Issue Twenty seven
Welcome to the latest edition of the Hollywoodscript.com Newsletter, which is published by script consultants Craig Kellem, Judy Kellem (http://www.hollywoodscript.com)
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The purpose of this newsletter is to share information, ideas etc. concerning the fascinating (and elusive) world of screenwriting.
OUR MONTHLY CONTEST continues to thrive. Our last three winners report copious action from agents and buyers which totally delights us. Torontos Matt Graver tells us that within days of his win he had a cash on the table OFFER from an independent producer of seven films which he ended up turning down as hes trying to produce the film himself and has substantive action in that realm now. Raphael Abrams reports that hes wading through lots of responses everything from a recent USC grad to a 90210 address and good stuff in between. Our latest winner Jim Janosky wrote to say, I'd like to keep the specifics of who I'm talking with under my hat for now but I've had many requests from production companies and managers for the script and a couple have already gotten back with very favorable responses. He was also generous in his comments about our work, you somehow guide the writer to the essence of their story, one scene at a time. You are relentless in your commitment. You get in the trenches with the writer and get muddy. You help the writer go into his heart and get what's in there on the page.
As many of you know our prizes for a win is great coverage and real industry exposure. Many of our winners have never won anything before and couldnt imagine it happening.
BUT IT DID!
Also, please check out the fine independent report card we received from MOVIEBYTES re our contest.
CONTEST REPORT CARD (MOVIEBYTES.COM)
Overall Experience: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Professionalism: 4 out of five stars
Feedback: 4 1/2 out of five stars
Contest Significance: 4 out of five stars
Check it out for yourself--
TWO GREAT THINGS TO KNOW:
"THE PURPOSE OF TECHNIQUE IS TO FREE THE TALENT.
PUT YOUR CHARACTER UP A TREE, HAVE THEM TRY TO GET DOWN BUT KEEP THROWING THINGS AT THEM.
SUBJECT LINE BLUES
PLEASE WHEN WRITING TO US PUT SOMETHING ABOUT WRITING IN THE SUBJECT LINE!!! WE SOMETIMES MISS IMPORTANT EMAIL BECAUSE OF SPAM. IF WE DONT GET BACK TO YOU, THATS PROBABLY THE REASON AS WERE VERY VIGILANT. PLEASE WRITE BACK!
Recently Judy and I were interviewed on radio/internet hookup by Voice America.com. The show is basically designed for up-and-coming filmmakers to provide insight into aspects of the filmmaking process, all in an effort to aid them on their journey. Heres the first half of the interview. The rest will be sent to you next month. THANX MUCHO TO OUR ABLE INTERVIEWER DEON VAN ROOYEN.
Voice America.com Interview with Hollywoodscript.com
Guests: Craig and Judy Kellem
Interviewed by: Deon Van Rooyen
D: Before writing word one, you need a good story. What in your opinion comprises a good story?
CK: Something that captures your imagination, which taps into something thats happening in real life that NEEDS to be expressed in some way
thats usually a great measuring stick. Something we need to know about or are upset with, or are curious about. Sometimes when you tap into something like this and it happens at the right time, great things can happen.
D: What are some of the ways writers prepare before plunging in?
JK: The first thing writers need to do is get very clear on their story. Great story telling comes down to some essential and universal truth that lies at the base of whatever the particular plot is, that touches and reaches people. It can be something very simple or something deeply complex and existential. Different writers work different ways. Some people have just a glimmer of an idea, in which case they have to go through a process of first fleshing it out with themselves, free writing and then narrowing it down into some kind of synopsis. Once they can put forward their main story in a page, they can start getting ready to go into the script writing process. They will begin to break it down into individual arcs, beat sheets, etc
CK: And one of the things you can do is not put pressure on yourself to have it come out of the hatch perfectly. One of the great luxuries in preparing a project is just to splatter it on the wall for a while. You have a hot idea --put it on an index card. What are some of the juicy moments you may have with a given character? Put it on the card and on the wall. Are you clear on a particular character arc or a subplot thats beginning to make sense? Just collect it all for a while; look at it, play with it and trust that the creative part of yourself now summoned, will give you more solid ideas, and notions on how to connect all the dots. A lot of people in todays world expect instant results and the creative process doesnt work that way. It needs time to gestate and grow.
JK: Right, its also very important because if you just jump in and do no prep work, it always comes up in the pages. If you write a hundred twenty pages of dialogue around one idea that hasnt been fleshed out, the reader feels it. The screenplay is like a shell and you have to go back and sometimes start from scratch because you cant build the entire movie around just a notion that hasnt been fully realized into a full story, plot, character, something thats very vital and has legs
D: Talk a little about plot and subplot.
CK: Movie making (via writing) is essentially good storytelling. A good story has a beginning, middle and end. It has surprises and some kind of a thematic outcome. And more than anything, you want the audience to passionately wonder whats gonna happen next! Writers often fall into contrivances when theyre developing material. They imitate art or what they think art is, rather than life. What you want to do is just tell a good story, thats essentially what it boils down to. I work with writers to whom I sometimes say, this doesnt make sense. Or its all over the place. Then I recite the story of Cinderella--they think, why is this guy telling me a fairy tale? Well I do it because this classic tale has a clear beginning, middle and end. It has surprises. It makes you root for a worthy protagonist. It has real bad guys (who get their comeuppance) and a theme etc etc. It TELLS well-- no ones gonna say I dont get it. If you can use these simple principles and techniques when youre crafting your own material, youll be way ahead of the game.
JK: I agree and just want to add, I think a lot of times the main plot writers think they are writing ISN'T in fact the focus of the screenplay. Often it is their primary subplot that proves the central most tale. So too with the characters. Though the writer has made one guy their hero, a side character seems to be the real apple of the writer's eye. So sometimes through the revision process, writers become very honest with themselves. They realize they were nervous or couldn't admit to themselves they wanted to write a love story, so they wrote a mystery. But in the end, it was obvious that the mystery really was bottom line a love story, and so on.
D: When you receive a script for analysis, are there specific steps that you follow and can you read it immediately without analyzing it?
JK: When I get material I get up really early and sit with it for many,many hours. I read it very carefully and every single thing that stops me - from a misspelled word or grammatical error to some glaring structural problem or character problem - I mark a page note right in the margins of the script. By the time I finish the script I have either stopped a million times or just a handful, depending on where the material is at. And then Ill digest everything that Ive read, go back and look at all the page notes, at what seemed to be the main things that were and werent working and get clear with myself about what the main problems are and then how they can be solved. What can be taken out, or put in, or developed or omitted, in order to make the next revision much stronger. Then depending on whether or not the screenwriter wants to have a phone conversation or summary email (usually people want to talk on the phone so theyll call me) Ill sit with the material in front of me, all marked up, and write or discuss what was great about the script, what still needs work and how the writer can begin to address those problems in very practical ways.
D: What are some of the more common mistakes writers make in the scripts you analyze?
CK: Theres a lot of them. Id say one of the great common mistakes is a lack of preparation, which I alluded to before. Professional screenwriters that I know have to do an enormous amount of prep work before they write the script and, in fact, more work is often done in the preparation than is done in the writing itself. You want to create a game plan thats so well put together and so full of nuggets, it practically writes itself. But there are very few people, writing on their own, who impose this kind of criteria on themselves. But in the real world of writing in Hollywood, you dont get to write the script until you fully write the story, preceded by lots of creative negotiations. Even if youre coming in and doing a humble sit-com youre in a creative interface right from the get go. For example, come to the producers office and pitch an idea, theyre probably going to be challenging you on certain aspects of the idea, which will immediately change the idea, adjustments have to be made etc. And then if you get the gig to write the script, you first have to write the story in narrative, for a sitcom it would probably be fifteen pages, for a feature forty or fifty. Im talking narrative. No dialogue.
The point is its all about prep work to begin with.
Then youll get three or four development people in your face for probably three rounds of drafts before someone decides whether or not the story will go to script. Now with that kind of a grueling process, youre bound to benefit from constructive checks and balances. Its a good system and I promise you, by the time the scripts ready to be written, youre way ahead of the game.
D: When you say prep work what kind of specific tasks are you referring to?
CK: Its taking an idea and fleshing and figuring it out. After all, you might have a tremendous idea but the idea is only an idea. The rest of it has to be invented. So who are your characters and what do they want and whos trying to stop them from getting it. And what are the subplots, what are the runners,-- is the idea really a good one etc. Better talk it through and see if its one of these notions that sounds good at three oclock in the morning when youre lying awake in bed
but does it sound good three days later when youre sitting in your office and youre imagining taking this to a motion picture company.
And then, what happens is you start to put together ideas for scenes, bits and pieces at first and try to connect with your characters in some way hopefully you connect with them on an emotional level, which to me is the most important thing that you can do - and then you start figuring out how to fill three acts:
Act One sets up the movie Do I have a set up? Is it exciting? Are the first pages going to engage people? Do I have an exciting act break at the end of thirty pages or so?
Act Two tells the story. I might have a great Act One in the setting it up part of things and a great Act Three, which pays it off, but do I have a movie? Act two will make you or break you. Its also as long as act one and three put together.
So, its the process of laying out your entire creative agenda and then besides figuring out what the story components are, who the characters are etc. Its also figuring out how to make the scenes intrinsically interesting. Because, scenes are not only units that tell a story, but they also need to provide intrinsic entertainment value. Is there anything that you can add that will make this something really special?
Hollywood writers spend enormous amounts of time with their invention, i.e. their screenplay blueprint, and once theyve got it right, once its absolutely together (doesnt mean theyre not going to make some changes) they know what theyve got and they know what theyre doing. Thats preparation.
Now, again, if youre working for somebody, theyre going to make sure that you know what youre doing because youre not going to get hired to write the script unless the story is satisfactory and, under the Writers Guild rules, you probably have three whacks at getting the story right --you have to make changes until they are satisfied.
D: In terms of language use, grammar, phraseology, etc. what kinds of things do you look for or jump out at you?
JK: I keep a close ear to how authentic the voice of the characters sound, whether or not all the characters in the movie sound exactly the same or if you can hear the actual characterization transmitting itself through the phraseology of each character. Another thing I notice is if there is a narrative voice overriding the screenplay. This is something I think is also connected to what Craig was saying about preparation. When you are very crystal clear about exactly what you are writing, what youre writing about, who youre writing about and all those character voices are alive and well in your mind, then when you actually sit down to start writing the screenplay, a lot of times what comes out is a certain level of persona. It transmits itself in the descriptions and stage directions, the way the readers eyes are directed to view the players. It pervades the material, can be incredibly charming or incredibly annoying or so neutral that it doesnt compel you one way or another. So those are the kinds of things I stay close to with native English speakers who are writing.
As you know I used to direct a school for English as a Second Language and taught all levels of ESL for a couple years (in Bologna, Italy). I now work with a lot of writers who are writing in English, but it isnt their native tongue. So in consulting with those writers, I try to help them get a better ear for American English, the cadence of how American characters would express themselves and the idioms they use, or what would seem a more natural way of expressing something in American English.
D: Can you talk a bit about the layering of scenes?
CK: Layering of scenes means that if youre writing a script and you know that youre stuck in an expositional kind of scene --like two guys in a bar having a conversation, you automatically know that this is going to be a problem because its a sedentary kind of situation, talk-oriented, which is not very mobile or cinematic. So, a positive knee jerk reaction to this would be to figure out some way to keep it more interesting, to find another element to spritz it up a little bit. So one thing you could do (for example) is have them play pool, a killer game of eight ball, where the subtext of the game is Im a tougher guy than you are. So you craft a terrific scene where they play an engaging game, and there is an enormous amount of tension and everybody is watching. It has a lot of macho meaning etc but, at the same time, every time they freshen their drink or chalk up their stick, they render the information they would have rendered in the sedentary scene. The audience never knows that the real purpose of the scene was to transmit information, they think it was a cool game of pool.
D: The movie O, which is out on video, was one you consulted on. What was the state of the script when you first received it and what was your contribution?
CK: You never know when a movie that you work on will get made. But the writer was a professional by the name of Brad Kayya, whos a pretty hot writer now, hes written several movies, and
Ive done several scripts for him and this one was a while back. It takes a long time to make a movie
so I do not remember the specifics of it. What I do remember was that I was glad that it got made and I like Brad, I think hes a terrific writer.
D: You guys have a newsletter as well on the website, how can people sign up for that?
JK: Just go to our website, which is www.hollywoodscript.com , then right on the front page you can click on the box entitled newsletters and look at all the issues which have been published and/or look at specific articles or interviews
CK: We have a bunch of things that we do for free: Our newsletter, a mini consultation if somebody wants to call either one of us just to chat about their project. We also look at query letters for free and we have many different services including a free monthly contest. Theres only two of us in the company so its relatively easy to win the contest if the script is really good--its not like you have five hundred scripts competing with each other and its free to our clients. Weve had a tremendous amount of luck with this contest had a guy two winners ago that received fifty requests to read his script. And weve had a lot of people who have been optioned, and obtained representation. Plus its just nice to be recognized.
MORE OF THIS INTERVIEW TO COME NEXT MONTH.
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