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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

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.

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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Screenwriting Books You Need to Read – Top Ten List

1) Screenplay by Syd Field

The first book I ever read about screenwriting. Syd Field is the forefather of the how-to for screenwriting. He cracked the code of the three-act structure and paved the way for all other screenwriting gurus that would follow. As far as I know, he created the terms like “turning points,” and “pinch”, and much of the language that screenwriters use to describe elements and devices used in their scripts(FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

2) Story: by Robert McKee

Immortalized by the film Adaptation, McKee delves deeply into the components necessary for making a great script. I find his principles of “controlling idea” (which closely resembles Lagos Egri’s concept of “premise” in The Art of Dramatic Writing) and “gap between expectation and result” incredibly useful. I always turn to McKee’s teachings for guidance. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

3) The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

Vogler takes the workings of Joseph Campbell about myth and archetypes and breaks it down into easy to chew, bite-size portions. What makes Campbell so special? His writings about the universal appeal of mythological tales have inspired many other storytellers to create great pieces of work with timeless resonance — does George Lucas ring a bell? (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)


4) Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger

Seger’s book I found as a great companion piece to Syd Field’s Screenplay. What I particularly like from this book is her method of ramping up conflict by the use of “obstacles,” “compilations,” and “reversals.”

Also, check out Linda’s amazing podcast interview here: Making a Good Script Great with Linda Seger (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

5) Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

You can see echoes of all the other aforementioned writers in this book. What I like about Save The Cat is that it’s a stripped-down, fun read with a lot of helpful information. I especially appreciate Snyder’s Beat Sheet which shows with almost page number accuracy where to place those particular plot moments that help keep your story moving. Some might find it formulaic, but I think it functions very well and points to exactly the kind of scripts Hollywood has come to expect from writers. One of the best screenwriting books. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

6) How Not to Write a Screenplay by Denny Martin Flynn

Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out on how to write a screenplay along comes this book to point out where you may have gotten it wrong. Despite the length of the title, it’s a quick read and VERY illuminating. As I skimmed through the examples of what not to do, I discovered what I was doing right, and most importantly what I was getting wrong. They say you learn from your mistakes, and reading this book sure helped to show how. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

7) The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats by Cole Haag

This book was a required textbook back when I was at film school. Some of the formatting suggestions may be a little outdated, especially if you have Final Draft or Movie Magic screenwriting software, but there’s still a ton of knowledge to be gained about proper formatting. The quickest way to spot a novice writer is by how unprofessional their script is formatted — this book shines a light on the Hollywood standard. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

8) The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier

Not only do I dig this guy’s first name, but I found his book to be more current as far as the conventions of formatting. It covers a lot of ground with how to write a screenplay and everything else that goes with being a screenwriter and Filmtrepreneur, like how to register your script and how to write a query letter to literary agents. It’s a broad overview, but one of the most informative screenwriting books. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

9) The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri

This is actually a book for the aspiring playwright, but most if not all the principles can apply to screenwriting. Egri gives examples of poorly constructed scenes and explains why they don’t work — then compares and contrasts against scenes that do. This is one of my favorite books, and one I strongly recommend. One of the best screenwriting books out there. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

10) The 101 Habits Of Successful Screenwriters by Karl Iglesias

(FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE) Have you ever wondered how successful writers do it? If you’ve reached this point on my top ten, I would say, “of course you do!” There are good work regimens and not so constructive methods. This book gives us a glimpse into how the top Hollywood writers work, how they fight writer’s block, as well as deal with the daily grind of writing. I found it very insightful and definitely worthwhile. 


BONUS: Pulp Fiction – The Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino

A must-read for any screenwriter. Tarantino…nuff said! These are our Top Ten Screenwriting Books You Need to Read. We hope they help you on your journey as a screenwriter. Remember just keep writing! 


David R. Flores is a writer and artist (aka Sic Monkie) based in Los Angeles. He is the creator of the comic book series Dead Future King published by Alterna Comics and Golden Apple Books. Website: www.davidrflores.com & www.deadfutureking.com

Transcript for Robert McKee Interview:

Alex Ferrari 0:04
I'd like to welcome to the show, Robert McKee. How are you doing, Robert?

Robert McKee 0:08
Very well, very well. Thank you.

Alex Ferrari 0:10
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I am have been a fan of your work for quite some time. I've read your first two books, and I'm looking forward to reading your new one, which we'll talk about later character. But I was first introduced to your work in the film adaptation like so many. So many screenwriters and filmmakers were how, by the way, how, how was that whole process? I mean, it was a very odd request, I'm sure that you got when you got that call?

Robert McKee 0:40
Well, it certainly was, my phone rang one day and producer named Ed Saxon calling from New York and, and he said I am mightily embarrassed. This is a phone call I've dreaded. We've got this crazy screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and, and he has made you a character in his screenplay, and he has freely cribbed from your book and from your lectures, and he has no permission to do either. And, but we don't know what to do. So I said, well, send me a script, you know, I'll you know, see what's going on. So they sent me a script, and I read it. And I saw immediately that he really needed my character as a central to the film, because he wants me to, he wanted my character to represent the the imperatives of Hollywood. And that you have to do certain things certain ways, blah, blah, blah. And, you know, which is on one level nonsense. Such rules, they their principles, and there's genre convention, but anyway, but so I was a typical kind of need to slander Hollywood in favor of the artist. And, and they wanted me to do the slandering. So, but I realized that without my character there to provide some source of conflict. The story didn't work at all. So I said, and so I tell you what, I made two phone calls. I called William Goldman. And I said, Good, he was, you know, a student of mine. And I said, Bill, they there's a film and they want to use me as a character in it. What do you think? And he said, Don't do it. Don't do it. He said, it's Hollywood. And he said, they're out to get you don't do it. I said, Yeah, but I'm okay. But suppose I had casting rights. And he says, Okay, okay, who do you want? I said, Well, let's say Gene Hackman, is it? Okay. Okay. It'll be Gene Hackman, with a big pink bow around his neck. If they want to get you, Bob, they're gonna get you don't do it. So then I called my son. And I said, Paul, you know, and he said, do it. I said, Why isn't because Dad, it's a Hollywood film, you're gonna be a character in the Hollywood film. And he said, it'll be great. Do it. So I talked to Ed Sachs, and I said, Kenny, three things. One, I need a redeeming scene. I said, you know, you want to slander me fine. But then you can't leave it at that. You got he got to give me a redeeming scene. Right? To I have to have the controller the casting, I won't tell you exactly who to cast. But you got to give me a list because I ended need to know their philosophy. I mean, for all I knew this was the Danny DeVito Dan Ackroyd School of casting,

Alex Ferrari 4:28
you know, fair enough.

Robert McKee 4:31
I said, and very importantly, the third act sucks. And I cannot be a character in a bad movie. So we need meetings, they're going to have to be willing to rewrite. And, and those are my three conditions. And, and they agreed to them. And, and so they sent me a casting they gave me my redeeming scene and then they they they sent a list. Have the 10 best middle aged British actors alive? You know, everybody from Christopher Plummer to Alan Bates and I, and and I looked at the list. And I said, I want Brian Cox. And they said, Who's Brian Cox? And I said, He's the best British actor you don't know. Because Brian had been a student of mine up in Glasgow, and I'd seen him on stage in the West End of London and, and what I didn't want, see all those actors. They're all wonderful. But there's always actors have this Love me Love me thing, no matter what they want to be loved. And there's always this subtext like my heart's in the right place. And I really, you know, and I don't want to be loved. I really don't want to be respected, I want to be understood. And I want to inspire people and educate, but I do not want a bunch of people following me around like a guru. Right, loving me, right? And I knew that Brian would not do that. And, and then we had meetings and about the Act Three, and eventually got to a never got to a perfect accuracy. But it got to a point where I could sign off on so and it was, so they took my son to a screening at so at Sony and I said, you know, we think ball, and he said, Dad, he said, Brian Cox nailed you. Which I thought was great. So you know, and it was, it was, but that's not the, you know, I was I put myself in a funny date. So it's not just, but yeah, it was, um, it was a difficult choice. But I think William Goldman was wrong, that, you know, there was a way to you have your cake and eat it too. And I think an adaptation is loved. Oh, and millions and millions of people. So, so it certainly didn't hurt my brand.

Alex Ferrari 7:20
It didn't hurt your brand or business, I'd imagine. It's the term irony comes to play where you would be working with Charlie Kaufman, on a script, where your character is the establishment that he's trying to get away from and to give art but yet you are working with him to put the script together and finish the third act, which is amazing. Charlie,

Robert McKee 7:42
Charlie's one of those guys. He's got, you know, a great talent. But he's a bit delusional. What he wants to achieve is the commercial art movie. He wants it both ways. He wants to be known for making art movies, but they have to make money too. And a lot of it because he knows that, you know, his career. If he loses money, it's over. And so and, and so he wants to he wants to create the commercial art movie and a salsa dance understood, you know, things, the notion of the commercial art movie, you know, the, the, the English Patient and films like that. And I you know, in the meetings with a spike and and, and, Charlie, I, you know, I pointed out to Charlie, so you can't have it both ways. It's a you, you know, you if it's a true art movies have a very limited audience period. And art filmmakers understand this. And they budget accordingly. You want 30 million

Alex Ferrari 8:59
for an art film?

Robert McKee 9:03
Was 5 million we could, but Okay, so anyway, but it was. Yeah, the irony of it is wonderful.

Alex Ferrari 9:10
So, so you've worked with so many screenwriters and filmmakers over the course of your career, what is the biggest mistakes you see screenwriters, new screenwriters to the craft make?

Robert McKee 9:24
Well, it's not mistake so much. Yeah, I guess it is a mistake. But, uh, there's two problems. One is cliches. And they think that it that they want to be, you know, like an artist, they want to be original, but at the same time, they want. They want to be sure that it works. And so they recycle the things that everybody's always done. And they've tried to recycle them with it. difference and which is absolutely necessary, I mean, that's I get it, you're not going to reinvent the wheel, you have to just spin it yet another way. And, but then they get very easy once they sell their soul. It's hard to get it back. And, you know, you can pour on your soul for a while, but you've got to get the cash to get back. And, and so that's the war on cliches is not some, you know, it's not a fault, it's just a problem everybody faces. And, but there's a greater problem. And it's the willingness to lie. In an effort to tell their story to get it out, somehow they get it together. And they will write characters and scenes, and whatever that that lack credibility that they know perfectly well, in their heart of hearts is pure corn of some kind. And it's a it's, they're bending the truth. It's not it's, there's something false to some. And, and, and to, to, to get to something that is really profoundly honest. And it doesn't matter what the genre is, from action, to comedy. to, to a you know, as an education plan, something very interior doesn't matter what the genre is, there's truth, and then there's lie. And somehow they think that because it's fiction, that gives them a license to lie. But but they don't have that license, they have a an obligation to express the truth of what it is to be a human being and in whatever genre, they're they're writing, they have a, they have a an obligation, if they're writing comedy, to really stick a knife in some sacred cow and expose the bullshit of society. I mean, they, you know, it's not enough to be amusing. comedy is a is an angry art, that savages, all those things that, that that that are false in life, and starting with politics. Right. And, and so there's they, there's a willingness to, to fit and lie and in order to please that, okay, let me take a step back. I bulldozing cliches and truthfulness are all the byproduct of the young writer, especially the young writers desire to please they want to be loved, they want people to love what they do they want to please people. And so they write what they think, is pleasing for people, whether it's all the cards in fast and furious. Right, or the sentimentality or whatever they want to please people and and which is fine, but you can't please everybody and so you're going to write for a certain mind a certain audience a certain mentality and an educational level and taste and whatnot in a certain group of people that you know, are out there, they're like you pay and and you can't please everybody. And and so, a film like for example, Nomad land is certainly not trying to please there's an audience for it, that will get it and enjoy it and and recognize this as a deep truth about our society and about human nature.

But it's, it's not going to have a mass audience. And because it will turn off more people than it will turn out. And, but it's, it's a excellent film is an honest film. So that's the I think it's fishing around here. Because when you open the door and say, you know whether

Alex Ferrari 14:53
you're wrong, there's 1000s of things

Robert McKee 14:57
to bring up, but if I can do it down, it's that it's that the willingness to please results in recycling cliches, and basically not telling the the, the, the dark truth of things. And so you have to be it's tough, you have to be disciplined not to copy other people's success, but to, to write what you honestly believe to be the

errors in the central new genre.

And, and be rigorous about that.

Alex Ferrari 15:36
Now, one of the the hallmarks of a good story is conflict. How do you create conflict in a story?

Robert McKee 15:46
Well, depends on where you start. If you start with a choice of genre, let's say you're going to write a thriller. Right? You know, the source of conflict immediately by that choice. I need some kind of psychopathic villain. Right? I need Russell Crowe, in unhinged. Why? And so that's done for you. So that the genre sort of automatically tells you, right, on the other hand, if you're telling a family story, and that will be called domestic. Until the characters are a family and it's a family with problems, wow. The conflict could come from any direction. Who's with? Is it the mother? Is it the father? Is that rebellious children? Is it Whose is it? Some some, you know, older grandfather grandmother figure that's pulling people strings, and you know, whatever, given a family what's wrong with this family? And so you have to figure out what is it and is it social, or psychological? Is it instinctive is a deliberate you have to think your way through all that. And so you, you you start with a family and you create a little you know, a cast? And then and then you ask the question or what's wrong with this family. And a million different things can be wrong in human nature inside of a family. And that requires knowledge, you have to understand people, you have to understand that you know, the mother, daughter, mother, son, Father, daughter, Father, Son relationships, and, and you need to dig into your own experience. And ask yourself, you know, what was wrong in my family? What What do I believe, to be the truth about families? And, and, and that the genre doesn't give you that answer. And so, you have the answer will come from your depth of understanding of human nature, human relationships of a certain personal kind in this case. And, or if you're writing comedy, so as mentioned, the starting place of writing a comedy is to ask yourself what is pissing me off? What in this world is pissing me off? Is that relationships? Is it men women? Always it? Is that the is that the the the the social networks? Is it is it politics? Is it the military? Is it the church? Why what what is what what do I hate? What's pissing me off? Because the root of comedy is is anger. The comic mind is an angry idealist comic comics are idealists who want the world to be perfect or at least and when they look around the world they see where sorry, sick one place it is. And, and they realize that they're complicit, they're part of it too. And so what spacing me off then it points them in a direction to an institution or behavior in society. me like I think that great comedy series. Curb Your Enthusiasm. You know, and, and, and yes, you know, what is pissing me off and he will finds really egregious fault in, in, in people's lack of propriety. Or, or logic or clarity of thought, you know, why should there be a handicapped stall in toilets? Right that no one can use except the two times a year that a handicapped person comes into this particular toilet. Okay. Right. That is

Larry David, that is an egregious absurdity and it infuriates him. And so he goes into the handicap stall, and sure shit, this is the day

a guy in a wheelchair. So, um, so that, you know, that that's, those are the various things, you know, you, you look at yourself, as a writer, and you you have to understand your vision of life, you have to understand the genres. When you make a choice, there's certain conventions. And, and a, you can bend those conventions, what breaker if you want, but not without an awareness of what the audience expects. And so somehow, it'll between picking the setting and the cast, the genre, and then looking inside of yourself, like your comic wouldn't ask you what's pissing me off? You find your way. If I if you're in conflict, and the the most importantly, you know, it has it that you know that that conflict has to be something you deeply believe in. Now, or, or you will do what we were talking about earlier, you will fall prey to cliches because you'll you'll create false conflict, false antagonist empty, a cliched antagonisms. And like that. So it's a very important question. Now.

Alex Ferrari 22:28
So as far as one thing a lot of a lot of screenwriters try to get away from is structure, saying that structure and trying to fall into side of a structure is, it's like holding me back as an artist and I need to be free and I need to run free like a wild stallion, I personally find structure to be very freeing, because it gives me a place to go. How do you approach structure?

Robert McKee 22:55
Well, in this day, people have a course accused me of imposing structural rules in my teaching, and it's nonsense. When

I am opposed to structure, it's inhibiting my creativity do not know what the hell they're talking. They just don't they use the word structure. But they wouldn't understand or know story structure, if it fell from a height under their foot, okay, they just don't know what they're talking about. structure in every scene, ideally, is a turning point of some magnitude, the character's life, they go into a situation wanting something. And something in that moment, kind of prevents them from getting it. They struggle with that. And they either get what they want, or they don't get what they want. Or they get it at a price or they don't get it but learn something. Change takes place. And it's in a simple scene is minor. And then these changes per scene build sequences in which moderate deeper change wider change happens, these sequences build x in it. And then that climax is a major turning point that has greater depth or greater breadth or both have impact on a character's life. And so minor moderate major changes are building a story progressively to an absolute irreversible change at climax. Now, why would anyone object to what I just said? Why would anyone think that you can change Do concrete scenes in which nothing changes. And do that three scenes in a row and people will not be walking up. They come there, they come to the writer, they read a novel, kind of trying to have insight into life as to what forces in life positive and negative, bring about change outwardly or inwardly in characters lives. I mean, that's why we go to the storyteller. And so and so why would you not want change? Or why would you want repetitious change? Because the same change degree of change, that happens three times in a row, you know, we're bored. So because it's not giving us what we want, it's not giving us the insight that into character that we want. And so people who say they're opposed to structure don't understand what structure is it they don't understand, it's a dynamic and a progression of minor moderate major changes. And so I have no patience with that kind of ignorance. Hear the people who say that are the very naive, ignorant, really, people who think that if they just open up their imagination, emotion, picture will flow out of it.

Alex Ferrari 26:30
Very true.

Robert McKee 26:32
And, and they are childish in that way. I mean, you open up your imagination and see what flows out, then you have to go to work on it. And you have to step back from every, every time you you know, or let me put you this way. What in truth is it to write? What is writing actually, like, as an experience, you open up your imagination, and you have an idea for a character or two or three, and you write a page, things happen? Action reaction dialog, that when you write a page, that takes 20 minutes, then what do you do? You read that page? And you could take it does this work? would he say that? Would she act like that? would this happen with it? Is there a better way to do this? And is this repetitious? Is there a hole does it make sense, you constantly critique what you've written, and you go back, and you rewrite it. And then you read it, again, you critique it again. And this goes on all day long. And so you go inside to create, you go outside to critique, you create, your critique you curate, and the quality of your critique that guides your rewriting is absolutely dependent on your understanding to make judgments, when you ask the question, does this work? You have to know what works and what doesn't work. And, and so that on one level, everything you do is structure. Its structured to have a character say x and another character respond with y that structure action reaction, that the person who said x did not expect to hear why

Alex Ferrari 28:36
right exit Exactly.

Robert McKee 28:39
And that structure that beat of act reaction and human behavior, that structure. So is I said, People say this, say it out of out of emit amateur understanding of what the creativity, what the act of writing really is.

Alex Ferrari 29:07
And I, whenever I've come up against that, when I say no, every you know, every movie has some sort of structure. Most movies, especially popular movies have structure. And your definition of structure is wonderful. They always throw out Pulp Fiction, and I'm like, no Pulp Fiction is an extremely structured film. Do you agree?

Robert McKee 29:28
Yeah. I've when I was we were talking about when I was when they were doing adaptation, and I was working with Charlie Kaufman. Charlie had exactly that attitude. I said, the third act doesn't work. We have to restructure it. And in the end is his face went into a panic mode. He didn't want you know, scared the hell out. He said, I know. I know that. It needs some, you know, just it'll come to me it was a clo and whatnot. And it's as easy as I don't write with structure. He said that I don't write with structure. I said, Charlie, would you like me to lay out the three act design of being john malkovich as because it's a three act, play, want to hear them, act 123. And, and he almost ran out of the room. He didn't want to hear it. He wants to live in the delusion that it somehow flows, and there is no structure. And when in fact, subconsciously, at least being john malkovich is a three activist

Alex Ferrari 30:48
is a great, it's

Robert McKee 30:50
a model, it's a model, BJ Mack is a model three act design. But it's but to the romantic like, Charlie, he doesn't want to hear it. Because he thinks that that's going to constipate his creativity. And I have to agree with it. If he wants to write out of this notion that it's all a flow. And if he is aware that there's a, that there's a design happening, it would, it would inhibit him. So it's because he's a good writer, he's very talented. So it would be better for him to live in that delusion, and let it all pour out. And then he goes back, and his taste guides the rewriting and so forth. And, and, and so if you're talented, like Charlie and, and the idea of structure is frightening, then you should listen to those feelings. And not think about structure and just, you know, do what you do, and hope it works.

But

that's rare.

Alex Ferrari 32:10
Very, very, very rare. But yeah, but and so for everyone listening, you have to understand that someone like Jeff Hoffman is writing. And as he's writing, he's subconsciously working within the three act structure, honestly, on a subconscious level. And even the great writers is like, Oh, I never even think about outlining or plotting, is because they have such a grasp of the craft, that it's already pre wired in them. It's like me building a house, I wouldn't even think twice about how to pour a foundation, or how to how to how to lay out the walls, because I've done it a million times. I don't have to sit there and think about it, it's just done. But that is rare, and it takes sometimes years to get to that place or you're a prodigy, which happens once in a generation or twice in a generation.

Robert McKee 32:57
And and you're absolutely right. That's very, very well put and, and in fact, it goes beyond that you have been watching the stories on screen you have been reading them in novels, you've been to the theater, that form form is a better word than structure that form of action, contradictory reaction and reaction to that and a giant dynamic of action reaction building to change that is so built into you as a as a reader as an audience member from I don't know two three years old. Mother read your little you know, bunny rabbit stories, right? Your bunny rabbit goes out and something happens that not happy for the bunny rabbit and then you know of bunny rabbits mother comes along and pictures things whatever it takes, I mean that that form is ingrained in you from from the earliest. And so you do know it?

Alex Ferrari 34:08
Without question. Now you do more dialogue is something that is you've wrote an entire book dedicated to dialogue. Obviously, your first book is story. But your second book is dialogue. What are the three functions of dialogue in your opinion?

Robert McKee 34:25
Well, there's many of them and certainly one of them is is the obvious one of exposition by various means. So for examples simple in writing dialogue, a character has a certain vocabulary so for example, you you've done construction on houses, right? Some sure I And so how many different kinds of nails Do you know? From spiked to tact of,

let's say 10? Yeah. Okay. Now most people may know, to me one nail on a screw, basically, that's all they know.

Okay. So if if in there, if a character in their dialogue uses the, the carpenters terminology. And even metaphorically, you know, call something a five, many nail, right? The fact that he knows the difference between a temporary nail and pipe and whatever it is, his exposition is it tells us something about the life of this character, by the very word, the names of things that that this character uses in their vocabulary helps us understand the whole life of this character. So if somebody grew up, you know, around boats, and they use nautical terminology, right? And so that they the language inside of the dialogue, all that just the vocabulary alone gives us exposition, it tells us who is this character? What's their life been like? Etc. Okay, then, at the same time, the characters talking about things that are happening, or have happened. And when somebody says, you know, you're not going to leave me again, we are to instantly know, that's it, she's already left them once, at least before

Alex Ferrari 36:46
it says it says volumes with one word.

Robert McKee 36:49
Yeah, there's no word again. But so we have an insight into what their life has been like, in this relationship. And so that's number one is is, is exposition. And number two is action. When people speak, what they say, is an action they take in order to get what they need and want in the moment, but underneath that is what they're really doing. And it's what in the subtext, the action they take in the subtext is what's driving the scene? So when somebody says, Well, I didn't expect that. Right? What they're really doing, perhaps, depending, right, is attacking, criticizing the other person for doing something that's completely inappropriate. What they say is, well, I didn't expect you to say that I didn't expect you to do that. I didn't expect that. But what that is, is a way of attacking another person for inappropriate behavior. And so it's right. And so and so the dialogue is the text by which people carry out actions. But underneath the dialog, is the true action. And it that's based on a common sense, understanding that people do not say out loud and do out what they're really thinking and feeling. They cannot, no matter how they try, if they're when they're, when they're pouring their heart out and confessing to the worst things they've ever done. There's still another layer, where they're actually begging for forgiveness, let's say, right? So by confessing, actually, you're begging for forgiveness or whatever it is. And so dialogue is the outer vehicle for interaction. And, and the great mistaken dialogue is writing the the interaction into the dialogue. stead of having somebody confess, did they beg Please forgive me, please forgive me, forgive me, forgive me. Right. And, and if somebody is actually begging, there's got to be another level of what they're really doing underneath the baking. And, and so you have to, you know, the writer has to think to that by begging. What that dialogue is actually a mask for manipulating that person. Do what you have to do, right. And so, exposition, action. Okay. And then, you know, just beauty. Just Just wonderful dialogue, in character, and all that, but but a way of creating a surface that is that it draws us. Because, you know, we just love to see scenes where characters speak really well. in there. And even though even if we're using just gangster talk, good gangs, your dog, it's right to talk to each other and that kind of rap and that kind of unite. Right? That's, that's a form of beauty. It's wonderful, you know, it's pleasurable, right. The dialogue ultimately ought to be pleasing, and in his sense of kind of verbal spectacle. And so that's just, you know, that just three off the top of my head functions, but there's is there's much more right and I, I like I'm sure like you, we all love. Wonderful, memorable quotable dialogue.

Alex Ferrari 41:24
Yeah, very much like it's so obviously Tarantino and Sorkin and Shane Black and these kind of screenwriters, their dialogue is just, it's poetic in the way that they write something, certainly is, certainly, and the genius of them is they're able to do the first two things you said, within that poetry, as opposed to just poetry for poetry sake,

Robert McKee 41:46
which is, you know, that is that just decorative. They all happens all at once. You know, you're getting exposition, see who these characters are, whatever actions or reactions are driving the scene, and it's a pleasure to listen to.

Alex Ferrari 42:03
Now, one thing I've noticed in years and even in my own writing descriptions, in a screenplay, a lot of screenwriters, when they starting out, they feel like it's a novel. So, they will write a very detailed description about a scene or about something, where from my understanding, over the years, less is more and it becomes more of a of an exercise in Haiku is than it is in the novel writing. Can you kind of talk a little bit about the importance of of compacting your description?

Robert McKee 42:37
Well, it does need to be economical. Of course. On the other hand, it has to be vivid,

Alex Ferrari 42:44
right?

Robert McKee 42:46
And that's, you know, where does that balance strike you that the ambition is to project a film into the readers head. So that when they read their screenplay, they see a motion picture without camera directions without you know smash CUT TO for transitions and, you know, Dolly on and you know, and you know, pull focus, whatever nonsense, you got to use the language and description to create the effect of a motion picture, then you only use ideally, you only use the master shots, it you you only the the the shots, the angles, the setups, camera setups that are absolutely necessary. And no more you do not try to direct the film. And, and instead, you project a motion picture into the readers head. And, and, and so you need to it over, often in overriding and when, in fact, was not only overwritten, but it's not vivid. It's because writers rely on adjectives and adverbs. And what they need is to know the names of things. You know, he, he, he picks up what we're talking about before a big nail. Well, you know, big is an adjective. And so, put an image in the readers head, he picks up a spike. Spike is a vivid image. A he, he walks slowly across the room, will slowly is an adverb. Right? Right. And so you name the action of verb is the name of an action. He pads across the room he ambles, he strolls he saunters. He you know, Waltz's is an active verb without an adjective, adverb, concrete nouns without adjectives. And we see things and we see actions. And it becomes vivid. It reduces the word count. And, and here's here's something a good it's a good note for writers take your screenplay. And, and search the verb is or our urge is an are throughout your descriptions and eliminate every single one of them. know things are nothing is in a screenplay. Everything in a film is alive. And action. So you know, a name the thing. So a line like a big house, there, there is a big house on a hill.

Okay.

And what's a big house a mansion or a state? a villa? What's a, you know, a hill, a mountain. At add and add and turn it into a villa sits just that verb sits is more active than is a big house sits with a spectacular with this spectacular view. And so easy, a big house up high with a great view. And it's an image and it's active, it sits sprawls across, whatever. And so active verbs concrete nouns, and and make us see a movie. And every writer finds every good writer finds their own personal way to do that. And Paddy Chayefsky wrote elaborate descriptions. Harold Pentre described, nothing, nothing. He would just go interior kitchen dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, describe nothing. And because his attitude was, we all know what a kitchen looks like. And they'll probably play it in the garage anyway. But if they mess if they mess with my beats of action reaction and you know, in dialogue, then they're in trouble. Okay, so every writer has to find their own way to accomplish the task of a vividly projecting emotion picture in the imagination, as you turn pages who make them see a movie.

Alex Ferrari 48:23
Now, your new book is called character. And I wanted to ask you a couple questions in regards to character because, arguably, I always like to ask the question, do you start with plot or you start with character I always say to people, you don't like Indiana Jones, his plots aren't nearly as memorable as Indiana Jones James Bond's plots aren't as memorable as James Bond. Like I don't you throw me the plot of thunder ball. I don't remember. I remember scenes, but I do remember James Bond. And that's what draws me back to his stories. So, can you talk a little bit about the difference between roles and character?

Robert McKee 48:58
Well, a role is a generic term. And so hero is a role villain is a role victim is a role. You know, sidekick is a roll. goon is a roll. shopkeeper his role in the role is as a position in a in a cast. as defined by its relationship to other characters, and or a profession. Like waiter, asked driver. And, and they're generic, they wrote something waiting to be filled by a character. And as a character comes into a story to fulfill a certain role but it's a it's a You know, it's it's a, it's a generic to that to that genre. And so if you have a family, the roles are mother, father, children guide, they're okay, those are roles, characters are our unique human beings, we inhabit those roles. And and there's a design of a cast, such that the protagonist, and the central character at role is the most complex character role. And they are they, they're, depending on the genre, they are the most dimensional character of all. And they are ideally, they, they are the center of good, there's a, there's a positive human quality, not every way certainly, but there's, there's some quality, within the complexity of that character, with which we recognize we empathize, we recognize a shared humanity, the character is then in orbit around that character that protagonists are less dimensional, but they can be dimensional as as well, then you go all the way out to the second third circles, where you have people only playing a role. cashier, restaurant cashier, okay. Now, even when you're writing a scene where your character goes up to the cashier in a restaurant, to pay a bill, and discovers that his credit card is cancelled, right, you have a clerk standing there, at the at the take, who takes the credit card and finds that it's, it's been rejected that clerk character, he be very useful to imagine that role, very specifically, what kind of human being, you know, is she or he, it because it does the, the way in which that clerk that roll says responds to your card is canceled. Your card didn't go through the, the, the way you write the words and gesture for that character gives her a trait. And so roles have traits and, and to make, even that moment, when there's a human being behind that, that trait. And so if she's sarcastic, if she's fed up with with the job itself or with with people whose cards never work, or she's sympathetic because her cards don't work.

Alex Ferrari 53:19
So,

Robert McKee 53:21
so, even in a in a simple role like that, you try to write it with a as a specific trait in the way in which he deals with that moment. And it creates a character for an actor. And so the actor come in there and realize, Oh, this is an antagonistic clerk or this is a sympathetic cleric, or an indifferent or bored or falling asleep, or glancing at her watch constantly, she just wants to get out of here, whatever it is, you give her a trait. And that makes her a character, she sends the GM to life and it gives the actor something to hang their performance on. And so dimensions the protagonists, the most dimensional of all dimensions are contradictions within the nature of the girl. And so you populate that with in my book on character, I look at characters everybody from from Odysseus in Homer's Odyssey has an eight dimensional character, all the way up to Tony Soprano, as a 12 dimensional character Walter White, as a 16 dimensional character. And so and so the complexity of character today given long form television, especially, is at is becoming your astronomical And then you have to give all the, that every one of these dimensions if a character is, is kind and cruel, okay? Sometimes they're crying, sometimes they're cruel. Therefore, you're going to need a cast of characters where the protagonist, when they meet character a, they treat them kindly character B, they treat with, with a slap with cruelty and, and so you need to design a cast around each other characters. So that when, whenever any two characters meet, they bring out sides of their dimensionality or traits of behavior that no one else brings out of them. And so, every single character is designed that whenever they encounter any other character, they bring out each other's qualities in ways that no other character does. And, and when you have a, you know, when you have that kind of cast, where every single character services, every other character, and no redundancies every relationship is unique. every relationship develops a different aspect or a different dimension. Then you have a fascinating group of people that creates a world that the audience can really

Alex Ferrari 56:38
dive into,

Robert McKee 56:39
dive into now, you know, when characters when and carrot one characters behave toward each other in the same way, no matter who it is. That, you know, that's it's a boring and do it's false. People do not treat other people, different people the same. Everybody behaves in a uniquely subtly but uniquely different way, depending upon the relationship. And it takes a lot of concentration and imagination in the writer to realize that every relationship brings out different sides of the character's nature.

Alex Ferrari 57:21
Now, I'm gonna ask you a few questions. Ask all my guests. Robert, what are three screenplays every screenwriter should read? You see? I don't answer that question. Okay. For this reason, I don't want people to copy anybody. Okay, fair enough.

Robert McKee 57:46
And so if I say, you know, if I named my, you know, my favorites, like, say, trying to tell people you know, then run to study Chinatown and emulate it. And that's a mistake. The really important question to ask people is, what's your favorite genre? Because they should be writing the kind of films they love.

Alex Ferrari 58:15
It's a good point, what

Robert McKee 58:16
I love, what are my favorites may have nothing to do with their favorites. And so the first question is, you know, what do you love? What kind of movies do you go to see what kind of things do you read? What do you love? And then seek out those? And the second thing is that if I name favorites, and, and that they, you know, they're in their pieces of perfection. Okay. What does that teach the writer? They got a model of perfection. Great. Okay, that's important, you should understand you should have an ideal, what you're trying to achieve. But one of the ways to achieve it, is to study bad movies. break them down and ask yourself, why is this film so boring? Why can't I believe a word of it? Why does this fail? and break it down and study it? To answer what this What does it lack what went wrong, etc. Okay, and then rewrite it.

Alex Ferrari 59:37
Just thing,

Robert McKee 59:39
rewrite it. fix that broken film. Because that's what you're going to do as a writer. Your first draft is going to suck. And you're going to go in and try to fix your broken script. Try to bring it to life. Try to cut edited shape and rewrite it reinvented, you're going to read it over and over again, right? Having fixed broken films, not just one, but many, many, many take bad movies, studying them and make them make them work is practice for what you're going to have to do with your own screenplay. Because it's not going to work in the beginning, it's going to need a lot of work to work. And so having rewritten bad films to make them work is, is a real learning experience. And so I say, study good films are of your genre, so that you have a an ideal that you achieve, rewrite the bad ones to teach yourself how to fix broken work. And so, and that's a personal choice. I can't say what that should be for those people. For every one of them, loves whatever they love, which may or may not be what I love.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:00
Now, where can people find out more about you? And where can they purchase your new book character? Amazon? It's pretty much it is pretty much it nowadays, isn't it? It's pretty much it nowadays, isn't it? Amazon.

Robert McKee 1:01:17
bookstores, I'm sure are opening up. And if you know if you love bookstores, as I do, you know, you can go to a bookstore and get it. But the most direct way that will be there in your budget for the next morning. It's incredible what they do, what Amazon does, and bash, you know that the other other Barnes and Noble stew or whatever it is, but yeah, it's very simple. You just go to amazon.com. Right? Just write the word McKee. And comes story, dialogue, character, in hardcover, in an audio and in Kindle,

Alex Ferrari 1:02:05
and everything else? And then how can people read it? And how can people learn more about you what you offer?

Robert McKee 1:02:13
Ah, the go to make peace story.com. The key story.com will take you to our website. And we have a upcoming. We've been doing webinars now for a year and a half since the plague hit us. And they've been very successful, very, very pleased with it. And in July, we're doing a series on action. Nice on the action genre. And so these, these are every Tuesday, three Tuesday's in a row. And they're two hour events, hour and a half worth of lecture and a half hour of q&a. Then on Thursday, I I give an additional two hours of q&a.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:01
Fantastic.

Robert McKee 1:03:03
And because I realized how important it is for people to get answers to things they're working on. So So Tuesdays and Thursdays for three weeks in a row. And there's you know, four hours of material each week. So and we will we will look at the action genre in depth with lots of illustrations and examples of an adage and I love giving these acts. webinars. And it's a favorite of mine. Actually,

Alex Ferrari 1:03:38
I love a good action movie is it's hard to come by nowadays. So I appreciate it. Robert, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to to my audience and I appreciate all the work that you have done over the years and help so many screenwriters as well. So thank you so much for everything you do.

Robert McKee 1:03:54
It was a lovely chat. Great chat. Nice talking to you.

 

Top 15 Indie Filmmaking Podcasts (Oscar® and Emmy® Winners)

Indie Filmmaking Podcasts have been so important to me over the past few years. Indie Film Hustle entered into the podcast space in 2015 with the launch of its first original podcast series, The Indie Film Hustle Podcast.

The response to the podcast was so amazing that after a few short months the show became the #1 filmmaking podcast on Apple Podcasts & Spotify, and still maintain that honor. I’m truly humbled and thankful by the response.

The show is only as good as the indie filmmakers who listen to it. Thank you all for the support. I have put together the Top 15 Indie Filmmaking Podcasts from the IFH archives. This list will be updated every few months so keep checking back.

Click here to subscribe on iTunes,  Spotify, Stitcher, or Soundcloud.

1. 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.

2. 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.

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. 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.

5. Jason Blum

I’m excited to talk to a fellow low-budget independent filmmaker today.

Granted, he does low-budget films on a completely different level than I or most people do at this point. But if we are going to talk about budget filmmaking, it is only fitting to have expert horror film and television producer, Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions.

That is a testament to his company’s high-quality production. Blumhouse is known for pioneering a new model of studio filmmaking: producing high-quality micro-budget films and provocative television series. They have produced over 150 movies and television series with theatrical grosses amounting to over $4.8 billion.

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 writer, 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. John Sayles

John Sayles is one of America’s best known independent filmmakers, receiving critical acclaim for films including Eight Men Out (1988), Lone Star (1996) and Men with Guns (1997). He’s also written screenplays for mainstream films such as Passion Fish (1992), Limbo (1999), The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) and did a draft of Jurassic Park (1993) for Steven Spielberg.

8. Neill Blomkamp

Ever since I saw District 9 and learned of all the mythical stories behind the short film becoming a feature, I have been a massive fan of today’s guest, Neill Blomkamp. Though Neill is here today to talk about his new sci-fi horror fiction film, Demonic, we also chatted up about his other films that have been successful over the years.

9. David F. Sandberg

So many times we hear those mythical stories of a filmmaker who makes a short film and uploads it to Youtube in hopes of a big time film producer sees to and comes down from Mount Hollywood and offers him or her a deal to turn that short into a studio feature. Today’s guest had that happen to him and then some. On the show is writer/director David F. Sandberg.

David’s story is the “lottery ticket” moment I speak about so often on the show. His journey in Hollywood is remarkable, inspiring and scary all at the same time.  He created a short film called Lights Out. That short was seen by famed filmmaker and producer James Wan (Furious 7, Aquaman, The Conjuring) who offered to produce a feature film version at New Line Cinema.

10. Albert Hughes

I can’t be more excited about the conversation I’m about to share with you. Today on the show we have filmmaker and indie film legend Albert Hughes. Albert, along with his brother Allen began making movies at age 12, but their formal film education began their freshman year of high school when Allen took a TV production class. They soon made the short film The Drive-By and people began to take notice.

After high school Albert began taking classes at LACC Film School: two shorts established the twins’ reputation as innovative filmmakers. Albert and his brother then began directing music videos for a little known rapper named Tupac Shakur. 

These videos lead to directing their breakout hit Menace II Society (1993), which made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and grossed nearly 10 times as much as its $3 million budget.

11. Taylor Hackford

Sitting down with one of the big names in this business this week was a really cool opportunity. I am honored to have on the show today, Oscar® winning director, producer, and screenwriter, Taylor Hackford.

Taylor’s has directed films like An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), White Nights (1985), Proof of Life (2000), Dolores Claiborne (1995), Against All Odds (1984), Parker (2013), the iconic Ray Charles biopic, Ray of 2004, and The Comedian (2016) just to name a few. He also has served as president of the Directors Guild of America and is married to the incomparable acting legend Helen Mirren.

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. Barry Sonnenfeld

I can’t tell you how excited I am for today’s episode. I had the pleasure to speak to the legendary director Barry Sonnenfeld. We discuss his idiosyncratic upbringing in New York City, his breaking into film as a cinematographer with the Coen brothers, and his unexpected career as the director behind such huge film franchises as The Addams Family and Men in Black, and beloved work like Get Shorty, Pushing Daises, and A Series of Unfortunate Events.

We also chat about the time he shot nine porno films in nine days. That story alone is worth the price of admission.

14. Alex Proyas

I can’t be more excited to bring you this episode. On today’s show, we have the legendary writer/director Alex Proyas, the filmmaker behind The Crow, Dark City, The Knowing, Gods of Egypt, and I, Robot.

Alex Proyas had a huge influence on my filmmaking life. The Crow was one of those films I watch a thousand times, in the theater, when I was in film school. He began his filmmaking career working in music videos with the likes of Sting, INXS, and Fleetwood Mac before getting the opportunity to direct The Crow.

15. Sean Baker

Sean Baker is a writer, director, producer and editor who has made seven independent feature films over the course of the past two decades. His most recent film was the award-winning The Florida Project (2017) which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and was released by A24 in the U.S. Among the many accolades the film received — including an Oscar nomination for Willem Dafoe for Best Supporting Actor — Sean was named Best Director by the New York Film Critics Circle.

His previous film Tangerine (2015) premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won an Independent Spirit and two Gotham Awards. Starlet (2012) was the winner of the Robert Altman Independent Spirit Award and his previous two features, Take Out (2004) and Prince of Broadway (2008), were both nominated for the John Cassavetes Independent Spirit Award.

Bonus: 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.

Bonus: 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.

Bonus: 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.

 

How to Make a $1,000 Feature Film with Mark Duplass

Make a feature film for $1000? Sounds crazy right? Well if you don’t know Mark Duplass you should get to know him. Mark and his brother Jay Duplass are most widely known for making the indie film hits The Puffy Chair and Safety Not Guaranteed. Mark Duplass has gone on to be a very successful writer, producer, and director.

Mark Duplass is an extremely talented film director, producer, musician, actor, and screenwriter. He along with his brother, Lawrence Jay Duplass, have created film industry waves in a very short time period. Be it filmmaking or successful TV series, everyone loves the work of Duplass Brothers.

Being Filmtrepreneurs they have initiated their own production company Duplass Brothers Productions and have been into the directing business since then. Widely known for their films The Puffy Chair (2005), Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011), and also The Do-Deca-Pentathlon (2012).

Jay and Mark Duplass have also co-created the renowned HBO TV series Togetherness.

Both of these talented brothers grew up in a suburb of New Orleans. They fell in love with film at a young age and they started making videos on their father’s Panasonic when the brothers were 6 and 9 respectively.

They would shoot versions of The Lone Ranger as well as The Sermon on the Mount. According to the Duplass brothers, when they look back over this period and the activities which extended to their teenage, they seem to recall an inner self of experimentation.

Things got focused and serious once Jay made this self-realization that he did not want to go on with his filed after spending four years as psychology majors which he was studying at the University of Texas, Austin. Mark Duplass was a singer-songwriter which he had to eventually give up because of increased condition of tendinitis.

Jay remained an extra year in the school so that he could study film and also got his brother Mark Duplass enrolled there so that he could act in his projects. Which was usually extremely cute bits of valuable silliness pretty much inspired by their obsession with the Coen Brothers. Mark has himself admitted that we were trying to be them but it was not going well.

After some time, Jay got his hands on a profitable and worthwhile commission to film a documentary about gardening which was some sponsored material on the behalf of an Austin startup, gardening.com.

The company crumpled before the film was finished even but luckily for the Duplass brothers, not before paying for their efforts. With that money, they bought a Canon GL1, got themselves a camera operator, and a photography editor so that they could begin on their second scripted feature film which was a rip-off of Rocky but in running shoes called Vince Del Rio.

And before they had even finished its edited, the duo decided that I was simply unreleasable which Mark Duplass has often referred to a steaming pile of dog diarrhea.

The Duplasses had no money, no ideas, and a terrible period of lack of faith in their filmmaking skills. So in desperation, Mark thought of making a movie which was part of their childhood. Fast and affordable and off-the-cuff. Mark Duplass went out to buy a $3 MiniDV tape which is the entire production cost of the movie and also improvised the total of what was to become the This is John of 2003.

It was a seven-minute short that started as an exercise, which results in triggering a psychological collapse because John rejects his numerous attempts as being too conscious or too formal. This was the course that so well summarized the creative journey of Duplasses’.

Though This is John might have sounded and looked like a home movie, it had a hint of life to it and that is why it was accepted into the shorts program when the Duplasses’ submitted to the Sundance and guess what? It was addressed as one of the five short films to see.

Right after two years, these brothers returned to the Sundance with The Puffy Chair which was an endeavor which they drew from their own lives. Starring Mark Duplass and his girlfriend (now wife) Katie Aselton this film concerns the relationships between men, women, fathers, mothers, and friends. Mark finds a replica of a lounge chair on eBay which his father used ages ago. The road trip that was taken to deliver that chair to him in Atlanta took very interesting twists and turns.

To some of the viewers, the movie touched something deep and affected them with its spooky familiarity. Making something so amazing with so little money sent a huge shockwave through the film industry which made it possible to think that anyone could step up to make a movie.

Although the traditional distributors kept their distance from the not-too-fine cheating after the film had spent a year’s time on the festival circuit, Netflix’s budding film distribution arm, Red Envelope Entertainment made its first acquisition. It is said by Sarandos of Netflix who was running Red Envelope, that he was drawn to the film for the wonderful home-viewing potential it possessed.

The follow-up feature of Duplass brothers in 2008 Baghead, was a mellow horror whose story revolved around a quartet of struggling filmmakers who head back to the woods for the weekend as a last try to pen down a feature film which would give them a head start to their careers. And they found the plot of pretty clichéd stories which gave the actors a set of guidelines to explore human interaction.

The Mumblecore Movement

A new movement called Mumblecore had the Duplass brothers working with directors like Joe Swanberg and Andrew Bujaski. But still, the boys had potential and momentum which soon gave them the chance to take up the traditional first step thing that all directors do to boost up their career i.e. making their first-ever studio film.

Willing to work for less, they cast all of the Puffy Chair fans in the production of Fox Searchlight Cyrus. With a $7 million budget and storyline of a creepy mother-son relationship, it was certainly an out of the box thing. The Duplass spent three years working on Cyrus. The movie revolved around a depressed man in his 40s, which was problem for Fox Searchlight who were suspicious of estranging the viewership. They wanted to portray him as down but not too much of it.

The film grossed $7.4 million which happens to be the most successful Duplass venture to date.

It soon became quite apparent that the movies these brothers were interested in making were aimed at a smaller audience with limited box-office appeal. But yet, if they underperformed in theaters a large audience was enjoying the work of Duplass brothers on the small screen and their movies surely were having a profitable afterlife.

Since The Puffy Chair came out, the Duplass brothers had been toying with the idea of HBO and now seemed the perfect time to actually take the chance. Jay came up with the idea of series which would star Steve Zissis who has Mark’s senior in high school and had had a stall in his acting career after Baghead and Do-Deca-Pentathlon.

So that is how the idea of Alexander the Great took birth which happened to be a pilot about an actor who was struggling with his career with mental health issues. HBO loved it and asked to add more characters making it a relationship show and that is what they did.

Before the premiere of A Teacher at Sundance, Fidell had sent the Duplass brothers her feature making them her fan. That is why she was their first choice when Mark Duplass got an idea for a movie of a young reboot of Days of Wine and Roses which has physical abuse instead of alcohol. Graciously accepted by Fidell, by the end of the day, she was officially signed up both for the writing and direction of what was to formulate into Six Years. And in March at SXSW it was bought by Netflix.

The most astonishing development in an already amazing career apart from the movies and TV shows that this dynamic duo made, the Duplasses have grown into a royalty which helps like-minded filmmakers gain benefit from the business model which they seem to have created.

The Duplass brothers helped a friend in giving life to his film and this revelation that they could actually save the struggling career of a filmmaker with some time and money blew their minds away and always grateful for the emotional as well as financial support by their parents they saw this way to put it back in the world.

Producing multiple films per year, which

  1. Strictly follow the line of low costs.
  2. Protecting the vision of the filmmaker.
  3. Eventually giving the final product to the audiences as fast as possible.

The Duplass Brothers have signed a four-picture deal with Netflix. And they are taking a similar approach to TV. The first film from that deal is Blue Jay starring Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson and directed by Alexandre Lehmann (check out his interview here). Meeting by chance when they return to their tiny California hometown, two former high-school sweethearts reflect on their shared past. Check out the trailer below:

They helped few filmmakers in making 10 episodes of the show of an animated series Animals and much to their surprise, not only HBO bought them but signed them for the second season right away. And four months later, the Duplass brothers got a two-year deal.

These brothers have the magic beans to turn any idea, no matter how trivial it may be, into a profitable TV show or movie.

Can you really make a feature film for $1000 bucks?

Mark Duplass had a packed house for his amazing SXSW Keynote Speech. He was spitting out Indie Film GOLD though out his talk.

If you didn’t get a chance to hear his talk, here are some topics he covered:

  • Learn your craft  by making short films every weekend for $3
  • Write a Feature Film for less than $1,000
  • Have a strong day job (whatever you can get) while working towards your goal
  • Put money away to travel to Film Festivals and future films

Coming from the “Mumblecore” indie film movement, a style of low-budget film typically characterized by the use of nonprofessional actors and naturalistic or improvised performances, he had some great advice for independent filmmakers:

“You should design the aesthetic of the movie so that it doesn’t feel like less than a $200,000 movie but it feels squarely like a $1,000 movie.”

I’ve seen so many filmmakers attempt to make The Avengers on the budget for craft services for one day on a Marvel set. You are setting yourself up to fail. When starting out work within your limitations. It worked for Robert Rodriguez on his indie film classic El Mariachi.

Mark Duplass stated that $1000 is in NO WAY a budget a feature film should be made for. Here is what Duplass says:

“It’s not an empirical number, it depends of the city you live in and the scope of your story. But when I think about that movie, it’s doing a couple of things.

Borrowing recycled hard drive from people. Getting the Ultrakam uncompressed app on your iPhone. Most of it is food and you really want someone who can cook.

I recommend having your editor be the ‘DIT’ person who takes the Media in – and they have a lot of downtime, so you have them help you light, and you have them cook.

And you should be having a crew that’s really, really small. So that money should be mostly spent on food and then you are going to spend that on festival applications.”

Mark Duplass dishes out some amazing advice to independent filmmakers in this keynote speech and awesome Q&A. To see the entire SXSW Keynote check out the video below, DO IT!

“Instinct is very, very important, and we believe in it through every part of the process… When it’s time to create and get that stuff down, we believe in the gut.” – Mark Duplass

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Top Ten Best Screenplays Ever Written

If you want to be a screenwriter you have to read screenplays. There’s no better place to start than reading the masters of the craft. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) published this list of the top ten best screenplays ever written and I would have to agree.

My personal favorites on this list are Casablanca, Chinatown, and Annie Hall. Click on the links below and start reading. Happy Reading…then get to writing.

1. CASABLANCA
Screenplay by Julius J. & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch. Based on the play “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison

2. THE GODFATHER
Screenplay by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola.

3. CHINATOWN
Written by Robert Towne

4. CITIZEN KANE
Written by Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles

5. ALL ABOUT EVE
Screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

6. ANNIE HALL
Written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman

7. SUNSET BLVD.
Written by Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder and D.M. Marshman, Jr.

8. NETWORK
Written by Paddy Chayefsky

9. SOME LIKE IT HOT
Screenplay by Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond.

10. THE GODFATHER II
Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo.

BONUS: SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
Screenplay by Frank Darabont. I had to add this remarkable screenplay to the list.

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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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.

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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

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KILL BILL VOLUME 2 (2004)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

GRINDHOUSE: DEATH PROOF (2007)

Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino – Read the screenplay!

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 f