Great find on Letters of Note (hat tip to @T_FUTURIST on Twitter), of a parting letter writer Raymond Chandler sent to Hitchcock after their collaboration on Strangers on a Train didn't quite work out.
December 6th, 1950
In spite of your wide and generous disregard of my communications on the subject of the script of Strangers on a Train and your failure to make any comment on it, and in spite of not having heard a word from you since I began the writing of the actual screenplay—for all of which I might say I bear no malice, since this sort of procedure seems to be part of the standard Hollywood depravity—in spite of this and in spite of this extremely cumbersome sentence, I feel that I should, just for the record, pass you a few comments on what is termed the final script. I could understand your finding fault with my script in this or that way, thinking that such and such a scene was too long or such and such a mechanism was too awkward. I could understand you changing you mind about the things you specifically wanted, because some of such changes might have been imposed on you from without. What I cannot understand is your permitting a script which after all had some life and vitality to be reduced to such a flabby mass of clichés, a group of faceless characters, and the kind of dialogue every screen writer is taught not to write—the kind that says everything twice and leaves nothing to be implied by the actor or the camera. ...
The script for THE ARTIST. Was really curious as to how a modern silent screenplay reads/looks, and naturally it violates the so-called rule to "avoid too much of that 'black stuff,'" i.e., too much description. It is all description, and often in long chunks, too. But he wrote it for himself to direct, and it's very effective at conveying the scenes, the feel, the mood, the actions, all at once.
Great stuff from writer Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig on Twitter). Good and fun advice on ways you can and should plot your screenplay or novel.
Just one part:
A Series of Sequences
The saying goes that an average screenplay usually offers up eight or nine sequences (a sequence being a series of scenes that add together to form common narrative purpose, like, say, the Attack On The Death Star sequence from Star Wars or the Kevin James Makes Love To All The Animals In Order To Make The Audience Feel Shame sequence from Paul Blart, Zoo Abortion). So, chart the sequences that will go into your screenplay. If you’re writing prose, I don’t know how many sequences a novel should have — more than a film, probably (or alternately, each sequence is granted a greater conglomeration of scenes).
[Editor’s note: I decided that in order to post something here about pitching, I should call in someone with more experience in that arena than I have. I am still learning the art of pitching, having done most of mine so far on the phone or via e-mails. But these two guys, who know a good amount about comedy writing and the writing business, "pitched me" and I was sold. So here you go. Feel free to post comments below with your own pitching stories -- good and bad. --Craig]
by Peter Desberg and Jeffrey Davis
In our book Show Me The Funny!: At the Writers Table With Hollywood's Top Comedy Writers, twenty-seven comedy writers take a generic premise we gave them and develop it into twenty-two unique stories. An unexpected bonus is some great pitch stories that emerged during these interviews. Both screenwriters and sitcom writers from the golden age of TV to Everybody Loves Raymond talked about their experiences with producers and executives. That gave us the idea of writing a pitch book. We called in two friends: a writer/director with forty movies to his credit who has spent time on both sides of the desk and a producer who has two Oscars to her credit. The four of us started spit-balling.
Within twenty minutes we heard that a competent producer “can smell a good story regardless of how it's presented.” Then we heard: “The story isn't that important. It's the enthusiasm of the person making the pitch.” The same person made both statements…our award-winning producer.
This double message showed us why so many people go into pitch meetings with shaking knees, sweaty hands and pounding hearts. We decided we could be much more helpful talking about how to handle the stage fright that emerges whenever even the most experienced and successful writers pitch.
Stage Fright? What is it good for?
Stage fright can actually be useful if you can convert it into excitement. Too much of it can be devastating, but it can motivate you to practice. To kick that off, here's one tip to help you project enthusiasm.
1. Go over your idea or script and make sure it's good enough to merit your enthusiasm. It's important that you think it's great.
2. Take a stab at this classic acting exercise: practice pitching over-the-top; do it with wildly exaggerated enthusiasm. Go for a cartoony effect to get in touch with the most extreme enthusiasm you can create. (Make sure you're alone when you do this.) Next, look for something within that crazy, out-of-control pitch and find an element in it that resonates with you. Try it again, only this time, dial it down to a level you feel comfortable pitching with.
3. Use a camcorder to record yourself. Tinker with the presentation until you're happy with the results.
4. When you're ready, try the pitch out on a few discerning friends who will give you honest and knowledgeable feedback.
5. Find some other more extreme friends to help you simulate a pitch going very wrong. Ask them to push even beyond that point. Tell them they can't hurt your feelings. Remind them that you're a writer and you have no feelings left.
We were struck by the level of enthusiasm Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (Dinner for Schmucks, The Santa Clause 2, Bubble Boy), one of the writing teams we interviewed, generated during their pitch. As they were developing a story their enthusiasm for what they were creating grew exponentially. Soon they were finishing one another's sentences and feeding off each other's energy and ideas.
If you find this useful, we'll be happy to provide many more tips to battle “Pitch Panic.” Come to our web site Show Me the Funny! [or www.smtfo.com]. And, hey while you're at it 'Like' us on Facebook.
About the Authors:
One out of every 150 people in America bought a copy of a joke book that Peter Desberg has written. Unfortunately, Scholastic sold the most popular one for $1 each, so he still has to work. Counting his five joke books, he has had twenty books published. In addition to this lucrative writing career, he is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the area of stage fright. He has worked with many top stand-up comedians, who are regularly confronted with massive cases of flop sweat. He also has been moonlighting as a full professor at California State University Dominguez Hills for over thirty years.
Jeffrey Davis's earliest memories are of sitting around the writers' table at Nate & Al's Delicatessen, where his father and his comedy writer cronies gathered over corn beef and Doctor Brown's Cream Soda, told war stories, and tried to fix third acts. He began his own career writing jokes for Thicke of the Night. Among his situation comedy credits are Love Boat, House Calls with Lynn Redgrave, Give Me a Break, Diff'rent Strokes, and Night Court. He has also written for such shows as America's Funniest People, America's Funniest Home Videos, and Small Wonder, and has had film projects developed by Bette Midler's All Girl Productions, among others. His plays have been produced in New York and Los Angeles. His most recently published play is Speed Dating 101. He is the Screenwriting Department Chair and associate professor of film and TV writing at Loyola Marymount University. His one night of stand-up at the Comedy Store convinced him that he should stay permanently seated at his desk.
(Via the NY Times, this is gold. Notes from one of the great screenwriters on one of the great scripts.)
Thirty-five years after the release of “Network,” the unpublished notes of the writer Paddy Chayefsky document the angst and animus that he channeled into the film’s Academy Award-winning screenplay. View some of these documents below and click on the highlighted areas for notes that provide a closer examination.
Passing along a cool opportunity for screenwriters with UCLA script teacher and author Richard Walter. Details below:
UCLA Screenwriting Chairman Richard Walter Offers On-Campus UCLA Screenwriting Workshop – Summer Class Open to UCLA Students and Non-UCLA Students
It’s easier to win admission to the Harvard Medical School than a seat in Professor Richard Walter’s legendary screenwriting seminar at UCLA. He takes you all the way, from idea to draft to studio deal. UCLA-trained screenwriters have won two Oscars and three Oscar nominations in the past four years, and written ten movies for Steven Spielberg.
Through a special Summer Session course both non-UCLA and UCLA students can enroll for eight credits in a course with this celebrated storytelling guru. The class is especially designed for the Summer Session and is appropriate for new writers and also for experienced writers. It is a round-table roll-up-your-sleeves-and-write seminar. There are in-class writing challenges and also analysis of in-progress script pages written by students in the class.
The on-campus UCLA class meets in Westwood for six Monday afternoons from June 20 through July 29, 2011, 2:00 to 4:50PM. All prerequisites are waived and the class is especially designed for Summer Session ‘A’. The class, listed in the online catalog of courses as “FILM TV 135A ADV SCRNWRTNG WKSHP” (more info here) is open to UCLA students and also to students who are not enrolled at UCLA. Students receive 8 credits. To obtain more information and register, please click here.
This is terrific. From Sweden's Gothenburg International Film Festival, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, etc) discusses his films and many other screenwriting topics during this 72 minute-long video interview. Take the time and watch it.
In the first page of The Social Network screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, we first hear the conversation in the bar before moving into the bar and meeting the two characters talking. This is how the protagonist (if not necessarily hero) Mark Zuckerberg is introduced:
INT. CAMPUS BAR - NIGHT
MARK ZUCKERBERG is a sweet looking 19 year old whose lack of any physically intimidating attributes masks a very complicated and dangerous anger. He has trouble making eye contact and sometimes it's hard to tell if he's talking to you or to himself.
This description not only shows you how well cast Jesse Eisenberg was for the part but how adept Sorkin is at quickly--but not in any great rush either--describing the character so everything that comes after is much easier to picture.
In the subsequent scene soon after, which is a flash forward to 3 years later, here's how Sorkin re-introduces Zuckerberg:
INT. DEPOSITION ROOM - DAY
It's three years later and MARK is sitting with his LAWYERS at a large conference table.
Mark is wearing a hoodie, sweatpants and Adidas flip-flops--a personal uniform that we'll come to understand. And while it may take awhile to notice it, Mark's a different person in these flash-forward scenes. Still tortured and complicated, but comfortable now with his own power.
Just a few short lines that quickly sum up how Mark's character has changed in that time span, especially important since this scene occurs in the film right after the first college scenes.
Since we are all taught to be quick in our descriptions, not wanting to make anything too wordy for a reader, sometimes we err too much to the extreme of extremely vague and rushed character introductions. Here's an example of how to do it right, from one of the best.
Nominees based on 2010 releases, as announced on the WGA site, but here's the full list of nominees (with a few comments from me):
Black Swan, Screenplay by Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin; Story by Andres Heinz; Fox Searchlight [Interesting that the script is getting some recognition; Aronofsky gets most of the cred but the blueprint for this crazy-ass film comes from the interesting scenario]
The Fighter, Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson; Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson; Paramount Pictures
Inception, Written by Christopher Nolan; Warner Bros. [no surprise here; I have problems with the script, particularly wanting more from the characters and there's some thudding dialogue, but the structure and premise are pretty brilliant]
The Kids Are All Right, Written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg; Focus Features [a bit overrated as a film imho, and a few aspects of story bothered me, but the writing + dialogue undeniably good, real, humane, often very funny]
Please Give, Written by Nicole Holofcener; Sony Pictures Classics [feel similar to Kids, in that I liked it but a couple of aspects of story bugged me, but it's overall quite good]
127 Hours, Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy; Based on the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston; Fox Searchlight
I Love You Phillip Morris, Written by John Requa & Glenn Ficarra; Based on the book by Steven McVicker; Roadside Attractions [hearing great things about this surprise nominee, look forward to seeing it]
The Social Network, Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin; Based on the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich; Sony Pictures [Listen to Sorkin's podcast interview with Creative Screenwriting if you haven't yet, via iTunes; Sorkin and Fincher seemed odd match for film but it was a great pairing]
The Town, Screenplay by Peter Craig and Ben Affleck & Aaron Stockard; Based on the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan; Warner Bros. [very very solid if in some ways traditional crime drama, writing very good]
True Grit, Screenplay by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen; Based on the novel by Charles Portis; Paramount Pictures [may not be as showy as some other Coen works but it's a great adaptation]
Enemies of the People, Written, Directed, Filmed and Produced by Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath; International Film Circuit
Freedom Riders, Written, Produced and Directed by Stanley Nelson; International Film Circuit
Gasland, Written and Directed by Josh Fox; HBO Documentary Films and International WOW Company
Inside Job, Produced, Written and Directed by Charles Ferguson; Co-written by Chad Beck, Adam Bolt; Sony Pictures Classics [brilliantly crafted]
The Two Escobars, Written by Michael Zimbalist, Jeff Zimbalist; ESPN Films [loved this film, tragic]
Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?, Written and Directed by John Scheinfeld; Lorber Films