Screenwriting II — Week 3

September 25, 2013

Posted on: Wednesday, September 25, 2013

 Hello everyone,Those of you who pitched on Monday — good job. Those who will pitch next Monday —  concentrate on the main story and your main character. The more focused your pitch is, the better feedback we can offer you.

You don’t have to know your story form the beginning to the end. But I do want you to at least have an idea how you want to end it and where you want your character to end up. The details may change; they often do. But the idea — what you want to say — should stay the same, unless you want to write a new story. As for a “new story”, if you want to CHANGE the story you thought you’d be working on, do it now. By the end of next week you’re locked into your story.

Some of you asked me if he/she could pitch several stories. It’s a good idea, in general, but there’s not enough time to that in class. So if you have several ideas, you are welcome to email them to me or post them on Blackboard in your group’s page.

Write the biography of your main character. This is not an official assignment and you don’t need to upload it to Blackboard.
But I urge you to do this exercise. It will be of great help later on. Here are some questions you may want to consider:

Character Biography.pdf

Also, we talked abut story paradigms  or models.

Here’s the paradigms for McKee (Story)

And here’s one for Vogler (Writer’s Journey) based on Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”.


We will talk more about the elements in Hero’s Journey later in the semester.


Comment on your groupmates’ pitches on Blackboard.
Here’s the list of those student who pitched on Monday:

Philip, Alba, Jamual, Daniel, John-Carlo, Patrick. Hopefully the rest of the class will pitch their stories next week.

Read VOGLER-Writer’s Journey (pp.23-49)

Read AVATAR SCREENPLAY (on Blackboard). The story follows the myth structure very closely.
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying until you’re sick of it (because it’s the truth): If you want to learn how to write,
read and analyze as many screenplay as you can get your hands on. You will learn to identify what works, what doesn’t, and why.

Pitching:  be prepared to pitch your stories. Try to avoid subplots and backstories. Concentrate only on the heart of your main story. Who is your main character? What is her desire? Who is her opponent? What does she do to overcome obstacles? What happens to her in the end? Does she grow as a person and how?

Questions? Email me:

See you Monday.

Screenwriting II — Week 2

September 18, 2013

Posted on: Wednesday, September 18, 2013


In class we discussed John Truby’s  SEVEN ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS of a good story (J. Truby: The Anatomy of Story)

1. Weakness and need: a hero with a weakness (Max in Collateral is timid and indecisive) and need (has to learn how to stand up for himself and be more assertive. )

2. Desire: the backbone of the story that drives the hero (Max wants to get away from Vince and stay alive in the process).  Note that DESIRE is not the same as the NEED.  Desire is on the surface and need is something the main character is not aware of until the end.

3. Opponent: The person or persons who against our main character. He either wants the same thing as the main character or tries to prevent the main character from getting what she wants. Collateral has one major force of opposition — Vince.

4. Plan: heroes who want something need a plan of action (in Collateral, the plan is forced upon Max by Vince, until the middle of the film when Max hurls Vince’s briefcase over the railing and onto the highway below; in Thelma and Louise, the plan is much clearer and is introduced at the very beginning of Act II by Louise — She’s going to Mexico and hoping Thelma will come with her. )

5. Battle: the battle is the CLIMAX of the story. The main character fights the opponent or forces of opposition.  In Thelma and Louise the women battle the cops. In Collateral, Max has a shootout with Vince on the train.

6. Self-revelation: the hero realizes her NEED, what she needed to have all along but wasn’t aware of it. In Collateral, Max realizes that he can be assertive and stand up for himself.  Thelma is the one who goes through a real change, so the self-revelation is given to her. She chooses death rather than live for the rest of her life in captivity, which is what she was doing at the beginning of the story.

7. New equilibrium: in light of her experiences, our main character looks at the world in a new way.   In Collateral, Max is with Annie. Because Thelma and Louise is a tragedy, there’s no New Equilibrium.

Your Assignments:

COMMENT on your groupmates’ work. Leaving comments is the largest part of your CLASS PARTICIPATION percentage of the final grade. Be sure to leave the comments during the first few days of the submitted work, that’s when they are useful, not two weeks later.If you want to comment on the work of your classmates from other groups, that’s great. One of the reasons I created groups is so you don’t have to read and comment on everyone’s work – just your groupmates’.

Read COLLATERAL SCREENPLAY (on Blackboard). Is it different from the film? How? Prepare your pitches. Everyone should be ready pitch and discuss his/her story on Monday. YOUR PRESENTATION AND QUESTIONS should not exceed 15 minutes. Concentrate on the main character and his/her journey. Use the seven steps discussed above to help you. This helpful tidbit is from SCRIPT magazine:

 Focus on revealing the essential elements of your story. 

  • Who is your HERO or protagonist?
  • What is that character’s EVERYDAY LIFE at the beginning of the film?
  • Why will we feel EMPATHY towards your hero?
  • What OPPORTUNITY is presented to that hero at the 10% point that will get the story going?
  • Into what NEW SITUATION does that opportunity take your hero?
  • What specific visible goal or OUTER MOTIVATION are we rooting for your hero to accomplish by the end of the movie?
  • What CONFLICT will the hero face that makes achieving that goal seem impossible?
  • What are two ANTECEDENTS to your screenplay – recent, successful films with the same genre, tone, and potential market as yours?

Let me know if you have questions.


Screenwriting II — Week 1

September 15, 2013

Posted on: Sunday, September 15, 2013


It was great to meet all of you.

In class we touched upon the art and craft of dramatic structure — the lifeblood of every great narrative film. We’ll continue to discuss the elements of dramatic structure throughout this course. Remember that Screenwriting II is devoted solely to story architecture, so aside from some exercises, we won’t be writing scenes and dialogue for your story. You will be doing that in Screenwriting III.

In this course  we’ll use  Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey and McKee’s Story. There are obvious differences, but also many similarities between the two.  I think it’s important for you to understand and be familiar with the terminology these famous story-structure teachers use, because most Hollywood (an Independent) executives, agents, directors, writers, and even actors have either taken story-structure courses from them or read their books. I also strongly recommend reading John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. You will learn a lot.

On Sept. 23 you will start pitching your stories in class. We’ll talk more about the art of pitching next week.  Meanwhile, here’s a good article by Christopher Lockhart, who was a story analyst and reader  for the talent-agent-to-the-stars Ed Limato.

Before you begin your Assignment 1, try to understand the difference between Theme, Premise, Logline, and Pitch.

Many writers and writing teachers have their own definition of each term, so it may get confusing. So for this class, let’s agree that…

A premise is an IDEA for your story, a WHAT-IF scenario. Note that you don’t want to be too specific in your premise. A theme is what the story is REALLY about (for you!). It is what your story explores. The moral, the essence, the truth. Note that you should never be upfront (on the nose) with your theme. Let the reader/audience understand it for themselves. Also note that a theme should not be original. There are only a handful of themes and they have been mined by most stories from the beginning of time.

Example: Romeo and Juliet

Premise: Two young people from warring families fall in love.
Theme: Love is stronger than death.

Example: Avatar

Premise: An American marine goes to another planet and falls in love with a native girl and her culture.

Theme:  Only when we open our hearts to the culture of the people we’re trying to conquer, can we understand what our life is and how to live it. Or maybe …. When we stop fighting nature with technology we will find true peace? Or it is whatever you think the movie’s message / moral is.

A logline is a one or two sentence presentation of your story. Try not to go beyond two sentences.

Here’s  a logline for Schindler’s List: When a materialistic, womanizing Aryan industrialist discovers his Jewish workers are being sent to Nazi death camps, he risks his life and fortune to save them. Clean, clear, and to the point. There are tons of other things that happen in the film, but that’s the main throughline. What drives the film forward.

Here’s  one for Spy Kids: After segueing from a life of espionage to raising a family, Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez are called back into action. But when they are kidnapped by their evil nemesis, there are only two people in the world who can rescue them… their kids!

The writer and teacher Jonathan Triesman says, “Make Your Logline Memorable

The main point to remember about writing a logline is that you have to try to boil down your own high concept ideas into something that’s easy for people to understand. If you can’t relate to an agent, a publisher, a producer or even a studio executive what your story is about in one or two sentences, then it will be difficult to get them interested in reading your work, and more importantly, wanting to buy it.

Keep in mind however, that a good logline doesn’t tell someone too much. It’s always good to leave a little something to the imagination. In the case of Spy Kids, you want the person you’re pitching, to ask you, “Hey, what does happen when the kids have to save their parents?” And that’s when you can say, “Well, you’ll have to read my screenplay to find out.”

Additionally, when you’re pitching your story logline, you don’t want to sound like a snake-oil salesman by telling someone: “It’s like Die Hard on a bus” or “It’s like The Firm meets The Fugitive.” What does that even mean? However, if you told me that your script was about “A man who is bitten by a genetically-altered spider, and soon discovers that he has unusual powers and the strength and agility of a spider.” Well, I’d say, that’s definitely a movie I’d want to see.

Some may ask, why is the Spiderman logline a high-concept idea? It’s high concept because, while we all can’t relate to what it would be like to be Spiderman, the film has many high-concept themes that we can all relate to such as: unrequited love, parental approval and of course, wish fulfillment as a superhero.”

A pitch is a verbal presentation of your story that shouldn’t take more than two minutes. Here’s a good article from Script magazine on the art of pitching.

Your assignments for Monday, Sept. 16.

1. The exercise we did today in class. Upload only the SCREEN STORY version of the exercise.

2. Assignment1: Premise and logline for your story. Follow the examples above and try to distill your story into workable premise and logline. If you can think of the theme, that would be helpful.


Upload a file with both assignments to your respective group folder on Blackboard (My Work / Your group folder). View the tutorial on how to upload your work. If, for some reason, you’re unable to play the video, here are the basic steps:

Click on your Group link.
Upload your assignment and exercise (IN PDF) from your computer.
SUMBIT. (Don’t forget this step).

Don’t  wait until the assignment is due (Monday, 9:30). Submit it whenever you’re done with it.

Read the assigned chapters in  Vogler and McKee. See the syllabus.

Let me know if you have any questions.

See you next week.