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Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Script Shop Show’s podcast of A New Suit a great short script by Matthew Muchka - post author Don

Script Sho ShowI am a regular (as of April) Patreon supporter of the Script Shop Show. I am one of two supporters of the show. That is important to remember as you listen to this podcast. You can imagine the look on my fact as I listened to this week’s show where they give a shout-out to the Patreon supporter who “Isn’t Allyson West’s Mom…”

It’s a great one.

They talk also about Bad Times at the El Royale (which I’m looking forward to watching).

They most importantly talk about this ‘must-read’ short script A New Suit by Matthew Muchka. It’s only 11 pages – a quick read.

An aspiring hitman is accompanied by his mentor to purchase a new suit for his first job.

Listen to the show and more importantly, please support them.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Script Shop screenwriting podcast interviews Mark Renshaw - post author Don

Check out Script Shop where they talk to screenwriters about the scripts that they’ve written. This episode stars Mark Renshaw’s script Cyborn which has been featured on SimplyScripts as a Three Page Comic.

Probably a good idea to Read the script before listening to the show. It’s only 3 pages, so not a huge lift.

And, remember: All screenplays are copyrighted to their respective authors. All rights reserved. This screenplay may not be used or reproduced for any purpose including educational purposes without the expressed written permission of the author.

If you are interested in supporting them, check out their Patreon or, if you have a script you think is worthy, check out their submission criteria.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Interview with Matias Caruso – Part 2 - post author Anthony Cawood

An Interview with Matias Caruso

This interview originally appeared on Anthony Cawood’s ScreenWritingOpportunities blog.


I first had the pleasure of interviewing Matias back in 2016, he’d recently won Page and his script Mayhem was about to go into production.

Well I finally got to see Mayhem a few weeks ago (on the Horror streaming service, Shudder) so I thought I’d do a very quick catch up interview with Matias and see how he was getting along…

Oh, and do check out Mayhem it’s a jet-black horror/comedy and I really enjoyed it.

Anyway, over to Matias.

Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m writing a new spec. It’s a supernatural thriller titled FAIRY.

Q: Anything in the pipeline due for release?
A: Yes, on July 25th a movie I wrote for the local market (Argentina) is opening in theaters. It’s called BRUJA (Spanish word for “witch”). Don’t know if and when it’ll be available in other countries, but I hope so.

Q: What’s the reaction been to Mayhem?
A: Luckily, the majority of reviews have been positive. I usually check rotten tomatoes before watching a movie and it’s fresh there, so I’m proud of that. There’s also been bad reviews, of course, and I read a few of them, trying to pinpoint which criticisms apply to the script in order learn a few lessons and grow as a writer.

Q: Anything you’ve learned as a screenwriter from working on Mayhem/in Hollywood?
A: You usually hear that the script is just a blueprint for the movie, which is a concept easy to understand on the surface. But I think you can only truly understand it once you see the finished film. You have to learn and accept that once other voices come into the mix, the material will change. Some changes will make you jealous (“Damn, why didn’t think of that?”) and others you won’t like them.

Q: A lot of writers are now moving to or also working in TV, have you looked/worked in TV yet or are planning to?
A: Haven’t worked on TV yet. And for now, no, I’m not planning to.

Q: Any thoughts on Hollywood/movie trends for the writers at SimplyScripts?
A: The market seems more IP driven than ever before, which makes original specs harder and harder to get traction. Lately, I’ve been trying to keep my specs’ budget down, more than before, in order to make them more competitive in this increasingly difficult arena.

Once again, thanks to Matias and all the best for future projects.


About the reviewer: Anthony Cawood is an award winning screenwriter from the UK with 4 short films produced and another 10 or so scripts optioned and/or purchased. Links to his films and details of his scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

And Interview with Paulina Lagudi, writer/director/producer of Mail Order Monster - post author Anthony Cawood

An Interview with Paulina Lagudi

This interview originally appeared on Anthony Cawood’s ScreenWritingOpportunities blog.

Paulina is the Writer/Director/Producer of the new movie Mail Order Monster (MOM). We delve into how she got started, how she gets films made and how MOM got made.

Thanks to Paulina for a really insightful interview

Q: Could you give me a little bit of background on how you got into screenwriting and filmmaking?
A: I really have to give a lot of credit to my fiancé, Cooper Ulrich, who is also the DP of Mail Order Monster. I had gone to school for theater, but after Cooper and I met, he convinced me that my ideas weren’t crappy and I was really good at bossing people around. I’ve always been casually writing, but didn’t get deep into screenwriting until I wanted to produce and direct. I never thought I was much of a writer, but now I get a lot of enjoyment out of it.

Q: From IMDb it looks like you usually write and produce what you shoot, so what came first for you writing, producing or directing?
A: Producing came first. I produced branded commercial videos first and even directed most of them. I then added writing into that mix when I wanted to make my narrative shorts.

Q: Many writers are advised to ‘film it’ themselves but many struggle to take this step – how did you do it and any advice for those contemplating this step?
A: Well, I can understand the hesitation because writing was a means for me to make work and build a directing reel. However, for those that are strictly writers, definitely just pick up even the cheapest camera and shoot it as cheap as you can first (I recommend you do this with shorts not features to start). Even if no one sees it, you’ll learn a lot about your writing through this process. I started editing my shorts and other works this year and it has taught me so much more about writing and directing. All the storytelling processes teach us more and more about how to connect our stories to audiences. So film it, then through that, recruit some collaborators that can help you expand on your next piece of writing.

Q: You also produce much of your output, how have you found the difficult area of raising funds? Any tips?
A: Well, I’ve become very poor lol. I’ve adjusted my means of living to accommodate my investment into my projects because that’s what I’m willing to do. This business isn’t easy and you have to be willing to give up a lot to continually practice your craft. When it comes to producing, you have to be really savvy. The business is changing for producers. Producers not only have to find funds and the team to make a project happen but also have to know how to market and distribute it in case that ends up being the best strategy for the project. A producer’s wealth comes from connections and time. The more people you know and the more projects you do that can “make a splash”, then you’ll level up to higher budget projects where it is easier for other people to give you money.
I’m actually redeveloping my Producer Bootcamp that takes people from script to release on their project. In general though, if your project can be made for a few thousand that is easy to raise through crowdfunding, but simultaneously builds an audience that you can stay engaged with, do THAT. But every project, especially features where it’s intended to be sold, is a start up. Look at it as a business that is selling a product. Therefore, you need a solid business plan that manages risk NOT one that shows potential gain. Investors are more likely interested in giving a project money that has a tax benefit to them even if the project makes no money. So, be savvy. There are also production and financing companies that exist in order to help find funding for your project if it has a solid package. That package typically includes some letters of intent from name actors and/or name creatives.

Q: You started with a couple of shorts, how did they come about?
A: I wish I had a simple answer for that. They kind of just happened. I would do them all SOO differently now in almost every way if I could, but those mistakes were made to learn from, so no regrets. They pretty much came from being around other creatives that were hungry to make something and learn just as much as I was. We put our heads together and created something.

Q: What did you learn from that experience and take into your first feature, Mail Order Monster (MOM)?
A: I learned how to put out fires and that really is going to be your number one job when you make a feature. You will plan and plan and plan and plan and then it will all go down the drain and you’ll have to call some audibles. However, that becomes quite simple to do when you know your story really well because of all the planning you’ve done. That’s what I learned. Planning is a must, but be prepared for all of it to go down the drain.

Q: Any advice to writer’s considering a similar approach to move into directing or producing?
A: Start now. Start small. Learn how to edit. It’s very simple now with Adobe Premiere. I taught myself how to edit and it really changed the game for me. I was able to produce so much more content for so much less.

Q: When it came to your first feature script, how do you approach structure? Do you follow any particular narrative method or model?
A: Mail Order Monster is a family film, so I definitely followed a standard 3 Act structure with it because it has to be something that kids can swallow. I find that most of the stories I’ve written tend to stay within that structure to a degree, but that’s only because that was what’s best for those stories. I think, just like anything in storytelling, it has to be customized to the story you’re telling. If you’re telling a story that connects better with the audience through a non-traditional non-linear structure, then definitely go with that. If telling your story in that way hinders people from understanding your characters and story, then maybe that isn’t the right approach.

Q: Have you ever written spec scripts and if so how did you get it out there? Did you query Producers, enter competitions, use Inktip, etc?
A: I’ve never written a spec script and have been fortunate enough to have been hired to write a film based off of Mail Order Monster and the treatment I submitted. I have searched for scripts through Inktip, though. I know a lot of fellow producers find scripts through competitions and festivals.

Q: When looking for scripts, through Inktip or elsewhere, what are you looking for and how do you decide on what to read/not read?
A: It depends. If I’m looking for a specific type of genre, then I will look for stories in that genre that I feel like have an edge or haven’t been told in that way before. As producers, we’re always looking for the edge to a script. If it doesn’t have a hook that we can pitch and sell, then it becomes very difficult for us to make it. That’s pretty much my filter for scripts. If the logline sounds like it’s something that audiences will say “Oh, I’ve never seen that before,” then I’ll read it.

Q: Any competitions or festivals in particular that you or your colleagues regard highly?
A: There are the obvious ones like the Blacklist and the bigger screenplay festivals like the Austin film festival. However, if a script is sent and it has that it won any sort of award on there, then we usually give that some merit. Generally speaking, regardless of the name of the competition or festival, your script was still chosen as a winner against others. That’s something that is given weight.

Q: Your feature has a great cast, including Charisma Carpenter, how did casting come together?
A: My fellow producer, Robert Ulrich, owns one of the top casting offices in LA with his two partners. His office, UDK casting, was essential in getting the cast I was so lucky to have had.

Q: She’s playing a very different role to what many people will be familiar with, did that present any challenges?
A: Nope. Charisma is a great actress, so she took on the role that was written very well. She’s a big collaborator so she brought a lot to the character that caused me to do rewrites on the entire script and really elevated it.

Q: You have a child star and co-star at the heart of this movie, what are the challenges involved and the logistics for things like schooling?
A: This is where the producing hat comes on because it’s important to write down the pros and cons of your shooting location. So all the kids in the film were Kentucky locals and we shot in the summer, so we didn’t need any studio teachers or schooling.

Q: I loved MOM, great family film but can be a difficult genre – what has the critical and commercial reaction been?
A: Thank you so much. Critically, it’s had a pretty solid reaction. People either love it or just like it and can see the flaws in it, which I can see every time (we shot a low budget movie with kids in 17 days lol). The overall consensus critically and commercially is that if people can watch it with kids or with a child’s point of view, they really enjoy it. They enjoy it even more if they are a stepparent. I’ve had kids who have been adopted or are step kids cry to me after seeing the movie because they related to it.
On the other hand, it turns out middle aged and young men who aren’t married or have kids don’t like it at all. Although, they weren’t really my demographic when I was making the film.

Q: Where can people see MOM and your short films?
A: MOM can be found on iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Googleplay, Xbox, Vudu, DVD’s at Walmart (February 5) and Showtime (February 6 I think). Some of my short films can be found online at boyish.media under my name, Paulina Lagudi, and also on my Instagram TV @paulinalagudi.

Q: You’ve also worked as just the Producer on things like ‘The Lover’, how different is this when you’ve not got creative control?
A: To be honest, it’s not really my favorite. It depends on the project really. For feature films, which there are a couple coming up soon, I actually like just being a producer if I’ve been hired in that capacity. I find there’s so much creative work to be done when it comes to the marketing and distribution strategy. It was actually too much to handle when doing that on MOM and directing and producing day to day on set.
It is very different, though, because you’re not just answering to yourself. There’s a lot more personality management. But as long as the story and project is what’s at the highest priority, it all ends up working out. Ego is the enemy.

Q: What other projects are you working on now and when can we next expect to see your name on the credits?
A: As mentioned earlier, I was hired to write a feature film for a production company, so I’ve been working on that as well as two other feature scripts. Hopefully, we’ll be shooting one of them this year for me to direct and produce also. I’m also producing a couple movies with some friends of mine, which is always fun when you’re working with talented, hardworking creatives.

Q: Screenwriters get told that there are all sorts of formatting ‘rules’ that they must adhere to… any specific things that would turn you off or stop you reading a spec script?
A: Well, it has to look like a script. I know sometimes people want to get fancy, but you can’t write a script like an essay or a poem or whatever. I don’t know. It’s not fun for the reader. It’s easier if you just follow script format. I also HATE it when a script is sent and it’s clearly a first draft and has tons of spelling and grammatical issues….unless it’s my friends and they’ve told me this ahead of time. In general, if you’re sending out a first draft of your script to producers, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

Q: What’s the best and worse screenwriting/filmmaking advice you’ve been given?
A: Well, on my first draft of MOM, I was told to stop and not write lol.

Now for a few ‘getting to know Paulina’ questions

Q: What’s your favourite film? And favourite script, if they’re different.
A: I have so many favorite films, but the one at the top of my list recently is Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank”. Second to that is always “Shame” by Steve McQueen. I don’t have any favorite scripts that I can recall, but I did just read a script from fellow writer, Marc Prey, recently that was one of the best I’ve read in a very long time.

Q: Favourite author and book?
A: I don’t think I’ve ever stuck with reading just one author’s books other than the entire “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series, which I love! So besides Steig Larrson, my other favorite books are “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zaffon, Ryan Holiday’s “Ego is the Enemy” and “Obstacle is the Way”, and John Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meany” (that one always stuck with me since I was a kid).

Q: Wine, Beer, Gin… or something else?
A: You just named my 3 favorite things! I love a great Gin and Tonic. My dad has a wine cellar so always grew up on wine. I really love Ports and dessert wines. My fiancé and I also love craft beers. He’s the whiskey drinker, but I still haven’t been able to get on that level.

Q: Favourite food?
A: Oof this is a hard one because I’m a huge foodie, I love to cook, AND I’m Italian. My favorite food might have to be my fiancé’s grilled bone in rib eye steak. It is pretty phenomenal. Second to that is pasta with my homemade tomato sauce.

Q: Any other interests and passions?
A: I study Krav Maga. So far, I’m two more tests away from being a blue belt. Context to that is a blue belt is two belts down from a black belt.

Q: Any final thoughts for the screenwriters of SimplyScripts?
A: This industry is a long game. It takes a lot of practice and a lot of persistence. I recently came across this quote that was very helpful to me, so I’ll share it with all of you:
“All of us who do creative work…we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good…It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you.” – Ira Glass (an excerpt from Ego is the Enemy).

Once again, thanks to Paulina for such a great interview.


About the reviewer: Anthony Cawood is an award winning screenwriter from the UK with 4 short films produced and another 10 or so scripts optioned and/or purchased. Links to his films and details of his scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Goodnight, Lake Regret - post author Gary Howell

I’ve been dreading writing this post for quite a while, probably because I’ve known it’s been coming.  But it’s time to say farewell to Lake Regret, at least the idea of the script and this particular blog. I definitely liked the concept of chronicling the journey of a script from idea genesis to the final marketing of the script, and I thought beginning writers could learn something from the fits and starts that Rick and I went through.

But under the law of unintended consequences, and maybe the other law of “no good deed goes unpunished”, it became clear over a period of time that the the original idea I had for a single setting script wasn’t working out the way we had anticipated, and the more I struggled to fix the problems with the outline or the idea, the more of a slog it became.  Consequently, it had an effect on the blog, because if you don’t have the right idea, you don’t have the right outline, and you don’t have a path forward, ultimately no matter how good a writer you are, you won’t be able to turn that sow’s ear into a silk purse. Or even a script.

So we’re moving on from the original idea we had. And as a writer, you should never be afraid of doing that. Don’t be so wedded to an idea or concept that you can’t see that it’s not working. And don’t be afraid to accept criticism of your concepts, your scripts, or your writing is general. The trick is being able to discern the good criticism from the bad. Sometimes you never know.

As for Rick and me, we’ll continue to write together in the future. There’s always the next great idea just down the road. But it’s probably safe to say I just won’t blog about it.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read our ramblings, and we wish you nothing but great success in your future writing endeavors — and even if you don’t have success, we hope that you will continue to write, if that’s what brings you joy. We can all use a little joy in our lives right now.

FADE OUT.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Shoving Forward, and Moving Back – Lake Regret - post author Gary Howell

Rick and I got back into the outline business, albeit on a superficial level, as I’m in the Pacific Northwest on vacation (I love Houston, but when it’s 95 degrees in September, it’s time to get the hell outta hell for a week to cooler climates).  But as I mentioned in our last post, I felt like we needed to give a little boost to our main protagonist’s decision to leave town on a permanent basis.

Now, for the moment, I’m not going to reveal what my suggestion to change was. Suffice to say, it was a very significant change to the character.  Rick’s was hesitant to make the change, as he thought that it would necessitate going back to the beginning and completely redoing the outline draft, and in addition, that it might change the tone of the movie from a dramedy in the vein of “Juno” or “Little Miss Sunshine” to a straight drama.

My argument was that the character change would already be known to the other characters, so it would only result in minor changes to the outline, and there was no need to change the tone of the film, because a film like “Juno” dealt with tough subject (abortion and teen pregnancy) while still making it an uplifting and, in many cases, a wildly funny film.

The bottom line is that we’re both wanting a film in the tone of “Juno” and we’re going to ponder this character turn and see where it leads us.  If we decide to make the change you’ll be the first to know.

So back to the outline as it’s currently situated: when we last left the outline, Jinx was in the house and Cass asked him to come over and sit on the couch with him while Hunter watches.  Hunter and Cass share a conspiratorial smile and then Hunter goes outside and find Ellie, and tells her that “her boyfriend Jinx is putting the moves on Cass”.

Ellie dismisses it — “he’s not my boyfriend” — but we can see that she’s fuming over this news.  More conflict created!

Back inside, Jinx has extricated himself from the situation and is going down the hallway looking for a restroom.  He accidentally opens the doorway to a spare room in the lake house where Lucas’ dad, Paul, is running on a treadmill. Jinx is embarrassed by the interruption, but Paul waves him in eagerly.  He stops the treadmill, and Jinx apologizes for the intrusion. Paul says he needed to stop anyway.  Can run and run all he wants on it, but never gets anywhere.  A little bit of subtext towards Jinx, who is intending to run away from this small town at the first chance he gets, but will he really get anywhere if he does?

Paul shows Jinx a picture on the wall.  It’s of Jinx and Lucas working at the hardware store.  Paul reminds Jinx that Jinx helped Lucas get a job with his parents’ business.  Kept him away from some bad people (like Hunter) at a time in his life when Lucas really needed it.  Jinx says he just wanted someone fun to work with during the summer.  Maybe it worked out for both of them.

And now we go on in for a reinforcement of why Jinx wants to leave.  Paul asks about Jinx taking over the parents’ business someday and Jinx fidgits for a response. “I get it. Not your thing.” Jinx is surprised at that reaction.

“So what are you doing instead?”
“Going to college,” Jinx replies.
“And?”
“That’s as far as I’ve gotten.”
“Well, that’ll be further than a lot of the kids in this town. This place is a black hole. Unless you get far enough away from it, you’re sucked in permanently.”

We’ve now established that even the adults in this town know that if you stay here, you’re stuck here, and that Jinx needs to go.

We’ll keep you updated on what we’re going to do with Jinx’ character, and I’ll be updating the post on screenwriting software soon!

 


The further adventures of the screenwriting and marketing process of Lake Regret wherein Gary Howell documents his and Rick Hansberry's screenwriting adventures from concept, to the writing, to how they handle disagreements, to marketing the script. Reproduced with permission

Beautiful Boy screenplay. And interesting observation - post author Don

Interesting development on writing credits for the screenplay Beautiful Boy posted by Amazone I’ve just noticed noticed.

This version of Beautiful Boy posted on the 29th has it credited as: Screenplay by Luke Davies & Felix van Groeningen, however this more recent version posted three days later has Screenplay by Luke Davies and Felix van Groeningen (emphasis added).

In the case of the WGA screenwriting credit system, an ampersand, “&” means that two writers wrote as a team. WGA considers them to be one person. However, “and” means that two writers worked on the script at different times.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Trying to Shake up the Outline – Lake Regret - post author Gary Howell

We’We’ll provide the second part regarding our overview of screenwriting programs soon, but our outline still beckons and I’m having some hesitation with where it is going at the moment. I felt like it would have a different feel to it; Rick and I wanted a high school version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” — a feel-good story that could be easily made.

Right now it has taken on a darker tone and there’s a little bit of drift going on. From the one-pager we originally wrote for the premise, I think we have Acts I and III pretty much figured out, but Act II is getting to be a little bit of a struggle.

Here’s the dilemma. Our main character, Jinx, is determined to get out — forever — from the small town he’s lived all his life. He was involved in an accident that killed his friend Nick, a popular student at school, and he feels like he’s always going to be “that guy” — and that he’ll never be forgiven for what he’s done. Plus, he has bigger dreams than just running the family hardware business for the rest of his life and living amongst all these same people who do the same things every day.

The trick, of course, is how do you show that? You can’t just have him talk about it for an hour and a half. That would be utterly boring and no producer would want to make it. So we have to come up with devices to show his frustration, his dismay. I think you can show it in pictures; for example, in the opening I envision Jinx, Ellie and Tate driving through the small town on the way to the party and the visuals show it as a drab, lifeless place. And the way he sees it is the way we see it as well, so that we can empathize with him

Maybe at the party we show the students as all acting alike, or thinking alike. Or, like in “Napoleon Dynamite” (one of my all-time favorite movies), when they show up for the dance, the decorations and the way the students dress scream out “small town”. The same could be done here. You can’t completely spell what the art direction for a movie — that’s the Art Director and Costume Designer’s jobs — but you can drop clues as to what the tone and look and feel is. For example, when describing the town they’re driving through, it’s enough to say that “it feels as if they’re driving through a town stuck in the 1960’s,” or “mom and pop shops line the deserted main street.” No need to over describe here.

Of course, at some point Jinx will have to verbally express his emotions at times — but expositional dialogue in a movie is boring to listen to. So what he says needs to have impact in a way that we’ll feel it with him and that we’re not just listening to an actor recite some lines. I have an idea that I need to share with Rick — I’m currently writing this 30,000 feet in the air flying to Seattle from Houston — and it might be a game changer. Will see if I can convince Rick to buy in on this — stay tuned!


The further adventures of the screenwriting and marketing process of Lake Regret wherein Gary Howell documents his and Rick Hansberry’s screenwriting adventures from concept, to the writing, to how they handle disagreements, to marketing the script. Reproduced with permission

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Part One – The Unending Question: Which Screenwriting Software to Use? – Lake Regret - post author Gary Howell

I’ve been asked what software I use for writing and for outlining, and what would I suggest for new writers who want to get into screenwriting but either can’t afford the top-end programs or don’t want to spend money on something that they may not get a lot of use from.

This is an endless debate that goes on and on and you will never find anyone that will give you the definitive answer on what program to use. There will be people out there who tell you that you can do just fine with free software or web-based writing tools, like WriterDuet or Celtx, and others that tell you that if you have any hope of working with industry professionals, you’ll need professional software like Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter.

Let’s start with the easy proposition, which is: outlining. You do NOT need any professional software to outline. You can handwrite on a legal pad, use note cards, or my preference, writing in Microsoft Word. Of course, Word is not a free software, put if you have an iPad, you probably have “Pages”, which is fairly close. I use Word because I can type and type and type my garbage draft outline, edit things easily, copy and paste, and use their pre-formatted outlining tool. I can also easily send a copy of my draft to my writing partner, Rick, and he can edit it and add his own notes. Can’t do that with a legal pad or Post It Notes! It is a convenient tool and I highly recommend it.

But what about outlining software, you might ask? Software that helps you develop your outline and characters? I’ve looked at them and even tried a couple just to see what they were about. Some of the ones out there that you may have heard of are Plot Control, Contour, Dramatica,  and Outline 4D.

These programs are designed to help you along in the outlining process by asking you questions. For example, Plot Control will prompt you to answer questions like “What is the unique or significant event that is happening to the main character?” or “What is the main character’s personal goal and what obstacles are preventing the character from achieving it?” Answering these questions will supposedly help you propel the narrative forward and essentially get you a completed outline. I’ve tried it and found that while the prompts help with explaining different stages of the story, like the “inciting incident,” and is somewhat easy in use, the layout is a little boring and is not great with providing many examples to help in the use.

Contour prompts you along on each of the plot points and sets up a series of “Yes/No” situations to create drama and conflicts for the characters. Contour is good in that it can help in creating hurdles for your protagonist, and it provides a lot of examples to explain each question prompt (as well as provide a lot of completed storylines from actual movies so you can observe what the outline should look like). The downside I have with it is that it seems to force you into a given scenario or type of film. For example, every main character seems to have to be faced with either a literal or metaphorical “death” to propel the story along. It’s a bit overdone, especially if you’re trying to write a comedy or lighter indie-film.

Dramatica is the most highly detailed of all and incredibly difficult to use. It’s gets into a lot of minutia for something that should be a fairly short process. You have to define your characters, get into a ton of options for what the character’s journey is, and then start building in the supporting characters and their journey. You could have literally hundreds of different options at your disposal, which is great, but it is so confusing and frustrating to use that you’ll likely give up on it after an hour of use. They do have videos explanations on how to use the software, but honestly, if you have to watch hours of explanations to write out your outline, then maybe this software isn’t for you. Listen, they have a lot of people that swear by it, so maybe you just have to try their free trial version for yourself to see. Note that the Windows and Mac versions are radically different – the Mac version is the more souped-up one.

If you just want a straightforward outlining program, then perhaps you can try Outline 4d. It has a dual way of outlining, either in timeline version or a more standard outline. The timeline version has the ability to show you, theoretically, how you’re progressing in terms of minutes into the movie with the various stages of your outline. Thus, you can see whether your Act I is running forty minutes long (that’s too long!). It’s a little distracting with the visuals in timeline. The standard outline is more what you’re likely used to and you can type away to your heart’s delight. The outline is pre-formatted so you don’t have to think, really, just type. They also have several examples, like “Thelma and Louise,” that they have pre-populated in the program to show what your outline should ultimately look like. It does not provide you any prompts or explain what certain elements of the story are, so it’s not very useful from that standpoint.

I should point out here that several of the screenwriting programs, like Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter, have developed ways for you to create story notes and index cards within their program, so you don’t necessarily need an outlining program if you just prefer jotting notes down as you go.

For me the bottom line on all these programs is that these programs might be helpful in prompting questions you may not have been thinking of, but ultimately, you have to understand that they don’t write the story for you. They can only provide the prompt, and if you need a program to ask you questions about a story you should already know, then maybe the problem is your story and your whole creative thinking process. Your brain is the most important software you need, and if you can’t creatively craft a story without prompting from a piece of software, you’re never going to be able to get that story into a quality script.

My suggestion is you spend time with however you write, whether on a laptop, on a legal pad, or what have you, and begin with your idea. Think about how you want it to begin and how you want it to end. If it helps, write down your beginning on one side of a piece of paper, and the ending on the other side of the paper, and draw a line from that beginning to the end. Now draw about 5 or 6 up and down lines through that line. These will represent roadblocks for your characters (every main character needs roadblocks to hinder his journey) and it’s up to you to figure out how to get your character around these roadblocks. This is a simple process and can help you more clearly define your story and build your outline!

In addition, spend some time writing two or three line descriptions about your main characters. Once you’ve done that, go back and re-read them critically. Do they all look like the same character? Do they all have the same traits? One helpful trick on this is to ask yourself the question: What if this movie was about them, rather than the main character? How would it be different? How would they react in the same situations? Shining a light on the supporting characters and their unique roles can provide you with a richer, fuller, more dynamic movie.

In Part Two of this post, we’ll talk about screenwriting software programs and which ones we prefer.




The further adventures of the screenwriting and marketing process of Lake Regret wherein Gary Howell documents his and Rick Hansberry’s screenwriting adventures from concept, to the writing, to how they handle disagreements, to marketing the script. Reproduced with permission

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