consultation, go to the secrets of story.com I should say you could read my blog at the secrets of story.com and you could click on the top button on the upper right and click on manuscript consultation and you can hire me to do that. And also if you want to come homeschool my kids, then you could trade services then I can trade services with you. And you're just gonna have to wear a hazmat suit and homeschool my kids, and then I'll do anything for you. I'll paint your house.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:09
Fair enough, Matt, it's been an absolute pleasure having you on your show. Man, thank you so much for being on the show and dropping those knowledge bombs on the tribe today, man, thank you so much.

Matt Bird 1:15:17
Thank you so much for having me. This has been a lot of fun.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:20
I want to thank Matthew for coming on the show and dropping major major knowledge bombs on the bulletproof screenwriting tribe today. Thank you. Again, Matthew. If you want to read his book, or check out his work, head over to the show notes at bulletproof screenwriting.tv forward slash 070. And guys, I have a special treat for you. If you are interested in getting a three part video series on screenwriting and how to write blockbusters in Hollywood today. Buy some Oscar winners, so multibillion dollar screenwriters, all you got to do is head over to bulletproof screenwriting.tv forward slash free video series. Sign up for it there and you will get three amazing videos almost an hour in length total in your inbox. So just head over to bulletproof screenwriting.tv forward slash free video series. I hope you and your family are safe and doing well during this crazy crazy time. Thank you again for listening. As always, keep on writing, no matter what. I'll talk to you soon.


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Quentin Tarantino Scripts Collection: Screenplays Download

What can be said about Quentin Tarantino the screenwriter that hasn’t been said before? QT has, easily, one of the most unique and singular voice in the history of cinema. You may love him or hate him but you will remember him. Reading his screenplays is a masterclass in dialog, structure, and rhythm.

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).

MY BEST FRIEND’S BIRTHDAY (1987)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino & Craig Hamann – Read the screenplay!

NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1990)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

TRUE ROMANCE(1992)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

RESERVOIR DOGS(1992)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

PULP FICTION(1994)

**Won the Oscar** Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

FOUR ROOMS(1995)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, A. Anders, A. Rockwell – Read the screenplay!

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN(1996)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

JACKIE BROWN (1997)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

KILL BILL VOLUME 1 (2003)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

KILL BILL VOLUME 2 (2004)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

GRINDHOUSE: DEATH PROOF(2007)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

DJANGO UNCHAINED(2012)

**Won the Oscar** Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)

**Won the Oscar** Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the Dialog Transcript!