This week we were lucky enough to have as our guest screenwriting guru Karl Iglesias. He has written award-winning books including The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters, Writing for Emotional Impact, and Cut to the Chase. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)
I discovered Karl Iglesias’ work reading Writing for Emotional Impact. It really transformed the way I wrote screenplays and created a bunch of new habits that I still use today.
It was a major treat to interview Karl on the show. His work is so specific but yet broad. His one rule that can never be broken,
“Always be interesting.”
I think most films coming out of Hollywood today should take that advice. Keep your audience engaged and emotionally invested. So many filmmakers and screenwriters today don’t understand that basic concept.
I really asked Karl the tough questions so we could fill this episode with amazing content for you. This is one podcast you won’t want to miss. Enjoy!
Alex Ferrari 0:00
Scheduled today, we have Karl Iglesias. Yes, he's a amazing screenwriting teacher, and instructor I actually discovered him reading a book writing for emotional impact when I was doing a screenplay work on my films. And it blew my mind I really really blew my mind. Karl's approach to screenwriting is unique in the sense that he only focuses on emotion on the like, literally the emotional impact of what you're writing, which nobody else was really doing when he came out, and I don't think many people are today either. So the book reading, writing for emotional impact really impacted my life on how I write, but he's really well known for the 101 habits of highly successful screenwriters, insider secrets from Hollywood, of the top of from Hollywood's top writers. That's the book that kind of put them on the map. He just finished up a 10 year anniversary of that book. And he also has a bunch of different courses and things like that, as well. So he lectures around the world and I was really lucky to get him on the show. I really, you know, dug in hard and some really tough questions. When we were done with the interview, Karl told me that he basically was like, my guy we just gave a masterclass in screenwriting, I'm like, I know that's why you won. So sit back and relax and enjoy the show guys. Welcome Karl. Thank you so much for being on the show.
Karl Iglesias 0:00
Thank you My pleasure.
Alex Ferrari 0:00
So we'll jump right into it so um what is your teachings are focused on the emotional impacts of stories and screenplays? Can you explain this a little bit to the audience?
Karl Iglesias 0:56
Sure. So I was I was a writer I'm still a writer and and I tend to be kind of very left brain my wife likes to say that I have two left brains very very mostly logical and and and the thing that drives me more is is the trying to understand how things work so I've always wanted to tell stories I was wanting to be in filmmaking and and I wanted to know why you know you read all the books and tells you Okay, you need to do this you need to do that we extract your character development character arcs and everything that's been that was being taught I was wanting to know why. And and so I started to get more into the effect of storytelling more than the rules and it really didn't take long to understand why I was loving certain films more than others. And it was basically about the emotional response that I was getting from these films you know at the end into like, you know, comedies or thrillers and I realize well a comedy doesn't make you laugh is not is not never going to be your favorite movie or a horror film that doesn't scare you it's not gonna be your favorite horror film so it's really all about the emotions and response of the movies and so I tend to kind of went you know, with reverse engineering figure out okay, the effect the end effect is the emotion the emotional response of the audience. And so how do you get there how do you do that? And that's what I tend to focus in my studies and in my teaching, you know, it's the kind of you know, people say is the kind of book that you always wanted to read but couldn't find out there so you wrote it that's that's what it is they also I wrote down and you know, as far as I know, I'm the only one who speaks about this and I think it's the most important thing you know, if you know when people read your script if they don't if they're not engaged by your script and you lost that's it doesn't even go past the pastor reader to the executives let alone to actors and directors and you know, the studio betting you know, 100 million dollars to make your film if it doesn't engage them so so the rule number one, and the only rule in in storytelling is to engage the audience and not be boring and that's really you know, I like to say my classes that there's only you know, there's this 1000s and 1000s of rules and principles from all the books but you can break all of them. Except one, you cannot break this one rule which is be interesting and as long as you Interesting, you can break any rule you want. And I think you'll still be a good storyteller. But that's the key you got to engage your audience and and so so I focus more on the actual specific techniques that generate those emotional responses.
So with that said, I'm going to I'm going to put you on the spot a little bit and one of my favorite films of all time and arguably now according to IMDb, the number one film of all time, The Shawshank Redemption,
Alex Ferrari 4:23
Okay, yeah, great film.
Karl Iglesias 4:25
It is. It's absolutely amazing. And I've analyzed that movie so much because I've I've wondered what what is in that story and in the way that Frank Darabont wrote that story and also directed and the characters and the actors right the whole package but what in that movie that touches so many people I mean like in a way that there's never been another movie that I know right that when it came out it wasn't like this blowout success obviously it was not it did get nominated for Best Picture but it didn't win. But but it's one of those movies that kind of grew later and till now all of a sudden it kind of just came up and took over the Godfather like you know, absolutely, you know, when the Godfather came out, it blew everything out the water everybody knew was the greatest thing ever made that right? But Shawshank didn't and I'm curious on your take of why that story hits so beautifully with everybody
Alex Ferrari 5:35
Well there I think there's two combinations First of all, and you're right when the movie first came out it wasn't a success at all and and the thing that makes a movie a success usually from the start which is the beginning is usually the concept so the concept is like the book cover right? There's something about the concept that's unique that drives people to the theaters not a great concept not at all right it actually kept people away it's like okay a movie about people in prison Okay, you know who cares? I mean, I will admit I was one of them you know, I was like that that movie does not interest me right? And it was only through word of mouth and reviews and and then you finally go Okay, I'll go see it and then you wild by it. So when you're in the theater so you know when you're trying to make a when you're trying to write a story I always recommend you know since since you're not you know you're obviously you're you're a nobody and you want to interest people you got to do with the concept first so at least people open your script and read it but in this case, you had a simply word of mouth so what is it about once you're inside the theater once you're committed to watching these two films, this film, what is it that that allows you so the very first thing is always characters that the first thing is is a character that you connect with. And the very first thing that they connect you with is is Andy and a character who is unjustly accused of something that he didn't do and that automatically connects you so if you're familiar with the you know, my techniques for, for connecting emotionally with a character you know, the one of the most powerful one is pity. So feeling sorry for someone and you automatically feel sorry for him because he didn't do it. You know, he's accused of something. And he's accused for, I guess his life right? For something that he didn't do so this are an undeserved misfortune is one of the biggest, biggest techniques you can use to connect with a character. And so you're automatically connected. So you're already on board? And then you realize, okay, well, you know, what do you do when you're inside of prison? I mean, so, you know, the only thing you can do to survive is hope and hope is probably one of the most powerful themes and messages in stories. It's true, you know, because all of us in our life so life's our struggle. And and especially in the movie business,
Karl Iglesias 8:46
Yeah, exactly. But if you look at you look at you know, great stories and certainly the foundation of most religions is hope. You know, it's one of the most powerful things so you got a character we care about you know, combined with this message of hope, you know, you know, get busy living or get busy dying, which is such a powerful line right? Amazing. And there you go, and then of course, you know, you got it you got to tell a good story. So there's elements of suspense deserve attention, anticipation, surprise, humor, other characters you care about your read, you know, certainly fear. You know, once you're, once you're connected with a character, what you what you do as a storyteller is you're trying to make us worry about that character, you know, you hope that they will be happy, and you hope that they'll survive or whatever they do whatever they want. The interesting about this, this this movie, though, is that we didn't know what Andy you know, is that, you know, His goal was secret for 19 years. And so, we didn't really know what the what his main goal was other than surviving. But if you create Jeopardy for that character, Throughout and they certainly do in this in this film. You're worried all the time. And so you're constantly engaged in this film so you have you have the character you care about you have to struggle. And then of course the big a, you know, epiphany and the way everything is resolved, which is very clever, surprising, you know, poetic justice at the end. I mean, it's just an friendship. I mean, it's got you know, everything is there you got all the the great ingredients and and of course, you got to, you know, give kudos to Stephen King for the story and for for Darabont for the adaptation, but it's just one of those. one of those things where everything all the stars are aligned, and, you know, with great, great characters and performances, and, you know, a great script. I mean, yeah, it's definitely one of the one of the greatest movies out there.
Alex Ferrari 10:50
And then Darabont I heard he literally gave the the script the way to get the opportunity to direct it. Yeah, yes, he was he was offered a few million because people who read it in the business understood that that this was like, Oh, this is serious. This is a good script. Yeah. But he he they offered him like seven figures and like heist, like mid to high seven figures for it. And he's like, nope, he finally, Director He wants to write and he started his career. And I think it was a good idea for him.
Karl Iglesias 11:15
Absolutely. Yeah. It's kind of like Sylvester Stallone and raw.
Alex Ferrari 11:19
Yeah. Do you actually believe that rocky was written in three days? He says he wrote it in three days. it possible
Karl Iglesias 11:28
That you wrote it in three days, but he probably developed it over a longer period of time.
Alex Ferrari 11:32
Right? Because that's another great I mean, geez, yeah. Oh, absolutely. That script is the ultimate Underdog Story. Yeah. So let me ask you a question. Why is Hollywood's Why is Hollywood lacking such emotion true emotion and its films today? And what are they like? Why do you Why do you think because in the 70s in the 80s even there was more emotion and character in their movies than today today, it just seems to me so flat and so heavily reliant on visual effects and concepts and things that we've we've seen back from the 70s and 80s that they're rehashing today Why do you what what do you think of the well in the business today in general
Karl Iglesias 12:09
It's i well i you know, the business is always a sign of the times it's always a you know, a reflection of the culture and and you know, our culture in the 60s and 70s was a lot different than it is today. And you know, you got to understand that the film studios are a business they're corporations they're in they're in the business of making money so they're not in the business of making art it's one of those really interesting paradoxes where you know, I think in Europe they're more interested in making art because their their films are subsidized by the by the government you know, but but in in in the United States it's all you know, it's it's capitalism so you basically go okay well what who buys our films who are films for who is our audience what do they want you know, and when you have a huge population of you know, 1415 year old boys who who goes to the movies that's why you have so many you know, superhero movies and kind of like you know, Video game type movies and horror films and comedies and you know, but that's the sign of the times and you know once in a while you get you know, a great movie that goes across all all demographics you know, the four q movies and then you know, then they try to make the same kind of movie and then people get bored it's one of those things I mean we're you know, one of the one of the strongest emotions we have as an audience's is the sense of we always want something new and when we get the same thing over and over and over we eventually get tired of it and we gravitate and we grab on to this new thing so you'll always get those in in movies you always get that one film that just just just you know the slit the sleeper hit basically right and then everybody wants to make it you know and then they they beat it to death and I beat it to death and he's tried something new The thing that really really surprises me still is this you know as the superhero movies keep going on and on and but I've been you know slated for release until you know 2020 which is unbelievable it just is such a you know high confidence in movies and I'm kind of surprised that it has you know, there's so much saturation I'm so I'm surprised that the the audience hasn't heard of it but and now
And now Warner Brothers is getting into it and now they're bringing all their slates out so yeah, I'm wondering about how much longer I'm a comic book geek so I'm yeah I'm happy about it but right at a certain point I you know, and now they're gonna be doing Star Wars every year
Alex Ferrari 14:37
Right until foreseeable future you know it's so it's well the thing is,
Karl Iglesias 14:41
I mean, as long as you tell a good story that's what can i mean that's what counts so so if you guys long as you can maintain great storytelling within that count within that concept and genre then I think you're okay. I think so far they're doing okay. You know, I mean, I mean, comic books have been, you know, I've been in business for you know, Over 80 years, I think and so it's like, yeah, and they're still in business. So, you know, as long as you're writing good storytelling and characters Yeah, absolutely.
Alex Ferrari 15:10
So um, what are the biggest mistakes you see in first time screenwriters. Oh, I know it's a short it's a short show but you try to condense it a little bit I was gonna say I loaned
Karl Iglesias 15:21
You probably the biggest mistake D of what the biggest mistake is is I think over relying on plot over character that's one and so you can't have flat characters another big mistake I see. You know, dialogue usually is pretty crappy. And that's usually the one thing that we kind of read most of in a script of you we're trying to get the story from the characters you know and good dialogue usually reflects the characters personality so you know and and the fact that the script the scripts don't really amount to anything, they don't really go anywhere to go anywhere or they don't say anything, they don't have any meaning we don't know what the characters what the author wanted to really say you know, which is usually reflected in the character arcs. So you know, there's always a reason for everything and only say like a you know, structure is another thing too We already talked about structure but I don't think anybody understands what that means. You know, they think well three have structure beginning middle and end but they don't understand that the turning points that create that structure are are more about character than actually plot points you know, they call they you know, sit for years to come plot points but so people think, well, it's got to be something big and that changes the story it's not really that it's more about the character and the character decisions and the character changes you know, the epiphany of the character and what that means to the overall story. That's what that's what we can so we're talking about I think mostly a you know, kind of like there's a lot of there's a lot of education out there for scratch but I don't think it goes deep enough or I think people most most people don't really understand kind of like the deep deep deep principles of story and how it relates to us as human beings which I think once you really understand that that's kind of like a it's mostly what my focus is at this stage of my career is really kind of going deeper into story and understanding well what what it means and why we why we like stories or why we why story has such an effect on us emotionally it's good to say well you know, we enjoy stories and we you know like to feel suspense but why is that and I think once you understand that it kind of teaches you that how to do what teaches you why you should do it and to you know kind of makes you see when you don't have it in a script to kind of refocus on it you know
Alex Ferrari 17:57
Now did you have you happen to see straight out of Compton yet? I haven't seen it yet. No. And I saw it I saw it this last weekend and it's it's I heard it was good. It's my it's so far this year is probably the best film I've seen, which says a lot about the industry today like about a good storyteller a good story about you know, gangster rap is like the best story out there right now, which Wow, that's what fascinates me. But it was good. Even my wife who had no idea about gangster rap, she sat there said that was a really good movie, because of the character and the story, which leads me to my next. My next question. There has been great debate about this question for many years, and I'd love to hear your thoughts about it. What in your opinion is more important plot or character?
Karl Iglesias 18:45
Well, that is a very good question. Um, well, you probably heard I mean, you heard this before. You know, right, you get both ends right. But most people tend to lean toward character. And the reason for that is because you will you will hear that character creates plot you know, the more since since we need to connect with character and since we tend to appreciate more three dimensional characters. You know, you can't really kind of have just a plot that's already ready made and trying to fit characters in it because the end result will be flat characters. So characters tend to have the edge but here's my point on it. My here's my view on it. Stories are neither plot driven nor character driven. Okay, okay. So that's going to be probably kind of the controversial thing to say you think it's one of the other but it's neither. What I like to say is that stories are tension driven. Okay, so it's not prone to character. It's tension that grabs an audience that makes you appreciate a story. And tension is really, you know, a problem that needs to be solved or a character that needs to change. So you know you could have unique tension at the story level to keep us it's the only thing that keeps us engaged basically, when when I talk about all the emotions of story and talk about the audience emotion is not the character emotion. So you have for example, you have character emotions, like you know, you know, sadness and joy and fear. When I'm talking about the audience emotions, the emotions you pay money to go see in the theaters. We're talking about curiosity, anticipation, tension, hope, worry, surprise. laughter. Right? Those are the emotions you like to feel in as an audience. And all of these can be incompetent like into that one umbrella of tension. In other words, when you feeling tension in a story, there's no way you're bored you're completely engaged when you feel intention. So that's really the key emotions you want to feel
Alex Ferrari 18:47
That tension and tension and what's it like tension any kind of tension or comedic tension or
Karl Iglesias 18:47
Tension it's all tension and tension basically me it's basically to me it's the opposite of boredom, basically, okay, you know, you like if you're bored, passively sitting back in your seat, and you're going to, you know, you think about something else. When you're feeling for example, if if somebody creates a question on this, you see a character enter a room, the very first thing that goes in your mind is who is this character? Right? So why are they in the room? What are they doing? Where are we? So all these questions when you first start a movie, that creates curiosity, right? So curiosity, that sense of curiosity in your brain is tension. Right? Because you have this question, when that question gets answered, you have tension relief. Okay, and everything, you know, everything that's enjoyable about life is tension relief, basically. Right? I mean, when you're you know, when you're when you're having you know, you want to have sex with someone, you have this, you know, you have tension and it gets it gets released at the end, when you have you know, when you're hungry, that's tension you eat, you know, you have to you feel satisfied, right? You're tired, that's tension, you go to sleep, you feel relief. So it's all about tension relief, excuse me for so. And so, so it's all about tension. So all these you know, when you feel anticipation, you know, like, the character says, Okay, I'm going to go and, you know, to vanish or go to Europe to catch a killer, right? So when I'm going to Europe, so you anticipate the arrival to or, you know, meet me meet me in the parking lot, so I'm going to beat you up later after school. That's anticipation. So that's tension. anticipation is tension. Curiosity is tension. You know, and
Alex Ferrari 18:47
If you're gonna kiss me or not, exactly, yeah. And I've seen so
Karl Iglesias 18:47
Even so when you go deeper, right? Y'all know that, you know, storytelling, or filmmaking is all scenes, right? So at the scene level, that's another thing too, that when you're talking about what's really doesn't work in scripts is mostly seen. So I tend to teach a lot of classes on scene writing, because I think it's at the scene level, you know, that that counts. And scenes are really mini stories. So you have a character who wants something in the scene, and is having difficulty getting it. And that's what creates tension in the scene, because your well, will they get it. And that's what drives the scene. That's what drives the whole story. If you have a main tension in the story, and really old when you think about old stories, or just tension until they are relief until you have a resolution, right? Yeah, but you know, the three extraction people create structure, people have to say that it's, you know, beginning, middle and end. But I like to say it's mostly, you know, set up struggle, and resolution, right. And the struggle is that middle pack to which is the struggle to get what they want. And in a lot of scripts, you see characters Firstly, that you don't know what they want. That hasn't been thought of. So that's already broken right there. And if we know what they want, usually it's it's not that difficult. So yeah, so it's not that interesting. So there's no struggle. And so there you go. That's, that's my answer. So it's all about attention.
Alex Ferrari 18:47
There it is that Yeah, we've put that we put the end to the debate right now.
Karl Iglesias 18:47
Yes. This is just according to me. Oh, of course. Yeah. So
Alex Ferrari 18:47
Umm, in your opinion, what is the functions of dialogue?
Karl Iglesias 18:51
The function is dialogue. Boy, you had like really big, big questions here. to answer those,
Alex Ferrari 18:56
I'm sorry, I'll start throwing somewhere softer.
Karl Iglesias 18:59
Well, the functions of dialogue I mean, there's only two ways you can tell a story really you can you can you know, you can describe something right. So and then you could you can have characters talking about it right. So, the difference between the two is that traditionally the, the narrative part of it is more passive. And the dialogue is more active meaning that when characters speak in dialogue, you are immersed in the experience you're you're there with them you're like a fly on the wall, like really kind of being part of the conversation. And that's usually in your brain that's usually more interesting than just reading. You know, if I told you, you know, Bob entered the room and said to Susie, that he loved her and that he couldn't live without her. So I'm just kind of describing something right so I'm just telling you a little story. But if I say you know Bob came into the room and so any goes Susie, I love you I can't I can't live without you. And Susie says, Well, sorry, I don't love you back I'm seeing your your best friend or whatever. Right? So you know, by by actually having the characters speak, you're you're a lot more immersive to lead it's more of an active experience than just description. And usually readers, you know, when they read scripts, and tons of scripts, they usually tend to just read dialogue only they try to grasp the story because they have to read a script so fast. So they like to say that they read the burden, they read vertically, most most readers at least, you know, the ones that I know of from experience, because they have to read scripts very fast. And so they usually get the story from the dialog. So you know, when you see scripts with a lot of description, they usually don't tend to like that they it takes them longer to read it takes them longer to understand the story. And also the great thing about dialogue is that not only you can communicate the story, you can also communicate the characters personalities and attitudes so you get to get to really get to learn the characters. And also dialogue tends to be the joy of the you know, the the weight and cleverness and sarcasm and have a story you know of characters.
Alex Ferrari 20:48
Now, with dialogue, I would argue to say one of the greatest dialogue writers alive today is Quentin Tarantino. What, what is your take on his style, love, which is so unique that I mean, I've tell I tell people all the time, like, there are certain directors, certain writers that might have not made it in this market this time or that time. But honestly, I think if Tarantino shows up today, with Reservoir Dogs, it, it would it would create a revolution just because of who he is and his talent. What is what is your take on his technique and how he does his things? Because they are it's such a unique person, I always tell filmmakers, if you want to learn how to write dialogue, listen to his dialogue. Don't try to write his dialogue, but she'll never be able to
Karl Iglesias 21:24
Write right, but Well, there's well the thing about Tarantino, I mean, first of all, he he is a extremely knowledgeable about film, you know, he used to work as a in a video store. And he used to like pretty much immerse himself in movies, and even really obscure movies, you know, in foreign films, and Hong Kong films and crime films. So he's very knowledgeable. So he's able to ask, actually, you know, my belief in art or creativity is really creativity is really a way of combining all things into something new. And this is what he does. So the more old things you know, the more you the more resources you have, which is this knowledge of film, the more you can combine them into something unique. And that's what he does very well. So that's that, too, is that he's not afraid to break the rules. Oh, yeah. And like I said, like, I use Turnitin all the time. And examples of when I say that you can break every rule except one. And be interesting. And that's that's the one. He that's what he does. I mean, he breaks every single rule, except one. He's always interesting. And that's why he's successful because people people gravitate to astronomy, because they know they're not going to be bored.
Alex Ferrari 22:19
Right and so if you watch this, if you watch Pulp Fiction, which the structure of that film was, is non obviously not standard, right? But if you look at the plot points, they actually hit Yeah. Wow. You know, which is kind of weird. Absolute world. Yeah. Well, it's
Karl Iglesias 22:32
Like, you know, the French filmmaker, genre, Ecuador is known, it's known for to have said, you know, every every film that has a beginning, middle and end, not necessarily in that order, right. So you want to if you can put Pulp Fiction in the order of the story is just what he decided to tell it in a in a just nonlinear way. You know, you just played with time a little bit you know,
Alex Ferrari 29:03
And, and it just, yeah, obviously, yeah,
Karl Iglesias 29:12
It was very unique. Absolutely. And then chaining, which is the most important thing. I mean, you know, you know, I've seen films where people tried experimenting with things but they're just boring as hell, you know, right. In this case, he experimented and, and it turned out okay, because it was interesting. You know, he still told the story with interesting characters. surprises
Alex Ferrari 30:03
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. So, um, you wrote a book called 101 habits of highly successful screenwriters. Can you share a few of those habits with the audience, some of that some of the top ones that you think are really important?
Karl Iglesias 30:24
Well, the very, very top one is the one that started that's that led to the right for emotional impact, which was habit number 69, which was evoking emotion on the page. And so one of those habits was, you know, it, successful writers are set at six are successful, because they're able to evoke an emotion on the page consistently. Right, so they're able to create that emotional response in the reader. They're always entertaining. So they're masters of their craft. And and when I started teaching, because of that book, I, at the time, I was just a writer, and I was no interest in teaching, I was just a writer, I just wanted to be alone in my room, right? So it's not completely terrified. But I was invited to the very first screenwriting Expo and because of that, those habits book, the book, and the thing that most people wanted to know was, was, of course, this particular habit, which is the craft, they'll want to know about the craft. So I started teaching about the, that part of it. And then people eventually wanted to want to, to have a book. And that's the reason why the second book was written, because people just kept asking, you know, from after my presentation, so is there a book with all that information that I was giving. So, but in terms of how is there so that that's the number one, by far, I mean, you could, you could, like I said, you could ignore any other habit, if you if you consistently are able to create an emotional response in the reader, from your words, you're guaranteed success. Because, you know, you can just, you know, you can drop your script in the middle of a Beverly Hills Park, and, you know, an agent will pick that up and read it. And if they're totally wowed by that script, there's no way he's not gonna pick up the phone and call you. But that's the key, they have to be wowed by the script and 99% of the scripts out, there are not that, you know, that great, unfortunately. So that's, that's why there's so much problems. But the other thing too, and this is more about the business aspect of it is that one of the habits is that you're You, you, you have to have, you have to develop a really thick skin in Hollywood, because most of the businesses rejection, so you have to be able to be able to take rejection, and be able to live with it and be able to persevere and keep writing and keep getting better. And keep having hope. You know,
Alex Ferrari 32:53
I'll turn here and it took forever. For Yeah, do you think
Karl Iglesias 32:57
One of the one of the, you know, surprising things when I was interviewing all those writers was that their very first script that they sold was usually their 10th or more, you know, that they kept kept writing, even though they kept being rejected and not selling anything and having to, you know, work crappy jobs, or even not having any money in the bank and struggling, but they just kept at it. And I think a lot of writers, even very talented writers, who could be great writers, usually, because of life and family and usually give up because because of the realities of life, and don't have that persistence and that passion, to to keep writing.
Alex Ferrari 33:37
You know, I think writers are one of the most undervalued parts of the filmmaking process. Oh, absolutely. Yeah. It is all part that I mean, it starts on the page. Mm hmm. Yeah, yeah, it started there. They're
Karl Iglesias 33:49
Really the most important element. I mean, when you think about it without the writer if there's no script, nobody in this town has a bit as a job. Right? Right. I think about all the jobs in this industry, right? There's over 200 300 jobs that are related to making a film if not more, right, if not more, and, and we're not talking about just the film we're talking about, you know, the business Oh, yeah. Agents and producers and and accountants and lawyers. I mean, if without a script, nobody has a job.
Alex Ferrari 34:15
As as, as Hollywood realizes, every time there's a Writers Guild strike, exactly. All of a sudden, everyone goes, Oh, wait a minute, we need these guys arrived. Maybe we should pay them a little bit here.
Karl Iglesias 34:25
But that's the that's that is the paradox that they, you know, they they know secretly that they're the most important, but they think that they could do it. They think that it's not that hard that anybody can do it.
Alex Ferrari 34:38
Well, that's the thing. And if I've seen a movie, so I could write one. It's kind of like everyone says that and then I'm like, Well, you could also listen to a symphony. Doesn't mean you can write one. Right? It's exactly yeah, it's a lot more than just that.
Karl Iglesias 34:53
So this is all joke that I like to say about this guy who's who goes to a candle store and he goes inside the candle stores is all man he sits down and starts playing the piano and he's awful. And and the sounds because what's going on? What? What are you thinking? I can't understand this. I've been listening to music My whole life.
Alex Ferrari 35:15
Why does it work? I don't know.
Karl Iglesias 35:16
Exactly right. So that's the thing people think that you know, because they because we immerse in films because we see movies all the time. We know how they work and everything. It's like telling a joke to so people, you know, some people, everybody understands jokes and appreciate jokes, but nobody can be a comedian. You know, it's,
Alex Ferrari 35:33
It's rough to be up on that stage. No question about it. Yeah. So what are some of the mistakes you see in indie film stories and in their screenplays in general? Because I know they're very kind of different than your mainstream movies. So yes, indie films, I find a lot of times when they hit, they're wonderful. But the majority of them are, you know, a little rough sometimes. Yeah. What's your experience with that?
Karl Iglesias 35:57
Well, my experience with them is that it as it's not gonna be surprising, for me to say it's, it's again the emotional response so you know, when you say an indie film doesn't hit, that's basically what it means it means it just didn't grab the audience. The audience was mostly bored by it. So you know, there's always good elements in an indie film that that meets the people on on board to commit to it and make it and usually it's about characters. The thing about indie hits is that most of them as far from my experience don't really have a concept you know, it's mostly a very soft concept and it's really kind of relies on character in the drama of characters. And so you know, great the characters are great but but ultimately if the audience is bored throughout In other words, if the other elements the other emotions are ignored, you know, like, like tension or surprise or twists or you know, something unique about it, you know, they just don't to grab the audience you know, or maybe it's the maybe it's the statement that the, you know, the filmmaker wants to make maybe it's a statement that we just don't care about, right? Yeah. There's a lot of things you know,
Alex Ferrari 37:13
So can you give an example of a few indie films that blew you away and why they blew you away?
Karl Iglesias 37:18
Oh, it's been
Alex Ferrari 37:21
It's been a while it's been a while you can go back and go back to the early 90s go back to the early 90s if
Karl Iglesias 37:27
Yeah, yeah, for me, I mean, the type of movies that I tend to like more I like you know, more thought provoking films so I tend to gravitate towards the you know, sci fi and futuristic not not necessarily fantasy but but so the movies like you know, a stranger than fiction for example. Yeah. So anything that has a really kind of like a really very unique concept to it, but definitely an indie film you know, I usually tend to like it because I'm because I'm more intellectually challenged or you know, like my mind is constantly working in thinking and you know, I tend to have more of a philosophical kind of mind thing so anything that has a really kind of high concept would have been different and I tend to like trying to think of the last the last one as my mentor was a pretty old memento. Absolutely Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 38:17
That was one of those ones obviously Reservoir Dogs and write all fiction fiction was kind of an indie but yeah,
Karl Iglesias 38:24
Yeah, yeah. You know very very old film but a mariachi with Robert Rodriguez, you know that he made the very end right only made it only $7,000. But there was something really unique about it, and it was entertaining. Um, so so high concept, good characters, but also great, you know, a good story that really keeps you engaged from start to finish
Alex Ferrari 38:50
One, one film, I think that I don't know if you'd liked it, and I think you might have adaptation.
Karl Iglesias 38:56
Ah, yeah, yeah.
Alex Ferrari 38:57
Um, that was a very interesting,
Karl Iglesias 39:00
I liked it. Yeah. It wasn't interesting. And of course, we all enjoyed it. Because we're writers and we could, we could identify Oh, bad could we Yeah, but you know what? I didn't I didn't like it as much as I enjoyed Eternal Sunshine, because oh, yeah, you know, Eternal Sunshine had this really high concept. So this is a good example from the very, very same filmmaker,
Alex Ferrari 39:19
A very unique filmmaker.
Karl Iglesias 39:20
Exactly. Yeah. Charlie Kaufman.
Alex Ferrari 39:22
Karl Iglesias 39:23
Yeah. Although if you're talking about the spike Jones as the director Yeah. Speaking of spike Jones, her to was it was a good indie film.
Alex Ferrari 39:31
Yeah,very, very nice film. I like that one a lot as well, right. Is there any any advice you can give indie filmmakers on writing their first script other than what we've already kind of discussed any specific like techniques or tools that maybe that could help them to kind of get off the ground.
Karl Iglesias 39:47
Just just learn more about story. And we're not talking about just the you know, the usual, the usual suspects, books and McKeon felt we're talking about. Just go deeper into into story and how to tell a really good one. I think there's there's still a lot of people that don't know how to tell a good story and and of course it starts with the emotion so obviously I would tell people go read my book or you know, of course of course, and and learn that it's really about the emotions and that you can break every single rule as long as people feel those emotions. So learning, learning how to write scenes, that would be another aspect of it, learn how to write a good scene. I always tell writers to take acting classes, because even if they're not used to being an actor, because you get to learn how to write good scenes from from actors, because that's, you know, they're all they're all, you know, their main thing is, is what do I want in the scene and the different beats in the scene and that's really how you write a good scene.
Alex Ferrari 40:49
That's interesting. That's a really good job. That's a really good tip.
Karl Iglesias 40:51
Yeah. And yeah, but learn how to how to create that field in London, really knowing what an audience wants out of a story. You know, so we definitely want something new so we want something so it's probably a thought provoking concept we want characters we can connect with emotionally so that there's actually techniques for that to talk in the book. And then once once we connect with a character you know, give us give us a you know, a a goal that that is worthy you know a lot a lot of the times you know, a character moves after something that we you know, it's it's tends to be more of a selfish goal and we don't really connect without this is this is something that I also speak about, about the paradox of the goals we have in life, which is to you know, to be rich, right? We all try to make money and survive. But you never see that in films. You never see that as a goal in film.
Alex Ferrari 41:54
So say that again say that again? This isn't your So okay, so there's this paradox okay.
Karl Iglesias 41:57
If you if you think about if you ask people in real life what their What do they aspire to? Right That's usually aspire to have a good job to be rich to be happy to have things to have material things a big house a good car, Scarface? Exactly. Right. Yeah, exactly. So tough power. Right? Well, power you see, that depends but usually it's the in the in the cautionary tales where the hero but but in films, when you think about what is it that people aspire to in films, like whether their goals are, it's usually about love, or family about saving the village about doing something for another about finding their child? You know, it's more about what's really important in life that people kind of still are trying to learn on their own. So there's a there's a connection between stories and the meaning of stories and why we like stories, and what is the power of stories in our life?
Alex Ferrari 42:51
But do you think do you think that a story that had the goal of being just rich or successful or comfortable and having a good family and which are most of the goals of real life people,
Karl Iglesias 43:03
Alex Ferrari 43:04
Do you think a story like that? Or do you have an example of a story?
Karl Iglesias 43:07
Well, no, we don't I mean, other than I mean, somebody brings the the example of how to succeed in business and never trying, which is a famous play. But But you never see that or, or you see that in a character that originally goes after that goal, but then learns, that's not the you know, usually midpoint that the, that's not the solution. So yeah, so it and there's a reason for that is because it doesn't work, you know, you know, it doesn't, you know, and and to go back to your question about the common errors I see in film is that usually the goals that characters have in a story are usually not what I call worthy goals, right? So there's worthy goals and, you know, flat goals or whatever, unworthy goals. They're mostly unworthy like, they're, I just don't care, or I just, I can't really connect with a character who goes after that, you know, I just don't care. And so that's important. One of the things that I teach about connecting with character is that not only you have to use this, these techniques to make us, you know, feel sorry for him, show their humanity and show their admirable traits to just so you care about them, right? But the second part of that equation is what do they go after and why? And so in the movie, what do they go after, is very important, because if we don't care what they go after, we're just not going to care. We're gonna just, you know, go through the motions, and struggle, but we're not going to care. And that's why one of the things that I teach a lot about is Pixar because Pixar knows how to tell great stories. And, and so and I go through this whole list of the entire movies that I go and show them what the characters are after. And if you see what they're after. It's always about you know, saving a friend, saving a child, falling in love saving the village It's all these things that are considered, you know, that goes deeper into our humanity and our, our sense of being social with, you know, we're part of this group as opposed to being a selfish single a person that goes after what they want us to be happy. And you never see that, you know, if talk about Shawshank Redemption, you know, His goal was to not to not to die. But not to be yet not to be stuck in this prison, right? So he was for 19 years, he planned to escape and he finally escaped. But if you look at what is the thing that really makes us completely fell in love with that movie is is the last you know, 30 seconds? No, not not the choice of him escaping. decided right about it. Remember, it's not only story, it's read story, that's that it's very true. So if you think about the way the movie ends, the movie doesn't end with Andy escaping it ends with red connecting as a friend with Andy on that beach.
Alex Ferrari 46:02
And right, and did you know that is the
Karl Iglesias 46:05
Moment that that makes us go? All right,
Alex Ferrari 46:08
Karl Iglesias 46:09
It's done. Exactly. Exactly. There's actually a very, you know, Lindsey Duran is the producer. Yes, yes. So she, she's, she's known for talking about story too, is there's a, I think there's a couple of videos online, some TED talks that she did, about the ending of films and how the thing that people really, really care about about a film is not the achievement of the of the character's goal. It's what happens afterwards, which is the ability to share that feeling with people they love. So she mentions Rocky, for example, think that Rocky, you know, a lot of people think he won the fight, which he did, he doesn't know but but they remember that thing when he goes like yeah, you know, Adrian Adrian, but that, you know, they think it ends on the fight, but it does end up ends with him and her at the end, and saying, I love you, I love you. Right, and she mentions Dirty Dancing to about the fact that it doesn't end with with the with the girl Lee being in the arms of Patrick Swayze. It ends with her reconciling with their father. So there's all these you know, what's really important I think film and stories talk about what's really important in life, you know, they kind of like they're teaching us how to live there the like to say that stories are kind of like the How to manual for life. And, and they're kind of like, they're quoted in this in this entertainment form, because, you know, I mean, people's stories. Yeah, exactly. People can actually tell you how to live but that's usually what you know, like documentaries, or nonfiction, or it's of documentaries. But stories are a lot more powerful. Because they're there they're entertaining, but the messages in there the message that you know, they're kind of like suddenly telling you how to live by entertaining you. It's like a sugar coated pill,
Alex Ferrari 47:59
Like, like myths and legends. Essentially, that's how exactly the meat and potatoes of our society is passed along. Right? Exactly. So an interesting note, though, on that Shawshank Redemption, that last scene from what I understand was added by the studio,
Karl Iglesias 48:15
The scene about the
Alex Ferrari 48:17
With red, yeah, from what? I studied the movie a lot, right? I've watched every documentary ever made. And originally, the original script did not have that scene. And how does the original script and you remember it ends with him driving in the bus going towards Andy.
Karl Iglesias 48:33
Oh, okay. Okay, but it still, it was fun. It was still as powerful I think. I mean, well, but the beach was like we needed to see it. Yeah, yeah. And it was as long as it's not that it doesn't focus on Andy because it wasn't Andy's story
Alex Ferrari 48:45
That was read on this on the on the bus and he just drove off. And then if you notice that it the the helicopter, I think there was a helicopter shot that kind of goes off into the ocean, right? And then it dissolves into that, because that was the that was the last shot. And then they put in that dissolve on Andy and the beach afterwards, which I think with studios notes go I think that's probably one of the best ones if
Karl Iglesias 49:10
That's true. I think that was very powerful.
Alex Ferrari 49:12
So I have a couple more questions where if you have time, one can you explain and I know this might be a big question. So if you don't have enough time can you explain to the audience what is subtext and why is it so important? Oh, I'm sorry. Cough I'm asking.
Karl Iglesias 49:33
Because you're you're you're hitting on the on the questions that I have a whole course of, you know, I mean, like I teach a whole course on the subject. So right, so this is the I'll give you the 32nd
Alex Ferrari 49:42
Exam. Yeah, that's all we ask.
Karl Iglesias 49:45
Okay, so, so subjects, okay, so I'll give you an example. Um, so if I if I said to you, three plus two equals five. And you Your mind will go Okay, yeah. I got that it's pretty obvious, right? But if I said to you, or showed you a piece of paper, and I showed on the board said, three plus x equals five, okay? Your brain would automatically start solving x. Sure, because you're challenged by it, where you go, oh, there's a challenge. Oh, ah, x equals two. I got it. I solved this, right? So that's a good example of the difference between obvious dialogue or an obvious thing you see, right where it's just obvious and on the nose, we call it right. And subtext because so subtext makes you an active participant in the scene by making your brain work a little bit. So when somebody says, like in the famous scene in When Harry Met Sally, when at the end of Connect, and she says, I hate you, Harry, I hate you. And she kisses him. Right? Right. We all know what she really means and feels. Right? Right. We know she loves him. So the line I hate you is really subtext for I love you, but she really feels right. So I hate you plus the case, equal subjects. And that's really more interesting than a character saying, I love you and kissing him because then you go, okay, it's obvious, it's just there. So the obvious and that's another By the way, that's another thing that you see a lot of in terms of problematic scripts. And there's tends to be a lack of subtext throughout, it's mostly on the nose throughout an obvious, it tends to be a passive experience, you kind of mostly bored by it, because you're not challenged, you're not challenged by it. Whereas when you subtext you go, you're like, completely engaged, because your brain is working. You're like, they're trying to figure this out. Oh, I know what she's really feeling. Like you're actually working a little bit.
Alex Ferrari 51:51
You're ahead of your head of the audience a bit. Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. As a writer, as a writer, as
Karl Iglesias 51:55
As a writer, yeah, well, you want the audience to feel to be an active participant versus a passive one. So So and there's actually techniques for that, and really, the good writers, the ones that get higher all the time, especially in dialogue, you know, you get the writers who are hired for two weeks to to, to rewrite the dialogue, it's usually to take the dialogue or just flat and obviously on the nose, and give it some life. And the life is usually give it some time. subtext.
Alex Ferrari 52:21
Got it Got it. Alright, so one last one last big question that this is just a geek question. This is just something that I want the answer to. Because I know you're, you know, you're you who you are, and you've studied so many stories. I'm a huge fan of Breaking Bad. Okay. And it is one of those stories that it's obviously not a screenplay, but in the scope of the story and the arc of that character and of the arc of the show. There's never been a television show ever to do what he did. What's your thoughts on how gillean of Vince Gilligan, a galleon Vince Gilligan, Vince Gilligan actually was able to create like, what are the key moments or points that maze that makes that story so good? Because unlike like, very much like Shawshank Redemption in the film world, breaking Bad's one of those shows that I can't say universally everyone loves, but it is pretty well respected and prior, right,
Karl Iglesias 53:19
Well, Breaking Bad is not the only one. I mean, the sopranos did that too. And the wire also did that, too. I mean, we've talked about in madman. I mean, we talked about shows that just that took great storytelling, it's just great storytelling, you know, if you have a show that has great storytelling, with great characters, and interesting scenes and surprises, and I mean, I, you know, and I'm a big fan of Breaking Bad too. It was just a big novel. It was just this novel that took five seasons, and I don't know how many episodes to tell a story. And it was a complete story. It was about a character that was very interesting, right? It wasn't your typical good guy. It was just arc and it just kept us engaged because we wanted to know how that would turn out. And that's really kind of like the key question of stories. good stories I think always make you think and make you wonder what's gonna happen next. You know if you can have that that sense of kind of mystery or you know, JJ Abrams calls it the mystery box, you know? Yeah. Just Yeah. of constantly making the audience want to know what's gonna happen next. They're constantly tuned they're gonna keep watching scene after scene after scene. In the case of Breaking Bad they're just watching episode after episode after episode except that
Alex Ferrari 54:39
One episode with the fly. Yeah, except that one episode with the ride.
Karl Iglesias 54:45
That was entertaining you know, everybody says like, what
Alex Ferrari 54:48
the hell with the writers just take the day off. They could do it the
Karl Iglesias 54:54
right way. I bet you still kept you engaged, though. Right? It's to a certain
Alex Ferrari 54:57
Karl Iglesias 55:00
Um so yeah as long as it makes you wonder you know what the hell's going on what what is what is the meaning of this you're just wondering like keeps you engaged but that was a you know and it's funny because I get that question all the time especially in the sense of you know writers are told all the time to make sure your character is likable you know, it's the biggest note and you know and they always mentioned Breaking Bad because you know, here's here's a character you really connect with who you don't really agree with in terms of his moral that moral part of it, you know, I mean, he's doing something as illegal
Alex Ferrari 55:31
But the thing that's brilliant about him is at the beginning you did he was just as was the beginning you did right. And that's the brilliant stuff you send to him. Yeah, and then he turns into Scarface right
Karl Iglesias 55:41
But the thing is is why do we keep Why do we keep loving yeah because I mean if you if you it's almost like you know if you had a friend and then your and then your friends started killing people and enjoying it You certainly wouldn't become his friend anymore You don't want anything to do with him but if you bet if you cared about him, right you know that's the thing so the thing is, is this the lesson in there but making sure you care about that character? And you worry about them? Yeah, about what's going to happen then you then you could tell a good story that's really the basis of telling a good story and creating a character you care about and it doesn't have to be the it doesn't have to be likable but you have to care
Alex Ferrari 56:19
And I was I was lucky enough to binge watch most of it up into the last eight episodes and it was I everyday my wife and I would just sit and watch three or four episodes
Karl Iglesias 56:28
Wow I know thank God for binge watching I know right right i think it's a better way to enjoy story because it's a lot more immediate and you don't have to wait a week you know it's all fresh in your mind
Alex Ferrari 56:41
Thank you Netflix Yeah, yeah, so where can people find more about you and more about your work
Karl Iglesias 56:47
Very simple they just saw all you have to do is Google my name or just put colleague laces calm and takes you to my website and you just get to see all my work there Yeah, I you know, when anytime somebody asked me for a business card, I don't have business cards I always tell them just just go to my website you know, that's my that's my business card right there. Just my name.com
Alex Ferrari 57:07
And you have you have a bunch of books you've written you have a DVD course as well that you sell.
Karl Iglesias 57:12
Yeah, well I don't really sell it it's mostly the writer store and creative screenwriting magazine they they have the DVDs I just basically you know, they asked me to do something I don't like to say no, so I do something and then they sell it. Same with the teaching I teach at screenwriters University and at UCLA extensions writers program are both online so people can take courses with me. I also consult so if anybody wants consultation there's the details on my website and then I appear on you know, writers conferences sometimes, you know this. This year I'm going to be actually in a few weeks I'll be at the at a writers conference in San Luis Obispo. I'll be delivering a keynote address there and next year I've been invited to a script conference in Poland and then an animation festival in South Africa so becoming kind of international now that's awesome.
Alex Ferrari 58:05
So one last question I asked this question for my guests and it's it's a tough question what are your top three films of all time? Wow and every and everybody says the same thing.
Karl Iglesias 58:19
Alex Ferrari 58:21
Karl Iglesias 58:22
Oh wow. Yeah, well that's that's a very big question.
Alex Ferrari 58:25
It doesn't have to be an order just three films. Yeah. And the moment that you can remember
Karl Iglesias 58:28
well, you know it as a blade runner is is right up there. Silence of the Lambs, Shawshank Redemption The Godfather anything by Pixar except maybe cars and cars 2 those are the the two weakest films by the but in terms of story you know, we just I just watched up last night with my kids so you know and I've seen it 100 times so it's gonna you know it always get to they just know what to tell great stories also anything by Pixar. And and if one movie too It's a combination well I want to obscure because it's a it's a classic messed up but a lot of people don't know because it's it tends to be an old film. And so Charlie Chaplin's city lights for city lights, where he falls in love with a blind girl. And that's one of the you know, it's probably one of the earliest romantic comedies but but very, very moving, especially the last
Alex Ferrari 59:26
If I remember right, it's silent. Yeah.
Karl Iglesias 59:29
But it's known for the very last scene in the movie which is one of the most powerfully emotional filters you know, scenes in the world in the history of cinema. And they always show that they always show that clip or that moment in every every Oscar telecast about you know, the, you know, the history of films and stuff like that. So very, very powerful and pretty entertaining films. I would say that's, that's right up there with my top favorite movies.
Alex Ferrari 59:56
Very good, good list.
Karl Iglesias 59:57
A good Thank you. Okay,
Alex Ferrari 59:59
Karl, thank you. So much for being on the show. We really appreciate you gave us a lot of great gems. So hopefully,
Karl Iglesias 1:00:05
Glad to do it was my pleasure.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:06
Hey guys, I hope you like that Carl was amazing. It gave a lot of great information, a lot of little nuggets in there that hopefully will help you guys tell better stories. I'm gonna put all of his information in the show notes, links to his courses, his books, I actually took his screenwriting expos cinema seminar series, as well. And it's just just so much information that he gives. And he really does focus on the emotional aspect of screenwriting and storytelling. And the one rule that you can break like he says is be interesting no matter what you do. Always be interesting as a filmmaker, and as a storyteller. So if you want to learn how I got into over 500 Film Festivals for cheap or free, head over to film festival tips.com that's Film Festival tips.com where you can download a free ebook that I put together on my six top six tips on how I got into all those festivals for free most of them for free, some for very, very cheap. So thanks again for listening guys. More great episodes coming I'm so excited about the guests that I have coming up and, and more stuff coming. So thanks again for all your support guys. Talk to you soon.
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- Pixar’s Emotional Core: The Essential Element in all Successful Stories
- Writing for Emotional Impact (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)
- Cut to the Chase
- The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters
- Karl Iglesias – Official Site
- BROKEN (Watch it on Indie Film Hustle TV)