Monday, April 3, 2017

Every Film Needs a Script, and Every Director Needs a Screenwriter--or Three

I'm part of a screenwriting group known as 3 Kids in a Closet, and we're looking for more clients.

Directors and Screenwriters and Their Differences
A close friend of mine is a director in training. His greatest dream is to be able to direct big-budget films, to work with skilled actors in close quarters, and make a two-dimensional, black-and-white story come to life. But in order to make that dream a reality, he needs a story first.

He decided the solution to his problem was to take a screenwriting class. Over the course of the class, he found out how much he genuinely dislikes screenwriting--the outlining, he said, felt like a torture machine, and the writing process was the slow extension of the rack, pulling him apart inch by inch. In the end, he had an unpleasant story and a bundle of experiences even more so.

At first, he thought this was a reflection on filmmaking--that perhaps he should rethink his dream and choose a non-creative career since the process seemed to disagree with him so badly. But then he realized he still loved film and he still loved directing. It was just a simple truth that writing wasn’t for him.

I can understand--I’m a screenwriter, but directing and editing definitely aren’t for me. That’s okay. There’s a reason we have so many different people involved in the creative process of making a film. If you have one role that calls to you above any other--if you just want to revel in the breathtaking experience of making films come to life as a director--and you can’t write the story you want to create, well, that’s why you have us.

Who are we?
3 Kids in a Closet started as an accident. We were three novel writers working as closed captioning specialists and proofreaders for our university, and one day our supervisor came to us with a request from the video team--they had a few short video scripts that needed help. An easy job.

And we did it too well. They wanted a grammar edit; we gave them a video overhaul. And we blew them away. A few weeks later, in came a follow up project, then another, then another. Soon we were writing videos from the ground up, videos on commission. We wrote for professors in the psychology department, professors in the math department, university relations, senior projects for students, etc. And we took it upon ourselves to learn how to make excellent screenplays--after all, we had plenty of opportunities for practice.

To date, we’ve written 41 short screenplays on commission for clients and three full-length screenplays for personal projects. And we have more in the works. We would love to add yours, and we promise you won’t regret working with us. Contact us for a free consultation.

How We Can Advertise Your Business (3 Kids in a Closet Feature)

I’m part of a screenwriting group known as 3 Kids in a Closet, and we're looking for new customers.

If your business is looking to expand, increase publicity, or market a new product, you need an effective TV ad. Good thing writing videos is our specialty.

What makes an ad memorable?
Someone stops you in the hall and says, “Geico.” You might picture a green reptile with a proper accent. You might think of the number fifteen. If someone says that people in their hometown are farmers, you might suddenly find yourself humming, “We are farmers, bum-ba-dum-bum-bum-bum-bum.” Catchy jingles and loveable mascots are two elements of memorable ads.

What if your business doesn’t have/want a jingle or mascot? Well, take heart in the fact that you’re not doomed to poor advertising; memorable ads are also built on clever taglines and branding. Think of Capital One: Their branding is built around Vikings, but not a specific one, and in every commercial, they repeat the tagline “What’s in your wallet?” And you probably know as much about their company as a result of advertising as you do of Aflac (duck mascot) or American Family Insurance (jingle).

What do successful ads have in common?
Successful ads are built on understanding: understanding what makes an ad memorable and understanding what customers want. We’ve already highlighted some elements that make for a memorable ad—taglines, branding, mascots, and jingles—so let’s look at the second two points.

Whatever your business markets has a target audience. If you sell outdoor gear, you’re trying to attract the attention of people who want adventure or escape. If you sell books, you’re also trying to attract the attention of people who want adventure and escape, but of a very different variety. The difference should be immediately noticeable in your advertising in order to attract the right customers. Successful ads understand what their audience wants and how to show that they can offer it.

How can our screenwriting help your business?

We understand what makes ads memorable and successful. We understand what audiences want and how to best showcase what your business has to offer. Most importantly, we understand film and media. Communicating effectively through a visual medium is an art; it’s about more than just putting images, words, and music together on a screen. After a consultation with you, we can write a custom ad suited exactly to your needs. Contact us for a free consultation. We promise you’ll be sold by the end.

Television Writing is Best Learned from "Inside the Room"

This is a companion article to my earlier review of Cut to the Chase. Check that out here.

If you already know screenwriting but want to pursue writing for television specifically, helps and guides are very limited. Most screenwriting books address feature-length films or screenwriting in general, but Inside the Room: Writing Television with the Pros at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program by Linda Venis (editor) is targeted to those people who want to learn the art of television writing.

Tackling the Specifics

This book is not just one long book about writing for television, but rather it is broken into informative, specific subsections about what aspect of television writing you intend to tackle. The book has three sections:
Section One: Writing your One-Hour Television Drama Specs and Pilots
Section Two: Writing Your Half-Hour Television Comedy Specs and Pilots
Section Three: Being a Professional in the Television Business
At a glance, readers can see what applies to them and use the book as a helpful, immediate reference for their needs.

The Business Side of Writing

Inside the Room gives helpful writing instructions--information about outlining, creating a television story, what makes a sitcom funny, etc.--but it also addresses the business side of writing. An entire section of the book is dedicated to helping TV writers break into the company scene or get their TV script noticed. This section is practical and extremely helpful, with details about the television industry that are hard for anyone to learn who’s never experienced it firsthand.

Technical Specifications

The product details of Inside the Room as listed by Amazon are:
  •  Paperback: 272 pages
  •   Publisher: Avery (August 6, 2013)
  •   Language: English
  •   ISBN-10: 1592408117
  •   ISBN-13: 978-1592408115
  •   Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9.1 inches
  •   Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  •   Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars (14 customer reviews)
  •   Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #192,752 in Books, #141 in Books > Humor & Entertainment > Movies > Screenwriting, #730 in Books > Humor & Entertainment > Television, #905 in Books > Reference > Writing, Research & Publishing Guides > Writing > Writing Skills

Click here to buy the book on Amazon, available in both Kindle and Paperback versions.

Customer Reviews

Here’s a sampling of some top reviews:

“The instructors at UCLA Extension are working professionals, they have their own takes on the industry and you know you are getting real, not jaded, opinions about the entertainment business.”
-          Stuart Beattie, writer/director, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Inside the Room should be required reading for anyone embarking on or dreaming of a career in television. Like the classes I took at UCLA Extension when I was starting out, it demystifies the process of becoming a working television writer and tells you how to go about it. Most of all, it lets you know it’s possible.”
-          Carol Barbee, writer/producer, Touch, Hawaii Five-O, Jericho, and Judging Amy

“Aspiring television writers have found their bible in Inside the Room. It is an honest, insightful and incredibly accurate depiction of how the modern television system works. No book can guarantee success, but this one will get you as close as any can!”
-          Lee Hollin, director, drama development, CBS Television Studios

Possible Downsides

Some of the complaints for the book include:

“[Because] it was written by multiple people [it] is often repetitive.”
-          Ayu, Goodreads reviewer

There is some informational overlap in the sections handled by different authors. This is a natural danger of having a book written by multiple individuals rather than one.

“Aspiring writers might still want to check out a screenwriting book or two.”
-          Lauren, Goodreads reviewer

This book deals only with the specifics of writing for television, which means it doesn’t hit on the specifics of screenwriting technique such as crafting dialogue, making memorable characters, or creating subtext. It operates under the assumption that the reader is already familiar with the basics of screenwriting in general.

In Summary

While there are screenwriting guides galore, there are very few that deal specifically with writing for television. If it’s something you want to pursue, Inside the Room is the book to start with.

If You're Looking to Break Into Screenwriting, It's Best to "Cut to the Chase"

Hey, guys. Here’s my very first book review. If you’re interested in screenwriting at all, check this out:

Learning to be a screenwriter can be a tough process. It isn’t readily taught in schools, and people don’t talk about it as openly or often as novel writing. But there are some very helpful written resources for the would-be screenwriter. Of these, there is one that is probably the most thorough beginner’s guide to screenwriting (that even non-beginners can still learn from). That book is Cut to the Chase: Writing Feature Films with the Pros at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program by Linda Venis (editor).

Something for Everyone

Cut to the Chase has a chapter for everything. If you’re just starting as a screenwriter and know nothing about the process, start on chapter one and just plow on through. If you’re looking for help on a specific aspect of screenwriting, take a glance at the table of contents, and you’ll probably see exactly what you’re looking for. Here’s a sampling:
Chapter 4: Building Characters by Cindy Davis
Chapter 6: Outlining the Screenplay by Juliet Aires Giglio
Chapter 8: The Who, What, Where, When, Why (and How!) of Writing a Scene by Dan Vining
Chapter 11: The Art and Craft of Dialogue Writing by Karl Iglesias
Chapter 15: Launching and Sustaining a Feature Film Writing Career by Deborah Dean Davis

The Pros of the Business

Each of the contributing authors in Cut to the Chase is a proven-successful screenwriter, and there’s a section in the end where you can look at their respective accomplishments and films. On top of that, each author teaches in the screenwriting program at UCLA, which is one of the most acclaimed universities in America for an education in screenwriting. These are the professionals, and they know what they’re talking about.

Technical Specifications

The product details of Cut to the Chase as listed by Amazon are:
  •   Paperback: 400 pages
  •   Publisher: Avery (August 6, 2013)
  •   Language: English
  •   ISBN-10: 1592408109
  •   ISBN-13: 978-1592408108
  •   Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  •   Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  •   Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars (32 customer reviews)
  •   Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #78,425 in Books, #72 in Books > Humor & Entertainment > Movies > Screenwriting, #315 in Books > Humor & Entertainment > Television, #452 in Books > Reference > Writing, Research & Publishing Guides > Writing > Writing Skills

Click here to buy the book on Amazon, available in both Kindle and Paperback versions.

Customer Reviews

Here’s a sampling of some top reviews:

“Cut to the Chase is now the ONLY book I use for my advanced feature screenwriting class at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. It’s a book for aspiring screenwriters, written by professional screenwriters. It’s the type of book that will one day be thanked at the Oscars!"
-          Keith Giglio; Professor, Syracuse University; Screenwriter and Executive Producer whose credits include Cinderella Story

“Cut to the Chase is a state-of-the-art collection of articles by some of the best (and most prolific) teachers at the UCLA Extension Writers' Program. In addition to practical information on craft, the reader also receives some pithy, entertaining and frank advice on dealing with the realities of a screenwriting career.”
-          Dennis Palumbo, author and licensed psychotherapist

“There's a lot written about writing for the movies—but not much of it comes from professionals. With Cut to the Chase, readers hear from real professionals talking about the art and craft of screenwriting and learn not only the nuts and bolts of what it takes to be a screenwriter, but also how to mold their creativity into that most challenging of forms, the screenplay.”
-          Diane Lake; Assistant Professor, Visual and Media Arts, Emerson College; screenwriter for Columbia, Disney, Miramax, and Paramount

Possible Downsides

“[The] disadvantage of a book with multiple writers is that some of the chapters are more useful than others.”
-          Lauren, Goodreads reviewer

This is the most common complaint from anyone who dislikes the book. Each chapter is written by a different contributor, which means some are your style and some aren’t, some are more structured than others, and some are more accessible. It can make it hard to glean needed information from a chapter if the style doesn’t suit you, and it can be frustrating if you know there are other chapters that do. It can also be hard to constantly switch styles and voices from chapter to chapter as you try to learn.

That being said, the dislike is minimal, and this book is still universally accepted as a valuable resource for screenwriters.

In Summary

If you’re looking to break into screenwriting, or if you have a script you’re working on but want to make better, Cut to the Chase is an invaluable resource for you.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Worldbuilding and I have always had a hate relationship. Lots of hate. With chainsaws. And blowtorches. And our conflicts have always ended the same way: I lose and abandon a high fantasy idea to go write realistic fiction or urban fantasy while high fantasy laughs in my face and taunts me from afar. With cookies.

And then I befriended a coworker, and everything changed. She invents worlds and draws her own maps for fun, and I'm sitting there in slack-jawed awe as she shows me graph paper covered in sketches depicting the land mass of islands, population numbers, seasonal weather patterns, and cultural traditions. She knows what kind of food would be available in the area, what would need to be imported, what trades would be practiced, and what kind of government would reign. I ask her how she manages something so monumental--how she battles her way through the chainsaws and blowtorches--and she says just four simple words: "I think it's cool."

I have never once thought worldbuilding was cool--not when I do it, anyway. Other people make cool worlds, and that's cool. But to me worldbuilding is like washing the dishes. It's a necessary, gross evil that gets your hands soggy and your mood irritated, and no matter how long you stand there scrubbing, you'll always find out thirty seconds after you "finish" that you missed three cups and a pot and you're not done after all and you'll never be done because someone is definitely conspiring against you. And I had always thought that in order to win the battle of worldbuilding (or dish-washing, for that matter), I would have to become a great researcher, or a great historian, or a great something-I'm-not-and-dread-to-think-of-the-work-required-to-become. It wasn't until that conversation with my coworker that I realized the only change necessary is not one of vocation, but one of attitude.

I enjoy what I do--writing, I mean. I think it's cool. I think it's hard. I think it's awesome. My problem with worldbuilding stems from the fact that I have never seen it as part of writing; I've always seen it as the mud I have to slough through in order to get to the actual writing.

Now I don't think that way. Now I think it's cool.

(I'll conquer my attitude about dishes another day. With chainsaws. And blowtorches.)