IFH 687: Skipping First-Time Screenwriting Mistakes with Naomi Beaty


Today on the show we have former studio executive turned screenwriting teacher and screenplay consultant Naomi Beaty. She is essentially an on-call development partner to screenwriters, producers, and directors at all levels. From those just starting out, to those firmly established and working in the industry today.

She lived and worked in L.A. for over a decade, read thousands of scripts, and worked with hundreds of writers through one-on-one consulting, creating the Idea to Outline workshop, and teaching story structure for Save the Cat. I’ve worked with producers internationally and consulted on the 2016 Raindance Film Festival “Indie Film of the Year” winner, Selling Isobel.

As a former development exec-in-training at Madonna and Guy Oseary’s Maverick Films, she worked on projects like Twilight, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, and The Stanford Prison Experiment.

In this episode, we get into the weeds about mistakes screenwriters make and what studios are looking for.

Enjoy my talk with Naomi Beaty.

Alex Ferrari 1:24
I'd like to welcome to the show Naomi Beaty. How are you?

Naomi Beaty 3:03
I'm good. How are you?

Alex Ferrari 3:05
Thank you so much for being on the show. I truly appreciate it. We've been playing phone tag for a little bit. So with all this craziness going on in the world, it's difficult to to get to get on. But I really appreciate you coming on. Now I wanted to ask you first question, how did you get into the business?

Naomi Beaty 3:22
Oh, well, I moved to LA with a hope and a dream. And basically, a week later, I was working as an assistant to a producer manager that was the first person I worked for in LA and really just started learning about the business through that job. I really had no, I knew that movies were made somehow I had no idea how they were made or who made them. So that first job was really a big, you know, a big part of my education and just giving me sort of an overview of how the industry work.

Alex Ferrari 3:59
And you work a lot with screenwriters obviously.

Naomi Beaty 4:03
I do. Yeah, I work with screenwriters every day, and how

Alex Ferrari 4:05
did you get into that side of the business?

Naomi Beaty 4:08
Well, so after working for that producer manager, I went to work in development at another production company and so got to sort of really see the the nuts and bolts of what what happens in development. And then after that I went to work for Blake Snyder on his he was working on his second book. And so he helped me or he asked me to come in, he helped me he asked me to come help him work on that book. And and after that, you know, I feel like people just started sort of approaching me and asking me to give them notes on their scripts. And then it became what I did full time.

Alex Ferrari 4:46
So very nice. And how was it working with Blake? Oh, he's,

Naomi Beaty 4:50
I mean, he was a great guy. You know, he I actually met him through my first job. He was friendly with the producer manager that I worked for So I had known him for a few years before he was writing that second book and asked me to come help out on it. And he was just always one of those guys who was super generous with his time, always took a genuine interest in people, you know. So yeah, it was a good experience.

Alex Ferrari 5:15
And for people who don't know, Blake is Blake Schneider wrote the the pinnacle book, if you will call save the cat, which has kind of revolution revolutionized Hollywood, that's for sure when that book came out, and so many people, because I think he was the first one to kind of really simplify structure in a way that no one had before. Is that fair to say?

Naomi Beaty 5:40
Yeah, yeah, I think that that's one of the things that makes it or it sort of an enduring, you know, go to and kind of the screenwriting education space is because it makes structure so accessible. And so I, you know, I always recommend the cat is sort of, if someone's interested in learning about structure, that's like the first place, I think you should go. Because even though there's much more to learn after that, and you know, you can read a lot of other books that gives you like, a really good concise and accessible overview of how structure works.

Alex Ferrari 6:09
Now, when you've written you've you've read a few screenplays in your day, I'm assuming. So what is the biggest mistake you see in either seasoned scripts? Or fresh new writer scripts?

Naomi Beaty 6:24
Gosh, that's a big question. Because I think there are, you know, there are you read enough scripts and you sort of see patterns, there are a lot of sort of buckets that the, you know, issues fall into. I would say maybe for beginning screenwriters working on their first or second screenplay, it's not really understanding how to create sort of a forward momentum in the story. They're, they have scenes and maybe visuals in their head, but they don't really understand that each scene needs to make progress in the plot, or in the character development or something, you know what I mean? So it's sort of when you read those scripts that can feel you know, like, we're just observing somebody's thoughts versus watching a story play out watching a character pursue something.

Alex Ferrari 7:13
Yeah, I've, when I've read scripts, a lot of times it is, especially from first time writers, they they will just sit there and then like, I always use the room, the infamous the room for like scenes, like you're supposed to cut out stuff that is not necessary. And yet, there's this one scene, it's just so I love that movie, by the way, is like when he come there's a scene where they come into a coffee shop and order coffee. But you see two other people order coffee before the main characters walk in, they have no meaning. whatsoever. Yeah. And that's the kind of stuff you're talking about. Right?

Naomi Beaty 7:50
Yeah, I think that that that movie could be really educational. A lot of people. But yeah, that's, that's a great example. It's sort of like, I guess, I guess, in any form of storytelling, you want to get to a point. And you don't want to get to the point to the degree that, you know, there, there's no sort of detail or ornamentation or suspense built or something like that. But you do want to keep things moving, because people get bored really quickly. So, you know, that's really the thing that I don't know that the thing that you should keep in mind all the time, it's like, what's your readers reaction to this? Or your audience's reaction to this? Are they engaged by this? If not, like, let's move it along. You know,

Alex Ferrari 8:32
and when, you know, a lot of a lot of screenwriters, when I I talked to them, they always ask me like, What is the? Like, what's the magic number? As far as how many pages you got to be really, you know, to grab somebody's attention? Like, how long do I have before the reader just throws it away? Because there's 6000 other scripts that they have to read?

Naomi Beaty 8:53
Yeah, I've heard a range of things. I mean, for myself, because I'm usually working with the writer. So obviously, I'm reading the whole thing, and I'm giving it all of my attention. But, you know, if you are submitting a script to someone who doesn't sort of have that obligation to you, right, and they're reading it to see what's in it for them. I mean, I've heard people say, they can tell within the first couple of pages, whether they want to keep reading, and I think it is true, like the the point of every page is to make you want to turn the page and read the next one, right. So each page does have to be engaging, but I think I really, if I'm just reading a script for fun, which hardly ever happens anymore, but if I am I mean, just for pleasure, you know, I really noticed that if something isn't happening within the first 15 pages, if it doesn't feel like I know that the story has started and I have a sense of kind of what we're dealing with and where it's going. I'm sort of like, I don't have any more time to spend on this, you know,

Alex Ferrari 9:53
and well, okay, so when you're when you're reading these scripts, the description dialogue, obviously, are very important. Can you please explain to the audience the importance of the white page? And how keeping it as white as possible? Because that was when I was first writing. And writing my first scripts, I thought it was a novel. And I received so much description and so much detail, it was just like I was so I was so happy with myself, because I was writing all this beautiful, colorful 75 cent words even Oh, it's great.

Naomi Beaty 10:32
Yeah, and I bet every every word of that description was poetry.

Alex Ferrari 10:36
Oh, it was it was, I don't know why Hollywood never just understood my genius, I just don't understand.

Naomi Beaty 10:43
Well, I will say so whitespace on the page is important. I mean, a lot of people talk about, you know, not wanting to look at the first page of a script and see a wall of black, right? Because it just, it sort of makes your heart think if you're like, Oh, this is what I'm going to be reading. Cool. Okay, you know, like, you want it to feel sort of breezy, and like there's movement, and whitespace helps you give that feeling, right, it's, it makes the read faster, which is something that you should be striving for anyway, right? It sort of helps our eye traveled down the page, if it's not just a block of black and you know, you're sort of like, your your eye is moving across the lines in a way that that is swift and sort of carries us and adds momentum to the story. So all those reasons, I think it's important to think about whitespace. And really, you know, the more text you put on the page, the more the more, the more information you're giving your reader to process. And that both slows down the read, just, you know, sort of the logistics of reading it, it slows you down. But then it also, you know, it makes it hard for the reader to sort of key in on the important aspects of what you're telling us, right? If you're telling us lots of stuff. We're like, Okay, who am I supposed to be paying attention to which actions are the most important which reactions are the most important? So for that reason, you know, sort of cutting away the things that are less important is helpful to the reader, because you're focusing our mind's eye on what really does matter in the story. Yeah, I

Alex Ferrari 12:20
mean, when I when I wrote, when I write books, I feel so much more free. Because I could just write and write and write and I don't have to worry about this kind of like economy of words, but screenwriting is such a specific skill that you need to be able to get the point across. Well, well written Brit, like you said, breezy is a great word. Breezy. Like I always I love reading Shane Black scripts, especially stuff he did back in the 80s in the 90s. I mean, his descriptions were just they were poetry, but they're one line one or two lines. Yeah, great.

Naomi Beaty 12:57
That is that's a talent to be able to describe things so concisely, but evocatively I mean that is, you know, like you said, that really is poetry. So

Alex Ferrari 13:07
yeah, and and then Sorkin for so Sorkin and Tarantino for dialogue, like you, you read, you read their dialogue, and it's just so crispy and it just pops.

Naomi Beaty 13:18
Yeah, it's great. And with Sorkin you don't even mind that his you know, his first draft is 140 pages. Because it's so much fun it's so fun to read you know,

Alex Ferrari 13:30
the walk What is it the walk and talk that was his that's his thing is to walk and talk he does the walk and talk very, very well. Now, dialogue is one area of screenwriting that a lot of there's so many areas of screenwriting people get have difficulty with the dialogue is one of them because people will write the the dreaded on the nose dialogue, which I was I definitely did a lot of that. I remember my first coverage and some of my first screenplays and, and you know, the reader was like, on the nose and I'm like, what, and I didn't even know what under nose meant. And I had to look it up. I was like, wow, okay, so can you explain on the nose dialogue? Can you explain little tips and tricks of how to get away from on the nose dialogue? Because I think it is a, a kind of a cursor cancer, the screenwriting space if I'm not mistaken.

Naomi Beaty 14:19
Well, yeah, I mean, I think that, you know, good dialogue is is sort of like pornography, right? It's like, you know, what, when you see it,

Alex Ferrari 14:28
you can't it's not Yeah, got it.

Naomi Beaty 14:32
It is hard to to tell someone, okay, this is bad dialogue. So this is how to make it better because there are so many sort of elements that go into making dialogue good, like what we would call good, right? That's sort of it gets the story points across that you need it to so it's like action in words right. And then also that it brings out the character it. It sort of conveys character in the choice of words and all that stuff. So. So it's I think it's very hard to sort of talk about style, like improving dialogue. But since you asked about on the note dialogue, I would say on the nose dialogue is dialogue that states outright exactly what the character is thinking. And or exactly what they're requesting, you know exactly what they're asking for. And so reading conversations that are very on the nose can often feel really boring, because it's just it's, I don't know, it's like, it's like, sparring listening. Well, yeah, it's like listening to the, you know, to the, like, boring married couple in the next booth over there conversation and you're like, wow, there is no flirtation here. There's no like, you know what I mean? Like, usually, if you see people on a first date, there's, there's a lot of subtext, right? Because they're sort of like, doing the seduction thing, without saying it because they're on a first date. They don't know each other that well. But if you listen to an old married couple, you're like, wow, they're just coming right out with whatever is on their mind and whatever they want the other person to do or say or think, you know, so I've digressed. But I think that on the nose dialogue, I think of it as just coming right out and saying exactly what's on the character's mind.

Alex Ferrari 16:10
So yeah, I would agree with you, going back to my wife and I, his first date, and how we talk now is completely different than then because now it's just like, Look, man, this is just the way it is. And, and there is something to be said. That's why as I forgot, I think it was Rhonda Sykes who says, as you get older, you give less of a crap about anything. That's why when your ad the guy will walk out in his in his underwear with his robe on and his socks in public, and he just doesn't care. And he'll say whatever he wants to say, because he's just given he's just given it up. Without question,

Naomi Beaty 16:45
well, I think, you know, to go back to like, sort of the first date versus like, married couple conversations, right? I, there's, I'm certainly not putting down the conversations of married couples, because they think but if you've been together for a lot of years, you figure out that you have to ask for exactly what you want, right? Because otherwise, he's not going to take out the garbage or she's not going to like find your shirt for you, or whatever it is. So you, you figure out that you have to sort of come right out and that that person is not going to mind that you're coming right out and asking for what you want, right? But on the first date, those two people are still trying to figure out what they can ask for and how they can get what they want from the other person. And so it's much more of a game, right? So, you know, that might be a terrible, like, metaphor. Oh, no,

Alex Ferrari 17:31
no, it makes all the sense in the world. Because the only time my wife and I have any issues is what she wants. She wants me to read her mind. So if I just like, can you? I didn't you understand what I was saying? I'm like, why didn't you just tell me you wanted to do that I would have been more than happy to do that. You know, men are very simple creatures as a simple they're just very blunt. We're blunt objects. We are blunt objects. This should be dialogue in a script right now this is this is going back and forth. Now you

Naomi Beaty 18:01
can just tell you're just be more on the nose, honey. On the nose,

Alex Ferrari 18:06
just be on the nose, just be on the nose. Now, you did say something called you said you mentioned the word called subtext, which is something that is another area of dialogue writing that is really, I think, misunderstood and very underused. Because if you start analyzing old movies, or just good well written movies will perform movies. A look can say 1000 Words, a motion, you know that he put the glass down, you know, he watched the dishes, the way he was washing the dishes, or the way she was washing the dishes, said volumes about what was going on, because he just knew that she was cheating on him or he was cheating on her or something like that. That's subtext in my opinion. I'd love to hear what your thoughts are.

Naomi Beaty 18:48
Yeah, I mean, I guess maybe the simplest way for me to think about subtext is sort of what's what's really going on in the scene beyond just what the characters are sort of telling us with their with their words, or their dialogue, right? Or even their simple actions. So what is the scene really about? Versus what are each of the characters pretending that? You know? So that's kind of like the general way, I guess, I would think about subtext. But subtext also has a lot to do. I mean, it has a ton to do with, you know, the character's motivations and them trying to get what they really want, without being too obvious about it and all that stuff. But it also has a ton to do with theme, right, and what the sort of what the story is about, kind of in the big picture. So I think another way to think about subtext is like, when you step back from the movie, what was it really saying or what was it really trying to convey? And then how was that sort of layered into every scene as well?

Alex Ferrari 19:53
There's a scene in the body guard Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner's body guard where I think the old personal bodyguard of Whitney and he comes in and he feels threatened. And there was something that happened that they went they the kitchen scene, if you remember the kitchen scene where I think Kevin Costner is eating an apple, and the other guy comes in, and they say no words, and they just start to fight. And you know, and it's just this back and forth of like, who's who's in control, who's the alpha. And at the very end, without saying words, it was just motion at the very end, Kevin cautious was like, I just want to talk about this again, and why it was so great when it was so wonderfully but but that's subtext, and in a broader way, but it is subtext. Yeah, good subtext is, it just makes the scene?

Naomi Beaty 20:42
Yeah, yeah, it really does. And that sounds like a great example, I'll have to go back and revisit that one and look at it. Another one that comes to mind. And this is a little bit, this is a little bit less, sort of, you know, pure subtext, what we're talking about and a little bit more just really clever execution. But if you remember that scene in the wire, where they go to the crime scene, and the only dialogue in the scene is the F bomb. You remember that? They're solving, they're solving the crime as they're looking around this crime. But the only word they use remember so much that you're like, I know exactly what's going on in their heads. I know exactly what they're saying. Even though it's only one word, you know, it was

Alex Ferrari 21:28
it was I remember that it was the kitchen, it was in the kitchen. And they were kind of going back and forth. It was just like F bomb F bomb F bomb F bomb all over the place. And at the I remember, turning my wife I was like, that was really amazing. See? Yeah, cuz they said, good.

Naomi Beaty 21:45
Oh, I can say and again, that's, that's a little bit less like the kind of subtext that we're talking about and a little bit more just like really clever execution and great performance. But it does, like if you watch it, it does still give you an idea of what can be done. What can be said without saying it directly. You know,

Alex Ferrari 22:01
Can you give any tips on subtext because I think it is just a part of dialogue, writing that is not talked about enough. And it's so powerful. If you if you can nail it, it's so like that, see that those two scenes I just said, that we just talked about? Yeah,

Naomi Beaty 22:15
yeah, well, I think I think probably the place to start is by understanding what your characters are really doing in the scene, and then finding a way to so it's sort of, I think, I think a lot of times writers come at a scene thinking that they know, you know, what each character wants, and then they just start writing the scene out without really thinking about how to construct the theme in maybe the most interesting way or, you know, unexpected way, right? And I think if you start back there and think about what what do each of my characters really want? And why can't they just come right out and say it right? Then think about, like, what might they do to try to get that, since they can't come out and say it, might they you know, come into the scene acting angry when they're not really angry and start, you know, pick a fight about something else, because they're really trying to get her to, I don't know, admit she's mad about this other thing, or whatever it is, right? It's like, figure out what that subtext is what's really going on kind of underneath what they're going to do, or what they're going to say. And then if you know that, then you can sort of build the scene on top of that, so that they're going after those hidden wants, if that makes sense.

Alex Ferrari 23:30
Now, what makes a good protagonist?

Naomi Beaty 23:35
Oh, that's a that's a big question, too. I mean, I think it's somebody that we want to watch, right? Like that. They have to be compelling to us in some way. And that can happen in a lot of different ways. They can be really sympathetic, they can, you know, they can be the underdog. They can be somebody who's really good at what they do, so that we're just fascinated by watching them do their thing, John Wick comes to mind, right? You know, they can be somebody who's really funny, I think that they just have to be compelling to us in some way. And there's a lot of different ways to achieve that.

Alex Ferrari 24:08
And a lot of you know, there's a lot of talk about the hero's journey, and it is a staple of all stories in one way, shape or form. Though even the detective story can't have a hero's journey as much there are certain limitations to it but but like a character like James Bond, one of the most famous characters of all time, he never changes. There is no hero's arc for him. He is the exact same person except for maybe the Daniel Craig versions he got he became a little bit more especially in the Casino Royale that was just such up. That's why it was such a revolution that he showed his armor so all those first like 20 or 15 movies. It was just him being cool all the time and always winning and just nothing he never changed. But when you added a human element to it he elevated bond to a play He said it hadn't ever been elevated to would you agree? Oh, yeah,

Naomi Beaty 25:03
I do agree. And I think you, you know, I I am not so well versed in James Bond. I haven't seen all the movies or anything but the dad was a huge James Bond fan. And I remember that at cool character that you're describing, like, that was really the entertainment hook that people were sort of interested in for that movie. And I think just by the time, you know, the Daniel Craig ones came around, it's sort of like, there's so much more competition in that space, right. Like, the storytelling just had to be a little bit different. You know, it had to hit sort of different appeals in order for for people to have the same kind of like fervor for it, you know?

Alex Ferrari 25:42
Yeah, I mean, well, there's also I think, when when Sean Connery was doing James Bond, there was an Ironman or Thor or the Avengers and this is like, obscene amount of competition in the heroic Yeah, space.

Naomi Beaty 25:53
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, if you think about is like Fast and Furious, like every, like every action movie now has that sort of cool. Well, not every action movie I guess. But there's a lot of action movies with like very cool heroes even John Wick like we just mentioned. So there's so much more competition.

Alex Ferrari 26:09
Yeah, John would love to talk about John because he's because I know him personally, obviously. But yeah, I mean, he I know we hang all the time. No, John Wick I found very interesting of a character because he is a character. Where as as people looking at stories or listening to stories or watching stories, we are attracted to people who are the best at whatever they do. Rain Man comes to mind even though Raman and Dustin Hoffman's character had, he was just a prodigy and, and to wick is a prodigy of violence. But his character, like what I found so wonderful about him is that everywhere he went, people were like, Hey, John. Hey, John. Like everyone, just like, they just talked about him. He was like a legend before he walks in the room. I just started watching because I'm in quarantine like the rest of us. I'm catching up with a lot of TV that haven't watched. I just started the blacklist. And I had never watched the blacklist before. And James Peters character is has John Wick aspects to him. I don't know if you've ever watched that show or not

Naomi Beaty 27:12
interesting. I've seen a couple of episodes. But go on. Tell me more about

Alex Ferrari 27:15
because I think because Because James Spader is he's just so all the bad guys know who he is like, he walks up to me like, oh, yeah, I remember that time in Paris. I remember that. And he has so much power and influence outside of himself, that the world explains that to us, and makes his character so and he's also extremely confident. He's always 15 steps ahead of the FBI. He's always 15 steps ahead of everybody. He's so good at what he does, and he's a bad guy. Arguably, he is not a villain. But he is not a good guy. He does bad things. And he has done bad things for 20 odd years. So his character is so wonderfully rich and that way, same thing with Hannibal Lecter. I mean, you're rooting for a cannibal, a serial killing cannibal. That is brilliant writing is brilliant performance. It's brilliant direction. It's a combination of all of that. Because you know, without honor Anthony Hopkins, you know, I don't know if Hannibal pops up if the wrong actor in that space. And it's gone. And without, without Jodie Foster as the you know, the other side because you need the other side of the coin. Ross it doesn't work.

Naomi Beaty 28:26
Right? Yeah. Well, I mean, Silence of the Lambs is one of my favorites. And obviously, like a classic, you know, classic, iconic, iconic film, but I think something that you just said is actually a really good sort of tip trick to pass on to people, which is, you know, don't forget about the reactions to your character, because that can tell you so much about who the person is not just their actions coming into the scene, but how how are all the other characters? How are they how's the world around that character treating them because that says a lot, right? I mean, it makes it makes so much sense.

Alex Ferrari 28:59
Yeah, wick doesn't have to say a word. He never says a word. He never says a word about how good he is ever. He's a man of action. And everybody around him explains to the audience who the hell just when you see the most powerful drug lord or bad guy shake at the mention of the guy's name. You're like, oh, man, and then and then Kiato just you know, he's Kiana. Like, it's, it's it's just, it's the Kanto Renaissance, as they call it, they call it now it's just like he's everyone's finally coming back to like, Ken is really cool.

Naomi Beaty 29:33
Yeah. Like that really is sort of like the new the new James Bond. Right? You know what I mean? He's so cool. And like I you know, I'm not saying that John Wick is a perfect movie, but I forgive it. Anything that I would normally disagree with movie just because it's so much fun to watch. And he's so great. So yeah,

Alex Ferrari 29:52
and never underestimate fun. You know, I mean, look Fast and Furious is there's a man I mean, look at the fascination He says, I've been watching since the first one came out in the theater. And, you know, the first one was point break. Let's just be honest, it was Point Break, they stole Point Break. It's exactly the same story, they just put cars instead of servers. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show it's literally a complete ripoff. I have no idea how they got away with that. But they did.

Naomi Beaty 30:29
You know, what makes you do what makes the first Fast and Furious. So good, though, and I will, I will argue this point too, is that it's all about family. So

Alex Ferrari 30:39
that's all they ever say. I know

Naomi Beaty 30:40
they really like build that into the story though, in a way that I'm like, I can get behind this. This means something to these people you know, so and then

Alex Ferrari 30:49
that's honestly the thing that's held the whole franchise together honestly, it's you know, they went from car car racers to basically James Bond they basically become James Bond with cars now. And and now Hobbs and Shaw and all the other spin offs. It's it's amazing to see how how that movies go. And I was talking to my wife about it the other day, and we're like, yeah, you want to see if we just know where you go. You know what you're going to get when you watch a fast appears. It's very, you just know what the kind of story you're going to get the kind of movie you're going to get. Same thing with, like the mission impossibles I was watching. I was watching a great video essay in regards to Ethan Hunt. You know, Tom Cruise's character and how many? He said seven, six of them now six of them. I think he was working on numbers. I think he was on six and he was working on seven before they shut it down in Italy. We don't really know a lot about Ethan Hawke Ethan Hunt. Like there's there's just no infrom after all these cease movies. It's very little kind of really know about them.

Unknown Speaker 31:56
It's interesting. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 31:59
we know more about wick we know more about wick than we know about Ethan Hunt.

Naomi Beaty 32:02
That's true. That's true. And I think that that you know, it still works for people they do manage to sort of bring in just enough about him when we need it in order to kind of like you know, build in that emotion or the the emotional stakes of the story or whatever right they don't go into and we don't need to know a ton about we don't need to know how many brothers and sisters he has or you know what city he grew up in or or any of that.

Alex Ferrari 32:28
It's not about family. It's not about that about family at all. Um, so you've been bumping around Hollywood for a little bit. Can you explain a little bit about the power of the logline and how important that is to screenwriters trying to get their their scripts seen because a lot of times the logline will pretty much be the first the first entry point and if the logline doesn't work, they're not going to read the script. Is that fair to say?

Naomi Beaty 32:55
Yeah, well, yeah, I think in a lot of cases, yeah. Because especially if you're, you know, sending a query letter query, email, or whatever.

Alex Ferrari 33:05
This is letter use, what is this letter?

Naomi Beaty 33:08
showing my age there? But no, but I think if you are querying someone, you know that logline is important because you're you're sort of cold calling them you're coming out of nowhere and saying, I have this thing that I think you might be interested in. And you're basically giving hopefully giving them one sentence that will entice them to ask for the script, right? So in that way, it can be very important. I don't want to play so much emphasis, though, like, if you if you don't have a good logline, you'll never make it in the

Alex Ferrari 33:33
industry. So but but it does help.

Naomi Beaty 33:37
Right? Yes, it can. It can be very, very helpful. And I think it can be helpful in a lot of, or in a few different circumstances. One being while you're developing your story, because I think a lot of times, you know, writers get excited about an idea, but they don't fully think through the story before sort of like jumping in. Especially if you know if they're like new to screenwriting, and they're like, I can see the whole thing in my head. I'm just going to start writing and sometimes that works. But sometimes that ends up with, you know, 500 pages of we're trying to figure out what the story is, right? So I think a lot line can be really useful when you're developing your story idea, because it forces you to sort of think through the story and explain it in one sentence. And so it's a low time and energy investment for you to figure out, does my story work? Do I have a story here? Do I have something that can be translated into a screenplay, right? And then like you were saying, for pitching or writing query letters, a logline can be really useful because if you can write a good version of that logline that it really can entice someone to ask for the script. And it can, you know, open that that door to getting you read.

Alex Ferrari 34:44
And also if I found that if you're not able to write what your story is about in two sentences or three at the most, you're probably going to have a difficult time getting anyone not only to read it, but if you can't say it, they're not going to probably get it within you know, it's that quick of thing and talking about high concept and so on. Especially if you're going into Hollywood you need those kind of generalized like, you know, a shark terrorizes a shark terrorizes a New England town during the summer, whatever it was summer break or July 4. And yeah, then three guys go and try to kill it. I mean, that's pretty, you know, dinosaurs are alive on an island. I mean, it's

Naomi Beaty 35:26
like, and what is what the what writing a logline when you're developing your idea what that forces you to do is to sort of set down your your story in concrete terms and make sure that you because you're writing a movie, right? So you have to be able to write it in a way that we're going to, you know, it's externalized, it's dramatized, we're going to see it play out visually in front of us. And I think a lot of times the hardest stories to logline concisely are the ones that don't have that external concrete sort of element. Right? So there's a lot of sort of, you know, circling like, well, it's about somebody who explores the trauma that they experienced. And then they have to, you know, reconcile and decide if they can move forward, and you're like, but what am I watching, I don't know what that looks like on screen. And so the logline really does force you to sort of go, Okay, here's the externalization, like, here's the dramatization of this story. So I'm, I'm describing it to you in concrete terms, because that's what I'm going to be putting on screen, you know,

Alex Ferrari 36:27
no, do you recommend outlining? Screen a story prior to screenwriting?

Naomi Beaty 36:32
I do. I mean, I'm a huge Outliner, I think that I think you do the same amount of work, regardless of where in the process, you do it. But if you, if you outline, I think it's, it's less painful, when you go through that process, you know. So I know there are people who are who are Panthers, who really like to just sit down and explore and discover on the page and all that stuff. And I think you'll end up doing Panthers and plotters, you'll end up doing the same amount of work regardless, but I think it's, it's, at least for me, it makes more sense to sort of do that heavy lifting up front, think through your choices before writing 100 pages about them. And then that way, it's a little bit easier and quicker to pivot, you know, if you find that, oh, that direction is not going to work, I can, I can sort of re structure this or, you know, rethink it, or whatever, I can do that in the outline versus once I've written all of my darlings onto the page, and I'm loath to cut any of them, you know?

Alex Ferrari 37:33
Well, that brings us to another topic that a lot of a lot of writers get all bent out of shape about this. I think newbie writers mostly is structure, they, they feel that structure is going to hold me back, I need to be, I need to be free wielding, you know, I don't need structure, if not, you know, it's homogenizing the process, I need this, all this stuff. And I always explained it as like, well, if you're going to build a house, you need a foundation and you need a frame, you can build a house out ever you want. But at the end of the day, it still needs a concrete slab, it still needs walls, it still needs a door and a window. Now you could put those wherever the hell you want. But at the end of the day, you're gonna still need a roof. You know, it could be a cool weird roof, but it's gonna need a roof. And that's what I find structure to be. So I find it freeing to have structure because I can build my house and then I can go into decorate however I want or ever constructed however I want, as opposed to just going there's a bunch of wood over there. There's, there's some nails over there go at it.

Naomi Beaty 38:37
Right, right, throw something together. Yeah, no, I totally agree, I think of structure as as really being good storytelling, right? Because structure is the way you put the story together in order to engage the audience and keep them engaged and get them emotionally invested, and then pay it off in a satisfying way. That's really what you're doing by structuring your story, especially like, you know, the three acts, right, we talked about three act structure a lot. And you're you're giving us context, and then you're escalating the conflict that you've set up, and then you're, you know, resolving that conflict, hopefully in a satisfying way. So that's really all structure is is good storytelling.

Alex Ferrari 39:15
And would you agree that most scenes are actually all scenes should have a beginning, middle and end it should have to be x is something that starts beginning and an end and keeps everything kind of moving along?

Naomi Beaty 39:28
Yeah, I I do agree with that. Although I think that if you look at if you look at movies that that really sort of like keep you on the edge of the of your seat. As you get farther into the movie, you need less of that first act in each scene, right? Because we've already we're building on the context of the entire movie so you have less setup to establish, not always but a lot of times that happens. It's sort of like seeing sort of feel like they move faster towards the back end, you know?

Alex Ferrari 39:58
Sure, because we already know who the characters are. They're in other locations, we know the steaks, all that kind of stuff so we can move things along.

Naomi Beaty 40:04
Coming into the scene, we already know who wants what, and like what they've been trying to achieve the whole time. So there's less of that setup.

Alex Ferrari 40:10
So yeah. So I wanted to kind of just since I have you here today, and there's a lot of stuff going on in the world. There's two shows. I'm not sure if you've seen them. And I want us I hope you've seen one of the two so we can discuss it because I think it's a wonderful opportunity to talk about story. Oh, Mandalorian, did you see Mandalorian? No, no, have you? Have you? Did you happen to watch and then you might have not had a chance to yet Tiger King.

Naomi Beaty 40:42
I haven't. But I had heard so much about it. And I was actually already familiar with. Who's the who's the John guy,

Alex Ferrari 40:50
Jimmy Joe exotic.

Naomi Beaty 40:53
So I was I was already familiar with him and kind of the story of him. But I understand that that's not what the entire show is about. Right?

Alex Ferrari 41:00
No, it's it's it's honestly, I don't know if it's the quarantine talking. But it is. It is it. You know, I put the trailer on for my wife on ice like that. We're not watching that. I'm like, Okay, well, I'm gonna watch this because I have to watch this. And I started watching and she would do something in the background. And slowly but surely she would. When something happened. She's like, so what happened there? So let's go together. It is such an amazing story. And I know it's a documentary. It's a documentary series. But the storytelling in that is, it's just brilliant. It's like when you think nothing crazier could happen. They leave you with something else that happened. Oh, and now there's a drug lord. And now there's this and now there's that? And you're just like, how is this real? Like, if I would have written that you would have written that? No one would have believed it's just like, oh, this is come on. This. This is crazy.

Naomi Beaty 41:54
Did you happen to watch the series also a Netflix Docu series called? And I won't I won't swear on your show. But with cast?

Alex Ferrari 42:02
I heard about it. I didn't have watch it. I heard about I saw it. I'm not i It seems fascinating. But at the time, there's too many other things in my queue. But yes,

Naomi Beaty 42:11
I Yes. This is what this is. Exactly why I haven't seen the the tiger King. Yeah, but, but I will say it sounds similar to what you're describing. And maybe Netflix is just nailed kind of the formula for Docu series. Oh, yeah. Well, production theories and I was gonna say for cliffhangers you don't I mean, cuz that show each episode and I can't remember how many episodes there were, it was only like, I want to say maybe four or five, something like that. So it was a short series. But every episode, like you thought you knew where it was going. And then the episode at the end, you would be like, that's what's happening now. You know, and then you'd have to watch the next episode, because you're like, I have to see how, like how that story turn or that's gonna go now. It was amazing.

Alex Ferrari 42:54
The Duplass brothers did that. That Docu series. Oh, God, what was it the one about the cult leader in the in like the mountains of Utah, and it was like in the 70s. And they built like this. It's like, This guy had like, 75 Rolls Royces or something like that. Wonderful.

Naomi Beaty 43:12
Wonderful. Yeah. Yes. wild country? Yes. Country.

Alex Ferrari 43:15
Wow. Wow. Yes. Ah, did you see that?

Naomi Beaty 43:19
I did. I'm actually from Oregon. And that took place in Oregon. And so I was like, I have to watch this. And I thought that was I mean, it was an amazing series. Right. I also thought it was really interesting. Just if you're thinking about like, character and get, you know, sort of how do you get your audience on the side of your character. Nobody could have known this but coming into the, into the series because I'm from Oregon, I immediately was sort of on the side of the people who owned the land around it. And I don't think that's where I was supposed to be like, they wanted you on the side of the Rajneesh ease and being like, like, free love hippie type people who just want a place to live and all this stuff. And I was like, No, that seems wrong because those Oregonians they really need their, you know,

Alex Ferrari 44:01
and then a twist that it twists towards as the show goes on, it just twists. And again, whether it's documentary or narrative story story. And, you know, if it happened in real life, it's just how that story and those and those documentarians are, I mean amazing storytellers. They're, they're just weaving the tail. so beautifully. You just have to stop everything you're doing and watch Tiger cat. It's arguably one of the arguably one of the greater greater things that's happened in 2020. That's a low bar, the jump off. But it is it is. It's God. I just I just was watching I benched it I just like I can't. I can't believe this. This is

Naomi Beaty 44:43
think about the timing of the release of that because I mean, everyone is at home right now watching Netflix and

Alex Ferrari 44:50
then all of a sudden, you're like, What is this tiger King thing and you all know I want to have I want to have somebody on the show where we can have a deep deep dive conversation on it. The Tiger King and the story elements of it and how it was. Oh, there's like online I think was Ed Norton and Dax Shepard are fighting to play Joe exotic. Oh, no, that no, the there's already casting involved for the movie. Oh, no. I mean, every actor in Hollywood wants to play all the parts like hilarious. Even the smallest, you know, you know, gate keeper, good. Zookeeper like they want. Yeah. Because they were all they were all such a tap is the tapestry, a tapestry of a tapestry of, of characters that yeah, I'm just in awe of it. But anyway, so we we've gone off the we went off a little bit, but I feel that it was important to talk about this story, though. It's all story. And I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I ask all my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Naomi Beaty 45:56
I think the best advice anyone can give if you want to be a screenwriter is to write things. And shocking, shocking. I know, it's groundbreaking. I'm sure no one's ever said that before. But you know, I do think that that is one of the things that that really can separate people who are going to manage to build a career and those who aren't I've, you know, even before I started working with writers on in sort of a professional capacity, I had a lot of friends who were writers, right. And, and even seeing among them, the ones who sort of got really fixated on their one script that they thought was going to be the thing that, you know, that built their career. And the ones who wrote a script, learn something from it, wrote another script, learned that you know what I mean? And so they, they sort of grew their skills at a faster rate than the friends who had one like lottery tickets scripts that they were sure was going to be it. And so I think the best advice really, if you want to be a screenwriter is to write and, and as a, as an addendum to that to finish things because I think you learn more from finishing one script than starting 10 and not finishing. Yes. So you know, sometimes you do have to, like sort of cut it if you're if you realizing, okay, I started the script I didn't think it through, it's not really going anywhere. But don't make that your default. You know, habit, I think you you really do learn more from finishing the script and figuring out like, Okay, what could I have done differently? Why isn't this working? Like I thought it would, as I wanted it to, you know,

Alex Ferrari 47:33
Can Can you please let everybody know, the difference between a professional writer and a hobbyist? Because my, my definition of the hobbyist is the exactly what you just said, fit started 10 scripts, or has been on one for five years? And then there's and then there's a professional writer who has 2010 scripts?

Naomi Beaty 47:55
Yeah, totally. No, I think I think even if you haven't been been paid for it, yet, you're setting yourself up for good habits and more success, if you know how to finish if you know how to complete a script and learn something from it. Right. I also think the one thing that I think really separates professionals or people who become professionals is the ability to rewrite, because that is a skill set all all its own. And, you know, there are a ton of people who can write a first draft, but who don't really know it. And it's not just about taking notes, although that's part of it, but it's understanding what's not working, and then understanding how to go in and fix it. And I think that that's a whole skill set that really doesn't get enough attention, you know,

Alex Ferrari 48:44
that would be the script Doctors of the World.

Naomi Beaty 48:47
Yeah, those people who are really able to kind of like see the big picture, and then also understand where to what changes need to be made. Because, you know, I think a lot of times, writers want rewriting to effectively be like fixing some dialogue here and there. And that's not usually that's not usually the case. And some people who are very good at rewriting are able to see the big picture understand what needs you know, either what's not working or what somebody wants them to change about it right? And then knowing how to implement those changes on sort of like a global level in their in the screenplay.

Alex Ferrari 49:22
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Naomi Beaty 49:28
Oh, that's a good question. One lesson that I am still trying to learn is to speak less and listen more. But honestly, I think the lesson of like you if you want to, if you want to write you have to write it's such a simple concept and it's it's one that I think still, you know, still come back to,

Alex Ferrari 49:53
and three of your favorite films of all time.

Naomi Beaty 49:57
Oh, gosh, well, since we've been in quarantine the last couple of weeks There's been a lot of discussion of like, Best Movies movies worth watching recommendable movies you know, things like that. I will say these I'm not saying these are the best movie ever. They're movies that are special to me. Sure. So just the other night we re watched. So I Married an Axe Murderer.

Alex Ferrari 50:24
Michael, Nancy Travis and Michael Myers. Yes, 90.

Naomi Beaty 50:29
Not saying it's the best movie ever made, but it has a it has a place in my heart of that movie when I was younger. And Michael Mike Myers is just so funny, right? So I'd say I'm going to put that on the desert island movie. I also just re watched Blue Ruin, which I think is phenomenal. And I would definitely say that's a great movie. I don't care what anyone else says. worth watching. And back to the future.

Alex Ferrari 51:00
Probably. Yes. Yes. Factor future. I'm waiting for my daughter's to get old enough to watch that. They don't they won't get it just yet. But

Naomi Beaty 51:07
yeah, you know, I have I have fond memories of seeing that movie with my dad. So it's like definitely a both a good movie. And also just a you know, it's a nostalgic movie.

Alex Ferrari 51:16
And I saw I'm old enough to see I saw it in the theater when it came out. And I watched it. And that was just it was just when it came out. That was just like, what? Like, what, like, what there was a lot of that in the 80s. Like what just happened? When I saw diehard in the theater for the first time. I'm like, what, what, like, what is going on?

Naomi Beaty 51:36
Yeah, I think that I think back to the future was one of the first times I remember being like, sort of being startled by how good a movie was, you know what I mean? Being like, Whoa, that was way better than I thought it was going to be. Maybe that says a lot about the movies. I was watching as a kid. But

Alex Ferrari 51:54
I didn't feel that when I went to see Howard the Duck. At the same time. It was not the same vibe I didn't get it didn't hold didn't hold up as well. Now, where can people find you and what you do?

Naomi Beaty 52:06
Let's see best place to find me is on my website. It's right and co.com There's, you know, all sorts of screenwriting articles and various resources on there. So that's the best place to to track me down.

Alex Ferrari 52:20
Now me thank you so much for being on the show. I really truly appreciate it. It's been a pleasure talking to you. We'll have you back after you watch Tiger, I feel

Naomi Beaty 52:29
It was great.



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

Free Training of The Week


How to Produce a Profitable Low Budget Feature Film

By Suzanne Lyons

Join veteran producer Suzanne Lyons as she shows you the three key secrets to produce a successful and profitable independent film.