Issue Twenty nine
Welcome to the latest edition of the Hollywoodscript.com Newsletter, which is published by script consultants Craig Kellem, Judy Kellem
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BIG CONGRATS to our latest contest winners, GEMINI PROJECT
written by Australia's Adrian Bertino-Clarke AND Joyce Capron for HAPPY, NORMAL.
With their permission, we'll keep you posted on how Adrian's sc-fi thriller and
Joyce's black comedy fare (after the plethora of exposure's about to received)
CONFESSIONS OF A SCRIPT CONSULTANT
By Craig Kellem
I love my work! I may not get rich but it feels important, challenging, and
And that's a lot!
I'm always aware of how vitally important the materials are to the authors and
writers out there. It really gooses up your sense of responsibility when you
realize that in your hands you're often holding a person's life's work, their
little dream etched out while others sleep, their hoping-to-be ticket out of
life and into another. Indeed, there's always a sense of underlying passion and
drama when hanging around this neighborhood, and an awareness that it's about
the possibility of dreams coming true.
Writers seem to crop up from the most unlikely places. Great ideas and art,
humor and passion coming out of the living rooms and kitchens of so called
soccer moms, docs who'd rather tell jokes, and lonely kids who are bursting with
important things to say. How strange it is to be invited into their lives. Me
almost faceless stranger involved on such an vital and intimate level. Talk
about an honor as I get to be the anonymous stranger who hopefully hears them
loud and clear, feels their passion, catches their voices, and can often do
something about making the material better, while being ever so careful not to
mess it up. And then there's always that juicy prospect that this will be the
one that you can hook up.
What fun and how exciting!
In the work that we do, what a wonderful and rich potpourri of experiences and
people we run into. Here's a taste--
_The L.A. pro who drives you nuts, wants
it fast, wants you now and yet is so
devoted and tenacious that it makes you understand why she's winning.
--The ladies in Nebraska who reflect their solid midwestern sensibilities in
their American historical drama, so precise in protecting the historical
integrity. How sweet it is when they so quaintly appreciate a good note and how
amusing it is to hear them whisper to each other as they confer in your ear.
---The writer to whom the extent of the problems with any initial draft matters
not. He understands the game. And with dogged patience and persistence he keeps
making it better, cheerfully hanging in until the material reaches the point
critical mass, which it always seems to do.
----Calls from panicked contest winners who now, flooded with requests to read
their scripts, are truly learning the meaning of, "success is when you trade
one set of problems for a better set of problems."
--The woman with whom you hit the groove, where you got into that amazing
creative zone which felt like good dancing, but who never came back.
--The writer who almost had it all together except for one friggin story thread
and how he kept needlessly changing the ENTIRE script to correct this one thing.
How you tried to close the gap on this one.
---The contest winner who finally had a great script, got real action on the
first round, but when things slowed down, he seemingly gave up on writing. Try
explaining to him that he's only just begun.
--The satisfaction you feel when a "novice" finishes a piece of work
quietly entered the hallowed chamber of professional writing but who has not
realized the implications of this momentous event.
--The previously ignored and isolated writer who finally pulls off a really
promising script and is now calling me to complain about the problems with his
-The writer who writes very adequately but has never grasped the notion that
scenes must contain intrinsic magic, who, after prodding and pain finally "gets
it," comes up with a "small" twist in a scene which completely
raises the level
of the entire sequence and, in its wake, changes her screenwriting philosophy
--The writing team who argued with each other throughout the consultation, while
I calmly sipped my coffee waiting for an opening to give the next note.
--The first time writer to whom I gave enough notes to keep William Goldman busy
for weeks who called me five hours after the consultation to proudly announce "I
have completed my revision."
--The attorney, wannabe-writer,
who thought his stuff sucked and you got to tell
him how wrong he was.
--And the many writers who, having hit that moment after working their tushes
off, where they're ONLY ready to hear that it works but who will stick to the
program when you tell them that it doesn't...yet.
Being a script consultant is also a constant form of creative challenge.
Although many scripts have obvious flaws (and these kinds of "calls" can
easy) others are much more subtle, and solutions require the same kind of
creative exploration that it takes to write a script in the first place. For
example, it is easy to become enamored with characters and texture, and yet a
story that's not strong enough can be a fatal flaw. But when you're in love with
the magic in other departments, it sometimes takes time to realize the story
deficiency and figure out how to tweak it up without upsetting the applecart.
In other cases, you can find yourself totally admiring a piece of work,
respecting its integrity but somehow just not loving it. And it sometimes
requires extra contemplation to figure out why.
Toiling in our developmental end of things, a.k.a. Works in Progress can also
very satisfying and occasionally frustrating. The frustration can come from
well-meaning writers who have the universal and usually dysfunctional
expectation that the touchdown can be attained on our own hurry -up wish-list
schedule. I recently conveyed this to a writer who was a bit too hungry and way
too early for the desired tears of joy and giggles that come with creative
satisfaction. I asked him to forget the tears and giggles and to please get back
Our society can make success look so easy, keeping the behind the scenes agony,
trial and error gymnastics, and general schlepping a professional secret.
On the other hand, developmental harmony can be a joy and it's dandy when you
hit a groove with a writer who has never written the "big one" and
when you both
suddenly realize you're in the orbit always dreamed about, but you're both
afraid say anything that might jinx the no-hitter.
And then there's the script that comes in from time to time which scores the
bullseye, knocks your socks off. Oh my, what can we do with this? Good things,
assure you. Because all good things begin with material that truly works.
Hi Craig -
I wanted you to be among the first to know that one of my scripts, THE SECRET
BOY, has been selected as a finalist in this year's Nicholl Competition.
In a very large part, the script's success is due to your invaluable
contributions at various stages in its development. I can't thank you enough
all the time, energy and commitment you provided, and as a matter of fact, I
still have most of your notes posted on my wall and refer to them regularly -
though I've moved on to another project.
I shall be contacting you again shortly to help me with my new script. In the
meantime - from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
- Whit Rummel
I got it! I really do! I finally see the script through your eyes. I see what
you mean about the killer showing up too early in Nick's house. And Nick's arc
starting too wimpy...and everything you honed in on...the outer space thing,
Kal's pathology...I see it and I know how to resolve it. It's like I finally
'get' my story. The four main arcs are clear to me now and I see how they can
naturally coalesce. The problems are truly all story related. The pacing and
order of the scenes in the arcs is just slightly off... This is gonna work,
Craig, I can feel it in my bones. And I owe a lot of it to you. Most of the
breakthroughs I've had came after working with you on a script.
CHARACTER --BUILDING BETWEEN THE LINES
By Judy Kellem
One of the key - and most challenging - aspects of screenwriting
is the use of
visual aids between the lines of dialogue. The descriptions that are threaded
throughout character voices are the screenwriter's prose-built camera within
script. It guides the reader's inner eye, dictating what s/he sees as the
characters talk, what details are worthy of noting. It reveals subtext, unveils
layers within a given scene, grows story, mood, suspense, tension under the very
noses of heroes and heroines. This word crafted lens directs the reader's gaze
to land on the gun in the corner of a room, to catch the taboo clasp of hands
under a diner table. It is the virtual eyepiece that allows the reader to be
voyeur of all, noticing that which the characters notice as well as everything
they may miss.
And most writers struggle with the management of this screenwriting equipment.
The majority I've spoken to get caught in the conventional "dos and don'ts" snag
of how this aspect of screenplay writing should be used, often wary of including
too much or too little and in doing so interfering with the director's vision
actors zeal for the part. Some do overkill, showing such blow by blow detail
that the script risks turning into a novel, running pages upon pages of solid
paragraph, where all good pacing is sacrificed and the reader is made to become
overly conscious of reading rather than viewing. Other writers keep their
material anorexic to the point the reader is moving through a dark tunnel of
but disembodied character voices in at best a foggy location.
It's not easy and finding the right balance most often comes from simply writing
then editing, writing then editing, until you can get a tight rein on what you
need your reader to see in order to guide them along your very controlled
Because when done right, the camera-like descriptions can be the genius of a
script and provide the most crucial story telling, emotion-building elements
the entire movie.
While recently re-watching The Godfather, I meditated on this very notion.
What is the Godfather about? A lot of things, the list of which I will not get
into. But at its very core the movie is a character study of the Al Pacino
character, Michael and his inability to deny the nature of who he really is.
What is interesting is that this character arc is primarily dramatized NOT
through plot turning action scenes or stellar dialogue but via the voyeuristic
visuals of this character's face.
The epic-long exploration of how one man tries to deny his nature and cannot
SHOWN to us in paused moments of his expression within a room, at glances at
HE glances, at the ways in which he looks at other characters. We see how he
shifts inside from being an innocent to a killer, a would-be "good American
citizen" to a powerful criminal, an honest man to a poker faced liar through
gentle observations we are asked to make of how his face changes.
When the Don is first shot, for example, we see Michael Christmas shopping with
his American girlfriend. There is a beat on him crouching to hear as he takes
the news on the crowded streets of New York and the next thing we know we are
the bosses' office with all the sons and his henchmen. Michael's face has
already visibly shifted, the continuity of his former demeanor swiftly
disappearing. We watch him sit quietly off to the side, taking in the room. We
see him watching, studying these men who are already trained killers,
well-adjusted foot soldiers for his father and the family business. The very
soft, boyish naivete of the opening earlier scenes has already faded. Now we
a sharpening in his eyes, a more pensive, calculating expressiveness which is
mixed in with the silent rage and grief he is also obviously experiencing. The
diplomatic, would-be worrier, the very wholesome gentle- ness of his appearance
so palpable at the start of the film is vanishing before us as we watch his
surveillance of the room. When he finally opens his mouth to speak, his gesture
has been foreshadowed: He announces he's the man to "off" the culprits,
of course makes the others laugh uproariously. Until THEY too take a second to
really look at him, see the seriousness of his expression and so the men begin
So too in the subplot of Michael's romances, do we visually follow the change
his persona. By the time he has been sent to live in exile in southern Italy,
we can see that his whole demeanor has been altered as he strides through the
hillsides with local farmers. When he comes upon the beautiful peasant girl,
Appoline, his look upon her is possessive, full of testosterone and machismo.
It is a far cry from the sweet, gentlemanly fellow who smiled shyly across the
table from his American girlfriend at the start of the movie.
Our eyes watch HIS eyes as the film progresses and his face arcs out for us the
very heart of the story. His paused looks, his study of others, his visible
thought process before speaking, provide the narrative connective tissue that
then makes the plot turning scenes, action sequences and dialogue so resonant.
When he finally pulls that trigger, we saw it coming through the most
underlying, hushed visual cues of him in varied given moments.
How does one write this?
Again, many would argue, well it's unwritable! It's all up to the actor and
But I would argue NO.
The screenwriter is the one putting the film in the reader's head. The
screenwriter's job is to convey to the reader how the story is being told. Yes,
the screenwriter's job is not to micromanage every single blocking move, every
camera angle, every prop and character gesture. The screenwriter does need to
leave room for creative interpretation.
But the screenwriter is entitled and expected to show the reader what they NEED
to see in order for the story to be aptly told.
So whether your movie is - like The Godfather - ultimately character driven,
the character is unfolded not so much through dialogue, action, plot development
but through the more subtle evolution of that quiet, camera lens between the
lines, or your film is more reliant on other aspects of the story telling
machine, it is always the screenwriter's prerogative to cultivate and fully
exploit the visual aid of that word-built camera. Keep that lens clean, well
trained on specific, narrative creating details. And enjoy what it can do for
It makes all difference between what we readers read and what we remember.
by Craig Kellem
Shame can be a strong and divisive emotion, especially for writers. It seems
surface at the very worst times and when we are most vulnerable. It's also an
occupational certainty, and how we deal with it can make a huge difference in
One of the major ways to offset this overwhelming negative sense is to first
digest the reality of the business. Accomplishing creative goals simply does
not come easy--for anyone. Behind the scenes of all great screenplays that
seemed to the outside observer to come so easily, was undoubtedly confusion,
lots of frustrating trial and error, periods that lacked inspiration, but most
devastating at all--feedback that made us feel insecure, and right next door
Our reaction to this feeling was often the same--either reject the creative
input, harden or give up!
But what if we knew in advance of these notes, feedback and "criticism" that
difficulty and even chaos was absolutely normal. Scott Peck's famous contention
that "life is difficult," and that "if we truly understand and
accept this, that
in a way life is no longer difficult," can be applied here in the sense
knowing that the path to creative success is loaded with potholes can allow us
to continue to live with our deepest dreams and enjoy their percolation while
our creative stance is temporarily in shambles.
We could also live with the notion that maybe a script which is (and will only
be) just okay, could be the necessary prerequisite for the one that eventually
does the trick.
What if every time we hear something ostensibly negative about our work, we
remembered that every writer worth his or her salt had or is going through this
exact experience as well, fully knowing that this is only part of the process
and should not in any way be taken personally. And when the sometimes
inevitable feeling of negativity and shame arises to the surface it can often
viewed as a positive, as it reminds us HOW PROFOUND AND VITAL THIS WORK IS TO
AND HOW MUCH WE CARE and how we need to remember to take a deep breath and stay
in the game because it is worth it. In fact you can think of it like first being
in love, always uncomfortable but usually worth the pain.
Hang in there. We all fret and blush. Avoiding it can be hazardous to our well
I WAS HIRED TO WRITE JOKES FOR JOHN WAYNE BOBBITT
(And Lived To Tell)
By Mark Miller
It was a day like any other, only this one started with an unusual classified
in the Hollywood trade paper, "Daily Variety." The ad proclaimed, "John
Bobbitt is embarking on a national comedy tour. Needs great writer with
stand-up experience. Fax resume and sample of work to A.M. Gordon Management."
I couldn't believe it. Could John Wayne Bobbitt, whose wife Lorena lopped
off his manhood, seriously be interested in standing in front of an audience
telling jokes about it? As it turned out, yes. And isn't this occurrence,
according to Nostradamus, one of the signs of the Apocalypse?
But this was no job for any prestigious writer who cared about his image, I
thought. After all, I had written for the likes of Jay Leno, Roseanne, Garry
Shandling, Rodney Dangerfield, Joan Rivers, and Carol Burnett. I was a
nationally syndicated humor columnist for the "Los Angeles Times." For
sake, I had a B.A. in English and American literature. I did my honors thesis
on "Selflessness As Fulfillment: The Character Of Virtue In Malamud."
But what about the character of virtue in Bobbitt? Here was a guy whose
specialties were partying without his wife, being selfish in bed, and verbal
physical spousal abuse.
I had absolutely nothing in common with him. Okay, maybe the selfishness in bed
thing, but otherwise, I'd have nothing to say to, or about, him. He disgusted
me and I felt he deserved what he'd gotten.
Later that day, I happened to glance at my bank account balance... Half an
hour later, I was faxing a letter and samples of my material to Bobbitt's
manager, telling him how eager I was to help turn John Wayne Bobbitt into the
next Bob Hope.
I got the job. Every person to whom I mentioned my Bobbitt assignment, had a
Bobbitt joke for me that they'd either heard, or had made up--including my
doctor, my mailman, and, I swear, my mother. I came this close to having to
wash mom's mouth out with soap. Payback.
For the first time in my career, my assignment was to write sex jokes. In
fact, Bobbitt's manager's letter to me actually contained the line, "Please
free to be vulgar and on the thin lines of decency, as that is what has made
this story the sensation that it is." As I read the letter, I heard a faint
whirring sound. It was Bernard Malamud spinning in his grave.
Bobbitt is given a performance coach, named Leslie Coogan, actor Jackie
Coogan's daughter, to help him learn to be a stand-up. Leslie's job involves
taking Bobbitt around to little clubs to try out the material. Which turns out
to be more difficult than we'd initially imagined, as Bobbitt suffers from
Attention Deficit Disorder. And it falls to us to transfer his attention from
his penis to the work he's now required to do. "Not unlike the task President
Clinton's strategy team had to face."
I meet Bobbitt for the first time, at Leslie's house in Malibu. He is a
compact, powerfully built man, with blue eyes. In the Marines, he'd trained
lieutenants in hand-to-hand combat. (Unfortunately, he himself turned out to
the victim of hand-to-gland combat.) He is likable, but soft-spoken, and speaks
in a monotone; clearly not a born performer. Still, he offers to show us his
re-attached penis. We're having lunch at the time, and take a pass on his
offer. For a guy who underwent that kind of trauma, he seems remarkably
I go home and continue working on the material. Leslie helps mold the
material into an act for Bobbitt, and takes him to the clubs, where he often
reads the jokes off index cards. But he's easily distracted--by his brothers,
his friends, his own insecurities and lack of discipline, and doesn't seem all
that motivated. It will be a miracle if he's ready for the planned kickoff
date of the John Wayne Bobbitt Sleep On Your Stomach Tour.
In addition, he keeps having to go back to Vegas to face paternity suits
from two different women, and domestic battery charges filed by his new fiance,
a Vegas topless dancer. (She takes it off for a living; he had it taken off and
lived.) Then there are his bar brawls, jail sentences, therapy sessions.
I end up writing nearly 100 jokes, such as: "I remember waking up in a pool
of blood, with my penis missing, and my first thought was, 'Y'know, this would
make a really amusing stand-up comedy routine.'"..."They told me they
to re-attach my penis using Micro-Surgery. I was humiliated. I wanted
Jumbo-Surgery"... "My medical and attorney bills are over $750,000.
brag, but that's $95,000 per inch"...
Perhaps this will become my specialty--getting victims and perpetrators of
heinous crimes into stand-up. In fact, if any of you have contacts with Joey
Buttafuoco, the Menendez Brothers, Charles Manson, or O.J. Simpson, please feel
them out on the possibility of their doing a nightclub act. We already know
Manson can sing and Simpson can act. The others must have hidden talents.
Perhaps Lyle Menendez yodels, or Joey Buttafuoco does mime. They can reach me
care of this website.
Sadly, Jeffrey Dahmer was killed before I was able to pitch him my idea for a
one-man show for him. It's called "An Appetite For Life."
Mark Miller has written for TV, movies and celebrities, been a professional
stand-up comedian, and a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.
is currently completing a religious screenplay titled "The Passion of The
Moses," and sincerely hopes both for world peace and for Paris Hilton to
his restraining order. He can be reached at email@example.com
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