Have you ever wanted to learn how to write a screenplay fast? I know I do. This is why I invited on the show award-winning producer/director, best-selling author, film festival organizer and public speaker, Jeff Bollow.
He is the author of Writing FAST: How to Write Anything with Lightning Speed. Jeff Bollow began as an actor at age 12 in his native Los Angeles (credits include Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead and TV’s Columbo) before working nearly every job in production, from camera to sound to lighting — and including jobs in development, post-production, and distribution.
Jeff has worked on feature films, TV series, commercials, music videos, radio, and corporate productions for companies such as Universal, Castle Rock, Propaganda Films, DNA and the Oxygen Network.
After migrating to New Zealand, where he directed television for TV3 and co-founded the Big Mountain Short Film Festival, he moved to Australia, where he launched Embryo Films. Through his company, Jeff has reviewed over 20,000 project submissions and has edited, assessed and/or mentored over 350 projects. He has script doctored in Singapore, Australia, NZ, and the US; and has conducted over 80 live weekend workshops to over 1200 writers in 9 cities in 5 countries, with a unanimous “recommend” approval rating.
His students have been optioned, produced and won (and placed) in competitions worldwide. He designed FAST Screenplay in 2004 and began officially building it in November 2009. It was finally completed in July 2016, nearly 7 years later. Alongside it, he created the FASTscreenplay YouTube Channel, which now includes over 30 detailed and insightful free videos to encourage writers and screenwriters around the world.
In May 2015, Jeff Bollow delivered his first TED Talk, “Expand Your Imagination… Exponentially” at TEDxDocklands in Melbourne, Australia, to prepare for the next phase of the larger plan. Jeff’s aim is to build an independent film studio that inspires creativity worldwide, to help prepare humanity for the dramatic changes our future holds. When he’s not busy helping writers with FAST Screenplay, he is working on a new book, developing a television series, and planning two feature film projects. Enjoy!
Jeff Bollow 0:00
Cause I think one of the challenges we have today is you know, so many people are watching YouTube and whatever at, like double speed that then to dial it back into the you can't watch a movie at double speed you're gonna miss, like it's not gonna, you're gonna get, you're gonna get info, you're gonna get data points, you're gonna get plot twists and turns, but you're not gonna get nuance and feeling and emotional subtlety. So you can't really watch a movie and take everything that the movie is giving you a way at double speed.
Alex Ferrari 0:28
This episode is brought to you by Bulletproof Script Coverage, where screenwriters go to get their scripts read by Top Hollywood Professionals. Learn more at covermyscreenplay.com. I like to welcome back to the show returning champion Jeff Bollow. How you doin Jeff?
Jeff Bollow 0:44
I'm great. Alex, how are you?
Alex Ferrari 0:45
I'm good, man. I'm good. Thanks for coming back on the show brother. You're
Jeff Bollow 0:48
Thanks for having me, man. It's been a while.
Alex Ferrari 0:50
It's been a few minutes. It's been a few minutes. I think you were in the hundreds. If I remember correctly.
Jeff Bollow 0:54
I think it was like, right around 100.
Alex Ferrari 0:56
Yeah, the hundreds or something like that when you came on last time. But your episode, your episode is one of the more downloaded episodes in the history of the show. It's always done very, very well. So I just was thinking I was thinking the other day, I'm like, you know, it's just back on the show, I think we we need to introduce what you do to the audience to this new audience wasn't originally to a new generation. But the new the new members of the tribe that have been listening, and I've gathered since last we spoke, which is you know, substantial since then.
Jeff Bollow 1:28
Alex Ferrari 1:31
Yes, I want to introduce here's what you do, and and who you are to the to the tribe. So for people who didn't listen to the first episode, how did you? And why did you want to get into this insanity? That is the film industry?
Jeff Bollow 1:44
Well, so I was insane as a very young child. So I literally cannot remember a time when I didn't want to be in the film industry. And so when I was like, five or six, seven, somewhere around there, I was like, constantly dreaming characters for myself on my favorite TV shows. So like, at the time dating myself a little bit here. Like it was cheers was one of my big shows that I would like, I would imagine character for myself as Sam Malone's long lost kid because, you know, used to like sleep around and all that kind of stuff. So what if he didn't know that he had a kid and I would like literally dream up a whole episode of me appearing, and being the guest star of like, Hey, I didn't know that. And I would imagine the whole show. So it was a weird, like, acting slash writing fantasy that I had as this kid. So you know, I was, I'd be on my paper route, throwing papers and dreaming up various fantasies on all these different shows. By the time I got to be 12 years old. I was like, my life is slipping away from me. So I said, I gotta, I gotta do something about this. And there was a guy at my local church who had a recurring role on a soap opera called Santa Barbara. And so of course, to me, he was an A Lister, obviously, he's probably he was probably a guy like just that was one of his few gigs that year, but But to me, he was Nayla he had the golden keys of the kingdom. So I asked him, How do you get into this and I, I, he told me, here's where you go to, to it was drama log back in the day, here's where you go for casting notices and try to take a picture of yourself and get an agent and I got an agent. I was with the kids agency, who at the time represented like Wil Wheaton and mine Bialik and that kind of stuff. And, and got some gigs here and there and just fell in love with the whole process once I was actually in it and on camera and doing the child acting thing. And once you fall in love with the process, it's really hard to you know, to forget that you fell in love with the process. So you're just like, I became a sponge and I was I just did. You know, you name it. So I don't know how far down that road you want me to go with? That was the genesis.
Alex Ferrari 4:06
So then, was there any films or TV shows that we might recommend remember you from Sir?
Jeff Bollow 4:11
I mean, the only one that people recommend remind me that the only one that people will remember today is I had a big part in a movie called Don't tell mom the babysitter's dead. Where I got stoned with with Christina Applegate, brother Oh, and I say and I said to a future X file star David do Cagni pocket yourself Metallica breath to which I begged and pleaded with the director Don't make me say this line. It's the stupidest line in the world. And when we have the cast and crew screening it got the biggest laugh of the palate for the stupidity of the lungs. So Metallica breath Yeah, guys I know Don't leave. It doesn't make any sense. But it's it was a thing for a while there.
Alex Ferrari 5:05
That is a cult that is a cult film everybody. Yes, it's called is a good word. I remember seeing it in the theater I told me to. And Christina Applegate was a huge star. She was still married with children at the time,
Jeff Bollow 5:18
It was her first, it was the first sort of foray her first big move into movies. It wasn't her first movie, but it was her first big move into movies.
Alex Ferrari 5:26
Can you imagine if a movie today was called Don't tell mom.
Jeff Bollow 5:30
Well funny enough. It was not called that originally it was it when we shot it. It was called the real world. And then as we were as it was being edited, the real world the MTV first reality show came along, and they went with change the title. So literally, we're at the cast and crew screening and they go, Oh, by the way, we've changed the title. And we asked the producers kids, and they thought it would be funny to call it Don't tell mom the babysitter's dead and we all went, Oh, God. No,
Alex Ferrari 6:02
I'll tell you what that name is. That's, that's, that's the thing that sticks.
Jeff Bollow 6:07
I honestly think that that's the only reason we still remember it today. I mean, movie, it's like, but it's like you only remember it for the title, which is a good lesson for would be screenwriters and creative people. Like if you're making a comedy. Make sure your title is funny. If you're making a horror film, make sure your title is scary, you know?
Alex Ferrari 6:27
Right, exactly. And you know, we can have Bernie's and things like that back weekend. How that movie ever got made is beyond me. And it's such an 80s
Jeff Bollow 6:36
I love that it did, though.
Alex Ferrari 6:39
And not only one, but two, of course, because the body obviously does a stink after the first
Jeff Bollow 6:46
I was gonna say like how long later was Bernie Bernie's? Two? I can't remember. Two years later, there's Bernie still will be at the ad Scott. Oh, seriously. He's so funny. So much of NATO is thinking about this the other day, so much of the films from that generation don't gonna hold up today. There's no no, a lot of cringy.
Alex Ferrari 7:11
And a lot of those movies in the 80s live beautifully in my memory. And I exactly watch them again, because like I was watching, I saw the I saw like a scene from Bloodsport. Okay. And I was like, no, no, I'm not gonna watch it. No, no, I, in my mind. It's fantastic. In my mind, the action sequences were great. And some scenes are great. The action sequences and stuff were really fun to watch. But I don't need to see the story of that. No, no, it's perfect here. Right? Exactly. Most films from the 80s and 90s, where it's good to hear.
Jeff Bollow 7:48
I mean, there's a lot of like John Hughes stuff that you're like, oh, no, love. I love that movie as a kid. And now like, oh, I don't even think I'd be able to
Alex Ferrari 8:03
We all watch home alone on Christmas.
Jeff Bollow 8:05
And it's, it's just funny how this time changes in our cultural sensibilities shift. And as they do a lot of the things that we look back on that seemed relatively normal and tame culturally, back in the day, just kind of, they don't necessarily seem that way today. So I in some ways, it's kind of encouraging because it means there's always going to be this need for new fresh voices and new fresh ideas and perspectives and, and stories. What we need to do then is tell those stories in a way that gives the today audience the same feel that we had back in the day with that with, you know, movies are of the time of the moment, you look back at 50s and 60s films. And the sensibilities were different in those times. So some of those things can transcend and hang on over the years, but some of them are really relegated to the era in which they were mammy.
Alex Ferrari 8:58
You can watch die hard and it still holds you can watch Wizard of Oz and it still holds you go watch godfather and it still holds these things transcend time and space. Pacing might be a little bit slower than we're used to and things like yes, definitely. But overall, they still I mean, I still watch Casablanca and I'm just like, so
Jeff Bollow 9:16
But how much of it is because you already have that bond with it versus
Alex Ferrari 9:22
Oh, if it was fresh, you would be like, like, well, this is does this make sense here? I remember you look at something like Shawshank, and you know Shawshank is I agree. It's gonna hold from I mean, look, there might be a time where if it doesn't cut every five seconds or every two seconds. It's not going to work.
Jeff Bollow 9:43
I think one of the challenges we have today is you know so many people are watching YouTube and whatever at double speed. Then to dial it back into the you can't watch a movie at double speed. You're gonna miss like it's not gonna you're gonna get you're gonna get info you're gonna get data points. You're gonna get plot twists and turns, but you're not going to get nuance and feeling and emotional subtlety. So you can't really watch a movie and take everything that the movie is giving you a way at double speed. So that's, that's going to force the normal speed to be faster. That's one of the reasons why we want cuts every so often now, I think. And it's like, where does that end out? You know, how does that how does that change the story medium over time? I just find that a fascinating puzzle, you know, so
Alex Ferrari 10:32
So let's bring it back to what you've been doing now for a few years. Yes. Which is helping screenwriters with screenwriting development? So the first question, we're going to talk about the fast screenplay, which is a fantastic system that you've come up with. The first question is, what are the three fundamental problems with screenplay development?
Jeff Bollow 10:53
Well, so the so we have a bunch of fundamental problems, but sort of some core fundamental problems are that at the end of the day, we're making a film, when you're writing a screenplay, you're not writing it for the end reader, you're writing it for the audience, you're writing it for the people who are going to make the film for an audience. So because we're not writing for the reader, a lot of writers often get into this place where they think they think my work has to be perfect, or it's how I see it in my head is what it has to be in it. And there's this, there's this, there's this delicacy that they treat it with, that doesn't really hold in how the industry works. The the screenplay is a is a blueprint for the production process. The screenplay is the is the is the thing around which we all huddle, and decide that this is the movie we're gonna make. It's not the screenplay, it's not the, as the writer, the idea in your head, is not the thing that's going to end up on the screen. The idea in your head is what informs the ideas and all these other creative people's heads, which is what's going to end up on the screen. Right? So fundamentally, a challenge that we have, is that, that we have to create for a creative team. Right? We also have to the another fundamental challenge is that there is not the money, particularly in the indie film world to pay for that script development. So if there's not that money to pay for that script development, how do we develop projects. So let's, for example, let's say you've written a script, you send it to me, as a producer looking for material, I look over that script, and I say, Hey, this is a great idea, this is a decent story. But it falls apart in the second act, and it doesn't really work and I need to change the end, my lead is a little bit older than this, can we age it up a little bit, like I have these changes I need to make, either I'm gonna have to pay you or someone who's skilled at doing that to fix that project. Money, which I can't guarantee is going to give me the result that I want. And money, which I can't recoup, if I don't make this film. So it's very risky for the producer to say, I'm gonna go ahead and buy this or make this. So as a result, we don't and we say no, and it's much more, you're much more likely to get a no, because there it's too there's too much required on the producer side to, to make to go down that road. So as a result, what the producer needs is for the writer to be at a higher level of development, like they need the project to come in, at least on the indie level where you don't have the money for development. They need the script and the project come in at a higher caliber at a at a more at a higher state of readiness with less what I call a viable production ready screenplay. You need that? In order to be able to say yes, so that I can at least see that if there are some adjustments, they're minor, and this writer is talented enough, they can probably make those adjustments. That's a that is one of the fundamental problems. So the so those are the main kind of kind of big sticking points now fundamentally within the industry. My belief is that one of the grand challenges we have is that most writing screenwriting is taught by writers. And by being taught by writers, you don't. What you often don't get is the producers perspective, so you often don't get what the producer needs in your project. So if you're writing something and you don't understand what the producer actually needs in your project, what they need from a packaging standpoint, what they need from a logistics production standpoint, what they need from a budgeting standpoint, you have a great idea. Fantastic. But it's got a niche audience. But your budget is like this. Like, there's a mismatch there. It's misaligned. So because it's misaligned, it's always going to be a no no matter how good that idea is. And I think part of the part of the problem is that the generally within the industry, there is not this infusion of the producers perspective, and what the what that what an understanding of that is and what that means for your project. So I don't know if that answers your question.
Alex Ferrari 15:46
No one answers exactly what what it is. And I agree with you, there's so many screenwriters just come up with an idea and a story. They don't think about the product. They don't think about how this is actually gonna get produced. I have so many screenwriters that have come to me and they're like, I have this this tentpole I'm like, stop right there. Stop. Is that Yes, exactly. No one is gonna give you $200 million. No one's gonna give you $100 million. No one's gonna give you $50 million. It is not the world we live in today. No one's buying tentpole specs anymore.
Jeff Bollow 16:14
It's possible, but it's the very peak of a very specific mountain that you have to climb up to to qualify for. If you're running a 10 pole project. You're competing with other writers who have already written tentpole projects. They know the people they know. They know the pitfalls. They know how to craft a project specifically for that, think about a Tom Cruise movie or something like like he has a very clear view of and nuanced understanding of what it takes to make a big theater film, right? That big theater experience if you don't have that experience, aiming for that. It's like, I want to play in the NBA. I want to be Michael Jordan, but I really, I still need to learn how to dribble. Like what? Like, no, you that dude spent years and years and years and years and hours and hours and hours, but writers tend not to want to spend that time and energy.
Alex Ferrari 17:12
But even if they did, so let me ask you this in the last 20 years, how many tentpole movies have been I want I need one, I need one, I don't not that there's a small amount, I need one that you can think of off the top of your head. That's $100 million plus off of an original IP that had no IP prior to that.
Jeff Bollow 17:34
Oh, I I can't think of a single one myself. I don't know for sure. But I would imagine if there are any, it would be in the count them on a single hand.
Alex Ferrari 17:44
If that if there is because I if you and I are both students at the industry, I can't remember of a movie. That not a small movie that made tentpole money, there's paranormal activity and many of those things, that's fine. Agreed. But I'm talking about a movie that walked in with $100 million dollar plus project but in a studio system off of a script that no one had ever heard of before.
Jeff Bollow 18:04
In a way it's a it's a it's a misunderstanding of how the industry works at that level. When you're thinking about tentpole movies, this is a machine this is a business enterprise, the movie is almost like an it's probably a little controversial, but like yeah, a product like a like an afterthought to what the ancillary income would be from that toys. And
Alex Ferrari 18:29
For the Disney folks, some are the Warner Brothers
Jeff Bollow 18:31
When you're talking. But when you're talking about 10 poles, you're talking about Jurassic Park, or whatever this kind of thing you're going to, you know, the McDonald's Happy Meals and all that kind of stuff, right? Like there's there, you have to be thinking about all that stuff, for it to make sense, like who's going to put $100 million into a movie, or these days 250 $300 million into a movie that can't generate that kind of response, like you like I find that writers often are not thinking through the business reality of the stories and the ideas. And it's not just about genre, it's about budget, it's about marketing, it's about how the where the money comes from it. Because I think writers often think we're going to make a movie, and the box office dollars are going to come in, and that's going to be our windfall. And we're going to like, that's not where you make your money on a movie. Like that's a that's a leading indicator of sort of the possibility of the of the long tail of the income stream from a movie. But if you don't if as a writer, you're you're you're just swimming around in your story ideas, and I have this great idea for a scene or if it's great idea for a character, which is often a motivating factor to get into it. But if that's the if that's the singular drive for making that, it, it didn't it connotes a misunderstanding of how the industry works, which is going to be the thing that's going to make actually achieving that impossible, because what I found Isn't writers quit before they actually develop the skills they need to succeed in that space, because they go into it with a misunderstanding or some wrong ideas about how the realities of how it is, and they sort of keep spinning their circles in the wrong direction, you spin your circles long enough in the wrong direction, you're gonna burn out, you burn out, you go this industry, you can't succeed in this industry, this is impossible. I think today, there is more opportunity just succeed as a screenwriter than ever before. The secret is stop aiming for the top of that mountain. And aim at where the opportunity is down here. And the niche markets in the in the television, indie film realm of television, sure, but that's also its own sort of ecosystem you have to get into, you can make, at the end of the day, we have the technology today, to be able to make movies literally anywhere in the world. If we have the technology to make movies anywhere in the world, for budgets that are down here, we also have the technology today to reach anyone in the world. It's a simple mathematical equation, to be able to create a project for a specific audience, if you can figure out the pricing structure of that and whatever sort of corollary back in office, you do the film entrepreneur thing, if you have that, if you have that understanding of it awareness, we can make small movies even that can generate an income for us, oh, God, this is and because of that you can develop your skill today in a way that we never were able to previously because we just didn't have that opportunity. So I think that's the I think that's one of the biggest challenges that writers, for writers at the moment these days, they're not focusing on, on all the opportunity they're focusing on, they're stuck on that one sort of mythical notion.
Alex Ferrari 21:52
Yeah, the lottery ticket. It's it's called a lottery ticket mentality. And they're agreed that someone's going to show up and like, Oh, I see your 100 million dollar temple, I'm gonna give you $3 million on the spec spot on this. And we're gonna go call Tom Cruise. And we're gonna go to make this thing happen. And it's that's the reality of the show the reality of the world. But there is a possibility to do something with that temple script, which a lot of screenwriters because they're only looking at the one thing, if you really are interested in the story, let's say it's an original story, but it's just too damn expensive pitch, there's no, it's a sci fi epic, or there's dinosaurs running around, or whatever it is, right. But you can't create IP off of that. You can write a book based off of it, you could turn it into a graphic novel, you can you can, there's so many ways that you can build IP around it. So that when you go off and build i plsa, take a year and build IP off this, you start selling books and all this, then someone from Hollywood comes knocking like, hey, we'd love your idea. Do you have a script and you're like, hey, I happen to have one. But you've already made money with the idea. So there's other ways to make money with an with a big idea like that. That's not about getting it produced. I have friends of mine who did the exact same thing. And a year or two later, the people who said no to the script came knocking, because they wanted to produce a series. Of course, they had IP on it. And now all of a sudden, they're like, Do you have a script? I'm like, Yeah, I have a script. I gave it to you three years ago, but we'll give it to you. Okay.
Jeff Bollow 23:24
But that's changed the change the draft date,
Alex Ferrari 23:27
Because I changed the draft date and change the title if you need to whatever. But there are other options for for screenwriters too,
Jeff Bollow 23:35
For sure. And I think that's the great thing about screenwriting is that it is something that we were talking about this a little bit before is, is it's something that you can go do right now, the thing is, what I believe is you need to do it right now, strategically, it's at the end of the day, we all want to just be artists. And yes, we all just want to dream movies, and imagine snap our fingers and make them but we can do that. But we're going to be doing that at a lower budget level. And if you're writing you have to develop skills, one of the grand challenges, even at the lower budget level is that there is increasingly endless competition for eyeballs. So you need to have stories that are going to stand out in a crowded marketplace, you have to have stories that are going to that are going to reach a specific audience to develop the skill of doing that. Well, you have to keep doing it consistently. You have to it's like a it's like dribbling practice for a basketball player. You have to practice that you have to get good at it. And the the idea that we can just step out of the gate because we've seen 1000 movies and magically write a great movie is this fairy tale. At the end of the day. These are skills the story dynamics and character arcs and and how to create something actually original rather than some cookie cutter formula. And how to say something that is that we want to say rather than just tell a story that maybe says something other Ben, what we intended, like all of these nuanced abilities and skills are something that takes time to develop. And so if you're only focused on that one impossible goal, of course, you're not going to succeed at that. And I don't want that to be the takeaway, because you can succeed out of the takeaway is stop focusing on the impossible and focus on this smorgasbord of opportunity in front of you use it to develop your skills, you want that maybe tentpole project as a showpiece of what I'm capable of doing. That showpiece might get you writing assignments from independent production companies who just have not been able to find products. They were like me, right. So it's like, yeah, if we can find the writers that are able to do that. Great. And so write your passion project, but use your passion project to build your career.
Alex Ferrari 25:58
Absolutely. There's there's a lot of ways to skin that cat, sir. Yes, exact lots and lots of ways. So then we've been telling everybody, you know, the problems and how we can't difficult to get this user. You have. Can you have the solution, sir, you you've created everything!
Jeff Bollow 26:19
I have. It's true.
Alex Ferrari 26:21
So what is the fast screenplay?
Jeff Bollow 26:22
Well, okay, so fascinatingly, my challenge was this, I wanted to make a I wanted to have so I made a little independent film in Australia with a friend of mine, I should say, We nearly made an independent film we spent seven years working on it eventually had to abandon it, because of story reasons. And it wasn't good enough and all this kind of stuff. But at the time, I thought we were going to be finishing. And so I started looking for screenplays to produce found 300 Odd screenplays literally read every single one of them over a six month span found nothing I could use. reached out to everybody that I knew they had ideas, they had scripts, none of it like it was just not possible. So I thought what I need is, if we're going to take our film to Cannes or FM or something, we, we need to have other projects in tow, I wanted to say, you might not like this, because we made it on a shoestring. But here's three other projects, see, we have the talent, invest in us on these back in the day when you can get pre sales and all that stuff. And so I couldn't find projects. So I said, what I need to do is I need to be able to take a writer from this idea that they have to not just a screenplay, but a screenplay, an independent producer could actually say yes to. So I sat down. And I said, Let me reverse engineer this process. What does a writer have to do to go through this process. And I as I worked it out, initially, I thought there were six phases they had to go through Eventually, I realized there were seven phases that they had to go through. There's four key writing phases, what I call focus, apply, strengthen, tweak, it's the acronym for fast, basically, focus, the focus phase, every single person, you have an idea for a movie, you're gonna have to focus that idea into a story, right, you're gonna take all the different ideas you have and, and make a story out of them an outline or a story plan or whatever, then you have to apply that plan to the page, which is write a first draft essentially. So every one doesn't matter if you're writing the big tentpole, you're writing a little indie thing. Everyone has to go through this process. Once you have that draft, what do you have to do you have to rewrite it, you have to strengthen it until it's a solid story, the story that you wanted to tell. That's the essence fast. Once you have that, once you have lit, you turn these straight ideas into an actual story, then you need to tweak it, you need to polish it, you need to ensure that the reader experience is so compelling that when someone picks up your screenplay, they tear through it, they cannot put it down it is literally a fast screenplay, write a fast read. And that's how you go from idea to final to the screenplay. Now the problem is great, you've written the screenplay, it a screenplay does not exist for its own purpose. It's only exists to be turned into a film. So you need to also connect with the producer or production company. So what I realized there's a fundamental dynamic underneath all of it. And that is the setup payoff dynamic. And so I said, there's actually a phase at the beginning prior to all this where we set up our imagination, so that what we're creating is more in sync with that ultimate target. And then we have a payoff phase where we find and connect with this projects, ideal producer. And that's what I thought it was I wrote a book called Writing fast how to write anything with lightning speed that goes over these six phases of the process. But along the way, after I wrote that book, I realized there's a missing phase in there just because you write a screenplay doesn't mean it can connect with a producer a production company. So there is a seven phase which is six in chronological order, which is the alignment phase and what we are every every writer is going to have to send Their work out for notes and feedback, they're gonna have to decipher that notes and feedback to see if the project lands the way they want it to land so that they know who to reach out and connect with. Most people who send their work out for for feedback, do it entirely the wrong way. They're doing it to get validation. What do you think of my script? Do you like the scene? Do you like this character?
Is this any good? Do you think have a chance to stand up? And please tell me, it's like, that person's opinion is about as valuable as any other person's opinion like it one person is an opinion, a group of people is a consensus, you need consensus opinion. And you need to have the skills to be able to decipher what people are saying, I actually really liked the story. Okay, well, why like, what do I need to change, like, you need to be able to know from what they say. So when you send your workout for notes and feedback, you have to decipher that you have to figure out what the consensus it is. And it's not about validating your project, it's about making sure that your project is aligned with its target, what do you want to say, Were you trying to reach out to, if you. So those are the seven phases, basically, right, we so if you have all of this and you align your project, then you know exactly where to send it, then it's simply a matter of hooking them, pulling them in getting them excited about reading your project. And then once they do read your project, exceeding their expectations, that's the payoff phase. So the so once I realized that, I realized that once you've been through all this, you can actually use that at the beginning to make the next project even stronger. So the system itself is iterative. So at the end of the day, you will continue to loop through this process until your project improves to the point where making a sale is inevitable. And so the problem is, people don't go through that process, there's probably 200 300 skills that you need to learn things like character development, opposition, conflict, pacing, intention, dialogue, all that stuff. So what I've done is I've taken all of those skills and have woven them throughout the process so that as you go step by steps through that process one day at a time, you're learning a new skill each day. And as you're simply going through this process, and therefore you learn by doing. And so that's ultimately what the fast screenplay system and process is all about.
Alex Ferrari 32:22
So I heard you talk about the hidden story dynamic, what is the dynamic,
Jeff Bollow 32:28
The setup payoff dynamic is the hit so the when I started thinking about the hero's journey, started thinking about three act structure, start to think, you know, all of the different story theories are kind of variations on those things. Ultimately, what it boils down to is setup and payoff. In the way I started to realize was that everything in your story is going to be either setup, or payoff, or both where it pays off one thing, and then sets up another, there's actually a fourth element, which is like a reinforcement. So you set something up, you have another thing that's reinforcing that setup. So the payoff can be bigger, but ultimately, it's setup and payoff dynamic. So like a second setup. So so if you think in terms of everything being setup and payoff dynamic, you don't have to be you don't have to land on these rigid, three act structure or the hero's journey. For example, have a love hate relationship with it. It's a it's a it's a wonderful archetype, but it's only applicable to maybe 40 50% of stories, Hero driven stories. You don't need to tell hero driven stories you mentioned Shawshank earlier. Shawshank is not a hero driven story, Shawshank takes the hero character and splits it into two characters, which is what I refer to as the protagonist and the main character. So the protagonist is the character whose actions dictate the twists and turns of the story the things they do change the direction of our story. The main character is the story whose eyes we experienced the story through read and and Andy, right, so and he's the protagonist, red is the main character, the main character is the one who changes, right? He's the one who and he doesn't really change he stays. He has some change. Not not from a character arc standpoint, he has remained steadfast through the whole thing.
Alex Ferrari 34:22
Read much read makes a much bigger change from the beginning to the end.
Jeff Bollow 34:26
But if you were if you were to use the hero's journey dynamic, it doesn't make sense in Shawshank.
Alex Ferrari 34:34
But but try to do a detective story with a hero's journey. It doesn't work.
Jeff Bollow 34:37
Exactly. So my point is that my point is the hero's journey is fantastic. As far as it goes, we have the sort of love affair with these things. And here's here's my read on it as someone who's been teaching screenwriting now for 25 freakin years is that I believe that we have the three act structure archetype we have the hero's journey We have the story circle, we have these kinds of these kinds of different ideas. Because this is a ball of string that is very a amorphous, there's no right or wrong and storytelling there is only effective or ineffective. If you you can't tell me that I can't put that scene with these two characters on page 45. Of course I can do it. The question is, is that going to be the most effective choice for the story journey we're taking the audience on. And so we we do the hero's journey, we do the three act structure, because it's the easiest way to teach this stuff, not because it's the most effective way to tell the story. So what we need to do ultimately, I believe, in the screenwriting world, is find better ways to tell more effective and more original stories. If you think about it this way, if I want to build an independent film studio, which I do to make eventually hundreds of films a year like that is my grand ambition of like with production teams all around the world, like I have this huge vision. If we made hero's journey and three extra extra stories, we use the same formula for every film. How quick is the audience gonna go? Hang on? I'm seeing the same movie here over and over again. Right? We're going to recognize the unknown originality of it. So we need originality, we tell story. TV is not told in a 3x structure story, but it still works told the 4x structure story. Why does that work? Because it's, it's used, it's using the same set up pay off dynamics in different overlapping ways. Right? So if you have, you have three storylines in a TV show, you have your setup payoff arc, in the one storyline set up, pay an arc in another storyline, you can mix and match so that you're always leaving, sort of those cliffhanger hooks and elements that are going to keep that audience coming through and wanting to know what happens next in your story. So the because a movie is a self sustained, like an encompassed in one in one storytelling session, because of that, we need it to be self contained, right, we need. And so as a result, the when we analyze existing stories, we're thinking of it in terms of those Story segments, and that structure that that sort of formula, but I think the formula hurts us more than it helps us. And so my approach to it is that process based approach where we're going to take everyone through that process of formulating ideas, that process, getting it onto the page, that process of going through your whole story, systematically, big picture, whole story, at level, scene level, dialogue level experience level, we're going to go through that and see how all the details affect all the other layers of it so that we make sure it's exactly the story, what we want to tell at the end of it, like going through the process, I think is stronger than imposing some story type on your idea, you might have a great idea and go, Okay, well, now I have to figure out where my inciting incident is upon point one. And so that's going to lead and it's going to shape your idea in a way that might not be the most effective way to tell your story idea.
Alex Ferrari 38:19
So let me I want to ask you a question. I want to ask you a question in regards to story structure. Because yes, I know a lot of you know, I've spoken to a lot of screenwriters and, and I and a lot of them at the high levels, you know, even off the record, sometimes I talked to them off. I'm like, Man, that structure of that movie seems similar to this film. And many of them quietly, like, I'm not gonna say who many of them quietly have said, Yeah, because I, I used that structure as my tip my template for my script. So I always like using plain break. I mean, anybody who watches Fast and Furious, it's Point Break with cars. Right? Same exact story. Well, I didn't even try didn't even try it. It's hidden. I mean, it was so structurally the same, even characters the same, but what do you think of going into some of your favorite mystery? Like, let's say you have a story idea, like, Okay, I have a detective story. Well, let's go to knives out or let's go to some old Sherlock Holmes structures or whatever, you know, you know, detective stories there are and using those stories as that structure template to kind of lay out a template that works with the kind of story you're trying to do.
Jeff Bollow 39:42
I think that's totally fine. I think that's acceptable. I don't see any reason why not to do that. So some of those things are gonna work. Look, the reason the 3x structure and hero's journey are these archetypes that keep getting taught over and over again is because they do work. It works. They work but they work exceptionally well. For those kinds of stories, what I'm saying is that if you're just because you have an idea doesn't mean that you want to fit into the same architect, if you do use it, I teach it, I teach the React structure, I teach bits and pieces of hero's journeys. Like, you need to know this stuff. For one thing, it's the it's the common language of the film industry. So it's like, you need to be able to speak that stuff with some degree of intelligence. But that doesn't necessarily mean that that should limit the creative choices that we make, right? So it doesn't mean that a script or story is wrong, if we're not telling it according to that structure. So as a if you're a new writer, you're just starting out, by all means impose an existing structure over your current idea, see what it does to your idea, see if it makes it work and how it makes it work and why those dynamics are what they are, at the end of the day. If you go back to set up and pay up look, Mike's backing up a little bit. And probably since we last spoke, I've come to to deeply believe that all story is about change. It's not necessarily about the hero changing. But it's about something changes. If nothing changes in your story, it's going to be boring as sin, it's not really going to engage an audience. If, because we because we are so enamored of the hero driven story of that the old that we tend to only focus and maybe executives tend to typically focus on the hero's change that character arc. But that's a specific type of story. And not necessarily the most interesting take on it. Sometimes you want your character to not change, you want the other characters in the story to make a change, or the place can change or some technology's thinking like, it's in seeing the change, that we extract the meaning from a story. That's how stories give us meaning. What changed and how and why.
Alex Ferrari 42:03
So I know a lot of people listening my thinking like all heroes, are the heroes always changing like the other day they don't, I don't absolutely know. James Bond until Casino Royale. Exactly. never moved.
Jeff Bollow 42:16
But if you had genuine character change, you wouldn't have TV shows either because you can't have a character week to week with the same comic foibles, for example sitcom or something. If they were making a change each week, like
Alex Ferrari 42:29
Sam, Sam Malone and Sam Malone, exactly, he might make a change from the beginning of the series to the end of the series. And it may slight, I mean, more, or you're doing something like they did with Breaking Bad, which absolutely that will
Jeff Bollow 42:44
That is a change for sure. And that was that they knew going into it that that was exactly you're right
Alex Ferrari 42:51
They were gonna he was Mr. Chips to Scarface like that's exactly, it was, this was this thing. But you look at something like Indiana Jones and I was just thinking as we're talking, I'm like, Alright, in the end, he doesn't really change a whole hell of a lot. But the people around them do so like I'm Temple of Doom captures character absolutely changes that she went from this this actress who was very pricy and oh my god, the jungle to a badass there at the end of the at the end of the whole thing, and even short round changes to a certain extent. But he is kind of the James Bond, like he kind of doesn't change greatly.
Jeff Bollow 43:29
And so can you imagine, like script notes on that of like, well, we need to see indeed, like grow and evolve as a character, because the three act structure tells us that,
Alex Ferrari 43:38
Anything like that, but that's not the story that they're trying to tell. That's
Jeff Bollow 43:42
Exactly and, and so and so the problem becomes that then we take this stuff that we've all been taught, or that that we've studied, or whatever, and we impose it upon an idea, and possibly take out the most interesting or nuanced or audience grabbing element of that, because we're looking at it through a very specific lens that this industry has imposed upon it. And I just, I'm just trying to push back on that a little bit and say, I don't think that's I don't think that's right, I think it's the setup payoff dynamic underneath it, that if you get the setup payoff dynamic, correct. Were the things at the beginning, you can't set something up and then not pay it off, because then you're gonna feel empty or there's gonna be holes in the story, it's just gonna feel wrong some way and you can't have this big payoff without first setting it up or emotionally doesn't mean anything to us and doesn't doesn't hit us, right? So you're not gonna be able to, if a character or scene or situation doesn't change over time, we're not going to take much away from that. And so that's sort of the approach that I go in with is is that that's our sort of guiding light.
Alex Ferrari 44:53
And I'm gonna I'm gonna go back to Shawshank for a second imagine that there is no red. Exactly. Imagine that they bring red and These character and to the one Andy character, let's say, and let's say, Andy,
Jeff Bollow 45:05
I'm not sure you could but carry on.
Alex Ferrari 45:07
I'm just I'm throwing this out there. Yeah, to prove your point. So let's say we throw these two characters together. And we follow Andy and He's hopeless at the beginning. And at the end through maybe another character outside of him, teaching him hope, but the perspective of the whole story is Andy's it is not somebody else watching Andy, it's Andy, you are with Andy, you feel his pain you're in that room with, with the ladies, whatever they call them, that did all of that stuff and you following through the whole journey. And you might, they might still be able to hold off the the payoff, which if you haven't seen Shawshank spoiler alert, when he escapes, maybe you hold all that stuff up. Let's say we build that story. It's tough. It's it's it's a good story. But there's no there's it says it's not nearly as powerful as the way it was written.
Jeff Bollow 46:02
And this is the and this is kind of what I get at is, is, that story could still be a great story. But because you're telling it, you would be telling it from a different angle, the message, the point, the purpose, the theme, in some cases, that that sort of big picture idea is, is different. And so the takeaway is going to feel different, the audience is going to feel different about the movie, all of those things come from those story choices that you're making. And so so you have to understand, like, as a writer, at least, filmmakers do, you have to really understand that the the the choices that you make story structurally, the choices that you make with the character arc, the choices that you the decisions that you make, about what that whatever that change is going to be, are the thing that give the audience the feeling that they take away from your from your film. It's what it all is about, ultimately, and little details can change the entire picture and scope and meaning and message all of it, right. So it's all interconnected. Every little piece is is intertwined. And that's the big challenge of it, because you change a scene over here, and suddenly, well, this doesn't really set it up properly. And then now how do I how do I fix that? Now? It's like, that's the that's the challenge of the of the job.
Alex Ferrari 47:31
And do you know that I think originally Indiana Jones came to be because Spielberg wanted to do a Bond film. It really I don't know, I think I think the story goes that and please, in the comments, let me know if I'm wrong. But I hear the legend is that he wanted to direct the Bond movie and couldn't I and for whatever reason didn't work out. And he was on the beach with with George, Mr. Lucas. And they said, Hey, guys, I have something better for you. I've been thinking about this, this Indiana thing or this archaeologist and he's like, oh, what? So it makes sense that they would construct Indiana very similarly to James Bond, because Indiana just goes on adventures, and arguably doesn't change much. If you had a character like Indiana Jones that changes from point A to point B like let's say like an ant like a red did and Shawshank it's just not the same story.
Jeff Bollow 48:23
It's just not it's not. If you had if you had Indiana Jones going through some personal transformation, it becomes about his transformation, not about the pure escapism adventure some that the movies about. And so because they wanted to make a sort of serial adventure story, those stories that has to go front and center. And so the change over time becomes the you know, opening up the Nazis, the Nazis open getting the thing you're seeing that change over time rather than the character change over time. And that's what drives the point, the purpose, the meaning the message, all that right, and
Alex Ferrari 49:05
Flash Gordon, and those kinds of cereals, it's all based on, they don't change they did. You know, you wouldn't want them to Superman, Superman didn't change.
Jeff Bollow 49:16
You don't want Superman to change. He's super freaking man.
Alex Ferrari 49:20
Like, you're done. You're done like, and then later on, you have to do other things. But it's always more interesting. All right, so So Jeff, let's Alright, so I have an idea. I want to write a screenplay fast. Give me the bullet points of how I can write that idea, get at least that first draft out onto the page quickly.
Jeff Bollow 49:42
So so there's a couple of things. So I do I have a whole thing that I do at the beginning. It's actually currently a part I added it as a tool to the strength to the setup phase of my system, where it's really all about what I call a fast draft. And it's it's all about getting your ideas into To dress, some people would refer to it as a sketch draft or a vomit draft or like that kind of thing. But mine's a little bit more targeted in that your thinking and planning, it's not just sit down and start typing. It's a, it's a, it's a brain dump kind of thing. So the first thing that I would do is I would say, take all the ideas that you have in your head, and write one idea on an index card. One next one idea on an index card next, and you stack up all these getting, just get all the ideas out of your head, and onto individual index cards, then you're going to scatter these around, put them up on a wall, whatever, and just absorb them and see what connections you might see. And then from that, figure out what who's the driver of the story, figure out what the goal would be figure out what the obstacle is going to be, start to see some of the thematic things within that stuff. Give yourself sort of a wireframe of where you're going from what's what's the state A, what's the beginning state of the character, or whatever it is, that's going to change in your story. What's the state be, figure out what that change is going to be? change does not happen on a dime. Change happens incrementally. So a story is about the incremental change, the plot points, the twists and turns of your story are those incremental change points. So when you think about whatever is going to change, put it up on a wall, see how it sort of sketches out? Think about that. And think about what needs to incrementally change for this to be a believable, plausible change. Then think about what are those scenes that you've mapped out on your on your index cards, whatever, figure out what are the what are the scene elements that could cause or correlate to those things and just put sort of a general framework together of what that story might be. When you're outlining or you're putting your project together, your, your, your, your getting your sketch, together, the stuff that you do, what we do in detail in the focus phase, is it's not about finalizing your story. Writing is a process of discovery, always remember that writing is a process of discovery, you will never have your story, before you write it, you can flesh it out, you can say this is what I think my story is going to be. And then you're going to write that story. But then when you see that story on the page, it's going to be different to what you thought it was going to be, it's not going to be as good, you're going to have new ideas that came up in the writing of it in his brain that has a creative subconscious that spits ideas out to us. Why is that happen? Because your brain is always working in the background, piecing things together, finding connections, seeing themes, and you don't, it's like when you're driving a car, you don't think about every twist and turn you make on a journey you can get from point A to point B and go, I don't even remember driving that distance, your creative subconscious, that subconscious is just staring on autopilot. So your brain can go off in different directions. That's It's what it's designed to do. So we want to capture that we want to let our creative subconscious out. And that happens when we simply blast stuff onto the page and then see what's there. So when you're planning when you've got this, put it on a wall, put it spread it out on the tape on the floor, and for you, whatever it is find those connections, find those things start wireframing, the thing, then you want to do is you want to blast a draft out to specific road markers. So give yourself every five pages or something like that, right, just simply write to the next five pages, don't worry about the whole thing, just worried about getting to the next five pages, because you want to have a draft until you have a draft, you don't even know the possibility and where your story could go. Once you have that draft, that's when you're going to look at it. And you're going to analyze it, you're going to think about it from the different levels and layers of your story. There's the big picture, what's the what's the idea that you're trying to get across? There's the whole story, which is like how am i How am I expressing that big picture idea, the actual story. Then there's the ACT those those like major components that comprise that story. Then there's the scenes the the blocks of action, that comprise those acts that make up that whole story. Then there's the dialogue level, which is like a window to the characters and the stories we understand sort of the the machinations that are happening behind the story. And then there's the and then there's the individual beats of your story. So if you want to get stuff written quickly, throw your get your ideas out of your head, get them onto index cards, flush them out, give yourself road markers, and then blast out a draft see what you've got and then improve that.
Alex Ferrari 54:46
Jeff Bollow 54:49
Oh my gosh. Can you tell that I that I live and breathe this stuff every day and have done
Alex Ferrari 54:59
That's amazing. Jeff, I know I could keep talking to you for at least another four or five hours.
Jeff Bollow 55:06
Probably would keep talking your ear off for all. Just make them stop.
Alex Ferrari 55:11
But I'm gonna ask you a few questions as all of my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?
Jeff Bollow 55:19
Today my advice for a screenwriter would be Think Local. Because I really believe that the biggest opportunities that we have today, to launch a career are local, there are people in your neighborhood, wherever you live in the world, that have the capacity to make movies and probably want to. And so if you're what you're wanting to be a writer, right for those people, if you imagine Steven Spielberg, or George Lucas or whatever, like, how did they become so close, they grew up together, it's like they went through the film school, they were like, they were emerging talent before they were big names together. So of course, they're going to work together like not necessarily people at that level, find your own people at your own level, locally, within your own town within your own city. You can make movies today, get good at those skills, develop those skills locally. So then you have showpiece, then you have something that you can take to the studios or the bigger levels that you want to reach out to and you're not coming with a script in your hand that they don't want to read because they don't know who you are. Instead, you're coming with an indie film. That's the first five minutes goes wow, this is amazing. Oh, and what you won, you won which festivals? Oh, and so like, suddenly, this is somebody to pay attention to. And then they they liked this little indie film. And I go, what else have you got? I've got my big tentpole project, but Alex told me not to write, right like that would be my advice is Think Local, because that's going to be your key to global domination.
Alex Ferrari 57:02
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?
Jeff Bollow 57:09
I remember my I remember my answer last time, but I'm gonna give you a different answer this time, this time it is let it go. Let go. Don't get me started. You have an idea of where you're trying to get. And because you have an idea of where you're trying to get, you can get fixated on that, and it can blind you to what's right in front of you. And so when I say let it go, I don't mean let go of that that goal, that passion, that is your fuel. That's your motivation, let that push you let that drive you. But let go of the outcome. Let go of I needed to look this way. Or I'm a failure. If like when I was a kid, I wanted to be a movie star. At a certain point. I was like, You know what, I'm not the leading man. I'm the leading man's best friend. Like that's just my type, right? So I'm probably not going to be the star. So if I hold on to that impossible thing. Maybe it's possible maybe a could have achieved it. But what would I have to what would I miss along the way? Because I'm so stuck on that one idea. If you can let that go. I think you open yourself up to a world of possibility. And today we live in a world of possibility. I know that I know that in the film industry. There's this general sense of it's impossible. If you can find anything you love in the world to do go do that instead. Like I hate that advice. I hate I hate that people say that. No, you can do this. This we have more opportunity today than we've ever had ever. There are no gatekeepers anymore. You can go make your own stuff. If there's no gatekeepers anymore, the quality is where it all comes from, what are you capable of doing develop those skills and get there so let go of those preconceived ideas. Wow, man, I'm rolling.
Alex Ferrari 59:12
And last question. Just three, three of your favorite films of all time.
Jeff Bollow 59:17
Oh, man, I knew you're gonna ask me this and I I hate this question. I'm always going to struggle.
Alex Ferrari 59:28
Thriller come to your mind today.
Jeff Bollow 59:31
Want to find a good sci fi love inception. I know. These are all going to be cliche but I love inception. I love the mystery. I'll tell you what another one that I really like is called time crimes. We've seen that one time crime Spanish film Spanish films fantastic if you like time travel time crimes Man Mark Mark my words you're gonna like it. It's a it's a great little film. And then it since we'll just keep it all sci fi primer. I love primer and primer is not A Primer is not something that you would look at and go, that's a well written film, because it's not about the writing. It's about the end, the end film, and it's, it's cool. I love brain teasers, and I love puzzles and stuff like that. So I lean towards sci fi, just because it's a it's a, it's a, it's a fantastic. I'm a possibilities person. And I like to think through like the, like, where we're going and all that kind of stuff and bring puzzles and stuff. I think we have to exercise this thing to get us where we're trying to go. And, and I love sci fi for that reason. So
Alex Ferrari 1:00:34
That's awesome, man. And where can people find out more about you and your work and all the stuff that you're doing?
Jeff Bollow 1:00:40
I have probably half a dozen places you can find me but I'll keep it to one which I'll just say fast screenplay. Because if you if, if nothing else, join me on the fast screenplay free newsletter. I do a I call it daily ish. Daily prompt, I used to do a daily prompt thing on YouTube where it was like, here's a little prompt to get you writing today. And so I've started doing that in email. I don't do daily because like a lot going on, but, but it's daily ish. And it'll keep you posted with all the various things that I have. And I've got some really cool things coming up. So,
Alex Ferrari 1:01:17
Jeff, it has been a pleasure and an honor to having you back on the show. Thank you for the hard work that you do. For screenwriters around the world, sir. I appreciate you man. Think and keep up. Keep the hustle going, brother, I appreciate you.
Jeff Bollow 1:01:29
Thanks for listening. Thanks for indulging me and thanks for having me really appreciate it. Alex, you I love what you do. Keep up keep doing what you're doing as well.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
- Jeff Bollow – Official Site
- Fast Screenplay
- Writing FAST: How to Write Anything with Lightning Speed
- FilmConvert Nitrate – Film Stock Emulation Plugins – Get 10% OFF (Coupon Code: IFH)
- Need Distribution for Your Film? – Check This Out!
- Bulletproof Script Coverage– Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
- Audible – Get a Free Filmmaking or Screenwriting Audiobook