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Screenplays: FREE Download 2021-2022 Oscar Contenders UPDATED

UPDATED January 2022: If you want to be a screenwriter you need to read a lot of screenplays. And if you are going to read film scripts might as well read some of this year’s best. Below is an active running list of 2021-2022 Oscar Contending Screenplays. I’ll be adding new screenplays as they become available so check back often.

PLEASE NOTE: These Screenplays Are FREE And LEGAL To Download For Educational Purposes. The Studios Will Only Keep Them Online Throughout The Awards Season So The Clock Is Ticking. Enjoy. 

When you are done reading take a listen to Apple’s #1 Screenwriting Podcast The Bulletproof Screenwriting Podcast, with guests like Oscar Winner Eric Roth, James V. HartDavid ChaseJohn AugustOliver Stone and more.

2021-2022 Oscar Contending Screenplays


2020-2021 Oscar Contending Screenplays

The Father – (Sony Classics) – OSCAR WINNER (Best Original Screenplay)
Promising Young Woman – (Focus Features) – OSCAR WINNER (Best Adapted Screenplay)

2020-2021 Oscar Contending Screenplays

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Want To Learn From Oscar® Winning & Blockbuster Screenwriters?

Learn from some the best screenwriters working in Hollywood today in this FREE three day video series.

2020 Oscar-Winning Screenplays

Parasite – (NEON) – OSCAR WINNER (Best Original Screenplay)
Jo Jo Rabbit – (Fox Searchlight) – OSCAR WINNER (Best Adapted Screenplay)

2020 Oscar Contending Screenplays

2019 Oscar Contending Screenplays

Netflix has removed its scripts, though some of the links work. I will keep you updated…

2018 Oscar Contending Screenplays

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Want to read more screenplays by the best screenwriters working in Hollywod today?

The Bulletproof Screenwriting collection of screenplays are organized by screenwriter's & filmmaker's career for easy access.

Screenwriter’s Screenplay Collections

We started a new weekly series where we highlight a screenwriter and post a collection of most if not all of their work in one online resource. Sign up for our weekly newsletter above to get weekly updates sent to your inbox. Here are a few recent screenwriter collections:

I also decided to include a bonus area where you can download some of the best screenplays of the last few years. Over 175 screenplays in all. Happy reading!

Best of 2016 Screenplays

Best of 2015 Screenplays

Best of 2014 Screenplays

Best of 2013 Screenplays


BONUS: Oscar Nominated and Winning Screenplays

Top 25 Must Listen to Screenwriting Podcasts (Oscar® Winners)

Finding a great Screenwriting Podcast is a treasure trove of knowledge for the aspiring or professional screenwriter. We have put together the Top twenty five must listen to screenwriting podcasts from the archives of the Indie Film Hustle Podcast and the Bulletproof Screenwriting Podcast.

The list below is definitely has  podcasts for screenwriters with a who’s who in the screenwriting world. From Oscar® and Emmy® winners like Eric Roth, Edward Zwick, Richard Linklater, David Chase to screenwriting coaches like Robert McKee, John Truby and Chris Vogler.

These episodes are the best podcasts for screenwriters wanting to learn more about the craft and business of screenwriting. Be sure to take notes because there are a ton of knowledge bombs that are dropped in these screenwriting podcasts.

This list will be updated every few months so keep checking back.

Click here to subscribe to the Bulletproof Screenwriting Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or Spreaker.


1. Eric Roth

This week, I sat down with one of the most legendary and successful screenwriters/producers in Hollywood, Oscar® Winner Eric Roth. Over a 50+ years career, he’s well-known for writing or producing films like Forrest Gump, A Star is Born, Mank, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Munich, Ali, and the list goes on.

2. Oliver Stone

Today on the show I bring you one of the most influential and iconic writer/directors in the history of cinema, three-time Oscar® winner Oliver Stone. Throughout his legendary career, Stone has served as writer, director, and producer on a variety of films, documentaries, and television movies. His films have been nominated for forty two Oscars® and have won twelve.

3. Richard Linklater

We are joined by indie film icon and Oscar® nominated writer/director Richard Linklater. Richard was one of the filmmakers who helped to launch the independent film movement that we know today with his classic 1991 indie film Slacker. As a bonus, we will not only dive into the extraordinary career of Richard Linklater but also that of collaborator and longtime friend writer/director Katie Cokinos, the filmmaker behind the film I Dream Too Much. 

4. David Chase

The legacy of the crime drama television series, The Sopranos remains a defining art of storytelling for mob TV shows. We have the genius behind this hit TV series, David Chase as our guest today.

As expected, Chase is a twenty-five-time Emmy Awards-winner, seven times Golden Globes winner, and highly acclaimed producer, writer, and director. His forty-year career in Hollywood has contributed immensely to the experience of quality TV.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of Chase, let’s do a brief of the HBO 1999 hit show, The Sopranos: Produced by HBO, Chase Films, and Brad Grey Television, the story ran for six seasons, revolving around Tony Soprano, played by James Gandolfini, a New Jersey-based Italian-American mobster, portraying the difficulties that he faces as he tries to balance his family life with his role as the leader of a criminal organization.

5. John August

Today on the show we have Hollywood screenwriter, director, producer, podcaster and novelist John August. He is known for writing the hit Hollywood films Go, Charlie’s Angels, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Big Fish, Charlie, and the Chocolate Factory and Frankenweenie, the Disney live-action adaptation of Aladdin and the novel Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire.

6. Edward Zwick 

We have been on a major roll lately on the podcast and this episode keep that going in a big way. Our guest on the show today is Oscar® Winning screenwriter, producer, and director Edward Zwick. Edward made his big shift from his childhood passion of theater to filmmaking after working as a PA for Woody Allen in France on the set of Love and Death.

7. James V. Hart

I’m so excited to bring this episode to the BPS Tribe. Today we have legendary screenwriter James V. Hart. James is the screenwriter behind some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters like HOOK, directed by Steven Spielberg based on an idea by Hart’s then 6-year-old son, Jake, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND, directed by Brian Henson, and CONTACT, directed by Robert Zemeckis. MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN, TUCK EVERLASTING, AUGUST RUSH, SAHARA, LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE, AUGUST RUSH and many more.

“No one has a job in our business until you type ‘the end’.” — James V. Hart

8. Jordan Peele

Get ready to have your mind blown! I’ll be releasing a 3-Part Limited Series of conversations between the legendary screenwriter James V. Hart, the writer of Hook, Contact, Bram Stroker’s Dracula, and Tomb Raiderjust to name a few, and some of the top screenwriters in the game.

First up is the screenwriter that took the world by storm with his Oscar-Winning screenplay Get Out, Jordan Peele. If you have been living under a rock for the past few years here is what the film is about.

This was recorded before Jordan’s next hit film Us was released. Listening to these two masters discuss character, plot, theme, and more is a rare treat. It’s like being a fly on the wall. When you are done listening to this conversation you can read some of Jordan’s screenplay here.

9. Damien Chazelle

Today on the show we have Damien Chazelle, the Oscar® Winning director and screenwriter of La La Land. He bursted on the scene with his debut film Whiplash. The film is about a young musician (Teller) struggles to become a top jazz drummer under the tutelage of a ruthless band conductor (Simmons).

James and Damien discuss how he wrote and structured La La Land and much more. Enjoy this rare conversation between James V. Hart and Damien Chazelle.

10. Joe Cornish

Have you ever  wondered what it is like screenwriting inside the Marvel and Studio machine? Wonder no further, today we have screenwriter and director Joe Cornish. Joe was one of the writer’s on Marvel’s Ant-Man.

Joe honestly, was extremely forthcoming and transparent about a lot of things; like what really happened behind the scenes on Ant-Man and what it’s like to write inside the Marvel machine, having Edgar Wright as a writing partner, working with filmmaking legends like Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. And we also discuss his craft, how he approaches screenwriting and directing, and much more.

11. Joe Carnahan

It’s been a hell of a year so far. I’ve been blessed to have had the honor of speaking to some amazing filmmakers and man today’s guest is high on that list. On the show we have writer/director Joe Carnahan. Joe directed his first-feature length film Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane. which was screened at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, and won some acclaim.

12. Troy Duffy

I’m always looking for success stories in the film business to study and analyze. Edward Burns (The Brothers McMullan) Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi), Kevin Smith (Clerks), and Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) come to mind. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the cult indie film classic The Boondock Saints but many of you might not know the crazy story of its writer and director Troy Duffy.

Well, prepare to get your mind BLOWN. I had an EXCLUSIVE discussion with Troy this week, and let’s say, he did not hold back. Nothing was off-limits – from his instant rise to fame to the brutal fate he met – getting blacklisted, all of it. He wanted to set the record straight because there is always another side to the story, and what better side to hear than that of the man who lived this brutal Hollywood adventure?

13. Sacha Gervasi

Being a podcaster now for over 600 episodes I’ve heard all sorts of stories on how people make it in the film business. From Sundance darlings to blind luck. Now today’s guest story is easily one of the most incredible and entertaining origin stories I’ve ever heard. We have on the show today award-winning director, producer, and screenwriter, Sacha Gervasi.

Sacha won the screenwriter lottery with his first-ever screenplay, which was a un-produceable short film script, caught the eye of the legendary Steven Spielberg. That script, My Dinner with Herve would eventually be expanded and released in 2018 by HBO. The film stars the incomparable, Peter Dinklage.

Sasha is such an interesting human being, I had such a ball talking with him.  We talk about the film business, his origin stories, his screenwriting craft, what he’s doing now, and so much more.

Enjoy my entertaining conversation with Sacha Gervasi.

14. Edward Burns

Today’s guest is a writer, director, producer, actor, and indie filmmaking legend, Edward Burns. Many of you might have heard of the Sundance Film Festival-winning film called The Brothers McMullen, his iconic first film that tells the story of three Irish Catholic brothers from Long Island who struggle to deal with love, marriage, and infidelity.

His Cinderella story of making the film, getting into Sundance, and launching his career is the stuff of legend. The Brothers McMullen was sold to Fox Searchlight and went on to make over $10 million at the box office on a $27,000 budget, making it one of the most successful indie films of the decade.

15. Mark L. Smith

I’ve spoken to many people in the film business over the years but today’s guest is one of the hardest working craftman I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down with. Today on the show we have screenwriter, producer and director, Mark L. Smith.

If you look at his IMDB you’ll see a list of 15 projects at various stages of development. He’s come a long way from entering the Hollywood scene some 15 years ago with his fear-striking horror screenwriting and directorial debut, Séance in 2006.

I had an absolute ball speaking to Mark. He’s one of the hardest working screenwriters in Hollywood. We discuss everything from The Revenant, genius-level tips on how to adapt a book to the screen to what it was like work with Quentin Tarantino on the Star Trek script that has yet to be made.

If you pray, please pray to the Hollywood Gods that Mark and Quentin’s Star Trek gangster film sees the light of day.

16. Diane Drake

Today on the show we have million-dollar screenwriter Diane Drake. Her produced original scripts include ONLY YOU, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Marisa Tomei, and WHAT WOMEN WANT, starring Mel Gibson.

Her original script for ONLY YOU sold for $1 million, and WHAT WOMEN WANT is the second highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time (Box Office Mojo). In addition, both films have recently been remade in China featuring major Chinese stars. And WHAT WOMEN WANT has recently been remade by Paramount Pictures as WHAT MEN WANT, with Taraji Henson starring in the Mel Gibson role.

17. Boaz Yakin

We have for you on the show today screenwriter and director, Boaz Yakin, The writer behind The Punisher, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, The Rookie, & Safe and directing, The Fresh, Remember the Titans and the comedy-drama, Uptown Girl among others.

Boaz and I chatted about his creative process, the business side and political side of screenwriting and directing in Hollywood during this conversation. He was extremely raw and honest about what it really is like working inside the Hollywood machine.

18. Jeffrey Reddick

Today on the show we have screenwriter and director Jeffrey Reddick, who is best known for creating the highly successful Final Destination horror film franchise. The franchise has grossed over $650 Million world-wide. Not bad for an idea that was first conceived for an X-Files episode.

Jeffrey has had an amazing career so far and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

19. Billy Crystal 

There are performers that impact your life without you even knowing it and today’s guest fits that bill. On the show, we have comedic genius, multi-award-winning actor, writer, producer, director, and television host, Billy Crystal. We’ve seen Billy’s versatile work across all areas in the entertainment world, stand-up, improv, Broadway, behind and in front of the camera, feature films, television, live stages like SNL, and animated movies.

20. Larry Wilson

If you were a kid of the late 80s or early 90s then today’s guest definitely had an impact on your life. Larry Wilson is the co-creator of the cult classic Beetlejuice (directed by Tim Burton), writer of Addams Family and worked on the legendary television show Tales from the Crypt.

Larry wasn’t always a screenwriter, he worked on the studio side of things as well as an executive. In this interview, he tells the story of how he championed a young and pre-Terminator James Cameron to be the writer/director of Aliens. Great story!

21. Robert McKee

Our guest today is the well-regarded screenwriting lecturer, story consultant, and eminent author, Robert McKee. Reputable for his globally-renowned ‘Story Seminars’ that cover the principles and styles of storytelling.

I read his book years ago and refer to it often. I discovered McKee after watching the brilliant film Adaptation by the remarkable Charlie Kaufman. Kaufman literally wrote him into the script as a character. McKee’s character was portrayed by the Emmy Award-winning actor Brian Cox.

If you haven’t heard of Robert McKee then you’re in for treat. Robert McKee is what is considered a “guru of gurus” in the screenwriting and storytelling world.

He has lectured on storytelling for three decades, and his book Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting (FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSIONS HERE) is a “screenwriters’ bible“. It’s also become the bible for TV writers, and entertainment executives, and their assistants.

McKee’s former students include 67 Academy Award winners, 200+ Emmy Award winners, 100+ Writers Guild of America Award winners, and 52 Directors Guild of America Award winners.

Some of his “Story Seminar” alumnae including Oscar® Winners Peter Jackson, Julia Roberts, John Cleese,  Geoffrey Rush, Paul Haggis, Akiva Goldsman, William Goldman, and Jane Capon, among many others.

22. John Truby

Today on the show we have one of the most popular guests to ever be on the Bulletproof Screenwriting Podcast, the legendary John Truby. John is the author of The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller.

John Truby is one of the most respected and sought-after story consultants in the film industry, and his students have gone on to pen some of Hollywood’s most successful films. The Anatomy of Story shares all his secrets for writing a compelling script.

Based on the lessons in his award-winning class, Great Screenwriting, The Anatomy of Story draws on a broad range of philosophy and mythology, offering fresh techniques and insightful anecdotes alongside Truby’s own unique approach to building an effective, multifaceted narrative.

His is former students’ work has earned more than $15 billion at the box office, and include the writers, directors, and producers of such film blockbusters as Ratatouille, In Treatment, Pirates of the Caribbean, X-Men I/II/III, Shrek, Mother Mary of Chris, Breaking Bad, House, Lost, Planet of the Apes, Scream, The Fantastic Four, The Negotiator, Star Wars, Sleepless in Seattle, Outbreak, African Cats (which Truby co-wrote for Disney) and more.

23. Chris Vogler

Today on the show we bring the legendary story analyst and best-selling author Chris Vogler. Chris wrote the game-changing book  The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. I read this book over 25 years ago and it changed the way I look at “story.” Chris studied the work and principles of the late master Joseph Campbell.

His book The Hero with a Thousand Faces was the basis for Star Wars as well as almost every other Hollywood feature film in the past 60 years using what Campbell called the monomyth.

24. Pen Densham

Today on the show we Pen Densham. Pen is a successful award-winning screenwriter, producer, and director, with an extensive track record in film and television. He is responsible for writing and producing some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters, such as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Backdraft, Blown Awayalong with some of its longest-running television series including The Outer Limits.

I had a ball speaking to Pen about his time in Hollywood, what it was like to screenwriter/producer monster hits and his screenwriting philosophy on how to make it in Hollywood.

25. Marshall Herskovitz

Our guest today is producer, director and screenwriter Marshall Herskovitz. Many of his production projects have been in partnership with his long-time filmmaking collaborator, Edward Zwick whose films, he’s produced and written half of. Their decades-long filmmaking partnership was launched as co-creators of the 1987 TV show, ThirtySomething.

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Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction

Director Quentin Tarantino made waves in international pop culture with his 1992 debut, RESEROVOIR DOGS.  Suddenly, his explosive, unpredictable style was the one to emulate, and he found himself besieged by Hollywood power players who wanted his grubby little paws all over their high-profile projects.  Proving himself as a true artist, Tarantino rejected the opportunity to turn himself into a big-budget tentpole director and instead retreated to Amsterdam to work on the script for his follow-up.  The result was 1994’s PULP FICTION, and if Reservoir Dogs made waves, then PULP FICTION was a tsunami.

You can read all of Quentin Tarantino’s Screenplays here.

PULP FICTION, generally regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, is inarguably a zeitgeist film.  Not only is it one of the definitive 90’s films, the film itself played a significant role in defining the 90’s.  It influenced trends in fashion, music, art, film…the list goes on.  It remains most of the quotable films ever produced, and continues to have a huge impact on contemporary films.  PULP FICTION is a once-in-a-lifetime cinematic event, a work that shakes the language of film so fundamentally to its core that the medium never truly recovers.

I was a senior in high school when I first saw PULP FICTION.  I had heard about it all my life, and had that iconic teaser poster with Uma Thurman lying on a bed seared into my brain by virtue of a decade’s worth of pop culture exposure.  Watching PULP FICTION was a visceral experience for me, one that I count as highly influential within my own development as a filmmaker.

Most of us have seen PULP FICTION.  It is simply one of those films that, if you don’t seek it out yourself, is forced upon you by well-meaning friends.  So much has been written about the film that I won’t go into the specifics of the labyrinthine plot.  Chances are that I could show you a picture of a guy in a black suit, white shirt and sunglasses, and you’d instantly think “Tarantino”.   His stories and creations have entered the realm of archetype, becoming instantly recognizable across linguistic and cultural barriers.

In terms of the cast, PULP FICTION will always be remembered as the film that (briefly) resurrected John Travolta’s career.  He had been one of Tarantino’s favorite performers and was plucked from actor jail to headline the film as long-haired hitman Vincent Vega.  While its arguable that Travolta has since squandered the goodwill he earned from this film, it’s hard to deny that he’s never been better than he is here.

Samuel L. Jackson also received a considerable career boost as Vincent’s jheri-curled partner, Jules Winnenfield.  His wild-eyed performance results in a collection of some of the most memorable one-liners in cinematic history (“English motherfucker, do you speak it!  Say what again, I dare you!  This is a tasty burger!”).  I’m not sure if Jackson himself has ever topped this performance, which quickly followed after his turn as “Hold On To Yo’ Butts” in Steven Spielberg’s massively successful JURASSIC PARK (1993).

The inclusion of Bruce Willis to the cast is heavily significant to Tarantino’s development as a filmmaker.  For a guy who was on the outside for so long, who lived and breathed movies as if they were air, the signing of Willis to the cast must have felt like a monumental event.  Willis gamely leaps out of his comfort zone for Tarantino, resulting in one of his greatest performances as Butch, a gruff boxer whose dignity refuses to let him throw a fight for money.

Tarantino fills out the remainder of his supporting cast with faces both new and old.  Returning to the Tarantino fold are Tim Roth as Pumpkin—a manic bloke and professional robber—and Harvey Keitel as The Wolf—an urbane, sophisticated “fixer” for Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames).  Despite being the leads in RESERVOIR DOGS, here they are relegated to minor (albeit memorable) roles.

Amanda Plummer plays Honey Bonny, Pumpkin’s unstable wife and fellow partner-in-crime.  As Marcellus Wallace, Rhames gives one of his most iconic performances, completely nailing the imposing, brutish nature required of him.  Eric Stoltz and Rosanna Arquette steal their scenes as husband-and-wife heroin dealers Lance and Jody.   Christopher Walken appears in a cameo as the preternaturally creepy Captain Kuntz, who visits a pre-teen Butch to explain the significance of a watch that belonged to Butch’s father.

And then there’s Uma Thurman, who is usually featured prominently in advertising for the film (see the aforementioned one-sheet poster).  Her unforgettable turn as Marcellus Wallace’s femme fatale, cokehead wife turned her into a star overnight.  Tarantino has often gone on record declaring that Thurman is his “muse”, the one talent that inspires him more than any other.  Their collaboration for the KILL BILL films began during production of PULP FICTION, when Tarantino and Thurman would hash out the Bride’s story during breaks in filming.  Indeed, Mia Wallace’s story about her work on the fictional “Fox Force 5” pilot reads like a rough draft of the character dynamics of The Viper Squad in KILL BILL.  It’s easy to speculate that their relationship was/is romantic in nature, as most director/muse relationships are, but I’m not exactly here to talk about the man’s sex life.

With the financial backing of Miramax producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein (as well as a continuing collaboration with RESERVOIR DOGS producer Lawrence Bender), PULP FICTION jumps leagues beyond Tarantino’s debut in terms of visual presentation.  Retaining the services of cinematographer Andrzej Sekula, Tarantino opts to shoot on 35mm film in the anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  This makes for bold, frequently-wide compositions that highlight the characters amidst the dried-out San Fernando Valley landscape.  Tarantino and Sekula cultivate a color palette that’s reminiscent of aged Technicolor—creamy highlights, slightly washed out primaries and slightly-muddled contrast.  The result is a burnt-out rockabilly aesthetic that jives with Tarantino’s Elvis-inspired, anachronistic visual style.

For PULP FICTION, Tarantino also brings back his RESERVOIR DOGS production designer, David Wasco.  Wasco does an incredible job of applying Tarantino’s signature sense of “movie-ness” to a realistic world.  Everything is believable, yet just a little larger than life.  One of the film’s biggest set-pieces is the Jack Rabbit Slim’s set, which was built from scratch to evoke kitschy Americana diners that were popular in midcentury Los Angeles.  The restaurant reads as a geek shrine to Tarantino’s love of cinema, with posters adorning the walls, pop culture relics scattered left and right, and waitstaff dressed up as famous Old Hollywood icons (look out for RESERVOIR DOGS’ Steve Buscemi in an unrecognizable cameo as “Buddy Holly”).

The increased budget also means new toys for Tarantino to play with, and where RESERVOIR DOGS was compact and minimalist like a stage play, here he goes all-out with a dynamic camera that bobs and weaves as it follows its subjects.  A Steadicam provides ample opportunity for Tarantino to explore his enthusiasm for long tracking shots.  Watching the film recently, I became acutely aware of how subtly complicated Tarantino’s tracking shots are.  There’s one in particular about three quarters through the movie, where the camera follows Willis’ character as he stalks through a vacant lot and squeezes through a chain-link fence.  The camera doesn’t break stride as it glides through the hole after him.  The hole was barely big enough for Willis to slip through, so it blows my mind how someone wielding a cumbersome Steadicam rig could effortlessly slide through the same opening without getting caught up in it.  This shot in particular has stuck in my mind, and I still can’t figure out how they did it.  Tarantino’s mastery of camera movements is matched only by the sheer audacity with which he employs them.

The infamous “trunk shot”, one of Tarantino’s most well-known signatures, is employed here as well.  It had previously turned up in RESERVOIR DOGS as well, but PULP FICTION was where Tarantino’s style became really established and the awareness of the trunk POV shot was first recognized.

One of the film’s more-subtle techniques, however, was the employment of rear projection during several driving sequences.  Rear projection is an old filmmaking technique from the days before green screen that would project travelling road footage behind actors to simulate motion (i.e., driving).  More-realistic compositing capabilities were very much available during the production of PULP FICTION, but Tarantino’s employment of the outdated technology was an inspired melding with his vintage aesthetic.   What’s so brilliantly subtle about it is that the rear projection itself is in black and white, while the actors are rendered in full color.  The effect is so understated that it’s easy to miss it, but adds a sophisticated, vintage flair to the film’s look.

Of course, no discussion of PULP FICTION would be complete without mentioning its groundbreaking use of music.  A sourced soundtrack comprised of prerecorded music hasn’t been this revolutionary since Martin Scorsese made the practice en vogue with his debut film, WHO’S THAT KNOCKING ON MY DOOR? (1967).  Instead of hiring a professional music supervisor, Tarantino assembled his eclectic mix from his own record collection, oftentimes sourcing it from the vinyl itself—hiss, cracks, and all.  This creates a warm, vintage sound that perfectly complements the use of various soul, pop, and surf rock tracks.  In particular, Dick Dale’s “Miserlou” was rescued from relative obscurity to become one of the most iconic pieces of music of all time, all because PULP FICTION decided to use it as its de facto theme song.  It’s very rare that a piece of music becomes so indelibly tied to its appearance in a film, but Tarantino manages to do this regularly.  It’s become so much of a calling card that his fans eagerly await the soundtrack listings of every upcoming project to see what musical treasures he’ll dig up.

There are numerous storytelling conceits that make up Tarantino’s directorial style.  The razor-sharp wit.  The creative use of profanity.  Self-invented product brands like Red Apple Cigarettes and Kahuna Bruger as part of a fabricated sandbox reality his character inhabit. But it is also his structural quirks that reveal a lot about him as an artist.  Most Tarantino films begin with lengthy, simple opening credits of text over black.  To me, this reads like a reverential nod to formalistic influences from classic cinema; a humble genuflection at the altar of The Church of Film before he delivers a fiery sermon.  His tendency to construct his films in a nonlinear timeline reflect the way his mind works—those who have watched an interview with him can attest that he’s all over the place mentally, hopping around from point to point at a dizzying speed, overlapping, pre-lapping forward-lapping while still somehow making sense.    The use of book-like intertitles and chapter designations to divide up his narratives come from the pulp inspirations behind his stories and the lack of a formal education in traditional three-act writing structure.  Placing himself in a small cameo/supporting role speaks to both a mild narcissism on Tarantino’s part, but forgivable given how damn earnest he is about his work.  The lingering shots on feet, well…. that’s fairly obvious why he does that.

Together with his longtime editor, the late Sally Menke, Tarantino has made a motif of the Mexican Standoff.  Even when it’s not explicitly included in his films, as it is in RESERVOIR DOGS, he incorporates its compelling aspects seamlessly into the narrative structure.  He uses incredibly long, drawn-out dialogue sequences to sustain suspense almost to a breaking point, and when violence finally erupts, it is quick, shocking, and efficient.  The magnitude of the carnage is amplified by the sustained build-up, a fact that Tarantino and Menke know all too well.  This dynamic is included in some form in virtually all of Tarantino’s film, with INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009) seemingly made up entirely of Mexican Standoff-like sequences.

To prepare for writing this entry, I watched all of the supplemental features for PULP FICTION, including Tarantino’s appearance on the Charlie Rose Show in 1994.  I mention this because Tarantino regularly does something akin to The Directors Series himself, in which he watches a given director’s body of work in chronological order to determine the course of their career and the evolution of their style.  I was blown away to see the reasoning behind my efforts validated by a successful major filmmaker.  A filmmaker like Tarantino knows that it’s absolutely essential, if you’re going to make film, to watch and study the broad spectrum of film works.  One would be shocked to find that many aspiring filmmakers aren’t versed at all in the century-long history of the medium.  I forget who made this point (it might have been Charlie Rose or Siskel & Ebert), but there was an observation that those who tried to mimic Tarantino’s style as their own would cite him as a major influence, yet they showed an ignorance to the directors that inspired Tarantino himself.  They had no interest in familiarizing themselves with Howard Hawks, Brian DePalma, or Mario Bava, all of whom left an indelible mark on Tarantino’s artistic formation.  A limited sphere of influence is a major hindrance to true creativity.

I don’t need to elaborate on the windfall that the release of PULP FICTION bestowed on those behind its production.  It was a major box office success, it won Tarantino his first Academy Award, and it won him one of the most prestigious prizes in all of cinema: the Cannes Palm d’Or.  It single-handedly enabled the Weinstein Brothers to become the producing and award-lobbying powerhouses that they are today.  Audiences responded to it in a manner as violent as its content, with patrons suffering heart attacks in the theatre or laughing so hard their chairs broke.  By rousing the moviegoing audience from its unknowing complacency, Tarantino had become the hottest filmmaker in the world, and one of the leading cultural tastemakers of the 1990’s.  And most importantly, he had done it entirely on his own terms.  The cinema would never be the same.

Sponsored by: Special.tv – Stream Independent 

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Quentin Tarantino Screenplays (Download)

What can be said about Quentin Tarantino the screenwriter that hasn’t been said before? QT has, easily, one of the most unique and singular voice in the history of cinema. You may love him or hate him but you will remember him. Reading his screenplays is a masterclass in dialog, structure, and rhythm.

When you are done reading take a listen to iTunes #1 Screenwriting Podcast The Bulletproof Screenwriting Podcast. Listen to some sample episodes below.

Also check out: Quentin Tarantino’s Micro-Budget First Feature Film: My Best Friend’s Birthday

NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1990)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

TRUE ROMANCE (1992)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

PULP FICTION (1994)

**Won the Oscar** Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

FOUR ROOMS (1995)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, A. Anders, A. Rockwell – Read the screenplay!

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

JACKIE BROWN (1997)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

KILL BILL VOLUME 1 (2003)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay! 

WEBINAR INSTRUCTOR - DIALOGUE1

Want To Learn From Oscar® Winning & Blockbuster Screenwriters?

Learn from some the best screenwriters working in Hollywood today in this FREE three day video series.

KILL BILL VOLUME 2 (2004)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

GRINDHOUSE: DEATH PROOF (2007)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

Breaking Bad Pilot: How to Write the Perfect TV Pilot

In my opinion, the Breaking Bad pilot is by far is as perfect as a television show as has ever been produced. The genius behind Walter White’s adventures into dealing meth is creator Vince Gillian. After watching the pilot episode of Breaking Bad I was hooked. Years later I wanted to really break down what Vince Gillian was able to tap into when crafting the series.

The good folks over at Lessons from the Screenplay created this AMAZING video breaking down the Breaking Bad pilot episode. If you want to become a screenwriter not only do you need to watch the video below but you NEED to turn on Netflix and binge the entire series of Breaking Bad.

Breaking Bad is celebrated as one of the best TV shows of all time—but every series has to start somewhere. This video looks at how the structure of the pilot episode sets up everything the audience needs to know about the series.


Breaking Bad
Created by Vince Gilligan
Starring Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Dean Norris
Support LFTS channel: http://patreon.com/LFTScreenplay

Read the entire Breaking Bad Pilot here: Breaking Bad Teleplay

SHORTCODE - SCREENPLAYS

Want to read more screenplays by the best screenwriters working in Hollywod today?

The Bulletproof Screenwriting collection of screenplays are organized by screenwriter's & filmmaker's career for easy access.

Breaking Bad Script Collection (Download)

Below you’ll find a collection of Breaking Bad scripts, including the final episode “Felina.” Take a watch of series creator Vince Gilligan discussing his process below. The scripts below are the only ones that are available online. If you find any of his missing screenplays please leave the link in the comment section. UPDATED: ALL LINKS ARE NOW PDF, ENJOY!

When you are done reading take a listen to iTunes #1 Screenwriting Podcast The Bulletproof Screenplay Podcast. Listen to some sample episode below.

(NOTE: For educational and research purposes only).

Here are some related Breaking Bad Posts:

 


1×00 “Pilot”

1×04 “Grey Matter”

3×01: “No Mas”

3×03 “I.F.T.”

3×05 “Mas”

3×06 “Sunset”

3×07 “One Minute”

3×08 “I See You”

3×09 “Kafkaesque”

3×10 “The Fly”

3×11 “Abiquiu”

3×12 “Half Measures”

3×13 “Full Measure”

3×14 “Ozymandias”

5×16 “Felina”

SHORTCODE - SCREENPLAYS

Want to read more screenplays by the best screenwriters working in Hollywod today?

The Bulletproof Screenwriting collection of screenplays are organized by screenwriter's & filmmaker's career for easy access.

 

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IFH 331: Hollywood Screenwriting with Screenwriter John August

Right-click here to download the MP3

Today on the show we have Hollywood screenwriter, director, producer, podcaster and novelist John August. He is known for writing the hit Hollywood films Go, Charlie’s Angels, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Frankenweenie, the Disney live-action adaptation of Aladdin and the novel Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire.

He hosts the popular screenwriting podcast Scriptnotes with Craig Mazin, maintains an eponymous screenwriting blog and develops screenwriter-targeted software called Highland 2.5 through his company, Quote-Unquote Apps.

Enjoy my conversation with John August.

Alex Ferrari 3:00
But today's guest is the legendary screenwriter, John August. But he's not only a screenwriter, he's also a legendary podcaster. His podcast on screenwriting, called script notes has been around since 2011. And it is pretty amazing. It's a great, great podcast and listen to as well. Now if you guys don't know who John August is, he wrote films like big fish frankenweenie Corpse Bride, Charlie's Angels, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Dark Shadows, Charlie's Angels to the awesome film go. And more recently, he worked on Aladdin. The new Disney release just came out. And he also rewrote Iron Man, he was a rewrite one of the rewriters on Iron Man, the original movie that launched the Marvel Universe. So you know, John's career is doing okay, let's just say he's doing okay. But seriously, I wanted to get him on the show, to talk about his craft, how he works, how it's to work with big directors and their processes like Tim Burton. He's worked with multiple times. Like I said, he worked on big fish, one of my favorite Tim Burton movies ever. And I wanted to get into his process. And we also talked about the software that he created for screenwriters called Highland and there's a new version about out called Highland 2.5, which we'll be talking about that as well. And we get into the weeds, about screenwriting about the business. And I really felt that this would transcend both podcasts. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with John August. I like to welcome the show John August the legendary John August. Thank you so much for being on the show, sir.

John August 4:46
Thank you

Alex Ferrari 4:47
You are, as they say an OG in the podcasting space. Without question, when did you actually start your podcast?

John August 4:55
Well, we're on episode 405. We just recorded that last night. So it's 630 Seven years, a long, long time.

Alex Ferrari 5:02
And what made you start podcasting? When like nobody was podcasting?

John August 5:06
You know, I started a blog when nobody was blogging to I've just always, you know, I always look to see what the next thing is. It's interesting to me and I see people doing the thing, and I want to do it. And so I started to listen to a bunch of tech podcasts. And I was getting really tired of sort of how the grind of the monologue of doing a blog for screenwriting and so I turned to Frank Mason, who was doing a blog like it. And so like, let's just have this be a conversation. So we started a weekly conversation that script notes, and it's gone really well.

Alex Ferrari 5:37
It's been going ever since very strong. So now I wanted to ask you, how did you first get into the business?

John August 5:44
I started I went through film school, I went through USC film school, and graduated from that I'd written a script that people liked. It was not a movie was ever gonna get made, but sort of got me started meeting around town. first project I had hired to write on was an adaptation of how do we fried worms, a kids book of Ron Howard's company, and I just kept working. And first of all it got made was go back in 99, so 20 years ago, and just kept going.

Alex Ferrari 6:13
That was a very complex script. If I remember a complex movie, there was so many story plots, jumping back and forth. And we remember when that came out was, it was definitely a 90s movies such as Doug Liman 90s film without question, how did you enter we've so many plots, and like matching them all together and stuff at the end, like,

John August 6:31
It started, it started as a short script for short film, which is just the first section of it. And then I had all these other characters in there, I knew what they were doing the rest of that night. And rather than try to fill out the whole story from my day, and I just make it longer, I just restarted the story twice, and could sort of follow the same night from different characters perspectives, you see how they overlap. And luckily, you know, Pulp Fiction came out a year before that. And so people had an understanding, like, okay, that's a real thing you're allowed to do in movies. And it was, yeah, God bless that. But let us do some very specific things. Because so often, you see movies that are struggling, because, you know, the audience wants the next thing to happen. But the story needs something else to happen. And this could be very tight, because the storylines that stick very close together.

Alex Ferrari 7:17
Now, how many screenplays Did you have written when you sold your first one, because I always tell people don't just have one. Don't write, don't sell, sell your first screenplay generally.

John August 7:27
You know, I hadn't sold a written script until go, which was pretty far into it. So I'd written four things before I had one that sold. But two of those things I'd written I'd been paid to write, they were adaptations of existing books. So I was very lucky, it started very quickly for me. But your general advice, I think is correct is that you don't put everything in, don't assume that the one thing you're working on right now is the thing that's going to break through for you. Because you just don't know, and you're still learning your craft, you can't anticipate all these things are gonna happen. That said, you know, write the movie you wish you could see because that's the movie that you're going to actually stick by and finish and really be able to, you know, stay home on Friday nights to work on

Alex Ferrari 8:12
And you came up in the 90s so the the the screenwriting marketplace was a little bit different back then the

John August 8:20
There were there was really respect sales there would be like, you know, a million dollar spec sale for you know, an original script and that has basically gone away and so that was different it was it was a boom time there were there clearly were things that were happening there the same way that there's a boom time right now for television. It's just it's shifted a lot.

Alex Ferrari 8:38
Yeah, cuz because back then, I mean, you would get these Joe Astor house Shane Black deals that were just like two $3 million for him. It was like a lottery almost. And and someone like Astra house, he, I think he made more money on movies that never got made that

John August 8:53
but I mean, that's always been true of screenwriting, though, is that, you know, there are a lot of screenwriters who get hired a lot, and they work a lot. But, you know, most movies are developed don't get made. And so that is a frustration of screenwriting is that even me like I have a pretty good track record, but most of the things I've written have not been made. And that's a real frustration.

Alex Ferrari 9:14
And you've actually been hot. And these are things that you hired to do

John August 9:16
Hire. So I'd like 12 produce credits, but I have at least 30 scripts that I've written just for pay and most of them are just kind of frozen in 12 point courier just because, you know, either the underlying rights or just whatever didn't come together the right way to make those movies.

Alex Ferrari 9:32
Yeah, it is a frustrating part of the whole the whole game and, and there's multiple reasons for that. It could be REITs or something like that, or just studio changes.

John August 9:43
Obviously, you never found the right director or there was a competing project that was too similar. lots of reasons why things don't happen.

Alex Ferrari 9:50
Now, you've collaborated with the legendary Tim Burton on multiple occasions. What is the collaboration process like with Tim Burton?

John August 9:59
It's clever. Between a screenwriter and director is different every time and sometimes it's a really close bond. And I'm there every moment. So I go, I was there for every frame, we shot. And I was in the editing room a lot, I was there for the whole thing with Tim, it's not that I'm with Tim, I'm very much like a department head in my department, his story. And so I'm the person who's coming up with the script, delivering the script. And then I largely go away, I'll be there through pre production through table read, I'm there to help for anything that needs help. But like during production, I have no function in it. I'll see early cuts, I can give notes on that I can give feedback. But it's that's just not how we work. He treats. You know, all his partner heads really, really well. And so calling out what you know, sees his vision delivers costumes that will suit what he needs to do the cinematographers do the same thing. But I'm, I'm a different department head for temporary movies

Alex Ferrari 10:50
Do you actually do like when you're actually collaborating with, with stores? Do you just he's just like, here's this, here's the book, get me something.

John August 10:57
But does he give you notes, because back and forth. It's more the former CIO, which is unlike most directors, but it's really just, this is the overall vision, give me something that matches the vision. So Charlie, the Chocolate Factory is a good example of that he had signed on to direct it, it was really starting from zero on a script. And we could tell, he could say, like, I want everything from the book, and as much as you need to make sense. And I could approach them from my whole memory of how much I love that book, and sort of what was special to me about that book, and then write it really anticipating the things that he would love. And so, you know, walk his father being a dentist, and the orthotic headgear, and like just the moments, I knew that Tim Burton could knock out of the park. But there were probably less than an hour's conversation, during the whole process of just like this, I will be making it very clear that like, you know, I'm writing a script and Tim's making a movie and it'll, it'll work.

Alex Ferrari 12:01
And that's a very unique scenario. Now, normally, directors are really,all inside your business

John August 12:08
Yeah, normally, you're really sort of grappling over every scene in every every beat. And that's not Tim's basic way of doing things. He's, you know, I think I've really learned from him is that he prepares meticulously, and so he has big notebooks of how he's going to do every scene. And he's sketching, and he's painting, he's figuring out what it is. But he's figuring out how to make the movie inside his head. And he doesn't. He doesn't necessarily need to work with me as a writer in terms of doing that. He's trusting me to sort of like, provide the words and he's gonna revive the, all the other things it takes to make a movie.

Alex Ferrari 12:46
I mean, you wrote one of my favorite Tim Burton movies ever big fish, which I think it was it was such a brilliant, brilliant movie and, and very Tim Burton, he but not in the same sense. Does that make sense?

John August 12:57
It does well, and that was a script I'd written before Chairman sign on. So I just read it. I read a book that I loved very much, I convinced the studio to buy me the book. And I wrote it without any directors on board about any producers on board as wrote the movie. I wish I could see, originally, Steven Spielberg had signed on to direct it, he was on for about a year and never really happened. And then when he dropped off, Tim signed on. And so we didn't have a lot of conversation about, you know, the story, the movie or sort of what individual things meant to him. He just he wanted to direct that script is the only things that change once Tim sign on board are really for budget and schedule things just like things that were in the script, it just we just couldn't make. And so then we discuss how we were going to do that. But it wasn't a, you know, you think there's gonna be these, you know, 12 hour sessions, we're really just ball over everything. And that's just not Tim's way.

Alex Ferrari 13:48
Now, you, you you have a recent film that just hit the theaters, a small little film called Aladdin, small indie project, yeah. small indie project by startup. And, you know, I was when I first heard they were, well, of course, this is remaking everything they have in their, in their arsenal or in their backlog. But when I heard about a lot, I'm like, Wow, that's a really unique challenge, because the original is so engrained in our head and specifically that Robin Williams performance. How did you tackle that remake? Like, how did you go into that process? Knowing that there's this Honestly, this shadow? I'm sure Will Smith had the same problem, the shadow of that Robin Williams was casting on the project, at least from my point of view?

John August 14:31
Yeah, I approached it from so I'd have to rewind the clock a lot and sort of come into my universe once before and it's like, oh, no, I'm not gonna touch that. And then Disney did the Cinderella remake, which I thought was fantastic. And what I love so much about the Cinderella remake is it took the same story. Basically, it just gave the characters human motivations rather than cartoon motivations, that they really had to do things that flesh and blood people would do not animated characters would do. And then it Reasons had to be different. And so as I approach the story from that perspective, I was looking at, well, Jasmine, so Jasmine as a character, you just can't bring that animated character through the live action movie because she will seem so helpless and weak and frustrating to watch. And so, you know, the idea that Jasmine is trying to learn how to rule this kingdom is interesting. That's a fundamental shift I could make from the very first pitch the dynamic between Genie and Aladdin, I really saw them more as as bros as like a house, like you've never had a friend like me. And so what is it, it was more sort of a kind of a Seth Rogen II kind of dudes hanging out kind of vibe with them rather than the Robin Williams cocaine uncle kind of thing. And when, when you from the early pitches, like that's really the vibe I was going for. And so I knew that whoever was playing the gene, it wasn't real at that point. But it was hopefully going to be will or somebody like well could didn't have to play in the same lane, they could do his own thing, that there wouldn't be that assumption that you'd have to have the same kind of manic energy at every point, it could be a different thing. So that, you know, the characters were going through much the same story, but the reasons for how they were doing it were working a lot differently, Jafar is another good example is that he can't be as moustache totally hidden, he needs to be seen as a viable sort of physical threat and not just, you know, obviously to learn from the first moment he shows up.

Alex Ferrari 16:32
Right, exactly. And that's what makes a good protect what makes a good antagonist, generally speaking, is not the, the twirling mustaches has been, shouldn't really be what we write anymore. Now, Charlie's Angels, which was a monster hit when it came out. The first one for people was when people that weren't around then Charlie's Angels have a very big deal when it came out. And that was, that was your first kind of like, blockbuster monster hit right out of the gate. Yeah, it

John August 17:01
was the first one that I had sort of really come on board, you know, at the start and sort of helped build from build up from the bottom. And that was, again, an example of, you know, taking all the things I loved about the original and recognizing, okay, so how do we do this as a movie? How does the things I love about this as a series? How do we do this in two hours? What are the audience expectations of how a story like this wants to tell itself into in two hours, probably, than big fish are rival each other for the most difficult things I've written because in Charlie's Angels, you have three protagonists, each of who needs their own plot lines, his own personal plot lines, you have a villain, you have a twist, you have all the sort of normal action, movie action, comedy, things that need to happen. So every scene has to do a lot of work to service very many things. And so making that all work together in the puzzle pieces fit was really tough. But we approached it, mostly from a sense of, what do you want this movie to feel like? And so I really wanted to get that sense of being incredibly proud of the girls for sort of what they've done, which you don't think about an action movie, but these women are really, really good at what they do. But they're giant dorks when they're off the job. And so that's what makes them feel human and relatable is that they are, you know, they're goofy and flawed and ways that you can sort of key into they're not perfect.

Alex Ferrari 18:20
Yeah, like, you don't want to have a beer with Rambo, like generally, okay. No, no,

John August 18:25
I mean, and comedies are never about cool people. comedies are about dorks. And so we had to find a way that they could be great at their job and also be dorks you know, off the job.

Alex Ferrari 18:35
Now, what was it like, you know, being kind of like the belle of the of the ball after Charlie's Angels hits in town, because anytime there's a big hit the screenwriter and the director, they they kind of get twirled around for a while, while you're hot. While the spotlights on you. What's that expressed? Like? What was that experience? Like? Because I know a lot of people listening would love to know

John August 18:54
what I mean. It's nice to be offered projects where you don't have to chase everything. Whereas sometimes it's just a little calm, say like, Hey, would you want to do this thing? That's great. You also really are constrained by time. Like, there's only so many things you can do the only the only things you can say yes to and the more things you say yes to you're really saying no to other things. And it was tough to balance what people wanted me to do for them. And those opportunities I was getting versus the things I wanted to do for myself and finding you know, what was actually, you know, provide value to me creative satisfaction to me. And it didn't always make the right choices. I ended up like, you know, taking projects that seems cool, but sometimes never happened. And so there's some gaps in my resume where I was working a lot just those movies didn't happen and a lot of my job as a screenwriter ends up being kind of like a stock picker. I have to pick the movies that that I want to do but that I also think will get made because it doesn't do me a lot of good if I got paid to write a movie that never became a movie.

Alex Ferrari 19:53
Yeah, I know a lot of high end. You know, big time screenwriters that have one, maybe one credit to them, and they're like, but they're working for 10 years Oh, yeah, yeah, it happens all the time. Now, you also said at the beginning, you said that you kind of start off fast for you. What was the first break? Like? What was that first thing that happened? Because even in the 90s, it was still hard to break in without question.

John August 20:14
No. And I think this is, you know, a pattern I've noticed, you know, among my friends, but also, I've had a whole slew of assistants who've grown up to be, you know, big writers. And there becomes a moment at which something you've written is getting passed around without you're actively trying to get it passed around where someone reads things, and passes them as like, oh, should we this is really good. And that happened for me with the script that I wrote in film school was a romantic tragedy called here and now, and I read it now, I don't think it's especially good, but the writing is good. You can read and say, like, Oh, I don't necessarily want to make this movie. But like, the writer is actually probably pretty good and are worth meeting that got passed around a bunch. And just, you know, it started with friends at my level. So just, you know, people I was in class with people who were assistants, other places, would pass it around to their bosses would read it. And eventually, it sort of got some buzz to it. And that was what enabled me to go into a producer who said he wanted to think about optioning. I said, That's fantastic. But I really need an agent, can you help me find an agent, and that producer helped me find my first agent, and sort of get me more of those meetings, you end up doing sort of this waterbottle tour of Los Angeles where you just meet, you know, you know, producers and studio executives, and just talk about stuff.

Alex Ferrari 21:32
Now, um, what are some of the biggest mistakes you see in screen and screen that screenwriters make when they first starting out?

John August 21:40
There's this focus on make ability, marketability, chasing what's currently popular, and that's never going to work. Because first off, everyone can sort of feel that you're not your heart's not really into that movie. That like, just because that Western opened big that there's gonna be a whole run on westerns, it goes back to that kind of lottery chicken mentality. And that, like, there was a time where scripts would sound like, you know, suddenly, you're a millionaire. Because that script sold for a bunch. That's not the time we're living in, really, you need to be writing scripts that you deeply believe in, it's a movie that you would pay $15 to see opening weekend, it would means that much so if that's a giant blockbuster, or a tiny art film, right, that movie you wish you could see because that's the thing people will read and say like, oh, he or she really, you know, I really see something special in this, I really see a connection to this, I want to meet this writer, because mostly, you're gonna make your living as a screenwriter by being hired to do stuff.

Alex Ferrari 22:41
Now, what do you want to I'd love to hear your opinion on this, you know, the studio system has changed so dramatically since the 90s. Or in the 80s, where a movie like go could get made. But in today's world, the studio would never even think of making a film like go are an independent film. Not independent film, but just like a little bit.

John August 22:58
Go was basically independent film is an independent film that got bought out right before we started shooting. So it really was in India.

Alex Ferrari 23:04
But But like, you know, the studios aren't taking many risks anymore. It's all these big blockbuster, everything's tentpole, what do you feel about that, as far as you know, just for the creativity of, of unique stories, unique voices? in those stories? What do you think? No,

John August 23:22
there are still plays that are making those things. So it's not Disney, it's not Columbia, but there's still the annapurnas, the May 24, I think we still have a really vibrant indie film community. And so those movies are happening, and it's still getting seen, I think the biggest shift that we're seeing is that more of those movies are ending up on Netflix, on Amazon, on Apple on places that aren't, you know, that aren't, you know, going into a big giant movie theater and seeing it there. I love the big screen movie experience, I still want to keep making those movies, but I have to be realistic that there's certain kinds of movies for which most people are expecting to see it, you know, through a streaming service. And maybe we should just acknowledge expectation and make those things for those markets. Because that's where you're going to see, like, always be my maybe worked really well for Netflix. And that's everyone could watch it. And it'd be part of a cultural conversation, because it was so successful there on Netflix, if it had come out and done the traditional, you know, platform in New York, Los Angeles and have to expand out from that. I don't know if it would have worked. So I think that's just where we're at right now.

Alex Ferrari 24:30
What do you think of the whole streaming service phenomenon? The Netflix effect as they say like it is it is literally lifted this little small company completely changed the way the Hollywood does business?

John August 24:40
Yeah. I mean, for certain kinds of projects, you know, they are a huge dominant player. And, you know, as someone who's writing things, you always want more buyers, you always want more places where things can go that's that's just the reality. So it's it's amazing to have in there as another big studio but The downsides are, you know, it used to be you'd make a movie and it would exist out there in the world. And you could always find it or there was a DVD thing. There's just a sense that like there was a movie with a physical thing. And now that it's just bits on a streaming service, and you just don't know what's going to happen to it, it's great that everyone in the world can see your movie. But in some ways, there's so much there that it's very hard to sort of point somebody to your movie and get them watching it. It's hard. Honestly, the, the aftermarket for a movie is so much smaller. Now, just because it is showing up on streaming services. There's no, there's residuals, but they're not the same kind of residuals that writers got used to.

Alex Ferrari 25:41
Now, what is your approach to structure? And how and how do you structure your scripts in general, like do you outline,

John August 25:49
I'm not a big outliner. But I have a very good sense generally, when I'm starting writing of what the important beats are, and most importantly, where I'm headed. So it's like a road trip, like, I obviously know where you're starting. But you gotta have a really good sense of like, where you want to end up, and you can take some different routes to get there. But you have to have a good sense of like, Okay, this is getting me towards where I want to be. So I'm, you know, it was New York, Los Angeles, I could go by the Grand Canyon, or I could go by Mount Rushmore, I had to make some choices, but I will get to that place where I'm going, so I have a good sense of the big, you know, pitstops along the way, as I'm, as I'm getting there, I'm not a huge believer in, you know, page 30, page 60, page 19, or these are the big moments we have to hit. All movies, begin, all movies have a middle point, and they have an end, just naturally, everything has a beginning and an end. But I don't believe in sort of that strict, you know, ideas, I'd like you know, that a three act structure has to hit exactly these moments. Do like, there's

Alex Ferrari 26:48
a lot of these rules that you hear about, like, you know, make sure there's not a lot of action. Like you need a lot of a lot of whitespace on the script and proper formatting. And, of course, that's part of the process. But how truly important like, if you have, if you have one typo on your script, are you is your thing going to get thrown out. That's that stuff that they tell people and I always felt like, Look, if it, if you threw Pulp Fiction down, you know, if you're a typo or two, they're gonna let you go.

John August 27:17
here's the here's what I think is true about that, though, is that the commitment to read a script is a pretty severe commitment, you're asking for an hour or two hours of somebody's time, and really, their focus and attention. And so you have to make them believe it's really gonna be worth their time to finish the script. And so if you're giving them any excuse to put it down, then you've shot yourself in the foot. So that's why, you know, you know, check them one last check for typos. One last check for like, is this really the best way through this scene? Did I mess up these characters names? Like, is it, those last things are those last looks are very important, because, you know, it could be somebody only look, so you want to make sure that all that stuff is done, right? In terms of what it looks like on the page, you know, I make Highlands two, which is a really good screening app, and most of them can do the basic formatting stuff for you. That's not an issue. But you're still gonna have to make choices about you know, how dense you want your page, like, how do you make it inviting for someone to get all the way through that page and flip it and go to the next one. And I'm a person who doesn't like big law, he texts of chunk a bit chunky blocks of text, because I just know sometimes as a reader, I'll start skimming, and you just don't want people to start skimming on you.

Alex Ferrari 28:30
So the so tighter the better. As always, as they say,

John August 28:34
yeah, I mean, you don't, don't put more than you need, but you are the only person who can know what you really need.

Alex Ferrari 28:40
Now, what advice do you have for building interesting characters? Because I think there's, you know, there's character, there's character driven movies and plot driven movies. Would you agree on that?

John August 28:52
To a certain extent, to some extent, there's certain certainly movies where the unique character conflicts are not what makes you buy a ticket for a movie?

Alex Ferrari 29:01
It's like looking like Indiana Jones James Bond,

John August 29:04
basically, yeah. But I mean, Indiana Jones without Indiana Jones himself and serve his unique thing wouldn't work. Right.

Alex Ferrari 29:11
Right. In another way, the plot wouldn't move if you threw another character there. It has absolutely. It's an Indiana and

John August 29:15
same thing with James Bond, you kind of maybe do Bourne Identity, kind of what I mean, but I mean, even in his blankness Jason Bourne is a fascinating character, because you're leaning into C because you don't know who he is, you know, he is and you don't know who he is. But you're fascinating to find out. So you're on the journey with him.

Alex Ferrari 29:32
So what advice do what do you have advice you have for building interesting characters?

John August 29:37
Well, I think it's tailoring the right character for the world and the story you want to tell. So basically, you have to have a sense of what is the point of the story that I'm telling you like what is, you know, be it sort of more a plot engine or be it a world you're building? You know, figure out what that central question is that thing that the movie is grappling with and figure out who is the most interesting person to be driving the story to be carried through the story, you know, who is either best prepared for it or at least prepared to go into this story. So, Indiana Jones, he's uniquely well qualified to be in a story. But Groundhog Day Bill Murray is uniquely disqualified to be in that movie. That's what makes it so fascinating. You could do that same plot mechanic with nearly any other person on earth. But this grumpy weatherman is a really great fit for the story you're trying to tell.

Alex Ferrari 30:30
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. And was there ever a movie like Groundhog's Day prior to Groundhog's Day that did that?

John August 30:46
There were movies that? Yeah, there were movies that there appeared time? Yeah, that was not first thing. So I mean, Rashomon goes back to the same moment three times. So yeah,

Alex Ferrari 30:56
but yeah, I guess it's

John August 30:58
not quite as time loop is quite the same way. But like, that idea is not new to Groundhog Day. But soon, and that's an important thing to stress is like, there are no ideas that are groundbreaking, the new it's execution that matters. And it was the execution of that, you know, that time loop thing which could have been in any Twilight Zone, but the comedic bands with a very specific character with a very specific moral lesson has to learn. That's what makes Groundhog Day Groundhog Day.

Alex Ferrari 31:23
Is there any film that you can think of in recent history, or even in your lifetime that you saw, like, Wow, that is completely original, that is completely do I've never seen or heard anything like that?

John August 31:35
I don't, I don't like the final movie nearly as much as the script. But Natural Born Killers for me was as a script, something that was it was just so inventive with form. And it doesn't all translate into the final movie. But it was the first script I remember reading where I finished it just off the back to page one and started reading again, because like, it would just suddenly become a sitcom kind of for no reason. But it would be it would just, it would just change its form. And it would, it seemed to be aware that it was that we were in a time of, you know, post post modernism there just like the boundaries between media forms were eroding. And so Tarantino's original script for that I thought was so groundbreaking and original, that I loved it.

Alex Ferrari 32:17
I would love to see that version produced. Like if he actually

John August 32:20
Got to be, it'd be amazing. It'd be fantastic.

Alex Ferrari 32:22
And I'm a fan of the of the movie either. I've read, I saw the movie first before I read the script. But then when I read the script, I'm like, Oh, this is completely different. Completely different situation. It was, it was remarkable. When you in like, who is like one of your favorite like your favorite screenwriters like Who do you look at and go, man?

John August 32:40
Well, everyone in my generation who started writing when we did, I mean, we all look up to James Cameron for his ability to write action on the page. And so you know, many of us are still kind of consciously or subconsciously, AP and sort of what he's able to do because it was Middle East, but fantastic. And it really gave me a sense of being present in that moment for the action that's happening. Nora Ephron her ability to sort of just illuminate characters from within. And so and just and just have a really good sense of like, how the ball passes back and forth. James L. Brooks, again, a great example of a writer who can, you know, make people feel grounded and real in their place in their world. But he's also telling you a story. He's, he's, he's constructing University, it's going to force them as the characters to make choices. So I mean, just to pick three off the top of my head, those are three that would go back to now,

Alex Ferrari 33:33
we touched upon this a little earlier to today, but the protagonist, the archenemy, the antagonist, the villains have there is a problem there's a disease of bad villains out in cinema. What do you What advice would you have for to create a really good villain and can give you an example of two or three like insanely good villains you like? Well, that's the depth that those villains had, you know? Oh, let's

John August 33:57
think about it. So obviously, the best villains don't understand that they're villains they every villain is a hero. And so sure, that's villains think that they're doing what needs to be done. And they have they have very good reasons for why they're doing it. Whether the moral reasons or other reasons. Some villains I've especially loved till this one's character in my play warrant, and I don't like when I'm messing up the title, the George Clooney movie?

Alex Ferrari 34:24
Yes, yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. No, he talking about Yeah. Yeah,

John August 34:27
I'm playing my clip. She's fantastic in that she is. She's weak in really fascinating ways. I love that she's, you know, she's ballsy and tough, but she's also vulnerable in ways that you don't often see the villains and so I thought it was a brilliant characterization there. And Tony Gilroy, I think if I'm not mistaken, so are there other villains I love? I mean, one of my favorite movies of all time is aliens and the alien Queen you don't think of it as being a character But its motivations are so clean and pure. And that's a movie that's all constructed around sort of the horror of motherhood. It's it's Ripley, as Ripley as a mother, really. She wasn't expecting a surrogate mother to news. And you know, the end Queen as the evil version of that mother are just, they're brilliantly balanced between the two of them. And so I think in the movies that I love, you see that that is exactly the right villain or antagonist to challenge this specific hero or protagonist in the story.

Alex Ferrari 35:30
So like America mirror image, like a mirror image of like, so I always use Batman and the Joker like they literally polar opposites, and they're perfect for each other. Yeah.

John August 35:42
I mean, the Joker is a fantastic villain and all Sabrina carnations, it's whether it's a he's a force of pure chaos or a force of just just twisted love. There's, there's lots of ways to play a joker, I think it's easy, you know, iconic for all those reasons. I do a series of books called Arlo Finch. So they're middle grade fiction, or Harry Potter age fiction. And it's been fascinating like trying to find the right villain for that because the central character is a 12 year old boy who's like, nervous about the answers. This is a big planner is the sort of, you know, always a little bit leery of the world outside there. And finding the right villain opposite him has been fascinating. So I needed to find a character through who was. Arlo ended up creating his own villain. And so quite accidentally, like he was trying to do the right thing, but ended up sort of creating this madman who end up coming back after him. And so when characters and when antagonists and protagonists have that causal bond between the two of them, I think that's especially meaningful, Superman has that with Lex Luthor, because you know, Superman, absolutely, you know, got absolutely hurt Lex Luthor as a kid. Those things are great. In big fish, the protagonist, antagonist relationship is between the Father and the Son. And so they, they're each other's villain, and each other's hero in time. And that's a fun way to look at it, as well.

Alex Ferrari 37:07
Now, as far as the protagonists, what makes a good like, what makes you want to jump on board with that protagonist and go on that journey, because there's also some weak weak motivations. And so many so many screenplays and also movies that I see just like, man, I don't care about that guy. Like, I don't want to go on this journey. I don't care about this person. Or it's just so flimsy. The reasoning, this just kind of like, someone just threw something in there just to get it to the next step. What's your What's your opinion? What's the

John August 37:38
motivation, you're talking about? motivation, you're really just a synonym for want. And like, all characters want things but the protagonist of the movie, we want what the protagonist wants. And if we don't want what the protagonist wants, then we don't care, we won't follow that person in the movie. So it's establishing really early on what it is that the central character wants, needs and fears. So we understand why we're going on this journey with the character. And for movies, it's really like, is this a journey that we're willing to spend about two hours with this character and see them go from this point, to that point, there'll be a big transformation. That's what makes movies so different than TV shows is that movies are about a one time experience. It's the characters profoundly change versus a TV show, they're not going to change a lot by the end of the episode. So you're, you're looking for, like, who is the right character, who can change who can protagonist over the course of two hours to get to a really meaningful, emotional place that they couldn't have got to earlier on? And that's, you know, it's looking that along the way for how do you, you know, put choices in front of the character, this character so that we see why he or she is doing what they're doing and can never go back to the places that they were before.

Alex Ferrari 38:53
I wanted to touch on something and I think you're uniquely qualified to answer this, because a lot of a lot of not only filmmakers, screenwriters as well, they and I was I was guilty of this as well, early on my career that you're trying to kind of hack your way into Hollywood, you're trying to hack your way into getting an agent or getting in through the back door or using this technique or this, this this little secret that you heard someone say once, can you kind of just debunk that and understand like, you know, you do need quality, but there is right place, right time, right product, you know, without without question. Yeah.

John August 39:30
I mean, you need, you need to be a good writer, you need to be lucky. And you can work on becoming a good writer, and you can work on being on getting lucky by making sure that your stuff is out there where people can find it, because no one's going to stumble across your script if they have no way to find your script. So a lot of the questions that I'm getting it's like, oh, I, I want to send with the script over somebody but I'm worried about if you get stolen or something like that. getting past those fears is the first thing you have to do because you want anybody under the sun who wants to read your script. To read your script, because you never know, who is the person to spark for in the right way that will, they'll start the ball rolling into the next thing. I wasn't a big part of any writers groups, but I know a lot of people who are working right now who, you know, start on the early levels, who have found it the accountability of being in a writers group and having every week to show up with like, this is the new thing I wrote, this is the thing I did. He's great. And then as some people develop some traction, it's a way to sort of get your stuff out there into the world. So especially if you're in Los Angeles, joining a group of good writers whose opinions you like and trust, who can really contribute to that group is probably a good idea as well.

Alex Ferrari 40:43
Do you have any advice for people trying to just, you know, play the Hollywood game, if it's lack of a better word is there I mean, is there any,

John August 40:52
I mean, there's always there's always been a Hollywood game, the rules change some degree, but like, but you can spend all your time just playing that game, and you'll never get anything made. And that's, that's the issue. So, I mean, it is important. I mean, there's, there's a social aspect to what we do, and that you have to be able to you think like, Oh, I'm a really, if you're a good writer, then it shouldn't matter that I can't sort of like, pitch in a room. But now you've got to build pitch in a room, it's part of the sport that you're you're you're playing, you've got to learn how to be able to sort of this like, function add up, you know, cocktail party, and, you know, and make that chitchat stuff, because that will be an important function of it all. And understanding and with those social skills, as you're starting to work on stuff, understanding the notes you're getting, and sort of what's behind the notes, and how to sort of, you know, figure out what you actually need to do versus what you should ignore that those are all important skills, and they're hard to cultivate until you actually are just doing them and you're gonna be stressed out at times. That's just the reality.

Alex Ferrari 41:55
Now, how do you deal with notes because I mean, you you working at the the highest levels in Hollywood, and you're dealing with, you know, a lot of studios and student executives and directors and lack of a better term egos, as well actor's wants and needs. So how do you deal with notes coming in from you at all, at all angles?

John August 42:13
You know, it's that balance of being humble and sort of like, understanding that, like, this is a collaborative thing that you're trying to do. And so you're going to have to be able to, you may have your one perfect vision for how this is supposed to be, but like that one revision is useless if they can't make that perfect vision if they can't see the movie that's in your head. So it's hearing what they're saying, processing in ways that makes sense to you trying to echo it back and do the things that make sense. So you can come to a consensus about the same kind of movie you're trying to make. It's tough. And I would say that one of the I know it's a crisis, but one of the real challenges facing screenwriting right now is that it's still kind of playing by the way, it's always played where there's, this is conservatism. There's this, play it safe aspect, there's this, you know, you're here. Yeah. And there's much less fear in television, there's much less fear and sort of like the, the good television being made. And the writers are just being able to make the why they

Alex Ferrari 43:14
why is that because the budgets are massive, as well.

John August 43:17
But they are, I think this is a recognition that that ultimately, there's gonna be differences of opinions. But the writer who's responsible for that whole series, you got to gotta listen to what she's saying, and that she may actually know what she's talking about. I'm not saying it's perfect, and like network TV is still a drag. But the folks I know who are working in television now are finding. Even when they get noted, they're getting noted to like, let's make this smarter rather than let's sand off the rough edges.

Alex Ferrari 43:51
Now, you're talking about pitching earlier, do you have any tips on pitching because pitching is a completely different skill set to walk in? It

John August 43:58
is it takes, it takes a lot of practice. I mean, the spirit for a pitch though, is you have to think about imagine you just saw a movie you absolutely loved and you had to convince your best friend to go see that movie. And so you wouldn't pitch every beat of it. You would pitch the world the principal characters what it's about, you'd get us into it and but then you would sort of shorthand some things along the way. And most importantly, you really share your enthusiasm for it. That's not just you're not just going through a list of bullet points that it really feels like you are selling the movie, not just telling the movie.

Alex Ferrari 44:33
Now what what is your daily writing routine? Like?

John August 44:38
So I'm here in my office. I am usually out here by 9am. I'm here nine to six, but I I'm 20 feet away from my house so i can i can wander back in. I know that. Yeah. So I can I can go in and out pretty freely. I tried to get three hours of writing done a day and so I usually do those sprints and so people who follow me on twitter See, like, I'm say about to start a right sprint who wants to join me, I usually start a spread at the top of the hour. So like, at 10am, I'm starting this. And that means for 60 minutes, I'm doing nothing but writing. And in Highland two, we have a little timer function. So it, it starts counting my words I do within that hour so and then when the hour is up, then I can step away. But like during that hour, I'm not googling things, I'm just focusing on getting words on paper, or deep,

Alex Ferrari 45:26
deep work deep, right? And,

John August 45:28
yeah, I'm really, really writing. And then if I do three of those a day, I'm getting enough done that things will get finished. For a book, I'm hitting at least 1000 words a day for a script, that's three to five, maybe seven pages,

Alex Ferrari 45:44
you'll finish if you if you get that much done. And there is kind of like a disease of distractions that we have to deal with as just human beings in general. But as writers as creatives, it's so brutal, because you have little things you have little notifications, all that stuff, the concept of deep work. I don't know if you read that book, deep work, which is it's amazing book about just what you can get done if you actually just Yeah, yeah, you know, any tips on how to deal with, you know, what you do? block everything out? Yeah, I

John August 46:14
used to this app called freedom, which like blocks connection. And that's great. If it works, I found just, you know, actually starting the timer, and just like saying 60 minutes is enough for me, like, it'll keep me on task. But everyone's different. So recognizing that what works for somebody else may not be the right solution for you. But there probably is a solution for you. And this is, this is my version of it. The other thing I will say is that I've never been one to write in sequence. And so I will write whatever seeing appeals to me to write that day. And so I let myself freely hop around. Because when you're making a movie, when you're editing a movie, you're going to be doing that naturally anyway. So just don't give your self the excuse of like, I don't really know how to do this next scene, they're like, well, then don't do that scene, do the other scene that you need, that you actually have the energy to do, because there's times where I feel like writing a big action sequence. And there's times where I just want to have, you know, some happy bantery dialogue between some characters, recognizing what you want to write that day is an important part of it.

Alex Ferrari 47:12
And how do you get through writer's block? Or do you have you ever suffered through writer's block?

John August 47:17
I've had very little of that sort of classic image of like, the writer of the typewriter and pulling it out and probably a bit like, the montage of that the paper balls. I don't have a lot of that. I do have procrastination, I have this self doubt of like, is this even the right idea? Is this even worth it? deadlines can help? No, take it taking a step back and really looking at why I want to write a project can help. No, this is not a thing I've I generally do. But I know friends who at the start of a project will write themselves a letter saying like, this is why I'm so excited to write this thing. They'll seal it up and like set up there. And so then whenever they need that they can rip over themselves like, Oh, that's right, this is the thing that I've done. That is why I started doing this. One thing I tried to do with the starter project is make a playlist in iTunes of these are all the songs that remind me of this movie. So the songs that could be in the movie, but it just feel like it. And so I can get myself emotionally back in that space of like, Oh, that's right, this is what the movie feels like. So in those times where it's hard to get started, I can at least get my brain moving in the right direction.

Alex Ferrari 48:28
Did Did you ever feel even early on or even later on in your career? That imposter syndrome that self doubt that you had to had to break through? What did you do to break through that because I know so many artists, if not every single artist ever has dealt with that at one point in their career.

John August 48:46
But it's a byproduct of something that's very necessary to do, which is fake it till you make it like fake like you know what you're doing until you actually are doing the job. And then everyone's like, oh, you're doing the job. But, but the imposter syndrome, he says the natural sort of, you know, progressive. Wait, I was faking it. And now I don't believe I actually know what I'm doing. And at a certain point, you realize, like, I do know what I'm doing or actually do you know, I have the answers to these questions. It never entirely goes away. And I think there's something actually lovely about imposter syndrome is that as I've moved into new areas, and so as I did my first Broadway musical, as I started writing software, as I started writing songs, in podcasting, I didn't always exactly know what I was doing. And it's kind of great to be a beginner because it gives you the excuse to be, you know, to make mistakes and is, you know, also reminds me of like what it's like to be young. So I think part of the reason why even having done this for 20 plus years, I still have a good connection to sort of like what it's like to start is because I am always starting new kinds of things. I'm always, you know, being new in a place and I know how exciting but how disorienting That can be,

Alex Ferrari 50:01
it is terrifying to start something new sometimes, especially as you get older, as you get older, you become less fearless. I mean, when you were young, you would do things that you were, we did stupid things, let's be honest.

John August 50:12
And I have to acknowledge that, like, I had the privilege of like, I started making a good living pretty early on. So, and I saw that I didn't, I wasn't risking everything at every moment to try new things. Like, I could always kind of fall back on what I've done before. And so not always going to have that. But generally, people who are just starting out, like, if you're in your early 20s, you just move to Los Angeles, you're kind of used to living on ramen so like, you can you can take some bigger risks in your 20s, you should.

Alex Ferrari 50:40
Now, I wanted to ask you really quickly about subtext because it's something that's also another virus that goes throughout screenplays, writing on the nose, and so on any insights you have on how you write subtext?

John August 50:54
No, I don't think if you're thinking about writing subtext, you're probably doing it wrong. Like subtext should be just, it's all the unspoken things that are happening between two characters, or the feeling that you're trying to communicate without actually saying those words. If you're worried that writing is too on the nose, that people are sort of speaking in their subtext, maybe you're right, but maybe you're also just being too hard on yourself, maybe just, I'd say, take a break, listen to how some actual people talk in the world around you and realize that subtext is always happening. There's always some shading being given on any things that people are saying in the real world. Movie dialogue is a slightly optimized version of real speech, it's sort of think about it, it's like a movie dialogue is what people would say they had an extra 10 or 15 seconds between the ball being hit back, like they just hit it back a little bit better than they otherwise normally would. Right? And we forgive him of that, it's when that things feel so crafted that then it becomes kind of arch. And either it's great. And you're you're Aaron Sorkin, or it feels really worth it. So it's really said, genre expectation.

Alex Ferrari 52:04
Now, let's talk about Highland for a little bit, you have this amazing piece of software called Highland, which is a screenwriting piece of screenwriting software. And now you have a new version coming out. So can you tell everybody about the software, and what the new things are in 2.5?

John August 52:18
So Highlander originally came about because that situation I'm sure you've encountered to where you get a PDF of a script, and you need to edit something like edit a PDF? Yes. So back in the day, we'd have to retype it. So the original Highland was just an app to meltdown, a PDF, so can take a PDF and make it an editable document again. And so we had that. And it's like, you know what, this is raw text, I wish I could just stay in this raw text and not have to deal with all the bullshit of final draft. Because final draft was a genius program, when all we had was Microsoft Word, we had to write scripts in Word. And so like the power dropped seems just like a godsend. But all of the metaphors, the final draft are very 1990s. And that you have I mean, it kind of still looks like it's in the 90s. But like that, you have to tell final draft, what every single element on the page is like, Oh, this is a character name. This is a parent article. This is dialogue, this must be a transition, that you have to just keep hitting that dumb TAB key or the reformat thing to tell is like, no, this is what I'm trying to do. And so when I started working with that raw text, I was like, well, this is actually just so much better. If I could just go back from this raw text, and then get a nice looking, you know, PDF at the end of it, I'd be delighted. And so we made the app to do that. So it's just, you're just typing it like you would type an email, but it understands what you're doing. So it understands that like, oh, that uppercase word that has another line below it. That must be a character name and some dialogue. Oh, there's parentheses, I bet that's apparent that I call that line ends in to colon, I bet that's a transition. And it just our computers are smart if we can figure out what this stuff is. And so the app began as a way to do screen writing and that really plain text way. And then we just, I added in the things as a writer that I wanted most in an app. And so things like as a screenwriter, you're always there's little bits of text that you don't have a place for but you don't want to lose them. So you're cutting them, I would, I'd make a scratch file and paste it over in the scratch file because they ever needed that thing again, in Hyland, you just drag it over to the side, there's a little thing called a bin it just sits in your bin. So it's more like editing, you know, video where it's like, you have a bin of all your little clips and you just like bring stuff back in. I want to take those metaphors ran through the the big thing we did with Highland 2.5 was adding in revision mode. Because as a screenwriter, you're often working, you know, as you're going from one draft to the next draft, you want to put those little stars in the margins to show like what's changed. And if you ever done that in final draft or any of these other apps, it's incredibly complicated. You're just like, you know, it looks like you're landing in space shuttle when you try to turn on that mode. And I was like, it should not have to be that way. So in, in Highland 2.5 is it's a little easy to flip a switch and tell what color you want to be like it just does it and so we hit All the complexity behind under the hood. So it's just really simple. And you just start typing and he's like, oh, as long as the switch is flipped, everything I typed now is gonna be blue, and there's gonna be stars in the margins,

Alex Ferrari 55:11
You would think you would think that would be already there. It's just so simple.

John August 55:15
Yes. But no, no, another app was doing it that way. And even like, Track Changes in a word, if you ever had to do that, Oh, my God, that's complicated. You can mess up a document so badly. So we just wanted it to be simple and simple in a way that people would actually use it. And so that's what we were able to do with this

Alex Ferrari 55:32
Very cool. And then you started Highland in general, just because he was like, I just can't take this and

John August 55:37
I want a better thing. I'm going to be in an app for you know, eight hours a day, it should be a beautiful app that I'm really comfortable in. So I'm, you know, my company makes it but I'm also the principal beta tester for it. Because every day I'm launching a new build that has some small things fixed or changed. I'm seeing like, what if it did this? What if it did that, and it can't crash, because I'm writing all the stuff in it. So it has to be rock solid, so that I can use it every day. So it's a unique challenge for my designer for my coder. But, you know, I want the app that works best for me and happens to work best for most of the people I end up showing it to,

Alex Ferrari 56:14
And how long has it been around.

John August 56:16
So Highland shoe came out last year, almost a year ago. And we had small revisions, but this 2.5 releases a big release a big set of changes for restorative for everyone, I should say like, one of the fundamental things we did differently in Highland versus other apps is in Word in a final draft, there's that sense of like, what you see is what you get. So like, you're always typing in sort of final form of things. in Highland, you work in an editor and the preview, and you sort of see what what it's like, it's like a renders out sort of what the final version is. And it's just, it ends up being a much faster workflow, you're not fiddling with little bits of things, because you're just focused on the words, not the formatting around it.

Alex Ferrari 56:58
Very cool. I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I ask all of my guests,

John August 57:01
Please.

Alex Ferrari 57:02
What advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

John August 57:08
I'm gonna restate what I said earlier in the podcast is that focus on writing that thing you wish existed in the world. And so really, for any artists, but like, so for a screenwriter, write the script of the movie you wish you could see. And that's the one you'll finish. That's the one you'll keep fighting for. If that's the one you're bringing be enthusiastic, and that enthusiasm will really be seen in the work itself. So just last night, I was talking to guys like, I really want to do this big mythology project, but I'm worried it's going to be a market for Mecca. My god. What that's that's ridiculous. You really want to make this right, this movie. So you should write this movie, like, Why? Why are you standing up here talking to me, like, go off and write that movie? So people, I think, have a sense of needing to ask permission and don't ask permission, just write the thing you want to write. The best thing about writing is it's free. Like, you don't have to have a crew, you're not the camera, you don't have to anything just like just just do

Alex Ferrari 58:02
The copy of Highland, a copy of Highland and

John August 58:05
Free it's free download on a Mac App Store. There's really nothing in your way.

Alex Ferrari 58:10
Now, can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career?

John August 58:15
Which book let's see, well, Charlie, the Chocolate Factory, which I read in third grade, we had this assignment where we had to learn how to write proper letters, where it's like dear person's name and date in the corners, a couple paragraphs and sincerely, and I wrote my letter to Roald Dahl who wrote Chocolate Factory we said all the way over to England. And he sent me a postcard back. It was like a foreign postcard With that said, Dear john, that was the first time that I realized like, oh, authors are actual real people and probably thinking like that, maybe that could be an author and so so I wouldn't say like, I love the book. I'm not saying it's like, the single greatest piece of literature but like, my connection to it really did start me on the journey.

Alex Ferrari 58:57
Now what what was that like when you got the call, or you got the the final approval to redo the chart, you know, to write it,

John August 59:04
It was amazing. But I sat down with Tim that first time to talk through it, like I brought my car because I still have the postcard for the road or something back. So it felt like, you know, it felt very movie like about like, no, this circle had been completed.

Alex Ferrari 59:18
Yes, that circle of life, if you will, almost. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

John August 59:27
I would say that I had a lot of things that for years, I said, like, Oh, these are my bad habits. And I started to just recognize it. They're just my habits. It's just like, it's how I work. It's how my brain works. And so I procrastinate I, you know, make some things harder for myself that I necessarily need to but that's just, that's just who I am. It's just just those are just my habits. And when I stopped looking at them through a negative lens, just like that's, that's how I that's how I do it. Things got better.

Alex Ferrari 59:57
Now what did you learn from your biggest failure?

John August 1:00:03
I'm trying to think what my biggest failure would be. I know, I would say I learned a little more humility and sense of, you know that, in wanting to control everything and wanting to sort of have dominion over like a whole project and sort of getting to work a certain way. There are always gonna be things I couldn't control. And that, you know, you can't control how people react to a thing, and you can't control how stuff works. And so all of you can try to make it to try to do is make sure the daily process of working on the thing is meaningful to you. Because that doesn't mean it's always gonna be a joy or be happy, but that you feel like, Okay, this is this is worth my time that I'm putting into it. Because also you don't know that you're gonna have anything at the end of it other than the time you put into it.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:02
And what is the biggest fear you had to overcome when writing your first screenplay?

John August 1:01:10
Weirdly, like kind of the format. Because the screenplay format is just really weird. We first started looking at it, it looks, it looks just sort of arcane. So I kept worried I'd have to make some fundamental mistake, which would make my thing unfilmable. And I didn't really quite get over it until we were in production on go. And I was like, Oh, yeah, that's when I write I wrote, we just shot it, and it's done. It's fine. So like, that, the translation of these words on paper, and that's seen that's down in the camera, that it could really happen. So it was that fear that like, is sort of an imposter syndrome to like, they're gonna find out that I really don't know what I'm doing.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:49
And three of your favorite films of all time.

John August 1:01:53
So I think we talked about some of our so aliens is right out there. So good. I mean, just, I mean, alien, the movie is fantastic. But to make a slight well, to a masterpiece, alien. Yeah. And, again, that's a case of recognizing what the source material is, but also what you want to say. And you know, what unique thing you have to bring to a piece of material. So it's not a remake, but it's, you know, every sequel has to ask, ask the question, like, why are we doing this again? And it answered it really, really well. clueless? Me Hercules movie is just amazing. It's so smartly done. And it's, you know, it's a remake of a sort of adaptation of ama. And so it had really good bones underneath it, but it was just so amazing and specific. And then talented, Mr. Ripley, just because it's a movie that like, I can't believe gotten aid in the studio system. Yeah, cuz it's expensive. And it's weird, and it's dark. And it's love it. I love it to death. So those are the three of my favorites. And where can people find you and the work, your podcasts, all that kind of stuff. So I have a website such as john adams, calm on Twitter. I'm at john August, Instagram match on August script notes you can find through jobs calm, or we're on iTunes or wherever you get podcasts.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:10
John, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you.

John August 1:03:12
Absolutely a pleasure for me too!

Alex Ferrari 1:03:14
Thank you so much for dropping some good knowledge bombs on the tribe today. So thank you again.

John August 1:03:18
Thank you.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:20
Again, I want to thank john for being on the show and just being so honest and straightforward about his process and his stories about the business. Thank you again, john, so much. If you want to get links to his software, links to his podcast and anything else John's doing, please head over to the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/331. And if you're listening to the bulletproof screenwriting podcast, those show notes are at indiefilmhustle.com/bps049. Thank you again for listening guys. And just have a great weekend and I cannot wait for next week to come for you guys to see what I have been cooking. So the anticipation is just in there. I can't wait to release this to everyone. So it's coming. It's coming. Winter is coming. Thank you guys again, so much. As always, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

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IFH 324: What Makes a Great Screenplay with Stephen Follows (CROSSOVER EVENT)

Right-click here to download the MP3

What if someone could read over 12,000 scripts that were read by professional script readers, who gave the scripts an overall score as well as scores for specific factors including plot, dialogue, characterization, theme, and voice. Then looked for connections and correlations to discover what professional script readers think a good screenplay looks like. Well, today on the show I have that man, Stephen Follows.

It’s a monster of a report — 65 pages to be exact — that examines data from over 12,000 screenplays – mostly written by amateurs, but some of them written by professionals and major Hollywood actors.  Using rigorous data analysis methodologies, Stephen and his team found some fascinating correlations.

Click here to read the report: Judging Screenplays By Their Coverage Report

What They Found

Here’s just a taste of this amazing report. Later sections go into more detail and more topics, but below are nine tips screenwriters should take on board to help improve their chances of impressing script readers.

    1. Know thy genre. Your priorities should rest on the particular nature of your chosen genre. For example, Family films place the highest premium on catharsis, while for Action films it’s plot.
    2. Some stories work better than others. The vast majority of scripts can be summarized using just six basic emotional plot arcs – and some perform better than others.
    3. If you’re happy and you know it, redraft your script. Film is about conflict and drama and for almost all genres, the happier the scripts were, the worse they performed. The one notable exception was comedy, where the reverse is true.
    4. Swearing is big and it is clever. There is a positive correlation between the level of swearing in a script and how well it scored, for all but the sweariest screenplays.
    5. It’s not about length, it’s what you do with it. The exact length doesn’t matter too much, so long as your script is between 90 and 130 pages. Outside of those approximate boundaries scores drop precipitously.
    6. Don’t rush your script for a competition. The closer to the deadline a script was finished, the worse it performed.
    7. Use flashbacks responsibly. Scripts with more than fifteen flashbacks perform worse than those with few to no flashbacks.
    8. VO is A-OK. Some in the industry believe that frequent use of voiceover is an indicator of a bad movie, however, we found no such correlation. We suggest that any complaints on the topic should be sent to editors, rather than writers.
    9. Don’t worry if you’re underrepresented within your genre – it’s your superpower. Female writers outperform male writers in male-dominated genres (such as Action) and the reverse is true in female-dominated genres (such as Family).

Stephen Follows is an established data researcher in the film industry whose work has been featured in the New York Times, The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Mirror, The Evening Standard, Newsweek, The New Statesman, AV Club, and Indiewire.

He acted as an industry consultant and guest on the BBC Radio 4 series The Business of Film, which was topped the iTunes podcast chart, and has consulted for a wide variety of clients, including the Smithsonian in Washington.

I just love Stephen and his amazing ability to crunch numbers for the benefit of the filmmaking community. He’s truly doing God’s work. Get ready to go down the rabbit hole and see what makes a great screenplay.

Enjoy my conversation with Stephen Follows.

Alex Ferrari 1:52
Now today on the show, we have a unique human being by the name of Steven Follows Steven is by far one of the best analytical film data guys ever. He is kind of like Rain Man, but with film data. And he's probably the best research film research guy I've ever even seen or heard of. A lot of big studios go to him for this information because he just is one of those guys can break through it all. And that information that he's doing through his website, and through his report is mind boggling. And today's episode, we're going to talk about what makes a good screenplay. So this man went through 12,000 screenplays and all of their coverage that were covered by professional script coverage people and then analyzed all the data from all of these script readers and put a report together on what makes a good screenplay what readers what Hollywood what you know, what passes, what doesn't pass, what you know, gets produced what doesn't get produced. This by far is one of the most just mind boggling things I've ever heard of, and he is the man to do it. So without any further ado, please enjoy my insane conversation with Steven Follows. I'd like to welcome to the show Steven Follows man, thank you so much for your busy insane schedule, sir to come on the show and, and share your knowledge bombs with the tribe today.

Steven Follows 3:31
Hey, my pleasure. I'm really delighted to be here. And it's really nice to connect up and hopefully, you know, help your audience as much as the work you're doing already helps them.

Alex Ferrari 3:40
Absolutely, man. I mean, before we get started, I have to tell everybody in the tribe that you I am a huge fan of what you do. Steven is easily the best, like film researcher, film data guy on the planet with without question, the stuff that he does is absolutely insane. And we're going to talk about one of those insane projects in this episode without question. But we were just talking about

Steven Follows 4:08
It helps him there aren't many of us right there. So im making it well in a small category. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 4:15
But the point is the work that you do, which is you know, obscene amounts of data crunching for the film industry, and then you put that kind of information out, you don't hide it behind. You know, $1,000 paywall you give it away, or give it or you know, or you know, pay as you go or whatever it is, you really are trying to help the community. So I'm excited to talk about your latest project and we're also going to talk about some of your past projects as well. But before we get into it, why? Like I what point did what did you have like data like charts on your wall when you were a child? How did this How did you become the world like the film data guy and what made you want to Get into this side of the business. And I know you have other you are in other parts of your business. But first of all, how did you get into the business and then we'll talk about your film data stuff.

Steven Follows 5:07
Well, I've always been into film, as a kid, that's been always my thing, that's always the medium and the power of it, and you know, everything from your, you know, the temple, you know, popcorn blockbusters, I love them, and right down to sort of write down right across to kind of really heartfelt indie films and make you think and cry. And, you know, that's always been my thing. So film is always been there as a constant. And then I used to write a little bit as a kid, but mostly, I always wanted to be a producer. And I went to film school, and I was in a class of like, 100 people, and everyone wanted to be a director, or, you know, camera person, and I just want to produce, so I just produced and produced loads and loads of terrible short films. And just, you know, producing was my thing, I can organize stuff. And I like to bring things to reality. And I also like working with other people. So it's, I never want to go away and just do something by myself. I kind of like the idea of a team and what that means. And then set up a production company and working away at that writing and producing stuff. And my business partner ed is a director and a really good one at that. And so we sort of built a company that was a video company, and now focuses on storytelling. So we still make videos, we do TV commercials, we all our stuff is for charities in the third sector. And so that that kind of that part of my life is that sort of 15 year journey, which was always driven about, you know, wanting to get films made and wanting to move people. And then with the charity thing, wanting to do it for the good guys and get people to change them. And then on the side of all of that, is that I, when I was before I went to college, I had to decide, did I want to study film, and then do the kind of academic intellectual stuff that I enjoyed on the side or the other way around? Did I want to go and study, I don't know, politics or economics, and then do film on the side. And I decided that it was more interesting to study film, and to keep the intellectual stuff as a hobby, and not try and do it as something useful. And you know, it's just curiosity, you know, this more than anything else. It's not, it's just about wanting to understand how the world works. And so then I did that, and I sort of made a commitment to myself, you know, what, I will make sure that I do some stuff that uses my brain, you know, my running a production company definitely uses many parts of who I am. But the creativity, and the people skills and things like that none of its using the just the logical part. You know, it's, there's so many more things going on. And so I sort of used to do little projects and stuff. And I quite often if I had a debate with a friend in the pub about film, they'd be like, Oh, yeah, there are more comedies and nights. I don't know, I don't think so. Or whatever. And I go, I was the one that would go home and try and find out not to win the argument. But because it's frustrating to have people in the feminists who just chatting to each other without the information. And if they knew they could do it, they're far better for their audience for themselves for their projects. And the, the industry is not very good at sharing that information. So it was always a hobby, and I just started putting it out on the blog, because I felt that it was a good place to do it. And why not share it? You know, there's two cool things about this one is discovering something and going, Oh, my God, look how cool that is. The second half is just as interesting, which is, Hey, guys, come look at this, you know, because then people go off and use it in a way you never thought. And then they come back. And they're like, oh, that thing you show me I used it like this. And you're like, Oh, that's really cool. You know, so sharing the information has been as essential as doing it for me all along. And, yeah, so then I started in a blog, and then somebody told me that it was good to try and have some structure to it. So I decided to publish every Monday, I just, you know, it's one of those things where, when you have loads of different things in your life that are all different shapes, it's very hard to work out what to do today. And so by having these self imposed deadlines, it really helped. And I just kept looking for stuff. And the more I look for something, and the more I find something else to think of and things build on other things. And, you know, sometimes I'll someone will tell me about a cool technique like I was a couple of years ago, someone told me about this API, where you could send it a picture of a human face, and it would tell you all the emotions in it. And I'm like, Oh, cool. I wonder if it worked with the posters. And I sent a few movie posters, and it worked. And then I'm like, wow, I could send all movie posters. And so you

Alex Ferrari 9:10
You see, that's, that's where this is where you are different than most human beings. One or two. That's kind of cute. But then you go straight to all movie posters.

Steven Follows 9:19
What are the steps I'm missing in the middle? Because the thing is, the hard things are, you know, conceiving in there, and then building it, but then said like, it's like building a whole printers and printing one magazine, one copy. Now I'm gonna do a print run for everyone. And so and then once you have all this data, what's really fun is that you tend to get really clear patterns and stories and you say, I always knew that, or I knew that as a film fan. But now I've got the proof, or actually, everything in the industry says about x is just wrong. It just doesn't work like that. And the people at the very top or the people who've been in for a very long time, they know this, but they let everyone else think the other thing because it makes it easier for them or whatever. And so it's really nice to come I can go, Hey, no, guys, this is something that you can do to help the work you're doing. You know. And I think this is awesome. Like, that's really a fun thing to do, because people are going off and using it, like if someone's going to make a movie, and they're going to make it like this, but I know that that at that choice they've made is not going to be great for their success, if I can nip in and help them and give them a little bit of advice. They're still doing all the hard work, but then their film will be, you know, much more successful or whatever it will be. I feel like, if you can do that, you kind of got it. You don't, it's not really a choice. It's kind of I got a small part I can play along the journey. And I if I don't, then I'm being a bit lazy and not really playing my part to the community. You know,

Alex Ferrari 10:40
That's it. Yeah, it again, like we've said off air is like, that's just so not in my wheelhouse. I'm so impressed with that mentality, and how the mind your mind works. And and you were telling me like, marketing, I'm like, well, that's me. I could do that. That's my, that's in my wheelhouse. Without question, but your work is, is doing an insane amount of good for for a lot of filmmakers, and a lot of people in the business. And your latest project, which I'm going to read the cover which one it was approached when I was approached by the to about this, I my mouth dropped. I couldn't believe that someone did this. But then I saw your name on and I was like, Well, of course that makes perfect sense. Only a psychopath would do this like oh, let's see what follows. Okay, that's perfectly makes perfect sense. The the new report is called judging screenplays by their coverage, you analyze 12,000 plus unproduced feature film screenplays and the scores they received and revealed. And this analysis reveals what professional script readers think make a good screenplay. And that's what this entire report is about. And it gives you a real like this is a this is an interesting report, because it's about 12,000 unproduced feature films that produced feature films. So please tell me how this came to be. And and how did you go about putting this together? And then we'll get into some of the nitty gritty of the report?

Steven Follows 12:10
Yeah, that sounds great. I mean, there is there's not the main reason I do it. But there is a real side, side pleasure in doing something that it's like, it's like a magician, where they spend years training how to do this thing. And then they got all this equipment and a team. And then they go, Oh, yeah, like this. It was like, magic. And as any screenwriter will tell you, nothing is magic. It's just hard work. You know, like you watch Ocean's 11. And like, I had to get out of that situation you like, well, the screenwriter writers worked on it for like a year, and then made it look easy. So yeah. So what happened was, I was talking over a year ago, with the guys at screencraft. And they manage all sorts of competitions and things like that. And they have really good guys that are really interested in helping screenwriters is one of those businesses, that's a proper business that's come out of wanting to support screenwriters. And I can I can tell theater in the sense that I talk to a lot of people and a lot of people suggest things and you can tell which people are just saying, Hey, can we just get some value out of this or whatever? And then there are other people who really want to sort of say, Yeah, but how does this help writers. And so we were chatting, and both of us had seen years ago, there was an infographic that was still doing the rounds, like it's a big one page infographic. And it was from one particular script reader who had kept loads of notes of all the scripts I've ever read. And they and there was an interesting things like, what country or what state the characters were from, or whatever. But then on the right hand side was this list that was about why they thought the scripts were bad, or why are we held back, you know, wasn't didn't have a strong protagonist didn't have a strong plot, and they'd rank them based on how many times that came up. And john screencraft, and I were both independently saying to each other, could there's that thing I saw years ago, that was really cool. And I was like, Can we do that at scale? You know, can we and we can't find the exact things like that, you know, like, protagonist is a bit weak in the third act, because that is nuanced that the data would struggle to really understand. But there is loads of stuff we can do. So we spend some time talking about, okay, but how do we do this, like, in this modern world of privacy, how do we do this without it being a problem, we don't want to be taking people's private work and doing all sorts of things with it. And, and so that was that was back a little bit to figure out how we do this without causing any problems. We don't want to be the next, like Facebook or whatever. But at the same time, I think we can help screenwriters. And so in the end, we worked out a kind of complicated but good system that anonymized all the data, or the scores that the readers got, but still allowed us to have a look on that. So it's not it wasn't a case of us sitting there reading every script and all that kind of stuff. It was more turning into data. And as I said, as scores, what they get from readers was not just the overall score, but also all sorts of things like catharsis plot structure, you know, voice things like that, taking all of those anonymizing them, but still being able To sort of link data points, and then Okay, great. So we got over that hurdle. And then it took longer than I thought he was going to on a data slide. point of view, shocking, so much information. Shocking. Yeah. Well, it's just, you know, and also, it's one of those things where you start and you think, okay, I'll just do ABC, and then you're like doing that you're like, oh, look D exists. Oh, yeah, he exists f. G. And then you know, so it really was a discovery thing, where as soon as we can act, one thing, we discovered two more things. And in the end, we had to go, okay, you know, there's some things we put to one side and said, You know what, I'm not going to do anything on this. Because we can do this in the future. And it's just too much now. And we should say, I keep saying we, so I let the I let the process and I certainly something that Jonathan Groff and I set up, but also, there was a few great people that really helped me Josh cockcroft. And Laura mentioned, and we're both of them really helped me with the coding and the thought process and the writing up and, you know, it was a team effort. And so yeah, we there's a few things we left on the table. But then we left, we ended up with this 50 page report that looks. I mean, it looks at three different things. Fundamentally, the main thing is it looks at what script professional script readers think of good script looks like. And we can talk more about what that is in a bit. So that's the main, that's the main purpose of the report. But then, the next bit was about well, what does the average screenplay look like? You know, like, what, what's normal, not even good or bad, but like, how many characters scenes pages dialogue locations. And then finally, there's little bits we could do about screenwriters. Again, we don't know, like, individually there, who they are or how old they are. And, but there are some things we can figure out with gender and genre and which bits of software they use as well, because you know, which program do you write with? and stuff like that? So that's the bits that we decided to lend in. So you may be telling me you think it's long. I think it's short.

Alex Ferrari 16:55
You're psychotic. You're psychotic. That's that and that's fine. Fine. Thank you. No, but you're psychotic in a wonderful way, sir. In a wonderful, wonderful way. I just as you're talking, I just realized what who you are you are your money balling screenwriting?

Steven Follows 17:11
Yeah, it's so funny, because that's come up a few times. And we thought about like, Okay, do we lean into that, or you know, that and ultimately, I think the really important thing to remember with this is that we are judging what's what script readers think a good script is, we're not saying what audiences do and not saying rainwork what we're in. And we're also not. There's no formula for it, you know, the more data I get into the more I appreciate the value and importance of human creativity and ingenuity. And so it's not like I can just generate a script now. So you're absolutely right, but have a very narrow thing. You know, this is the gatekeepers, you know, as you know, the people who get you in the room, you know, the get you place you win a competition or whatever, I'll give you validation to show what you can do. That's what we're focusing on this really narrow gatekeeper role.

Alex Ferrari 17:57
Right, exactly. So I mean, the difference between Moneyball is they were literally just looking at stats. So there is a different thing there, there was no creativity in involved. But this is a money balling of script readers and what will get what betters your chance of getting a screenplay through the gatekeeper, which is a massive Head Start above everybody else, if you don't, if you know this information, you've just changed your odds of writing something or creating something with your creativity and with your skill and your craft, to actually be able to break through the door much faster, and get more attention quicker, just based on this on this research. And as as I've skimming through the the, the report, I just came across that what matters most to script readers. And on the most important side, it is characterization plot, style, the voice of the of the writer, and then the things that matter the least theme hook originality format, which is opposite of what a lot of people talk about. A lot of people talk about, oh, it has to be completely original Oh, it has to have be perfect format. You've got to have a good hook. And the themes got to be really great structures down there as well. But they really care about characters. They care about plot and they care about style and the voice. So it's more of the almost the less of the, the the technical and more of the creative is what they're looking for, at least from just looking at it. Yeah, quick glance.

Steven Follows 19:34
No, no, I think you're absolutely right. And I think the important things to sum this up with is that if you get the technical stuff wrong, you can fail, but you can't win without the other stuff. So it's almost like the reason that you do the technical stuff is so that you don't get you know, so that you don't get thrown out. It's the foundation. The organism exactly is the foundation. Exactly. That's a great way of putting it. But if you're going to excel, if you're really going to make something incredible, then your voice as a writer is the most Important thing that people are after. And it's fascinating to see this in the data because I see this in other places as well. When you look at what movies are successful and things like that, it's you can't say that this is always the case in every place, but being good or working hard, come out very, very often, as amongst the number one things, and here is a writer, it's not about tricking them with a clever line, or like a good title or like it's formatted, you know, all beautifully. It's or, you know, or that it's so different just for the sake of being different. What we can see here, is it what matters is, can you write something? Can you can you do you have a voice? Do you have a lot of integrity, you know, the idea of a rang a really good spec script in Hollywood to get yourself noticed. They're not going to pick up your script, they're not going to make it. But the fact that you could write it a certain voice is what will open doors. And you see the same thing here. And because these are all spec scripts, you can see Actually, yeah, this is what you should be doing. Don't worry too much about how viable it actually is to be made tomorrow, you know, don't spend forever just focusing on the formatting. That's not to say it's not something But fundamentally, who are you What have you got to say, you know, how would you describe these events? Not what are these events, you know, and that's what these people want. And I love that because I think and I hope that's what writers want to do. They want to see the world. Think about it and express it. And I find that really pleasing and reassuring that that's what the script readers are after too.

Alex Ferrari 21:23
If you if you take a list of the Top 20 screenwriters who've worked in Hollywood, dead or alive, but let's say alive, I'm going to say that all of them have a very unique voice, you know, the Sorkin's the Shane Black's the Kaufman's, you know, these kind of that know, Christopher Nolan, these guys have very specific styles, and have a very unique voice. Sure, there's always going to be technicians always going to be craftsmen who could just get in there, knock out a script, be kind of, you know, straight down the middle. But the ones that stand out the ones that really, really that that we know the name of the writers off the top, like I say Sorkin everybody should know who Sorkin is. Everyone should know who Kaufman is, or black. You know, these are, these are screenwriters whose style is so significant Tarantino so significant that their last name is enough to to you know, create that. And I think people forget about the voice because they're always so caught up with trying to do something that's going to impress or what's hot now, or all this kind of stuff. And this, this obviously proves there's one thing that I find interesting is we're going to talk about genre next is that a lot of things are Oh, what's hot and what's not hot. There's certain things that just stay hot, and certain things that just don't stay hot for a long time. And and they stay consistent over time. Just sure they'll have a little peaks and valleys of horror is really hot right now, or this is really hot right now. But do you agree with that?

Steven Follows 23:00
Yeah, totally. And I couldn't agree more. I think, personally, right. What's interesting is that, because we are film fans, you know, we're cinephiles, we go and see movies. And then we are film professionals. We sometimes overthink the film professional side of things and ignore the film fans side of it, you know? And so sometimes you go through this big data process, you write it all up, and then you're like, Oh, yeah, I kind of knew that. But that's okay, because you've got validation. But I'll give you an example. You know, you're talking about genre. With all of those things that we talked about, we correlated the success of the overall script based on their scores, all these things, which exactly as you said, says, basically, the shorthand of this is how important each of these things and like you said, formatting comes out, as the least important across all genres. It's still it's not it is not irrelevant. But it's just not the most important thing. But what is the most important thing changes depending on different genres? So the ones you talked about the characterization of voice then the number one for most of the genres, but then if you think about a family film, right, so the most single most important thing for a family film is catharsis. Yes. Which makes perfect sense as a film fan, you know, I'm not sure I would have sitting there and guessed if I was before we did this work, I would have written it like this. But now I see it. I'm like, of course, because you need a family film to be safe. You need it to be something you can put the kids in front of the you can watch, and you need the journey. And, and it needs to end satisfactory, you know. I'll give you an example. So I there's a viral video from like, I don't know, five, six years ago. And what it is is Toy Story three had just come out on DVD and blu ray, and for a Christmas prank, a family had taken it to two kids and taken it and cut out the bit so the card the very ending so that what happens is the move that they're all going into the incinerator they're all about to die, they say their goodbyes, and then the credits roll, right. And they showed it to them that their mom right and they had a hidden camera, and she's watching it like a big fan of Toy Story seeing once he watches three, she thinks they're all going to their death and then the credits roll and then she's like What, what, and she looks like she's devastated. Like, not just sad, but like her world is falling apart. And like it goes on, it's very funny. And then they own up and they tell it what they did. But, but what's so funny about that is, is saying the same thing as this data, which is, you don't expect a family film to leave you hanging, it has to close up. But you think about a thriller, or a good drama, like a really good drama, maybe the characters have a resolution, maybe they don't, but the themes never resolved really, because you, these are questions about what it is to be a human being. And so it makes sense that, you know, you wouldn't necessarily use this data to go and craft the perfect plot for a family film. But if you've written the first few drafts, and you're like, Okay, how can I improve this? You go? Okay, well, is my catharsis, you know, how cathartic is this? How much does it actually close at the end of the journey? And whereas if you're doing some other genres, it becomes far less important adventure films, it becomes less important than that sense.

Alex Ferrari 25:55
Right? Like, if you l No, no, like, you look, if you if you look, if you listen to or you watch Free Willy, like, if if Willie doesn't get free at the end of that movie, they don't have for other movies.

Steven Follows 26:11
No, exactly. In needs closure, you know, and catharsis and closure are slightly different things, but they're in the same wheelhouse. And it makes such sense

Alex Ferrari 26:19
For a family film. But you don't need that for a horror movie. I mean, that the killer could get away and then that sequels. Yeah, it's just different by genre. But based on on the report, the advice per genre, which I find a little fascinating, but once you start thinking about it makes perfect sense. The genres that are scored the highest, I'm just gonna do the top three in the top and the top bottom three, the top is thriller, then goes animated goes adventure, which makes perfect sense because those films kind of cross over tastes, meaning that almost everybody can enjoy a good thriller. almost anybody can enjoy a good adventure film. almost anybody can enjoy a good animated film because you know what you're expecting with that. But then, on the other end of the spectrum, you've got comedy is the worst reviewed fantasy and sci fi. So then if you start thinking about I'm like, well, comedy, not everyone's gonna get certain jokes. And then if you don't like it, if you don't like fantasy, it's probably just it's a riskier. It's a riskier genre. Same thing for sci fi. If you're not a sci fi or fantasy fan, not everyone's going to enjoy it. Everyone's going to generally enjoy a really good thriller, or a really good adventure film, like Raiders of the Lost Ark. almost anybody could enjoy Raiders of the Lost Ark. You know, you don't have to be a fan of archaeology. Yeah. But you have to be a fan a fan of Lord of the Rings to enjoy Lord of the Rings.

Steven Follows 27:47
I couldn't. Yeah, I totally agree. And I think there are other things as well, when you when you think about it, like comedy is the only genre where you can really fail at like, No, no, if you've got a horror film, and it's not very scary. It's still a horror film. It's just a bad one, or a draw. Everything is drama. Like, as talking as drama. It's not very dramatic, but it's drama. But if we don't make jokes, it's not a comedy. So the answer can be no. And then for fantasy and sci fi, my theory on this one, which is just my theory of the same data that you've got in front of you, but my theory is that if you get some of the details wrong in a fantasy or sci fi, when you're writing the script, it's confusing. And humans don't mind mystery. mystery is intriguing. But confusion is, is feels horrible. Yes. And something's confusing. It's genuinely painful in an emotional sense. Whereas a thriller, if it's confusing, it doesn't matter as much as it's about the unknown fantasy, like you want to know the world. You know, I saw Fantastic Beasts, too. Not long ago, I won't spoil anything about JK Rowling's.

Alex Ferrari 28:48
I've never heard of her she could.

Steven Follows 28:51
I think she's amazing. But in this film is a bit confusing. But the my main point with this is that every now and then there's a situation that the characters are in, and then it turns out, there's a magic way of getting them out, like literally magic. And that's fine. But it's a bit of a, it's a bit of a frustrating as an audience, because you you feel disempowered to be able to figure out what's going on, because she can't explain the volume of stuff that she knows about that world. And so when you get a fantasy or sci fi wrong, you're not expanding enough for the audience. And so the ones that are bad tend to be quite bad, you know, and not very good sci fi, not very good fantasy, and not very good comedy, actually feel pretty shitty, whereas a not very good thriller, still a thriller. So my guess is that this is about whether you can fail at genre or leave people completely confused, or when you actually can just make them think it's average and fine. But yeah, who knows? We know one of the things we can't tell here, is that when there is no and we certainly don't have access to any objective measure of quality. So it could well be that over these 12,000 scripts that maybe the comedies were bad, you know, and but uh, maybe that or maybe the script readers were biased. I mean, I don't know I don't think so.

Alex Ferrari 29:57
It is just comedy is extremely difficult. It's, it's probably one of the most difficult things to write to direct to, to make a movie of, because I still remember airplane, when that the worst test screening ever in Paramount's history, the worst test reading ever. And the reason why they went back and analyzed why, because it was obviously a classic and one of the biggest hits Paramount ever had at the time. And I could still watch it now and piss myself because it's one of the best comedies ever. But don't get me started because all the lines are starting to come back in my head. So I don't want to go down the airplane road. But they figured that people at that time in history did not feel comfortable enough to admit that they liked it. So when they wrote it down on the cards, they just wrote down bad reviews because they didn't want to say, I really liked this lowbrow slapstick stuff. And that was fascinating to me. That's the

Steven Follows 30:57
same. It's the same with horror, though. Like horror has always been a genre where in the 80s and 90s people denied it. They're like Fangoria magazine in the UK aimed at like, fantasy and horror. They used to have a column that was entitled something like it's not a horror, but all of that. And it was people who promote movies that were like, it's not a horror. It's like a dark psychological thriller. And people will basically use all of these words to say it's not. And then that generation that grew up on those horror films actually grew up into positions of power. And when no, I like horror, and horror kind of exploded, and then people's became less ashamed of liking horror. But horror has the has the least connection when it comes to horror movies, the least connection between what critics and audiences say they think about it, and whether they make money or not, you know, if you make a lot of money with the drama and documentary, they need to be good by both audiences and critic standards. with horror, it's irrelevant. You know, the purge is made so much money, no, officially, no one likes it. You know, it's got terrible audience reviews, terrible ones, critics reviews, and it does just fine. And there are other horror films that are like, Oh, this is a work of art, and they just don't make very much money. And it's not that they have to be bad, it's that they're disconnected. So you're right, there's this everything we're looking at is a lens through a lens or a lens. And if the lens is, tell me what you think, well, then suddenly I'm thinking, well, who are you? How do I want to be seen, you know, when when you've got things like, these are anonymous script reports, in a sense that no one's gonna know who wrote them, you can actually say what you think you don't have to stand up there and defend it. You know, or if you're a critic, you're thinking, what do people think of me? What do they think they My name my photos next to this, you know, like, well, I don't like this schlocky horror. Of course, I like the really important foreign film or whatever. But when you look at what people pay to see or what they rent or whatever, you see a different story.

Alex Ferrari 32:43
Yeah, when you when Silence of the Lambs won, the Oscar was in nominated, and that during that time, it is still the first and only horror movie to ever win the Oscar, to my knowledge, at least. Because because they told everyone it wasn't a horror, it was a thriller. That's how you got away with it was it was a psychological thriller. You never once heard anyone call it a horror film, ever. But But when you watch it, it's an effin horn film. It's really what you want. Terrifying play. It is terrifying. And by the way, do you know the Hannibal Lecter is on screen for like, 12 minutes? Really? And the entire movie like 12 to 15 minutes it but all you can remember is him? In that movie? Yeah. It's fascinating. Now, one of the this is this is another bit of data that I just everyone always asks about, what is the key amount of pages? What's the number? What is the sweet spot for page count? Because I mean, we've all we've all seen the 200 page script, written by a first timer saying, This is so good that Hollywood is going to take notice. And professionals, we're going to go look at them and go, look, dude, it's just not going to work out for you. You need to stop. Well,

Steven Follows 34:03
it's like that joke of a producer picking up a long script and going I don't like it. It feels expensive.

Alex Ferrari 34:09
Exactly. It does. It's, it doesn't make financial sense. Even George Lucas had to break up Star Wars into three movies, because his first script was like 258. But I felt it's I'm looking at the numbers right now. Of what it's it's kind of where I was a couple surprises, though. I didn't because normally, I always thought it was like 90 to 95 was a good sweet spot. But it seems to be 95 to 99 is a good sweet spot, but then it jumps right to 105 to 109 and 110 to 140. Yeah,

Steven Follows 34:46
I wouldn't worry about that, you know, on any chart, there's going to be a little bumpiness you know, and so 95 to 99 seems to be ever, you know, marginally higher than 100 204. But I wouldn't worry about those kind of details. Because that is that's not you know, Significant in a data sense. But what is significant is on either end, you know, under about 85 pages, yeah, over about 130. And it falls off a cliff. And what, there is a pleasing bell curve around here. And like we said, 95 to 115 is about the highest. But ultimately, the biggest piece of news from this is, as long as it's not too long or too short, doesn't matter.

Alex Ferrari 35:24
You're right. So they're very, they're very close to very

Steven Follows 35:27
close, very close. And it's certainly not enough like that you should go and add in a couple of pages, and it will make a big difference to you. It depends what's on those pages, right? Except, I think, as short as you can be to get your get your whole thing across. But also, once you start crossing below 90 pages, it's not really it's less and less like a feature film, you know, right? And less than the edit and stuff. And we found that in a few different things where I had exactly the same as you, when I started this, I was like, right, I got some stuff I want to test, you know, talking about how I started doing all of this data stuff in the first place. I'm thinking right, I want to test whether there is a sweet spot for pages. And I also want to test if voiceover is a good or bad thing, because my theory has always been well, the theory I was educated on really, you know, was the voiceover is a bad thing when it comes right as my next thing. Yeah, yeah, exactly. Like it's it's novels, right? It's a literary format. It's a way where you say what the character is thinking internally. But that's not how movies work movies a show, don't tell. So I'm thinking great, we'll be able to test that we'll be able to see if voiceover does home movies, because the argument against voiceover is that's a literary thing it's internal monologue. You should show this stuff if you have to say the character things you know a voiceover I was feeling sad at this point then you're not doing a good you're writing the counter argument is usually just good fellas

Alex Ferrari 36:48
were on No I'll throw out throw one even better Shawshank is a great example. It's like the best movie it's still my top two movies ever. It's like one of the greatest and it's wall to wall. Voiceover and Goodfellas is to him Goodfellas is also an amazing film. But Shawshank really you know because it's considered arguably one of the best movies ever made. At least by IMDb at least by IMDb ratings.

Steven Follows 37:16
Yeah, and by the way, for every every group, old young male female like this, this isn't a movie that's being swamped. Like the matrix has been swamped by younger male people. No, no, no. Children is universal. And let's remember it's a three hour brutal racist prison drama. It's not like

Alex Ferrari 37:32
written on it. And it's called the worst idol ever. The Shawshank Redemption. I don't understand two of those three words. Yeah, exactly. It's right VA I get but the rest of them like really? No, it's it's fascinating. And I don't want to go on a tangent on Shawshank because I can talk for hours about Shashank. But that movie is such an anomaly. And I always I've analyzed that movie a million times of Why? Why it is so why it's so loved and beloved. I always tell people if you don't like Shawshank you're dead inside. I'm sorry, I kind of talked to you. You something went wrong along the way. You You're dead inside, I'm sorry.

Steven Follows 38:12
But when I give, I can talk from time to time and when I use Shawshank as an example. I do say how many of you have seen it? And there's always like, sometimes it'd be one person if there's a room of like 50 people, and everyone else tends to them. And the main question is like how how have you not seen this movie? Like this is an essentially and what's funny is that the next movie they made the the Green Mile I have a three hour brutal racist prison. I don't know if I'm Stephen King, I love it. But anyway, so not this is not a tangent but my theory on Shawshank is that that movie is essentially, it's got a fun plot in the sense that it's got fun and

Alex Ferrari 38:50
fun. You're fun. Is that a word?

Steven Follows 38:52
No, sorry. No, no. But what I'm saying is that the twists, you know, are we we're we're in it for you. But the main reason that's that's distraction. I don't think that's the reason it's a successful film. I think that's fun. But I think that's what it gives people in their front of their mind to be distracted. The reason it's so successful is for three hours, it asks one basic question, which is can these two be friends, and then the most unfriendly people in the world? You know, one is a wrongly convicted quiet accountant, who's in an incredibly brutal place. The other guy is in prison. He's black in a place that's in a time that's incredibly racist. It's unfair. And throughout the whole movie, you're saying, Are they friends? Are they friends? Are they friends? And the final? final hour focus shop says, Yes, they are. And then your heart explodes because you're like, Oh, my God, they were friends. And that's what that movie does. It asks one question repeatedly, for three hours, and then gives you a satisfying answer. Now,

Alex Ferrari 39:44
I'm going to give you my theory, because now we're gonna, we're gonna do I'm sorry, audience, this is going to happen. So just settle in for a second because we're gonna we're gonna do this. I agree with that. I think that is one of the multi layers of this film. I always found it to be and I'm sorry to spoil alert for anyone who's not seen Shawshank Redemption, I'm going to talk a little bit about the ending. So please fast forward. But I always saw it as an as a allegory of our existence. And I'm going to go deep here, as our existence as human beings, because I feel that many of us feel like any refrain, that life has put us in boxes that we do not belong in, that we've been wrongly accused of, whether that be our life circumstances, our family life, our jobs, whatever it is, and then that the beating that he gets throughout the movie, and, you know, getting the ratings and all the other things that happened to him, his life doing that to us on a daily, weekly, monthly yearly basis, again, and again and again. And it is a life sentence just like him, it's a life sentence. So when he figures out a way to over not overpower but with his mind, break free, and that he has to go through, you know, three football fields worth of crap to get out of that. And when he's so finally exposed, it's almost like he's being birthed, again, at the end, he rips off his closing, and that he's been able to outsmart the thing that put him there. It is the ultimate cathartic feeling for us, like, Oh, my God, what if I could do that to my boss? What if I could do that to a family member, that that's been pounding you all these years, emotionally, verbally, or whatever, or, you know, whatever situation in life has been doing that to you. And that is why I feel that it is, it cuts through every genre, age, male, female, it doesn't matter. I remember watching that movie out, it was in 94, it was released. And that year, I'll never forget it. I was I was fresh out of high school. And my high school, you know, friends at the time, who we all thought john Claude Van Damme was a greatest actor of all time. We all said Holy cow, is that a great movie, it cut through even maturity level. And only after you get older, do you realize a lot of other levels of it, but even at that basic level it cut through. That's my interpretation.

Steven Follows 42:15
I love that that is such a good point. And you know, the interesting thing about read is that the Morgan Freeman character is that I can understand everybody identifying with the frame. But nobody is really identifying with read. And I read something a while ago that was talking about the TV show entourage. And it said, the reason the TV entourage works is not because men have a fantasy about being Vince, then it's not that they want to fuck movie stars, and they want to be rich, is that they want to be best friends with Vince. So they get to fuck movie stars. Like, they don't want the responsibility or the pressure or the expectation of being Vince, they want to be turtle. They want to be he you know,

Alex Ferrari 42:50
They want drama. Yeah.

Steven Follows 42:52
Yeah, exactly. That's what men want. They want that kind of access, access, but without the responsibility. And so everybody wants to have a friend like read, but nobody actually wants to be read. And because here's a guy that can get you everything, but you can still be quiet, Andy, you know what, I find that that's, uh, I like your theory on that one. We, um,

Alex Ferrari 43:10
I think I like your theory as well, I think the I think they're both valid. And they both work in the same way. It's just I think that that movie has so many layers and levels of things that are going on that it just it is it is as perfect of a film as I've ever seen. On a set.

Steven Follows 43:27
You know, and it proves to me that you like I'm joking about it being a brutal in a prison drawer. But it is, and it isn't like about that is that teaches you that there's no story that can't it's impossible for it to be something that can connect with people. And if you can have that movie that the static stream connecting with so many people in such an extreme way, and I think is possible. It's not that everything is possible with anything.

Alex Ferrari 43:47
No stories, good stories, it will cut through all of this if the story is exactly well executed and directed in the I mean, it's just amazing. But back to voiceover. Sorry, guys. Sorry. We went on Shark shake.

Steven Follows 44:00
You can come back now we finished it. Yeah, no. So So anyway, so one of my first theories I had I really wanted to test when I when we started on this data was voiceover and and is it correlate with bad scripts? And I can tell you now that the answer is it doesn't matter. It does it. If you have a huge amount, then obviously, it's a problem. But a huge amount of anything, you know, and there's a, I can assure you that a huge amount of exclamation marks don't help, you know, huge amount of anything doesn't help. But fundamentally, it doesn't matter. And so I've updated my understanding of this. And I now think that that I still believe that there is a loose correlation between voiceover and bad movies. But now I'm putting the blame on editors and producers who are doing hack jobs to quote unquote, save a movie, or to make it shorter or or to you know, whatever. You know, like Blade Runner.

Alex Ferrari 44:46
You were you were I was about to just cough up Blade Runner. I mean, yeah.

Steven Follows 44:52
And so that's my theory is now now is that actually writing? voiceover is fine. It's how you use it. It doesn't it's not a good thing. It's not a bad thing. It's a tool. You know, and you as an artist needs to think with that and what you paint matters. But it's not a bad thing. It's not something to. One of the things I hope I can do with this project is, if you are a writer who is currently being told to cut voice over you believe is important. And you're being told, because it's a fact of voiceover is bad. I can tell you for a fact, act. It's not. It's what you do with it.

Alex Ferrari 45:22
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. Yeah, I know Robert McKee yells at people for using voiceover. But like everything, it's a tool, it can be used right or not?

Steven Follows 45:41
Well, so he might not be, he might not be wrong as well, that it's correlated with bad movies. But that's different to bad screenplays, you know, really important that we understand that because movies go through so many processes with so many people between the screenplay and the beat and the big screen. And that's why this data stuff is so interesting. We need to chop all these different stages down and analyze them separately, so that we're not confusing one thing and doing something else, you know, we're not just thinking I saw a bad movie with voiceover therefore, I'll never write it. No, no, don't do what that movie did that made it bad. It's not, you know, you're focusing on the wrong thing.

Alex Ferrari 46:14
Now, I love the next part I want to talk about and for everyone listening in a car with a child, this is the part where you might want to skip or pause and listen to privately we're going to talk about swearing in scripts. And that is, I just loved that there was somebody who counted how many shits there were in 12,000. Scripts? How many folks that were in 12,000 scripts and other words, and I just love that you are that person? Steven?

Steven Follows 46:43
I do. Well, can I just take the record? I did not read every script. Of course. There's one.

Alex Ferrari 46:47
No, no, obviously not used to be doing it. But that there was a there without that was that was one of the data points that we needed to discover. That was it, he can

Steven Follows 46:57
tell you that I built a machine into, you know, a little algorithm to discuss these, which means I'm one of the few people who can say I have built a buck machine.

Alex Ferrari 47:08
No, but like so the word that's most uses shit. swear word. Yeah, and followed quickly by fuck. And then the C word. I never like saying the C word. But the C word drops down to like, five, less than 10% of all scripts had this word because it's a harsh word. It's harsher than shitter. Fuck, but it's fascinating. Like, and then also in genre, which genre uses the most swear words? Comedy, Action and horror.

Steven Follows 47:39
And the thing is, I think they're all doing different things in the sense that action, it's about exclamations of like, surprise, I think horror. It's about you know, pain and, and frustration Where's comedy. It's, they're using it in a different way. And in another part of the report, we found that there's a strong correlation between sexual words, words to do with sex that are in comedy. So if you look at most words to do with, whether it's, you know, genitalia, or different sex, or whatever sexual acts, they're much more likely to be found in comedy. So people because they don't tend to thrillers don't tend to be fundamentally about sex, whereas comedies can be or are more likely to be. So it's interesting. They've all got different reasons for being, you know, on that top part of the script, top part of the chart

Alex Ferrari 48:22
that I'm looking at the report right now, Steven and I, I'm giggling because there's a graph and a graphic with like, fuck 63.3% fuck Kant 9%. It's like, and it's like throwing it. I'm like, Oh, my God, this is brilliant.

Steven Follows 48:41
You know what? The Venn diagram with three circles showing the overlap of that this caused me this graph caused me the biggest problem of all of the report. And as I said, as I said before, it's a lot of this song was a problem, because every time I sent notes to my graphic designer, it went to his spam folder, because all the words in the email, were the three worst words in the English language. And so, this was a problem for moderation, more than anything else, and I was trying to, you know, point out then this is academic. It's not like we're children, you know, but, um, but what was interesting is that there is a correlation. Earlier in the report, we looked at the correlation between the amount of swearing and the scores it got. And we found that actually, across all the films, as they got swearing, they got higher, higher and higher scores not insignificantly, apart from the most of the top 20% of you know, in the 20%, that I've got the most swearing us in it. They're the ones they didn't perform that well. But the ones that had some swearing or what we call a lot of swearing, so this is the sort of third and fourth, you know, fifth of all the scripts, they actually scored the highest and when we try to look into why this was obviously you should know how But across all the scripts, it was like this. And when we need to drill down to try and work out why we discovered a pattern where the swearing of the script was, the higher the score was for voice, which is one of the things that we can measure like we were talking about before with catharsis and things like that. So what's happening is that a lot of times script readers are correlating the use of swearing with how good the writers voices, or, you know, good writers swear a lot, we can't, we don't know the difference between the two, they both show up the same. But this is a really good example of this is true. And this is very useful, but at the same time, just putting more swear words in there is misreading the results. It just says the kinds of people who have the strong, strongest writing voice are more likely to wear than the ones that don't. I mean,

Alex Ferrari 50:46
It is actually quite fascinating. But again, you know, given Tarantino or Shane Black, the power of cursing, they use it as an art form. It's it's a paintbrush for them. They don't lean on it as a crutch. where a lot of screenwriters I find in scripts that I've read, lean on it as a crutch as like, I have nothing cool to say here. So I'm just gonna say the F word. You know, as opposed to something that really makes sense. You know, like, it's an art like when Tarantino curses, it's an art form?

Steven Follows 51:18
Yeah, well, yeah. And you say that he's writing voices coming out of that? You're absolutely right. And so yeah, kind of kind of interesting. I'm not sure this is there's a few things in here where I don't really want people to take this as literal advice to do tomorrow. It's more as a route to understand how things work. But yeah, if suddenly the, you know, spec script world becomes a lot scarier than I thought it's your fault.

Alex Ferrari 51:39
Yeah, it's your fault. And then age, age of characters, I found. Not surprising, but interesting, where basically 30s is the sweet spot. That's that? Well, that's

Steven Follows 51:54
your right, that's the most common and so we don't have individual data on the actual screenwriters. So I can't tell you like whether people who are over 60 write characters that are over 60, I'd love to, but I think that's a bit like we'd have that, you know, people have to give us that data. And it's just a bit too much private data. But what we do know is across all our writers, the average age is about 3132. And so unsurprisingly, the most common age for characters is in their 30s. But what you find is if you look at the age of the characters, and then you look at how often they speak, you find that as characters get older, they speak less, which is just typical of like someone in their early 30s, or late 30s, or late 20s, thinking, the older they get, yeah, the less relevant they are, the less, you know, they drive the story, which I thought was kind of fun. And also the idea that, you know, there are things in here that I think one of the things that good writer will always be thinking about, is how will this show on screen? How will people see this? So for example, the most common final digit in an age was characters was zero. So the characters were 2030 4050 that makes sense, right? But then the next most common was 525 3540. But after that, it was eight. So 2838, you know, 48. And I think that's because the writers think that when you write somebody 28 you're saying something about their character. You know, they are older, but maybe they've got regrets. They've got time to try to achieve things, you know, people midlife crisis, you know, maybe hits people around 38, or whatever. And so there's information that the writers are trying to convey that is probably never going to be shown on screen. You know, if the characters are having a midlife crisis, then you have to show them saying it living in driving a new car, whatever it is, but just saying their age won't do it. So it's kind of interesting about as that one of those things as a writer is, are you conveying that information in a way that will make it through to the big screen and into the minds of your audience?

Alex Ferrari 53:46
Well, I mean, we've we've talked a lot about this report, and believe it or not, everyone, there is a lot more information in this report than what we've discussed that we haven't given away all the goodies. And are you giving this away? Are you doing it a Pay As You Can what is going on with this?

Steven Follows 54:00
Now we're giving it away, actually, and the last report, I did a whole report, I did it as a pay what you want, because it costs it took a lot of time to put together the horror report. And I thought, if I can make a sustaining business out of people paying for these reports that I can then put the money into the next report, that would be great. And so that was a minimum of $1 and anything else more you wanted. This time around. We're doing it entirely for free, because we figured that what we really want to do here screencraft and I got together to help screenwriters, they've given us loads of that. And they've given me access in various ways to their data. But it's fundamentally something that you really want doing not as a commercial thing and they're not paying me and you know, what it is just to help people. It might make it a little harder for the people who really could get some. So it's gonna be a free download, but time you listen. Really free if you go to Steven follows calm as s t e PHMF, ll o Ws, you'll be able to find it and download the whole thing as a PDF for free And I do want to say a big thank you to the people who bought the horror report in the past, whether you paid $1, whether you pay $20, whether you paid $50. Thank you, because some of the things we had to do for this report, we had to pay for services or like the graphic designer or the eye level costs, but they their costs. And the money that people paid donating for the horror report went into this one. So the fact that is free is thanks to the people who chose anything last time, but also especially the people who chose to give more than the minimum and love that, you know, the community can give what they can everyone gives what they want to give and what they think it will help them. And yet, together, we can all move ourselves forward, then that's a that's a happy outcome.

Alex Ferrari 55:42
And we are going to put links to to the report and to all of Stephens insane work in the show notes, as well. And then we are also going to talk I might have you back for the whole report, honestly. Yeah, I might have you back for the horror report. Because the horror report, let's just just tease everybody listening. It went through how many films, all of them. So basically, every horror film ever created. You actually

Steven Follows 56:15
I think he's ever released ever released in US cinemas ever so I think it's top 10,000 films. So it's not like if you made a feature with your mates, and no one saw it, it's ones that made it to some form of distribution. At some point throughout the last 100 years. Yeah, I just spent a year and a half looking at them in every possible way. And it was really enjoyable. You know, funnily enough, I'm not actually much of a horror fan. I don't really watch horror films. It's not what I want as a fan. But as a, as someone who wants to understand the industry, it was really exciting because, as I said, there's there's the lowest correlation between the quality of the film and the success, which immediately suggests the question, Well, what does matter, and also because it's the most accessible genre for low budget filmmakers, and it can, in theory, you could be the next paranormal activity or next Blair Witch, whereas you're not going to be the next Jurassic Park. So it's an accessible genre that's fun to make, that actually has, you can affect it more than just get good. And so for me, that was like, Okay, I can do something here, I can help people who want to make horror films, by helping them show what kind of things but you're right, it's like 200 pages, it took a year and a half. It's gonna It's a whole new podcast, I think

Alex Ferrari 57:26
we're gonna we're gonna have you back seat. And we're going to talk about the whole report, because I think that's going to be extremely beneficial to, to the tribe. And I just want to read it to because it's, it sounds fascinating, you know. So, Steven, I want to ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today or a filmmaker?

Steven Follows 57:48
I'd say it's, there's two things which sound like they're the opposite, but they're not one is is about you, which is, you know, just get good, you know, and they get good, really, really slowly. And it's really, really hard. You just keep working at it. And you keep writing and writing. And everyone says Write, write, write. And actually, that is the right thing to do. You just keep producing the work. And so that's a sort of inward note. But then the second thing is you got to get out there and you've got to meet people, not because you're going to meet the next hobby ones in or have a studio boss and a lift, God that has a completely different meaning nowadays.

Alex Ferrari 58:21
It does it does scratch out, yes, yes.

Steven Follows 58:25
You're not because you're going to meet the next studio boss in a left pitch them and then and then she's going to hire you, that might happen. But that's not the reason you go out and meet people is because you meet people who are in the same position as you. And they're on the same pub journey. And, and, you know, everyone says networking, networking is its people, it's people standing in the corner of a industry event, clinging on to their drink, hating it, standing next to somebody else. Hey, I'm Steven, I hate this. And so when I was going, Hey, I'm Alex, I think there's two Oh, cool. You know, and then talking, that's what networking is. And the more you can do that, the more you'll meet people who are in the same position as you but they're a producer, or director or a writer, whatever you need. Someone who's been there before who can help you. Or there's someone who can work for you or work, you know, you can bring them on your team. And you just you keep adding you keep turning up. And you look at the people who are successful. They are very talented, but they've also turned up a huge amount. And the most of the people that come in at the same time as you the first year you're in film, loads of people coming in the same year. Most of those people are lazy. Most of them are flaky, most of them have got other things to do. And that's great, like good luck to them. It's great that they leave in the industry to do other things that make them happy. And if they haven't got the stamina for it, it's better they find out now. But the more years you keep turning up the key producing work, keep showing it to people keep talking to people, you just get good by turning up because people will see you they give you advice, you see patterns. And then very quickly, you realize that the person that you met at that party five years ago, they're now actually got a film that did well and they're looking for another script and they know you and suddenly seems a bit easier. So after like 567 years, maybe 10 years depending on where you are and what you do. And suddenly, things almost become easier out of nowhere. But what's really happened is it took you 10 years without any feedback of success to build those roots. And the last thing I say is that when I was a kid, I am British and I grew up in Britain, when I'm watching one of these comedies in the 90s, everybody seemed to be on this comedy TV shows, everybody seemed to be in each other's shows. And I always used to think, how do I break into that circle? How do I bring it full circle? And now as an adult, and as someone who understands the industry, I realize you don't break into their circle? You make your own circle? Yes. And do it when nobody else is anybody else. And everybody else is unemployed has never done anything isn't good. Yeah. And you connect your work together. And then suddenly, one day you wake up and you realize you're in a circle, and you're in your own club, and no one can break in really, like, it's not that you're pushing them away. It's just given the first choice. Why would you not work with these people that you've worked with, for 10 years, who also were there for you when there was no money and no fame and they still showed up course, you're going to hire them first, which means there's no space for anyone to break in. But there should be people making their own circle in another room somewhere. And in the future, they will be the people that were in the same position you are now. And I think that's really important to realize is that you all of the work is done before the light gets shine on you, you know, get shone on you. And you have to work hard when no one's watching, because eventually that does pay off. It just isn't sexy. It isn't fun. It isn't easy. It doesn't pay. And it's it's not the sexy kind of montage you see in a movie if people just writing and then being angry and then suddenly being happy. And then they've got it. And then it's the next morning. It's far less sexy than that.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:34
That's so great, great advice. And I've had I've answered, I've asked that question hundreds of times on the show. That was that's the first time that's ever been answered that way. So it's a really great piece of advice. Oh, thank you. Now, can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career?

Steven Follows 1:01:52
Ah, interesting. I read a lot. And I read a lot of nonfiction to try to understand different people's worlds. And I'd say I had to say the one but I'd say one that is incredibly powerful that really ticked a lot of boxes was creativity, Inc.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:06
Oh, what a great book. Oh,

Steven Follows 1:02:08
Such a great book. It's so nice to have an entertaining story with with a person's life story. But also it's a business book. And it's a book about how to be a creative, creative person. Yes. But the other thing, just I'm going to cheat and give you a second book is entirely different. There's a book called the Golden theme. And it's a short book, and it's by a story theorists called Brian McDonald. And he also wrote invisible ink and a few others. He is a genius and is totally, I wouldn't say underappreciated, because lots of people know how good he is. But he's, I don't understand why he's not, you know, bigger than Mickey or, you know, talking more on I just, his stuff is amazing. And the golden theme is a fairly short little book, it's not sort of whole book like an invisible ink is a whole book about screenwriting. The Golden theme is about one idea that he's seen throughout many different forms, in the history of stories and art and things like that, that there is one theme that seems to be seems to come up a lot and the work that's really successful. And it's this idea that we're all the same. And he talks about it, and he doesn't, he doesn't even make it a long book, he doesn't need to, he makes it gives some examples, talks about it, and says that when that comes up, it tends to be really powerful. And when soon as you read this, you're like, yeah, I can see it. And you and you walk around the world going, Oh, my God is there. Oh, my God is there. And then you realize you can put it into your work. And so yeah, anything written by Brian McDonald, but specifically golden theme, it was out of print for a while, but I think it's come back into print. And if anyone if brilliant will then get it, read it. It's it'll take you an hour to read it. And it will transform your writing, I think.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:39
Yeah, it's actually I'm on Amazon right now as we speak. So it's been a mess. It's been put in my cart, sir. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Steven Follows 1:03:52
Well, obviously, the only honest answer is I don't know yet. But I won't give you that one. I think I think I can. Okay, so I wouldn't say it took me a long time to get to the same answer. Everyone always told me. So I used to read lots of books about internet startups and things like that, because I was because I always thought there's a strong correlation between running a production company or being an independent producer or direct director and having a startup, it's a very similar model. It's just you don't have the bit where you turn it into a multi trillion pound enterprise, and you get to be floating on the stock market. But the first few bits are very similar. And they all say things like he talked to serial investors in Silicon Valley. And they always say, we're investing in the people, not the product. And when there's one investor, when one creator, we're less keen to invest, but when there's a team of two or three people, then it really matters. You know, that's, you know, a team of two or three great people who work together. That's the most investable combination. And so you hear that but you think, Well, yeah, but how can I find my kind of partnerships or whatever. And so you kind of forget it, and but then when I look back on the things that have really mattered, it is partnerships and I've ended up working with lots of different people and some people I've worked with once. And that's been fine. And other times, I've wanted to work people again and again, and for a small number of people who I have ongoing work with where it's in a limited company, like an actual commercial business, or whether it's someone I just I've got a shared lexicon with. And looking at the people that really I work with and have ongoing relationships with, I can see how they bring the best out in me, I bring the best out, and then they catch the worst of me and I catch the worst of them. And and as we were Alex and I were talking about beforehand, it's about sometimes there are things that I hate to I think it's just the worst thing in the world. And for someone else, it's the best thing they could possibly do. And like we you know, you and I are talking about you loving, promotion and marketing and me, I can't stand it can't do it. And yet with the film, data, stuff, this stuff is not a sweat. For me, it's hard work, but it's not impossible. Whereas for other people, it can be hard to imagine what it is. And if you find someone who you truly understand you share a worldview, you share a view of how the world should be, but your interests and desires are fundamentally opposed. That's a really good model. So I'd say don't try and find people who want to do what you're doing. Find people who believe what you believe, and then do a little project with them. And if that works, do another one, do another one. And you don't have to, you know, meet somebody and propose to them, you can just keep working with them. And then you'll find the people who keep showing up. And that is the most wonderful supportive thing where you have someone who gets you to work with you catch the worst of you, like unhinge, you know, unclip you so you can run to the best of you. And it's just immense fun. So, yeah, be open to that and try and find those people as hard as that might sound.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:40
And what are three of your favorite films of all time?

Steven Follows 1:06:43
Oh, Jesus, I think Shawshank Redemption we talked about that is, um, you know, I wish I wish I had the balls to say, you know, Jurassic Park, for the fallen kingdom and the fallen kingdom to whatever it was called. I don't I think inside out is an amazing model about just what it is to be human. And I still I've watched that movie so many times, I still don't know how they did it. And I just in a story basis, I just don't understand what that is. And I also think I think what a movie called I can't remember the name now. I think it won the Oscar. And it's about kind of our complete mind. Like, it's an Austrian film about the secret police in the 80s. And hold on my worst in the lives of others. That's That's why I got married to my wife. Okay. Same here. Same. Remember what I said about finding a partner who understands the shares your worldview, but has different skills? Yes, he can remember like, you know, names and stuff, and the lives of others. Like, again, another movie where you watch it, and you're just like, how, what, what, that's amazing. How did you do? How did you do that? And yeah, it's so clear. Like, it's just great work on every level. Yeah, the movies that seem to really move me.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:01
And where can people find you and your amazing work, sir.

Steven Follows 1:08:05
So all my works is stevenfollows.com. Occasionally I do I don't tend to do work, publish in other places, just time more than the US. But some of the work I've done with Bruce Nash, who runs the numbers is on the AFM website. I think there's copies of it on my site as well. And I would actually, I'm gonna use this opportunity. If you've spent the last hour, hour and a half, maybe 10 minutes with Alex, they've been editing and listening to me and Alex, I know you're already on listen to his podcast. I know you've got one or two amazing questions for me to research. I know that there's some stuff are like, is that always the case? When does that work? Was this I don't care how stupid it sounds how everyone tells you No one knows. Maybe you maybe this is your question. Maybe no one can know. But I, I would love to have any question you can send me to research because the best stuff I've ever looked at, is when people have said, You know what, I probably not meant to do this, or, you know, everyone always says this. And it suggests something I never thought of I go and look at and come back. And it's really pleasing because I can actually help. And I, you know, this is me, I'm not going to I'm not going to reply with one ad a question go away. You know, even the the questions which sound the most kind of strange or straightforward, are speaking to a wider truth. So, go to my site, go on the contact page. So stephenfollows.com, go to contact page, send me fill in the form, it comes straight to me it goes to my inbox, I will happily respond to everything as if I have the answer. I sent you the link if I think it's impossible, I'll say so. But probably I say that's a great question. I'll put it on my list. And then one day, when I have the data at a time, I'll look at it and it'll become an article. Not only will you get closure, but also so many other people have shared a guarantee you share your question, and it'd be really nice to be able to help so if you guys can help me go on my site send me questions, ideas, things I should research in the film industry. And I'd really appreciate that.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:54
Oh, well, Pete where what you wish for sir. That's all I'm gonna say at that for that right now. Be careful what you wish for, you might get it

Steven Follows 1:10:02
Put a message that Alex sent me. I'm from I'm part of the tribe.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:07
I'm part of ifh tribe. Yeah, I've done this before. And I've warned people not to do something stuff like this, because they get inundated with emails and conference. So I'm curious to see what will happen. But, of course, thank you so much for being so generous, not only with your time today, but your constant work in helping filmmakers and screenwriters. And people in the business try to succeed. So I truly from the bottom of my heart, I truly appreciate all the hard work you do. And you do an immense amount of hard work, you know, almost selfless in many ways to, to help the industry. So thank you again, for that and for being on the show, sir.

Steven Follows 1:10:46
Thank you so much. Thank you for your time, and I'm not gonna I'm too British to start talking about all the great work you do, but likewise to you. But also thanks for having the time to chat about these things. This is how we get the word out there. This is how we realize we are all the same. And we all have the same challenges. So if I can be part of this, I feel honored. So thanks again.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:04
I do want to thank Steven for coming on the show and sharing his ridiculous information, amazing information about his new report. And if you want to get links to read that report and other stuff that Steven's doing, please head over to the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/324. I'll also have links to his amazing crowdfunding for filmmakers course on Udemy. So definitely check that out. And if you haven't already, please head over to filmmakingpodcast.com and leave the show a good review on iTunes. It really really helps us out a lot. And if you'd like what we're doing at indie film hustle and you're a fan of what I do, please share this with every filmmaker every friend every associate in the business you can spread this information far and wide. I want this info to get out to as many filmmakers screenwriters out there as humanly possible. Thanks again for listening guys. And as always, keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

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Aaron Sorkin Screenwriting Masterclass

Who is Aaron Sorkin?

One of the most acclaimed, both hated and loved and a prominent screenwriter of modern times who has made a name for himself in the industry is Aaron Sorkin. Claim to fame The West Wing, Sorkin’s signature style can be recognized and is matchless. His screenplay is unmistakable with witty and rapid dialogue or monolog, morality tales and sharp, intelligent male protagonists.

His dialogues often hint liberal political messages, and he is renowned for his smart stories of politics and the government. Aaron Sorkin has written both on the media industry and television especially.

Though the style gets diverging at times, Sorkin undoubtedly happens to be a brilliant writer who’s credited with the creation of modern classics like A Few Good Men including recent successes like The Social Network. Sorkin has won several Emmys, an Academy Award, and a Golden Globe and carries on still to be a powerhouse both in television and Hollywood.

Born in Manhattan New York City to a Jewish family, Sorkin was raised in the suburb of Scarsdale. His father was a copyright lawyer who had battled in WWII and had put himself through college on the G.I Bill. His mother was a school teacher and both of his siblings, a brother, and sister went on to become lawyers.

Aaron Sorkin took quite an early interest in acting and before he had become a teenager, he loved shows like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? And That Championship Season. Scarsdale High School was where Sorkin got involved in drama and the theater club.

When he was in 8th grade, he played the role of General Bullmoose in the musical, Li’l Abner. In the senior class production of Scarsdale High called Once Upon a Mattress, he played Sir Harry. Sorkin also acted as the vice president both in his junior and senior year at Scarsdale High School and in 1979, he graduated.

Sorkin got himself enrolled in the Syracuse University, and in his freshman year bad luck struck, and he flunked a class which was a core requirement. It was a very devastating setback as Sorkin had aspirations to take up acting and become an actor but the drama department did not permit the students to come up on the stage unless they had passed all the core freshman classes.

Resolute to do better, he returned again in his sophomore year and then graduated in 1983. According to Sorkin, his drama teacher Arthur Storch had a great influence on him back in college and his reputation as a director and being under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg was the primary reason why so many students aspiring to do something in theater and film industry chose Syracuse. And it was always Storch that pushed him to do better and encouraged him on his capacity to do better. Sorkin earned his bachelor degree from Syracuse University in musical theater in 1983.

Shortly after graduation, Sorkin moved to New York City. Most of his time in the 80s was spent struggling as an occasionally employed actor with lots of odd jobs like delivering singing telegrams, touring Alabama with children’s theater company Travelling Playhouse and handing out fliers that marketed the hunting and fishing show, driving limousine and bartending at Broadway’s Palace Theatre.

While housesitting for a friend one weekend, he came across an IBM Selectric typewriter and according to Sorkin, he felt such joy and phenomenal confidence that he had never felt before in his life.

Reflecting his experiences that he had with the touring theater company, Sorkin wrote Removing All Doubt which he sent to his theater teacher at Syracuse University, Arthur Storch. Impressed, Storch staged Removing All Doubt for the drama students at his alma mater.

Sorkin made quite a professional leap when he wrote his second play Hidden in This Picture which was debuted Off-off Broadway (which are smaller than standard Broadway and Off-Broadway productions,) at the West Bank Café Downstairs Theatre Bar which belonged to Steve Olsen, in 1988. The content of this first two plays ended up with him having a theatrical agent.

While having a conversation with his sister Deborah, Sorkin got inspiration for his next play. A courtroom drama called A Few Good Men. Deborah told him how she was going to defend a group of Marines who were about to kill a fellow Marine in a hazing which was a direct order by a senior. Sorkin was working as a bartender at the Palace Theatre, and he wrote all that information on cocktail napkins.

He returned home and typed all in Macintosh 512K which was purchased by his roommates.

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Sorkin sold the rights to David Brown before its premiere who produced it at the Music Box Theatre. Starring Tom Hulce, it was directed by Don Scardino. It ran for 497 performances, and by the time it hit the big screens, with Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise, Sorkin had become a major Hollywood team player.

In 1993, Sorkin co-wrote Malice, a dramatic thriller. It starred Nicole Kidman and Alec Baldwin but still got mixed reviews. In 1995, Sorkin came up with The American President which took him few years to write. With the presence of Michael Douglas and Annette Benning striking up romance, it was critically acclaimed.

Sorkin made a comeback to the small screen in 1998 with Sports Night which was a comedy regarding the behind-the-scenes production of sports news program. It was filled with quick wit and snappy dialogues and garnered Sorkin a nomination in the Emmy Awards for outstanding writing. It lasted only two seasons though. This cult hit was loved by many fans and critics and won many awards too.

Unwavering, Sorkin’s next project earned him the repute of one of the best American television writers in the history being pure Sorkin-ey. When he was writing The American President, the screenplay was huge which was cut down, and that ended up in creating West Wing which was an hour-long primetime drama revolving around the staff of a fictional Democratic President, Jed Bartlet which was incredibly played by Martin Sheen. The show ran for seven seasons and Sorkin left after the fourth with his production partner in 2003.

The West Wing was a huge hit and got Sorkin one of the record nine Emmy awards that were awarded to the show in 2000. The show is regarded as one of the best television dramas of all time. It featured a dazzling cast of Bradley Whitford, Rob Lowe, Allison Janney, Alan Alda with Stockard Channing.

The West Wing was where Sorkin earned his reputation for a particular writing style which was witty, quick and sarcastic at time. The walk and talk are the best portrayals of his style in which the characters would be briskly walking together in hallways and fired sharp line at each other with brilliant speed. It also earned him a repute for having quite a heavy-handed political opinion which was hated by conservatives.

The Bartlet Administration depicted the ideal progressive administration of Sorkin, and the characters would often comment in detail delivering lengthy monologs on current controversies and events. None could stop the show, and it still has a very respectable place in television history.

The follow-up series by Sorkin Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, died out just after one season. He made a comeback to the theater with The Farnsworth which failed to impress. But Sorkin found success again with a political comedy-drama which was an adaptation of Charlie Wilson’s War (2007). It starred Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.

Sorkin then centered his focus on the origins and the following legal battles behind the upheaval of the social media giant, Facebook. Starring Jesse Eisenberg as the Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, it was adapted from a book by Ben Mezrich. The Social Network (2010) it happened to be a rewarding achievement for Sorkin and he won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for this screenplay.

Garnering Oscar buzz, Sorkin followed with another adaptation and co-writing the script for a baseball movie, Moneyball (2011). The Newsroom (2012) was Sorkin’s another return to television. It combined elements from his last projects, and it emphasized on the excited behind-the-scenes production this time, at a cable news channel. The cast did an excellent job of witty banter and passionate speeches.

By the end of the show in December (2014) Sorkin had completed the screenplay for a biopic of the co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs. It was released the next year and starred Michael Fassbender as the lead. This earned Sorkin his second Golden Globe for Best Screenplay. As of January 2016, Sorkin announced he would be making his directorial debut with an adaptation, Molly’s Game a chronicle by an underground poker organizer, Molly Bloom.

Aaron Sorkin would be working with Bartlett Sher this time for an adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, for the stage. In March 2016, A Few Good Men would go into production on NBC and will be aired in 2017.


Aaron Sorkin Screenwriting Masterclass

Learn how to write incredible screenplays from Aaron Sorkin in the most comprehensive screenwriting course he’s ever taught. In addition to both improving your storytelling skills and outlining what it takes to write incredible scripts, Aaron invites you into his writer’s room for an eight-part screenwriting case study where he and his team will script, rewrite, and break down a new Season 5 premiere of The West Wing.

Aaron Sorkin first broke out with his Broadway play (and the film adaptation of) “A Few Good Men” starring Tom Cruise before creating “The West Wing” and the remarkable HBO show “Newsroom“. He won an Oscar for writing “The Social Network” and was nominated again for “Moneyball”; more recently, he wrote “Steve Jobs.”

Diving deep into screenwriting fundamentals, Aaron offers detailed lessons on narrative structure, character development, generating new ideas, and his signature style of dialogue. Aaron knows that great screenwriting requires intention and obstacle. He dedicates several lessons to explain how to create conflict, raise dramatic stakes, and keep audiences watching.

Designed to offer useful lessons to seasoned and emerging screenwriters, Aaron’s class can be enjoyed by writers of all skill levels.

Over the course of 25 video lessons spanning five hours, as well as a 30-page workbook and interactive assignments. His workbook includes an entire lecture devoted exclusively to the walk-and-talk. Sorkin is going to share “his rules of storytelling, dialogue, [and] character development,” critique select student submissions, and work with real-world examples from the decades he’s spent writing movies, TV shows, and plays.

You can ENROLL in the course now to this game-changing screenwriting course. Click here to gain access


IFH 242: Indie Film Producing Masterclass – How to Option a Screenplay with Suzanne Lyons

Right-click here to download the MP3

In today’s episode, I’ll be giving you a sneak peek of producer Suzanne Lyons’ new course Indie Film Producing Masterclass. This is part one of two so enjoy this look inside the best selling indie producing course.

How do you legally option a screenplay? What are the agreements you need? Suzanne goes over everything you need to know in this episode. Enjoy!


Here’s some info on the Indie Film Producing Masterclass:

Have you ever wondered what it really takes to produce an independent film? How raise money, dealing with contracts, SAG agreements and putting together sales presentations for investors? Then this masterclass is for you.

Award-winning film producer Suzanne Lyons is about to take you from script to screen and beyond in this Mastermind workshop. After producing a number of bigger budget features Suzanne thought producing the SAG ultra-low and modified budget films would be a piece of cake. Boy, was she wrong? Wearing 100 different hats was a challenge and she learned so much. And now she will be sharing all that great info with you.

In this Mastermind workshop, you’ll learn from her experience and benefit from her success. Suzanne will take you through a structured crystal, clear step by step process that will actually make low budget filmmaking easy and fun!

This workshop is unique in that it will literally guide you through the entire process of making your film. From her own hands-on experience, she will be addressing every detailed facet of filmmaking.

“Suzanne has that rare ability to combine artistic creativity and smart business sense… she’s proven that by taking a SAG ultra-low budget and somehow squeezing out a quality film that looks like it cost a million!”
Academy Award® Winner Mark L. Smith, Writer/Director “Séance” Writer, “The Revenant”

“Suzanne is brilliant… take her workshop and put her suggestions to work and you’ll be amazed at the extraordinary results you’ll produce.”
Ross Grayson Bell, Producer “Fight Club”

From option a screenplay, development, designing your business plan, opening your film company, hiring your line producer and director. Finessing your budget, schedule and film timeline. Being smart about contracts and paperwork. Casting and working with actors. The details of pre, principle, and post, choosing your sales agent, preparing for film delivery and festivals, and so so so much more.

You’ll also get a BONUS PACK of the real world used contracts, agreements and business plans word and PDF worth over thousands.

Alex Ferrari 0:41
Today, guys, I have a treat for you. I'm going to do a two part sneak preview of Suzanne Lyons indie film producing masterclass. And I really wanted to share some of the amazing knowledge that she has in this course with you guys by giving you free lessons for you to hear. So today's lesson you're going to listen to is how to optioned a screenplay, which I know is very mysterious to a lot of people listening out there who are trying to make a movie, and they want to go out and try to get a screenplay to produce that movie instead of trying to write one themselves. And Suzanne lays it all out for you guys. So at the end of the episode, I will give you a link to get access to the indie film producing masterclass. But until then, enjoy this sneak preview with Suzanne Lyons.

Suzanne Lyons 2:51
So what we're going to do and what I did here, I'm going to bring this over here, Alex, so I don't have to keep moving about his first things first, right. Like I said, what we're going to do is take one little piece at a time, we're going to option the screenplay. And what some of you were thinking already is, Oh, I can't. I can't. It's my best friend. That would be like, weird. I can't ask my best friend. sign off on this. Lady, you know, that's just rude. Or it's my brother. I'm gonna have my brother like sign a contract and agreement. That's, that's weird. Right? One of my friends didn't take the class. Didn't need to sort of been around the industry for a long time haven't produced or been in other aspects, but don't need it. Don't need it. Two years later, she called me from Cannes saying into somebody who read the book. I think the stories in the book here to Susan, she was crying. There's a sales agent who wants to buy Daniel to take on the movie to sell it. Nice. Oh, that's what you're crying Oh, congratulations. She said no. The problem is she said they asked for the chain of title information. You know, the option and then transfer of the of the right of the of the ownership. And she said, and I don't have that. And I said, What do you mean? I said, I think you were making your move two years ago. As I recall, this was all like, oh, man, that option would have been done two years ago. Well, no, she said it was my best friend. I didn't want to, you know, bother her was signing something. Well turned out. She in the director I had a fight shortly after. And she said the movie could burn in hell. For all she cared. And that's about 10 years ago. And it's continuing well to burn in hell, right? Because no chain of title, no movie ain't gonna happen. She didn't even have a relationship with a best friend anymore. You know what I mean? So it's not even like it was worth it. And here's the thing, guys, if it's your own visa, I don't care. I really don't Care it can happen or not, or it can burn an L for as long as they're, you know, whatever, I don't care. If it's your visa, I really don't. The minute you start selling units and shares, you are a business person, you're opening your LLC, you've got your ppm, you've got legal documents. And now I'm going to my dentist, and getting selling him a unit on you don't get to play the game of home note with my friend, I didn't want her to sign. I had another person whose budget was 300,000. And those were investors, just one or two. That's a lot of money. I don't care how rich you are, that's still a lot of money. And didn't take the class until after that movie. And I gotta tell you, that movie will never be seen because she had no clearance report ever, ever, ever on the script, no script clearance. There are Coca Cola cans, flying everywhere. There's every product known to man, there's license plates, there's people's last name, who've done bad things. But you know, there's everything that you cannot do in a movie. And, you know, that's so so I'm thinking once again, if that was her visa, and some of you are thinking, Oh, Susanna, CGI, you know, just when to post? Well, that was a few years ago, not as easy, but even then we're not talking about one Coca Cola cans sitting there. We're talking about, you know, 10 of them moving around, you know, you have to read just read through the movie, right? But that's somebody else's money, like it's a business. So this is really important without this piece without this first piece in your binder. There's no movie. Okay, so let me tell you a couple little stories about that. It's the option agreement. Yeah. I don't care about your mom wrote the script. I don't care. I don't care. I don't trust her. But same thing, if it's your own. Okay, good. One. Good, good one. Natalie, that was really good. What's Natalie was saying is what if it's your own? What if you wrote the script, you still have to do the option agreement, okay. You still have to because it's part of delivery, which we're going to get to in a second as well. So this one here that I did is I did two today you're going to have to in your binder. This one is one that I've done for a whole ton of indie low budget, StG ultralow movies, easy peasy, or even say modified. Easy peasy. So let's just look at it a little bit. Now this price is a little high, I was paying $5,000. For the script, which I don't do, obviously, until first day of principle, or the first day of free, usually the first day of free just because, um, you know, want to make sure that I can then start the transfer. But what I did is I even offered a couple of points, which was a lot of points. You know, ordinarily, I wouldn't do that many points, because a lot of times and you're saying, Oh Suzanne, you're being so mean, and you're being so stingy. I'm not, I just want you to know, I am the most generous person. I know, I always stand in generosity, graciousness and abundance when I'm doing agreements. And when I'm doing my business plan, that's always where I stand. And Kate was to say my partner was phenomenal. And in this respect, but what I'm saying is, a lot of the times you're dealing with new writers and new directors, so you're really giving them really a check for $200,000. Because this is going to be their chance to be on the screen or on the DVD or on the VOD or whatever, right? So I would not feel too badly where you want the money to go guys is on the screen, you really want it on the screen, especially the same goes for law, you don't have a lot of room to play around. So I probably would do more like two and a half percent or 2%. And, you know, for the director, I'd made me you know, like 202,500 and the writer probably 2500 or whatever. So it's not about that the only movie you'll probably money you'll ever see is in the back end. So you got to keep as much as you can, because you also need to keep as much as you can, because you might need that that name actor. And that is done up. You know for name actors, I've done up to 7.5% of the back end of the year. It was a big name but I needed that that was in the pre sale days back years ago, where we did pre sales, I needed his name to sell the territory's in the pre sales. Sometimes you need that neighbor nowadays you need it just to sell after the fact. Right? Yeah, most of you scale the the back end participation based on the total budget of the dome, as well as the talents, celebrity status or know what I'm saying is a lot of times in the lower budgets, your you know, it's their first opportunity anyway, so it's not like they'd necessarily be expecting, you know, a 5% you might need that 5% for your lead actor. Would you scale it up or down based on the total budget of the film? No, not necessarily. Not necessarily. It not sometimes if the right now I'm working with Mark Smith, that's a different story. Yes, it's, you know, it's going to be a lower budget. I did a mark Smith, you know, he did well, that got three Academy Awards, The Revenant. And he's working on with JJ Abrams right now on another project. But the one I'm working on right now is with with Mark. So even though, you know, the budget might be lower, it's not a JJ Abrams, he's not going to get the same back end, as JJ would be giving him on that studio film, for example, or that he got on The Revenant. And he knows that. So it's, it's kind of like, you might need to save that. In our case, I probably need to say for the actor, or the director, if it's a real this particular one I'm doing with Mark is a very director driven. So you know, so just be careful with that. Honestly, I have Oh, my God. I've been with people who have given away 10% not net gross to their production designer, trying to remember the meeting I was sitting in where I couldn't breathe for like five minutes, because I couldn't believe it. I remember I was sitting was my own office, because I was doing a private, I was doing a private One of these was like four or five people. And I was so I was going over this section. And he said, Well, there's not that many points left. And he said, we've already brought on some of our team. So I said like, goo God, like it's like 10%. Like what you bring up? Well, you know, for our production designer, Suzanne, like, you know, he's He's really good. And I'm going, Oh, my God on a $200,000 movie. And then he told me, it was gross. And then I went through, you know what he had over pointed? Like, there was no more points, like there. Yeah, like he was in the mood. He was in the negative points, because 50% of the points sometimes 60. So be very careful. Or with your investor, usually, it's a 5050. Right, he had given away some of the investors back end. So just be careful, because I know sometimes we're laughing and shaking her head. But you know, it's like, sometimes it's like, oh, shit, I shouldn't have done that I or whatever. Like, we'll get caught ourselves in something not as crazy as that. But you know, so just be careful with that. Here's the Yes.

Guest 12:01
When it comes to a documentary, when you don't necessarily have a script, to protect yourself with the risk of whatever could happen whether that person walks away. Is there a way that you can kind of protect yourself with a documentary sort of story of documentary?

Suzanne Lyons 12:17
II? What Jonathan, is there a way to protect yourself with a documentary story? And you mean, in what way the person who has the life story

Guest 12:22
I guess we've got a script, obviously, then you can auction that script is That's right. That's urllc. Right. life story, and you're doing a documentary. Awesome. Is there any way that

Suzanne Lyons 12:32
I would still do the right? The like a did the like it like a book option? You know, the life Right, right. Okay. I did I yes, I did that one too. Okay. I actually have a sample of that. I brought some different samples of things today. The life rights. We did that one time when we were doing a Lifetime movie. So we did the we got the rights from the woman. Amazing, amazing story. And it was from her. So we were the exclusive. Yeah. And you'll know more about you're dealing your mentor is the producer was going to be the producer on that. Did you get in touch with the con? Okay, I gave you her information. Okay. Is that clear? So yeah, there we go it because the other thing is what if it's a book or within this great book, you know what I wrote the script for it. I have that going on right now. And you know, I've got the script for it. But now I need to go and get the rights to the book. Well, guess what happens? The agent for the book writer said, No, thanks. Just like that gone.

Alex Ferrari 13:36
I hope you guys enjoyed that sneak preview. If you want to get access to the course just head over to producing masterclass calm, and I tell you it is an amazing, amazing course. And next week, I'm going to put out one more sneak preview covering another topic, but Suzanne really goes deep into all this kind of stuff. And if you are even thinking about making an independent film or a micro budget film, this really really has a ton of information in it, as well as all the contracts all the agreements that you need in PDF and in Word files, so you can adjust them and change them to your own production. It's worth 1000s and 1000s of dollars so it's really really a great deal. So just head over to producing masterclass comm and check it out. Also guys, I have an announcement I am currently writing a book and I'm throwing that out into the universe because I need you guys to hold me to it and and now that I put it out into the universe, I have to finish this thing. It is a beast of a book and I can't tell you what I'm writing about just yet just know it is going to hopefully rock you guys world. I really am excited about it. So I hope to have that book done by years and and release it by the fall or winter. And we will be talking much more about that in the coming months as Well, I just wanted to put that out there. And it's an update on a corner view one desire, we have submitted to a few festivals, we are going down the festival circuit to see if we can get any attention from the festivals before we start releasing it, seeing if we can get any action on it. And just see what we could do with it. But there will be a new trailer coming out soon for that as well, that I'll be working on over the next month or so. So you guys could see a little bit more of the movie because I've been getting a ton of emails like where where can we see it? When can we see it where I want to see it? I want to buy it. Soon, my friends soon, I promise you. But thank you again so much for all your support, guys. And don't forget to head over to filmmaking podcast comm and sign up and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and leave us a five star review. Please, it really does help out the podcast a lot. Thank you again so much. And as always keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.

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