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Craft & Career

Issue 10                                                                                                 May 7, 2010

Regular and Coverage Deadline: May 15
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Dear Writer,
Welcome to our tenth issue.  
I have included excerpts from a recent interview I did which, as you will see, inspired my craft article.  Director Brian Belefant joins us this month with a quick Attitude Adjustment column about his experience judging the student Academy Awards.
April was a busy month.  And a good one.  I was in Paris and New York within a week of each other.  A friend asked me if my Paris trip was for a writing assignment.  I told him yeah: "My wife and I are cowriting checks to our American Express."
I also started casting on a low budget film I am directing.  I will find a way to share the process so that it is helpful to screenwriters.  During the June/July shoot, I might have guest columnists or include excerpts from my Killer Endings DVD but Craft & Career will be here as usual. 
Remember, the regular deadline (and last chance for coverage service)for the Champion screenwriting Competition is only a week away.  You can read about our new sponsor iScript in the Champion Corner.  And remember that every entrant in the coverage category receives a free copy of Killer Endings
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 
My interview in this issue comes from a longer one I did with ScriptShadow, who runs a popular blog where he reviews current spec scripts daily.  There were several handfuls of comments at the site about our interview and they seemed to fall into three tidy categories:
1) Compliments. 
2) Insane ramblings and tirades. 
3) Constructive criticism.
Compliments.  Cool.  Big fan.

Insane ramblings and tirades.  Cool, too.  Any publicity is good publicity, right?  I always say, "As long as they are talking about me..."  Plus, inane insults are effortless to ignore.

Constructive criticism.  As a person who is in the business of constructive criticism, I was happy that a poster of a comment offered a suggestion that was meant to be constructive.  The writer of the post said that I sometimes go too far in-depth with my analyses.  He prefers breezier and pithier analysis with which to illuminate craft or to critique scripts.

Whether the poster was right or wrong, I was happy to ponder it as a way to grow as a teacher.  And I thought it might be helpful to you for me to ponder it publically.

Consider this article's alternate title to be The Ponderable Post.

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ScriptShadow: You've read a ton of scripts, I'm pretty sure way more than I have. What is the big difference you see between amateur scripts and pro scripts? What really sticks out in your mind?

Jim Mercurio: If you don't want this to turn into a 20-part interview, give me some leeway to give a smart-ass answer or at least a creative one.

SS: Go for it.

JM: I am going to make up a word. Most aspiring writers' scripts don't have a high enough "story density." Story density is the amount of good storytelling you can cram into 110 pages. For beginning writers, there is often too much dead space between the good shit in their script. For some, it might be cumbersome language or style. For others, it might mean the antagonist's plan in their action script doesn't have enough twists. In a non-goal-oriented script, it might mean a sequence goes slightly astray and wastes our time. Check out the first page of The Beaver. The Beaver's first page has high story density. I know, that sounds bad.
SS: Okay, let's get more into craft later. What do you personally look for in a screenplay?

JM: I think some contests and university writing programs overvalue the "heaviness" of a subject. Let's say we take To Kill a Mockingbird and The Nutty Professor. When the writer aims for the To Kill a Mockingbird masterpiece but only accomplishes 55% of his goal, you can't argue that it is a better screenplay than a well-crafted broad or high-concept comedy that accomplishes 95% of what it set out to achieve.
Screenplays can't be compared or quantified like that. Their aim is not to be literature. The best screenplays are blueprints for stories meant to be told on film that will meet their audience's expectations. The closer writers get to accomplishing their goal with a script, the more of a chance they'll have to satisfy their audience.
I look at scripts for what they are trying to be. I want them to aim to surpass what the other writers in the genre have already consistently achieved. And then I look at how well the craft and execution achieves that goal.

SS: If you were a new writer, sitting down to start your next script, how would you approach it to give yourself the best chance of selling the screenplay?

JM: It depends on how new the writer is.

SS: What do you mean?

JM: If you are a beginning writer, write WHATEVER script you want to write and then finish it. Use it to develop your craft, learn your strengths and weaknesses, and grow as a writer.

SS: Yeah but come on. You remember what it was like writing those first few screenplays. The last thing you wanted to hear was that your script was basically worthless, that all it was good for was "to get better."

JM: True, but that's what screenwriters have to learn. This industry isn't a cakewalk. It takes several scripts, sometimes up to a dozen, for most writers to reach a tipping point with their craft. And that's okay. Don't think of it as "it doesn't matter," think of it as practicing free throws at 11pm when everyone else has gone home for the night. This is your preparation for the big leagues. So write whatever material you're passionate enough to FINISH, and when the moment comes, pick a genre you know or love so you can transcend it. You have to be willing to do the research or brainstorming to make sure you can nail a genre. For instance, if you aren't up to the challenge of finding a hundred clever and integrated ways to exploit, say, the first-person camera technique, then don't write Rec or its American remake Quarantine, Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield.

SS: Okay, so this leads to one of my favorite questions: "Should I write a more character driven piece, something I can put my heart into? Or should I write something more high concept, despite my heart not being in it?" The argument is that the character-driven piece will have more depth, but Hollywood is scared off by the fact that it's not marketable. The high-concept script is more marketable, but is often labeled as "not having enough heart." Which route should I take?

JM: I think the answer is both.

You are going to write several scripts on your way to learning the craft, so I suggest writing each kind of script at some point.

If you have a character-piece, decide one of two things.

1) It's a sample: Spend six months on it. Get it done. Move on to the next script.
2) You are going to make it: You can't really control if it gets made, but you can make it actor bait, easy to shoot, and maybe even have rabble-rousing material (In the Company of Men, The Woodsman). Be or find a "producer."

At some point, you should write a high-concept script, but be warned -- writing a well-integrated, high concept piece is labor intensive. Look at the first draft of your high concept story and circle the conflicts that are unique to the script's specific set up. And then circle the ones that are generic (like the drugged out sequence in Land of the Lost, wtf?). If you are not at an 8:1 or 9: 1 ratio between the cool/specific-to-the-concept stuff and the could-be-in-any-movie stuff, then you are not going to compete with Leslie Dixon and Freaky Friday or Charlie Kaufmann and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. You have to hit most of the character beats of the character piece but you have to cleverly wrap it ALL around the concept.
SS: What is the biggest mistake you see writers make?

JM: Hmm, having read half a million pages of screenplays, I am not sure I can pick just one. Here are a few.

Not writing. If you're a beginning screenwriter, write a few scripts. They may suck. So what? Keep writing.

Beware of the faux masterpiece. What is that? That's when you try to tackle something huge like a critical piece of history - the Holocaust, slavery, World War II - or try to set an expensive politically-charged love story against that sort of backdrop. You might be a deep thinker and have an unparalleled understanding of the subject, but as a beginning writer, your craft is not going to be able to do the story justice.

You don't write The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Schindler's List, Sophie's Choice or even Atonement as your third or fourth script. When a writer aims for that sort of script - one that only works if it's a masterpiece - then whether they achieve 50% or 75% of their goal, it's sort of irrelevant. They haven't crossed the tipping point where the script has any viability.

SS: Great point about the faux masterpiece. I see a lot of those. But does that mean writers shouldn't try? Aren't you the guy who is supposed to be championing people? Ore you are contradicting yourself...you said writers should write whatever they want when starting out.

JM: Fair enough. If you are writing your attempted masterpiece to learn about screenwriting, go for it. And get it over with ASAP. The skill you need to pull off the masterpieces come from finishing several non-masterpieces.

So, let me contradict myself again. One of the biggest mistakes is to not have high enough expectations. Writers shouldn't just nail a genre. They should innovate and transcend it, too. For example, The Hangover is an okay mystery but the genre-crossing makes it a great comedy. When you come up with a hook like Memento or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you will spend several hours banging your head against the wall to find your way through it. If your script isn't driving you nuts, then you didn't challenge yourself enough.

And when you are finally in control of your craft... PREACHING TO THE CHOIR ALERT, CARSON! ... If you want to be calculating and commercial-minded, aim for modestly budgeted high concept fare with a good hook.

SS: Choir preached to indeed. I know each contest is different, but is there a specific type of script that does better in a contest?

JM: It's the writer's responsibility to research who's running and judging a contest. Look at the winners from previous years. If the contest is giving away 10k or 20k to period biopics, stuffy dramas and literary-sounding faux masterpieces, then don't enter your "Die Hard in a skyscraper" script, right? Be aware of their tastes and limitations.

Because the stakes in the production world to find good in a screenplay or to find a good screenplay at all are higher than in the contest world, I suggest making your contest script a little bit more the "theoretical good script" that the screenwriting education niche prescribes. You know -- being a good read, having no typos, having a brisk pace, setting up the reader's expectations very quickly regarding tone and genre and being less than 120 pages.

SS: What types of scripts do better in your contest?

JM: I have an inner film snob that appreciates film as an art form. My last script's influences are Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage, the plays of Patrick Marber and Neil Labute and a few French films like Romance and Dreamlife of Angels. And I have made three low concept features as a director or producer. On the flip side, I am also first in line at the Thursday midnight screenings for The Lord of the Rings and Iron Man and have given development help to some of the most commercial-minded people in Hollywood.

I pride myself on being able to appreciate good screenwriting "across the board." Last year, Champion feature winners were a high concept comedy, a coming-of-age drama, and quirky buddy picture. One of the shorts winners was a masterpiece (non-faux) and the other a smart comedy.

We have a prize (and a micro-writing deal or option) for best low budget horror and our short categories include prizes for serious scripts, comedies and best script under three pages.

SS: I think contests are a great way for new writers to test their mettle. If your script is good, it will do well, which gives you confidence, pushes you further along in the industry, and buffers your bank account in the process. But I always believe in a multi-faceted attack. So while these writers are waiting for their names to be announced as winners, what else should they be doing to break into this industry?

JM: Writers need to know what stage they're at in their writing career and act accordingly. The basic stages:

1) Learning - They need to knock out a couple scripts, get some feedback, read scripts, watch movies, take in every opportunity to improve.

2) Mastering the Craft - Here, writers start choosing scripts with some practicality in mind and are writing a couple of scripts per year. They enter contests and share their work with peers or professionals who are willing to give feedback. Don't blow a potential contact by submitting a script before it's ready. When you have confirmation via peers, contests and professionals, then you are ready for the final stage.

3) Marketing - Spend some time studying queries and loglines. Consider pitch services and get your material to producers and managers, or people who can help you get your script read. Contests might be a part of your strategy but use your wins or advancements as ammunition in cold calls and query emails. Spend some time with the "salesperson" hat on and get your script out there.

SS: Can you tell me anything else about your contest? Entry fees? Deadline? Where you sign up? Any tips you have to improve the readers' chances?

JM: I think our prices are the lowest of any of the contests with a Grand Prize of $10,000. For an additional $40, entrants can enter our Coverage Category (and get a free copy of my DVD Killer Endings) and receive a page and a half of notes. Coverage will never be the Holy Grail of insight into improving your script, but I designed the category to help writers advance to the next round where their script garners additional attention. It's meant to take some of the luck out of the process.

May 15 is the Regular Deadline and the last chance to use the Coverage Service.

Enter at www.championscreenwriting.com.

SS: Last question. I understand you just got back from Paris for work, right? How the hell did you get out of the country? Did you take a tramp steamer back here?

JM: Yeah and I met a hobo on the tramper who was working on a script. We made a barter deal. In exchange for a semi-stale baguette, I told him his second act was way too long.

SS: And that's it. Thank you Jim for taking the time to let Scriptshadow pick your brain.

JM: It's all good. Thank you.
My Report from Judging the
Student Academy Awards
I just spent two days judging the Student Academy Awards.

Back when I was in film school, there were student films and there were real films. You could tell the student films because they had lousy sound, inconsistent lighting, terrible acting, and stories involving the trials and tribulations of student life.

You were supposed to see past all that to the undiscovered genius, the raw talent that, in the real world, might have what it takes to create something that was both important and watchable.

Judging by those standards, you'd be hard pressed to tell that the films I watched were made by students.

These were stories about poets and day laborers and security guards and ex-wives, told with confidence, skill, and individual style. They were, almost without exception, productions. Real, legitimate productions.

I'm not talking about the amount of money thrown at them, even though there were several with crane shots and Steadicams and one even had helicopter shots of Los Angeles. (One film even had an Academy Award-nominated actor in the lead.) I'm talking about work of professional caliber across the board.

What's important here is that student films are no longer competing as student films. They're competing as films.

That's not to say they were all good. Some were extraordinary. Some were lousy. Just like in Hollywood.

I once met Brett Ratner at some Hollywood function. At the time I was quite proud because I'd written six screenplays that were tearing up the screenwriting competitions. I got something like 32 awards for them.

He was unimpressed. He gave me a bit of advice that I found and still find incredibly profound. He said (and I'm paraphrasing), "The only contest that matters is real life."

You can't just write a screenplay that's good in the context of screenwriting competitions. And you can't just make a film that's good film for a student film. Your work is either good or it's not.

If the people who made these films are smart and ambitious, and I bet most of them are, the films I judged in the Student Academy Awards will also play at film festivals. Right up there next to films by established, working directors. Like me.

They'll be holding their own. Even blowing my work away.

That's a good thing. A great thing.

The success of these films isn't qualified. And I'm looking over my shoulder.
Brian Belefant has spent the past 15 years directing commercials for the likes of Nissan, UbiSoft, McDonald's, Sony PlayStation, and Bud Lite. He writes a semi-regular blog as The 60 Second Director, in which he delivers bite-sized lessons on directing techniques, along with the occasional acerbic commentary about Hollywood. The above comes from one of his more recent posts at 60secdirector.blogspot.com.
Analysis, Microanalysis and Psycho Analysis (continued)
Jim Mercurio
A few months ago, I took the opening pages of one of the newsletter readers (who volunteered) and wrote a brutally in-depth and specific analysis on some of the craft mistakes he made.  The notes are three times longer than the script pages.  Here is an excerpt from that blog entry:
Mayor, we've already talked about this...

I like that the scene is starting in media res. Good efficiency. I get of McD. He is a tough cop who picked on his subordinate for being a drinker but has enough loyalty or honor to defend him here. But brevity challenge: could you cut the first line and start with the mayor's line:

You've gotta cut Strong loose, Chief.

But like the cops earlier, the Mayor is just fulfilling his role as politician: trying to get rid of a troubled employee. This isn't special. This isn't specific.  Maybe it's passable to start here, but it's not okay to stay.

I guess the beat is: pushing, persuading. Don't know why it's important yet. McDonald's reply is to refute, to argue. But notice that his second line implies the first. So cut the on-the-nose part ("Not a good idea") and only keep the line that captures it ("He's one of my best detectives").

NOT a good idea. He's one of my best detectives --

-- with a drinking problem.

I like the fact that he interrupts him. Nice flow. Problem is that it's information the audience and both of these characters already know. So really there is no need to say this and you should be able to cut it. Instead, maybe just have Acadian do a disapproving gesture like shaking his head and let McDonald know he has to escalate his argument:

Not anymore. He's been clean for four months.

Notice once again, this phenomenon of a double line. A line that expresses the subtext explicitly. And then ALSO a line that captures the subtext implicitly. You don't need both. A more extreme example from some imaginary script would be: "What the fuck were you thinking? That was sort of stupid." Do you need both sentences? No. And which is better? More emotional? More fun? ;-)  Cut "Not anymore."

The Mayor squirms in his chair.

It's not entirely my idea, Frank. The Board of Supervisors had a meeting...

This is the EUREKA moment for me where the mayor finally REVEALS himself. This first draft of the scene has led us to gold, albeit half-way in. The mayor to appeals to what other people (board of directors) want. Although he is the boss, he permits the peer pressure from some nameless board to get in his way. (It's also possible that this reveals something slightly different: he is weak and, whether the board really agrees with him or not, he wants to use it to avoid responsibility.)
I rewrote and even wrote some dialogue to help him brainstorm solutions.  Was I the perfect consultant who only suggested stuff that organically flowed from his material?  Or was I a bit of an overbearing pig by jamming my own ideas down his throat? 
It's sort of a trick question. 
I wasn't being a consultant.  I was being a teacher.  I had gotten the writer's permission to do an overkill analysis on it as instruction for him and others.  The point is to help the thousands of beginners who read the blog and newseltter to see the gap between where their writing is on the first draft of their script, as opposed to where it might be by the tenth draft.  It's a lot easier to not get defensive about someone else's work.
As a consultant, I am not going to spend an hour on a scene that that isn't even going to be in the next draft.   Bombarding a person with 100 things he did wrong isn't going to help him at all.  Had we been in a class or in a consulting/client relationship, I might have said something like this:
"Try to find a more visual opening.  Is there an image or series of images that can foreshadow what this movie is about?  Try to find a situation that reveals the essence of the characters.  I am less worried about the stock police procedural and what they are doing than I am about how they are doing it.  If the characters don't have a unique way of doing their police work or of dealing with a crime scene like this, then it's the wrong opening.  If we agree that the theme is xxxxx and the essence of the character is yyyyyy, then do you see how (insert 10-second brilliant brainstorm here) might resonate a bit more?"

Maybe we would discuss the clever and completely different ways the writers and filmmakers set up other cops:  Riggs, Murtaugh, Serpico, Dirty Harry.  Maybe a Socratic method of sorts would allow us to discover more specific solutions. 
However, I do think that super-specific analysis of other writers or filmmakers' work is essential to the growth of a writer.  Of the 60 hours I spent in casting sessions last week, I spent 20 of them watching 120 actors perform the same scene a total of 250-300 times.  As boring as it was at times, I realized that this sort of experience has been an integral part of my writing and filmmaking growth. 
Unless you are making movies too, how do you expect to keep up with Jason Reitman or Quentin Tarantino as a writer?  Is Jim Mercurio's 4,000-word breakdown of a three-minute scene in Once Upon a Time in the West all you need?  No.  Does it hurt?  Hopefully not.  But there are many other ways you can create a rigorous workout for yourself that will allow your writing to rocket upward to the next level.
Here are some self-directed ways to dig deep into the hard-to-see craft of screenwriting:
DATA - Count the jokes per page or minute of a successful script or film in the same genre as yours.  Then count the jokes per page in your script.
SEQUENCES - Breakdown the sequences of a film that is in the same genre as yours.  Play around with the names of the sequences.  Whereas low-concept non-goal-oriented dramas might have labels like "their conflict compounds almost to a breaking point" which basically tracks the inner journeys of the character, in a high-concept "fantasy-conceit" story like Liar Liar, your sequences will also have to align to the concept: "Discovering the rules of the curse", "The Curse complicates his work life", "The curse complicates his personal life."
STOPWATCH/TIME CODE - Measure the length of the sequences in a movie you like.  Take a canonical 70s or 80s film in your genre and measure the average length of its scenes and then do the same for a current film in the genre.  Repeat the exercise with your own script.  For example, check out the classic "boat scene" from Some Like it Hot (start at minute two or three).  Assuming Tony Curtis' accent is part of the humor, then this is theoretically a flawless scene.  However, I think this scene would have trouble holding a modern audience's attention.  But don't take my opinion for it: I challenge you to find a scene in a successful modern rom com that takes its time like this (seven to eight minutes).  How's that for breezy analysis?
READING - Have a table read or a public "performance" (where you rewrite the action description for pacing) of your script.  You can do it on your own or consider this an organic plug for iScript, the new sponsor of Champion Screenwriting.  In the self-directed reading, there are two productive phases.  First, you get to fiddle around with directing actors.  I promise that several times you will frustrate them with unperformable adjustments and advice, and they will frustrate you with a complete inability to "get" a line the way you intend it.  But remember, the original purpose was to force you out of your comfort zone and to face the craft from others' perspectives.  Second, there is a way to make the actual performance create another epiphany.  Watch the performances during the rehearsals, but during the reading - AND I REALLY MEAN THIS - spend the entire time watching the audience. You will find out when they are bored or interested, and you will find out which jokes are working and which aren't.  You will also have an inner critic that will help you with the rewrite. When you get a sick feeling in your stomach, you know the line, joke, or beat needs some work.
ACTOR'S BREAKDOWN - In the Champion Lab, I teach writers to break down scenes as a director and an actor.  The classic way to break down a scene (Check out Harold Clurman's On Directing) is to assign a beat, usually in the form of a gerund or infinitive, to each line, part of line, or action.  For instance, in the margin, the actor might write the following beats:
To persuade/Persuading
To seduce/Seducing
To flatter/Flattering
To blackmail/Blackmailing
If your beats are repetitive or don't culminate enough or are simply spread out too much, then you can address the scene.  However, by forcing yourself to get beyond mere intuition (I guess we are coming full-circle back to DATA) you will be able to see your work much more clearly.
I remember in my film school days, Professor William Paul at the University of Michigan, taught a class on the gross-out genre (check out his book Laughing Screaming).  I was able to earn the tuition for my graduate degree in film by being a teaching assistant where we watched horror films like The Birds, The Exorcist, The Brood, Alien and Carrie.  That was the hard part. The cooler and easier part was that we also watched Porkies, Heaven Help Us, Animal House and Fast Times at Ridgemont High,   It's not a coincidence that that class yielded the writer of American Pie.  (If you want to nail a genre, LEARN IT, one way or another.)
Professor Paul's analysis was so in-depth that he would psychoanalyze us, the audience, by the unexpected places where we laughed.  For example, in Animal House, when the guys ram all of the cars on the way out of the parking lot, our laughter implied some racist intent, i.e. hostility toward African Americans.  He would wax eloquently for an hour about the racism in the scene with Otis Day and the Knights and posited that the chorus in Shama Lama Ding Dong, "ooh mow mow" was a reference to the Kenyan Mau Mau Rebellion.
Psychoanalysis.  Or psycho analysis?
But then one day he did one of my favorite scene analyses of all time. He broke down the dugout sex scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High with such specificity that it opened my eyes to the control a filmmaker has over his, or in this case, her work.  It changed my expectations about what I thought films could do, the amount of meaning that could be put into a commercial and Hollywood film.
And I guess that's what this is all about.  Expectations. 
I make a living by helping screenwriters raise their expectations about their writing.  I think intensive microanalysis of great and not-so-great scripts can be an eye-opening experience. You don't need your inner critic to be sitting on your shoulder telling you the 100 things that are wrong with your scene.  However, finding a way, via mentors, film school, reading, production process or workshops to open your eyes to all of the things that screenwriters and filmmakers can do right and wrong, is a powerful way to change your expectations of your work.  And I think raising your expectations about your writing is one of the first steps in raising your craft.
I try to balance the in-depth analysis (Dialogue, Dead Poet's Society) with lighter stuff (Costner article, this column), and I am curious to discover what works best.  Email me and tell me what your favorite craft article has been?  What was your favorite career topic?  What do you want to see more of?  Less of?  Thanks for reading... and writing.
Jim is accepting one or two new coaching or mentoring clients this year to begin after August.  All of them will be invited to a free weeklong or three-day class near the end of the year.
This issue was late because I was in a week of casting sessions amidst a week-and-a-half of 18-hour days.  But still, come on, Bruce is the guy who tells you to "prove it all night, every night."  How could I let him down?  How could I let the five readers of this column down?  (Oh, yeah, I can count the click-throughs to Youtube.  And the above link is not for the faint of attention.)
Would Bruce, i.e., the rock and roll archetype I carry in my head be disapointed if I didn't write my column this month?  The fictional Bruce never lets anyone down.  His passion is always perfect, his setlists long and his fans, by the end of the show, exhausted.  What if I wrote only a short column?  Would I forever be relegated to the Z-list, the Z Street Band, the black list of Bruce Springsteen story-craft columnists?
I have good excuses, imaginary Bruce.  I had a busy April.  Besides ending with the casting sessions for the movie I am directing this summer, it began with a week in Paris, followed by a weekend in New York City and a quick visit to Ann Arbor. Three of my favorite cities in the world.
From Jim's Camera Phone
L'Ard de Triomphe
But there in Zingerman's Deli over a Jay's BBQ Chicken (BBQ Amish chicken, Vermont raw milk cheddar on a Bakehouse bun), an epiphany hit me like a ton of cliches.  Trust the art, not the artist.  Especially not the made-up guilt-tripping saboteur imaginary artist from the depths of my subconscious who was telling me to write a really long column this month.
The art:
The night's busting open, these two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real, trade in these wings on some wheels
Rain pourin' down I swing my hammer
My hands are rough from working on a dream
Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost, I'll be there on time and I will pay the cost
For the ones who had a notion, a notion deep inside, that it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive
Yeah, I got a movie to make.  With the little time I have, I gotta hang with friends and family for a bit to fuel up for two grueling months of production.  Rock and roll has always been about living in the moment, living with passion and loving life. 
Live my life or write about it?  Do I write about rock and roll or do I live it?  Well, Bruce, you know the answer:
Hey, ho rock 'n' roll, deliver me from nowhere.
This column will be be on hiatus in June and July, barring unsolicited guest columns. 
 iScript Becomes a Sponsor
Having spent the last week in casting and hearing scenes read aloud over and over (and over) again, I was reminded how powerful a tool this can be for writers to improve their dialogue.  We workshop scenes with actors in the Champion Lab, but iScript gives you this experience on your own computer or iPod.  iScript is giving away a professional recording of the Grand Prize winner's script and 15-minute recording of ALL of the top 20 writers.  Here is a cut-and-dried FAQ for iScript.  Check 'em out.
What is an iScript?

An iScript is a professionally recorded audio version of a script or screenplay (or book, short story, thesis, annual report, etc.) read by professional readers, similar to an audiobook. iScripts can be listened to on MP3 players like iPods, Blackberries and iPhones or on an audio CD.
How much does an iScript cost?

General text starts at $100 and is based on $10 per one thousand words for an MP3 which you cannot resell, or $20 per one thousand words including Master Resale Rights.  An average-length script with one reader will cost you less than $300. See our pricing page for more information.
Why should I get an iScript?

Now that audio is a red-hot trend and more and more people are addicted to their iPods, having an iScript of your work could increase the chance that people will read or listen to it.

Listening to professional readers reading your work also helps you to evaluate it. When is it interesting? When does it lag? Are your characters coming across how you thought they would? iScripts help you get your writing in shape to sell.
How long does it take to make an iScript?

Short answer: 2 days or less for anything under 20,000 words (or an average length screenplay), 5 days for up to 100,000 words. Longer answer: Standard turnaround time is two to five business days when you order your iScript Monday through Friday before noon Pacific Time. If you choose a "Requested Reader" then we cannot guarantee a turnaround, since it depends on their availability.
Champion Screenwriting Competition's more than $40,000 in prizes is made possible because of the generous support of its sponsors: Virtual Pitch Fest, Julie Marsh, Truby's Writers Studio, The Writers Store, Rhona Berens, Ph.D., iScript and Its on the Grid.  Stay tuned for more information about the contest or our sponsors. 

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In This Issue
Analysis, Microanalysis and Psycho Analysis
Mercurio Interview with ScriptShadow
Attitude Adjustment with Brian Belefant
The Champion Corner: iScript
Quick Links
Story Analysis

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What Would the Boss Do?

I had a fleeting thought during a couple of shows on last tour.  I was a bit tired from the day of travel or the standing in line waiting to get the best seat possible.  Maybe it was during one of the songs I didn't really need to hear. Hungry Heart, anyone? 
I had this very anti-fan thought: Bruce is singing about passionately following your dream but I spent $1000 in travel and tickets and three full days on shows this month... is this cutting into my ability to follow mine?


Killer Endings

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Killer Endings
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T-Word: Theme
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A-List filmmakers with billions of dollars in box office have relied on Jim and his DVDs. 
But more importantly for you, Jim will be offering classes in a few cities across the country where students watch the DVDs on their own and then come for an intense 2-3 day follow-up workshop.
Want to be ready for a class?  Want to host one in your city?  Grab these DVDs and stay tuned!
Get creative support to support your creativity.
Contact Rhona Berens, PhD, ACC,
for a complimentary coaching session.
Check her out.
Read a cool interview with her.

Inter. Screenwriters Assc.

Jim is directing a micro-budgeted feature in Michigan. Seeking a full time assistant on location in July and part time via web a few weeks before after.
Will be privy to all aspects of the production.  A great learning experience
For more info, email Jim. 
Kevin Costner
Kevin Costner
If you enjoyed the article on Kevin Costner from last year, check out a video of the interview it was based on.
Unless otherwise noted, all content is copyrighted by A-List Screenwriting, LLC or James P. Mercurio.