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Class 12, Breaking Story: Unit 4, Part 4

Welcome to Class 12, Breaking Story: Unit 4, Part 4

Class12-Hobbes2-picI’m writing this one on an iPhone while sitting on an Amtrak train from DC to Baltimore, so bear with me. This week I’m teaching a Master Class at Howard University. Last week I did a panel at USC, and we’ll be posting the link to that podcast soon. Over the past year I’ve given workshops, panels and lectures at Syracuse University, USC, UCLA, NYU, Boston U, The Screenwriters Network, Digital Media, The Screenwriters World Conference and The Animation Expo among others. Each event brings us one step closer to eradicating bad screenwriting by bringing more and more people to this website.

If you’re new to the site, click Class 1 to start at Step 1 and catch up. If you’re a vet, you know that in our last class, we broke our INC/INC in a way that was so mindblowingly easy that you’re probably still scraping your brains off the walls. Today we’re going to attack the dreaded first page. And, in subsequent classes, we’ll build a bridge between the two and create an exciting opening 15 pages that will slingshot your reader through the rest of your screenplay.

Let’s go…

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Class 10, Breaking Story: Unit 4, Part 2

Welcome to Class 10: Breaking Story: Unit 4, Part 2

Class10-reel-scissors-picThis unit is all about breaking the story of your screenplay. Reel by reel, sequence by sequence, scene by scene, line by line, word by word. But, first, I’m gonna tell you how I sold my first screenplays before I learned any of the stuff you’re about to learn…

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Class 9, Breaking Story: Unit 4, Part 1

Welcome to Class 9, Breaking Story: Unit 4, Part 1

This is the unit you’ve been waiting for! We’re going to break down the way movies work from FADE IN: to CUT TO BLACK. I’ll introduce you to “The Wheel.” It’s my own secret sauce for figuring out movie structure. You won’t see it anywhere else. Nothing close. By the way, I’m going to try to keep these posts a little shorter so expect them to be shorter…but more plentiful. Now let’s get right to it, shall we…

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Class 8: Brainstorming, Unit 3, Part 6

Welcome to Class 8: Brainstorming: Unit 3, Part 6

2014-08-20_SuperfreakMagnifyingGlass-picI’ll tell two stories so you’ll have some perspective as I give today’s assignment.

Story 1: The first time I saw IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, the last few minutes of it were on television when I walked into the room. Bailey was running through the snow-covered streets screaming. People were throwing money into baskets. Meaningful glances were exchanged. People cried. A bell rang. Some guy got some wings (I was disappointed later when I learned they weren’t Buffalo hot wings, but whatever.) It was about stuff that I cared about. The Spirit of Christmas. Community. Spirituality.

Story 2: During a Master Class a few months ago, I screened the last fifteen minutes of FINDING NEMO. Before I knew it, I was bawling like a baby. Yes, I’m that sappy. Now, I’ve seen that movie a million times so why did I have tears in my eyes? Because the dueling values in that thing are so strong you can’t help but lose it–no matter when or how many times you’ve seen it.

It’s easier to tell a good movie from a bad movie by its SUPERFREAK, so this week, we’re going to take a look at the SUPERFREAK you wrote last week and give it a road test. It’s about to get real y’all!

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Class 7, Brainstorming: Unit 3, Part 5

Welcome to Class 7: Brainstorming: Unit 3, Part 5

2014-08-11_Class7picCONGRATULATIONS! You’ve made it farther than most professional writers. Seriously. I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve talked to whose faces go blank when I ask them what the theme of their movie is; what they want as the audience’s “take away”; how their movies end; or even why they wrote it to begin with. I’m proud of you and you should be proud of yourselves. I’ll wait while you spike the ball.

In today’s class we’re going to take things a step further. We’re going to take the opposing values we’ve been working on, add a little sugar and spice to them and turn them into the fantastic conclusion for our movie and then test it to see if it’s actually great. That’s right, we’re going to do some writing today! Shout hallelujah!

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Class 6, Brainstorming: Unit 3, Part 4

Welcome to class number 6! Brainstorming: Unit 3, Part 4

2014-08-04Class6pic-postCongratulations for making it this far! It’s all downhill after this step, I promise.

In the poem, The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, The Traveler weighs the options of taking the well-worn path (which we understand to be writing novels) or the titular road less taken (becoming a poet). The poem ends thusly…

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

I’m talking about poetry so I couldn’t resist using the word “thusly”. The point is, the existential decisions we make define us in a profound way. Kill or kiss? Cheat or play fair? Work or family? The weight of these choices also differentiates good movies from trivial ones. They decide whether we cry or applaud or laugh or do all three at the same time…or if we validate our parking and wish we’d seen a different movie. So let’s build a movie climax more like the former than the latter…

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Class 5, Brainstorming: Unit 3, Part 3

Welcome to class number 5! Brainstorming: Unit 3, Part 3

2014-07-27Class5pic By now you should be having nightmares about people stabbing you with swords and poisoning you with elixirs or stories being told backwards and 3×5 cards covered in gems. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go back to Class Number 3. As for the rest of you, let’s move on. The party’s just getting started…

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Class 4, Brainstorming: Unit 3, Part 2

Welcome to Class Number 4! Brainstorming: Unit 3, Part 22014-07-19padopaper

By now you should have a stack of index cards with a ton of great ideas on them. Things like “helicopter boat chase”, “the mailman is the wizard!”, “half tango-half fight” and “narration???” Don’t worry about where any of them will go in your movie yet. Just let your mind go nuts and get those gems written down. Even if they don’t work for this particular project, they might work in the next one. There are no rules. You can even add to the pile as you continue through the next steps. That’s the beauty of 3×5 cards!

You should also have a few notions and themes written down. You think they’re pretty good but you’re not sure. Your theme is your safety net. You want to bounce around on it a little and test that thing out so you don’t crash through it after you’ve been writing for three months. How do you do it? Take out a sheet of your college ruled paper and let’s go…

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Class 3, Unit 3: Brainstorming, Part 1

2014-06-29BrainstormingPicWelcome to Class Number 3! Brainstorming: Unit 3, Part 1

I love the term “brainstorming”. It perfectly describes the hurricane between your ears while you’re trying to break a story. Now, here’s what separates this site from the gurus and theorists. This is a site for writers by writers, so let’s get down to it.

Step 1: Sit down and take out a stack of unruled 3×5 index cards and a pen.

Step 2: Write down every element that you think should be in your movie. Write down every element that you think people who hear your idea will want to see in your movie. Write down whatever’s in your head. Dump it all. One idea per card. Don’t worry about order, rhyme or reason just yet. Just get them down.

Step 3: Find out where your heart is. What?! You heard me. It’s time to figure out why you want to write this movie. But, Rob, why so early? I was just having fun. First, figuring out what your movie is about is the most fun thing in the world. Second, if you don’t figure it out now, you’re just wasting time… and perfectly good 3×5 cards.

Now, how do we do that? Can we get away without it? Why do we have to do it so early? Let’s take those questions one at a time…

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