Isn’t it more fun this way? Instead of answering readers’ questions with the frequency of NBA field goals, I like to pace myself like a soccer game. Vast stretches of time go by, and then suddenly, something almost sort of happens.
Then another aeon passes…
Let’s do this.
At what point does a character deserve a name? If he speaks? If she is mentioned by other characters? Obviously some characters need to be kept anonymous, like the Cigarette Smoking Man in The X-Files.Well, characters deserve names if you think the audience will ever need to know their name. Odd Job never speaks, but he certainly required a name.
I tend to go with the standard Reporter #1 and Reporter #2 if I’m writing a press conference scene or something like that. I’ll give a character a name if someone else needs to refer to him or if his name is going to appear in writing somewhere in the film.
Sometimes we give our characters names because there’s nothing else that will do. I wrote a script in which a man uses an invention to bring his dead wife’s possessions to life. They assembled themselves into a facsimile of her, and he falls in love with this facsimile. This facsimile doesn’t speak, but I refer to it/her a lot in the action paragraphs. What do you call that character? “Dead Wife’s Stuff” didn’t fit the tone of the drama, and “Facsimile” is pretty clinical. I went with “The Figure.”
i’m a produced screenwriter currently working on my second studio project. i’ve been working with a “sounding board” for a couple of years: a close friend and extremely bright dramaturgical mind.Oh, email, you killer of capitalization…
my “sounding board” isn’t exactly a co-writer, per se, as much as he is…well, herein lies my problem. i’m not exactly sure how to credit him, and i’m not exactly sure how to compensate him.
The questioner goes on to basically say that the sounding board doesn’t really put the words down on paper. Rather, he’s a…well…he’s a sounding board.
The credit you’re looking for here is “producer.” I use sounding boards all the time. I’m writing a screenplay right now, and I have two producers (other than myself), an associate producer and a writing assistant in the room, and I use them all as sounding boards. Everyone talks about the story, everyone talks about the jokes, but I’m the one who is writing the treatment, and I’m the one who is writing the script.
Creating literary material = writing. Talking about what to put in literary material = developing and producing.
Obviously if someone is taking dictation, that’s a different story.
Our next question comes from Australia.
I would like to thank Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio and Craig Mazin for writing and coming up with such stories that have inspired and introduced millions of young film-loving teenagers to worlds uninhabited before!! You give us hope and show us that having an imagination isn’t wrong!!Right, that’s not the question yet, but ummmm, okay, maybe Ted’s done all that…..but me?
Besides, I’m only in this to crush people’s hopes.
I must redouble my efforts.
Anyway, to continue…
I’m a 16 year old high school student from Australia who, after completing a professional scriptwriting course, began writing screenplays at the age of 14. After watching Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl I was moved to write my own pirate screenplay. And now, because of this script, I have an agent and an editor in New York and LA representing me as a screenwriter.And that sound you’re hearing right now is the jealous grinding of thousands of sets of middle-aged teeth…
As a professional, do you have any advice on a young screenwriter and film devotee like me? Are you currently providing mentorship, or will you ever consider it?My advice is to keep doing whatever you’re doing, I suppose. I mean, you’re 16 and you’re writing screenplays and getting yourself some form of representation. Have lawyers vet everything before you sign stuff, be aware that your age necessarily means you’re naive (so presume people’s motives will be selfish and possibly predatory), and above all, don’t burn yourself out. Be young, enjoy your teen years, and find a fun balance for your ambition.
As for mentoring, you don’t want me as a mentor. Honestly. What you should be looking for is a benefactor.
Right. Moving along…
Why are television staff writers credited as Producers (co-, co-executive, consulting producer, etc.), instead of ‘Writer’ or ‘Head Writer’?Excellent question!
Remember that bit above about how creating literary material is what a writer does, and how the non-literary developing and so forth is what a producer does?
Well there you go. In television, there are writers who write scripts. Many of those writers also do things like hire and fire other writers, make creative decisions about sets, cast, schedule and budget. They also consult on the stories that other writers are writing for the show.
They’re hyphenates. Sometimes they write, sometimes they produce. The important distinction is that writing is writing, and producing is producing. This arrangement tends to work in favor of non-producing writers by protecting us from credit grabs by non-writing producers.
Is a one-line enough to find out if there is an agent, manager or producer interested?By “one-line,” the questioner means a very short logline.
Depends on the logline.
“A city bus full of passengers has been rigged with a bomb, and if the bus’ speed drops below 50mph for even an instant, the bomb will go off.”
That’s pretty good. Certainly leads one to think about the various possibilities and complications.
If your logline is high concept, then sure, the shorter the better in query letters, I think. If it’s not, then you might want to write a brief (VERY brief) bit about the themes the story explores, or anything that you believe will intrigue the potential producer or agent.
Okay, what if you write this awesome script, a big name company options it, and you have the top five agencies and Paradigm knocking at your door?All those guys who were jealously grinding their teeth are now muttering quietly and staring at you as they polish their handguns…
Who would (did) you choose and why?
Can you breakdown the plus and minuses of said agencies?
What if you have a VP of one of the top five calling you saying he wants to represent you? Do you think it’s a scam?
What if you’re of an age (say 25) when your brain is about to explode from a shit load of attention and you have no idea what to do? Do you shoot yourself? Or do you email a screenwriting guru for advice?
I’m not going to go too deeply into my views on the agencies, because I have to do business with all of them, so why screw myself? Suffice it to say that while the agent and the agency are important, it’s the individual agent you’ll be talking to and forming a true relationship with.
When it comes to the sudden attention that Hollywood success can bring, my best advice is to stay as humble as possible. It’s prudent for a few reasons. Obviously, people are inclined to blow smoke up your ass, but more importantly, staying humble only makes them want you more.
The grounded, self-rewarding, self-disciplining writers seem to forge careers that last decades.
The exciting blowhards come and go.
Don’t get crazy, be yourself, understand that anyone who works with you will never be as good a friend to you as someone who doesn’t, and above all, even while you’re being humble and grounded and prudent…
…enjoy the hell out your success.
Okay, now, since we had a good question from Australia, why not try another one?
Hi, I am a scriptwriter from Australia. I love your view here on the role of the scriptwriter. But I have a quick question. I was given the job of scriptwriter for a tv show. Upon creating the first draft, I handed my script over to the producers. They ended up changing alot of my words and twisting the story around, adding things here and there. It lost alot of context. I was wondering, is this common in the industry?It’s pretty rare in Hollywood. I would say an experience like yours happens maybe only, say, a hundred times a second.
Welcome to professional writing.
Here’s one I really liked…
A friend of mine is a writer whose work has been lucky/funny enough to make it to the big screen. The sequel has been greenlit and he just shot me an email letting me know that he’s signed on as the director! I am an aspiring screenwriter and I understand how valuable it is to be on set and get a bird’s eye view of the process. So my question is this: What job should I beg him for??!! I’ve got no on-set experience.Good for you! This is exactly the way aspiring screenwriters ought to be going about things. The more set experience you have, the better you will be at writing material that’s intended to be shot on a set.
Since you have no experience, I suggest you beg for a job as a production assistant, or P.A. The P.A. gig is the classic rite of passage for anyone interested in set work. You’re a gopher, basically. You fetch things, you find people, you make copies, you close the stage door when the camera’s rolling…
…and you’re there for every minute of every day of shooting.
Don’t expect much in the way of money or prestige, but do enjoy the learning experience. In the inevitable moments of boredom, you’ll be able to ask questions of anyone not immediately occupied with their job, and most crew folk are happy to talk about the ins and outs of what they do, as long as you’re not annoying about it.
All right, enough Aussies. Let’s go to London…
“Ultimately want to be part of (in a full-time staffer on the team) a great US TV Comedy/Dramedy series, as a writer based in the UK, what’s the best way to achieve this? Spec Scripts and Hot shot Agent? Pitch a Pilot? Hitch out to LA and spend many lean and hungry years trying to make contacts until I’m bankrupt and bitter?First, yeah, hitching to L.A. is going to be almost assuredly required. Bankruptcy and bitterness are optional, but quite possible…bordering on probable.
Also, how can I make the whole green card thing go through quickly and smoothly, do I have to sort it all out? Will a decent Agent do that for you? Or does a/the network/production company do this?
The work permit situation is very sticky (going through it now with someone I want to bring down to L.A. from Canada), so rather than give you questionable advice, I suggest you speak to a local immigration lawyer.
Here’s a question about craft, specifically, how to write those movie moments that make the audience cry…
I want to know what techniques an experienced writer could identify that clearly has this effect on an audience. What kind of twist or action or moment must occur in your plot that “guarantees” to really drive the reaction on home? Apparently some people out there know the secret.Boy, are you asking the wrong guy.
Ted told me once that someone told him (can’t remember who) that people tend to cry when they’re watching actors who are trying not to cry, and that makes sense.
To me, the best cry-your-eyes-out moment I’ve ever seen is in Field Of Dreams (written and directed by Phil Alden Robinson), when Ray Kinsella, seeing the ghost of his dead father, asks, “Hey Dad? Wanna have a catch?”
I’m tearing up just writing the line.
Am I crying because a son, guilty for rejecting of his father, has a chance to make good? Sort of. Or is it because he hasn’t seen his father in so long, and now he’s a father, and he finally understands him? Maybe. Or is it because anyone, confronted with the youthful ghost of a parent they had only known as old and embittered, would be overcome with emotion? Perhaps.
But I suspect the real reason I cry every time I see that scene is that Ray asks, hopefully and plaintively, “You wanna have a catch?” Those words are so soaked in the emotional tar that binds fathers and sons, no thinking or planning or deciphering by the audience is required. The moment cuts past the frontal lobe and hits us in our child brain, our animal brain. It pokes at our neediness for the love of our fathers, and it reminds us how transcendental it was to receive that love…and to receive it in a way that made us feel we were like our fathers.
It does it so cleanly and elegantly, without any trappings or confusion.
It’s perfectly real.
So here’s the advice from the guy who writes spoof movies: if you want to make an audience cry, create a circumstance in which it’s reasonable for a character to be overcome with emotion, and then craft a moment that goes past the reasons and into the subconscious.
Whoo. That was heavy. Shall I transition to a dry question about credits?
if a script of a tv series in a non us contry is sold for remake in the U.S., what is the credit the original writer is intitled to? shuld the credit be on the opening credits or in the end credits? is the original writer intitled to any royalties in the us?Easy on the questioner. His English is better than my Hindi.
The answer is that the original script becomes source material and is eligible for a “based on a screenplay by” credit. This credit does not confer royalties or residuals.
And lastly, at long lastly…let’s end with a question about porn.
As a member of the WGA am I in any way regulated to selling a certain style of script? Such as screenplays for pornographic films? In other words is there any kind of regulation on the kind of material that can be presented in the screenplay?The WGA only regulates to whom you can sell work. You can only work for signatories to the collective bargaining agreement in work areas covered by the WGA (primetime television, live-action motion pictures). What you choose to put in your screenplay is entirely up to you.
If you want to write tentpole pictures…
So this kid named Ryan sends a message to me through my never-used MySpace page (I took one out to park my name…please don’t send emails to me there, or ask me to be your friend or whatever MySpacy type of stuff you enjoy) telling me he enjoys my films, and asking for some advice about film school.
I tell him about this site, give him the best advice I can, and that’s that, I figure.
But no. See, this kid is also in touch with James Gunn (who wrote The Specials), and James tells him I’m married with kids, but my MySpace page says I’m single with no kids…so this guy now wants to know if I’m the REAL Craig Mazin, and could I tell him some fact about James Gunn that he could verify with James Gunn in order to prove that I’m really me and not some nefarious Craig Mazin impersonator.
At this point, I should I have just walked away, because I’m thinking there’s now a 60% chance that this kid is James Gunn or Jamie Kennedy or some other person who knows me, and they’re just screwing with me.
Still, he’s purportedly in college, I’m trying to be a nice guy, so I email him a fact about James that I think isn’t public.
Then I email him again to point out that pretending to be Craig Mazin has to be the stupidest charade possible. I know this, because I am Craig Mazin, and there don’t appear to be any perks or fringes to this gig, like models or concert tickets or blow. Why would anyone even bother?
He emails me back with the following.
I’m waiting for James to get back to me about the Astroburger thing, but wasn’t that on the DVD?? Even I knew about that. Why would Craig Mazin get two things wrong on his profile? If this IS the real Craig Mazin, then you’ve got to put SOMETHING on your page proving it’s the real you. Everyone I know to be legit (James, his wife Jenna, Nathan Fillion from Slither) has something proving it’s them. Take a picture of yourself in front of your MySpace page on your computer. Or something. For every real celebrity on the internet, there are 1,000 people pretending to be them. You know that. Why do they do it? Your guess is as good as mine. Honestly, take a picture of yourself in front of your page.
Take a PICTURE in front of my MySpace page proving that it’s ME? Hey, why don’t I just drop everything else I’m doing and DRIVE TO YOUR HOUSE?
Then I could have lunch with you! You could see my driver’s license, and then touch me on the arm. If that’s not good enough, I could leave some hair behind for DNA testing…
Yes, the “single” and “no kids” thing is suspicious, because no one would EVER create a MySpace page and then NOT FILL IT IN ACCURATELY, right?
Maybe when I built that page, I didn’t want people to know I had kids. Maybe I didn’t want them to know I had a wife.
…wait, this is starting to make me look bad.
Honestly, I don’t know why it was filled out wrong.
I fixed it now, because I’m pretty much your employee now, Ryan. My job? Proving that I really am the oft-imitated but never-equaled Craig Mazin!
Like I said, I want to believe this is just a put-on, but this guy’s MySpace page is pretty detailed. I know, I know, maybe I’m as gullible as he is suspicious, but he seems real enough to me.
So, Ryan, if you’re reading this…
…this is not the way to go about winning friends and getting ahead in life.
For the rest of you, I know, I know…things have been sluggish around here. Stupid work getting in the way. I’ve got a ton of Q&A’s built up that I’m going to answer in one big burst, and then after that, an article that a number of you have requested: a primer to explain what the hell the issues are facing the WGA in the upcoming negotiations, whether or not I think we are going to have a strike, and what this all means in simple, easy-to-understand non-wonky language.
But first, I have to send a stool sample to Ryan.
Time Magazine has apparently gone off the deep end.
According to their typically controversial “Person of the Year” issue, “you” are the person of the year.
You. All of you. The great mass of people in the world. Of their curious choice, Time asks thoughtfully…
Who are these people? Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I’m not going to watch Lost tonight. I’m going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet iguana? I’m going to mash up 50 Cent’s vocals with Queen’s instrumentals? I’m going to blog about my state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street? Who has that time and that energy and that passion?Oh, for God’s…
The answer is, you do. And for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME’s Person of the Year for 2006 is you.
No. No you’re not.
The cult of “YouTube and digital cameras and home editing will seize the reigns of global media” really needs to be put down like a rabid dog. Putting aside the manipulative smarm of a large global media corporation smoothly announcing to its paid customers that they are really in charge, this theory is typically propagated for two reasons, both faulty.
Before I say why people believe this, let me tell you why I don’t believe this.
I’m one of those guys who logs on and blogs for free. I’m unpaid, uncontrolled…an unfettered spirit of the new generation.
It just so happens that my blog is (and I say with honesty) good.
It’s actually good. I’m interesting. I’m interesting, I write about interesting things, and I know this, because last month 40,000 different people stopped by at one point or another to read this site or participate in the forum without the lure of advertising or a larger aggregate site or the promise of anything other than text on a screen. That’s pretty good.
I also know that 99% of the blogs about steak frites at the local bistro are horrendous, boring and ugly.
MySpace is the home of horrendousboringugly par excellence. Spend any time browsing there, lately? To me, it mostly appears to be a tidal wave of idiots who believe that the best way to express their incredibly common selves is through flashing yellow text on a purple field while a song with the words “playaz” and “u” in the title plays too loudly in the background.
And folks…I wrote Scary Movie 3, okay? I’m not a snob. But I am an elitist (more on that in a bit).
Over at YouTube, there’s some fascinating stuff (my favorite is the Will It Blend? guy), but again, the vast majority is crap. Boring crap. LonelyGirl15?
Have you watched that stuff?
It’s just…like…well….bad. It’s bad and boring and innocous, sort of like a mini-episode of Dawson’s Creek if there were only one character and the show was short.
But would you pay to watch it? Would you pay to watch any of this stuff?
Even the best and most clever and assiduous of home-media folks create things I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t buy. I enjoy the occasional episode of Red vs. Blue or a StrongBad email, but would I pay for it?
The difference between creating something that people will actually leave their homes and travel to enjoy, and creating something that people have to make no effort at all to enjoy is vast and deep. Even television programs, which seem free, need to be good enough to sustain enough interest that you’re willing to sit through commercials.
YouTube has millions of users and millions of videos. But really…honestly…couldn’t you live without…all of it?
I would gladly agree to incinerate all of the content on YouTube in exchange for one more season of The Sopranos.
Let’s get back to the why of it all.
I think there are two reasons people like to believe that the common man is wrestling the fire of media away from the professionals (there’s a third reason, cynical stroking, that I believe is behind Time’s selection).
The first is irrational exuberance over technology. Every time there’s a technological leap, it takes about a millisecond before someone starts talking about how the world will never be the same. This exuberance can become so convincing, otherwise rational people start doing insane things.
Like, say, merging with AOL.
Oh, that was Time again, right?
It’s simple human nature. The Segway is going to change the architecture of cities, and YouTube is going to hand the “reigns” of global media to the common man.
This, by the way, is the good excuse for believing all this stuff.
Far more prevalent, I suspect, is the great scourge of sloppy thought: egalitarianism.
Egalitarians hate the fact that some people are better at stuff than others. Mind you, I’m avoiding a strict discussion of quality, because that’s a messier topic that has whipped the readers of this site into frenzies before.
On a meaningful results basis, though…be it tickets sold or subscribers signed up…some people are better than others at creating the stuff other people want to watch.
Egalitarians don’t want to believe that. They want to believe that it is unfair systems that propel certain people and repress others. YouTube isn’t a website to these folks, you see. It’s a tool of liberation. If only you, Joe McCheetobreath, sitting in your mom’s basement, had the access to mass eyeballs that, say, J.J. Abrams has, why…everyone would be talking about how entertaining you are!
The problem with egalitarians is that they’re just plain wrong. I can’t prove they are. I just have faith.
Like I said before, I’m not a snob. I think all sorts of content can be entertaining if I find that it’s done well, be it existential explorations about life or just a good joke about pee. I’m an elitist, however, because I do think that some people are better at delivering what I like.
Often, those people are better at delivering what a lot of people like.
Earlier, I said that this was a good blog. Lots of people read it.
I’m thinking now, however, that maybe it’s not that good. Maybe the fact that in a month, I’m up to the same number of people that sit through a Ginsu infomercial at 2 AM in Portland isn’t a good thing at all.
Making movies that millions of people see? That’s good.
You know, I just might have caught myself staring lovingly into Time’s magic mirror of self-deception. Funny…they still sell fake “Man of the Year” mirrors for people to buy. The idea that you were the Man of the Year used to be a corny joke.
Now it’s a legitimate idea being force-fed back to us all.
The stuff on YouTube is fun, and I really like the blogs, but all that’s reflected in this mirror is good ol’ run-of-the-mill delusions of grandeur.
Look away, look away, look away….