Monday, October 19, 2020

Writing for Television Animation

In this month's Let's Schmooze podcast, I welcome writers Steven Melching (X-Men: The Animated Series, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Transformers Prime, Star Wars: The Clone Wars) and Shaene Siders (Niko and the Sword of Light, DC Super Hero Girls, Saint Seiya) to discuss writing for television animation. 



Audio Podcast


 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")


Saturday, September 12, 2020

Writing the Sample Pilot

 In my latest podcast, I talk with television writers Hollie Overton (Shadowhunters, Tell Me a Story, The Client List) and J. Holtham (Supergirl, Jessica Jones, Cloak & Dagger) about writing your sample television pilot.



Audio Podcast:

 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")

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Transitioning from Film School to the Industry

In my latest podcast, I talk with three of my former students, Mae Catt (Transformers: Cyberverse), Matthew Epstein (Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist), and Rebecca Cremona (Simshar). We discuss the process of transitioning from film school to the professional world.

Audio version:

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!


Get The Three Stages of Screenwriting

"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")