How to be a Unique Screenwriter

Some people say that the key to screenwriting success is to stick to the template established by other successful writers. “Don’t make waves.” “Don’t be original.” Time now to hear from someone who said “Stuff it!” to all that and, well, so far so good:

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How I Broke the Rules and Survived
by Craig D. Griffiths

ving a unique and compelling voice as a writer is something we all desire to have. Yet we are told (in forums and by so called gurus) that “We must follow the rules” to be a screenwriter, we must do everything exactly the same as everyone else.

People have looked at great screenwriting and found commonalities. However, commonality is not causality. Because if these common things are all that is needed to create a great script, writers wouldn’t be needed.

How the Rules came about

The rules came about by people looking at previous works and analyzing them to see what they could discover. (As far as I can see) Christopher Volger was credited with sending a memo that outlined some rules, which is what I think kicked off this entire rule concept.

This was intended as a way of quickly weeding out the vast number of bad scripts and making a studio’s workload less. It works, as bad writers do break these rules, but of course, so do some great writers.

People seem to point at the vast number of movies that comply with the rules, so therefore, the rules must be correct.

It is also a bit of a self-weeding garden, meaning that if everyone believes the rules must be followed, then all scripts and all movies would be following and complying with the rules.

The truth is, bad writing is just bad writing and squeezing it into some rules or structure would just make it well-structured bad writing, but there are commonalities between bad writing and good writing, which very few people are willing to admit or acknowledge.

As you can see by the graph above, Bad Writers and Great Writers don’t consider the rules when they are creating their work. They are focused on the work, but the only difference is that the great writers have craft and skill. It may be true that the rules outline the thousand-year-old patterns that have evolved in storytelling, but they are not rules. They are at best-accepted norms and as such are easy to recognise and are comfortable, but they are not mandatory, which is after all the definition of a rule.

What I have a problem with is people saying that things MUST happen or that you MUST never do something. Those are the rules that I think are wrong and don’t need repeating….

Read it all at Stage 32

John Ostrander: You/Not You

You-Not-Youby John Ostrander

One of the interesting facets of talking about writing is the contradictions you find in the craft. For example: All your characters are you. All your characters are not you.

All of your characters are you.

Every character you write must have some of you in it. All of them. Not just the ones you like to identify with. All of them. The large and the small, the good and the bad, male and female, no matter what age, race, or nationality. If you’re going to write honestly about the character, you must be in the mix.

This can get uncomfortable. Once, when I was writing a white supremacist  in an early issue of Suicide Squad, I had to look into myself and ask, “What in me is like this man?” Look, I’m an aging white guy; there’s going to be something there. No matter how much I’ve worked at freeing myself from that, and I have, there’s going to be something there.

I found it. It’s not enough to understand such a character’s point of view; it’s necessary to find what is in you that is like that. However much I dislike that aspect of myself, it is there to some degree and it can be used. It was.

We all have multitudes within us. We are slightly different people depending on who we are with; with our parents we’re slightly different than we are with our siblings than we are with our friends than we are with our lovers and partners. Each of them know a slightly different aspect of us. That’s one of the purposes of supporting characters; they bring out different aspects of the protagonist.

We play so many different parts in our own lives on a daily basis, we should be able to find some aspect of ourselves – good or bad, laudable or disreputable – that will allow us to identify, to be, the character that we are writing.

I’ve often said that writing dialogue between several characters is the writer having conversations with his/herself. We are all our characters.

All of your characters are not you.

You have to have some perspective on the characters that you write and that requires some distance. The differences are important.

There is, mostly in fandom, a form of criticism pertaining to a “Mary Sue” (among female characters) or a “Larry Stu” (among male). Generally, it means a character is an idealized and unrealistic version of the author. For the most part I dislike the term; it’s too easy, too lazy, and too pat a critique. The person using it generally only has to accuse the author of either having a Mary Sue or Larry Stu and that’s it; no further discussion is needed or, often, allowed. The accusation is made. End of story.

However, as with most stereotypes and clichés, there is a germ of truth. A good character can be very seductive. Few people believe themselves to be evil; even Shakespeare’s Richard III, who describes himself as a villain, believes he has a right to do what he is doing. I met someone once who believed that if he could take something that you thought was yours, he was within his rights to do so. “You only have a right to what you can hold onto,” he would claim. Not someone I wanted to spend any time with, but an interesting idea for a character.

I saw a TV interview with a guy who was doing time because he was a hired killer for the Mob. Coldest son of a bitch I’ve ever seen. Literally would just as soon kill you as look at you. “My life doesn’t matter to me, so why should yours?” was what he said. Again, not a person I would ever want to meet, but it became part of my core concept for my version of Deadshot in the Squad. Lawton doesn’t have a death wish; he just doesn’t care if he dies – or if you do.

The whole “You are your character/you are not your character” thing is a dichotomy and that’s fine by me. I think that most often you find the truth in contradictions. It’s what Del Close taught in his Second City and iO improv classes. Del held this contradiction as a rule: it’s not either/or; it’s and/both.

Finally, don’t try to reconcile or explain the contradictions. State them and trust to your reader to dope it out. Do your job right and the reader will think that the character is them… and not them.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. This post originally appeared in his most excellent blog at ComicMix.

How To Make & Create A Web Series

There we were, roaming the web in search of a good illustration to accompany the article before this one, when suddenly – Wham! – not only did we just the right pic to run with an article about turning your indie feature film into a web series, we found it accompanying another terrific article on creating your own show.

So here, courtesy of TomCruise.Com (yep, that Tom Cruise) is more exciting info on one of TVWriter™’s favorite topics:

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From Team Tom Cruise

We’re back with another installment in the #Aspiring2ActWriteDirect Series. This time TeamTC tackles the rapidly evolving world of web series and provides a primer on how to plan, prepare and produce your own original content. Of all our aspiring guides covering the entertainment industry—that list includes guides for actorsdirectors and filmmakersfilm editorsproducersscreenwritersstuntmen, cinematographers and visual effects artists—this one on how to make a web series delves into a field that is just now beginning to take shape.

WHAT IS A WEB SERIES?
Loosely speaking, a web series (also known as web originals, web shows, webisodes, and online series), is a show in episodic form released online or, in some cases, across various mobile platforms. The series is created to live on the web, and given the nature of online viewership, individual shows within a web series tend to run between 3 minutes and 6 minutes, with an entire season, from beginning to end, averaging an hour to an hour and a half. That’s both the appeal and complexity of the industry: Trying to say something engaging in matter of minutes. The hook, however, must come even sooner than that. According to the Youtube Creator Playbook, viewers decide within 15 seconds whether they are going to spend the next few minutes with your web series, let alone the next 90.

When making a web show, the question is what kind of web show will you make? While web series take many forms, TC.com will focus on scripted (fictional) episodic digital entertainment. Typical categories include sci-fi/fantasy (The Guild), comedies (Wainy Days) and dramas (Anyone But Me), but many shows are multi-genre experiments (The Crew). Regardless of where your web series falls, the lion share of information here can be applied across the board, and to content like talk shows, tutorials, documentaries and other reality-based programming.

WHY MAKE A WEB SERIES?
Web series are attractive projects for filmmakers for many reasons—and the majority of content creators are experienced filmmakers. To begin with, the only restriction on content is your imagination. Unlike other more established mediums, web originals can be just that: Original. In fact, originality is encouraged. Online audiences tend to appreciate the diversity of content found there, and if they can find it, are likely to seek it out. And unlike television or even independent filmmaking, quality online programming can be achieved on a small budget.

In fact, the vast majority of web series are funded out of pocket by aspiring filmmakers looking for a way to highlight their talent in a crowded and fiercely competitive industry. In many cases, they aren’t concerned with making their money back. Instead, they make web series as a way to create a marketable portfolio piece at an affordable price. Creating your own web show could be the calling card you need to gain access to larger projects….

Read it all at TomCruise.Com

10 Reasons To Release Your Feature As A Web Series

This is such a great article. We hope that all of you read it, pay attention, and – we mean this – do it!

web series

by Kelly Hughes

You can now shoot a movie on a phone.

You can edit like a pro on a laptop.

You can share your work with a few billion people with just a few YouTube clicks.

The revolution is here.

So why are we stuck on old business models? Why do we still think the best way to further our indie careers is to make a low budget feature, do the film festival circuit and be discovered and signed like it’s 1999?

I’m over 50. (Yikes!) and it’s time to let go of decades-old indie filmmaking ideals. It’s time to take inspiration from the younger crowd. The teenagers and 20-somethings who embrace up-to-the-minute technology and modern viewing habits. I can feel them nipping at my heels. It’s time to nip back.

So my latest movie is in the can, but instead of editing it into a 90 minute marvel, I’m changing the rules and refashioning it into a web series.

This is a horrible idea because:

1.  It’s more prestigious for my actors to tell family and friends they were in a movie.

2.  I can’t use it to be next year’s darling at Sundance.

3.  My pacing will be shot to hell.

But I think it’s also a good idea and here’s why:

1.  A Kinder, Gentler Editing Process

I can edit it in little chunks. Causing less strain on my computer’s RAM, if not my brain.

2.  Instant Viewer Gratification

If I upload it to YouTube, people can watch it sooner and not have to wait for the festival/Netflix/DVD release cycle.

3.  Instant Feedback

Fans, reviewers, trolls…they can all have a go at it.

4.  Cast Gratification

Maybe it’s not the thrill of Cannes, but for actors who have had to wait a year or more to see their work edited and released, this could be a pleasant development and they could even use it to supplement their reels.

Peggy Bechko’s World of Conflict!

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by Peggy Bechko

Writers know how important conflict is to a story; without conflict there simply is no story to tell. And, as we’ve all learned Conflict breaks down as Protagonist’s goal plus some kind of obstacle equals that coveted conflict. Yep, there it is. A character wants something…really really bad. He wants it in the overarching story and he (or she) wants it in every scene. Doesn’t matter if it’s script of manuscript – or for that matter advertising copy.

The thing that comes next is that obstacle or obstacles. Obstacles that are provided by the antagonist as a character or as a force of nature or whatever. It provides the stumbling block that keeps the ‘hero’/’heroine’ from achieving the goal that dangles out there like the proverbial carrot on a stick.

That’s it. That’s the beginning. That’s your story, but wait, is it?

Want to kick it up a notch? Want to make it really pop? Then next time you’re writing think about adding layers. Make it complicated. Amplify the conflict. Create chaos.

Think about it. A buddy story. A city copy is on the trail of a serial killer in a national park and is teamed up with a park ranger. The city cop is out of his element away from the concrete and the ranger has never dealt with law enforcement. The guys got a lead and they’re after him. He might double back and try to kill them both. That’s a story, right?

Well, what if there’s a big ol grizzly out there as well. One that the Park Ranger had to shoot some time back because it was attacking a campsite full of campers and had two toes blown off before it escaped and disappeared? It’s coming after the Ranger and anything that gets in its way is toast.

Now there’s a pot that really stirring. The pursuers are also the pursued.

Think about the Lord of The Rings movies. That exact tactic is used frequently.

Ponder the Odd Thomas books by Dean Koontz. The main character, Odd Thomas, is always seeing things he shouldn’t, trying to fix things and always endangered by something after him. Throw in a bunch of dark humor. Life is complicated.

And the more complicated it gets the more the main character is forced to improvise to work out new ways of getting to that goal…and those new ways can (and usually do) cause even more complications.

It’s plain that the hero’s actions will cause the main conflict of the story to inflate even further. The bubble grows larger and thinner and the reader or audience hold their breath awaiting the big bang. It can be emotional. It can be physical. Whichever or both, it must be breathtaking.

If the writer makes it a habit of never letting the hero or heroine off easy – if the character is hit from one side, then another while fighting to overcome those obstacles to reach the goal -then you’ve got a story that’ll grab the reader or watcher by the eyeballs and not let them go until the story skids to a complete stop with the culmination of pursue and pursuit in a big bang finish that’ll leave everyone, including you as the writer, breathless.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page

Troy DeVolld: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Critics

buddha-on-grassby Troy DeVolld

I’m a basically happy guy, and only a couple of things ever really get to me in a way that messes with my default mood.

Dealing with the occasional insecurities of other people who need to tear others down to fulfill their own power fantasies is one of those, but what are you gonna do? It’s Los Angeles.

The other? The never-ending critical war on reality television.

I’ve been working on getting past both of these things, and I think it might finally be time to let it go. You can’t make anyone think differently than they do about shows they won’t even watch any more than you’ll ever be able to convince your mother to try sushi, another craft that takes years to perfect.

How do you know you won’t like what you don’t try?

I can share the findings of studies that show that girls who view reality television more readily see themselves as leaders and role models among their peers.

I can tell you that you haven’t seen anything until you see what goes on behind the scenes of artfully directed and choreographed live reality-competition broadcasts like Dancing With the Stars.

I can tell you that one of my favorite media scholars (one of the world’s most respected, in fact) has stated time and again that it’s about the audience use of the characters and that virtually no one is looking at the villains of any work on television and saying things like “I want to be just like that.”

But none of it is going to alter the opinions of people whose chief aim in life is to hate everything.

Thus, I withdraw from the battlefield and back to the business of just trying to figure out how to make the shows I’m on better than they might deserve to be. I’m going to keep my head down and apply my hard-won story knowledge to making sure that you can follow a story, cheer for your heroes and boo your villains.

I’m not going to resort to making the good guy always right or the bad guy always wrong to appease people in media who insist that reality shows have “too much conflict.” I might, however, point out your hypocrisy in supporting scripted shows chock full of violence, sex and language while you’re creating a big hullabaloo over someone throwing a glass of water or getting crafty to undermine someone they’re competing with.

I’ll close with this fun fact: No one who has ever used the Kardashians as a show emblematic of bad TV at one of my lectures has ever subsequently admitted to watching even one episode of any of their shows. Their full opinion on the family is reliant on TMZ and tabloid gossip.

Wait, did I say I’m letting all of this go? Maybe I’m not quite there yet. But I’m trying.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go for a barefoot walk in the grass and work on my breathing.


Troy DeVolld is a Larry Brody buddy and one of the masters of the reality TV genre. This article originally appeared on his Reality TV blog. And while you’re thinking about him, why not buy his book, Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to TV’s Hottest Market?