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Issue 18                                                                                                                                        March 10, 2011

Dear Writer,

Welcome to our 18th issue.

For those new subscribers, recent Champion Screenplay Competition entrants, you dodged a bullet by missing the last newsletter.  A tragedy of color proportions.  In the immortal words of Lost in Space's Dr. Smith: Penny, Will, the pain, the pain... take it away!

Last Newsletter

Last issue: a tribute to the late great Burl Ive's classic: Purple and Gold.


But a loyal reader who also happens to be a designer helped me get things under control for this issue.  We are much further along in figuring out our new look.

Below is my brand new craft article, The Importance of Importance, which shows you how to dig deep into your characters in dramas as well as comedies. In a bonus section, I take a brief  trip down memory lane in introducing a handful of screenwriting-related tutorials from the bonus material for Hard Scrambled.

There is a What Would the Boss Do? and Style Matters columns from one of our first issues which should be new for 90% of you. 

The Early Deadline for the 2011 Champion Competition is tomorrow.  Check out what's new this year --  pitches, scenes and TV -- in our Champion Corner. Because of a mistake in our entry form, until tomorrow, all feature entrants can order a set of Champion Development Notes for a previously-submitted screenplay to have it qualify for resubmission.  

Thanks for reading!


Jim Mercurio 

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Jim Mercurio  

Jim Mercurio


In last issue, I showed how to avoid clunky exposition by improving your characters' communication. If a character isn't listening or is unable to perceive what the other person is saying, then there is no chance of subtlety or subtext.  But once you characters are fine-tuned and perched to react, what's next?  Give them something to which they can react.  Something important.  


We might not have the same neurotic concerns as a character in an old school Woody Allen flick or like in last year's Greenberg (maybe a bad example coming from me personally), so sometimes it's difficult to see what angle to take on a scene that will resonate the most with our characters. What's important to us might not be important to them.  To get out of our heads and into our characters', let's look at a way actors do it. 


As writers, if we write a scene where a character misses his bus, we think we have two options: 1) Make the character jump up and down, throwing a literal or figurative hissy fit or 2) Allow the character to take it in stride.  But look at it from an actor's perspective.  One of the things they do when preparing for a scene is to find, what Michael Shurtleff in his book Audition, calls Importance.  And that is the deep-seated connection that ties the character to an event.  I have seen actors try to make up stuff to do in a scene where the event doesn't faze them.  It's not pretty.  But you can't blame them.  It's the writer's fault. In the bus scenario,  if the character can't or won't have a hissy fit, then -- guess what? -- don't have your character miss the bus.  Cut the scene. 


You have to create situations where your characters find a personal and profound significance in what's in front of them.  I might be the only teacher who will follow a Max Von Sydow scene from a Bergman film with one from a Will Ferrell comedy, but that's how I roll.  So let's look at a serious film and then at The Other Guys to see how writers and actors find importance in surprising places.


to read more 

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A Glimpse at the Bonus Material


I am gonna mix a little new school with old school this month.  I had a couple of hundred hits on last month's video blog, so it seems like readers dug it, so here are a few more videos related to screenwriting. 


I produced a film called Hard Scrambled about five years ago with my buddy Erik Bauer who founded Creative Screenwriting.  We ran a contest to find the script and we let the writer direct.  The Champion Contest has a low budget prize this year, too, so who knows what could happen if you win.    

HS Poster

Kurtwood Smith as Benno

We wound up using our, ah, experiences and allowing others to learn from them. I wrote and directed two hours of  bonus material for the DVD, a filmmaking tutorial, called Making Hard Scrambled Movies.  It contained an hour long warts-and-all doc about the process as well as a dozen or so topical video tutorials.   


Although I aimed them for filmmakers, my love of film and my skills as a filmmaker blur the boundaries between writing, producing and directing.  I have been on a half-life-long quest to understand and teach storytelling as a way to become a better storyteller myself.  Here are a few of the modules that I think really apply to screenwriters.  And in the right-hand column, I put a section that will appeal more to filmmakers.


Here is the trailer to give you a bit of context. But please check out the warning before you go a-clickin'.  


Hard Scrambled Trailer w/ Kurtwood Smith

Hard Scrambled Trailer w/ Kurtwood Smith

As you get deeper into a career and an industry, you gotta eventually worry about the M-word, Money.  But my biggest regret about this movie not getting a wide release was that Kurtwood gave a performance of a lifetime.  I wish more people could have watched him.


Visuals: Locations, Props, Motifs

Visuals: Locations, Props, Motifs

This is one of my favorite modules and it was where I really started integrating my filmmaking background into my screenwriting instruction.  My scene writing book will expand on a lot of this.  Check out my blog for a temporary Scene Analysis service I am offering as part of my search for scenes to license for the book.


Kill Your Darlings

Kill Your Darlings

David, the director, was willing to be honest about his work here.  I tried to be, too.  In the right-hand column I talk about how, on the set of my first feature, I had to "study up" to learn actor-speak. 

Mise En Scene

Mise en Scene

I know screenwriters aren't supposed to direct on the page, but the lesson here is to remind you that it is your job to fill the page with cool and interesting stuff. In my filmmaking classes, I have students direct a "mise en scene" scene with a static camera where all the movement comes from within the frame.  It forces them to think about scenes in a different way. I have been blown away by some of their creative discoveries involving blocking, mirrors, doors, shadows, light changes and diagetic sound.




Hs Cover

Hard Scrambled

Two DVD Set

 Click Here to Buy 

More than an hour of

Additional Bonus Material

$19.99 + sh


The double-DVD set includes half-a-dozen more modules (including ones on film finance and publicity) as well as an hour-long candid look at the movie's successes and failures including interviews from the filmmakers, Indie stalwart Richard Edson and the man himself, Kurtwood Smith.





by David Gillis


I've been an editor for more than 20 years - including 15 at The Boston Globe - and if there's one thing I've learned about writers (including myself) it's that they tend to make the same mistakes repeatedly.  Work with a writer long enough and you become quite intimate with his or her foibles.  Work with a lot of scribes in a particular field and you begin to see a larger pattern emerge, in which all of the writers - in our case screenwriters - make the same mistakes over and over.  Why?  I think for the most part it's the wolf-pack mentality.  For example, if Joe and Jill and Jamal all italicize words in their scripts, it must be OK to do so.






One never italicizes anything in a script.  And I mean never.  "Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?" you ask in your best HAL-like voice.  "You just broke your own rule about italic.  I'm afraid you can't do that."


Sure I can, and here's why: Style allows it - at least style for the sort of stuff I'm writing now.


Now by "style" I don't mean "a distinctive manner of expression" (Webster's Tenth Collegiate Dictionary) or, to put it more simply, a writer's way with words.  By "style" I mean the rules that apply to a particular type of writing.  It doesn't matter what sort.  Sonnets, articles for medical journals, ad jingles: All writing must abide by certain rules, some esoteric to a certain field.  Newswriting, for example, is largely governed by The Associated Press Stylebook, which every good journalist should memorize cover to cover.  (Most don't, which is why yours truly found work as a copy editor for so many years.)


Some of you might be surprised to learn this, but screenwriting, too, has its own style - a set of rules governing what should and should not be done in a script (such as no italic - and, for that matter, no boldface).  In fact, there are several good screenwriting stylebooks on the market.  I prefer - and religiously use - The Hollywood Standard (hereafter THS) by Christopher Riley.  Others include The Screenwriter's Bible (Trottier) and The Complete Screenwriter's Manual (Bowles, Mangravite, Zorn Jr.).  Whatever your preference, buy a stylebook.  Read it, learn it.


But as you surf over to Amazon to order one, you need to heed one big caveat: Despite Riley's title, there is no such standard in Hollywood.  I'm sure that you'll find on the Internet any number of produced scripts that break every single rule in THS (as well as the other style guides).  God knows I have, and I attribute this to the fact that there are no style mavens overseeing the editing of scripts (unlike a well-run newspaper, which has its own crack copy desk ... and yet all of those Page 3 corrections).  


So if what I just wrote is true - that there is no standard - why should you even care about style?


To read more 


Craft: The Importance of



Don't worry, I'm not going to discuss Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage, but in the last paragraph "a Bergman film" worked better than "a Lumet film."  Consider the deli scene in Serpico.  A young Al Pacino bucks the system and orders something different than what the other cops eat (for free from the owner).  Pacino is willing to go back and confront the owner about the fatty meat in the sandwich.  Here is the dialogue:



Well, I'm not fussy.  I don't  

know how I'm gonna eat this.



Charlie's okay. We give him a  

break on double parking on  




Couldn't I pay for it, get  

what I want?



Frank, generally, you just sort  

of take what Charlie gives you.


Near the end of the scene, Serpico tries to stand up to approach Charlie and Becker lightly grabs him and makes him sit down.  It's just lunch but it's way more than that.  In the story world, the freedom and livelihood of the cops are based on the power of their mutual agreement to break the law and profit from their power.  A character who stands up against the collective "take what the Man gives you" and is willing to think for himself poses a major threat.  So whereas Serpico's desire for personal freedom is important to him, so is Becker's desire to keep the status quo.  If Becker isn't smart enough to know this consciously, he has to at least know it on a subconscious level.  Otherwise, like the bus example, you cut the scene. Or add a character to make it work.




As promised, let's mix it up.  In The Other Guys, Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell play partners,  underappreciated members of the police force.  Here is one of the most memorable moments in the film:

The Other Guys - Tuna vs Lion

The Other Guys - Tuna vs Lion


If you can't jump on YouTube right now, here is the scene's dialogue:



If we were in the wild, I would attack you.  Even if you weren't in my food chain, I would go out of my way to attack you!  If I were a lion and you were a tuna, I'd swim out in the middle of the ocean and freakin' EAT YOU!  And then I'd bang your tuna girlfriend.



Ok, first off, a lion?  Swimming in the ocean?  Lions don't like water!  If you placed it near a river or some sort of fresh water source, that makes sense.  But you find yourself in the ocean, 20 foot waves (I'm assuming it's off the coast of South Africa).  Going up against a full grown 800-pound tuna with his 20 or 30 friends?  You lose that battle.  You lose that battle 9 times out of 10.  Well guess what?  You've wandered into a school of tuna and we now have a taste of lion!  We've talked to ourselves.  We've communicated.  And I said, 'You know what?!  Lion tastes good!  Let's go get some more lion!'  We've developed a system: to establish a beachhead and to aggressively hunt you and your family.  And we will corner you and your, your pride, your children.  



How you gonna do that?  



We will construct a series of breathing apparatus with kelp!  We will be able to track certain amounts of oxygen.  It's not gonna be days at a time.  An hour?  Hour 45?  No problem!  That'll give us enough time to figure out where you live, go back to the sea, get more oxygen, and then stalk you.  You just lost in your own game.  You're outdone and outmanned. (beat)Did that go the way you thought it was gonna go? NOPE.


As silly as this is, from a craft level, we gotta give it props.  Will Ferrell goes for it.  It's clear that winning this little fight and defeating Mark Walhberg within his own metaphor is very important to him.  And look at the importance he gives to the little details: "Hour 45?  No problem."  You see that same sort of commitment as an actor in Step Brothers, for instance, when he and John C. Reilly fight over "not touching" the drum set.  When he eventually does, ah, touch it in his special way, it's hilarious, and for the genre, the anger and the fight works.  This is how importance or exaggerated importance helps in a comedy.  Make a character really truly care about something that most people don't care about.  Take a small trait like  "I don't like to have my stuff touched" and take its importance to the character to a hyperbolic level.  Go all the way.


In drama, the power in a situation comes from its alignment with the deeper forces inside the character.  A clever way of thinking about how this works in comedy is to find situations that, instead of align perfectly, RHYME with the event or pain in the past.  Although the current situation shouldn't have the same emotional magnitude as the more serious issues in the past, the characters imbue it with the same level of importance.  Consider a woman in a controlling marriage.  During a road trip, she argues with her husband about where to stop for dinner.  Our character might explode or snap and demand McDonald's over Burger King.  Fighting for control over where to eat rhymes with the bigger issue of having no control in her life.  In comedy, you can play up the specifics or the seeming irrelevance of the two choices.  Don't make an entire movie out of it like Clerks XIV but go for a half-page tirade about the difference in their fries.  Or, if you want to tie it in thematically, here is the inspiration for the rant: Have it your way.  Now have at it.


The super-deep, not-so-deep theory here is that you want to find external situations that align with the inner conflict of the character.  Importance is like a steel rod (or in comedy, an anorexic filament) that connects the present action to something deeper and more meaningful in the character's past.  Everything he faces in the present is just a (pick-your metaphor) shadow, reflection, fun-house mirror reflection, projection or echo of his past pain or internal conflict.  It's off topic to go into detail here but this is how a nongoal-oriented or slice-of-life movie works when the successive external situations are not linked by cause and effect: the "deeper" stuff underneath will be where we find the narrative logic (ironically through emotion).   




I was working with a client and we took a break from his script to look at scenes he wanted to study.  He showed me some scenes from The Departed, and among them was a quick scene that displayed many of the qualities of advanced screenwriting.  Warner Bros. has been generous about making the screenplay available for people to read, so here is a PDF of The Departed.  This scene is from page 20 where Colin, Matt Damon's character, has recently graduated from the Police Academy and is looking for an apartment.  Note the letters A, B and C are mine for reference.






A REALTOR switches on lights. An empty, flash apartment above the Parisian rooftops of Beacon Hill. A view of the Dome.  More than you'd think a cop could afford. We see, as COLIN does, beyond his reflection in the glass, the STATE HOUSE DOME.



This is it. Nice. You've got  

high ceilings, parquet floors.  

There's a lock on the fridge in  

case you have eating issues...

Joke... not a very good one.


So, you're a policeman?



(like something he is

used to reciting)

I'm a State Police detective.(A)



(wondering where he gets  

his money from)(Note from  

Jim: you don't need the  

parenthetical because the

character is smart enough  

to "get it" a beat later:

"I have a co-signer.")

State Police Detective. You a  

married State Police Detective?



(coming out of his reverie  

and coldly:)




Oh, 'cause it's big and I  

wondered if a cop...(B)



I have a cosigner.



You intend to have a housemate.   

That's cool. (C)



Give me the fuckin' papers.


This scene does several cool things, primarily showing how the spine of a story works in conjunction with the goal.  As a stand-alone mini-story, the character's goal is to get an apartment.  There are several ways to complicate things and create obstacles for that goal.  The realtor could be obnoxious in a more vague way, he could waste time, be a tough business man or he could even be deaf.  But if that was the bus that we chose Colin to miss, is that a situation that he has a strong reaction to?  No.  So, underneath the simple goal of finding an apartment is some pretty intense and specific conflict as subtext.  In 30 seconds in successive beats, the realtor questions (A) the status of his profession (and probably by extension his lineage and intelligence), (B) his social status including income, net worth, and possibly his worthiness of finding a wife, and finally the ultimate blow to his masculinity, (C) whether or not he is gay.  Talk about Importance?  Give me the fuckin' papers!


Remember that metaphor of the steel rod connecting the past to the present?  It also connects the external to the internal.  If Colin is a guy whose inner turmoil is only, say, a wrestling with a moral sense of right and wrong, then although this scene went for the jugular, it went for the jugular of the wrong character.  IMPORTANCE only exists if these current attacks are actually connected to what is meaningful and important to the character.  Attacking his masculinity and status only have dramatic weight if those are really his looming issues.  Here's why I thought it was right on:  I hadn't seen the movie in a few years but I did remember that the character was portrayed as impotent.  With the context of the scene I understood the "Dome" looming over him was more about status and rank in life ("Do I deserve to be here?") than other obvious connotations like legality, morality, society, government or political power.  If I'm right, then it's a powerful scene because the simple action of renting an apartment tested the character's entire sense of self -- his profession, his net worth, his self-worth, his power as a man, and his sexual identity.   


I wanted to make sure I didn't make the same mistake as I did in the WWTBD? column and take the first possible or convenient meaning of the Dome and cling to it. I went beyond intuition to look for data and craft to make sure the Dome meant what I thought it did.  A quick Command F (Find) for the word "Dome" gave me the proof I needed.  There is a scene earlier in the script where after a Rugby game pitting Colin and his police buddies against the firemen, Colin takes a break.   




The game breaks up with each group giving each

other the finger. FIREFIGHTERS are moving away triumphantly.



Fucking firemen are getting  

pussy for the first time  

in the history of fire.  

Or pussy.


COLIN sits on a bench looking at THE GOLD DOME OF BEACON HILL. The terraces of fine townhouses. Aqueous golden light behind. Misty golden beauty.



What are you looking at? Forget  

it. Your father was a janitor,  

and his son's only a cop.



(not vainglorious,  

but innocently stretching  

for the idea)

You're in trouble if you're  

"only" anything.  


We've got two orders of MEN playing a violent sport, calling each other pussies, and one of them is admonished as if his father's inability to reach a high enough status denies him the right to even look at the gold dome.  Whew, I'm not in the wrong business after all.  The realtor scene, with some help from the Dome (and setup which clarifies the relevant connotation), and a hint at the character's inner life digs really deep: stirring up the character by attacking the concise core of his fears.   Amateur screenplays might take a scene that has a simple plot function like this and only let it rise to an emotional or intensity level of 2-3 out of 10, but by aligning the seemingly banal present day situation with values that matter to him, this scene from The Departed ratchets up the conflict and importance and hits the character hard.  Surprisingly hard.


There are obviously times when this idea of Importance is not so subtle.  Think of Thelma and Louise when Louise at the Texas border and is unwilling to enter the state line.  If you have been awake for the first part of the movie, you can see how the present is connected to her past. In complex storytelling you have to walk the line between being melodramatic, i.e., trying to milk a situation for more emotion than the moment is worth, and being flat or non-dramatic by not digging deeply enough into the emotional possibilities.  Always ask yourself why a scene is important for a character.  If you don't have an answer, then keep digging.   Now you know where to land that shovel.



 Jim is accepting two more Coaching clients between now and June.  Coaching and Mentoring clients get to attend a free weeklong class in Los Angeles with Jim near the end of the year. 





Here's the realtor scene.  Notice nice little added line to tweak the meaning.  The realtor says: You move in, you're upper class by about Tuesday.

The Departed Realtor Scene is Minute 1, Second 17

The Departed Realtor Scene is  

Minute 1, Second 17







Well, here are two very good reasons:

First, Hollywood is looking for any excuse to say "no" to your script, because it's easier - and safer - than saying "yes."   Don't give anyone that excuse by making avoidable mistakes.  An A-list screenwriter can break any rule he or she wants.  Spec screenwriters like us can't - or do so at our own peril.


Second, style (the rules) begets style (that sometimes elusive "way with words").  If, for example, you don't know that in a screenplay you should always use the present tense of a verb and the active voice, and avoid pompous adjectives, you'll write monstrosities such as "He walked slowly past the high-speed air circulator" instead of "He trudges past the fan."  Learning style will make you a better writer.


Enough haverin'.  Here are the 10 most common mistakes (in no particular order) that I've seen screenwriters make in their scripts.  Of course, one or two gaffes might not hurt your chances of success, but a script riddled with them will mark you as a rank amateur - and your uphill battle just gets steeper.



This is one of screenwriting's biggest workhorses - and one of the most misused.  To make a proper dash, type a double hyphen.   This method is a holdover from the days when scripts were created on those antiquated machines called "typewriters."   You must place a space on either side.  Note: Take care that a dash is not left hanging on a line by itself.



Another workhorse, equally misused.  It's always three (not four, not two) periods or dots... and there's never a space before it (so that it's never left hanging by itself)... but always a space after it...



Double-space after each period.  This is the standard, if only because it's more Reader-friendly.  And as you must know, you want that Reader to love you. 



Only certain words should be capitalized in scripts.  That's because capitalization serves a specific function.  A good stylebook can tell you what should - and should not - be capped, but until you buy one here's a general guide (based on the mistakes I see most people make):

   1. Don't capitalize props.

   2. Don't capitalize a character unless he or she speaks.

   3. Cap all sounds and the things that make them.  Don't cap sounds that an onscreen character makes.  But if the sound happens offscreen, cap it.   


Sadly, many of the scripts I edit suffer from what I call the "boy who cried wolf" syndrome.  Writers cap words arbitrarily - as though doing SO somehow MAKES the writing PROFOUND.  You see WHAT I mean?   After awhile the words lose their intended emphasis.



Character names must be consistent throughout.  If, for example, you introduce a GRUMPY OLD NURSE, the character name over her dialogue must be GRUMPY OLD NURSE each and every time - not GRUMPY NURSE or OLD NURSE or just NURSE.


Too many times a writer will introduce a generic character - someone without a proper name - then use the same generic name for a number of different characters.  For example, a screenplay set in the business world.  JAMES has a SECRETARY.  His business rival, MARY, also has a SECRETARY, who's obviously not the same person as James's secretary (unless he or she is some sort of double agent).  See the problem?  The solution is to differentiate them as JAMES'S SECRETARY and MARY'S SECRETARY.  Or give the poor old secretary a name, especially if he or she has a fairly substantial role.


If you do use a generic name, you must capitalize the first letter in each subsequent reference.  Thus, if you introduce a GRUMPY OLD NURSE, he or she becomes Grumpy Old Nurse in all action (direction) thereafter.



Consistency also applies to shot (scene) headings.  Once you've designated a place as JOE'S APARTMENT, you can't just call it APARTMENT later in the script.  And never use an article - the, a, an - in a shot heading.  Thus, don't write THE APARTMENT.



Too many times a writer forgets where he or she is.  For example, we're told that we're INT. CAR, where Joe invariably "grips the wheel tightly as he speeds along."  Then, without any warning, Joe "slams on the brakes, leaps from the car, and dashes into the house, where he throws open the fridge, grabs a pint of blood, and guzzles it."  See the problem?   We've just dashed past two missing shot headings: EXT. CAR and INT. KITCHEN.  Watch where you're going, and tell us every step of the way.



Many style mavens take a minimalist approach to the time element in a shot heading - that is, whether it's DAY or NIGHT.  I've joined that camp, too.  Thus, once you've established the time (for example, DAY) you don't need to repeat it in each shot that takes place during the day.  Just tell us when it changes to NIGHT.


So that means you don't need to tell us when it's DAWN, or MID MORNING, or AFTERNOON or MIDNIGHT, unless for some reason you require it for the story's sake.  Even then, if MIDNIGHT is your witching hour - when the hero turns into a kumquat - a simple NIGHT will suffice.  Besides, your action should show us that it's midnight, such as Big Ben tolling 12.


While we're at it, if you've done your job you don't need LATER, CONTINUOUS, or SAME.  All of those time elements are assumed... unless you've reworked Memento in a multiverse where everyone speaks backward except on Tuesday.  In that case you might want to help us along.



Most of the time a parenthetical isn't necessary.  If you've done your work - which means rewriting your dialogue for the umpteenth time - then you don't need to tell us that Joe delivers the following line angrily: "I'm gonna kill you, you freakin' piece of offal."  But if there is some doubt about how to say the line and thus do need a parenthetical, at least make sure that you've used it correctly.  That means that it sits on its own properly indented line, below the character's name and above the dialogue to be spoken.  And it's never placed after the dialogue.  Again, a good stylebook has all of the rules.  Among them: Don't cap the first letter.



No one uses CONT'D for a character who speaks twice or more in succession.  Turn that off in Final Draft or Movie Magic.  But don't turn off the MORE and CONT'D when dialogue breaks across two pages.


David Gillis was a journalist for more than 20 years, including 15 as an editor on the Living/Arts and Business copy desks at The Boston Globe. He has written for newspapers and magazines nationwide. 


I had a momentary lapse in the way theme works in stories and how I had defined it in my DVD: as the intersection of possible meanings.  The line from the song has several possible interpretations, but I took just one of them and clung to it.  
Writers do the same thing with their scripts.  They put in something like, say, a divorce or breakup. And they think to themselves: There is no way for anyone to interpret this as anything but a loss or an ending.  However, in conjunction with subplots, dialogue, and motifs, you can actually turn the meaning of something like a couple breaking up into something else.  Freedom.  A new beginning.  The moral thing to do.  A sacrifice.
Each element in your story has its own baggage and connotations, which are its possible meaning or its most likely meaning. But it's not until you collide and combine it with other elements that you can see what facet of that element is relevant to your story at hand.  The gestalt that is created by the mathematical intersection of all possible meanings of all of your story's elements is theme.

Theme w/o heading


I watch the moon trace its arc with no regrets 

This line does not mean that the moon has no regrets. It means that the narrator has no regrets as time passes, because he is in love with his partner and cherishes every day with her.  I know this not from the line itself but because of what it has in common with the other lines in the song.  You can read all of the lyrics here. But here are a few of the lines that help to narrow and constrict the meaning of the above line and the ultimate meaning of the entire piece:

With you, I don't hear the minutes ticking by


I don't see the summer as it wanes, just the subtle change of light upon your face


I watch the sun as it rises and sets [implied and]


I watch the moon trace its arc with no regrets


And I count my blessings that you're mine for always

We laugh beneath the covers and count the wrinkles and the grays


This is our kingdom of days. 

Damn, even the title is thematically perfect.  I might not be able to know its meaning before I hear the song, but after I find the intersection -- what is in common -- of all possible meanings then it's really easy for me to understand the results, the ultimate point: The character has no worries about time or his immortality, because his love for and time spent with his lover transcend all of that and bring him peace in the here and now.

In addition to the tidy lesson about how elements work together to create theme and meaning, remember that all of this is moot if you don't have a story with a passionate core.  In a three-minute story, Bruce aims to tell a love story as emotionally true and big as Casablanca
Make sure you're aiming at least as high in your 100-minute story.
Here's a live
version of the song.



Champion Logo 



We feature information about the contest as well as its sponsors here.  This month, Champion's Jim Mercurio sits down (or does he?) with his Alter-Ego to discuss the 2011 contest, some of its changes and highlights.


Alter-Ego: Thanks for sitting down and talking to me.  Mind if I stand?


Jim Mercurio: No problem.


AE: So what's new about the contest this year?


JM: Where to start?  Well, the Grand Prize is still $10,000 but we have doubled second and third place.  I literally took a poll on our Facebook page and pretty much everybody was about sharing the love, spreading the wealth.  I think there will be more than $5,000 in new prizes for just the top 20 feature writers.  Later in the season, we will try to add some sort of travel stipend or allowance to encourage all of the top writers to attend the Champion Lab.


AE: So what's brand new?


JM: That's a great question.


AE: Bite me.


JM: Nice.  This year we have added a TV Category for dramas, comedies and pilots and the top ten writers will be invited --


AE: -- and what do you know about TV?  Besides the Night Court Spec you wrote in grad school?


JM: I know that once Ellen Sandler, whose wrote The TV Writer's Workbook came aboard, it was a no-brainer to add a TV category and  champion TV writers too. She is going to host a private TV class - in the spirit of the Champion Lab -  for the top 10 writers. Ellen has been nominated for an Emmy and was a writer for Coach and Everybody Loves Raymond.  She will cojudge the category, too, with a writer working on a current network show.


AE: Enough about her, what about you?


JM: Wow!  Ellen is awesome. We have worked together at the Expo and at the Duke City Shootout.  She is going to be such a gift to the TV writers.


AE: I heard you are accepting pitches.


JM: Yeah, we have a separate contest running concurrently, Champion's Scene and Pitch Competition.  I don't think anything has been done like it before.   


AE: What exactly is a pitch?


JM: You read my mind. I was just going to talk about that. The cool thing is that the pitches are freeform... we left it wide open.  Writers can hook the reader with a high-concept story idea any way they can in three pages.


AE: And you guarantee it will be sold for seven-figures against eight-figures?


JM: No, not at all.


AE: Well, what's in it for me?  


Four Jims 


JM: Excuse me?


AE: Assuming I were the winning writer and, ah, I asked that question... the answer would be...


JM: We're giving away more than $500 in cash but we are giving away something even better.  If you have been paying attention to the newsletter over the past year, you know there are certain advantages to clever stories with a hook?  But writers need to follow through with the execution.  The winner will receive dozens of hours of feedback and help from me, other readers and at least one manager.  We want to help them create a polished and presentable script.  Until the Early Bird Deadline, this Friday, pitches and scenes are only $10.


AE: I tried to enter a scene the other day but I got writer's block when I tried to write the setup.   


JM: Most scenes aren't going to need it but writers can add a few short paragraphs to make the context clear.  It might even make sense to write a setup for a script and then enter its few best scenes.   


AE: But the Early Bird Deadline is only a few days away. I feel so rushed.   


JM:  How about this?  We will make the prices of the pitches and scenes during the next deadline 20% less than what we originally announced.  Instead of $15, they will be only $12.


AE: Willie, Mickey and the Duke... Say hey!


JM: What?


AE: Mercurio, you are so random.


JM: Uh, me?


AE: What is it with these random prizes?


JM: Oh, them?  Well, I get bored easily so I like to inject an element of surprise into all that I do, so we will add a few prizes later in the year.  We announced two Early Bird Prizes: a randomly-selected TV and feature quarterfinalist who enters before March 11 will win a seat in Ellen's Workshop and The Champion Lab, respectively.  We will announce something like that for people who did multiple entries or who had the most QF results across all categories.  And I got a few other surprises to pull out later in the year.


AE: Anything else you'd like to add?   


JM: I want to remind everyone that there are two ways to be allowed to resubmit a rewrite of your feature. You can choose the Contest Coverage Category and receive a page or so of feedback or you can sign up for Champion Development Notes and get 4-5 pages of feedback.  If you submit through Withoutabox, you can email us to order the notes.  The rule is you have 24 hours from your original submission to order Champion Notes and still be eligible for resubmission but since we had some problems with our shopping cart at the site, until Friday, anyone who has entered can add Champion Development Notes and have their submission be retroactively made eligible for resubmission.  But after that, the 24-hour rule stands. E-mail us to order Champion Development Notes on a previously-submitted script.



The 2011 Champion Screenwriting Competition would like to thanks its sponsors InkTip, iScript, It's on the Grid, Rhona Berens, PhD, Truby Writer's Studio and Virtual Pitchfest. 







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In This Issue
Craft: The Importance of Importance
Bonus: Screenwriting Vid Tutorials
Style Matters: 10 Common Mistakes
Champion Corner: Updates & Interview
WWTBD? Theme: Intersection of Possible Meaning
Killer Endings Sale
Filmmakers Only: HS Tutorials




Virtual Pitchfest 




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What Would the Boss Do?


Intersection of Possible Meanings

The first time I listened to "Kingdom of Days," my favorite song from Bruce Springsteen's most recent album Working On a Dream, I was struck by a line:


I watch the moon trace its arc with no regrets


That line really resonated with me.  I immediately thought about it in terms of being true to yourself.  Like, dude, I am who I am.  No regrets.   "Can a leopard change its spots?" 


There is something powerful about a stellar body following its destiny without question.  I thought that by anthropomorphizing the moon with an unwavering focus on following its essence, Bruce was able to celebrate and elevate that trait when it appears in humans.  Personally, this idea resonates with me.  


But after I listened to the song again, I realized I was completely off.


to read more 

Killer Endings  

Killer Endings

 and The T-Word: 





Buy Now 

Killer Endings


Buy Now 
 T-Word: Theme


Buy Now 


A-List filmmakers with billions of dollars in box office have relied on Jim and his DVDs. You can too!  



Screenwriting Dictionary 





The underlying message that unifies the script. The theme is displayed/created in the outcome of the protagonist's main dilemma, and its ideas will be echoed in subplots, character orchestration, and other recurring motifs like props, locations, and wardrobe. For example, Jurassic Park's main theme is about the destiny of nature - presented through the deux ex machina ending with the T-Rex devouring the lower-on-the-food-chain velociraptor and the protagonist giving up his protests against kids and family. Nature will out, regardless of human will and interference. In Casablanca, Rick has a choice between romantic love and duty (love of country) and he chooses both, which yields the thematic idea that there is a higher or all-inclusive love.





The division responsible for assessing and improving story ideas, stories and screenplays. The typical hierarchy in a production company goes as follows: Reader, Creative Exec, Director of Development, Vice-President of Development, Director/Producer.




A style of filmmaking where a scene or sequence is shot continuously (without any cuts) with a moving camera, using a variety of techniques, including tracking, dollying, handheld, crane, boom, stedicam, etc., that follows the main action. Famous fluid camera sequences show up in movies such as The Player, Touch of Evil, and Goodfellas. In contrast to Mise En Scene, the visual interest here is created by camera movement. A common mistake made by amateur filmmakers on low budget shoots is to use this style for an extended shot that does not have the production values -- lighting, extras, rehearsal time, production design, control of a location -- to sustain the visual interest, variety, or dramatic tension.

Hs Cover



Hard Scrambled Filmmaking: Editing


In the additional material, there is a lively debate where the editors, director and producers duke it out about their biggest disagreement.



   Check out a scene we reshot a year later where we rebuilt a set from scratch.

Working With Actors

Working with Actors

  I admit how clueless I was on my first film.

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.   

New This Year!


Champion Development Notes


This service grew out of last years' entrants' desire to get more feedback from our awesome Champion Readers. This service provides four-five pages of detailed feedback and gives the entrant the status of their script in the contest. If Champion Development Notes are ordered within 24 hours of a script's submission, the script is also eligible for resubmission. The service can only be ordered through the Champion site, so a writer who enters through Withoutabox, can add the service at our site.


Feature Entrants of Champion Screenwriting Competition


Our order form didn't allow writers to add Development Notes separate from entries. We are giving writers until the Early Deadline to add Champion Dev. Notes to features - even if it was already entered - which qualifies it for resubmission.  To do so, e-mail us or click on the underlined link above before Friday.

Lost in Space


Click the word "word" in the intro letter for a surprise from Dr. Smith.

Unless otherwise noted, all content is copyrighted by A-List Screenwriting, LLC or James P. Mercurio.