Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Ten Comic-Con at Home Panels for Screenwriters

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, San Diego Comic-Con has been cancelled this year. But good news! It has gone online. And it is totally free and open to everyone. So, if you’ve ever wanted to experience Comic-Con but have been unable to get a pass or to travel to San Diego, now’s your chance to get a taste little taste.

You can see the whole line-up of online panels at the website. There are over 350 panels. That’s a lot to wade through. So, below are my ten suggestions for panels that will be of particular interest to film and television writers. Some of these I’ve attended in previous cons, some just look intriguing.

Go to the website to see full descriptions. The con begins Wednesday, July 22nd, but many of the panels will be available indefinitely – which is fortunate because there’s some good ones at the same time.

1. Writing for TV - Sunday 7/26, 1 pm

2. The Art of Adapting Comics to the Screen: David S. Goyer – Saturday 7/25, 11 am

3. Writers Journey: Producers Mentality - Sunday 7/26 3 pm

4. Scary Good TV: A Conversation with Horror’s Top Showrunners - Saturday 7/25, 6 pm

5. Collider: Directors on Directing – Thursday 7/23, 2 pm

6. From Idea to Hired: Books, TV, Film, and Comics (a panel of agents) – Friday 7/24, 1 pm

7. Finance for Creatives – Saturday 7/25, 11 am

8. Authors on the Best Advice I Ever Got – Saturday 7/25, 3 pm

9. The Future of Entertainment – Thursday 7/23, 1 pm

10. Artists as Brand, Rise of the Artist Entrepreneur – Thursday 7/23, 3m

And be sure to watch my Let’s Schmooze Vlog about Comic-Con, networking, and writing in various media. My guests were:

Benjamin Raab - TV writer (Arrow, The Flash) and comic book writer (The Phantom, Green Lantern)

Spiro Skentzos, TV writer (Grimm, Arrow) and host of the “Intro to TV Writing” Comic-Con panel

Eugene Son, animation writer (Avengers Assemble, Star Wars Resistance) and comic book writer (Ultimate Spider-Man)

It’s also available as an audio podcast:

Monday, June 22, 2020

My New Vlog

Hi Let's Schmooze fans. I wanted to let you know about a new project I'm working on that might be of interest to you: my Let's Schmooze Vlog. Once a month I will gather two or three guests to discuss writing for film, television, and other media. In the premiere episode, my guests were Matt Federman, co-showrunner of the CBS show Blood and Treasure, and Jill Blotevogel who was show runner on the Scream television show.

Here is the episode:

Next month I'll be doing an episode themed to Comic-Con. My guests will include television writer Spiro Skentzos (Arrow, Grimm) and Eugene Son, animation writer (Avengers Assemble, Star Wars Resistance) and comic book writer (Ultimate Spider-Man). Subscribe to my YouTube channel to see it!

What else have I been up to? Well, I have a project I'm very excited about. I co-wrote with my sister, Kris Bock, a prequel novel to Sweet Home Alabama called Felony Melanie in Pageant Pandemonium. It tells of the teenage adventures of Melanie and Jake. Here's a summary:

Before Melanie Smooter became hot fashion designer Melanie Carmichael, she was known as Felony Melanie, the teenage troublemaker of Pigeon Creek, Alabama. Aching to escape the boredom of small-town life, she gets into many reckless adventures. Her boyfriend, Jake, is always by her side – and the local sheriff is usually close behind.

Melanie’s mother has been shoving her into every beauty pageant within twenty miles since Melanie was a toddler. Melanie is getting a little sick of it. She’s on the verge of quitting when she qualifies for the Miss Alabama Princess Pageant in the big city of Mobile. The first prize scholarship could be her ticket out of Pigeon Creek, not to mention that one of the judges is a real, live New York fashion designer. The competition will be fierce. Can a "trailer trash" girl outshine the snooty debutantes?

Meanwhile, Jake and his friends go to Mobile to support Melanie – and to party in the big city. But when strange disasters befall pageant events, the gang suspects someone is sabotaging the contest. They try to figure who’s behind it and why, but it isn't easy when everyone dismisses you as redneck kids.

Melanie needs to prove herself on stage. Jake and the gang need to make sure she gets the chance. Can they show they're more than what people see on the surface? 

We did a virtual book launch party featuring several special guests, including a couple of the cast members from the movie: Courtney Gaines (Wade) and Fleet Cooper (Clinton). You can watch it here:

If you want to read a free preview story, sign up for our newsletter at: 

You can buy the book on Amazon.

Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Ten Best Written Films of 2019

It’s time once again for my selection of the ten best-written films of the year. I was shocked that 2019 turned out to be an exceptionally good year for movies. I had no shortage of films in contention for the list. More surprisingly, only one of the films on my list could be described as part of a franchise, and then only tangentially. This year bucked the trends of recent years. Of course, not all of the movies on my list were big hits, but many of them were. Is this just a blip, or is it a good sign for the industry? Time will tell.

Before I get to the list, a reminder of my usual caveats: I see a lot of movies, but I haven’t seen everything. For example, I still haven’t seen The Irishman, which is a significant awards contender. Also, this is a list of the best-written movies, not necessarily the best movies or my favorite movies. For example, I thought 1917 was an excellent film, but the script was fairly straightforward. Nothing wrong with the writing, certainly, and it laid the foundation for the excellence of the film, but the real success of the film derived more from the directing and cinematography than the screenplay.

One more thing: I, like much of the industry, have had to wrestle with what qualifies as a “movie” in this age of streaming. I’ve been limiting my annual lists to theatrical releases, but this year I considered any standalone, self-contained, continuous film story (i.e. no episodes) no matter how it was released. The downside is there are many, many, many movies on streaming and cable I will not have seen. In the end, every movie on my list got at least a token theatrical release.

So, without further ado, here are my picks for best written movies of 2019:

1. Jojo Rabbit (screenplay by Taika Watiti) – Hands down the best movie I saw this year – the best movie I’ve seen in a few years, really – was Jojo Rabbit. Every piece of this movie was exceptional, but none more than the screenplay. It’s hilarious and heartbreaking, a movie that will truly make you laugh and make you cry, and one that contains a powerful, relevant message about the insidious nature of propaganda. Not to mention, with its delicate subject matter, there was a high degree of difficulty to pull this story off. Taika Watiti succeeded and then some.

2. Knives Out (written by Rian Johnson) – This is the kind of quality cinema entertainment that almost everyone will enjoy. It has a tricky, twisty, mystery at its core, fantastic characters, a good dollop of humor, and a subtle satirical punch. This kind of movie absolutely depends on the screenplay (and the performances), and Rian Johnson nailed it.

3. Booksmart (written by Emily Halpern & Sarah Haskins and Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman) – This film got a lot of attention for making two female characters the leads of a raunchy teen comedy and presenting a lesbian lead without making a big deal about it. That’s all worthy of commendation, but don’t miss how funny the writing was and how complex the characters were. This was an excellent screenplay.

4. Luce (screenplay by J.C. Lee) – A star-studded but small independent film, this was a thought-provoking, complex story of race and issues of trust between parents and teenagers in America. It is also a powerful domestic drama with some of the most complicated characters on screen this year.

5. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (written by Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue) – This one surprised me. It is ostensibly a story about Mr. Rogers, but it’s really about a reporter and how his assignment to interview Mr. Rogers changes his life. So many things could have gone wrong here, but the deft screenplay keeps it on track, and the result is a touching, thoughtful movie.

6. Parasite (story by Bong Joon Ho, screenplay by Bong Joon Ho and Jin Won Han) – The buzzy international film is a smart comedic satire and twisty gruesome thriller rolled up in one. The characters are well developed, although the plot goes borderline over-the-top by the end. Still, it’s a unique and thought-provoking film.

7. Joker (written by Todd Phillips & Scott Silver) – I’ve gotta be honest, I was prepared to dislike this film. Turns out, it’s an excellent dark drama and character study that fits nicely into the more sophisticated versions of the Batman world. It may be a little derivative of King of Comedy, but I was won over by the smart screenplay nonetheless.

8. Ford vs. Ferrari (written by Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller) – This may be the most conventional film on my list, but it deserves credit for a tightly crafted screenplay and well-developed characters.

9. Little Women (screenplay by Greta Gerwig) – It can be difficult to determine how much credit to give to an adaptation of strong source material. Gerwig’s screenplay teases out the most modern elements of the book – making a few changes and then justifying those changes within the narrative – while not losing the emotional melodrama that has made this a beloved novel for generations.

10. Dolemite is My Name (written by Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewki) – This is a worthy true story about a groundbreaking and often ridiculous Black artist striving to achieve fame in a world that doesn’t understand his culture. It’s a story that ought to be told and is told well here. It’s also very funny.

There were plenty of other enjoyable films with well-written screenplays this year, some of which could easily have found their way onto this list. My “honorable mentions” include strong genre entertainments like Captain Marvell, Toy Story 4, Spider Man: Far From Home, and Doctor Sleep, as well as excellent art house fare like Marriage Story, The Two Popes, The Farewell, Hustlers, and Richard Jewell. As I said, it was a surprisingly good year for movies!

I try not to denigrate movies on my list, but I do feel obligated to mention Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood, particularly because it just won a Golden Globe for screenplay. I’m a Tarantino fan, but I did not like it very much, and I think the screenplay was one of the weakest aspects. So yes, I did see it, and no, it does not make my list. Still, even when Tarantino fails, his movies are more interesting than half of what’s in theaters.

That’s my list. If you don’t like it, make your own!


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"I used to always recommend that new writers read Story as their first and most important introduction to the craft of screenwriting, but from now on, I’m going to recommend The Three Stages of Screenwriting."
-LA Screenwriter Review

Friday, September 27, 2019

What I Learned at The Portal Virtual Reality Festival

Last weekend I attended The Portal virtual reality festival hosted by Film Independent and LMU. Prior to this I had tried a virtual reality installation at Comic-Con and done a few promotional virtual reality experiences in Google Cardboard, but the technology was still pretty new to me.

I stepped off the elevator into the Playa Vista campus of LMU’s film school – a spacious, airy floor of a large building (full disclosure: I teach a screenwriting class at LMU). I was early for the 90-minute time slot I had reserved. I was directed to a “VR Bar” where I took a seat and was given an Oculus headset loaded with a selection of five short VR experiences to try while I waited. I selected a documentary on tennis player Arthur Ashe. When it was over, I lined up for the main event.

There were eleven virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) installations scattered throughout the space. During my 90-minute time slot, I was able to experience four VR installations and one AR installation. Afterwards, I went back to the VR Bar and watched two more VR experiences (there must be a better term for those!) The eight sessions I ultimately did ranged from three minutes to eighteen minutes in length. Most of the experiences in the main program were done standing where I could turn or walk in the VR or AR space. One of the main experiences, and the experiences at the VR Bar, were done sitting. The installations used a variety of headsets, including the Oculus Go and Vive.

The VR Bar

What Works and What Doesn’t

The virtual reality effect was excellent overall. The sense of being in a 3D space was convincing. Most of the programs had extremely high production value, though there were a couple that seemed more like student projects. Some of the headsets were wired to computers, which felt a bit unsafe in the standing VR experiences. In one, the narrative led me to turn continuously clockwise to follow the action, causing the cable to wrap around me. The wireless headsets were much better, though all the headsets rested heavily on my cheeks.

Creatively, the virtual reality in most of the experiences didn’t seem to add much over what the experience of watching a traditional filmed version of the material might have been. There were two notable exceptions. First was an experience called Gloomy which was a Tim Burton-esque Claymation piece in the vein of Nightmare Before Christmas. It played out in dioramas with characters that appeared to be a few inches tall, sort of like looking into animated doll houses or toy displays. It was really cool, but the style wouldn’t be appropriate for many stories.

The second was a piece called Traveling While Black, a documentary about the Green Book. It was mostly set in a famous Black-friendly diner. It was a sit-down installation, which often positioned me in a booth in the virtual diner. There were mirrors along one side, which were used creatively – for example, showing a scene from the 50’s in the mirrors while inside the diner it was present day. Also, there was an interview with Tamir Rice’s mother* where the effect was as if sitting across from her in a booth as she told her story. It was incredibly powerful.

Traveling While Black Installation

In other cases, the VR was either extraneous, simply letting the setting expand into my peripheral vision, or downright annoying. Any time the camera moved in the virtual space while I was standing still in the physical space, I felt disoriented and off balance. A particularly bad scene involved standing on the front of an animated train zooming through the countryside. It was so disorienting I turned to look at the train conductor instead of the scenery. A friend told me she did the same thing in that experience.

Also annoying was the sitting experiences that required me to turn all the way around in my chair to view action behind me. For example, one scene in the documentary on Arthur Ashe put me next to the net on a tennis court. Ashe shook hands with his opponent and then walked behind me. I watched the opponent get into position and then stand waiting. I realized I was supposed to look back at Ashe directly behind me. Twisting around was uncomfortable, and I immediately wished they’d placed the camera so the action stayed in front of me. The idea of VR is that you have a 360-degree environment, but it’s still usually most satisfying just to look forward at the action.

The AR installation I tried had some advantages. In AR, you see a virtual overlay on top of the real world. Though the particular AR experience I did was fairly simplistic – an actor delivering a Shakespeare monologue while a tree went through its seasons behind him – it was nice to be able to move around the virtual actor with no disorientation or fear of falling. Although many of the VR experiences promised you could move within the VR space, I rarely took more than a couple steps in any direction. Any more would have risked stumbling or bumping into the walls. 

The Economics of VR

It was clear to me that VR has some big structural disadvantages for large audience venues that mean it will never replace movie theaters or theme parks. First, most of the standing VR experiences were in large empty rooms to allow the participant to move around safely. Almost all allowed only a single user at a time, although a couple allowed two people on opposite sides of the room. That means there was a significant amount of space required per participant.

At The Portal festival, it appeared that there were about thirty people allowed in each time window. Most participants still only got to do three or four of the eleven experiences in the 90 minutes, despite each experience being relatively short. I really hustled to squeeze in five. Also, there were probably twice as many festival staffers as users at any given time. Typically, one staffer was in the room to start the VR, clean the headset between uses, and make sure the participant didn’t trip or run into anything while in the VR space. An additional staffer stood outside reserving times for participants, and a couple managed the main check-in table.

The standing VR experiences are by their nature space-intensive, labor-intensive endeavors. It’s hard to imagine how they could be effectively done on a scale serving hundreds of customers a night like a movie theater. The seated VR experiences allowed more people to participate simultaneously in a smaller space, but if you’re just sitting in a chair with your personal headset, you might as well be at home.

Home use makes more sense for VR, but it still seems as though seated VR will be more practical. In the installations at the festival, there were no coffee tables to trip me or lamps I could accidentally knock over. How many people will be willing to dedicate an empty room of their house or apartment to VR?

VR is often talked about as the future of entertainment. While there are clearly things that VR does better than film or television, there is a lot it doesn’t do as well. I think it still remains to be seen how much mass appeal the technology has.

*Tamir Rice was a 12-year-old unarmed boy killed by a police officer in Cleveland in 2014.


 The Hollywood Pitching Bible

“ ‘Bible’ is the right word. This is the Truth about pitching. Just do what it says.”
- Gary Goldman (Writer/Producer, "Total Recall," "Minority Report," "Big Trouble in Little China")

Friday, February 22, 2019

Lessons in Revealing Character from Oscar Nominated Films

(SPOILERS: Green Book, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, The Favourite, BlacKkKlansman, Roma)

It is nearly impossible to have a good story without good, three-dimensional characters. Characters who are fully realized and specific feel like real people, people we can care about. But it’s not enough to just create three-dimensional characters. You have to reveal the nature of those characters to the audience in believable, dramatic ways. We can learn some techniques for doing this well from this year’s Academy Award nominated films.

Dramatize with Behavior

In writing, there’s an old adage: Show, don’t tell. In film, this means dramatizing an idea rather than delivering it in expository dialogue. Here are some great examples of scenes that dramatize character traits:

In Green Book (written by Nick Vallelonga &Brian Currie & Peter Farrelly), we don’t need Tony to spout racist opinions (though he does a bit of that) to know he’s prejudiced. We see it when he throws the glasses in the trash after his wife gives two Black workmen a drink of water. After the Black men have used them, the glasses can never be clean enough for Tony. And the writers trust the audience – Tony doesn’t yell and scream, he just quietly puts the glasses in the trash.

That early scene in Green Book allows the writers to dramatize Tony’s character arc. Nothing Tony could say shows us he’s changed more than the act of inviting Dr. Shirley to join Tony’s family Christmas dinner at the end of the movie. By comparing these two scenes – the one where Tony throws away the glasses and the one where he invites a Black man to his table – it is obvious that Tony is not the same person after the experiences of the story.

In Can You Ever Forgive Me? (screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty), we learn a lot about Lee Israel from an early scene where she goes to a party held by her literary agent. The party is fancy and we learn Lee didn’t RSVP. Lee is only interested in pitching ideas to her agent, who brushes her off – that’s not what the party’s for. Lee soon leaves, stealing someone else’s coat on the way out. This scene, while not very important to the plot, shows us Lee’s disinterest in socialization and her lack of honesty or integrity. We sympathize with her because we see how much she’s struggling to make a living, but we can also easily believe this is someone who would graduate from stealing a coat to forging papers. And this comes mostly from her behavior, rather than from dialogue.

Similarly, in The Favourite (written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara), we don’t need a scene of Abigail telling someone her thoughts about marriage. We see exactly how she feels on her wedding night, when to satisfy her new husband’s amorous advances, she gives him a hand job, barely looking at him and continuing her monologue plotting her next political move uninterrupted. The writers found a way to show us that Abigail is not marrying for love or sex, but as a political ploy. And the scene demonstrates how little she cares about her husband through her behavior, rather than through her dialogue.

Using Contrast

We can also illuminate character by contrasting one character with another. This is often a major purpose of supporting characters – they offer alternative points of view on thematic issues. Here are some examples:

In BlacKkKlansman (written by Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee), we learn a lot about Ron Stallworth in his contrast with his love interest, Patrice. While Ron is trying to fit in with mainstream society and relying on the law for justice, Patrice believes that only resistance and rebellion will work. She rejects mainstream society and embraces her culture. Ron is forced to hide his job from her, an act that illustrates the complicated line he is trying to walk. Meanwhile, the character of Flip is going through his own arc – he’s never really thought of himself as Jewish (though he is), but encountering the KKK’s anti-Semitic attitude, he starts to reconsider that aspect of his identity and what it means. Contrasting these various characters and their perspectives on race and assimilation allows us to more fully understand the attitude of each one individually.

In Roma (written by Alfonso Cuaron), we see a nice bit of character behavior from Antonio (the father of the household) when he arrives home. His car barely fits between the walls of their driveway, so he has to carefully inch it in, adjusting frequently. We can contrast this later with Sofia (his wife) pulling the car in carelessly, scratching and denting it badly. Where Antonio is cautious, Sofia is emotional. This may not be so much an illustration of Sofia’s character qualities, but a sign of her emotional state within that scene. The point is, it illustrates her psychology through contrasting her behavior with Antonio’s in the simple act of parking the car.

There’s a scene in Green Book that uses contrast to delineate the two main characters. Tony buys fried chicken and convinces Dr. Shirley to eat it in the car, because Dr. Shirley has never tried it. We learn a lot about these two characters from this scene. Most obviously, we see that Tony is looser, happy to eat greasy food with his hands. Meanwhile, the idea of eating in the car without silverware is appalling to the uptight Dr. Shirley. At the end of the scene, Dr. Shirley makes Tony go back to pick up a cup he threw out the window. This shows Dr. Shirley’s respect for the rules and cleanliness – and Tony’s lack of such qualities.

On a more subtle level, this scene in Green Book is telling us something deeper about Dr. Shirley. The fact that he’s never had fried chicken – a stereotypical “Black” food – shows us that he is removed from the predominant Black experience of the time. And it’s a plant that’s paid off later when a host at a fancy dinner party serves fried chicken because that’s what the Black servants he polled thought Dr. Shirley would like. The latter scene dramatizes how the primary characteristic most people notice about Dr. Shirley is his race, and both scenes highlight his isolation.

It is useful to analyze successful movies like these to see the techniques they use so we can apply them to our own work. I’ll look at other lessons from this year’s Oscar nominated films in posts over the next few weeks.


Need a professional critique of your screenplay? I take on a limited number of clients per year. You can get more information on this service here.

Friday, February 1, 2019

The 10 Best Written Movies of 2018

We’re already into February and I’m only now posting my list of the ten best-written movies of last year. I’ve been spending the last week bingeing a lot of the awards season movies. I’ve managed to see a lot, but I haven’t seen everything. For example, I still haven’t seen The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which was nominated for a best screenplay Oscars! So keep that in mind.

Also keep in mind that this is a list of the best-written movies, not necessarily the best movies or my favorite movies. For example, I really enjoyed Mission Impossible: Fallout and A Star is Born, and their scripts were certainly solid, but the joys of those movies mostly came from things other than the writing.

Overall, 2018 feels like a year with many solid, well-scripted movies, but few that really feel fresh and vital, at least in terms of the writing. Still, any year with a wealth of good movies to choose from is a good year. So without further ado, here are my top 10 best written movies:

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (story by Phil Lord, screenplay by Phil Lord & Rodney Rothman) – This movie was fresh and fun and reinvented the superhero movie while still delivering everything we want from the genre. Characters were complex, dialogue was funny, and the set pieces were great.

2. BlacKKKlansman (written by Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee) – This is one of the movies that does feel fresh and vital. There’s a strong, relevant message that is intellectually challenging, but also great characters, tension, and humor that make it extremely watchable. I think we’ll be talking about this movie for a long time.

3. Roma (written by Alfonso Cuaron) – This is not a flawless screenplay. It starts way too slow for my taste. But once the drama gets going, it’s a powerful story about a compelling, multi-dimensional character, told with subtlety and nuance. And, it is one of the few this year that is intensely personal and original.

4. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty) – This is an excellently constructed black character comedy that pulls off the feat of keeping us engaged with willfully unlikeable characters. Both entertaining and emotionally deep.

5. A Quiet Place (story by Bryan Woods & Scott Beck, screenplay by Bryan Woods & Scott Beck and John Krasinski) – A well-constructed and original thriller that doesn’t rely on dialogue (although despite some reports, it’s not technically dialogue free – there is a fair amount of dialogue done in subtitled sign language). It works as both a horror movie and a compelling family drama by giving us complex, well-rounded characters.

6. Leave No Trace (screenplay by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini) – This was an emotionally complicated story of the relationship between a father and a daughter that also forces us to examine our attitudes toward those who choose to disengage from society... and with our views of society itself. And this is another movie with sparse dialogue, which shows how much of screenwriting is not just writing lines for actors to speak.

7. Sorry to Bother You (written by Boots Riley) – This screenplay has a few flaws, but it’s also wildly clever and interesting, with complex characters and thematic ideas. In a year that most movies felt kind of traditional, this one breaks the mold.

8. Black Panther (written by Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole) – I debated where this movie fits into this list. It definitely had an impact on the industry and the culture, but a lot of that came from its conception rather than from a particularly revolutionary screenplay. If there were a lot of superhero movies with largely Black casts, would this one stand out? But it was well constructed, entertaining, and it has one of the most interesting villains in a superhero movie, so I ultimately decided it deserved eighth place.

9. Eighth Grade (written by Bo Burnham) – This screenplay deserves a lot of credit for capturing the voice of kids at this age and particularly at this time in history. I found some of the supporting characters a little underdeveloped, but the central character is one of the most complicated of the year, right up there with the lead in Roma.

10. Deadpool 2 (written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick & Ryan Reynolds) – It would be too much to expect this sequel to be as fresh and revolutionary as the first one, and it isn’t. But it does capture the same irreverent spirit and humor. Plus, it adds the amazing character of Domino, who is worth the price of admission herself.

There were several other excellent movies that could easily have made the list. I’ll give honorable mention to: The Incredibles 2, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Green Book, Annihilation, First Reformed, and Private Life. I also want to highlight The Rider – it was a fantastic movie, though it seems to be unclear when it was released – even IMDB lists it as both a 2017 and 2018 movie. I saw it in 2017, so didn’t include it on my list, but if you count it as a 2018 movie, it would be.

One more observation: this list is for movies, which I have traditionally defined as having theatrical releases. I’ve kept it that way this year, though the line is blurring. Roma, for example, only got a token release to qualify it for awards. But since it was in theaters, I accepted it. On the other hand, the HBO movie The Tale would have definitely made this list, but it only played theatrically at festivals, so I left it off. It will be interesting to see how the line continues to blur in the years ahead.


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"I used to always recommend that new writers read Story as their first and most important introduction to the craft of screenwriting, but from now on, I’m going to recommend The Three Stages of Screenwriting."
-LA Screenwriter Review

Friday, October 12, 2018

Lots of Log Lines

My co-writer on The Hollywood Pitching Bible, Ken Aguado, and I co-wrote an article to provide examples of effective log lines. Ken posted it on his Medium account, and I'm posting it here. Enjoy!

Lots of Log Lines  

A Bevy of Sample Log Lines from Recent Films

 By Ken Aguado and Doug Eboch

In our travels as the “pitch guys,” we are often called upon to talk about log lines. It’s not hard to see why. Of all the kinds of pitches, the most common kind in the film and TV business is the humble log line. Usually two or three sentences, running 50 words or less, it’s the briefest answer to the question, “So, what’s it about?”

But for all their brevity, crafting a good log line can be surprisingly difficult. In our book, The Hollywood Pitching Bible: 3rd Edition, we spend something like 15 pages on the topic, but for the purposes of this article, we will summarize the kinds of elements that a good log line should convey:

  • Assuming the log line is presented without any other context, it should contain the title, genre, and (sometimes) the anticipated MPAA rating (if it’s a movie idea).
  • It needs to convey the world or setting of the story, if it’s unfamiliar. This includes when the story takes place (if it’s a period piece or an unfamiliar timeline), where the story takes place (if the location is important to the story), and any fantastical elements.
  • It should describe the main character or group of characters in a way that explains why they are the most interesting person/people for this story.
  • A good log line sets up the story in a way that conveys the character(s) goal and the major obstacle to that goal – and does so in a way that is active, visual, and can fill 90+ minutes of screen time.
  • The stakes for the character(s) must also must be clear.
We are often asked for examples of good log lines that do these things, so below are numerous log lines examples of recent existing movies. We’re doing existing movies because our examples will only be helpful if you know the story and thereby can understand the choices we’ve made. But before you read these samples, we need to give you a few caveats, so hang in there. This is important.

  • The following are what we call “stand along” log lines - the most complete version of a log line. These log lines assume they must “stand alone” as the entire pitch. If all you are pitching is a log line, these are the Cadillacs of log lines. If you know the films, sure, there might be simpler log lines, but try to imagine if the film didn’t exist. What would the listener need to know? This is the tricky part about pitching, because it’s sometimes hard to imagine what the buyer/listener doesn’t know.
  • Even when the movie is based on underlying material, we assumed that the listener was unfamiliar with that material.
  • Lastly, these log lines are less about poetry and more about maximum clarity. Please leave us comments below, and let us know what you think!

“American Hustle” is an R-rated crime drama based on the 1970’s Abscam scandal. An arrogant, small-time con artist and his seductive lover are forced by the FBI into a dangerous sting operation involving political corruption and the Mafia. (38 words)

“Big Hero 6” is a PG animated superhero film set in the near future. After the death of his older brother, a young robotics genius befriends a child-like medical robot. Together they team up with a group of robotics students to defeat the evil scientist who may have killed the older brother. (51 words)

Based on a true story, "Captain Phillips" is a PG-13 thriller. In 2009, Captain Phillips, his crew, and cargo ship are hijacked and taken hostage by desperate Somali pirates. But when negotiations don’t go as planned, the resourceful captain struggles to keep himself and his crew alive. (47 words)

“The Conjuring” is an R-rated supernatural horror film. When a family experiences disturbing events at their remote farmhouse, they hire a married couple of paranormal investigators. But as the terror escalates, the couple must risk a dangerous exorcism to rid the house of its evil spirit. (46 words)

“Edge of Tomorrow” is a PG-13 sci-fi/action film set in the near future. When Earth is attacked by monstrous aliens, a cowardly public relations officer becomes the key to defeating the invaders when he finds himself re-living the same battle over and over again. (44 words)

“Frozen” is a PG animated family adventure. When a magical princess accidentally curses her kingdom with eternal winter, her spunky younger sister must team with a rugged mountain man to save the princess and the kingdom. (36 words)

“Gone Girl” is an R-rated psychological thriller, based on a bestselling novel. An unfaithful husband is suspected of murder when his seemingly-perfect wife disappears. But as the husband tries to prove his innocence, he uncovers disturbing things about the woman he married. (42 words)

Based on the bestseller, “The Hunger Games” is a PG-13 sci-fi adventure film set in a dystopian future. A resourceful but unassuming teenage girl must learn to be a warrior when she is forced to compete in a televised fight to the death against twenty-three other teenage competitors. (48 words)

“Identity Thief” is an R-rated comedy. A mild-manner accountant’s life is ruined when his identity is stolen by a kooky female thief. To clear his name, the accountant must find the thief and bring her to justice while being chased by an assortment of unsavory characters. (46 words)

“Interstellar” is a PG-13 sci-fi adventure. With the Earth dying, a reluctant astronaut who is also a single father embarks on a journey to explore a mysterious wormhole and find a new home for humanity while fighting to keep his promise to his daughter that he will return. (48 words)

“Kingsmen: The Secret Service” is an R-rated action comedy. A tough British street kid is recruited into an elite aristocratic spy organization called the Kingsmen. But when the Kingsmen are betrayed, the street kid must save the world from a genocidal tech genius. (43 words)

Based on real events, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is a PG-13 historical drama about an African-American man who served as White House butler for eight US Presidents. Over the course of 30 years, the Butler and his family must survive the sweeping social changes confronting America. (46 words)

“The Lego Movie” is a PG animated comedy/adventure set inside a fantastic world of Lego toys. A cheerful but ordinary construction worker is mistaken for the “chosen one” and embarks on a quest to save the Lego universe from an evil tyrant bent on stifling creativity and mobility. (48 words)

“Lucy” is an R-rated sci-fi action film. An American woman living abroad accidently ingests an experimental drug when forced to be a drug mule. But when the drug gives her superhuman abilities she tries to understand what’s happening to her, while evading capture by the dangerous gang that gave her the drug. (52 words)

“Maleficent” is a PG-13 dark fantasy, based on the story of Sleeping Beauty from the evil queen’s point of view. When she is jilted in love, young Maleficent casts an evil spell on the daughter of her lover. But she begins to reconsiders her evil ways when the young lady falls under her care. (54 words)

“The Maze Runner” is a PG-13 sci-fi thriller set in the future. A teen boy is trapped in a community surrounded by a colossal maze structure, built by unknown captors. The teen must prove his ability as a “runner” when he joins an elite group of teens who search for a way out of the ever-changing, deadly maze. (58 words)

“Pacific Rim” is a sci-fi action film set in the near future. When giant monsters from the ocean overrun the world, mankind builds giant piloted robots to battle the beasts. A top robo-pilot mourning the loss of his co-pilot must train an inexperienced young woman as his new co-pilot to save the world. (51 words)

“The Ride Along” is PG-13 buddy comedy. A fast-talking, high school security guard gets in over his head when he accompanies his girlfriend’s street-cop brother investigating a dangerous international smuggler. (30)

“This is the End” is an R-rated supernatural comedy set in Hollywood. The good times come to the end for a group of shallow Hollywood actors who must fight to survive when the world is gripped by a global apocalypse – the Rapture. (42 words)

Based on the inspirational true story, “Unbroken” is a PG-13 World War II drama about survival and courage. When US Olympian Louie Zamperini’s bomber is shot down during a mission, he must summon unprecedented determination to survive shark infested waters and then prolonged brutal capture in a Japanese POW camp. (50 words)

Based on a true story, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is an R-Rated black comedy about the rise of an ambitious young stockbroker in the late 80s. But the broker’s lavish lifestyle and criminal excess soon attracts the attention of the FBI and he must fight for everything he’s built. (50 words)

“World War Z” is a PG-13 Sci-Fi adventure film. A UN Employee must leave his family to help stop a Zombie apocalypse. Racing against time, he travels the world to find the origins of the deadly pandemic that threatens to destroy humanity. (42 words)


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