Making It As A Screenwriter

Writer/director Adrian Mead’s a six-part series looking at how to build a career as a screenwriter, packed with ideas and inspiration for the budding writer.

VIA: scottishbooktrust

Making It As A Screenwriter 1: Introduction

In this introduction he sets out the plan for the series, and establishes his perspective and focus.

Making It As A Screenwriter 2: No Tortured Artists Need Apply

In the second episode, Adrian Mead moves on to look at the subject of motivation. Before setting up as a screenwriter, it is important to honestly assess your motivations, and in the video Adrian sets out some good questions to ask of yourself.

Making It As A Screenwriter 3: The Bouncer’s Code

In this third episode of Adrian Mead’s Screenwriter series, the gloves come off and the writer/director gets serious about the difference between hoping for something and getting out there and making it happen. Adrian’s former experience as a bouncer comes in handy as he lays down his no-nonsense principles for success!

Making It As A Screenwriter 4: Getting Started

You’ve decided to be a writer, but how can you discipline yourself to actually do it? So many people who aspire to be writers fall at the first hurdle; they never get round to writing. In Part 4 of our series, Adrian Mead offers practical and simple techniques to help overcome false starts and actually get writing.

Making It As A Screenwriter 5: When Will I Be Famous?

When it comes to the crunch, anyone embarking on a career as a professional writer of any sort is aiming to succeed. But what kind of expectation is realistic, and how can you ensure that your own hard work is eventually recognized? As always, Adrian has practical and knowledgeable pointers to the answers.

Making It As A Screenwriter 6: You’re Not The Boss Of Me

In the last part of the series Adrian sets out some guidelines for making clear, quantifiable goals. The rest is up to you!

Content and Control for Online Film

By Jon M. Garon
Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell, PC

The rules for creating, marketing and distributing films derive from a host of different sources. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences controls the rules for the Academy Awards statuette, the Oscar, while collective bargaining agreements with various trade unions require that their members participate only in projects that meet with the approved production contract terms and conditions. Some of these rules come from industry collective bargaining agreements while others come from terms and conditions of contracts that have become standardized throughout the industry. Creators of new media need to understand these norms and anticipate how to seek accommodations to achieve their goals.

Union Jurisdiction

In the latest round of collective bargaining agreements involving the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (“AMPTP” or “Producers”) with the various trade unions, the unions and Producers agreed to allow the existing unions jurisdiction over new media, while allowing the Producers to negotiate on a project by project basis for many of the members’ services. Among the unions involved are the Writers Guild of America (“WGA”), the Directors Guild of America (“DGA”), International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (“IATSE”), the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (“AFTRA”), and after a much delayed agreement, the Screen Actors Guild (“SAG”). As described by IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb, “[t]his new agreement both protects members and allows new media to evolve.”

The terms provided in the WGA agreement are representative. The agreement includes a new media side letter guaranteeing payment minimums and residuals for its members. The WGA side letter differentiates residuals based on three categories of content: “New Media Productions Derivative of Dramatic Programs (other than Daytime Serials);” “New Media Productions Derivative of Comedy-Variety Programs and Daytime Serials;” and “All Other Types of Derivative New Media Productions.”

Because of the transitional nature of productions created for the Internet, the collective bargaining agreements are flexible regarding their coverage:

Coverage shall be at the Company’s option with respect to “Experimental New Media Productions.” An “Experimental New Media Production” is defined as any Original New Media Production (1) for which the actual cost of production is either: (a) $15,000 or less per minute of program material as exhibited, or (b) $300,000 or less per single production as exhibited, or (c) $500,000 or less per series of programs produced for a single order; and (2) the literary material for which has not been written under employment by, or acquired from, a “professional writer,” as that term is defined in Article 1.C.1.b. of the [Minimum Basic Collective Bargaining Agreement].

Signatory companies that make original content with a lower budget and not using protected members of the union can do so without following the collective bargaining agreement. If the budget is higher or if the writer meets the collective bargaining definition as a “professional writer,” then the WGA will try to require the Producer to pay the writer according to the motion picture provisions of the collective bargaining agreement.

Similarly, the 2009 collective bargaining agreement between SAG and AMPTP has many of the same provisions. Among the terms included in the 2009 SAG Basic Agreement were those related to new media, defined as “audiovisual entertainment programs that are made for the Internet, mobile devices or any other ‘new media’ platform known” on the date of agreement ratification. Because significant disagreement exists whether SAG and the other unions have jurisdiction over new media, the tentative compromise includes a provision that derivative works from covered productions are within SAG’s jurisdiction as well as original productions below a certain dollar threshold or using SAG members who have limited production credits. By implication, as with the WGA side letter, those productions made by AMPTP signatories to the 2009 SAG Basic Agreement which fall outside the two categories of productions would be treated by the union as covered by the theatrical motion picture provisions of the 2009 SAG Basic Agreement. The result is continued ambiguity and expectations for a difficult negotiation when the contract is revised in 2011.

Like the other unions, AFTRA extended its jurisdiction to new media under the most recent round of negotiations. In addition, AFTRA is a more significant union for video games and interactive content.

The AFTRA Interactive Media Agreement covers performers who perform primarily in interactive programs i.e., personal computers, games, arcade games, etc., as well as entertainment programming such as computer and video graphic animation and/or tape video animation that portray characters for the purposes of a microprocessor based game which be manipulated by the user.

AFTRA’s jurisdiction may be more relevant to the Internet than some of the other trade unions, however, it is unclear whether it has had much impact on forcing producers of videogames and interactive content to sign its collective bargaining agreement.

Regardless of the particular union involved, the terms of the various new media agreements provide significant payment obligations for the re-use of content created for one online project in another project. Producers willing to enter into collective bargaining agreements must be mindful of these financial obligations which will continue well past the initial time window for the online distribution. Although the unions did not achieve many of their goals during the recent collective bargaining agreement negotiations, the jurisdictional concessions over Internet media will likely prove historically critical to their continued role.

On Set Marketing and Promotion

Just as the collective bargaining agreements set out a normative rule-set for production and the payments for cast and crew, the standardized agreements common to film production companies and distributors tend to have this same effect. While the particular provisions may vary somewhat from transaction to transaction, these agreements are roughly the same throughout the industry. For producers hoping to take full advantage of the growing curatorial audience involvement, some of the standard contractual provisions could produce unanticipated problems and need to be revised to achieve the producer’s goals.

One of the most significant aspects for a film involves the intersection of social media to the promotion of that film. The modern technology proves both a benefit and bane for traditional filmmaking. Filmmakers complain that they can rarely shoot scenes in public without those scenes being recorded on cell phone cameras and posted to YouTube or other sites. As Steve Daly wrote in Sets Under Siege!, (Entertainment Weekly, June 6, 2008 at 89) “Of all the battlefronts in the spoiler wars, location shoots are the places where filmmakers and show creators feel the most exposed, the most overtly under siege and maybe the most powerless to plug leaks.”

Producers working in this environment have only a few options. They can move the scenes to indoor sets, relocate to exterior private property that is well away from public access and view, or change their marketing strategies. The change in marketing strategy may mean releasing more information about the filming during production. Better, the theory goes, to be the source of the information than to play catch-up with it. Again, Steve Daly:

Comic-book movies, a dominant genre these days, can’t set foot outside without first doing controlled photo shoots to show off the snazzy hero and villain getups that fans are anxious to see. Otherwise, the Net will be full of fuzzy, grainy amateur shots within hours of filming, and soon after that, inevitably, posts complaining that the movie looks like crap. “It directly affects PR, and drives when you release images to the public,” says [Marvel Studios production chief Kevin] Feige. “We want to be the first ones to unveil it. Not some scooper with a camera phone.”

Inevitably, film companies must learn to embrace this aspect of production marketing. The marketing of a modern movie begins well before the film is finished. New media can help. Social networking tools such as tweeting, blogging posting videos to YouTube and websites can be used to build awareness of a production and develop a following for the film. The indie cult hit The Blair Witch Project is generally credited with initiating this trend. “In 1998, a year before The Blair Witch Project was released, its creators built a bogus Web site based on the film’s plot about three missing documentary filmmakers and their found footage. Visitors fell for it hook, line and sinker, creating an urban legend and, unintentionally, the first viral marketing campaign.”

The film company should maintain a Web site with select photographs and stories that emphasize the central marketing elements of the movie. The writers, director, and producer may wish to make selective event appearances to promote those same central elements. Film companies tend to get caught up in the details of making of the movie, but marketing is about reinforcing the reasons to attend the finished film. Rather than providing a weekly update on principal photography, an e-mail newsletter should focus on reminding the core audience why the forthcoming movie will benefit their community and be worth the wait.

The challenge for producers of controlling on set marketing may come from within the production as well as from the outside. When things go wrong on the set, too many personal cameras, cell phone and other devices are at the ready to spread the gossip. Producers generally obtain legal control over information regarding their projects, as illustrated by the typical contractual provision:

21. Confidentiality; Publicity. Company shall have the exclusive right to issue and to license others to issue advertising and publicity with respect to the Picture, and Artist shall not circulate, publish, or otherwise disseminate any such advertising or publicity without Company’s prior written consent. Artist hereby grants to Company the right to issue and authorize publicity concerning Artist, and to use Artist’s name, voice, and likeness and biographical data in connection with the distribution, exhibition, advertising, and exploitation of the Picture. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, Company may use Artist’s name, voice, and likeness provided reference is made to the Picture or the literary property or screenplay upon which the Picture is based, or any part thereof, or to Artist’s employment hereunder, and provided Artist is not represented as using or endorsing any product or service.

Despite the legal rights, however, little can be done to stop such posts. Future versions of these provisions will include language making blogs, tweets, photographs and video/film explicitly within the control of the production company. At the same time, however, building audience interest through well chosen content could build the fan base.

Just as production companies are expected to deliver hundreds of on-set publicity photographs for use by the distributor, some distributors may expect production companies to begin building an audience with on-set blogs, tweets, e-mail and posts.

Some of these posts will come from the cast and crew. Others could potentially come from the characters themselves. An interesting example of this marketing has been deployed for the Focus Features film, 9, an animated film directed by Shane Acker. Well before the film’s release, “The 9 Scientist,” the lead human character in this animated feature, began updating “his” Facebook page. According to the Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, “Facebook users provide their real names and information, and we need your help to keep it that way. … You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission.” By the terms of the Facebook license, to run the marketing campaign used in 9, Focus Films is required to obtain Facebook’s permission. Since The 9 Scientist is clearly a fictional character describing the pre-story of the film, there is likely to be little confusion among the Facebook users. For other projects, however, the ability to use social media to generate interest in the story and to create the impression of a true life story using fictional posts is quite powerful. Producers using the technique should be cognizant of the terms of service agreements, however, if they choose to blur the lines between fact and fiction.

Marketing Control – Producer v. Distributor

The challenge for the film producer is that potential distributors may have different goals regarding the marketing of the project. If the pre-release campaign does not work, the failed marketing will add an additional impediment to the sale of the film. In essence, the independent producer needs two hits; she must bank on both the quality of the film and the quality of the campaign in order to attract distribution. If the marketing approach is successful, however, and a large following has been built for the production, then it should be less expensive to promote and therefore attract more potential distributors.

Once the production finds a distributor, the locus of control will switch to the distributor. The typical distribution agreement will require total transfer of any copyrightable material to the distributor for the term of the agreement in all media, including the Internet and all social media. Although the term “social media” and its components (such as blogs, tweets, posts, etc.) are not yet typically described in these agreements by name, the contracts utilize the concept of all media now known or hereafter created which sufficiently cover these evolving technologies.

Producers hoping to control their film’s marketing campaigns throughout distribution must be much more explicit in terms of their plans. The agreement between the producer and distributor should specify which of the companies will pay the costs of the Derivative New Media Productions and be responsible for the payment of the residual fees. The agreement should also identify which company will be posting the content and managing the content online. The distributor will expect that the producer has control over all content involving the production and media surrounding the production. As a result, blogs, tweets, websites and other material based on the content of the production which has been created by cast and crew during the shoot may be considered part of the material that the distributor acquires as part of the distribution agreement. (Comments about life on set and other personal tweets and blog entries should not be said to fall within these standard agreements. ) If the producer has allowed this material to be created by cast and crew without any control or oversight, there may be a problem between the distributor who believes the contract assigns it exclusive ownership of this ancillary content and the individual creators of the material who may not consider it to be within the scope of the employment agreements they signed.

Also important to productions utilizing social networking is the obligation to police the use of the content by third parties. While it is naïve to expect that any company can successfully remove all content from the Internet that was once lawfully posted but no longer desired, the duty to take down the company’s own material and request removal by other companies should be specified. This difficulty is one of the topics unfortunately not dealt with in the collective bargaining agreements regarding New Media Productions. The contracts provide for residuals based, at least in part, on the number of weeks particular material is posted to the Web. Such methodology ignores the viral nature of the Internet, the ability of the curatorial audience to collect and repost this content, and the diffuse control inherent in online communities. A more realistic definition would set the number of weeks as based on the producers or distributors own websites and that content which is directly under the contracting party’s control. Unions, however, may legitimately fear that this would encourage producers and distributors to actively encourage the theft of this content so that the content would be posted in a residual-free manner. At the moment, this ambiguity remains yet another potential trap for the unwary producer.

The control over the Derivative New Media Productions can create problems in other ways as well. Film distributors generally require a guarantee that the material is original. The delivery requirements for a typical film distributor will provide that “[n]either the Picture nor any part thereof has been released, distributed or exhibited theatrically, non-theatrically, by means of television or by any other medium in the Territory, nor has it been, and it will not be, banned by the censors of, or refused import permit or entry into, any part of the Territory.” If material has been distributed online, however, during the production, then that material will fail to meet the obligation that it has not been previously seen.

The best way to anticipate this problem will be for the producer to collect all the material that the production company has posted online and include that material, along with a written index, as a set of exceptions to the originality provision of the distribution agreement. A producer should not sign the distribution agreement if she knows that the production company is in breach. By adding a list of exceptions to the obligations, both parties to the agreement understand what has occurred prior to the film sale. If too much material has been distributed or if the distributor does not like the material distributed, it may lead to the distributor refusing to buy a film, but this is much better than the producer finding that she is in material breach of the agreement.

An additional wrinkle may be caused by the contractual obligation to deliver a film that meets a certain MPAA rating. The Classification and Rating Administration (“CARA”) operated under the MPAA regulates both the content of motion pictures and the trailers which are shown before films. Green Band trailers are rated “G” while Red Band trailers are rated above that, typically “R.” Historically, theatrical exhibitors would not show Red Band trailers, even before R-rated movies. Some distributors have elected to use the Internet to avoid the discomfort of the exhibitors, which is putting increased pressure on the exhibitors to allow more Red Band trailers. Other distributors, however, are not so comfortable with this strategy. Moreover, the decision to post unrated material prior to the theatrical release may run afoul of the CARA rating system and further frustrate the expectations of the distributor. Again, the danger is not in the strategy so much as adopting a strategy without a clear understanding between producer and distributor.

If the standard agreement is signed without having discussed these topics and modifying the form agreement, legal liability may attach for content the producer is using online.

Equally important, however, is the recognition that fear of this liability may lead to underutilizing the tremendous potential for audience development. To maximize the opportunity for the project, the producer and distributor must agree in advance on the curatorial audience development strategy, including the amount of material which will be posted, the various technologies to be used, and the impact such material will have on the rating process. If these steps are taken, the production will maximize its chance of building an audience.

The Never-Ending Final Cut

At the other end of a motion picture’s life cycle comes the increasingly common phenomenon of alternate cuts. Billboard reports that the practice of simultaneously releasing two or more versions of a video release began with an unrated director’s cut of The Lawnmower Man in 1992. Up until that point special edition versions of a movie were released “subsequent to [the] regular home video release.” Throughout the early 1990’s other distributors also expand the use of NC-17 or unrated versions as part of their video release. With the ability to market unrated versions of movies on the Internet, the practice has grown increasingly popular.

The continued improvement in technology will lead to an increase in the amount of editing that can be done by the filmmaker after the movie has been released. Third party software can be legally used to skip select content on a film. Though not specifically allowed under the Copyright Act, it may also be possible to add additional material and program the playback device to incorporate this new material into the version presented. Undoubtedly, if a party were to create an unauthorized version of a film with additional material, that new work would be an unauthorized derivative work, constituting copyright infringement. If instead, the new material were never added to a copy of the original work and were available only for home viewing and not for public performance, then a legitimate question remains whether or not the composite private performance is also an unauthorized derivative work.

The question may be more than theoretical. The distinction between narrative film and video games is eroding. Software exists to create composites of materials from various files on a computer hard drive or hosted on the Internet. All that remains is an innovative artist to create video mash-ups that integrate material destined for new versions of the work into the original work. If the creative artist building this model is the producer, however, the distribution agreement would need to be significantly modified. These inserts would likely be covered in the material assigned to the distributor, requiring the distributor’s acquiescence to build such an enterprise.

If the producer and distributor were both agreeable, then the use of this technology could enable the participation of the audience in creating content to be uploaded and integrated into the content already produced. Such an integration of audience content with professional content would create a new genre of material, essentially a form of motion picture fan fiction. While such a new medium would require careful negotiations with the trade unions and creators involved in the project, the potential is tremendous.

A second variant on the never-ending story is the continuation of story-lines using web-posted vignettes and other short projects created as derivative works from the original. These Derivative New Media Productions are the primary focus of the collective bargaining agreements and likely to be exploited by a growing number of production companies. These additional vignettes or webisodes may be created by the original film producer or the content owners may encourage fans to create their own related content. These producers encourage the audience to stay involved with the characters, to expand the scope of the story, and to legitimize fan fiction in a variety of media. Nonetheless, to be successful, these webisodes will still require a good deal of time, effort and creativity to be successful. The most popular of these projects will enhance the brand.

As the line between marketing and original content further erodes, producers and distributors can exploit the natural behavior of the curatorial audience to assist in content distribution. At the 2009 Comic-Con, for example, producers of the ABC television show Lost staged live-action skits to accompany the webisodes they aired at the event. The producers fully expected the panel to be filmed by news outlets and audience members and posted on YouTube and other sites across the Internet. The webisodes and live-action content engaged the live audience at the panel, which in turn deployed a powerful distribution army after the event. The goal, as the producers explained, was not to find a new audience, but to keep Lost relevant to the audience in its final season. The model highlights the importance of maintaining an affinity relationship with the audience; not merely introducing new content.

Total Engagement – Financing through the Crowdfunding Pre-Sale

In addition to the standard delivery terms which may need to be modified in order to allow social-media savvy producers to engage the curatorial audience, there is one last opportunity for the filmmakers to connect directly with their fans. Using the technique known as “crowdfunding,” a producer can pre-sell credits in the film or other goods and services in an effort to pre-finance the production.

See our column on Crowdfunding for Film for more on this financing opportunity.

This is part of a series of book excerpts from Independent Filmmaking, The Law & Business Guide for Financing, Shooting & Distributing Independent & Digital Films designed as an introduction to the many legal issues involved in the filmmaking process.

When All That’s Left Is Writing: Turning Anxiety Into Creativity

by Dennis Palumbo

An old deodorant commercial once proclaimed, ‘If you’re not a little nervous, you’re really not alive.’

Pretty sage advice, even though the only thing at stake was staying dry and odor-free. But there is something to be said for accepting — and learning to navigate — the minor turbulences of life. I’m talking here about common, everyday anxiety. The jitters. Butterflies.

This is particularly true for writers, whose very feelings are the raw materials of their craft. No matter how mundane, the small anxieties can swarm like bees, making work difficult; distractions, like an impending visit from the in-laws, money worries, or that funny noise the Honda’s been making.

Then there’re the more virulent, career-specific anxieties, shared by few in other lines of work: Your agent hasn’t returned your phone calls. You’re three weeks past deadline with the script. You have—dare I say it? — Act Two problems.

In other words, you’re a clone of the Charlie Kaufman character in ‘Adaptation’– bleary-eyed, unshaven, sleep-deprived, staring pathetically at the empty computer screen, hoping for inspiration and yearning for another cup of coffee, and maybe a nice banana-nut muffin. A dozen nagging, self-mocking thoughts echo in your head: You’re untalented, a fraud. You’re getting old and fat. No woman (or man) will ever want to sleep with you again. Your life is over.

These kinds of feelings require work, to be sure, if only to be validated (and then gently challenged) by a supportive therapist, mate, good friend, or fellow writer who’s been there, done that. These deeply embedded, childhood-derived, seemingly inescapable Dark-Night-of-the-Soul feelings can, in fact, be crippling, regardless of your level of craft or years of experience. And believe me, when it comes to these writer demons, we’ve all ‘been there, done that.’

And, as I’ve said countless times to the writer clients in my practice, struggling with these doubts and fears doesn’t say anything about you as a writer. Other than that you ARE a writer.

Frankly, this difficult emotional terrain is where a writer lives much of the time — in a matrix of triumphs and defeats, optimism and despair, impassioned beliefs and crushing deflations. In the end, it’s all just grist for the creative mill.

And, believe me, this is equally true for both beginning writers and accomplished, battle-hardened veterans.

But there’s another kind of anxiety that emerges occasionally in a writer’s life: the kind of gut-wrenching, dizzying upheaval from within that throws everything you think you know into doubt and that scares you to the very core. A shattering divorce. The death of a family member. A spate of sudden, inexplicable panic attacks. Terrorism. War.

Then, what balm is there to offer — or to receive — that doesn’t seem trivial or woefully inadequate? Catharsis and validation, the foundation of most psychotherapeutic work, feel like mere word games. Medication, while often clinically appropriate, seems at best an armoring against something primal that’s working within you.

What is a writer to do with that level of anxiety?

Use it.

Because when all that’s left is writing, writing’s all that’s left.

What kind of writing? Maybe numbed-out and shapeless at first; chaotic and unsatisfying. Maybe dark and ugly, or self-pitying and shameless. Maybe a blind, angry clawing at the air with words and images.

The important thing to acknowledge, to accept and to make use of is the fact of the anxiety — its weight, its size, and its implacability at this time in your life, for whatever reason. It’s there, as immoveable as a brick wall; as deep and fathomless as a sea.

And, for now, it isn’t going anywhere.

So you, the writer, must ask yourself this question: Is there a character in the story I’m working on who feels such anxiety; who feels as overwhelmed, as out of control, as terrified as I?

If so, plunge headlong into writing the hell out of that character, giving him or her your voice, your fears, your dreads. Create situations and scenes in which these anxieties are dramatized, exploited, ‘acted out.’

Write monologues, rants, vitriolic exchanges between characters, letting passions and behaviors emerge that may astound or alarm you; that stretch or distort or even demolish the narrative you’ve been working with. These problems can all be dealt with, deleted, perhaps even woven into the story later, in the cool light of day, when you have some kind of perspective.

Because to be truly in the eye of the emotional storm, to create from a state of anxiety, is to surrender any fantasy of perspective. In fact, in the purest sense, it’s the ultimate act of creative surrender from which, out of the crucible of your deepest pain, you might discover a joyful, wonderful surprise.

If, however, you feel so impotent in the face of your anxiety that you can’t even imagine utilizing it in this way, then write about that feeling — even if you have no characters whose voices you can appropriate; even if your fingers tremble at the thought of making narrative sense out of the inchoate feelings inside you.

Do this: put those trembling fingers on a keyboard, RIGHT NOW, and start stringing words together that reflect how you feel…without context, or narrative, or character. Just raw feeling, in as many vivid, living words as you can call forth.

Then look at what you’ve written. Feel whatever it is you’re feeling. And write some more. Soon, I believe, you’ll have a sense of the logjam cracking. You’ll feel the urgency of creative expression, the palpable release of banked anxiety. Without judging what comes, without needing it to be anything, I think you’ll find yourself writing, even if that’s just defined, for the moment, as putting words down on a page.

Does the idea of this exercise itself make you anxious? Doesn’t surprise me. We’re all pretty scared of writing out of the very emotional space we’d most like to avoid or deny. It’s human nature.

But for those artists who have the courage to embrace their own fears, to stay conscious and connected in what seems like an ever more dangerous world, to co-exist with potentially crippling anxiety and write anyway, the rewards can be significant.

Moreover, when all that’s left is writing…
Writing’s all that’s left.
So trust it. Trust yourself.
And write.

Dennis Palumbo, M.A., MFT, formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter; etc.), is now a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in Los Angeles. Palumbo specializes in helping new and established screenwriters, directors, and novelists address creative issues, as well as those involving mid-life and career transition.

Dennis’ widely praised column, “The Writer’s Life,” appeared for six years in Written By, the magazine of the Writers Guild of America. He’s been recently profiled in Premiere magazine, the L.A. Times, CNN and in Variety magazine; he presents workshops and lectures on creativity throughout the U.S. and Europe.

His book “Writing from the Inside Out” is a perennial favorite title at the Writers Store.

Source with permission: The Writers Store

After Effects & Photoshop Tutorial – Growing Vine Animation

This 3 part video tutorial shows you how to create a Animated Growing Vine using After Effects and Photoshop. The first video focuses on Photoshop and how to set up the vine image so that it can be easily imported into After Effects. The second and third parts focus on the After effects side and how to animate the vines using the Write-On effect.

VIA: Dudeinadrama

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

How to increase the Canon 7D dynamic range

Tutorial on how to use picture styles to increase the dynamic range of the Canon 7D / 5DMkII.

Custom picture styles are an amazing feature that almost compensate for the lack of a raw codec for video capture on the Canon DSLRs. The default picture styles on the camera are geared towards producing nice results out of the box but are not very good if you intend to do color correction and grading in post processing. This tutorial shows how to use custom picture styles that produce very flat, high dynamic range footage (similar to real film cameras).

VIA: Luka

The actual picture styles have been made by other people, and here are some references:
Super Flat, Genesis Panalog and Velvia:

Marvel’s Cine Style:

If you have problems downloading them, you can get them from here in one package ( I do however recommend that you get them from the original sources and read the forum posts/blog posts associated with them.

The final example footage was shot hand held (Zacuto rapid fire + zfinder) at Skogskyrkogarden cemetery in Stockholm.

The Five S’s of Screenwriting

by Kate Wright

Working with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Jason Miller and the legendary Tennessee Williams offered me a tremendous entrée into the magical world of storytelling. As American icons, their extraordinary talent inspired the world; and as screenwriters, their remarkable ability to work through the visceral process of storytelling taught me that great stories communicate simple truths that reflect the poetic dimensions of the human soul. Not only do powerful characters help us understand our lives, their stories reflect our core values as human beings. But how do we create these ideas and feelings as a story for the big screen? How can we be certain that a screenplay delivers the maximum impact, both emotionally, and as entertainment? Here are five steps from the trenches – the Five S’s of Screenwriting – that invite you into the process: 1) Story 2) Storytelling 3) Structure 4) Sequences and 5) Spine.


Story creates the deeper understanding about human nature that we experience when we hear or see what has happened to another human being. Whether it’s an incident in the life of someone we know, the true-life experience of someone in the news, the adventures of a fictional character, or the heroic life of a compelling historical figure, we are fascinated by the progression of events that a human being encounters, and this progression of events is called plot. However, what engages our imagination on a human level is how the main character reacts to this progression of events, and this cumulative insight is called story.

A good story features a main character, or protagonist, who confronts a strong moral choice. This is true in comedy as well as drama, and the best stories feature a protagonist who struggles with identifiable human flaws. The moral choice can be very simple or complex, but it must test the inner moral strength of the main character against his human flaws, not just toward achieving his outward goal, but through his internal transformation, which occurs in his conscience and emotional life. As the story progresses, the hero confronts other characters and situations that support, negate, and challenge his ability to overcome the odds and achieve his goal, but what is satisfying to the audience is the internal triumph that occurs throughout the external struggle, such that, at the end of the story, the audience understands in a profound way what the story is about.


Storytelling is how we tell the story. It’s a process, rather than a formula. Storytelling begins with defining what the story is about as an idea. This is usually called theme, although theme is more subtle than an abstract idea. It’s what we feel about the story, as revealed through the moral dilemma of the main character, in opposition to other characters. For example, if you were writing a story about freedom, an interesting approach would be to create a world where the main character longs for freedom, but is subjected to servitude by his life situation, or imprisoned as a consequence of his actions. Alternately, if you were creating a story with trust at its dramatic center, there would be strong elements of betrayal within the opposing elements and characters of the story.

The second major storytelling decision is defining where the story begins. Most writers take the easy way out. They begin with back story. The result is a story that never takes off until about page 40. Ugh! The preferable approach is to pinpoint the theme of the story, based on the main character’s inner conflict. Die Hard, starring Bruce Willis, is a great example. The story begins with a man who is afraid to fly whose goal is to win back the love and respect of his family. He confronts a hostage situation involving his estranged wife, and all of a sudden, his courage is tested to the max. The combination of his internal conflict and simple goal, together with the challenge of the hostage situation sets the story into fast motion, from beginning to end.

The third storytelling decision is choosing the genre that tells the story. Genre tells the audience how they should feel about the story, whether they should laugh, smile, cry, think, scream, or just enjoy the ride. Genre is so crucial to the movie-going experience, some screenwriters begin with a genre, and then create the idea and story concept.

The fourth storytelling task is creating a point-of-view character within the story. This character interacts with the main character throughout the story to help the audience understand what is going on inside the main character. Interestingly, the point-of-view character also serves as the storyteller inside the story through which you, as writer, establish yourself. Although this is a difficult task at the onset, frequently we, as writers, make this decision unconsciously during the first draft. Despite our conscious efforts, the point-of-view character jumps off the page, easily recognizable by readers.


Structure is form. Screenplay structure is invisible form. Syd Field, who is internationally recognized for his landmark book Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, defines screenplay form in three-act structure better than anyone else, which is why his work is widely respected among professionals:

The Set-up establishes the main character and dramatic situation.

The Act I Plot Point features the main character’s primary story decision, in opposition to the antagonist.

The Mid-Point is the moment when the main character is forced into the antagonist’s world, thereby redefining the story premise, this time by the antagonist.

The Act II Plot Point is the lowest point in the story where the main character has been defeated by the antagonist and lost his motivation.

The Ending is the last ten pages, wherein the main character realizes a deeper understanding of his struggle, and summons up the courage to defeat the antagonist.


As a producer, I enjoyed learning the art of creating sequences by working with directors and editors in the editing room. This is one of the hallmarks of my approach to screenwriting, which is why it is prominently featured in my upcoming book. Although this can be a complex task, for purposes of discussion, here are some basics to get you started thinking in film sequences:

Each scene is made up of a series of shots. Each sequence is made up of a series of scenes. Each sequence builds upon the next sequence to create story progression. Story progression occurs when story sequences build upon one another in a logical way, moving the story forward through character conflict. In a major motion picture, or studio picture, there are usually 12 sequences that build towards the final climax. The story moves forward in 12 major story beats, or film sequences, that reflect the 12-Sequence Story. Here is a shorthand summary:

1. The main character faces a strong moral dilemma in achieving a goal.

2. The antagonist poses opposition, both morally and to the goal.

3. The main character confronts the major complication, but proceeds into the story.

4. The story moves into a new world, and the main character makes an achievement.

5. The antagonist takes control of the story, sets the counter-plot in motion.

6. The main character moves forward, believing himself to be victorious, but finds the antagonist to be equal and opposing.

7. The main character restates the goal, with renewed conviction, but experiences his first setback.

8. The antagonist spins the counter-plot forward, and achieves momentum against the main character.

9. The protagonist experiences defeat at the hand of the antagonist, and loses his moral strength.

10. The protagonist loses the will to achieve his goal, but resuscitates his motivation and moral strength.

11. The protagonist restates his goal and summons up his moral courage. The antagonist restates his mission to destroy the protagonist, as well as his motivation and courage.

12. The protagonist and antagonist prepare for confrontation, but the protagonist experiences an epiphany of moral courage that gives him what it takes to defeat the antagonist. The story resolves with the protagonist understanding his life with renewed meaning and understanding.


Just in case screenwriting seems simple, please allow me to introduce you to the world of advanced screenwriting, the world of spine. This is an abstract world where (even veteran) screenwriters labor in pain, sometimes without professional breakthrough, sometimes without financial reward. When the breakthrough finally happens, however, there is magic on the screen!

Spine begins with discovering what your story is about through character behavior. It is about creating a unifying depth within your story, character by character, action by action, sequence by sequence, layer upon layer. The surprise is that once you discover what your story is about on a profound level, there are an infinite number of insights and details you can infuse into the material through character behavior, actions, and images. The challenge is to discover this unifying idea or principle that synthesizes what the story is about in simple terms. The genius is to be able to create characters as ideas that morph into character behavior, revealing what the story is about in every frame of the picture.

One of the best examples of spine is Tootsie, the Academy Award winning screenplay written by Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal, starring Dustin Hoffman, directed by Academy Award winner Sydney Pollack. The original screenplay went through numerous writers, and it wasn’t until Sydney Pollack came aboard to work with the immensely talented Larry Gelbart that they were able to discover what the story was really about. It wasn’t enough to do a comedy about a man becoming a woman. Putting on a skirt is good for a few laughs, but not enough to sustain a movie. The challenge was to create a story about a man struggling with his (chauvinist) flaws, who is forced to become a woman, but by becoming a woman, he becomes a better man. With this paradox as the spine of the story, each and every frame of this marvelous movie feeds the heart of the story.

There is a constant demand for writers who can create good stories, especially for the big screen. The fact is, however, over one hundred thousand scripts are written every year, and only a few hundred actually make it. Even then, most do not succeed. Usually the script is the culprit, and the most common script problem is story. Either there is not enough, or the story splinters into more than one storyline because the main character is not developed through a powerful moral dilemma at the center of the story.

The market for great screenplays is wide open. The challenge is to develop your own treasure trove of great stories that have never been told. Be bold and original. Remember the Five S’s. Strive to master them. Above all, shoot for the stars. You might make it to the moon!

A Writing Exercise

Here is a challenging writing exercise that will help you understand what your story is about. It begins with creating a powerful moral dilemma at the center of your story. Think about the narrative of the story you are working on. Identify your main character, and think through the most important dramatic choice he/she makes. Work through why he/she makes the decision, or why not. Take your time. Set the stage for the consequences of either story direction by developing the antagonist. Understanding the depth of conflict within this key character-driven story moment opens the window to discovering what your story is about.

Kate Wright is an Emmy Award-winning writer/producer who, as vice president of Interscope Communications, supervised feature film and television projects, including Billy, The Conspirator Saint, Cocktail, and A Mother’s Courage: The Mary Thomas Story. She is a senior instructor with the internationally known UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Her first book, Screenwriting Is Storytelling: Creating the A-List Screenplay that Sells! is being published Fall 2004 by Perigee-Putnam.

Source with permission: The Writers Store

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