How to Write a Screenplay That Sells with Michael Hauge
You are in for a treat. This week’s guest, MICHAEL HAUGE has been one of Hollywood’s top script consultants, story experts, and authors for more than 30 years.
He coaches screenwriters, novelists, filmmakers, professional speakers, internet marketers and corporate leaders, helping transform their stories and their audiences using the principles and methods of Hollywood’s most successful movies.
Michael has consulted on films starring – among many others – Will Smith, Tom Cruise, Reese Witherspoon, Julia Roberts and Morgan Freeman, and has presented lectures and workshops to more than 70,000 participants worldwide.
He is the best-selling author of Writing Screenplays That Sell (now in its 20th Anniversary Edition) and Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds: The Guaranteed Way to Get Your Screenplay or Novel Read. According to Will Smith,
“No one is better than Michael Hauge at finding what is most authentic in every moment of a story.” – Will Smith
After our interview with Michael Hauge and I decide to bring one of his best courses to the Bulletproof Screenplay Tribe. We called it the Screenplay and Story Blueprint: The Hero’s Two Journeys. (Click here for a special discount)
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
- Official Site
- Pitching Your Screenplay or Novel in 60 Secs (Click here for an EXCLUSIVE Discount)
- Screenplay and Story Blueprint: The Hero’s Two Journeys
- Writing Screenplays That Sell
- Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds: The Guaranteed Way to Get Your Screenplay or Novel Read
- Bulletproof Screenplay Script Coverage Service – Get Your Screenplay Covered by Industry Pros
- FreeFilmBook.com (Download Your FREE Screenwriting Audio Book)
- Subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spreaker or via RSS. Additionally, you can also subscribe to the blog and get all of my material (blog posts and podcast) by clicking here.
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- Michael Hauge’s & Chris Vogler’s Screenwriting & Story Blueprint: The Hero’s Two Journeys
- Shonda Rhimes Television Writing MasterClass
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- Jim Uhls’ (Writer of Fight Club) The Screenwriters Toolkit
- Paul Castro’s The MILLION DOLLAR BUSINESS OF SCREENWRITING
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- Stephanie Palmer’s Good in a Room – FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSION
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Welcome to the bulletproof screenplay podcast episode number ten. The road to hell is paved with Works in progress Philip Roth broadcasting from a dark windowless room in Hollywood when we really should be working on that next round. It’s the bulletproof screenplay on cast showing you the Crafton business of screenwriting while teaching you how to make your screenplay bulletproof.
And here’s your host Alex Ferrari. Welcome. Welcome to the podcast. I am your humble host. Alex Ferrari now Today’s Show is sponsored by bulletproof script coverage now unlike other script coverage Services bulletproof script coverage actually focuses on the kind of project you are in the goals of the project you are so we actually break it down by three categories micro-budget.
Indie film market and Studio film there’s no reason to get coverage from a reader that used to reading Temple movies when your movie is going to be done for $100,000. And we wanted to focus on that at bulletproof script coverage. Our readers have worked with Marvel Studios CAA wnbc HBO Disney scot-free Warner Brothers, The Blacklist and many many more.
So if you need your screenplay or TV script covered by professional readers. Head on over to cover my screenplay. So today guys. We have a awesome guest Michael Hague the legendary Michael Hague, Michael Hague has been around as a screenwriting analyst and screenwriting Guru for God the better part of a few decades now and uh, he wrote the the book that’s on pretty much every screenwriter shelves writing screenplays that sell the complete guide to Turning story Concepts into movie and television deals.
Michael’s list of clients is pretty impressive. He’s worked with every single major studio and television network around he has clients like Will Smith who he helped work on. I Am Legend Hancock The Karate Kid and recently worked with Columbia pictures on the Masters of the Universe reboot among many other projects.
He’s been working on with the Studio’s. So he is an amazing teacher and story analysts story script. And I was I was trying to get him on the show for months and we finally got him on and we asked him all the tough questions. I I discovered Michael through a course that he put out years ago called the hero’s two Journeys, which he actually co-authored with Chris vulgar of writers Journey who is an other another amazing Guru in the screenwriting field.
And what we decided to do is Michael and I. And Chris wanted to bring the hero’s two Journeys. The indie film hustle audience the tribe. So what we’ve decided to do is put it all together and package it into a new course called screenwriting and story blueprint the heroes to Journeys. This course is a must for any screenwriter.
It is a wonderful course that really breaks down the story structure of the hero’s journey, which Chris vulgar is famous for and Michael’s six-stage plot structure and they both go in at back-to-back kind of really. Breaking down these amazing, uh, storage structures for filmmakers for screenplay screenwriters.
And when I saw it, it just blew me away and I’ve been a fan of Michael and Chris’s ever since. So if you want to get a special deal on this new course at the end of this podcast, I will be giving you guys a link to go to so you can get it for a lot cheaper than it’s going to be retailing for so without further Ado here is my interview with Michael Hague.
Michael Mann, thank you so much for uh being on the film hustle podcast. I really appreciate you taking out the time. Oh, my pleasure. I’m looking forward to it. So, um, Tell me how did you get started in the crazy film business crazy business. Um, well they basically, uh, I grew up in Oregon and I had moved back there after getting a master’s in education and I taught school for three years, but I’d always dreamed of working in the film business having no idea what that would involve or anything about it, but I just always loved movies and my figured it’s time if I’m going to give this a try better get it going so I sort of jumped on the turnip truck and went down.
And moved their discovered a small film school that I started going to and took a variety of classes. And one of those was in what was formerly known as story analysis, which is just the term for being a reader in Hollywood. Meaning you read scripts for agents or producers or Studios and you write a synopsis of each script and then you give your comment where you tell them.
This is terrible. You don’t want anything to do with this. So then you give it to them. They don’t have to take the time to read a lot of bad scripts mostly but it’s an entry-level job. And after I learned how to do that. I I sort of called called about 100 different agencies and finally found one that gave me a shot and I became their reader and then moved over to being the reader for one of their clients who was a producer.
He made me his head of development. That’s just the next run up which means I’m now working full-time reading scripts for him and working with writers and finding story ideas. So on and it sort of went from there then I worked for a couple other producers and that led to me on the side teaching at UCLA extension teaching screenwriting out of that grew a weekend seminar that I ended up taking over around the world and out of that grew my book and my Consultation business and that’s pretty much where I am.
Now, I still consult with writers and filmmakers and storytellers and uh lecture about screenwriting. Very cool in your book, um your book, uh, writing writing the screenplay that sells writing screenplays that said, yes, that was now the 20th anniversary. Yeah, it’s past that now we I did a new addition the 2020 year mark, and I think that was a couple years ago.
So it’s gone to 22 years without since the first edition came out and and since then I wrote another book on pitching called selling her story in 60 seconds and other products and so on but those two books are the mainstay I took. Um, I took your course the. The heroes to Journeys the the DVD course, I guess right.
That’s how I got familiar with your work and I took that years ago and it was wonderful and now we are we’re all familiar with the hero’s journey, but you talked extensively about the heroes to Journeys. What do you mean by that? Well to me the way the best way to break down a story or look at story is that there are actually two Golds or two Journeys if you will that the hero of the story takes what is.
Journey of accomplishment the hero wants to cross some Finish Line once to achieve some visible goal and then they pursue that through the course of the story. It’s a very visible thing that drives the action. It’s what we see on the screen. So it might be stopping a serial killer or an alien invasion or finding a very treasure winning the love of the girl or the guy or or uh, whatever escaping from about situation.
It’s always something that when we here, Gold we can Envision what achieving it would look like but underneath that on most movies not all some big action movies don’t have this but in most movies, there’s a second Journey. That’s under that it’s an invisible Journey. It’s what I call a journey of transformation and that second journey is one where the heroes conflict comes from within where they are battling or must overcome some long and deep-seated fear.
Usually that grows out of something in the past and until they can overcome that fear and find the courage to change. They’re not going to achieve the visible goal. And so what I talk about is the way those two things intertwine, uh that visible journey and then that inner journey of transformation, so it’s kind of like the subtext of the character’s development and itself kind of like the hidden.
The hidden part of it of what he’s trying to do. It’s the characters are got you and the thing and sometimes a character doesn’t even know he has that Ark until later in the story kind of develops it I kind of like us in life. We all have our. Our inner Journeys and our inner issues and then we don’t know that we even have them until later on in Life or things come to us to kind of expose these problems or these issues like oh that’s why you’re so angry because you didn’t go to that party when you were in third grade or something along those lines.
Yeah, it’s usually it’s usually not something you didn’t do but something that was done or happened to you. Uh, the cause is what I call the wound. It’s that painful or traumatic event or sometimes. Ongoing situation usually from adolescence doesn’t have to be but a good example. I like to use is Good Will Hunting where he was abused by his father got a belt taken to him throughout his whole adolescence apparently.
So now that he’s a grown-up she. And he falls in love he wants to win the love of Skyler and he does what he thinks he needs to do to do that. But he’s never really going to achieve that goal unless he can overcome his fear of letting people see who he truly is of letting her in because he’s afraid that he deserved that beating and he’s a worthless person now, he’s not aware of that as you said, this is.
This is hidden from ourselves. This is we developed this emotional armor and it’s such strong armor that we think that’s who we really are. So it takes the course of the movie for the hero to recognize of this is what I’m really dealing with and this is what I’m going to have to change about myself to accomplish that goal.
And in that movie that transformation is facilitated by Sean the Robin Williams character who helps him see that. Inner conflict that identity that he’s taken on and help him overcome it and that’s why at the end. Well spoiler alert. I got to go see about a girl. Exactly. He finally he finally figures it out and says hey I’m gonna go and I guess you know as I’ve I keep reading screenplays and watching movies and the best ones are those deep-seated when the character actually not doesn’t beat the bad guy but beats the bad guy within himself almost, you know, and kind of like just like that.
That’s why Good Will Hunting is such a wonderful film and we everyone so, uh, you know, um, what’s the word? Um, Identifies with well because it’s you know, that that inner struggle I think is makes characters much more powerful than just the big strong guy that goes around, you know. Beating up the bad guys.
And so many ways. I mean precisely because yeah, we may not have been beaten has not fallen in love, but the we always believe that there’s a part of us we can’t show to the world. We always believe there’s a part of it that is that worthy or or that shouldn’t be revealed or that we’re terrified of connecting of someone else and really being that vulnerable.
So that’s the universal experience and then it’s just particularized in the story or. Any good story that any screenplay that interview our listeners are writing. It’s one of the key questions. I always want a writer to ask about their script is what terrifies my hero and I’m not talkin about fear of heights or aliens or right?
What? What is the emotional fear? What is the what is the wall that I refuse to? Crossover or break down no matter how much I want this goal because it’s just too scary and when a writer can figure out this is what terrifies my hero then they’re going to get in touch with that inner conflict in that inner Journey that the hero takes and I just think it makes the story much richer and as you say much more Universal now, uh, besides Good Will Hunting.
Can you throw one more example out of another one that kind of grasp that? Yeah, if you give me I could throw out. Um, let me go through a few in Rain Man his uh wound was his brother died his know his brother was taken away. His mother died. His father abandoned him. So now his belief is that anybody I get close to his going to disappear now again, I want to emphasize it’s not conscious.
It’s not like if you said to uh, uh, Charlie Babbitt, well, you know, what, are you afraid of and he’d say that he’s completely oblivious. Because it’s become so much a part of who he is or how he sees himself but his belief is anybody I get close to will disappear. So his terror is of getting close to anybody and then he meets this brother and his reaction to his brother is not to embrace him and say, oh, wow.
I’ve got a brother it’s to just exploit the guy and terrify this brother because all he really wants at the beginning is his inheritance but in the course of the journey what he does is he finds the courage step by step? And gradually to connect with the brother and comes to realize even if I get close to this guy.
He’s not going to disappear. I don’t need to be afraid of that consciously or subconsciously and that’s his ark that’s his growth. And when he does that in that case, it’s not that he achieves the goal. It’s he becomes mature enough to let go of that goal give up on that inheritance and find a better.
Goal, which is to help his brother and the Brilliance about that specific movie is that um Dustin Hoffman’s character. He can’t be hurt by what Tom Cruise’s character is doing to him because he has autistic. So like all these things that like kind of the the berating that he does. I guess he doesn’t get affected by it.
So even more so it’s kind of like looking in the mirror almost with um with Tom Cruise’s character like he can’t. Yeah, can’t hurt him. Well, yeah, I don’t know I wouldn’t agree with that because he can hurt Raymond by brightening him so bad. You’re right, right yell equipped to deal with the world.
Here’s here’s the parallel. I see it’s a carrot. It’s a story about a character who has to learn to feel by being with someone who is incapable of. Expressing emotion in capable of connecting with another person physiologically and so but through that character that the Tom Cruise character Charlie Babbitt learns to express his feelings and connect with another person in a way the brother who taught him that is incapable of doing excellent point.
Excellent, but not what are what are the elements of a great scene? A great scene. Well, I think first of all it has to have the the key Foundation elements that any overall story has and that is it has to be built on character desire and conflict in other words in a good scene. Not just the hero of the story or the main character in the scene, but everyone in that scene must want something.
And then the let’s say the scene is involves the hero of the story and he’s the one that’s driving this movie or driving this goal that moves us along the story then whatever it is. He wants or whatever it is. The other characters want by and large. There must be something standing in their way.
There has to be some conflict to be overcome primarily because your goal is a screenwriter. Your number one goal is a Storyteller of any kind because I work with internet marketers and I work with public speakers and I work with novelists and so on the goal of any story teller has to be to elicit emotion and emotion grows out of conflict.
Not desire desire doesn’t is it really emotionally involving not just is the engine that drives the story. It’s the obstacles. Character has to overcome that make the story involving and actually make a story sound commercial as far as that goes. So with any seen you want to say. Okay, who how does this seem relate to my hero and that Heroes outer Journey.
How does this move the hero closer to its goal or create more obstacles to it? And then what does every character in this scene want and then. If possible, what you want to do is take some of those characters if and put them in opposition. So they want opposing things. That’s what’s going to create greater conflict in the scene.
Sometimes the scene is not about characters in conflict with each other but teaming together to face some other obstacles some force of nature or some villain that’s on the way or some some opponent that has to be overcome, but it’s all about what is that? Conflict. What is that conflict going to be and then the last thing I would say that’s absolutely essential to every scene is you must create anticipation.
You want to end every scene with the reader anticipating? Okay, what’s going to happen? Next? You? Want to create a question? Okay. Now I see where this particular sequence ended. I see where the hero is now. There’s somewhere that they weren’t at the beginning. But now what are they going to do about X now?
What’s the next step? They’re going to take or now? How are they going to face? This villain that I just saw scene where the villains planning to kill them or whatever it might be. So you always want to force your reader? Turn the Page or to move to the next scene and try and guess what’s going to happen now Michael when you’re saying conflict in obviously conflict is integral part of every great movie and a great scene.
I’ve heard from a lot of different, um, gurus teachers instructors. Um analysts on story that the one story that really never had. The main character didn’t have conflict was Forrest Gump now, I’m not sure if that’s true or not. There’s conflict all around him, but he personally never had it. Can you explain to me whether that’s true or not or what your take on that is?
Um, I must confess my take is that just sounds bizarre. Tell me could not see that he has conflict. Let’s take the main through line. What if his main desire in that entire movie? Oh, that would be getting Jenny getting Jenny. And Jenny keeps getting separated from him and he tried to stay get her and then she gets involved with others and and it’s it seems like.
Always always it’s let’s get back to her and whenever he encounters her there’s something standing between them. It’s it’s it’s like a love story but she gets involved with the protesters the hippies in the late 60s or whatever else it might be. So there’s that and then there’s the fact. That when he goes to Vietnam the bombs are blasting all around him and he’s got a safe save the life of Captain Dave in the movie and more than a decade.
I know I know Lieutenant Lieutenant, I think maybe it. Hard to recognize what his overall goal is because it’s a very very episodic story very and because what happens is he seems to overcome the obstacles he faces fairly easily and then go on and have a big effect on other characters, but I would not definitely not say there’s not.
Conflict that there aren’t obstacles for him to overcome or that the audience is at wondering how is he going to do this or how is he gonna be able to um, Make money, you know and for shrimp or whatever right right trying to do so either either the answer the short answer would be I don’t know. I don’t understand the question sir.
Answer would be they’re wrong. There’s lots of obstacle for him to overcome in that movie. Now that you’ve explained it in that way. I completely and totally agree with you. I’m thinking what about his mother in the fact his mother’s dying. I mean he. Able to overcome those obstacles but so is the hero of any movie they just go on to something bigger and I think the key is look at the relationship with Jenny.
Yeah, exactly. And Jenny is main goal and it’s that’s it. That’s and I think maybe it’s because there’s so much other stuff going on around him and he’s in every historical, you know area, you know, he does so many different things that you kind of lose track sometimes at the end of the day the course he just wants to be with Jenni period that’s it.
There’s another there’s another thing we should point out too. That is the movies of. Biographies do not follow, um the same kind of structure. The other films do I I usually say that the I don’t know if it’s the most difficult to write but the least commercial genre is a biography and what I mean by a biography is the birth to death story of someone’s life or at least birth to you know, as far along as Forrest Gump gets in that story because let’s take a movie like The King’s Speech the King speech is a true story about George the Third.
The end but it’s not a biography because we don’t see him being born and his childhood in some way to learn of those things as backstory through dialogue, but it’s basically a story about a guy who has a single goal. And that is he wants to give a speech without stuttering. Okay, and his the whole movie is about how is he going to be able to do that with the help of Lionel load until the speech becomes not just important to him but important the whole country because he’s got to lead England in the World War Two.
So that’s not my definition of biography. But if you take a movie like, uh, Kaplan Amelia Earhart, I I guess that was called Amelia forget what the title was or or. Movies like that and notice Malcolm X so good generally speaking or not do not do well at the box office. Then what they do is they’ll have an obstacle and then they’ll overcome it and then obstacle and overcome it and it’s sort of like, well here are pieces strung together into this person’s life.
And the reason those are generally not commercial I believe is because audiences want a singular Finish Line that they’re rooting for that hero to cross and so that’s. By Forrest Gump adds the thread of Jenny that runs through that otherwise biography that is about one incident or one goal after another and if you take a movie like Braveheart, it’s the same thing the whole story of his life is toward one goal.
And that is freedom for Scotland or Gandhi is about freedom for from England for India. And those biographies are those true stories about real characters who have a. Gold that you can follow um creates a much more familiar and stronger spine. I believe than just what you call life stories. And so I always recommend you find the one particular incident in the person’s life where they have the biggest goal or the most compelling goal and make the story about that and perhaps because of that people are not recognizing the the conflict in Forrest Gump the same way because they’re forgetting it’s about.
That’s going to be segmented into one goal after another right and generally our lives are not about One Singular goal. It’s about multiple little goals. That’s why that’s why movies are better than real is not properly structure. It’s like my goal is to get to the supermarket and get I like to say real life is shit happens and then you die and generally not generally like our goals now are like I need to go to the supermarket.
This all the crackers are out shoot like there’s an obstacle but not not very exciting though, very exciting, but freedom from from England, that’s that’s a much more grandiose, uh goal in life. And also that’s another good thing to point out that. Movies are not successful either artistically are commercially because of the size of the goal.
It’s only the size of the conflict for the hero that makes a difference. So there’s nothing inherently bigger or more important about freedom for England than there is surviving on mars or um hunting falling in love with someone who’s an inflatable sex doll. I’m giving way. Answer to a later question, but it’s it’s always what makes it seem impossible for the hero to accomplish this goal.
So what that goal is is only important in that it gives the story its forward thrust and gives the opportunity for those obstacles. Very well put very well put now I’m sure you’ve read a few scripts in your day a couple of three a couple two or three. Uh, what are some of the common problems you see with first-time screenwriters and like kind of first time scripts.
Well, the number one problem I think overall is the writer has not given nearly enough thought to is this commercial. Yeah, it’s the writer is assuming apparently that because this story sounds intriguing to him or to her or because it’s something that happened to them that was fascinating or because you know, it makes for a good story around the dinner table.
This is something that a million people are going to be willing to pay to see and not just most of the time is not the case and. Well, I agree. On an emotional psychological level you want to write about what you know, what I think is more important is when you come up with a story idea ask yourself.
Is there any movie I can point to that’s made money in the last year or anything that is advertised in today’s paper that’s claimed that the Regal Cinema or the ArcLight or whatever that this is similar to that. This is in the same genre that this is going to appeal to the mass audience in the same way.
I think that uh a lot more, uh respect or attention needs to be paid to is this really something that’s going to make money because I’m assuming that anyone listening who is a screenwriter wants to be a writer because you want to be heard your what your stories to be seen as films and. For a movie to get made is going to cost a lot of money and somebody’s got to put up that money and they can invest that money unless they think it’s going to turn a profit and because movies are expensive unlike books, which you can publish for pretty cheaply movies have to have a lot of people buying tickets or tuning in if it’s a TV show or subscribing to Netflix if it’s that.
In order for that movie to turn a profit and so you have to be able to build into that story or build that story on one that has a good possibility of making money and I just feel like lots of writers are not thinking about that. They just it’s like for their own edification, right? Let’s say that hurdle is past.
Let’s say they found a high concept story or let’s say they found a movie that is uh within a genre that. Really commercial let’s say then the key problems are more within the way the story is told one difficulty. I see frequently and this is not limited to new writers. I encounter this with million-dollar screenwriters.
The story is just simply too complicated. Yeah. Another thing to remember about movies, especially if uh, You’re pursuing a Hollywood career. If you’re talkin about pursuing a Hollywood financing and mainstream movie for this country. Um, they’re very simple. I mean Hollywood stories are built on very simple ideas.
There is I would guess not a single movie playing in theaters right now that came out of Hollywood that I could not with. Three minutes of fun Express the storyline in a single sentence lock lines and basically, you know, it’s simple now it doesn’t mean the characters aren’t layered. It doesn’t mean the characters can’t be complex.
It doesn’t mean that there are lots of obstacles to overcome. It’s just that the level of story concept. You know, what it is it a group of reporters wants to find out the truth or report the truth about the sex scandal in the Catholic Church a guy stranded on Mars once. Stay alive until he can be rescued in a year and half it’s uh, you name it whatever movie is out there.
Whatever is is doing well or even getting made it’s based on a simple story and then it’s not about going off a lot of tangents or making that complicated. It’s about keeping that straight through line and then creating interesting and different and increasingly difficult obstacles for those characters to overcome.
Now the final thing the last thing and this is in a way the simplest but it’s just too many scripts. I read or not professionally presented. It’s like they’re not properly formatted which astonishes me because I’ve been around long enough that when I started there were no there was no such thing.
There was barely computers. They were certainly no such thing as final draft or movie Magic screenwriter and you had to sort of set the margins on your typewriter and things like that. All you got to do is invest in a formatting program and you’re pretty much Home Free as far as that’s concerned.
And all you have to do is you spell Checkers or get somebody who knows English to check for spelling and grammar and I see a lot of those errors in new scripts and it’s like come on spend 24 hours doing a little research or spend a buck to get the program and you can make this look as good as any other script floating around Hollywood.
So those three things I think it’s. Simplicity professionally presented and most of all commercial so Michael you mentioned the term High concept. Can you explain to the audience? What a high concept and low concept are yeah. Well, I have a really heard the term low concept and the concept gets bandied about a lot and people have different definitions of it.
But here’s mine High concept idea. Is one that an audience will line up or tune in to see the movie or the TV series just based on what the log line is just based on what that movie is about on a plot level and high-concept stories promise big conflict. So. A good example recently of a high concept movie that did very very well was the Martian.
Because it’s about a guy who gets stranded on Mars and now someone has to survive and face all of the elements on this foreign planet and stay alive long enough that the people on Earth can send a spaceship to rescue him. Let’s say so it sounds like the obstacles are going to be big. It’s a. Genre, kind of film not just science fiction, but it’s about someone needing to escape from a bad situation.
Now, it comes with a stellar cast and it got great reviews and it’s going to get nominated for Oscars and so on but a high concept does not depend on those things. Hi Concepts or ideas that it doesn’t matter who directed it who’s starring in at what kind of reviews what kind of word of mouth or what kind of awards it gets?
It’s just the story idea. So. Speed those would be typical high-concept kind of ideas. If a movie is much smaller, let’s take another movie that’s going to get a number of Oscar nominations. That was also one of my favorite movies this year called room. Okay, that’s a story about a mother who’s raised the child from birth in a 9 foot by nine foot room and the child’s never seen the outside.
So it’s how would they. What would happen in that situation and what would happen if they had the opportunity to go into the outside world wonderful movie, but I don’t think when you hear that story idea you say yeah, I’ve got to see that that sounds exciting. That sounds like. An edgier seat suspense so that movie was released slowly you can usually tell when a movie is not as high concept because the release powder will be just a few theaters and then a little more a little more because they want the word of mouth to build because movies that aren’t High concept low concept issues as you say are dependent on.
Criticism on reviews on word-of-mouth on promotion publicity on the stars that might be in that story. Now one last thing I want to say about high concept. It has absolutely nothing to do with artistic quality. You can have a high concept movie. That’s great. Martian is an example of that in my opinion.
You can have a high concept movie. That is absolutely Dreadful and you can have a low budget. Not high concept story. That’s great. And you can have another one. That’s Dreadful. They were not only talking about a commercial issue here God that makes perfect sense. Now, do you have any tips on to screenwriters on how they can get their screen screenplays actually read?
Well, yeah, um, I kind of I kind of wrote a whole book about it actually so it’s a tough question because it’s so big there’s so many different things that one can do and you consider and in those two books we talked about the book on pitching is all about how to you describe your story in 60 seconds.
So that somebody want to read it and writing screenplays that cell has a whole marketing section, but. Be that as it may what I’d say most succinctly is the smartest thing you can do to Market your script is to follow in the footsteps of those who have done it before, okay. And the way you do that is you first of all besides reading as much as you can interviews with screenwriters, especially newer ones.
I mean, it’s fine to hear the story about William Goldman became a screenwriter but it’s got nothing to do with you. I mean that was decades ago and he’s now a hugely successful. Those are the those are the screenwriters that usually get interviewed. But any time you can see in a film or on your podcast if you introduce someone who’s new but has managed to.
Silver and broken in those are the people who have the stories about how they did it that are going to be most valuable and you want to follow in their footsteps meaning, uh, they might have uh, entered contests. They might have gone to pitch March. They might have composed great, uh, cover letters or emails what they have all done though.
There are two things they would all have in common one is they write they write and they write and they right. I’ve never seen a successful screenwriter. That didn’t write regular. That’s not a marketing tool. It’s just you got to keep writing even while your marketing one script to keep working on the other and the other thing they did is network and by that, I mean they found situations where they could meet other people that could provide them with either more more contacts or information on how to reach those people and then beyond that what you want to do is you want to target the people you’re going after some screenwriters who are trying to break in they get that right or skill list of all the agencies.
Either limit themselves to the ones with asterisks who say well we will look at unsolicited material which is a mistake because those are usually not very powerful agencies or they send a mass email to everybody or they buy email lists and send it to everybody not just doesn’t make sense because 90% of.
The production companies in Hollywood are probably not going to be interested or be able to mount your particular script. What you want to do is look at movies that are similar go to a website called the Internet Movie Database. Find out who the producers of those movies are and then contact the heads of development for those companies because if if whatever company produced The Martian, I mean certainly scot-free because it’s really Scott directed it but there are other companies involved they.
Obviously have been able to under interested in bigger budget exciting action kinds of films. You probably wouldn’t pursue those companies with room that movie. I was just describing very low-budget independent small movie and so on you may if they’ve done other things like that, but figure out what movies yours is similar to and then go after the people who’ve made those movies before um and a couple.
Rules to is your doing this. Um one is as I said, you want to keep writing. You never want to stop writing just so you can mark it and the other is never wait for somebody else to keep moving forward don’t send your script to somebody and even they say I’ll get right back to you. Don’t wait until they get right back to you before you start pursuing other people just always keep.
Going after as many appropriate producers agents managers or production companies as you can until you find the one that really is willing to make a deal with you. So Michael, what was the lesson that took you the longest to learn in the film business? I don’t know if this is what you’re going for because it’s not really a lesson about screenwriter or even necessarily the business.
It’s a little bigger than that, but the lesson that I wish I had learned sooner is that the best way the best path to take is to concentrate on the things? That I loved and repeatedly eliminated the parts of what I’m doing that I wasn’t enjoying. In other words focus on what I wanted or what I loved and not what I thought other people thought I should be doing because for a long time when I came to Hollywood, I was trying to sort of break in or move up the ladder doing existing jobs or doing them the way other people did I I felt for a while.
I I know I can teach this but I should be a screenwriter even though I didn’t really have a desire to write. Myself, I like working with other writers or I should be getting a development job at a studio or I should be doing this or then when I became a consultant there were things about it. I didn’t like I didn’t like writing synopses and I didn’t like actually writing much of anything and so over the years.
What I realized is I could just eliminate the things I didn’t like. And it wouldn’t it would actually enhance my career because the more I limited that I didn’t like doing the more successful. I became as a consultant and as a speaker and so on until now when I do consultations, it’s what I love to do because I like interacting with writers.
I like to feel like a collaborator. I like lung sessions not quick ones. I hate doing notes. I like sitting down with people in the industry and hashing through. The projects I like speaking to groups that have invited me to come but I don’t like advertising my own seminars and I don’t do that anymore.
And I think if there’s a broader. Um lesson from that for anyone it’s make sure that whatever path you’re on to keep checking and say is this still bringing me joy, and if the answer is it all know or if part of it is not say is there a way to adjust what I’m doing? So I get more of the joy and less of the seemingly necessary pain to get there.
Now. It doesn’t mean in the early stages of your career as a screenwriter anything else. There aren’t dues to be paid and there is. Some great work you got to go through but at a certain point you’re going to find that there are things you’re doing that make it worthwhile and other things that you feel like you got to put up with and the more you can let go of the put up with stuff and the more you can stay with the worthwhile stuff.
I think in the long run you’ll certainly be happier and probably more successful that entire answer should be on a t-shirt. For fat people is gonna bout to say you’re gonna have to have a very large face bumper sticker. So, uh, Michael, uh, there’s a question. I always ask all of my, uh, my guest.
What was the most underrated film you’ve ever seen? Um, I uh, we should tell people I I was cute for this you sent me this one in advance. Yes, I think about it and I it probably wouldn’t have been hard to come up with because I used this movie as an example of the time. It’s a movie called Lars and the Real Girl love that movie and.
It may be wrong to say it was underrated because Nancy Oliver who wrote the script actually was nominated for an Oscar. So that’s not underrated and it got good reviews, but it didn’t do business. I mean very few people went to see it and I consider it one of the great romantic comedies. Um, Ever I just love talking about this movie and I think the reason very few people saw it is because the log line is it’s about a guy who falls in love with a sex doll.
So it sounds either. She me or kind of distasteful broad R-rated comedy. None of which it is. I mean, it’s one of the sweetest actually most spiritual kind of movies that has just a great love story at its core. It’s one I love to talk about I’ve actually done lectures just about that movie. And this is a chance for me to recommend everyone who’s listening find it and see it.
It’s called Lars and the Real Girl. Yeah with Ryan Gosling. It’s he was in that movie. It was a great great film. I love that movie. So Michael, what are your top three films of all time? Okay. Well, I wanted to tell your listeners just by way of excuse just like the last one you. Warned me that this was going to be a question.
Yes. And so I emailed you back and said I don’t want that question and I begged you to answer it. We do this every broadcast and I said, okay, um, what’s what’s my uh favorite? Movie was what I was the question my three favorite. Yeah. Yeah, no specific order. So here’s my answer. I was incapable of doing that.
So here’s what the answer I came up with. The only way I could get even close was if I segmented them. Okay? Okay, so you’re gonna have to put up with like nine titles here. The first thing I thought is in terms of favorite movies. What are the three classic movies that I consider just absolutely great films that were very formative for me that maintained after all these years are still great movies.
And the three I came up with were Casablanca still probably the greatest love story Hollywood has ever done. Um psycho. The scariest movie Hollywood has ever done and Hitchcock’s best. I think unlike where to go that most people regard and finally The Godfather which if I had to pick the great Hollywood movie, I would probably pick that one.
So those are the three favorites in terms of these are great great movies by any measure. I don’t know how they could be improved then I thought okay the second set is what are three movies that are my favorites because they meant a lot to me personally. As I was growing up as I was falling in love with movies.
And the three I picked for that were uh, number one, uh, bye-bye birdie because not a great movie. Although some great, uh numbers, but because it was a movie that first movie. I remember having a crush on the star because I’m Margaret got on that treadmill. I was lost forever that I saw repeatedly that I just loved and and uh was just.
And that I remember going back to see multiple times. So. Uh, I it’s sort of Beyond guilty pleasure to sigh Paula gently say to me. The second one was uh Miracle on 34th Street, uh, my favorite I think still probably the best Christmas when we much better than It’s a Wonderful Life in my opinion and that meant a lot to me because I always love Christmas but.
Because at one point in my life, I was a department store Santa myself and I tried to model myself after Edmund Gwenn in Miracle on 34th Street. So it’s probably more information here. That’s very that’s a very cool story. Okay, and the third one is A Fistful of Dollars. It’s a movie my favorite Western ever.
Although if you take that whole man with no name Trilogy had to be hard to pick but that was an important movie To Me Maybe This is more career as well as personal. It’s I saw it when I was just starting to take some film classes. They didn’t have filmmaking at the University of Oregon when I went there, but they had like a film appreciation or a film studies class and I was learning about all these big name directors and I happened to see it and I started noticing a lot going on in the movie Underneath the plot and I actually took notes and sort of composed this whole analysis of what was going on.
And that’s when I think I really internalize the idea that there’s the plot of a movie and then there’s all the layers underneath that can be added that are not instead of an exciting in this case action-filled Western or plot or superficial story. If you want to say that but grow out of that and are intertwined with that, uh to make it terrific so that was the second group.
And then the last group that was impossible was really probably what you’re asking and that is what are my Desert Island movies? What are the movies that I could see again? And again and again and the three I came up with although with if you gave me another dad probably come up with six different limits one is Sleepless in Seattle because it’s probably still my favorite romantic comedy.
It also meant a lot to my career because it was the first movie I ever lectured about in its totality. A seminar at a conference once and as I was in the middle of the lecture, I noticed in the back of the room was Jeff Art who wrote it? I thought oh my God, I’m talkin about his script and afterwards he came up and said everything you said about that movie was what I wanted people to get and we’ve been friends ever since so that was cool.
So I picked that um, the Bourne trilogy for action movies the all three of The Bourne Identity born. You know Supremacy and so on and um, finally, um Love Actually which Optima Christmas and romantic comedy and one of my all-time favorite writers Richard Curtis, and I just think is a movie that I could see once a year and often do and uh still like it.
So that’s the best I could do with that was actually one of the best answers to that question we’ve had on the show because I cheated. I draw outside the lat. All right, so last question where can people find you. Um, actually there’s only one place people need to go to find out about my coaching about the products.
I’ve created including my books and the heroes two Journeys that you mentioned and also read a lot of Articles and questions and answers I’ve done and that’s the my website. It’s story mastery. Str. And then Mastery with a wire on the end story Mastery and if you go there there’s a lot of things that you can link to and see that I think will sort of expand on some of the questions you asked me and other things about.
Everything to do with the storytelling actually not just screenwriting. I will definitely put links to all of to put a link to that in the show notes Michael. Thank you so much for uh for being on the show. We you’ve thrown out a lot of great great nuggets. So, thank you. Oh good. Well, thank you for having me it was an honor and great fun.
I enjoyed this a lot. And uh, if we do it again, I’ll come up with three different movies or nine different movies for you. How’s that? Thank you so much. I really love talking to Michael. It was it was it was a treat to really get to know Michael and not work with him a little bit putting this new course together the story and screenplay blueprint.
So as promised I’m going to give you guys the link to get the course which we retailing for $67, but you’re going to get it for. Five bucks and it’ll be 25 bucks for a little while. So you have to hurry and get it quick before we before the the sale runs out, but it is a launch. So all you have to do is go to any film Hustle.
Story blueprint that’s indie film hustle blueprint and that will give you guys directly a link to uh, the course of twenty five bucks. So definitely check it out guys. I think you really will get a lot out of it and to get links to anything we discussed in this episode just head over to indie film hustle.
And if you haven’t already head over to screenwriting podcast sign up and subscribe to the bulletproof screenplay pod. On iTunes it really really helps us get the word out on this podcast and gets this information into more screenwriters hands. So as always keep on writing no matter what I’ll talk to you soon.
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