Jul 9 2020

Notes: Just Put The Couch By The Window

332_swoon-chairI love metaphors. As a writer, they really help me explain concepts, especially to myself. One particular metaphor helps me survive notes and story changes that I don’t agree with. On any script, pressure will come from the studio or the producers to second-guess what you feel is the natural choice. In these times, it is better to view them as a CLIENT rather than a collaborator.

Here’s the metaphor: A COUCH.

The client will ask you to “decorate” the “room” that is your story. You know where the “furniture” will look best before you even move it around. You know where the couch should go right away. It seems so obvious to you. But you serve the client, and they want to put the couch by the window. You already know it won’t work. You explain all the reasons why the furniture should be arranged in the way you envision, why the whole room will work better that way. After all, that’s what they paid you for — for you to arrange the “furniture” of this “room.” You discuss, you push your point, but they just don’t see it. They just really want that couch over against that wall.

You want to please the producer. But if you are a good writer, you can’t help but think of what’s best. You think, “I know the couch won’t be good over there. I know that every day at 3 pm, the sun is going to hit them in the eyes. And it’s too wide for that wall. And it makes the whole room smaller there. I have to say something.”

But sometimes, the client just wants the couch by the window. Period. They want it there, you know it’s not best there, but that’s that. Put the couch by the window. Just do it.

Maybe a week later they will call you back and complain about the afternoon sun and tell you to move the couch again. And you can say, “What a great idea.” It’s not about winning your position. Just make them happy. At the end of the day, they may just want what they want, even if it’s not the best.

For artists who listen to their instincts and trust them, this can be tiresome. But this is part of the job. It’s really the difference between writing for yourself as a hobby and writing for clients as a career. As painful as it is to admit it, even your own original idea, once paid for by a studio or producer, is not entirely yours anymore. You are now in collaboration with another person. And you must view that person in a “client” mentality to get over these annoying, annoying moments. When you “put the couch by the window,” defying all your instincts, you can take comfort in the fact that on this point, for now, you are serving the client.

Lonely CouchNine times out of ten the best version of “where the couch goes” will be revealed to everyone. It may even be revealed to you too. Just remember the couch is never done moving until the movie is in theaters.

Metaphor over!

Dec 15 2019

That Man… dalorian

the_mandelorian_-_publicity_still_-_h_2019_The Mandalorian is cool. We all know that. But he’s also a character as old as time. He’s what I would call an “Uber-Male.” Strong, silent, gruff, he squints a lot. He’s never used a beauty product in his life. Probably drinks Scotch. He’s a man’s man. Oh sure, he might have an energetic young sidekick or a wide-eyed kid to protect. He might be saddled with someone who talks too much, or  “experts” who know all the answers. But he chews his toothpick silently and puts up with it. Because he knows he’ll be the one left standing. He’ll be the one who has to do the hard thing that those chatter boxes couldn’t do.

That man.

1680x1050_px_Clint_Eastwood_western-592360Some would say that in this day and age that “That Man” is too outdated. There is a new sensitivity to the traditional, male-centered stories we’ve always told. And rightly so. The dark side of a man like this is toxic, abusive, and allows no emotional connection. Let’s be honest, the bad version is an a-hole. That said, there’s something to be gained about keeping the positive version of him around.  There’s something comforting and exhilarating we feel when “That Man” shows up on the scene. Even in these modern, #MeToo times, we keep coming back to him. We need him.

Andy-Lincoln-Rick-Grimes-1024x681Don’t get me wrong, we need him to evolve too. We need him to use his strong Alpha status to reach down and help the weak. We need him to listen to the feminine point of view and fight for it. But in his best form, we still need him. You can put a badass silver helmet on him, but “That Man” is still the same guy he was in “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.” He’s still Rick Grimes, standing up to evil in the zombie apocalypse. If you’ve got a problem, and no one else can help… maybe he can.

harrison_ford_indyHe’s Steve McQueen, he’s Indy Jones, he’s staring us down with that 100-yard stare. Maybe he smokes, even though he’s not supposed to anymore. Maybe he’s been kicked out of a few places. Maybe he did the kicking. He’s dangerous!

But when the bad versions of him come around, when the bad Alphas abuse their power in some low-life bar, we’re happy he’s there. And he’s as cooooool as a cucumber. He just walks up to those guys like Denzel and calmly says something we all wish we could say. Then he takes them all out the way we wish we could.

equalizerKids have their own “wish fulfilment” movies, but a lot of grownups have a man like this. Women like to live through this kind of Alpha hero too. It is cathartic to watch him. He has power we don’t, and gives us a release from all the stuff we can’t conquer in our own world. Even though he’s currently showing up in a Galaxy Far, Far Away, he’s still someone we recognize. Even in a silver helmet.

Welcome back, buddy. We missed you.

Jun 23 2019

Who is this “Hollywood?”

hollywood_corporate_overlords_illoFrequently, I see posts on Facebook or Twitter from disgruntled moviegoers that sound something like this:

“Well Hollywood, that was terrible.”

“Hollywood really dropped the ball.”

“Why can’t Hollywood make more movies like _____?”

“Get your act together, Hollywood.”

People are talking to “Hollywood” like it’s some singular, giant thing that cranks out movies. I imagine these irritated folks standing in front of the “Hollywood” sign, shouting at the mountain, and the mountain shugs and says, “SORRRRRRRY! I’LL TRY BETTERRRRR NEXT TIIIIIME!”

Screen Shot 2019-06-23 at 4.30.25 PMI need to clear something up: “Hollywood” is a location in Los Angeles. It is a boulevard. It is also a nickname for the entire entertainment industry. But it’s a nickname — a very broad, abstract idea for what the industry really is.

In real life, the content we all watch is made by people — thousands of people. Many of these people collect in buildings in Los Angeles, but also all over the United States and the world. Many, many of these people have never met each other, or shared ideas, or have the same agendas. Not all of these people are motivated by money. Not all of these people make blockbusters, or are white men, or are out to remake your favorite childhood property. Bottom line, “Hollywood” is not some mulit-headed, hive-mind collective with one purpose. Most of the time, a lot of us don’t even know what the rest of us are working on.

HOLLYWOOD is just people: Many are creative people who care a lot about what they’re making. Some are executive people who care too. Then yes, there are the cynical a-holes who don’t care and just want your money. But most of the people I’ve met in the business are genuinely trying to make something good. Even when they’re misguided. Even when they are not good at their jobs. They’re honestly trying.

So if anyone falls short, it’s not like they planned it. They’re probably sorry and trying to figure out what went wrong, just like you.

It’s not an excuse for poor execution, but instead of rolling your eyes at “Hollywood,” get more focused. Seek out the creators and individuals that you like or dislike and start to reward or punish those people with your choices and dollars. Don’t fault the entire industry for “Dark Phoenix” or “Ugly Dolls” or what CGI “Sonic” looks like. Movies are made under crazy circumstances and pressures and everyone is working with a different set of tools. Every film is a different obstacle course.

Reset your expectations for “Hollywood.” Because it’s not really the mountain monster you think it is.


May 29 2019

Time To Get Weird

ThorRagnarokSometimes the death of a genre can be the best thing for it.

There is always a point in any movie genre where the greed of the industry over-saturates the audience. No matter what flavor is your favorite flavor, if you get nothing but that flavor you get sick of it. We’ve seen this happen with all kinds of trends in film, from Rom Coms to Fantasy to Superhero movies. But genre exhaustion can be a good thing. Because then the only place that genre can go to survive is… someplace weird. And when the studios stop getting rewarded for playing it safe, they get desperate and try a new way. That’s great for moviegoers! Sometimes a genre has to get really cliche and really tired and be on its death bed for studios to start taking risks in that genre. Time to get weird!

Let’s look at the superhero genre. People have been predicting the death of this one for ten years. It’s true, the market seems ridiculously over-saturated. But the only thing that died was the traditional version of a superhero film. The typical square-jawed hero in the flowing cape can’t get us to the theater anymore. We’ve seen that guy. Over and over. Marvel saw the writing on the wall very early and stopped looking at superheroes as a genre. They looked at it as a means to tell many genres of stories. Guardians of the Galaxy is a space adventure. Thor: Ragnarok is a trippy gladiator movie. Black Panther is a Shakespearean Drama. The only time DC was rewarded for their superhero movie attempts was with Wonder Woman — a female, Greek-goddess war movie. Now here comes Brightburn, flipping the entire premise of Superman onto its dark side.

BatmansBatman is its own lesson in exhausting a character. How many times has he been rebuilt from the ground up? After the fourth version of Tim Burton’s Batman, when Joel Shumacher added nipples to the batsuit and the “Starlight Express”-dressed crusaders literally ice skated and air-surfed, we were done. Enter Chris Nolan with his take: a gritty, stripped-down, ultra-real crime story, something Warner Brothers never would’ve dreamed of doing years earlier. But they were desperate. They’d tried everything. And in their desperation, they let the filmmaker try something crazy. How glad we are that he did.

Now we’re feeling the strain of the Live Action Remake. Disney made some new money by turning their animated classics into living, breathing, realism. But it’s getting old. Almost everyone I talk to says so. This live action thing was cool for three or four movies but… ten? Dumbo stumbled, showing signs of wear. Nostalgia alone can’t be the reason we go. These movies have to stand on their own and, dare I say, subvert the originals they are based on.

DisneyLiveAThe death of a genre is an exciting time. It’s the birthing pains of something new and weird. I can’t wait to see what is weird enough to reinvigorate the western, or the sports movie, or the epic fantasy. Personally, I’m waiting for the Hope-and-Crosby “buddy movie” version of Batman and Robin. Lethal Weapon with capes! That, I’d like to see.

May 17 2019

“Nobody Talks Like That”

Pulp-FictionThis was an ongoing note from producers I had on a particularly difficult project. They became extreme micromanagers on almost every creative decision, which finally came down to analyzing every line of dialogue in the script. The crux of our disconnect finally came to a head one day when my producer said to me, “Your dialogue is just not realistic. Nobody talks like that.”

Nobody talks like that. Hmm.

This issue went on for many months.  It was crucial to these producers that my characters — characters in an animated movie, in a fantastical situation — always use vocabulary and phrases that EVERYONE would use. The dialogue had to be  “natural” and “common” and “relatable.” I’ll be honest — when I write, I never really think about this. I just go with my instincts and let things flow. So maybe I’m the one who doesn’t talk like everyone else.

Then so be it.

I take real issue with this note. So it’s worth talking about. My goal in writing dialogue is clearly different than these producers. If my dialogue makes my characters speak in a way that is different from everyone else, I wear that badge with honor. Because that means that not only are my characters unique and heightened and interesting, but so is my voice as a writer.

Ask Quentin Tarantino. Or John Hughes. Or Wes Anderson. Or Kevin Smith. Or Diablo Cody. Or Mindy Kaling. Or Judd Apatow. Or Tina Fey. Or Jordan Peele. Or Spike Lee. I COULD GO ON AND ON. These people are known for — and yes, accused of — making their characters talk in a unique way that “no one else does.”

And they. Are. Icons.

Liz LemonBut let’s set that aside and go even deeper to ask: Why do we go to the movies? What do we want from the people on screen? We want a heightened experience. We want profound speeches. We want fast wit. We want to be surprised by memorable, quotable words that WE NEVER HEAR FROM EACH OTHER IN REAL LIFE. Sorry I shouted that last part, but I feel strongly about it.

So yes, of course I strive to write natural dialogue. But no, I will NOT force my characters to talk like “normal people talk” by eliminating an interesting word choice, a clever punchline, or a more elegant turn of phrase. Because “normal” is boring. And that makes a writer’s voice flatline into something that has no punch at all.

I worked with these producers for months to find a middle ground, but we never really found it. It was an exhausting, frustrating process. And it resulted in what I would call very “middle of the road” scenes. Until producers allow writers and directors to truly be their strange, unique selves, they’ll never get “the good stuff” that they can’t quite put their finger on. They’ll never create the films we want to watch for years to come.

Marvel Studios' AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR..Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) w/ Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Wong (Benedict Wong) in the background L to R. ..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2018

Dec 27 2017

The RIFF Generation

Top-10-Most-Funny-Youtube-Channels I know, you just saw a thing. But what was even funnier was the video parody you saw of the thing! Or the video that riffs about the five things wrong with that thing! So many videos with so many riffy McRiffsters riffing away that… you might entirely forget about the original thing you saw in the first place.

I’m really glad my childhood was never plagued with Internet fan videos like:
“Everything Wrong With ‘E.T.’,”
“10 Plot Holes in ‘Ferris Bueller,”
“The Way ‘Back To The Future’ SHOULD Have Ended,”
“The Worst Parts Of ‘Close Encounters,’” etc.

I will admit that many of these videos are amusing, but we seem to live in an eternal “riff culture“ now… Where it’s easier to riff on things we see than to make things ourselves. YouTube videos are rarely original content. They usually regurgitate stuff that already exists in pop culture. They are parodies, songs, re-edits, mash-ups, just taking what IS and twisting it. That’s a LOT of energy put into something that isn’t even an original thing.

Beware of the riffing. We are steadily becoming a culture that is just riffing on riffs on riffs. Parodies of parodies. I cringe when a parent tells me their four year-old watched “Hoodwinked” and it’s the first time they’ve ever heard the Red Riding Hood story. While I love when people see my movie, it shouldn’t be the first time a kid encounters that story. “Hoodwinked” is a RIFF on Red Riding Hood. Without knowledge of the original work, not only will you not enjoy the movie as much, you will not get the full impact of how we’ve subverted it.

So as we travel down the rabbit hole of an increasingly riff-centric culture, seek out the source material and fully enjoy it first. Many do not. Many know a great line in cinema (“Here’s looking at you, kid”) only because they’ve heard it parroted in a parody moment. Seek out the original. Seek out the source, the “root art form.” Even a new original is based on art that came before it. If we have a bigger vocabulary of old movies, books and TV, we can appreciate what the next artist is doing with the established tropes. As I watch my kids become media consumers, I am convinced that a lot of art is best consumed based on our accumulated vocabulary of the art that has come before it.

Challenge yourself to consume classic books, old movies and very old stories so that you can fully enjoy all the pop entertainment you see. Because almost all of it is built on what came before. If my kids have never heard of “The Wizard Of Oz” or “The Hobbit,” will they understand when Phineas and Ferb make an episode about it? If the high schoolers I am speaking to at a film camp don’t know what a “John Hughes Movie” is (and they didn’t), my theory is that they cannot fully enjoy the current teen comedies that pull from its DNA. Or maybe I’m just a grumpy old man who doesn’t like when kids enjoy a cover tune, not even knowing it’s a cover tune.

The other bad side effect of “Riff Culture” is that it emboldens the entitled audience member. It rewards those who poop on something rather than seek out a connection with it. I grew up in a time where you just didn’t like something. But now there’s 1000 YouTube channels that need some snarky content. And if you can push your opinion a little farther and say you “hated it,” or it was “the worst,” you’ve got a trendy show to shout it on!

LukeTheLastJediHey, I know… everybody’s got an opinion, and everyone’s entitled to it. But let me blow your mind: ART is not a democracy. A work of art is there for the audience to react to. But it is not meant to anticipate or navigate to the audience‘s whims. It is the result of an artist‘s take on the world. We can like it or not. But I’m tired of the snarky content that rides on its back.

When we encounter a piece of art, we should ask: “What is the artist trying to say?” Not: “How does this art serve my needs?“  We will absorb art more objectively and criticize more kindly, even when we don’t like it. The movies and shows we like and don’t like certainly define us. But even beyond that, the reasons WHY we don’t like something and the way we communicate it says a whole lot about us too.


Nov 17 2017


winona_ryder_stranger-_things.0.0This business is so cocky. The higher you go up the food chain, the more you hear from people who think they’ve got things figured out. But if you’re a creator, here’s the good news: William Goldman was right. “Nobody knows anything.” So many people forget that the entertainment industry is built on RISKS. On HUNCHES. On INSTINCTS and FEELINGS. And while success is helped by marketing and powerful distribution, it is ultimately in the hands of the audience. The people are going to like whatever they’re going to like. No one predicted the success of “Stranger Things.” Not Netflix, not the Duffer Brothers. It’s my favorite recent reminder that hits can still come from nowhere, decreed solely by the audience. We all collectively, with one voice, simply said “WE LIKE THIS! A LOT!” I know we are all swayed by the most popular artists and franchises. We’re already up to speed. We already “half like” a lot of pre-existing things. But when something is good and it’s in the right place at the right time, success can still come out of nowhere. That’s what creators have to hold on to.

Experts will forecast what’s next, based on trends, the past, and the data they have. But in the end, it means nothing. That’s also something to remember when you encounter a doomsayer. Someone will throw a wall of negativity at you, and give you a ton of reasons why your project has no chance. Again, remember: THEY DON’T KNOW. No one does!

Here’s two more recent examples that delight me:

2017_The_Wonder_Woman_Gal_Gadot_wide“Wonder Woman” starred an unknown female lead, with a director completely untested in the genre. It was also set 70 years in the past. A disgruntled Warner Brothers employee made a big stink a year earlier, spreading a story that they had visited the set and that the movie was “in trouble.” That it was “a mess.” I don’t know who this person was, or what role they held. But clearly, their prediction is now laughable. “Wonder Woman” broke record after record and is now one of the top grossing superhero movies of all time.

Taylor Swift Reputation ArtTaylor Swift has had a rough go of it in the press, in the gossip columns, and I guess feels misunderstood in a lot of ways. Before her much-anticipated album “Reputation,” she released the single “Look What You Made Me Do.” It was met with the snarkiest of snark online. The haters came out, the doomsayers threw their tomatoes. The shadow over Swift was so great that Entertainment Weekly ran a story the week of the album’s release, hypothesizing how big of a PR backlash she might have to endure if and when the album is further ripped to shreds by the public. I mean, they hadn’t HEARD the album or anything, or interviewed Taylor Swift at all. No, the whole article was just interviews with “Publicity Crisis experts” at three different PR firms. They recommended all kinds of damage control Swift might need upon the album’s release, with quotes like “Lightning doesn’t strike twice, not in a ‘1989’ way.”

Bold predictions! This article hit the stands two days after the release of “Reputation.” And as you probably know, it sold 1 million copies in four days and smashed records, including “Fastest Album to Reach Number One.” It did that in just six minutes. As of this blog, it’s the number one selling album of 2017. Top of the year. And it’s November.

No one. Knows. Anything.

And no one certainly knows what’s next. So make what you love, what you want to see, what moves you, what your instincts tell you. Because the only way you’ll know what’s NEXT is if you make it.


Jun 14 2017

Plot: It’s not the “what,” it’s the “how”

Proposal“The story is too predictable.” This is one of those big notes that plagues many writers. One of the biggest problems when telling a story is to decide how much information you are giving the audience, and when. Too little information is confusing, and will irritate your audience. Too much information up front makes the story boring and predictable.

Plot is a road map to characters making discoveries about each other and themselves. Plot is the road that we all take a ride down and gain empathy, excitement, and shock from all the twists and turns. But sometimes the road just has to get you to the next point, and we all know what that point is. The audience knows, you know.

I just finished a rewrite on a romantic comedy and I will tell you folks, it is virtually impossible to make a rom com “unpredictable.” Oh sure, you can come up with all kinds of surprising obstacles between the two lovers, but just try to make the audience believe, even for a second, that the two leads are not going to end up together. You can’t! It’s inherent to the genre! It’s why the audience bought tickets. They KNOW that girl on the poster is going to end up with that GUY on the poster. There are rare cases where they don’t (“My Best Friend’s Wedding”), but 99 percent of the time, if Kathryn Heigl doesn’t end up with Patrick Dempsey, those people are gonna riot!

Same with action movies. Do you REALLY think Dwayne Johnson is going to die? Do you really think Vin Diesel is not going to drive a Camaro straight into the face of the Eurotrash terrorist? Of course he is. The Transformers will ALWAYS defeat the Deceptions. So what do we do with this inevitability? My solution is to focus on something else. HOW we get there.

Plot is mostly the “what” of a story. “What” happens? “What,” then “what,” then “what” else? But if you’ve seen “Arrival,” a few minutes into that movie, you don’t care that you have seen alien ships arrive on Earth a thousand times before. You are transfixed by HOW they do it. If you knew that the Alliance was definitely going to blow up Starkiller Base, why didn’t you just walk out of “The Force Awakens?” Because you loved HOW they figured out how to do it. Or HOW the characters united to accomplish the task. A good director or a good writer becomes a valued commodity because they can take ANY “what”… that is, any plot… and tell it like no once else could. Some people complained that “Avatar” was just “Pocahontas” in space. So what? You got to see it told by a master with technology that was unprecedented. “La La Land” is not the first movie to show starving artists falling in and out of love as they try to make it in Hollywood. There are dozens of movies with a very similar plot.  But NONE of them executed that plot through the lens that Damien Chazelle did, as a musical.

Your talent as a storyteller depends on HOW you tell that story. Don’t get fixated on what story it is, or if that story has been told before. Because there are really only a handful of stories in the history of stories. If you get that awful note that your script is “too predictable,” maybe it’s not the story’s fault. Maybe it’s how you’ve told it. That’s where you can surprise… even if Kathryn Heigl gets married one more time.

Mar 9 2017

Beware of the HIGH CONCEPT

04_independence_day_bluray I’ll be really honest: I want to make big, loud, fun popcorn movies. I want to give an audience an escape. I would not be sad if my film merited a series of collector’s cups from Burger King. Selling out? On the contrary, I think part of the celebration of movies is the other fun stuff that comes with it. Toys, games, spinoffs, all of that can be a really great way to “live” inside the movies we love so much. But the dark side to that is that getting them made is all driven by the ever-looming, ever-elusive HIGH CONCEPT.

The High Concept is the story idea that is so simple, so big, and so unusual that it can be described in one sentence. Or one line on a poster. It’s one of those ideas that when you hear it, you think, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Exterminators who exterminate ghosts. A private school for wizards. A theme park of dinosaurs. He was dead the whole time!!

But beware. The High Concept is a great way to sell something, but it cannot be your goal. Stories have to get interesting and take little turns and be personal to you. Otherwise you are going to have a really hard time telling them. If you fixate too much on the High Concept, you will lose sight of the actual story. I’m sure we can all think of a movie that had a great premise and even a great trailer full of amazing images, but the actual 90 minute experience did not deliver. I’ve fallen victim to the lure of the High Concept, so I thought I should warn you. I used to think I could write about ANYTHING if a producer hired me to do so. Robot Babysitter? Rescue team of talking dolphins? Farm animals start a rock band? You bet. By the way, all of those projects are real.

space-buddiesBut I have learned over many years that… You cannot TRY to care about something if you don’t.

I should tell you the story of “The Diary.” At the beginning of my career, I partnered with some friends in a production company and we were taking meetings all over town. We were hot and interesting and new and several producers wanted to be in business with us. Great! But they wanted us to bring them a really clear “high concept.” So my partners and I spent a few weeks white boarding and brainstorming all of our best log lines and came up with a list of about 40 ideas. Of those 40 ideas, we debated and voted until we carved those down to 10 ideas. Then we took those 10 and loose-pitched them to a prominent producer. He picked three of those. We wrote extended two-page treatments of all three and then he picked the ONE. The ONE he thought was the MOST LIKELY to sell. The ONE that had the most potential “traction” in the marketplace. It doesn’t matter what the idea ultimately was, but we called it “The Diary” (Spoiler: it had to do with a diary).

After all of this development, it was decided that I was the one in our group who should write this. I was raring to do it. I sat down and started the long and painstaking process of outlining the entire plot. It was a 15 page outline. I got notes on that. I rewrote the outline several times. Then after a couple months, it became clear that… I just didn’t care about this story at all. Not one bit. I kept trying to like it and get invested in our “perfect concept”… but no. It wasn’t one of the ideas I had put up on the white board, and it wasn’t one I really had a stake in. Sitting down to write it was like doing homework. And you might think, “Well buck up, be a professional. Do your homework!” But imagine doing the SAME homework assignment every day, all day, for months. Then imagine it is the one subject you hate. Why do that to yourself? And how good will a piece of art be — even commercial art — if you can’t find some way to be inspired as you make it? I will tell you, at least for me, it can’t be done. And there have been times when I desperately needed the job. But once you get the job, you’ve got to know you can DO the job. Executing a script has to come from somewhere deeper inside you than a need to pay your bills.

And you cannot confuse the High Concept with a PLOT. Plot is the complicated path your characters take. It is hidden underneath the High Concept. And you’d better have one. You can’t just entertain people for 90 minutes by playing off your one-sentance idea. Studio heads and marketing departments love to talk about the High Concept. But they don’t have to worry about the story. If you’re the filmmaker… you do.

GulliverThere has to be a personal story inside the Big Concept. Or you won’t get it to the finish line. So if you have one of those loud, bold, simple ideas, just make sure that inside that candy-coated shell is something really important to you that you really want to say. Because you’ll need that little spark on days when you don’t feel like writing. Or on days when you are completely grid-locked by the annoying details of finishing the draft. Notes will be coming at you, months will turn into a year, and you’ll have to LOVE that thing you are writing.

Now that’s not to say that a transforming robot or a superhero can’t be a passion project. You’ve just got to find the thing that makes it matter to you. Once you figure that out, the high concept on YOUR poster is: “WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A WRITER GETS EXCITED ABOUT WHAT THEY’RE WRITING?” Even if that script doesn’t make a billion dollars, the ending is still a happy one.


Jan 28 2017

Hey Producers…

On SetMany filmmakers talk about the tension of creative vs. money. But there is also tension between Director and Producer. Producers are certainly invaluable. They usually raise the budget. They maintain the budget. They hire the crew and sometimes find the writer and director. Many projects originate with the producer. Movies would not get made without them. But now that I’ve sung their praises, I have to admit that there are a lot of days where I’m at odds with them. The producer has notes for the script. They have ideas for the music. They think one take is better than another take. Many producers fancy themselves as creative producers and want to “help” the director. I’ve debated a single line of dialogue with a producer, or a single joke, over days and days. They think it’s not funny, I think it is. When we come to one of those creative forks in the road, I really need to say…

HEY PRODUCERS: I love all the stuff that you do. It’s the stuff I hate to do. And in turn, I do a lot of stuff you don’t have the patience for either. You’ve hired me for one thing — my instincts. Making touchy-feely choices is my job. You push me to justify my choices, and that can be good for me. It can make be rethink, adjust, and sometimes make a better choice. But you can also be the “Overthinker” that messes up the clear line of communication I have with my instincts. When you ask me why I put the camera over there, or why I wrote that line, or why I want to cut a scene, I want you to imagine me… doing your job. It would be ludicrous. Imagine me questioning each line item in your budget, or revising your production schedule, or helping you write the business plan. I would never try to do your job. So why are you trying to do mine?

Let’s all admit it. We all have agendas. That’s okay! Some people talk about agendas as if they’re evil. But they’re inevitable. My agenda is a happy audience, or artistic satisfaction. The marketing team’s agenda is a movie that sells. The producer’s agenda is a movie that’s cheap and makes a large profit. The crew’s agenda is a good resume  to get them a better job after this one. Be aware of these agendas and accept them. No agenda is bad… they just serve each individual. Hopefully, all of these people share the greater agenda of making a good movie. But the job a person has changes their focus. It’s just a fact.

Chaplin SetSo Producers: Acknowledge your agenda. Then you do your job and I’ll do mine. I promise I’ll never recommend some course of action in your arena. I’ll leave it to you. Then maybe you can agree to not stand over me in the edit room and suggest a wider camera shot or a different title font. Just tell me what your concerns are, what you don’t like. Then let me do my thing. When my plumbing doesn’t work, I don’t question the plumber’s choice of wrench or turn my head sideways and say, “Mmmm, are you sure you want to run that pipe there?” No. He’s the expert. I hired him to… plumb. Or whatever he calls it.

Producers, I could never do your job. So please trust me to do mine. Conflict will happen between us, and good art can come from it.  But when we come to an impasse on a creative choice, be brave… let the creative one take the creative risk.*


*This blog is in no way addressed to the good producers out there. You know who you are.

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