Today on the show, we have million-dollar screenwriter Diane Drake. Her produced original scripts include ONLY YOU, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Marisa Tomei, and WHAT WOMEN WANT, starring Mel Gibson. Her original script for ONLY YOU sold for $1 million, and WHAT WOMEN WANT is the second highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time (Box Office Mojo). In addition, both films have recently been remade in China, featuring major Chinese stars. And WHAT WOMEN WANT has recently been remade by Paramount Pictures as WHAT MEN WANT, with Taraji Henson starring in the Mel Gibson role.
Diane, who is a member of the Writers Guild of America, recently authored her first book, Get Your Story Straight, a step-by-step guide to writing your screenplay. She has taught screenwriting through UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and now offers story consulting and her own guided online course via her website.
Diane has also been a speaker/instructor for The Austin Film Festival, the Atlanta Film Festival, the Rocaberti Writers Retreat in Dordogne, France, the American Film Market, Scriptwriters Network, Phoenix Screenwriters Association, Stowe Story Labs, Romance Writers of America, Oklahoma Writers Federation, University Club, Storyboard Development Group and the Writers Store, among others; and a judge for the Humanitas Prize, the Austin Film Festival and the UCLA Writers Program.
In this episode, we get into the nitty-gritty of being a screenwriter in Hollywood. Diane is very open about her experiences, the good and the terrible. If you want to be a working screenwriter in Hollywood, then get ready to take notes.
Enjoy my eye-opening conversation with Diane Drake.
Alex Ferrari 3:05
I'd like to welcome to the show Diane Drake. Thank you so much for being on the show.
Diane Drake 4:38
Thank you so much for asking me it's my pleasure.
Alex Ferrari 4:40
It's been an absolute pleasure to have you before we even get started. I have to say how much I love your your first screenplay. The only you it is was forever. For all those listening who don't know that movie only you is starting a very young and Babyface Robert Downey Jr. and Marissa Mayer And Bonnie Yes, as well. Oh, and Billy Zane, if I remember correctly, is in that movie as well. And Billy's A. And the reason I bring it up first is because it was it was during my video store days when I first saw that movie. And of course, I had a huge crush on Mercer to me because everybody of my generation has that crush without question. So when that movie came out, I was just like, Oh my God, but it was honestly the first experience the first time I actually fell in love with Italy because it was shot so beautifully. The director, Norman Jewison, right.
Diane Drake 5:34
Yes, the director was Norman Jewison. And the cinematographer was fun night. This too, was legendary. I mean, he did Ingmar Bergman's movies, and he done Woody Allen's movies. And I think the only reason he did this movie was because it was Italy with a lot of people who want to work on that movie, because it was Italy.
Alex Ferrari 5:53
Yeah, it's a rough, it's a rough shoot, that's a rough shoot,
Diane Drake 5:55
you know, I tell you, I was no pool, but I'll tell you something about that. So So I, when I came up with the idea, I was very much in love with Italy. I'd been there once, briefly. And I really loved it. And I wanted to go back. So it was sort of a vicarious, you know, fantasy of mine. But the other thing was that I had realized that I felt at the time and I could be wrong about this, but I don't think so that you really hadn't seen Italy on the big screen in a while. And the only place you had seen it was in like any movies like Cinema Paradiso, or there was a lovely, lovely movie. I don't know if you're familiar with it, but I love it called Enchanted April.
Alex Ferrari 6:38
I remember that movie.
Diane Drake 6:38
Yeah. Oh, it's such a beautiful movie. So, um, so and I knew by virtue of the nature of the story, that it had to go somewhere, right, and I didn't, you know, she had to take off. And I didn't want to go from LA to New York or whatever, right? I really want to go to Italy. So I'm like, I'm gonna send her to Italy. And in fact, I don't know if you remember, but they travel all through Italy. And kind of late in the movie, they go to post Toronto. And I had never been to post Toronto. So I sent them to post Toronto because I wanted to go to post. But one of the little wrinkle of this is that when I was writing that script, and I was down and out, I was unemployed I had, I had had one little tiny say, like, gotten to the Writers Guild, we can talk more about that if you want. But, um, but I was struggling. And a really close friend of mine, who I whose work I really respected a lot. And he was a script ahead of me. And we both worked in development prior to this, and we were both out of work. And I just really, I trusted his judgment. And so I was kind of having problems with the script as one does. And he very sort of cockily said to me, you know, he's like, Well, I'll send it to me, I'll read it, we'll have brunch, I'll tell you I give him a note, you know, I'll help you fix it. So we did that. And his notes were really good. I knew that I was so funny, too, because I literally just pulled them out. I hadn't looked at them in a million years. But I knew it meant I was gonna have to tear the script apart. And that would be difficult, but I knew it would make it better. So I was okay with that. But But the other thing he said to me was, but don't set it in Italy. And I was like, Why? Why not set it in Italy? And he's like, because if he said in Italy, it just becomes a movie about Italy. So there's a little lesson for you, you know, take what is useful for you. And we asked, because I just felt like no, you're wrong about that. To me. That was one of the great joys of it started as writing it. And I think it has been for people watching it. And I will tell you that movies done really, really well and DVD and whatever. I don't know if they stream it now, but I think a large part of the reason obviously, Robert, of course, you know, come on. But
Alex Ferrari 8:49
But but also Robert was Robert circa 1994. Isn't that Robert circa 2008 2018?
Diane Drake 8:56
No. He was a big star.
Alex Ferrari 8:59
Oh, he was a he was a star. What was that before after Chaplin? I think that was
Diane Drake 9:03
before it was actually let me think about it for a minute. I think it was for
Alex Ferrari 9:10
I think it was before Chaplin and before he had his his problems.
Diane Drake 9:14
Yeah, well, between us he had some problems then. But here's the thing. Here's the thing. In spite of that, he was extraordinarily professional, extraordinarily kind. I can tell you this, the sweetest story about him if you want me to later, that to this day makes me kind of cry. I mean, he was lovely. He was lovely. He may have had his own demons at the time, but he was amazing. And I think that's part of the reason there was so much goodwill for him, you know, in all right, you know, because he's just such a gracious, kind, gifted person. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 9:48
No, no question. I had the pleasure of meeting him once at Sundance and he was just such a just a darling, he was no reason to be nice to me. I was just as a little, you know, guy just walking up like hey, You know, can I get a picture? I gotta talk. And he was such a sweet man. But I do love that movie in the magic between him and Marissa, were just wonderful in that film. But before we go off on a tangent, because we could talk about only you for the rest of us. First of all, how did you get into the business?
Diane Drake 10:15
Okay, so it depends how far back you want to go. But basically, I'll try to make it brief ish. I am. When I got into college, I had a degree in communications, visual arts, and it's kind of worthless, you know, in the marketplace, it wasn't worth it to me. You know, I had no connections or anything. And so I thought, well, I guess I'll be practical, because my BA is not real practical. And I'll get an MBA, because that's what everyone was doing. And I guess that seemed like a good idea. And I hated it with passion. And I remember sitting in my accounting class and thinking, if I survive this, and, and this is going to qualify me to do this for the rest of my life. And I don't want to do this. So I quit. And which was really hard, because I'd been a pretty good student up to that point. And, you know, it's like taking out loans and everything, but it's just wasn't for me. So I that was not in California, that was in Colorado. So I moved back to California, and decided I would go to law school, because that's impractical. But I thought, but I'll do it in California. And I'll do entertainment law. And that'll be kind of sort of cool. And it'll be practical, too. And so I got a job in the legal department at what was then Columbia Pictures and applied. And I looked around, and I saw how miserable a lot of people in the world of art and luck. And before I got into USC, and I got on the waiting list for UCLA. But I didn't want to spend the money to go to USC and I ultimately did not get into UCLA. And I thought, okay, I mean, I don't know that I want to do this anyway. And so that, that it was at that point that I first learned, because I was working on the lot, that there was such a job as being a reader. I didn't know that that job even existed when I started. So I thought well, I could do that, you know, and, and that's how I started. And I started as a reader and worked freelance as a reader and worked my way up. You know, I did acquisitions for an independent company for a while. And then my last job, before I started writing was I was a VP of creative affairs for Director Sydney Pollack. Um, you know, at the time, you know, it was a really good spec sale era. Yes, it was. And I can go into more about how I was leaving there, but basically, you know, I just kind of looked around, and I thought, well, you know, that looks like a pretty good life, you know, like, this writer was off on a cruise around South America, I mean, seemed very glamorous, you know, because they were feature writers, and they were at the top of their game. And so, you know, it was like, well, and here I was sitting in judgment on these people's work. But having said that, to be a critic, it's a write about writing is a lot easier than writing, let me just say, you know, so, it is, it is a different skill in a way. And I think the thing that I lacked, and I wound up having a little talk with myself about it was confidence. And I think by that point, I had read an awful lot of scripts, and I felt like I had a relatively good understanding of the process, at least intellectually. And I would read stuff that I thought, you know, not necessarily stuff that our company was working on, but you know, just around town that it's old or you know, was getting heat or whatever and I would think it wasn't that great you know, and like and these guys and in most cases, they were guys did not know as much as I did. But then I had to realize I'm like, Yeah, but they're doing it and you're not no, no.
Alex Ferrari 13:41
Yeah, fair enough. Well, can you talk a little bit about that time in the late 80s and early 90s which was the script the spec script boom, which I mean in today's world is just unheard of. I mean yet there still are million dollar scripts and they are still spec scripts they get bought but people don't understand even I was even because I was I was just coming into the business going to film school but you would read about obviously Shane Black kind of crack but and Joe Lester house those guys just busted the door open for like 234 5 million baht
Diane Drake 14:12
Kind of out of control to be honest, but I mean it's sad to me that there was a time that to be original commanded a premium. Right? That's pretty much the last thing they want. You know, that particularly the studio's I mean, it's, it's just not what it's about at this point is about intellectual property. It's about anything that's already been successful as something else. And they're not in the business of making the sort of movies I used to write, you know, and I used to go see, to be honest, that my favorite kind of movies, you know, the movies like Jim Brooks made, you know, those kind of that's not what they do anymore. They don't want to spend 50 million to make 150 million, you know, they want to spend 300 million and make a billion. And it's it's unfortunate, you know, and I mean, there's work to be out there, but it's pretty much to work on that to work on intellectual property. You know, you write an original so you can get a job writing something that's already been something else, I think. I will say, you know, so I'm sure you know, and probably your listeners know, there's kind of two businesses now there's a studio model, which again, is 300 million to make a billion franchise merchandising, you know, tentpole mostly superheroes, right. Right. handful of people, like Judd Apatow, who are sort of a brand unto themselves that can kind of get away with that little middle ground movie,
Alex Ferrari 15:33
Tyler Perry and those kind of guys. Yeah, there's there's a handful, but there's a
Diane Drake 15:37
franchise, you know what I mean, like kind of its franchise, I mean, appetite, you could almost say it's French. It's not quite, you know, but, um, but there are brands, let's put it that way.
Alex Ferrari 15:47
Blum house and things like,
Diane Drake 15:48
I mean, when I when I wrote on the you, I mean, I had had I sold, I hadn't sold anything, I had written one script. And I got me an agent, very small agent. And he got me one meeting, and I got the job, which is miraculous to me in hindsight to you know, to destroy a little treatment. So it's 25 grand, it got me in the right scale at the time got me insurance bought me the year to write only you. But But so I was nobody is my point. And yet, my agent, and my agent was coming off a hot sale, he had just sold the script for like half a million dollars. So he was kind of an even though it's a smaller agency. He was kind of a name at that point. But still, Julia Roberts agent wanted only you for her. And Demi Moore wanted it. I mean, you could not get two stars. Equivalent caliber. Now, if you were nobody, you know, and get your script read in a day or two. That's how it used to be. That's how much that's how big a market there was. And how much demand there was for original material. saying, Yeah, I'm such changed. I'm so sorry to say but but and this doesn't necessarily affect me, at least not yet. But TV streaming on
Alex Ferrari 16:59
Netflix. I mean, Netflix is now the 800 pound gorilla, and they're doing things that, you know, I mean, it's amazing. They came in and just completely changed the game.
Diane Drake 17:09
They changed the game. And so you know, now there's Amazon. I just I Yeah, exactly. I just taught an advanced class for UCLA, and a manager came in to speak, it was lovely, and she was talking about Disney plus, and you know, that there's gonna be that and that's a lot of intellectual property, too. But apparently, they're looking to make some originals as well, which kind of shocked me. And in that 40 $50 million range, which kind of almost no one's doing, although somebody was telling me what Netflix is doing that day. Netflix is doing everything. But um,
Alex Ferrari 17:39
I was looking at I still always remember that film that just came out this last Christmas, which was the Kurt Russell Santa Claus movie. That's right. That was direct. Yeah, Santa Claus, whatever, I forgot the name of it. But it was it chronicles of Santa Claus, or whatever it was. But regardless, we'll see it every year for the rest of our lives now. But it was directed by Chris Columbus. And that was easily $150 million. Film.
Diane Drake 18:03
Oh, to make it? Yeah, I
Alex Ferrari 18:05
You do a lot of visual effects in that. I mean, it's over 100. It's over 100. And you still got Kurt Russell, who's
Diane Drake 18:13
I think it was we should look it up? I know, it was.
Alex Ferrari 18:17
But regardless, it could have been released theatrically without question, it would have probably made 250 million it would have been in
Diane Drake 18:22
the olden days. I'll tell you something about a Christmas movie, though. I'll tell you something. I wrote a Christmas movie with a partner a few years ago. And because I thought, you know, let me just do intellectual property. Right, like Santa it. You know, it's public domain. It's intellectual property. Everybody knows the story. So a partner and I wrote like a Santa Claus origin story, you know, and basically like, how he met Mrs. Claus how the reindeer learn to fly. Yeah, like, it's kind of right, fun. And I felt like we haven't seen this. And I'm even seeing a new Santa Claus. You know, even friends who were in the business like, Oh, that's really fun, you know. And it was basically the idea that he started off as a con man and a cat burglar. And that's why he was so good at breaking into places genius. And so you got this great character arc. And you know, you have fun with like, how all these things came to be. So I thought that seemed pretty marketable. And I sent it to an agent who said, who I could tell between us had not even read it. And I can tell it because it starts with Santa as a little kid, but it's only for like the first five or so pages. And then you cut to him as an adult, not as an old man, but as an adult. And he's like, Well, you can't do Santa as a kid. And so I had to kind of be like, not rude and saying, Well, he's really not, you know, it's just the first few pages and, you know, and then he said, and this was the critical thing. This was a few years ago now. But he said, Well, you can't you can't do a Santa Claus movie anyway, because they don't celebrate Christmas in China. Wow. Wow. Really? Yeah. There you have it. That's the extent to which the money and the marketplace is dictating what gets made. Because when I was first in the business, global market us You know, two thirds foreign was 1/3. And now that's reversed. And it's two thirds us is 1/3. And of that two thirds, a lot of that's China. And a lot of that is action. Um, so and I thought to myself, I thought, well, I guess that's why we haven't seen another Christmas movie on the big screen then it since elf. I couldn't see him since he no longer that was that was
Alex Ferrari 20:26
Early 2000s, wasn't it?
Diane Drake 20:28
I guess John Fabro wanted to make Elf 2 they would be happy to let him but aside from that, I don't think we'll see it. And so it was so interesting to see that Christmas Chronicles thing. My partner and I even talked about it about dusting ours off. But honestly, it needs more work. Like,
Alex Ferrari 20:47
If we go down Christmas movies, then, you know, the Disney Channel Hallmark has those things so, so on lock on those low budget.
Diane Drake 20:54
But But getting back to what we how this, what kind of kicked us off was you know, we had flying reindeer and stuff. So that was the other thing was like It couldn't be made cheaply, we thought because you were going to have to have those visual effects you were going to have to have, you know, it was not a cheap movie to make. So yeah, that was kind of interesting. But it was funny too, because both my movies only that have been released only what we want had been remade in China with Chinese stars. So I kind of felt like but they liked me in China, I think it would have shot.
Alex Ferrari 21:28
It's fascinating, fascinating. The, the way the marketplace has changed so much. And then such a kind of ignorant comment by that agent is like, Oh, they don't celebrate Christmas in China. If you could just that's such a Hollywood la thing to say
Diane Drake 21:44
Marketing driven right now, but here's the thing, here's the reality. He's got his finger more in the marketplace than I do. He knows what buyers are looking for. One assumes Now obviously, again, nobody knows anything and all that. I mean, I yeah, I did feel it was dismissive. And I did feel that like, you know, it was like, really? And yet, when I stopped to think about it, I thought well, and maybe that's why we haven't had enough because it used to be like every few years, you get a new Christmas movie. I mean, all those Tim Allen movies at home, you know, and we haven't seen it. We haven't seen a big family action comedy Christmas. Maybe that's why Christmas Chronicles was huge deal. I think, you know, because and people, you know, Kurt Russell, people who used to go to those movies when they were younger, and now they've got kids or grandkids or whatever, you know, and they remember him and it was kind of genius casting that way
Alex Ferrari 22:35
They credit Chris Columbus is no slouch as a director.
Diane Drake 22:39
We see MCs right? But it's so interesting that of course, it was not released theatrically. Like they didn't sell that theatrically.
Alex Ferrari 22:44
No, they could have easily if that would have been released, it would have easily made a couple 100 million to 300 million
Diane Drake 22:49
access the I think Well, you're right, maybe right. But I think the prevailing wisdom was, you know, and that's why it was Netflix. And I don't think it costs as much as you think
Alex Ferrari 23:00
I think you might be right. And I think it's at least 80 Because just to get Kurt Russell and Chris Chris out of bed, it's gonna cost a couple bucks. I don't, I don't know we will have to, after this
Diane Drake 23:12
interview, after this interview be interesting to see we should look that up.
Alex Ferrari 23:15
After this interview, I will look on that. Now, you also said you work for Sydney Pollack, who is obviously a legendary director. And I'm a huge fan of not only him as an actor, as a director, but also him as an actor, is you know him and Eyes Wide Shut. I love his stories with Stanley and all that kind of stuff. What was it like working for a legend like that? What did you learn from him?
Diane Drake 23:37
Um, gosh, well, first of all, sadly, he's no longer with us. But, um, he was difficult and extremely demanding. But because he was extremely demanding of himself, you know, and, and driven, you know, and, and kind of brilliant. I mean, he really was one of the smartest people I've ever met. He could be very charming. He started as an actor. And he could be not very nice, you know, he could be really, really tough. But I learned so much work in there. And I don't, I really don't think I would ever become a writer had I not worked there. You know, it was a combination of what I learned. And also the fact that I felt like, I'd reached the end of the road there and I couldn't I'll get into that if you'd like. It wasn't him but someone else I was working with, they're just kind of made my life a living hell, and I had to get out and so I, you know, that sort of a gun was put to my head and I was like, Well, you know, if you know so much, why don't you see what you can do. But, um, but it was great. I mean, to watch him work with writers and he was so articulate and he was so insightful and you know, yeah, they don't really make them like that.
Alex Ferrari 24:54
If they broke the mold with Sydney without question, and and just to go back to only you for a second Sorry,
Diane Drake 25:00
I'm sorry. So the guy said he was doing like in Tootsie, and husbands and wives, you know, and you know, he didn't want to be in touch. He didn't want to play that part. Right? That was Dustin Hoffman, who insisted.
Alex Ferrari 25:14
He was great at it. And just, and just to go back to only you for one second, that script was the first script you sold, and it was a million dollar buy if I'm not mistaken.
Diane Drake 25:23
It was. It was crazy. I mean, God, it, it was really nice. It was a million dollars up front. It wasn't even like if we make the movie. You know, it was it was a million dollars. Um, and like I said, I think largely because at that moment, at that little tiny window in time, we had Julia Roberts potentially interested in to me more interested. And then Norman came on shortly thereafter, I think he came on after the deal was closed. But um, yeah, I mean, you know, it was just again, it was a different time, there was a lot of competition for it, you know, the stars aligned in my favor. And, yeah, it was kind of surreal. And I remember I was so like, just praying that I could sell it at all that I could get, like, Writers Guild minimum or something, you know, so that I can continue to be a writer. I don't know. Because I didn't know what else was gonna do. At that point. I didn't think I could go back to work in development. I just had kind of burnout on that. And I just thought, I mean, I'm so yeah, and it happened so fast, you know, because this, there's a saying in Hollywood, good news travels fast. And I think it's still largely true, maybe not quite as true as it was then. But back in those days, it was like, you know, you get all this heat and, you know, things would happen or not. And so it was really like less than a week from the time it went out to closing that deal.
Alex Ferrari 26:53
Now, what is it? What is it like cuz I want, you know, writers listening, you know, you get a million dollar deal, which obviously, is a lottery ticket. I mean, it does not happen often. What happens to you on your career afterwards? Like, I know, it gives you a career, obviously. But what are the steps? Like, what are the meetings you're taking? What are the assignments you're picking up? So people understand? Like, if it just so we can live vicariously through you? What it's like, after a sale like that?
Diane Drake 27:24
We'll learn from my mistakes. Oh, okay. I did some things, right. And I did some things that probably I might have done better, or definitely, um, so I obviously kind of came out of nowhere and, and had a lot of meetings, and had a lot of things thrown at me. But, you know, I really was a new writer. I mean, it was my second script. And I'd written the first one while I still working for Sydney, like it three, in three months at night. It was a talking animal movie. only took me about a year. So, uh, you know, I at that point, for better or worse, I felt like, well, I kind of want to work on stuff that I want to work on. You know what I mean? Like, that sort of means something to me. So I probably in hindsight, had I been totally mercenary should have just stacked up assignments to the just like taking whatever came my way. And, you know, done the best I could and taken the money and run. But hopeless romantic ideal is that I am, I just didn't really feel like I could do that. I didn't know where I would pull it from, you know, I didn't even know how I could do like, a not about a bad job on something if I didn't relate to it in some way. So there was actually only one project in that time. I took meetings for about a year. You know, I was I actually went to Italy, while the movie I worked on only for a while. And it was in Italy for a little while shooting. And then I came back and you know, it was doing the meeting thing. And there was only one project that I really wanted. And actually, Meg Ryan was attached to it. And she had a deal at Fox and I didn't really have what they call a quote because I hadn't worked on assignment. So I just had, like, you know, I have a million dollar sale. So my agent asked for a lot of money, which was fine. But they didn't want to pay it. And it was a movie, pretty much starring all women. Interestingly, in hindsight, and all the people involved were women like it was it was it was actually Rosanna Arquette it was a story of hers. And Meg was gonna play Rosanna Rosanna was gonna play her own best friend. And it was complicated. But anyway, um, so we came down in price three times, like we came in at a certain level and fox came back really low, and then we came down and buckskin back really low, and then we came down and bucks came back really late. So three times they never came up a dime. And to me what that meant was, they're never going to make this movie. They don't want this movie. And maybe I'm wrong about that. Maybe I misread it, but that was my interpretation that they were placating Meg. They weren't gonna tell her no, she had to deal with the studio. But they they had no interest in making this. And because I had been so fortunate as to not only sell a script for a million dollars, but actually have it go into production. I kind of thought, Why do I want to sign on for something that I know they're not excited about? To begin with? Right? And that was when I walked away and thought, well, you know, you did Okay, last time, right? In your own idea. So why don't you come up with something else? Oh, the ego? Yeah, wow. But here's what happened. So I gave an if I could only do this now, if only but at the time, I was younger, then I said, Alright, you got a week to come up with something. And that was when I came up with what women want.
Alex Ferrari 30:42
Wow. And, and that is a great segue into what women want, which is obviously was a huge hit with starring Mel Gibson, pre Mel Gibson. And you know, Mel Gibson, pre Mel Gibson, and, and the lovely, incomparable Helen Hunt, who's amazing in the film, and I remember watching that film 1000 times I love that movie. And but there was a bit of drama with that movie wasn't there for you.
Diane Drake 31:11
There's a lot of drama with that movie that I am still technically not at liberty to discuss. But let me just say it was very bittersweet. It is very agonizing. Honestly,
Alex Ferrari 31:23
it was you have a story credit, you have a story credit on
Diane Drake 31:25
that. I have a story credit. And I wrote the original script for that movie, and there's no way that should have happened. There is no way by Writers Guild rules. Uh huh. That that should have happened. And that's all I'm gonna say for now. But that was a huge, huge battle in my life. And yeah, I, you know, I, I always say to people, I'm really trying not to do this anymore. But I always say to people when
Alex Ferrari 31:53
I want to say anyway, but but I'm gonna say it anyway, I don't say this.
Diane Drake 31:58
I say I will never get over it. And I will never get over it. But I have to start, I just have to tell myself, I'm bigger than that. You know, but I the reason it's particularly fresh right now is I just relived it all, because it just got remade, right. So I had to deal with the Writers Guild again, and I had to deal with the credit again, and I had to deal with what was done to me on that movie again. And what was done to me was, you know, brutal, it was not right. And I'm not the only writer in Hollywood to have had this experience. I know that I did get paid, I got paid very well, for my torture. And the movie got me, you know, and it was a huge hit. And all that's to the good, but um, yeah, I have a few bones to pick with a few people, including the Writers Guild.
Alex Ferrari 32:43
And, you know, and if it makes you feel any better, I also had on the show, Paul Castro, I don't sure if you know who Paul Castro is he used to use he taught over at the UCLA Extension program for almost 10 years as well. He wrote August Rush. And he wrote the original screenplay, and the original story. And he had the exact same thing happened to him. And he does, I mean, he did get the store credit, and he has a store credit, but another bigger, the producer brought in a bigger screenwriters name, and then they, he wanted to take credit. And then it was a Writers Guild battle. And it does happen, it does happen, you know, unless you are unless you are an 800 pound gorilla. You know, that's not happened.
Diane Drake 33:24
You know, that's the thing. I mean, after I sold on the EU, I didn't teach anything. I didn't do the kind of thing I'm doing now. But every once a while, I get asked to speak somewhere, you know, and I'd always get the question like, how do you protect your material? And I would always say, Listen, you know, I mean, obviously, at the time, I was in The Guild, I had an agent, I had a lawyer, but still, you know, it's like, you can register your stuff with the guild, even if you're not in the guild, like $25 You can register it with the US Copyright Office. And my response was always, it's just easier for them to pay you than to steal it from you, really. And then what women want happened to me. So yeah, it's, uh, there's, you know, there's only so much you can do and,
Alex Ferrari 34:13
you know, when you go up against when you go up against a studio when you go up against bigger, you know, bigger name, you know, like, you know, for lack of a better term, like, you know, this doesn't happen to Aaron Sorkin or Shane Black you know, yeah, Quinn Tarantino
Diane Drake 34:26
would have not I think I mean, listen, read William Goldman. I mean, they all have their horror stories, even people very top you know, it's just, it's just differently, but, um, yeah, I will say I feel like and I always have to, like temper this. Like, I've been very fortunate. You know, I was fortunate that it sold I was fortunate that it got made. I was fortunate. I got paid. I had a really good attorney. I'm not good enough as it turned out. But, but you know, I really do fault. The writer skill a lot on this And, you know, I'm not the first writer to do that. And you know, they do their best. But, um,
Alex Ferrari 35:07
it's politics. It's Politics, Politics, Politics.
Diane Drake 35:11
It's just the reality, you know, and I had the guilt exists. And I appreciate, you know, the residuals and all that. And, but, yeah, they're, they're not immune. They're not, you
Alex Ferrari 35:21
know, it's politics. And I think that's something that they don't teach in film schools and stuff, they don't understand any new screenwriters coming up, don't understand that. Look, there's there are rules that everyone says there are. And then there's rules that nobody tells you there are until you get slapped across the face with those new rules. And you are a perfect example. And Paul's a perfect example of that, that things happen, especially when egos get involved, especially when big names get involved. And a lot of times are like, well, who's that? Well, that's an app, let's just crush that and move that out of the way. It does happen. It does happen. It's unfortunately, it
Diane Drake 35:55
does happen. And it happens far too often. I mean, you know, compared to a lot of what people go through, you know, at least my name is on it, and at least
Alex Ferrari 36:04
Absolutely, you actually have one of those success stories.
Diane Drake 36:07
Having said that, I mean, you know, that it's just, you know, it's funny, I'll do a little segue here. So one of the things I talk about, and it's only kind of recently come to me, you know, it's interesting teaching, because when you're writing, it's, you know, I assume it's like somebody who's a good tennis player or whatever, it's intuitive, right? They've been doing it so long. And then when you teach it, you have to really break it down. You're trying to explain to somebody else, you know, how it works. And so I like teaching because you always kind of get new insights for as long as I've been at this I'm still like learning stuff myself, you know, there's never ending. But one of the things I've recently kind of concluded, or at least, you know, contemplated is that I really do believe that in a way stories are about justice. Because I think everyone feels like an underdog and everybody recognizes that life is not fair. It's just not and yet And yet there's something really deep in us like primal almost Lee almost that wants to believe it is that you know, is so like, we just like expect it's going to be but of course it's not. And that's part of the function story, sir. Right? Because we want to see people get what they deserve. We want to see the hero get what he deserves. We want to believe there's justice in the world. We want to believe, you know, we want to see the villain get what he deserves. And you know, and that leads to the whole Zeitgeist thing about superheroes now, because I think everybody feels so powerless. But you know
Alex Ferrari 37:38
what I mean? I always use this as an analogy, because what you just said is a perfect analogy for arguably my favorite film of all time Shawshank Redemption. Yeah, you saw shank redemption. I always people like what is about that movie that, you know, I saw that movie when I was 20 something where I literally probably still thought John Claude Van Damme was a greatest actor of all time. So there wasn't a sophistication there to see a good story but yet even my high school and college friends were liking that movie. Like, what is about that story? Like, on paper? It's a horrible title. It's like not right horrible worse, worse marketing worse marketing campaign ever. I mean, it's about you know, in the middle, it just there's nothing appealing from on the surface about that film. But yet I always tell people that I think it's I think people connect with it so much because it's an analogy for life where you are Andy do friend and you feel like you your your life sometimes might feel like you're in prison or that it's not fair. And then you get beaten constantly for 20 years, and then you finally escaped and assistance cathartic thing? Yeah. So that's why I just thought of that when you were saying that because it was, I feel it's very much what do you think about the damage? I'm assuming you like that? If not, you're dead inside. And I
Diane Drake 38:53
haven't seen as many times as you have. I remembered I remember very fondly. But you're absolutely right, that it is a lot of people's favorite movie. Like, you know, if you're on Twitter, and people name things, that movie comes up a lot. So it really did strike a chord with people. And and yeah, getting back to what I was saying. I mean, I think the most powerful people in the world think of themselves as underdogs. You know, it's all relative right? Here. I think they identify with the underdog. And it's funny, you know, that, how I am and I don't know who it's by, I should know, but I'm into each life some ramus fall, you know, that saying, okay, so I only just recently came across the line that precedes that, which I think is really lovely, which is by fate is the common fate of all into each life summary as well. That's awesome. Like, you're not going to be exempt, you're not going to be exempt and it's going to suck you know, and so we all have our our crosses to bear so to speak. So yeah, I do think stories really speak to that in the desire to believe there's some I mean, you know, we look at we build temples to justice, Supreme Court, whatever we want to believe that that matters, even though so often, it seems not to
Alex Ferrari 40:04
what is the what is the great fear that you had to overcome to finally be able to put your fingers on that typewriter or on that computer or on that on that computer to actually start writing and put yourself out there as a writer, because I know a lot of people listening are either just starting out, and they just have these. I'm a very big mindset guy. So like, it's all about your mindset and what beliefs you have about yourself and the confidence that you spoke about? And what was that thing that you finally, what was the dragon that you slayed to get to where you were,
Diane Drake 40:35
um, you know, I don't know if I can quite put my finger on the fear, although, like I said, just sort of the general umbrella of lack of confidence, which I think stays with you, you know, I just think stays with writers period, and probably most creative people. And, and I but I do remember telling myself that I needed to accept the fact that I was not going to probably be able to write to a level that I would really respect, right, because even though my critical faculties have been pretty well honed, I was just beginning as a writer. So you know, cut yourself a little bit of slack there, right? You know, you haven't been doing this, as long as you've been watching movies, you know, even people who don't do development for a living, don't analyze material for a living, you still do it right, as a viewer, an audience member, whatever. So you've consumed a lot, but you haven't produced much chances are, you know, depending on where you are in your life, and what else you've done, in terms of creative writing, so there was that. And then there was also an again, this is a little bit more of a function of the fact that it was such a great time to sell originals. But and what I was saying earlier about, you know, looking around and seeing people selling stuff and thinking, Well, I know as much as they do, or you know, so I really didn't kind of start thinking, Well, why not me? Why not? You know, I been at this, you know, so I think it's a combination of, again, allowing yourself to be a beginner in a way and at the same time doing your homework, so that you have something to back it up. Right that you have educated yourself about the craft. And that's one of my pet peeves, I have to say is that I think people, a lot of people by virtue of the fact that they've seen a lot of movies, I think it's probably it's not that hard to write one, right. But the analogy I always use is like, well, I've driven a lot of cars, but I wouldn't attempt to build one without investigating how an engine works and aerodynamics and those things, right. So and it's also the function of the fact that like, not everybody thinks they can play a musical instrument, but everybody can type. Everybody can, you know, they know the alphabet, they got a computer. So you know, but there's a little more to it than that. So yeah, you have to do your homework, too.
Alex Ferrari 42:44
Now what? So we've, we've gone down the rabbit hole of your career, and actually just kind of talked all about the business of screenwriting, which is fantastic. And I think it's great, great information that doesn't get talked about often. But let's talk a little bit about the craft. Just a little bit about the craft. What are some of the most common mistakes or issues you see in first time? screenplays.
Diane Drake 43:08
Okay, so I, I'll be a little plug for myself here. I recently not that raised by now. But a few years ago, wrote a book called get your story straight about writing screenplay. And it grew out of my teaching for UCLA. And as I was saying earlier, in terms of like, trying to figure out how to teach it. What I wound up doing, you know, what sort of happened was, I found myself putting a lot of emphasis on structure. And I know people have a problem with that. Sometimes they think of it as formulaic or whatever, but it's really not sorry about the sirens.
Alex Ferrari 43:44
Oh, good. So good. I'm assuming you're in LA. So it's okay. Yes.
Diane Drake 43:50
Yeah. But, um, so I think that's it, I think a lot of times, you know, because the screenplay, it's a marathon and you spent 120 pages now it's maybe 100 to 110. But that's still a lot, right. And it's very easy to get lost on that sea of possibilities and, and write yourself into a corner to mix my metaphors. And I think, again, getting back to what I was saying about justice and sort of how it's primal. I think that story structures like I, I didn't invent it, you know, this was Aristotle, this is beginning middle. And this goes way back. And again, I think is sort of primal. It's kind of like you, you may not know a lot about music, but you can tell if something doesn't sound right. If it's out of tune or whatever, right. You might not be able to put your finger on why it's the same thing. It's like, we almost have this intuitive sense of like how things ought to be building or moving forward or shifting, you know, as the story progresses. And I think structure is something that's often kind of invisible to the average person. They don't they're not conscious of it, but they are unconsciously aware of it, you know what I mean? And that's and so Those are the problems I see most often, you know that people are structural, yeah, they're structural, you know, it's like it, you and that everything needs to have a purpose, right? It's not just random chitchat, it's not, you know, you need to be building, these seems to be telling you something that you didn't already know. And they need to be taking you in a specific direction, and you probably better have a pretty good idea of where it is you want to wind up before you start, if you're going to stand any chance of getting there.
Alex Ferrari 45:28
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now, back to the show.
Diane Drake 45:39
So and I also always, you know, the caveat to that is, you know, there are movies that don't follow those, I don't even like to call rules, principles, maybe, you know, but if you want to do that, well, fantastic, you know, then, but it, you'll be doing it if you if you educate yourself about it, you'll be doing it consciously, you'll be breaking those rules consciously, instead of you just don't know any better. And you're just kind of bound, right? Like Charlie Kaufman can
Alex Ferrari 46:06
do that. Right. But very much so.
Diane Drake 46:10
But that's a high wire act, you know, I mean, don't try that at home. That is that is somebody who's at the very top of their craft, and very unique sensibility and all that. For the most part, the vast, vast majority of critically and commercially successful films hit those beats, they just do. And it's funny, because even movies that you think of as being, or I think a lot of people think of as being novel and indie or whatever. You'd be amazed how much they fulfill that. I just, just recently, we screened Little Miss Sunshine. And I had them do a worksheet on it, like, you know, what's the inciting? What's the opening image, you know, opening image of that movie, it's so on target, it's all sitting there watching a pageant, and it's reflected in her glasses. I mean, it's so perfect, and she's acting it out. So you instantly know what that movie is about, or you know, you don't know. But in hindsight, like, that's what that movie was about. And all those beats that inciting incident in the first plot point, and you know, the midpoint, and he's just hitting those marks in in really inventive and character driven ways. So
Alex Ferrari 47:16
very much. So one thing I wanted to ask you as well, what do what does the scene always have to have in it? Like, what are the elements in the scene? Because you're right, so many times people are just like, so how are you doing? I'm doing fine. How is that going? And they like, just, it's like, no, that's that way we watch a movie to watch real life. That's called a documentary. What should a scene do? And what elements should be in every scene in your script?
Diane Drake 47:39
God, I wish I knew. But I will say this, you know, I mean, dramas conflict, right? Somebody should be one, tell me she wants something, you know, and they probably should know. And I wouldn't say always, but oftentimes, we going up against somebody else who, you know, doesn't want them to have it. Right. That's kind of how you feel it. But I think, you know, some scenes are more character oriented, and they're telling you something more about the person, particularly in the first act, you know, when you're getting the lay of the land. You know, some scenes are really just kind of moving the plot along, we know who these people are, by now, you know, you want to be consistent with who they are. But this is What's tricky about it, right? Because you can't really totally boil it down to a formula, that it's the prototype every time out, right. And that's why even people like Sydney, Pollack, you know, have their hits and their misses, you know, it's just, they're there. It's intangible in a way, you know, but, um, in general, you want to be moving things forward, you don't want to be repeating yourself, and you want the story to be building as you go. And you want there to be something at stake that people care about, or understand at least what it means to the protagonist, and that you care about whether or not they get it, because if you don't care, then the whole thing is moot. Right? Right. That's kind of fundamental.
Alex Ferrari 49:01
So then what film in your opinion has, as an example, like a perfect setup, structurally speaking, like just like, great,
Diane Drake 49:09
you know, there's quite a number of them because I, I know this because I teach them in my class. And I don't have anything that's really brand new. But you know, I try to get to newer things, but tipsy is genius. But you know, 10 Seems like I don't know, eight writers on that. Right? I mean, credited it's not but like Elaine May was uncredited on that, you know, Larry Gelbart was on that Marsha school, who was the guy who came up with it with Dustin. You know, and then there were at least three or four others. I wasn't working for Sydney at the time. But you know, I'm aware at least three brothers that you know, he worked with plus Sydney, who never took a writing credit, but worked very closely, you know, with people developing scripts. So that's how hard it is. Right? That's that this is how challenging this craft is. You got all those people at the top of their game and it took them years That thing did not happen overnight. I think that thing was in development at least three or four years before. And when they first pitched it to Sydney when Dustin and I guess my Cisco versus Sydney, he's like, you know, and he had not done comedy right. In fact, I think that's his only comedy. And it's really a shame because it's such genius, but he felt like, you know, I don't really do farce, and it's great. I would go see it. You know, Blake Edwards did it, I go see it. But I don't know how I don't know a way into it. You know, a guy putting on a dress. And apparently, in one of those meetings, somebody said something about, you know, how it makes a man out of my goal, like being a woman, man. And that was what Sydney latched on to thematic, Lee, that was interesting,
Alex Ferrari 50:43
then I'm assuming that is a that's a difficult pitch like that, at that time in history as well. It must have been a difficult pitch,
Diane Drake 50:51
Dustin, and he was pretty big star. But, um, and he really wanted to make it and he really wanted to play it. You know, there was something about playing that character he really sunk his teeth into. But that was the thing that made it interesting for sending this was sort of the larger thematic question that he could explore there. But Toy Story is also master class and structure.
Alex Ferrari 51:14
Pretty much almost every one of their movies is a masterclasses structure. I mean, you could argue that all of them,
Diane Drake 51:21
I'm going to be unpopular here and say that I'm not as big a fan of the Pixar movies as I used to be, because this is just me. I don't think they're as funny as they used to be. I think they've gotten very sentimental. And yeah, and, and I missed the wit, you know, and I don't know if that's just a function that most of the guys and they are guys, almost all guys, and maybe there's some women now, but who made the bulk of those movies have gotten older. I don't know whether it's just easier and safer. commercially speaking, you know, it is easier, I think, to sort of push those sentimental buttons than it is to be genuinely witty and inspired. Especially when you're kind of working on almost like Shakespearean level where you're aiming at kids and adults and everybody in between. But I just think the original Toy Story is genius. And, and so funny and, and, and ultimately, so touching. But I mean, the idea that buzz has this existential crisis when he realized he was not a Space Ranger. I mean, now, right? There was best things ever in a movie. And it's fantastic too, because it's fantastic character arc, because it's that's his epiphany. That's the moment that they're able to escape sins and you see the light go on in his eyes. And he finally realizes, you know, it's okay not to be a space ranger, you know, he's cool with being Andy's toy.
Alex Ferrari 52:46
isn't a great in the sequel, where he actually runs into another Buzz Lightyear who still has that same thing. He's like, Oh, you silly, silly, man.
Diane Drake 52:56
I mean, yeah. The King's Speech is another one that really hits those marks sideways really hits those marks. A lot of them you'd be surprised so you can any really, in my opinion, pretty much any really successful commercially critically, you know, solid movie, you can go through that checklist and identify for yourself those beats again, unless it's something very different. Like like Charlie Kaufman or
Alex Ferrari 53:24
you know, Tarantino Tarantino stuff.
Diane Drake 53:26
Yes, exactly. We've got that loopy structure and stuff, you know, which is genius, too. But I think even in that, you know, you can identify Inciting Incidents and stuff. Yeah, that's, that's yeah,
Alex Ferrari 53:37
you break Pulp Fiction down, and it follows the path, but it's it's done that
Diane Drake 53:42
The way. It's, yeah, it's so put around in time that way, and like 500 Days of Summer, or Yeah, yeah, they're hitting those marks, but they're doing it in a way that like, it's like, really,
Alex Ferrari 53:53
it hurts the brain. It hurts the brain to think about how he, he was able to structure that up. No, I wanted to touch about because you touched upon this earlier superhero films. It's obviously so pervasive right now in our culture. Um, look, I have a Yoda sitting behind me. I have some superhero statues in the back. I'm a huge superhero fan is my generation. I was raised with comic books and stuff. So I love it. But it is now a thing that now studios every, like, if you were I remember, like 89 When Batman showed up that Tim burns Batman, everyone was like, holy cow, a superhero movie that was not Superman, circa 1977. Now, every week, there's a new $300 million movie. What is it about the superhero genre, which Spielberg also said that will eventually go out like the Westerns? I don't know when it'll go out but waiting. It's gonna it's gonna be probably another 30 or 40 years. I mean, they're gonna they have 40 or 50 years of these characters still going and then they can reboot it and as long as people keep showing up, they're gonna keep going, but what is it about that genre? What is it about? What's your opinion on the genre? And in better and better question is like, is there anything that could be done with screenwriters coming up in this genre?
Diane Drake 55:12
You know, I am not the person to ask because I really, I all admit that upfront, I'm just I'm, I, I've tried, I really have tried design. No, that's what the kids are saying. You know what I mean? I like I know, of course, I'm well aware of how popular these things are. But they just make my eyes glaze over.
Alex Ferrari 55:30
I have a Nolan How about Nolan's work?
Diane Drake 55:34
Christopher Nolan. Yes.
Alex Ferrari 55:35
Like the Dark Knight?
Diane Drake 55:37
I haven't seen it. I'll confess. So I'll say this. I love Iron Man. Okay. It's Robert. And because it's John Pharaoh, and I love John. I think John Piper was fantastic. So there's wit in that movie. I think that's just for me. I just, I like, things that make me laugh. And I'm bored by watching an accident sequence that goes on for 20 minutes. I mean, how many times can you watch things blow up? How many times can you watch, you know, giant fingers punch each other? I just entertaining. I wish I did. Because clearly there's there's money to be made, you know, and I feel a little left out in the cold at this point. But I it just they don't entertain me. I never read comic books. I'm not interested. I think the original Superman is brilliant. Because again, it's character, right? There's width, and there's romance, and there's character. And there's tongue in cheek, you know, and maybe some of these movies have that. And I've missed the ones that do. But I'm like you said There's a new one every week. And i just i i It's not my thing.
Alex Ferrari 56:44
The one thing the only movie I will suggest you do. Only one I would say you watch is the Dark Knight. It is arguably the godfather of of superhero movies. And if you take the superhero element out of it is a basically an amazing heist film, just a heist film mixed with a crime drama thriller. If you take it because a lot of these you you take the suit off. It's done. Right, right. Christopher Nolan does such a good job that and that's the second one. Not the first. The first one's great. And the third one is good. But the second one is, if that's the reason why we have 10 That's why we have 10 Oscar nominees. And because of because of that movie, right?
Diane Drake 57:23
Alex Ferrari 57:23
it was so good.
Diane Drake 57:25
Well, and this is not superhero, but um, you know, it's not like I don't like if anybody cares. Really, right. Like, I'm like, you know, darker movies. Like, really a movie that I love, actually that I was also just pointing out to my students because the final battle in it is aliens. The second one simply ever did, which I just think is genius. You know, it's so suspenseful. But again, great characters. You know, Paul riser is so scary in that movie. Like you can't believe he's that bad a villain and he's frightening
Alex Ferrari 58:01
and normal looking. But is normal looking. That's the thing the same, right?
Diane Drake 58:05
Whoa. And we're used to seeing him in comedy. And then again, it's gonna be incredible. And oh, my God, oh, Caxton. I know.
Alex Ferrari 58:21
Man, and I would argue and I know, I might get crap for this on people listening. But I'm like, it honestly hasn't been a James Cameron film that he's made really, that I don't like, I think they all have. I mean, he's just one of the, like, the abyss, I thought was,
Diane Drake 58:36
I actually never saw any of this. I was not a big fan of Avatar. In fact, I felt like Avatar was a bit of a rip off of aliens. Oh, no,
Alex Ferrari 58:43
Avatar was a ripoff of FernGully it was a ripoff of a billion other things. But it hits those he was able to hit those buttons. So yeah, everyone was a bull's eye. Everyone was a bull's eye. And then you mix that in with insane technology. Insane,
Diane Drake 58:59
respectable. Exactly. And I clearly that's part of its success. And probably a lot of people who loved avatar never saw aliens, you know, I didn't realize the extent to which, you know, he was kind of ripping himself off. But um, I just and I also think, you know, aliens had wit, I mean, it just so you know, if you can combine all those things, it's fantastic. But to me, I just feel like so much of the superhero movies are the ones I've seen. And again, I haven't seen very many, but the ones I've seen and even wonder woman like I heard so much about Wonder Woman and of course I wanted to, you know, applaud it. It wasn't that great. I'm sorry. It really wasn't I was expecting Superman and maybe the bar was too high. But in terms of like that relationship between her and I can't even remember the guy now. I just really expected more of it. It looked great. She looked great. You know, but that whole third act is same old same old you know, it just I I don't know I mean a Listen, I'm not an easy person to go see movies with
Alex Ferrari 1:00:00
Fair enough, fair enough? No, confess,
Diane Drake 1:00:02
whatever you do your that was more critical.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:06
Diane Drake 1:00:07
Let me just say, I will say this, when something's really good, in my humble opinion, I appreciate it so much. Because I know how hard it is. I really do
Alex Ferrari 1:00:16
I agree when I say like, I saw green book, and I was just like, well, that's just great. I mean, it was just so well, the chemists literally two guys in a car. And it just held you and it was wonderful performances, wonderful writing wonderful directing. It was just hitting every I don't know if it was best picture. But it was still are arguably one of the best films I saw this last year. But yeah, when you find it when you see it, if it keeps me up past my bedtime, that means it's a good movie
Diane Drake 1:00:48
See it again, because you want to see how they did what they did. You know, that's something for what it's worth, I really recommend to your listeners and writers is, if there's something you really like, watch it and read it and watch it and read it over and over and over. I feel like it seeps into you the rhythms of it. You know, even if you feel like you know it forwards and backwards, if you can still learn from it and really dissect how they're doing what they're doing. Look at how it looks on the page, look at how you know, it hasn't made it to the screen, that form has been changed that kind of thing. Just really do the forensics.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:25
Yeah. And yeah, of course I've been I've worked in a video store. So I saw 1000s and 1000s of movies. And that's how I kind of got started in my business just watching. It was the first time in history that you could do that when the VHS came right, right. That's right. Yeah. Before then you have to wait for the movie.
Diane Drake 1:01:39
Alex Ferrari 1:01:41
you can pause it and rewind it. And you're gonna have Martin Scorsese talking to you.
Diane Drake 1:01:46
Alex Ferrari 1:01:48
There's no excuse whatsoever. Now, your book, uh, tell me a little bit about your book. I want to I want to get people to if you're interested in it, where they can get it. What's it about?
Diane Drake 1:01:58
Um, it's called get your story straight. It's on Amazon. Like I said, it kind of grew out of my teaching for UCLA. And it I really go into what I think are the important elements of a functioning screenplay. And I use a lot of examples. Like I was saying I dissect a movie at the end of noumenon every chapter but almost every chapter, including Ironman and King's speech and sideways and Tootsie and toy stories, and the kind of all over the map fell on the waves, you know, winning screenplays, yeah, genius. Thurman always so holds up. How well that movie. It's so good. It's so good. That sequence I just gonna go up on tangent here quickly, the sequence because founders are talking about turnaround, the sequence where they get stopped by the cop. And Thelma, you know, starts in that sequence as like a little girl, you know, she's like, please, please, please don't let it get stopped. Please don't ask us. You know, and then they need the cop clips of the car. And then she sort of coqueta she was like, officer, I told her to slow down. No, it doesn't work either. And he makes Louise get out of the car and makes her go sit in the police car. And then, you know, Thelma appears at the window with the gun and start calling the shots. Oh, shoot the radio. And so you see that character arc in that sequence? You know, and it's just so brilliant. And it's so brilliant too, because you believe it? Right? Because we know she's met Brad Pitt. And we know there's money been stolen. We know. You know, she's desperate at this point. She's also, you know, had this little quick romance with him. And yet he's taken their money, but he's taught her how to Rob I mean, so it's not like it's not set up. You know, it like you don't see it coming yet. At the same time. It's like, oh, yeah, I can buy that she would do that. So
Alex Ferrari 1:03:49
it was such a great such agreement, and we are going to attach it but that was a great movie. Ridley Scott directed it. And people like Ridley Scott, like when he did that movie. It was like, what the guy with the Blade Runner and aliens doing?
Diane Drake 1:04:01
I know and it's visually so stunning. You know, it's Oh, it's so great. Anyway, so about the book. So yeah, so that's that's what the book is.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:10
With. Thank you. And then what else are you up to? What other things do you do?
Diane Drake 1:04:14
So I teach I do consulting. I do private consulting I speak I which I really enjoy I last year and I'm doing again this July I was a mentor at a retreat at this castle in France called marijuana castle. There are some folks anyway, it's miles Copeland. I don't know if you know that music producer responsibly. His castle. But it's fantastic. It's just a great experience. And then I'm gonna do another one of those in a monastery. Naples.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:46
Rough. Yeah, that's
Diane Drake 1:04:49
the best part. Honestly, I'm like being read. Anyway, that's an April 2020 The Italy one. So I do that and I I am Working on working on something and I haven't written anything in a while for all the reasons we discussed. But I do have a story I want to tell. So a lot of people have told me I should write it as a book. For a number of reasons. A Hollywood's more interested in books right now than they are in original ip ip. Yeah, exactly. No, it's really true. I mean, the manager who came to speak at my seminar or whatever, at UCLA recently, was saying literally even self published books they're more interested in than they are in an original screenplay. Because it sort of doesn't matter. It's as long as it's something else first. It's stunning. Um, but having said that, you know, I'm not. I've spent all these years in Screenwriting. That's what comes to me naturally and to try to write it as a novel. Oh, although the thought of like, not having anybody mess with it is really appealing. And it's, it's kind of daunting to me. So we'll see. But I yeah,
Alex Ferrari 1:06:00
I'll tell I'll tell you what if I can write a book because I have a story that I had to tell. And I wrote a book that just got released about a crazy story in my life as a filmmaker, and it got published and people already asking me, when's the movie coming out? Because a friend of mine wanted me to write the screenplay. I'm like, I'm not gonna write the screenplay. I'm not gonna go chase money for a screenplay. I'm not gonna, and I can't tell the whole story. In a screenplay, it's gonna be so much more difficult. But what a lot of freedom in a novel, it is a tremendous amount it's for. And I've written more screenplays that I've written anything else in my life? It just just flows. It's so it's nice. It's,
Diane Drake 1:06:37
well, how you encouraged me, I appreciate that. I just, I don't know, I don't literally like kind of know how to do it on the I'm so used to being spare, you know, like, now. I've got to like, you know, they said, you know, it's like, I find that really challenging. Maybe I should just like, map it all out and then translate, right?
Alex Ferrari 1:06:55
It's like speaking, it's like speaking publicly doing a 10 minute speech versus a three hour speech. Like, it's much harder to do a 10 minute speech than it is to do a three hour speech, because three hours you can just Miranda and
Diane Drake 1:07:08
tell stories. And can you think the novel is like a three hour speech?
Alex Ferrari 1:07:12
Absolutely. Because I was able to go into places until until little detailed stories and then not have to be so precious with your words. Because when you're a screenwriter, they just beat you down with like, every single word has to mean something, that description has to move the story or we're in a novel, you could just you literally just all the chains are off, and you could just write and it is honestly for me, as you know, as a screenwriter, and as a writer it is so it was so freeing. I was like I'm just gonna write 1000 words today and then just write 1000 words and I'm gonna write another 1000 words today and, and there's no the structure is so much more freeing it as a writer, it feels it feels so much better for me. I do think that novel writers have an extremely difficult time becoming screenwriters. But I think screenwriters have a much easier time become novel writers. I had Doug Richardson, the screenwriter from bad boys, and diehard to on. And Doug. He's writing. He's writing novels now. He, he loves to teach. He said series of novels. And he still write screenplays. But he's like, oh, man, it's just so great. Because you could spell play and what you said, it's yours. No one's gonna mess with a word.
Diane Drake 1:08:24
Well, that's, that's the biggest thing. You know, I mean, obviously, you got editors, you know, if you get that are your sisters but, but, ya know, it's a whole other. Yeah, that that is something that, you know, is, I think, kind of unique to screenwriting. It's like, you know, if you do if you're a painter or poet, or whatever, you do it and maybe people like it, or they don't like it or whatever. But nobody's like, let's put a little more read on that. You know, write your own brush. Yeah. So I
Alex Ferrari 1:08:54
hope I've encouraged you to write in a novel.
Diane Drake 1:08:57
It's a good perspective shift for me.
Alex Ferrari 1:09:00
So I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter one to break into the business today?
Diane Drake 1:09:05
You know, I I think I think okay, if you happen to be a minority, there's never been a better time. Right? So many fellowships, diversity fellowships programs out there particularly in television. I think the vast majority are in television but they all these you know, platforms and networks and everything as we discussed have so much you know, time to feed you know, and there's unlimited Netflix right?
Alex Ferrari 1:09:39
Oh, there's Netflix is just the starting there's so many streaming I think there's like 1000 moments shows going on right now. It's insane.
Diane Drake 1:09:45
And who knows how long that's gonna be the case. But for the time being, there's there's that vacuum not backing but you know, there's that market to fill. And there's a lot of heat on these organizations to open doors to people who always have been kept out basically. So, um, so if you're one, if you fall into that category, I would absolutely encourage people to pursue those fellowships and, you know, do your homework on that. And that's easy to find on Google that stuff. And then there's the contest, you know, nickel, you know, there's a handful that I think really sort of matter nickel as Film Festival, probably final draft, you know, there might be a couple more that I'm not thinking of right now. But that's kind of a way to get noticed, you know, and then, you know, the other thing is, and this is the trick, right, it's like, go do your own little thing. So there's this democratization of the technology, right, but at the same time, there's so much clutter out there. So that's hard to rise above. But, you know, I always say, and I always add that, you know, sometimes I wish this weren't the case, when my work doesn't seem to catch fire, you know, but, um, I really do believe if you write something good enough, and that bar is very, very high. But if you do, it will get noticed, people will talk about it, they will talk to their friends about it, and it will spread, and you will get somewhere with it. But you know, Mike Lawrence, you know, who wrote Little Miss Sunshine. There's a great clip of video of him online, if people are interested, where he talks about sort of his inspiration for that movie, and the origins of it, and he's really lovely. But one of the things he talks about is how he was a reader before he became a writer, I think, from Matthew Broderick, and and he says, I believe it's in that clip, where he says, you know, that I realized the talents, kind of a wash in B minus two B plus scripts. And then a lot of them just didn't ultimately fully deliver, particularly in the end. And he it was very important to him that that ending on Little Miss Sunshine really said something I did, and yeah, you know, like, it went away, you didn't expect and yet it made perfect sense. And it tied everything together with the medically and, you know, story wise and everything. So, I think that's true, you know, I think, to, to write a B script, it's probably not going to get you that far. But if you can, either, you know, whether it's in the conception of the idea that so unique that it's like Jurassic Park or something, you know, that it just really is just almost sells itself that way, or your execution is really so masterful, and and that is hard. That's really hard. And you had it, it doesn't happen in one or two drafts, you know, you'd have to really be willing to keep at it.
Alex Ferrari 1:12:31
Now, what can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career?
Diane Drake 1:12:37
I wish you'd asked me these questions about what book had the biggest impact? Um, you know, I can't think of one in particular, there's a book I really, really love. I don't know that it had the biggest impact on me, but it's called West with the night. It's actually setting African people wanted Sydney to make it after he did out of Africa. And it's a true story too, but he'd already done out of Africa. So sure, he wasn't gonna go back there. But that's a brilliant really book written by a woman who was a pilot in a bush pilot at the same era of Isaac Dennison. But what I will say is after I quit business school, and was thinking of going to law school, when I was in college, I didn't take any Well, I took one literature class, and I hated it, because they made us read books I didn't like, and so which is kind of like being forced to eat food, you don't want to eat, you know, and irony of ironies, that's what my living became, was reading, reading stuff. I didn't want to be reading screenplays. But for whatever reason, I just decided, when I got out that I wanted to have a better understanding of classic literature. And so I did my own little self, you know, self directed course, I guess, of reading the classics, sort of right after I got into college. So I read because I wanted to know what we built by Moby Dick Or they talked about Grapes of Wrath, or they or, you know, Jane Austen, or whoever, Tolstoy you know, I wanted some familiarity with that. I don't honestly really even know why. But I did. And what I learned from that was, it just taught me a lot about the universality of human nature. You know, like, at the time, like, you know, it was still the Soviet Union, and they were like, the big red menace, and I knew nothing about Soviet and then I read Tolstoy, and it's like, oh, but they're just like, people. Right? I mean, obviously, he was precisely, but you know, what I'm saying like that this Russian guy, you know, from the 1800s, right? Us 1800s, I believe, could speak to me, you know, in the 20th century, which was astonishing to me, but he really did and that's it. That's Shakespeare, right? That's, that's the things don't change that much. And so I think collectively that experience, really, it gave me a lot and I think it also gave me kind of confidence in my ability as a reader That was
Alex Ferrari 1:15:02
Very good. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?
Diane Drake 1:15:11
Wow, what am I still learning? Um, you know it, I'll say this, it gets back a little bit to what we're talking about justice, you know, and you stay in this business long enough, some really shitty stuff is going to happen to you. It's just going to, and like I said, nobody is immune. And it's ugly, it is it is uglier than you can possibly imagine, that I could have possibly imagined. Um, the other side of that coin is, is can be incredibly exciting and incredibly fun. And I got to go to Italy and hang out with Robert Downey Jr. You know what I mean, it's like, but it runs the gamut. But I do remember having a point, a long time ago, in my life where I thought, you know, you either need to just accept that this is the nature of the game, you know, this is the nature of the beast, or you need to get out, because you are not going to change this. And so, yeah, you're not. Now having said that, I still have difficulty with that. And, and I will say, in the wake of the me to stuff, part of me is like, hats off, you know, for your collectively for those women collectively going, No, you know what, it's not okay. And we are going to try to change it. And, you know, maybe they will in the long run, maybe they won't, I don't know, but I really give them credit for having finally said, No, we're not just gonna say that's how it works. That's how the business is. There's nothing we can do. So if you have to, I think almost have like a duality, you know, where it's like, okay, this is the way it is. And you do your best to cope with it and just keep your head down. You know, do your work. That in the end, I think is your salvation, is do your work, do the best you can and, and strive as you do that, because it is so critical to be inspired by the work that you admire, and the work you love and really seek that out. Because that's what beat you.
Alex Ferrari 1:17:10
And the toughest question of all three of your favorite films of all time.
Diane Drake 1:17:14
Oh, my goodness. See, now this is so hard. Um, well, I would put them on Louise up there. I really would. I love that movie. Um, gosh, we think hear from it. I mean, there's little movies that I love. I don't know if I put them My all time but they just touched me like Al Pacino. I love love Pacino's beautiful. It's so beautiful. And it's just so quirky and sweet and beautiful. I really like Pulp Fiction. Fiction, and I and yeah, so and yeah. Butch Cassidy maybe Hello. Paul Newman. Anything Goldman? It? Yeah. And anything really true
Alex Ferrari 1:17:58
Princess bride I mean,
Diane Drake 1:18:00
Princess Bride, misery. I mean, come on. Yeah. All the presents. And at all of them. He's just genius. And they all hold up so well.
Alex Ferrari 1:18:09
And where can people find you and the work you're doing?
Diane Drake 1:18:13
I didn't, they can go to my website, which is dianedrake.com. And you can reach me there.
Alex Ferrari 1:18:18
Very cool. Well, Diane, it has been an amazing conversation. I'm so glad it went into places I wasn't expecting, which I love. Which is great. And you really drop some knowledge bombs on the tribe today about the realities of being in this business. And hopefully some inspiration and some cautionary tales, as well. So thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to us.
Diane Drake 1:19:02
Oh, my pleasure. Thank you. It's really fun.
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- Diane Drake – Official Site
- Diane Drake – Consulting
- Get Your Story Straight: A Step-by-Step Guide to Screenwriting by a Million-Dollar Screenwriter