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Craft & Career

Issue 8                                                                                                       February 28, 2010

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Dear Writer,
Sunday, Sunday... Welcome to our eighth issue. 
Good news or bad news, depending on your perspective, this is an all-Jim issue.  But like any good story, this is just preparing you for a reversal.  In upcoming issues, I will be featuring new writers and teachers and will soon unveil a project that will allow you to get as much craft and career help as you want.
My craft article on dialogue was inspired by an e-mail I received from a friend with the subject "A TREAT" that linked to an awesome scene from a classic movie.  You can thank Erik Bauer, founder and former publisher of Creative Screenwriting, for the email.  However, I had a copy of the film on my shelf, so if you see Erik, tell him I want the three hours of my life back. 
The second installment (of three) in my Film Financing 100.5 series returns with a look at the same budget paradigms as last month, but from the investor's side.  If you're an aspiring filmmaker or producer, don't tune it out. Its main goal is to help filmmakers understand the investor mindset so that they can play Jedi mind tricks: "You will invest."  Investor: "I will invest."
In the Champion Corner, there is an interview with a writer who sold his script because of the Champion Screenwriting Competition.  This year's contest has a grand prize of $10,000!  Enter before March 26 and save up to $25.
Catch us on the A-List and Champion blogs. Plus, follow us on Twitter or become a Facebook fan to keep up to date with our announcements.
Jim Mercurio
Jim Mercurio 
When I dove into a theoretical approach to teaching dialogue, I was pleasantly surprised that although dialogue seems in some ways contrary to structure, the way to improve it is often through the structure of your scenes.
When you clarify the point of a scene, a character's intention and the exact subtext of an individual beat, you gain creative freedom.  How does specificity and narrowness translate into freedom?  Well, once you know the intended subtext, then ANYTHING that can capture it is fair game.  "F--- You" can mean "'I love you."  "Sure" can mean "no way."  "Laughing in someone's face" can eliminate the need for words and imply: "I think you are a joke."
But sometimes too much freedom is a bad thing.  There may be thousands of lines that capture the subtext of the intended beat.  Just because a line works, doesn't mean it's good enough.  You have to ask yourself more questions: Is it in the character's voice?  Is it even necessary?  Is it incorporating/exploiting the setting and siuation?  Taking the beat as far as it can go?  And is the character pushed far enough?

This article started when my Erik Bauer, my producing partner on Hard Scrambled, sent me this Youtube link of the last part of the opening sequence from Once Upon a Time in the West.  In the scene, three men (sent by antagonist Frank) wait at a train station to, ah, meet Charles Bronson's character, Man With A Harmonica.  Frank doesn't know how he knows Harmonica, who has arranged to meet with him, but he knows he is going to be trouble.  So Frank sends his henchmen, including Stony (the legendary Woody Strode) and Snaky (the blind-in-one-eye, Jack Elam), to kill him.

If you haven't watched the scene, go ahead and watch it now.  Or at least this shorter one.  And I hope you don't have an important deadline and a DVD of the film on your shelf. 
Film Financing 100.5
(Part 2 of 3)
Jim Mercurio

In the last issue, I talked about four different budget paradigms for a low budget feature and the sort of questions you need to ask yourself as a filmmaker before approaching investors. Today, I am going to look at each of these budget ranges and list the questions you have to raise as in investor.  Of course, any time you're putting your own money on the line, you will ask additional questions.  But this list will give you a place to start.  And, honestly, this is mostly written for filmmakers so they can understand your mindset and manipulate you into writing checks. 
Did I say that aloud?
Here we go... 

BUDGET: 5-10k
This section works much more cleverly on Powerpoint where I can reveal it as a punch line.
But the one question you have to ask on a short or a $10,000 film is...
Do I need to explain more?
(Filmmakers, don't waste your time or the investors' with persuading them how your short or 10k project is going to make both of you rich.  If you have to convince them of that, they are the wrong investor for this project.)

BUDGET: 50-75k 
  • Will it hurt me if I lose all of this money?- Can you afford this investment?  Because the budget is so low the project is really susceptible to crashing and burning, going over budget or just being plain awful. Return on investment is usually not the investor's goal in a project of this size.  What might the goal be?  Stay tuned for the final installment of this article in next issue.
  • Does the plan make sense?- The filmmakers aren't going to have distribution lined up and this is a very risky project, but do you like what you are hearing?  Are there perks (a relationship with a cool film festival, a reason to travel to a cool location) associated with the shoot?  If the goal is nothing but making money, then forget your gut and get some data on other films that fit this model and market.
  • Do I trust these guys as PEOPLE?- It's not really the filmmaker's list of credits, but their track record as people.  Do you trust them?  Are they personally invested (emotionally, most importantly, and possibly financially) in the project and do you believe they will take it all the way?  With 75k, you can't even guarantee that Spielberg can make a good movie.  The resources are just too few.  What gets a film like this done is passion, the person or group that is willing to go all the way, regardless of the hours, the lack of pay or the debt they incur.  

BUDGET: $200-300k 
  • What is the star?- Not necessarily WHO but WHAT.  Is it the genre?  Is it a topical subject that garners interest?  Is it personal to you and the money doesn't matter so much? 
  • Clear understanding of genre and market?-  At this level, you want the whole process to be a little bit less of the crap-shoot than the 75k paradigm is.  Assume the filmmakers can make the film they are promising: Do they have examples of deals for other films in that genre?  Do they have a clear understanding of their genre ?  Are they making The Orphanage or Pig Hunt?  And more importantly do they know (or agree on) which one they are making.
  • What is their track-record as filmmakers?- The producers have serious resources at their disposal.  The producer's ability to use the budget wisely and enable the director whose work (or vision) you like is key to their success.  This is the budget range for a lot of first-time directors and producers.  Look at the team they have built and make sure that there are people in place to complement the lack of experience.  
  • Who is the star?- At this level, you are probably going to need a star actor. You might be surprised on the value of some of the names.  Maybe a Lou Diamond Phillips, Jeff Fahey or a Baldwin Brother guarantees a low six figures in pre-sales.
  • Guarantee of completion?- This film should probably have a completion bond-which is insurance that guarantees the film will be completed (not as safe as it sounds).  The budget and schedule for the film should be realistic and allow for contingency.
  • Are their tax incentives for me or the film?- The producers are spending enough money that you should demand they be savvy enough to find the right place to shoot.  The right decision could mean more than $200,000 in rebates or tax credits back to the film.  I am planning a shoot in Michigan this summer for this exact reason.  Also, as an investor, if you are putting in serious money, make sure to consult with an accountant or attorney to see how it can or can't be used as a tax write-off.
  • Plan for distribution - If they don't have distribution lined up, there needs to be some clear evidence of research or a plan.  If the plan is "Hey, we got Natalie Portman to work for double-scale," so we are comfortable taking a 500k gamble with an unknown director," that's fine.  At least you know what you are getting into.  (If any investors want to take a 500k gamble on a Natalie Portman film, give me a call.)
Obviously there are many more detailed questions to ask, but I wanted to open a dialogue between filmmakers and investors.  Filmmakers, make sure you have satisfactory answers to these questions.  Try to get in the mindset of your investor so you can address his or her needs.  Now, you know the questions they're going to ask, so have the answers in place.

I will wrap up this series next issue with some surprising ideas on how to raise money.  With a story that involves a $40 sit-n-go poker tournament with me, two players from the Washington Redskins and my teenage stepson, I will try to show you that there is something to sell to investors more than "making money."
Feel free to send questions about financing.
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Early Bird Deadline
March 26


Dialogue: Beats of a Dead Horse
Jim Mercurio
First of all, notice the characters get into position without any dialogue.  We already saw them "take over the station" in a systematic way, so we don't need a talky explanation.  Also, this makes the underling henchmen more active because they react to Snaky's gestures, which shows us how cohesive they are as a unit, i.e., how long they have worked together, how smart they are that they can respond to a look without any direction.  And, no, it's not a coincidence that I am going to discuss dialogue using a scene that has very little of it.  The first lesson writers should learn about dialogue is not to depend on it.  Film is a visual medium.  Look at how many of the beats in this scene rely on looks, nods, head tilts, eyes and body movement. 
The train approaches, suspense builds.  The three men are so on edge that when the train door opens, they "jump."  But it's a false alarm.  When the train starts to leave the station, Snaky assumes their prey is not there, so he gestures to his henchmen who come toward him, thereby giving up their strategic position.  They then mirror Snaky and turn away from the tracks.  This creates a nice opportunity for a crisp (and visual) turning point/reversal in the scene): at the moment they are least engaged is when we hear Harmonica's harmonica O.S. which causes the men to stop in their tracks.
And then in a perfectly orchestrated moment, like a curtain opening: the train exits the frame and Snaky turns.  When his hat moves the Bronson character Harmonica, who is playing the harmonica, is revealed on the other side of the tracks.  His exiting the train from the opposite side is motivated because it provides him with a  tactical advantage: the three gun men close  rank.  While blowing his harp, Harmonica surveys the situation.  He asks about (or for) Frank and Snaky responds:  
  Frank sent us.
Clearly, this is not what Harmonica was expecting.  So now the situation changes and the really important question for the character is am I safe?  He needs to know if these men are friends or enemies, whether or not his life is in danger.  
So imagine all of the on-the-nose lines of that could destroy this scene:  
Are you friends or enemies?   
I need to find out if you are going to kill me. 
Are you going to shoot me? 
Should I be worried? 
Are you going to shoot me or kiss me? (kidding) 
Laugh all you want at these atrocious lines, but ask yourself if you have equal disdain for EVERY on-the-nose line in a script?  Well, do ya?  You should.
We have to eliminate all of the on-the-nose responses, i.e., where the words are the exact subtext.  So let's imagine some lines that might capture that subtext?  Harmonica has spent some time surveying the scene, so let's use that somehow.  Could he look at Stony and say this line?
Hey, why are you so nervous?
There is some dramatic tension in calling a character out on his nervousness as a way to assess him.  Seeing and playing on characters' nerves is an essential part of this scene and in most classic shootouts.  However, this is a Western, not a Woody Allen or Eric Rohmer film.  In Westerns, men are laconic; they don't talk about emotions with such specificity.  So the voice and appropriateness for the genre is all wrong.  The word "nervous" ain't gonna cut it here, pardner.
We're really not close yet, but at least we are moving in the right direction.  We are starting to think about the situation, what Harmonica sees and how to avoid words or tacks that aren't within the voice of the character or genre.  What about this? 
It took three of you to run his errand?
Errand?  Meh.  Vague.  Too domestic.  How about one of these?
It took three of you to pick me up?  
Three of you came to pick me up?
Okay, it shows that he's smart and paying attention.  Posing it as a question allows for sarcasm or a challenge.  Not bad.  If I were to stick with this line of thought, I might even make it less on the nose and try to put it in terms of their world:
Three of you?  Didn't want to draw straws?  
Quite a welcoming party.  D'you all draw the short straw?
Not vomit-inducing.  We're probably a tweak and a polish away from advancing through the first round of most screenplay contests.  But now, let's look at the actual line:
You bring a horse for me?
Note that whatever spark of not-sucking there is in my imaginary lines, this captures the best of them.  Its intention is crystal clear: "You weren't planning on my leaving here, were you?"  It incorporates the iconography of Westerns and integrates the details of the setting.  It is based on Harmonica's observation (pretty smart guy, huh?), but without the neuroticism in its attention to the men's emotions ("You nervous?").  It just speaks to their intention.   
The line causes an immediate change in the situation.  Frank's men know for SURE that Harmonica understands what's going on.  This is a big deal.  For the bad guys, they have gone from "maybe we have the element of surprise in a fight for our life" to "now, we're down to only our three-to-one advantage."  Snaky's laughter is a combination of nervousness, bravado and malicious glee and the line that follows is implicitly a confession. But his unwavering confidence contributes to the more important goal of trying to rattle Harmonica and regain an edge: 
 Looks like... looks like we're shy one horse
If it's not clear that this line was meant to rattle Harmonica, it will be by the time we hear the follow-up line and  see the reaction to it.
This is a critical part of the scene and I am going to put it under a microscope.  From Harmonica's perspective, he now knows he is on the verge of a gunfight and his life is at stake.  Snaky made a comment that was meant to f--- with him by getting under his skin.  Does it succeed?  Let's see what the filmmakers (writers, director, actor) show us.
Bronson's character just shakes his head.  I love this for a million (okay, three or four) reasons.  First, it's a visual response, i.e., WITHOUT dialogue.  It's true to his character: a laconic man of few words. And from a craft standpoint, it creates suspense.  We await the follow-up or clarification.  Even if we don't understand the subtext of "No, you didn't rattle me (and possibly) I am not the one who is going to end up dead," we will when he delivers his next line:
You brought two too many.
If you can't revel in this line's awesomeness, then you are in the wrong Craft and Career.  On a superficial level, it's so cool and clever and kick-ass but there's something important going on underneath.  When writers try to emulate these characteristics (all of which seem to start with a hard-C sound), often they will write a clever line but without the underlying integrity that makes it work on a dramatic level.  
For instance, a writer watches True Romance's Walken-Hopper interrogation scene and then copies the wrong part of it: in a scene where someone's getting their ass kicked, the person getting beaten will provoke the attacker to hurt him even more.  What the writer is missing is that in True Romance, Hopper's character has a really strong motive to incur further injury on himself: I want to protect my son's life so therefore I have to enrage this guy so that I may die as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Harmonica's line "You brought two too many" perfectly captures the subtext of the scene.  It's strong.  It's surprising.  And it pays off the horse references.  And all without saying, "No, you three are going to die."
But without the proper attention to the character's motivation, this line doesn't work.  Harmonica is outnumbered three-to-one with a bunch of guys who are confident in their ability to kill him.  He knows that he needs any edge he can get.  If he rattles them enough and gets under their skin, then this will affect whether he lives or dies. 
Notice that immediately after this line, the film cuts to Woody Strode's Stony character where  -- choose one of the following --
The smile slowly fades from his face.
His lips drop to a neutral expression
His smile droops.
He loses his smile
As a director or screenwriter, if you have the line "You brought two too many," you owe the audience a reaction shot or action description of the character losing confidence.  You follow-through on the line's effect on the other character, which simultaneously/retroactively demonstrates its deep-seated importance and intention.  Using only five words, Harmonica shakes the confidence of these hardened men so that he may have a better chance of killing them first and SURVIVING.
The clarity and importance of a scene's structure is what allows you to free up your creativity and choose ANYTHING for a line of dialogue.  Look at the strong, clear and important intention in each beat: 
Harmonica digs for information.  ("Frank?", I think.)
Snaky shuts him down.  ('Frank sent us.")
Harmonica calls them on it (tests, confirms, prods).   ("You bring a horse for me?")
Snaky intimidates and tries to crush him emotionally. ("Looks like... looks like we're shy one horse.")
Harmonica deflects/ignores/confuses.  (Shakes his head.)
Then armed with new information, Harmonica strikes back by scaring (and surprising?) the crap out of them.   ("You brought two too many.")
Stony is rattled.  
Harmonica capitalizes: kills them. (The shootout)
I don't have space here to nitpick the wording any deeper, but if you're not sure why "you brought two too many" is superior to "you brought too many horses", "you have more horses than you need", "you have two more horses than you need", and "you didn't bring a horse for me," then clear your schedule for one of my weeklong classes way later in the year. 

Here's a theoretical or mathematical summary for finding the right line of dialogue.  Once you identify a given beat, imagine that swirling around in your brain are the thousands of lines that would satisfy the beat's intent.  Now group those lines into several subsets that satisfy these criteria:  
  • capture the intent/subtext accurately (99% of the time, succinctly)
  • are not on the nose
  • are in the voice of the character
  • are cool and surprising
  • are appropriate for the genre
  • incorporate the setting and details of the world.
The intersection of all of those subsets, i.e., the lines that are in all of the subset groups will create a very small group from which you will find the good lines of dialogue.  Another way of putting it is that your final line of dialogue must pass all of these tests. 
Subsets and Intersections?  Jim, is this Craft & Career or the SAT?  Thanks for the math tips, genius.
Obviously, you won't use this every time you write a line of dialogue.  My hope is that you go through these steps a few times and then internalize this process so that it becomes an instinctual tool.  Here's how you put it into use.  When working on your dialogue or your rewrite, answer these questions.
  1. What is the purpose of the line?
  2. Can I make it stronger?
  3. What are some lines that capture the SUBTEXT?
  4. Which of these lines are in the character's voice and feel right for the genre?
  5. Which of the remaining lines use (or can be modified to use) the setting and the specific knowledge that the characters have?
  6. Can the line play off the previous line of dialogue? (train-of-thought, metaphor, (like the horses here))
  7. Then when I have the line I like, can it be shortened?  And if the line's intention is made clear to the audience or character before it's even finished, how can I reconfigure or rewrite it so that the point becomes clear only on the final word?
Want to see this in action?  Check out the A-List blog where I critique a beginning writer's opening sequence and apply these dialogue principles to his last scene. 
Jim is accepting only four or five new
coaching or mentoring clients this year.  All of them will be invited to a free weeklong or three-day class near the end of the year.
The original line from the song Darkness on the Edge of Town which was supposed to represent the character's rock-bottom was

I lost my money and I lost my wife
(Those things don't seem to matter much to me now)
Later, he changed two words from the first part of the line. The line became

I lost my faith when I lost my wife
We could be cynical about this. Bruce is extremely wealthy so he is never going to lose his money.  And I don't really want to make assumptions about Bruce's life, so let's just talk about a hypothetical 28-year-old songwriter. 

At that point in the young songwriter's life, money was something REALLY important to him and it was scary to lose.  Years later, the storyteller looks back on that time and realizes that a loss/lack of money may have contributed to an insurmountable frustration or desperation but the bigger issue was the sense of helplessness or hopelessness.  And he arrives at an epiphany: aha, it wasn't about losing money...it was about losing hope... losing faith.

Now, I've been broke and I've been hopeless.  And I will tell you that hopelessness is scarier and serves as fodder for bigger and better stories than a simple lack of cash.  

The challenge when we write autobiographically or write characters that are loosely based on us is that we sometimes lose perspective on what our story is about.  Let's say I am a hopelessly neurotic teenager (For those who know me: what a stretch, right?) and I write a story about a kid who breaks up with his loving girlfriend because she doesn't like Bruce Springsteen as much as he does.  From my perspective, I have written a story about love and loss. It's big and everyone should understand it, right?

Well, no, I have written a story about stupidity.  When I am 17 and write the climax, it becomes "Woe is me, 'tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."  This story is fake and limited because I am too close to the character and I can't see what's really going on.

If I go back and revisit this story as an adult with some perspective on the character, then the climax may become "Why did I throw away love and affection for no reason at all?" or  "I was so wrong and scared, please forgive me and take me back.  Here's the new Cyndi Lauper album."  (With a little more perspective, the album becomes an Itunes gift.)   Now, this is an honest story about fear, insecurity or growth.

But the imaginary me couldn't (or wasn't ready to) write it the first time. 
I am not saying you can't write a story with characters that are based on you, but it's going to take some time and self-knowledge to nail it.  Your path to getting there might be script analysis or more likely psychoanalysis.  Kidding, mostly.  Or you can write characters and revel in the fact that they are not you.  This distance often allows you to understand these characters better than the autobiographically-tainted ones. 

In Darkness on the Edge of Town, it was a simple rewrite.  Changing the word money to faith allowed a 50-year-old singer to be able to sing the song with the same passion as his 30-year-old self.  When considering the rewrite of your personal stories, strive for the perspective that will allow your story to be something you (and your audience) will appreciate now and 20 years from now.
Here are the lyrics and a cool version with Bruce and a 20-year-younger double, Eddie Vedder.
Champion Screenwriting Competition's Co-coordinator Kathryn Cottam interviewed one of last year's entrants who sold his script because of the contest.  The writer entered the contest under the pseudonym Solomon Grundy and now, as you will read, has even more reason to keep the project anonymous.
Well, for the time being the producer wants me to avoid saying too much about the script.  He's considering some unconventional marketing approaches for the finished film, so until he sorts everything out he wants to keep the script "under wraps." 
I can say pretty generally that the script is in the low budget horror genre.
I did a little graduate work in English Literature, then switched over to Law, so I guess my background is in Law.  I'm a pretty new writer -- I've written a few other short scripts, but this is my first feature-length script. 

I use a pen name because it's easier -- cleaner -- to keep my writing life separate from my work life, and just avoid any unpleasant complications at work.  You can probably guess the kinds of complications I'm talking about. Will people at work find out that I'm writing?  What will they think about it?  Will my bosses resent me for it, or take it as a sign of laziness -- "if you have a life outside of work, then clearly you don't have enough work to do"?

Using a pen name also has benefits that I didn't anticipate.  For one thing, it makes rejection a little easier.  When I get a rejection letter ("Dear Solomon Grundy, your screenplay sucks, love, Film Festival"), I tend to shake off the disappointment a little more quickly because it's not directed at me personally; it's directed to that other guy.  That Solomon Grundy guy.  Yeah, it's a silly psychological trick -- but whatever, a benefit's a benefit.

I picked "Solomon Grundy" because I've always liked the nursery rhyme ("Solomon Grundy, Born on a Monday, etc.").  I always thought it was kind of cool and creepy.

I entered the Champion Screenplay Competition because I was intrigued by the special prize for micro budget horror.  My script is a low budget horror script, so I thought there might be a good match there.
I did enter some other horror contests too, and did pretty well in a couple of them.  But doing well in a horror contest does not compare with the experience of actually optioning your script and joining a team of smart, creative people who are trying to turn that script into a great movie.

Very happy.  Early on in the competition I sent an email to ask a technical question about the competition rules -- to my surprise, I received a very friendly response the next day.  Now, I'm not going to name names or bash other script competitions, but let's just say that kind of responsiveness is rare -- I can only think of a handful of competitions that provide that kind of attentive service and The Champion Screenplay Competition is one of them, for sure.

The Champion Screenplay Competition has provided me with tons of amazing feedback on the script.

I have to say that Jim Mercurio has been incredibly generous with his time, and has made himself 100% accessible to discuss the script at any time and in any format -- email, telephone, whatever.  Last week, he spent hours on the telephone with me discussing the script, everything from larger structural issues and "what if" scenarios right down to the tiniest details.  It seems almost an insult to call it "feedback" -- basically, he gave me a free "master class" on how to make my script the best script it can be.

The Champion Screenplay Competition was instrumental in getting my script optioned.  Instrumental.

Jim contacted me initially to let me know that there was a producer, who happened to be a contest judge, interested in the script.  Then he helped to initiate the negotiating process and was with me every step of the way, guiding me through the process from beginning to end.

So, without the festival and without Jim's help, there is no way that my script would have been optioned.

I'm a lawyer, so of course I know how the negotiating process works generally -- but I'm not an entertainment lawyer and I've never negotiated an option agreement for a script before, so really I had no idea what to expect.  But looking back on the whole negotiation process, I can honestly say that it was pretty painless.  I think I was fortunate to be working with people I liked -- the producer was very reasonable and, as I've said, Jim made himself available to me every step of the way. 

The whole negotiation process was very friendly, very civil and was wrapped up quickly, in a couple of weeks.

My strategy is pretty simple -- I am going to continue working diligently on my rewrites and make sure that I deliver (on time) a final polished script to the producer. 

The Champion Screenplay Competition has given me every opportunity to succeed.  I know very well that opportunities like this don't come around very often so I feel a responsibility to take full advantage here.

I've never been a huge fan of The Who, but there's this Pete Townshend quote I've always loved -- he said something like, "I smash guitars because I like them."  That's kind of how I feel about my writing process.

Before starting a new script, I outline -- obsessively.  I'll spend inordinate amounts of time crafting the outline, revising it, agonizing over every detail of it.  But once I finish the outline and start writing the script, invariably I'll either ignore the outline completely or throw away large portions of it.

It seems like an incredibly inefficient way to write a script, writing an outline and then discarding it.  But I think writing that outline is important for me procedurally because it helps me to absorb the universe of the script, to understand the people and the places and the "rules," so that once I begin to write I can do so with a lot more poise and confidence.

So, that's why I smash outlines.  Because I like them.

Be budget conscious when you write. 

If you want to get your script produced, then there are obvious practical advantages to writing something that anybody can pick up, read and then think, "You know what?  I could make this movie."  I mean, you can go ahead and write a script with lots of amazing stunts and huge explosions and eye-popping special effects, but just remember that there are only a handful of people out there with the power and resources to actually produce that kind of script.


Right now my only concern is polishing and finalizing my current script.  After that?  I'm not really sure.  I've written two other scripts that I'd like to begin revising and readying for market, and there may be a couple other cool opportunities out there.  I guess we'll see.
Champion Screenwriting Competition's more than $40,000 in prizes is made possible because of the generous support of our sponsors: Virtual PitchFest, Julie Marsh, Truby's Writers Studio, The Writers Store and Its on the Grid.  We will feature a story about one of our sponsors here next issue. 

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Dialogue: Beats of a Dead Horse
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Explaining his early songwriting, Bruce Springsteen said his only goal was to write something he could still stand to sing when he was forty.  Considering that he's sixty now and the songs and their performances hold up just fine, I think he achieved his goal.

However, in the past fifteen years, he could no longer sing the original version of a song which I consider his favorite. 

The song is Darkness on the Edge of Town,  from the album of the same name. It was his first release after a lawsuit which prevented him from recording for several years.   The album touches on some  bleak issues, including anger, depression (implicitly), desperation and loneliness. 

Every ambiguous line on the consequences of mixing passion and perseverance (I'll be there on time and I'll pay the cost/ For wanting things that can only be found in the darkness on the edge of town) is tempered by the unequivocal statements of a songwriter and character whose darkness has been a rite of passage into a world where he knows he has all  he needs to survive: "Mister, I ain't a boy, no I'm a man, and I believe in the Promised Land."

However, Bruce discovered  there was a line in the song that he couldn't sing any more.  It worked for him as a young man and part of his adult life but it didn't work for him as of the mid-90s.  To make it something he could "stand to sing," he had to change two words.  By understanding why he changed even just one of the words, we can elevate our story from "too personal" to  universal.
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Read a cool interview with her.

Inter. Screenwriters Assc.

Interested in Distribution or Independent Filmmaking?
Peter Broderick, an independent film consultant and distribution strategist, is looking for a "truly exceptional" associate who is diligent and extremely well-organized. A passion for independent film is important, and a knowledge of documentaries a plus.
To learn more about Paradigm Consulting, visit the site.
Flexible schedule--25-30 hours/week split between work at home and Westside office. 
To apply, send a resume and cover letter here with the exact subject line "Associate Application."  The cover letter should state: why you want this job; your qualifications and relevant experience; and your
long-term goals. 


 In theA-list Screenwriting
Blog, I do a ten-page analysis of a reader's four-page scene as
a follow-up to the dialogue article over there
that you are or should be reading.
Unless otherwise noted, all content is copyrighted by A-List Screenwriting, LLC or James P. Mercurio.