08.13.2015 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

WHO THE F*$K IS STAN? and 14 other questions about TRUE DETECTIVE SEASON TWO

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“Forget about it, Ray. It’s Vinci.”

The great SLOG-WATCH of True Detective season two is over, and I’ve got a few things to say about it. But I’m not just here to point out flaws, I’m also offering solutions so that maybe we can learn something from the 8 1/2 hours of our lives we devoted to this season.

It was inevitable that from the first minute, the second season of True Detective would be compared to the first, and that would be a tough comp for any series. Season two has been almost universally judged to have fallen short of the bar set by the first season, which featured star talent, cinematic production values, some great writing and fantastic direction. Considering its evergreen pedigree, I can’t help but wonder if season two’s 8 episodes, as is, had aired on a different network, under a different name, if they would have been lambasted so badly. I’d surmise that it would have got off easier, but it still would have attracted a lot of criticism. With or without the comparison to the first season, True Detective season 2 was heavily flawed and utterly frustrating to watch. read more

08.11.2015 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

David Simon interview “SHOW ME A HERO” on HBO

Oscar Isaac in "Show Me a Hero."

Oscar Isaac in “Show Me a Hero.”

David Simon is the creator of The Wire, which is often cited as the greatest television drama of all time. I wouldn’t argue with that label. His latest project is SHOW ME A HERO, a 6-hour miniseries on HBO, starring Oscar Isaac, Alfred Molina, Catherine Keener, Winona Ryder and many others, directed by Paul Haggis (“Crash”) and based on the book of the same name by Lisa Belkin. It is Executive Produced by Nina K. Noble, Gail Mutrux and William F. Zorzi.

Logline: In an America generations removed from the greatest civil rights struggles of the 1960s, the young mayor of a mid-sized American city is faced with a federal court order that says he must build a small number of low-income housing units in the white neighborhoods of his town. His attempt to do so tears the entire city apart, paralyzes the municipal government and, ultimately, destroys the mayor and his political future.

Q: When did you become aware of Lisa Belkin’s book? What initially struck you about it, and when did you see the potential for adapting it for the screen? read more

05.19.2015 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

BOOKENDS: We are all Don Draper (the pilot and series finale of Mad Men)

Don Draper Mad Men image

Here’s a character arc we can all understand:

From blocked creative to fulfilled creative.

You know this story.

You’re young and it comes easy. It flows out of you. You get a bit older and it starts to feel more like work. Life intercedes, your creative side suffers, and you struggle. You hit the wall and you feel like you just can’t do it anymore. You’re blocked, stuck in the crucible, and it seems like there’s no escape. You contemplate giving up, throwing in the towel. It would be easier to just call it a day — it would alleviate a lot of pain. But you can’t. You have to keep fighting. You have to do the work. So you make a plan. First, you strip yourself of all that is holding you back. You get lean and mean. You do the work. It’s the only way. The only way to find your new path back to creative fulfillment. And one day it comes to you: that big idea. The lightbulb that illuminates that corner of your imagination that had been held in shadow for so long. Maybe it’s just the idea that gets you back at the desk, or maybe it’s a world-class winner of a concept that lights a fire across the globe.

This is your story. The story of every writer.

And, as we now know, it is the story of Don Draper, the now iconic character at the heart of Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men.

We are all Don Draper.

Just with less mistresses and whiskey.

I hope. read more

05.03.2015 Screenwriting Blog 2 Comments

True Detective Pilot Story Map Beat Sheet

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In early 2014, the television landscape was rocked by the debut of TRUE DETECTIVE, an epic 8-episode drama from HBO that blurred the line between television and cinema more than ever. It was a serial killer crime procedural — as familiar a genre as they come — but the execution was so unique and at such a high level of craft that the series immediately established itself with viewers and critics alike as one of the great achievements in the modern era of television drama. read more

11.20.2014 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

4 Great TV Pilot Openings (The Good Wife, Downton Abbey, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad)

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It’s Fall TV season and there are way too many new shows vying for only a few open spots in network schedules. You’re flipping channels, hoping to find a winner, but also itching to boot up your Netflix queue, where you know you’ll find proven content. You find a candidate. A brand-spanking new series. A newborn, hoping to find millions of loving parents in the 18-35 demographic.

How long do you give it to win you over, to win a slot in your coveted shows list? read more

11.17.2014 Screenwriting Blog 1 Comment

Interstellar: 5 Christopher Nolan Trademark Techniques

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Christopher Nolan is the most daring film director working in the major studio system today, and each film he directs becomes an event. With Interstellar, he’s created (along with his co-writer, brother Jonathan Nolan) an epic that combines classic Hollywood storytelling with bold narrative choices, all displayed with cutting-edge theatrical presentation. Interstellar is certainly his BIGGEST film yet, not just in cinematic scope but in the size of the narrative stakes and thematic resonance, and makes me wonder how the hell he’s going to top it with his next movie! read more

11.04.2014 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Interview with Michael Patrick King on the return of “The Comeback” on HBO

Michael Patrick King and Lisa Kudrow

Michael Patrick King on set of “The Comeback” with Lisa Kudrow.

 CREATOR AND EXECUTIVE PRODUCER MICHAEL PATRICK KING (“Sex And The City”) DISCUSSES THE RETURN OF THE HBO COMEDY SERIES THE COMEBACK

“B level” TV star Valerie Cherish was a pioneer of reality television. Now, it’s ten years later – there’s more TV than ever and the onetime sitcom star wants back in.

Q: How did the revival of THE COMEBACK come about?
read more

07.14.2014 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Guillermo Del Toro and Carlton Cuse Interview (The Strain)

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Guillermo Del Toro (right) and a friend

Q                                 The first episode in particular is absolutely riveting and I loved it, but can you tell me how you first got involved in this and what drew you to it?

Carlton Cuse                 I had read the first Strain novel as a fan of both Guillermo’s work, and also independently I knew Chuck Hogan, and so I was very curious to see what this collaboration would look like.  And I was just intrigued by the subject matter.  I had read the first novel when it came out in 2009 and really enjoyed it, and then basically about two years ago my agent called me up and said that there was some interest in doing The Strain as a television series and would I be interested in it. read more

07.09.2014 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Screenwriting conference in beautiful Pebble Beach! (August 13-17, 2014)

17 Mile Drive, Monterey, CA

Dear writers,

I am excited to be teaching a screenwriting track at the Catamaran Literary Reader Conference from August 13-17 in beautiful Pebble Beach, CA, just off historic 17-Mile Drive.

Write, learn, network and have fun in one of the most breathtaking spots on Earth that inspired Hitchcock, Steinbeck and so many other great artists.

Get 20% OFF until July 15 with coupon code SCFF814!

read more

07.08.2014 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Before Rian Johnson directs Star Wars Episode VIII, check out Looper (free Story Map download)

 looper-script-analysis

My buddy William Robert Rich (co-author of Story Maps: The Films of Christopher Nolan) over at Screenplay How To has put together a fantastic Story Map for Rian Johnson’s 2012 sci-fi action film Looper, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. It’s a great way to study the screenplay structure and screenwriting techniques used by Rian Johnson to create one of the most compelling Science Fiction features of the last decade. read more

06.06.2014 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

TV Drama Showrunners Panel (video)

Vince Gilligan and Matthew Weiner, TV showrunners Breaking Bad and Mad Men

Here is a fantastic roundtable interview via The Hollywood Reporter with some of the most influential TV creators out there.

  • Aaron Sorkin, The Newsroom
  • Nic Pizzolatto, True Detective
  • Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad
  • Ann Biderman, Ray Donovan
  • Matthew Weiner, Mad Men
  • Carlton Cuse, Bates Motel

They cover a lot of topics, from casting movie stars to the anxiety and thrill of the writing process to dealing with social media and much more. read more

06.05.2014 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Noah Hawley interview creator/showrunner of Fargo TV series

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Noah Hawley is an experienced TV writer and producer (Bones) who has created multiple series in the past (The Unusuals, My Generation), but it wasn’t until this year’s Fargo that he created one that received a full season order. Fargo seems to belong to a trendy category of branded TV series that includes shows like Bates Motel and Hannibal, in that it is inspired by a famous film but not a straight adaptation. Fargo the TV series uses similar themes, settings, and dramatic situations as the Coen Brothers film of the same name, but it weaves an entirely new story and world.

Note: The interview below with Hawley contains several SPOILERS for the show up to and including episode #8.

read more

06.03.2014 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

New Story Maps Podcasts on Superhero Movies

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Dear screenwriters,

In case you can’t get enough of superheroes at the multiplex this summer and you need to hear two geeks analyzing the crap out of comic book-inspired movies, my latest podcasts are here to help! And I’m now editing in video with some nifty still images to enhance the discussion. read more

05.13.2014 Screenwriting Blog 1 Comment

Writing the Superhero Movie Webinar contest

Ben Affleck Batman vs. Superman

Dear screenwriters,

It’s been quite a day for superhero news: we got a first look at Ben Affleck as Batman (pic above) from Zack Snyder and David Goyer’s upcoming “Batman vs. Superman” movie, the news broke about Channing Tatum starring as Gambit in an upcoming X-Men spinoff movie, and ABC announced another Marvel comics-inspired show, “Agent Carter,” will join its Marvel’s Agents of Shield in the 2014-2015 TV season.

Is it safe to say that superheroes are employing a lot of screenwriters? Sure looks like it. read more

05.06.2014 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Peter Parker: Nerd, Love-Sick Teenager, Diehard New Yorker (THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2-superhero-movies-scripts

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Uncle Ben’s words have guided Peter Parker for decades, and they provide the thematic backbone of The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, as well as the previous Sam Raimi-helmed Spider-Man trilogy. Uncle Ben’s wisdom and tragic death are an immutable part of Spider-Man’s origin, going back to the original comic book story created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962. read more

04.25.2014 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Wolverine: Loner, Orphan, Wandering Warrior (X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST)

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Wolverine a.k.a. “Logan” has been the most popular superhero in the X-Men universe for decades, which is why the first major feature film in Fox’s X-Men franchise, X-MEN (2000), chose to foreground him as the central protagonist of the narrative, and he’s been featured in several more films, including two solo adventures, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009) and THE WOLVERINE (2013) (with a third on the way) and this summer’s upcoming epic, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. The films have mined the core elements of his original character construction from the comic books, which focus on three key aspects of his personality and history. read more

04.17.2014 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Orange is the New Black, Bates Motel and Masters of Sex creators talk TV writing and producing at HRTS Hitmakers Luncheon

Ashford, Cuse, Kohan (Panel)

I felt like Don Draper strolling into the iconic, tres-swanky Beverly Hilton to attend the HRTS (Hollywood Radio and Television Society) “Hitmakers Luncheon.” When I was politely informed that I was not on the list for the pre-lunch VIP reception, I felt like Dan Calvisi again. (You always have to try to sneak into the VIP section, people, it keeps them on their toes.) But the event began soon enough, and after a delicious lunch, I enjoyed listening to the panel of three of the most successful American TV producers working today, as they discussed their craft and business.

The panel consisted of Michelle Ashford ( creator and Executive Producer of “Masters of Sex” on Showtime), Carlton Cuse (co-creator, showrunner and E.P. of “Bates Motel” on A&E) and Jenji Kohan (creator and E.P. of “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix). Their past writing credits include John Adams, Boomtown, Lost, Nash Bridges, Weeds and Gilmore Girls. read more

04.16.2014 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Interview with Billy Bob Thornton “Fargo” TV series

FARGO - Pictured: Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo. CR: Chris Large/FX

FX’s new drama, Fargo, is created by Noah Hawley, inspired by the film written and directed by the Coen Brothers (also Executive Producers on the show). I sat in on a group interview with co-star Billy Bob Thornton, who plays the mysterious, charismatic and vicious drifter, Lorne Malvo, on the show. I did not get a chance to ask him a direct question, so here is the full transcript with questions from a group of reporters from various outlets.

Reporter                     Was there anything that you added to your character, “Lorne Malvo,” that wasn’t already scripted?

Billy Bob                     A weird haircut, which was actually a mistake. I got a bad haircut and we had planned on dyeing my hair and a dark beard and all that kind of thing, but I didn’t plan on having bangs. But then, instead of fixing it, it wouldn’t do, right, so I didn’t fix it because I looked at myself in the mirror and I thought, hang on a second here, this is like 1967 L.A. rock. I could be the bass player of the Buffalo Springfield. This is good. Or, Ken Burns, the dark side of Ken Burns. And bangs are normally associated with innocence and I thought that juxtaposition was pretty great, so that was added. read more

04.08.2014 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Graham Yost, showrunner of Justified

Credit: Reddit

Graham Yost [cr: Reddit]

This is the third time I’ve had the pleasure to interview Graham Yost, show runner, Executive Producer and Writer of Justified, the fantastic drama on the FX network that, in my opinion, gets way too little recognition from the industry and the media, despite having a huge fan base. You can watch my video interviews with Mr. Yost here and here. The season finale of Justified airs in the U.S. tonight at 10:00 P.M. on FX. read more

04.07.2014 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Steve Rogers: A Man Out Of Time (before and after seeing CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER)

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[article first published in ScriptMag]

One of my favorite lines from THE AVENGERS occurs when Black Widow tells Captain America not to mess with Thor and Loki, saying “they’re basically gods.” With no hesitation, Cap replies, “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.” Then he jumps out of a plane. read more