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Orange County Screenwriters Association


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Put A Face on the Devil

hannibal Recently, a student started a very complex script.  It had flashbacks, flash forwards, non-linear narrative framing, illusion, delusion and just about every other non-standard story device you can imagine.

When I read his synopsis I cautioned him the story probably wouldn't work as envisioned.  For one thing, it was horribly complicated - I've been doing this for 20+ years and I wouldn't attempt it.  And, although the student was a good writer in other ways, this was his first script. 

He started it several times, getting feedback about the things that worked (not much) and what didn't (a lot) and he worked to improve it.  And although it has gotten a bit better and more digestible it still doesn't work.

But not for the reasons I thought although those are still there.

Without getting into too much detail his story involved a man who was destined to be destroyed and in the process the world.  That seems like terribly important stakes, right?  The entire fate of the world.  And it is.  The problem is that the man was fighting against something he couldn't see.  And by extension, something we couldn't see,

This is not a drama like "A Serious Man" where his actions caused a problem.  This was big picture, big world stuff - a very large, supernatural agency that was out to get this guy.  It had big scope and big villains...

But we never saw them.

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Write Your Truths

Write Truthfully In Imaginary Circumstances
Explore the Mythology Inside You


inner truthAs a science fiction fan and screenwriter, I often chuckle at the axiom to “write what you know” - as if Isaac Asimov, a rather robust, Jewish man, knew what it was like to be a spinster scientist or a robot. How exactly did J.K Rowling, a then thirty-year-old, unemployed, working-class mother, create a young, male wizard who went to an exclusive magical school in a mythical land?

People write young, old, male, female, alien, king, peasant, and every variation imaginable. What’s their secret? Good research? A keen observational eye? Channeling a secret muse? Yes, and perhaps. But let me share what is really meant by “write what you know”. It means write your truth - write what you already know as a human being.

Are women and men really that different? Don’t we all share the sting of rejection, the joy of love? Emotionally-speaking, isn’t life, in all its myriad variations fundamentally the same for those in the bush and those in the Hamptons? Is the inevitability of a terminal disease different today than it was 100 years ago?

So how to bridge the gap between what we know and what we don’t empirically understand?

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What's Wrong With This Scene?

Found this article several years ago and I couldn't have said it better.  I see these mistakes every day in my students' work not only when they start but even in experienced students' work. Scriptwriting Clasess

The credits for this article are included below.


This Scene Sucks: 15 Screenwriting Mistakes to Avoid
By: Script Magazine | November 20, 2013
by Timothy Cooper

Please enjoy this scene from my nonexistent, Birds vs. Bees.

I wrote this opening scene specifically for this article, but there isn’t a single error in it that I haven’t read in actual screenplays hundreds of times. I’m serious.

Can you spot all 15 (at least) errors?

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If You Can't See It, Hear It or Speak it - Don't Write It!

See No Evil Know No EvilOne of the hardest tasks I face as a scriptwriting teacher is convincing new (and sometimes vetted) students not to put internal thoughts into scripts.  I call this inner narrative.  This is action or meanings only a reader would be able to glean because there is no way for a director or actor to matriculate that information to the screen.

Passages like: "He remembered his mother who told him always to wear clean underwear" has no function unless it can be tied to the precise moment that is contextualized in your script.

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