Ah yes, the old axiom. The tried-and-true methodology. The very basis of everything everyone has ever written. Or it should have been, anyway. Write. What. You. Know. It is sacrosanct. It is invincible. It is LEGION.

Except not really.

But, except…yes, really. At least in my opinion.

Thing is, I’ve seen professional writers aplenty, of all stripes and experience levels and genres, begin to dismiss this notion. In fact, screenwriter Zack Stentz – whose work (with writing partner Ashley Miller) I very much admire and whose opinions I have the utmost respect for – wonders if it isn’t perhaps the worst advice ever:

Yikes. Has Zack hit on something here? Is “Write What You Know” (heretoafterforth known as simply “WWYK”) really a dated, worthless mythology? Have we been deluding ourselves as writers this entire time? Are we committing a scribely sin?

THE ANSWER IS YES. AND ALSO, THE OTHER ANSWER IS NO, NOT AT ALL. What I’m saying is…we have coexisting answers here. And they’re both correct. But to understand that, we have to be willing to unpack it a bit. And by “a bit” I mean this is going to be another one of those posts where I ramble on aimlessly for what seams like years and you pray for sweet death from on high while learning nothing.

That inevitability in hand, let’s attempt to boil this down before blowing it all up: while I agree with Zack that WWYK has led to comically innumerable bad pieces of writing, I don’t think it’s the advice that’s at fault – it’s the writers. Because they’ve lost sight of WWYK actually means. Or never bothered to figure it out in the first place.

First of all, let’s talk about what WWYK isn’t. And, violating everything I stand for, I think I can distill it into one quick statement: Not Everything Is A Story. Most stories are bad to mediocre. Very few are good. Almost nothing is a story worth writing a script about. WWYK does not mean, “Every little detail of your life is fascinating.” Movies, in fact, are universally about seminal experiences – stories that define someone or something and change someone or something in an extraordinary or profound way; if they weren’t, what would be the point of telling them? So 99% of your life? Unremarkable. Flat. Meaningless to anyone else.

As soon as Zack Twittered the above, I thought immediately of a scene from one of my favorite movies. It perfectly encapsulates this idea and, angrily and unknowingly, hits dead-center in regards to WWYK. The movie is PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES, written and directed by John Hughes and starring Steve Martin as Neal Page and John Candy as Del Griffith. Neal is a buttoned-up, straight-as-an-arrow, generally stuck-up yuppie WASP. Del is a salt of the Earth, loudmouthed traveling salesman who lacks basic self awareness. Both are, ostensibly, just trying to get from New York City home to their families in Chicago for Thanksgiving. However, due to some bad weather and insane circumstances, these two polar opposite personalities are sidetracked and forced into that journey together. And while Del tries to make the best of it, keeping it light by talking constantly about literally anythign, Neal just really, desperately wants him to shut the fuck up, stop being a slob and cease mooching off of him. Neal’s annoyance with Del builds and builds, until the two are forced to share a hotel room and Del’s entire state of being causes Neal to blow a gasket. It results in this all-time monologue:

“You’re no saint. You got a free cab, you got a free room. And someone who’ll listen to your boring stories. I mean, didn’t…didn’t you notice on the plane, when you started talking…eventually I started reading the VOMIT BAG? Didn’t that give you some sort of clue, like, ‘Hey maybe this guy is not ENJOYING it?’ You know, not everything is an anecdote. You have to discriminate! You choose things that are funny or mildly amusing or interesting. You’re a miracle! Your stories have none of that! They’re not even amusing accidentally! ‘Honey, I’d like you to meet Del Griffith, he’s got some amusing anecdotes for you! Oh and here’s a gun so you can blow your brains out, you’ll thank me for it!’

I could tolerate any insurance seminar. For days, I could sit there and listen to them go on and on with a big smile on my face. And they’d say, ‘How can you stand it?’ And I’d say, ”Cause I’ve been with Del Griffith, I can take anything.’ And you know what they’d say? They’d say, ‘I know what you mean. Shower curtain ring guy. WHOA.’ It’s like going on a date with a Chatty Cathy doll. I expect you to have a little string on your chest, you know, that I pull out and have to snap back. Except I wouldn’t pull it out and snap it back, you would! ‘ACK ACK ACK ACK!’

By the way, you know, when you’re telling these little stories, here’s a good idea: HAVE A POINT! It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!”


Some things just aren’t going to be interesting because…well, they’re not interesting. That time you rode the bus and it went kind of fast and you were worried? *Maybe* a you could eke a fun one-liner out of it to explain why you’re on edge. Not a screenplay. You know what story about a similar experience IS interesting? SPEED. THAT’S a script.

“But Geoff,” you point out with annoying accuracy that I wish you’d instead choked on, “Haven’t you always encouraged writers not to write for trends, not to write for formula, not to write for what they think OTHERS want to see, but rather to tell exactly the stories they want to tell?” Well yes, I have, you unfortunately attentive mnemonist.

But you can’t trip me up! When I say that, there’s a directive implied. It’s not mine, and it’s not Hollywood’s. It’s nature’s: you have to pick a story that’s worth telling. If you don’t, no one will listen. It’s not philosophy. It’s biology.

So what to do? You have a concept or a moment or an idea you don’t want to give up on, but it’s not a narrative yet. Well…


This is kind of, you know, your whole job as a screenwriter. And yet most writers never figure out how to it in a compelling way.

Tolkien never tromped through Middle Earth or had a ring that made him invisible and drove him crazy; those things don’t exist. Gillian Flynn never faked her own kidnapping and killed a guy to get revenge on her husband (so far as I know; she’s pretty dark); that lunacy had to be fabricated. James Cameron never went to Pandora or sat in machine that made him into a blue cat; these hallucinations are fucking insane. But what did they do? They IMAGINED these things. They asked, “What if?”

You can’t fight on Orc outside of a video game and you’re not going to sex-stab Neil Patrick Harris and Blue Cat Technology is at least six years off. You can’t “know” these things. But you can take what you DO know and expand upon it in fantastical ways, often just by asking yourself playful questions. Those answers beget more questions which snowball into more answers and more questions, and VOILA!, you’ve built a world. All based on what you know – or can conceive of.

But conception is a tricky point, no? Because, while you can engineer, narratively, pretty much anything your mind can wrap itself around, that doesn’t mean it’s all going to make sense. If you’re building a world, it has to have limits. It has to have rules. If it doesn’t, your story doesn’t exist because there’s nothing to ground or establish it; it just something that IS, and that’s meaningless. It’s nothing. But if you establish boundaries that make sense at the scale you’re writing, and then come up with clever ways to push, go around or break through them…hey, that’s *something*. So…where does our sense of “boundary” come from? Our checks and balances, our lines that we must decide whether or not to cross?

Oh yeah, Life. Duh.

But, OK, you don’t want to write about all-seeing sky-eyes and lawyers that look like Tyler Perry and tail-fucking dragons? That’s fine. And the good news is: all the same rules apply.

When I was writing GOING THE DISTANCE, I’d never been in a long-distance relationship (I am now, however, because the Universe has decided that my life is a cosmic irony). I had no idea what it was like. However, I had two things going for me: the Executive Producer HAD been, and I knew from personal experience what it was like to miss someone you loved.

Between those two things, I found my way there. Just because I’d never been in the situation doesn’t mean I couldn’t put myself in the EP’s shoes and determine how I’d react and how that would influence my significant other – and vice-versa. Then, I added in general stories from my own dating wins and losses (way more in the latter column, if you can believe it!) plus some funny personal experiences and ended up with something that I thought was as authentic as possible. I built a world, I assigned it rules that I understood, and I made it work.

I’m currently writing a spec about a Summer of my life that was very significant to me and, I think, one that others will either understand or commiserate with. That said, what happened in those three months in and of themselves isn’t enough to make a story – it’s something that began and ended, and there was some crazy stuff in between, that craziness alone doesn’t make for a good enough yarn. So I’m embellishing. I’ve stretched the timeline out to a year.  I added some extra drama with some of the characters that never happened. I added a narrative engine that COULD have existed in a worst-case scenario, but never did. I’ve pulled in experiences from years before or years after, events that didn’t happen in the same timeline but fit this story thematically. And you know what? It’s not only OK to do that, IT’S WHAT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO DO. YOU’RE A WRITER, NOT A STATISTICIAN OR ARCHIVIST.

Know what else you’re supposed to do?


This sounds simple, but it’s not, because you have to practice at a certain level of emotional and intellectual honesty to do so, and most aren’t willing to take that leap – not with characters, and not with settings, not with daily unscripted life. They write for what they wish to be and too often forget to understand what IS.

To be a writer, you have to be an observer, a cataloguer and a student of the human condition. You have to be willing to dissect it, reverse-engineer it, appreciate it, and get totally Frankenstein with it. Sometimes sexually.

You know yourself. Write yourself into your characters. Maybe not ALL of yourself ALL the time, because you’ll just keep writing the same movie. But parts of yourself in spurts and fits that matter. It keeps your story honest and it makes your characters relatable and accessible. Maybe that pang of jealousy you felt when someone got the promotion you were promised or the shame you felt when you slipped on the ice or the joy you felt when your first kid was born aren’t by themselves the beginnigs of an Oscar-winning script, but they can provide beautiful moments of clarity and authenticity for your audience through your characters.

You also know other people. And while you might never literally experience the pain of childbirth or the thrill of hitting a home run to win the World Series, you can, you know, TALK to people who’ve had kids and watch Joe Carter skip like a child around the bases. You’re a person. You’re supposed to be able to intuit and approximate the feelings of another person. You listen, you engage, and you process their history. It’s called empathy. And if you don’t possess the capability, you’re a sociopath and your very survival is predicated upon learning enough about human emotion to fake and convincingly replicate it, so you might even be better off.

You have to give the audience an excuse to INVEST IN YOUR STORY. You have to compel them to spend their time and open their hearts. That can only happen if they believe they can experience something worthwhile out of what you’re giving them. And the only way to forge that connection is to prove to them that you know. That you get it. That you’re telling THEIR story too.

But what if the sum total of all your experiences just isn’t enough?


Maybe, at the end of the day, it should be, “Write What You Can Learn”.

I’ve never been to Korea, but I’m currently writing a movie that’s set in Korea. The studio wasn’t going to pay to send me there because it’s not Hollywood in the 1990s anymore, so what were my options? I could have gone myself, but I’m not into 15-hour flights and didn’t want to spend an extended period of time abroad. So what then? Well, I immersed myself in research. For the first time ever, I’d be writing something I wasn’t intimately familiar with (or wasn’t made familiar with) on most levels. So all I could do was learn.

I spent three weeks going academically deep into Korea before even opened Final Draft. I continued to swallow up more information as I started to write the script. I talked to Koreans, native and otherwise. But that’s only the first part of it. The story is set in the music industry, so I had to build on what little I knew about that as well. The story is also populated mostly by women, so there was even more research to do on issues that affect Korean women specifically and Korean women in the Korean music industry more specifically. This is a PG-13 studio comedy we’re talking about here. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. But I still needed to understand. Because even if it’s just a PG-13 studio comedy, I want it to be a GREAT PG-13 studio comedy. So the strive for authenticity continues unabated.

And while that’s all a constant and continual learning process, I “know” enough about each of those things now that I can capably tell the story I want to tell. And I can lean on others that know far more than I do for the instances where I fall short of getting it right.

That’s a winding and solipsistic way of saying, “Probably don’t just wing it and hope for the best.” That never works. You end up with a script that’s cloying and fake and a story that’s – say it with me now – not worth telling. Because readers don’t invest in something that feels inauthentic.

And so, no, we can’t call it “Write What You Can Learn”. Because you don’t start writing something you CAN learn; you wait until you’ve learned it, then you write it. The maxim holds, but the explanation is clear: you can learn just about anything, to one degree or another, that you make a concerted effort to learn. But you have to decide to do that first. And most writers simply don’t.


Yeah, look, it kind of seems like we went off the rails there, but we didn’t. Trust me. Here’s what it comes down to:

Not all stories are worth telling. In fact, pretty nearly all stories are not worth telling, even if (and maybe especially if) they happened to you. And your very first job as a writer is to recognize this fact and to develop the ability to discern what’s going to be entertaining and what’s not.

WWYK is a perfect piece of advice – as long as you understand what it means and know not to simply take it at face value. And then, once you understand it (and correctly value its sub-face!), you’ve got to apply it intelligently and appropriately. The major trick? Don’t be lazy. Do the work. Develop your instincts. Educate yourself. Improve yourself. Learn about others. Make an effort to understand them and how their experiences have shaped them. Expand your horizons. Be introspective. Be extrospective. Know when a story is not enough, and know when to let it go if you can’t MAKE it enough.

You know?



OK, so before you read even a word of this here response, take some time and read Jeanne V. Bowerman’s piece from yesterday (if you haven’t already) over at SCRIPT MAGAZINE. It’s important you have her perspective, because you’ll need it to understand why I’m shredding it so harshly. So go take a gander.

Done? OK, fun. Here we go.

First and foremost, let me get this out of the way, because by the time I’m finished with this I know I’m not going to feel like being nice anymore: I like Jeanne. I like #scriptchat. I think, for the most part, she genuinely wants to help other writers, and I think she has her heart mostly in the right place. I think she’s a smart, capable woman, and I believe that she believes the things she’s saying in the above referenced article.

Unfortunately, I also think that her conclusions – and, more importantly, how she arrived at those conclusions and the manner in which she opined them – are a gigantic pile of naive bullshit. Probably borne of a measure of frustration and regret.

The first major mistake that she makes is that she makes not a single delineation between any of the gaggle of “screenwriting experts” out there. In this piece, pro/working screenwriters are apparently offering their knowledge and expertise at he same level as those who have written screenwriting books or offer consulting “services” for hundreds and often thousands of dollars. This alone negates any worth the article might have had in the first place. I’ve spent enough time explaining why (though I will hit the essential beats in a bit), but suffice to say: this is such a drastically wrongheaded conflation, and a deeply insulting one to me. And it is REALLY hard to insult me. I’m low on the totem pole in the profession of screenwriting, but I’m LEAGUES ahead of any of these “consultant” assholes when it comes to writing, story, development, and the ins and outs of this industry. As are my colleagues. Let that be made perfectly clear.

The second – and FAR worse – mistake that she makes is, I believe, a pointed and intentional one: she ties the notion of reading screenwriting books and paying for script consulting to a writer’s PROCESS. She often goes out of her way to make this about YOU, the writer, and how those of us who advise against script “consultants” are just up and screwing YOU out of learning how to write. Let’s lock on to this for a moment.

To quote one of her major points: “No one knows anything other than what worked for them.” Emphasis hers. This is a total crock of shit. Literally all you have to do is ask a screenwriter, “Hey, how’d you break in? What worked for you? What should I do? What should I avoid?” And they’ll tell you. And then you’ll know. We’re not just offering advice in a vacuum here, bouncing our own voices off the walls so we can hear their dulcet melodies. We are preaching, TOGETHER, something that we believe in because we have SHARED experiences. So while I or Travis Beacham or John August or Justin Marks or Crag Mazin or John Gary or any of the countless other pro writers who speak on this topic time and again can only speak for ourselves about what works for us individually IN THE PHYSICAL ACT OF OUR OWN WRITING, we can very much collectively champion actions and philosophies that we took to in the days before anyone paid us for said writing – and we can especially call out those we see taking advantage of aspiring writers today. We learned not only from those of us who were still struggling to get through the gate, but from those who crashed it before us and those who cared about us and looked out for our best interests as we came up. To a scribe, we absorbed advice and strengthened and discarded certain notions as we moved forward, learned and evolved.

And again, to a writer, we all come down on the same side of this issue: spending money on “script consultants” and “coverage services” is a LOSING ENDEAVOR. At best, it will separate you from some hard-earned money and not make you a better writer. At worst, it will separate you from buckets of hard-earned money and will actually cause your writing to regress as you develop bad habits and take terrible, terrible advice to heart.

Now I’ve spoken about this many times, and I’m loathe to do it again, but just in case you’ve never heard it before, I want you to pay attention. It’s important to understand and appreciate WHY we believe script “consulting” is a joke, lest you ken that I have some unnecessary vendetta against these people. Please trust me: it’s a very necessary vendetta. And the explanation of such is very simple:

These people don’t know what they’re doing, and they’re charging exorbitant amounts of money to pass that total lack of knowledge and acumen onto you.

Go onto any script “consulting” or coverage website. Look up the people who run the “business”. Read their stories. You’ll find the same thing everywhere: vagueness and obfuscation. They sold a script, but leave out the title or fail to mention to whether or not it was to an accredited, viable outlet. They’ll claim to have worked at studios and production companies you recognize, though they’ll never say in which position (or they’ll label themselves “consultants” to firms and films, but never elucidate on that, because it’s a fucking wank of a term that means nothing and is often made up out of whole cloth). They’ll claim to have “worked on” certain films, but never detail in what capacity. Then there will be a laundry list of important-sounding accolades, awards and recognitions, none of which has the first thing to do with understanding scripts, screenwriting or development. Then they will list breathless testimonials from people you’ve never heard of and writers who are SO HAPPY WITH THEIR WORK, yet shockingly have not sold a single script to anyone anywhere.

Most of these people had a least some murky experience in the entertainment industry, and I always ask writers who are considering paying them for their services one simple question: if they were any good at what they did, wouldn’t they still be doing it? In case you thought that was rhetorical, allow me to answer: yes. Yes they would.

And here’s the difference in the way I’m aware of these people and the way Jeanne is, again in her own words:

“Certain experts state the odds of breaking in are miniscule (sic) and most of us will never break down the doors, let alone break in. Screenwriting is FREE, just like breathing in oxygen, so we shouldn’t buy books or hire consultants to give us any help or advice. Basically, it’s like saying to someone who stops and asks for directions, ‘Sorry, but you don’t know whether I really live here or not, so why should you trust me for directions?’ Don’t buy a GPS, because those cost money! Don’t invest in a map because who the hell created it? Forget buying gas… it’s too expensive! But hey, have fun trying to find your destination!”

This is such a childlike misconstruction of the advice that I and others give that it can only feel intentionally misleading. I can’t think of a single writing pro who has ever said that you shouldn’t seek out help or wisdom, or that you should only listen to one source when you’re trying to gather information, or that there’s only one way or the highway. To even insinuate such a thing is, to my mind, flat out irresponsible. To twist our words and our intentions in order to cloud the advice we’re given is, frankly, disgusting to me. To wit: all I’m EVER trying to to say is that most screenwriters who broke through and had fruitful professional careers rarely-to-never paid someone to consult upon, analyze, critique or represent their work. CAN you do any of those things? Sure, you totally can. But our goal in bringing this stuff up is to SAVE you money and to SAVE you getting into bad habits. To use Jeanne’s own analogy, using a script “consultant” is like needing a guide to get around New York City, but paying someone to traipse you around Albuquerque while assuring you it’s the Big Apple.

That’s what script “consultants” do. Their goal is to make as much money off of you as possible by convincing you that if you just spend a few more dollars on THIS, you’ll find yourself walking through the Gates of Hollywood. Except you’re not near the gates; you’re in a hyperloop of upsell, and the charlatan has control over the spin.

At this point, perhaps you’re asking yourself, “Geoff, you’ve used a lot of words and you like to claim things, but seriously, why should I trust you? You appear merely a drunk, loud troll.” WELL I AM A DRUNK LOUD TROLL. But I’m also several other things:

1. Not trying to take your money in any way, shape or form.

2. Formerly a reader for New Line Cinema for 4.5 years, in which time I read close to (and perhaps more than) 5,000 scripts, both for work and my own education.

3. Someone who bought one screenwriting book (SCREENPLAY by Syd Field) at the behest of his mentor who argued that it should be osmosed and ultimately discarded as a formula for writing a screenplay but catalogued as a basic conceptualization of three-act structure.

4. A working screenwriter currently within the studio system who consults with other working writers and offers support, knowledge and advice to aspiring writers. Often, and in different capacities. Again: for free.

5. A veteran of 11 years in the film industry, all-told.

And here I am, telling you that you CAN spend money on books and services if you want to do that, but that I and SO many others are proof positive that you have *exactly* as good a chance at breaking in if you NEVER SPEND A DIME.

Compare me to Jeanne, whose qualifications in writing and development I asked for on Twitter earlier today. She offered the following:


2. Has had one screenplay optioned (details not given).

3. Has adapted a book, SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME (details on status of the project not given).

So: one script optioned, one of nebulous status, Editor of an online screenwriting magazine. No development experience. And while it costs nothing to read Jeanne’s column and SCRIPT is a free online outlet, it’s worth pointing out that SCRIPT is run by The Writer’s Store, which sells Final Draft Software (the least expensive version of which is $99 at the time of this writing) and also sells books, screenwriting “tools” and minutiae, and runs something called Screenwriter’s U, a for-profit gaggle of online tutorials and screenwriting “courses”.

(IMPORTANT EDIT: I wrote erroneously earlier that The Writer’s Store produces Final Draft software; however is merely a retail outlet for, but does NOT produce, Final Draft. Not sure how I managed to slip that in there other than that I’m an idiot; thanks to Phil Galasso for the heads-up and apologies for the error.)

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I like and use Final Draft software and have advocated for its purchase by any screenwriter who can afford it. Some writers use other programs. Anything that helps you automatically format a screenplay – so that you don’t have to do it manually – works.)

Jeanne has her own website. Interesting that she chose to offer this advice not there, but on the SCRIPT site, where there are multiple ads for screenwriting books and services embedded in her piece itself that…hey, cost money. Oh, and though she made a bunch of vague accusations about “popular screenwriters” with “cult followings”, she never mentioned anyone by name and never linked to a specific instance of impropriety or or perceived slight. However, she did link to several other SCRIPT articles (and ONLY to other SCRIPT articles) that had little to nothing to do with the matter at hand. When I asked Jeanne why she didn’t “call out” directly the individuals she was so offended by (after describing them as “unacceptable, juvenile and unprofessional”), she told me that’s “not her style” and that the piece was in response to an attack on two SCRIPT writers, though she failed to link to said attack in the response itself, so we have zero context on which to validate her claims.

Sorry, but that’s not fucking good enough. At best it’s disingenuous and at worst it’s a sad little hit-and-run. If you’re going to admonish working writers and flat-out call them unprofessional, have the decency and courage to do so with specifics and evidence, not thinly-veiled potshots and rhetoric. Especially in a column that has the temerity to call itself “Balls of Steel”.

Make no mistake: Jeanne is”calling out” writers like Craig Mazin, myself and others who preach that a screenwriter’s education can and should be free and that you needn’t spend money to put yourself in a position to break in. But not only does she do that – and, again, vaguely and insultingly – but she doubles down with THIS crap: “Can you learn about writing without spending money? Absolutely! But that doesn’t mean every writer can learn without help. Don’t judge those who want to educate themselves in a more traditional way…I simply want you to do what is best for you and not feel judged for doing it. Use your energy, time and even money to please your vision.”

Yes, that’s it! Jeanne, she of next-to-no practical experience in the entertainment industry who works for an outlet that relies on the advertising of the costly screenwriting implements, products and services of its parent company is JUST LOOKING OUT FOR YOU. The implication being that those of us professional writers who give of our time and advice freely because we want you to avoid wasting money and falling into bad habits as a writer are JUDGING YOU for the choices you’ve made.

Very few things disgust me. THAT fucking disgusts me. I have NEVER seen an instance of a pro writer offering his or her advice to an aspiring writer shaming or mocking or judging them simply because they bought books or used a service. I’ve seen a lot of lowbrow attempts at character assassinations in this business, but that’s one of the most pathetic.

“Educate themselves in a more traditional way.” Give me a motherfucking break.

Look, I don’t have the time or patience to address every dismal thing in Jeanne’s piece and I’m fast running out of an interest in keeping this civil. You can read what she wrote and judge for yourself. But let me beat the drum again:

You do not have to pay for your education as a writer. The vast majority working screenwriters did not (a fact that should stop this discussion in its tracks on its own). You do not have to pay for access to Hollywood, and the vast majority of the people claiming you do are lying to you. The ones that tell you THEY can get you there for a fee are lying to you even harder. But all I can do is make you aware of that, tell you of my experiences and share the wisdom I’ve gleaned while on my way up. I’m not some pampered A-list scribe who’s disconnected from the realities of the industry. I’m a medium talent who’s fighting to keep a relevant career going. But I’m in the game. I’m not lurking outside it, lobbing bitter, grotesquely false invective, desperate to be taken seriously. And I’m not asking a goddamned thing of you – other than that you appreciate that the advice I give comes from eleven years practical experience.

If that doesn’t float your boat, godspeed. There are plenty of wannabes, false prophets and used car salesman out there who will be happy to pick you out of my wake. And for just a small fee (in the grand scheme of things!), they’ll be able to explain to you what I couldn’t.


OK friends. Here’s my list. Typical blah-blah shit: my favorites, not a best-of; still some stuff I didn’t see, but I consider this list pretty complete; didn’t get out to the movies as much as I wanted to this year again; other things that I’m sure are relevant and pithy. One relevant note: I fully expect this year’s list to be far more fluid in the future than most other years. I can see lots of changes here.

Last observation: lots of really terrific stuff in 2014 and lots of flotsam I couldn’t have cared less about with very little in between. Odd.

Anyway, here we go:




SELMA – I just need to see this again. Was on a handful of Benadryl when I hit the theater, and I know it’s incredible, but because of my antihistamine haze, it didn’t leave a mark. To be very clear: that’s not on the movie, that’s on me. I will rectify this soon and will likely have to update my list. Now leave me alone about it.


CHEF – First of all, a champagne problem this year: this is actually still a good movie that I mostly liked. But I don’t think it’s the movie it could have been. Jon Favreau is one of my very favorite writer/directors, and there were parts of this scrappy tale that made me so giddy to get him back from tentpole stuff for just a little while. But in the end, there was one major letdown: every problem in this movie is conquered SO EASILY. Yeah, Favs has a rough first act. But you know what? Make some sandwiches, dance a little, smile, and everything’s OK! Now your kid loves you, you’re making money hand-over-fist, you’ve revived your career, and your ex wants you back. ALL BECAUSE OF SANDWICHES! The hurdles in this movie are set up all over the place, but for some reason, instead of running the race and jumping them all, the story just hops in a helicopter and clears them by thousands of feet. While eating a sandwich. So there are no stakes, because everything is just sort of a bother rather than a real life challenge. Once the truck is purchased…nothing goes wrong. So two-thirds of the movie is basically a foregone conclusion and a celebration of overcoming very little. And it’s kind of fun, but also toothless and mundane. I don’t know. I just wanted more.


10. LIFE ITSELF – My favorite thing about this movie, besides the wonderfully bloated section covering Roger Ebert’s partnership with Gene Siskel? The fact that it didn’t shy away for even a second from portraying the man as he once was: really little more than kind of a dick. Which is terrific, because it informs so much of his early diatribes about film AND makes you appreciate even more how he settled his shit down once he got married and unquestionably started writing better than he ever had in his life. Also, why isn’t Steve James considered our best living documentarian? It’s a mystery.

9. WHIPLASH – This wasn’t on my list until a couple days ago, and then I watched it again, and…I just can’t ignore it. I still have issues with the movie; I get taken out of everything at various points with Simmons, who is unreal in this role and should without question win an Oscar, but who I also think was written as just a touch too cartoonish, and that kept dragging me away from the reality of the story. Still, even with that…WOW. The last sequence alone is one of the very best musical set pieces ever put to film. EVER. I mean that. A remarkable feat in editing as well.

8. GODZILLA – I don’t know what the rest of you guys were looking for, but this is *exactly* what I wanted when I first heard this movie announced with this director. I enjoyed every single minute of it. The scale was note-perfect, the surprise appearance of the second monster was a terrific decision and the VFX were sensational. Don’t know what else to say other than it made me very, very happy.

7. INTERSTELLAR – Again…hard for me to fathom what some of you were looking for in this movie. OK, maybe it drags a little at the outset, but the eventual conversion of science and fiction rewarded us with something awe-inspiring. It felt, quite honestly, like a perfect companion to CONTACT, the last movie about “space” that filled me with such wonder and excitement. What you guys treasured so much about GRAVITY this year? That’s what INTERSTELLAR was for me. Imperfect for sure but vital without question.

6. JOHN WICK – Along with my #5 pick, the most fun I had at the movies at this year. This is not a prestige pick, and it’s not an artsy thinker, but it’s slick and it’s brutal and it’s unapologetic about being exactly what it is: about 90 minutes of revenge and mayhem and a whole lotta brass hitting the ground. Keanu is just the greatest.

5. THE RAID II – See #6. Where JOHN WICK is content on deploying brute force to get the job done, however, THE RAID series has shown itself to be sneakily concerned with detail of movement and economy of space in its fight sequences and as such has become an entirely unique property in the world of action films. It’s not often a sequel improves on its original, but this one unquestionably did. A perpetual rewatch, one of the highest compliments you can give any movie.

4. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL – Remarked the other day that, while ROYAL TENENBAUMS will almost certainly never be eclipsed as my favorite Wes Anderson film, this latest may well be his best…and I think that, in a couple years of letting it season, it might not even be worth debating such. You get the feeling that this is the unequivocal masterpiece that he’s been building to his entire career so far. It is SPLENDID. Could see it rating much higher by the time the decade is over.

3. GONE GIRL – In my mind, hands down, the best script of the year and a stunning achievement from Gillian Flynn. It’s so wonderfully, wrongly mean, you guys. It is unabashedly a movie about bad people being very bad and doing very bad things, and it GLEEFULLY rolls around in that station like a pig in a mudpatch. If that’s right up your alley – and boy, is it ever up mine – it’s damn near impossible to come away from this not feeling giddy and satisfied. It made me so. Happy.

2. BEGIN AGAIN – And then on the COMPLETE other end of the spectrum from GONE GIRL in the Realm of Things That Make Geoff Happy, there’s BEGIN AGAIN. Look, I don’t know what it is that John Carney’s got, but it works on me like nothing else. The man chips away at my cynicism and my skepticism and whittles and hones stories that just simply fill me with joy. And he did it again here. It’s shaggy and meandering and unsure of itself and even a bit twee in certain moments…and holyfuckingshit, does it ever sing. It’s wonderful, and it left me absolutely beaming. And it’s not like I even need to point this out, but the music is soul-affirming. None of this should have worked on me, and yet every second of it did.

1. NIGHTCRAWLER – Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand we swing the whole way back in the other direction for the best movie of the year. You know what geeks me up so much here? There isn’t a single likable person IN THIS ENTIRE MOVIE. And while the majority of the denizens of GONE GIRL where black inside but squeaky clean on the surface, NIGHTCRAWLER dispatches with any of that. Lou Bloom is a virus. He tries to hide it, but there’s nothing you can do to mask that level of emptiness, and we all know that because we all know a Lou Bloom. This movie gets all the credit in the world for not only refusing to turn away from such darkness, but getting as close to it as possible with the brightest light and cackling wildly when it should probably back away. It’s mesmerizing and terrifying and you just want to scrub your insides when it’s over. That is BRILLIANT, and that’s exactly why it’s my favorite movie of the year.


Er…they’re all “ready”. I think. I think I misheard that last part. I’m saying: I do not believe any of the Selected Ten have perished.

OK, let me talk about me for a second first, because honestly that’s my favorite thing to do:

When it came down to it, I’m actually glad I didn’t write a spec in the period of time the Selected Ten did. I know my next couple of specs backwards and forwards already, and they’re concepts, worlds and stories I’m intimately familiar with in one way or another. I feel like I would have blown through them quickly and not had much to offer publicly as a result.

But what ended up happening, as you know, is that I worked on a script that was commissioned from a pitch. And while I was (and still am) confident in my grasp on the story, the characters and the things I wanted to say within them (and where the comedy should come from, perhaps most importantly), it’s also been a (somewhat) frustrating challenge at times. The script involves locations and music and a whole SOCIETY, in essence, that need to be characters themselves in the film. And yeah, it’s a PG-13 studio comedy. This isn’t deep, important shit by any means – but there are elements that need to be respected and not be treated lazily. As such, this is the most research I’ve ever done for a script. And as I’m not a musically-inclined person, especially in a business sense, the behind-the-scenes machinations were tough to nail down and get comfortable with. At the end of the day, I personally NEED this movie to be authentic as much as possible. And when that authenticity isn’t originating from within me…I mean, shit, that’s tough.

So I’ve struggled. But it’s been a good struggle, a learning struggle, a struggle that I’d welcome with open arms any time I write from now on. And I bring this up not *just* because I like talking about myself – although, again, that’s most of the drive here – but because I think it made me appreciate even more that the Selected Ten were going through the same much of the time. And that made this project not only a relatable one as per myself to the Ten, but one in which the commiseration actually aided me as I wrote along. Was I guiding them…or were they guiding me?

(HOLY SHIT I’ve always wanted to type that and mean it and yes it feels just as good and as smarmy as I thought it would, and now I’m a Lifetime movie and I CANNOT BE STOPPED.)

And that’s what I want to thank the Selected Ten for the most – for the learning experience. In every facet, every single week, I learned something. And I empathized. And I sympathized. And I remembered. And goddamn, it was great.

When I first dreamt up this experiment, I thought I’d be thrilled if even seven out of ten finished a script and had the sack to upload it to the Black List. As it turned out, ALL TEN FUCKING OWNED IT. I am so proud. I am so unbelievably proud. And I can’t wait to read their scripts.

Luckily, I don’t have to. And neither do you. Because here are their final updates, complete with the loglines of their scripts and where you can find them on The Black List. Seek them out. I have a feeling there are some real gems in here.

To the Selected Ten: Way to go. Seriously. You absolutely destroyed this process – each in your own way – more completely and more professionally that I could have ever hoped. I’m honored to have helped in any small way to have ushered you through this process.

And so here are their last hurrahs, in their own words, unsubjected to my petty mewlings:


“Being part of the Six Week Spec challenge has been the best thing that’s happened to me since I took up screenwriting. It shook me out of the rut of procrastination I’ve been stuck in for a long time, and I’ve shown that I can write, in a short space of time,  a real script with a real beginning, middle and end. I’m ready to get on with my next project, and I feel freshly-scrubbed and like a middle-aged slightly overweight eager Beaver.

I’ve also – and this feels just as important – been brought into contact with some really great new people, and the world seems to have opened up a bit wider.

Seeing my script up there on the Black List is a thrill, and whatever happens from here, the last six weeks have made me feel like I do actually have a place in the race.”


“When a game of soldiers goes horribly wrong, a cowardly dreamer has to fight to save the life of his friend – and what’s left of his reputation.”




“Wow, what a ride! First up, I want to thank Geoff for choosing me to be part of this. Seeing as this has all been done in conjunction with The Black List, here’s the (not paid for) evaluation of my #SixWeekSpec experience, enjoy.

Era: The beginning of… (urgh, gross)
Location: Twitter…lots of Twitter
Budget: Cheap. Very cheap.
Genre: Balls out funny.
Logline: An aspiring screenwriter gets selected to take part in a writing experiment, and proceeds to write something he thinks is hilarious.
Surprises: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed meeting the other writers who were either selected or joining along at home. That’s been the best part of the whole experience, meeting all these great writers who are full of vim and vigour. 
What I’ve learnt: I’m on the right track, but I’m not there yet. I’m totally cool with that. This is going to be a long haul, but I know I’ll get there eventually. I’ve learned I’m a good writer, and I know I will get better.
Prospects: In six weeks I’ve written a script that was better than my last. I’ve written a script that has promise, and that I’m excited to get back into. I’ve written a script I think others will enjoy, so click below and check it out.
That’s that then. I hope you’ve enjoyed the updates. Look out for a new draft of INTELLIGENCE -1 later this year. In the mean time, get in touch via Twitter (@Lou_Bennett).”
“Two desk bound intelligence analysts are thrown into a world of underground tabletop gaming, online shooters, and cosplay, as they try to avert a terrorist attack.”
“I was sure I wouldn’t get chosen to be a part of the six-week challenge.  Wrong. 

Then I was sure I’d never want anyone to read the result.  Wrong again.   
I’m kind of great at being wrong. (Maybe the best at it…I don’t know for sure. Even if I did, what’re the odds I’d be right?) But anyway, combine that with my other two super powers–having a high school education and making a so-so vegetarian lasagna–and how the fuck am I not a successful millionaire yet?? 
In all seriousness, I couldn’t be happier with this whole experience.  And I can’t thank Geoff enough for including me.  
I learned so much. Particularly that working to a deadline isn’t the narrow ledge I thought it would be.  It was just scary enough to force me into some creative places. The same way pretending the floor is lava forces me into furniture jumps I would never attempt otherwise. Even my procrastination upped its game in the form of next-level housework.  
No joke you guys–Martha Stewart could eat a dick off my light switch covers right now… 
I also discovered the euphoria that comes when characters start bolting forward, unprompted. One second you’re digging your spurs in–the next it’s all you can do to hang on to the reigns.  Not even Charlie Sheen drunk in a Taco Bell drive thru knows THAT kind of bliss.  
Note to self:  Congratulations. This is the kind of fundamental shit that happens when you give your characters actual motivations like you’re supposed to, you mozzarella-crammed duncepit. 
See? Learning all the time. If that doesn’t fill you with enough confidence to invest yourself in 94 pages of my brain dribbles then…tough tits for me I guess.  But I did it! I wrote a thing! It’s called NAILED IT and it’s on The Black List now and I’d love for everyone to read it even though (loony bin scream)!”
“A wannabe house flipper struggles to transform the ‘dump’ she bought at a foreclosure auction when the handyman she recruits has an ulterior motive and a secret–he’s the home’s previous owner.
“Okay, so, despite all the stress and self-doubt that’s occurred over the last six weeks, this has been the most AMAZING journey and I was very lucky to be a part of it. For the rest of my life, I get to say that the first ‘gig’ I got after college was getting to write an entire screenplay in six weeks with a bunch of really awesome writers from literally all over the globe. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Even for a gig that paid me in actual money.

When I first stumbled across this opportunity, I was a WILDLY insecure recent college grad with really no sense of direction. I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know anyone in the industry and I didn’t know anyone else who aspired to do this. And then BAM. This happened. And now I know all you guys.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a WILDLY insecure recent college grad. And I don’t know what’s going to happen after this. But I’m excited to find out.
After reading last week’s updates, it made me happy to find out that Geoff dubbed me the one who’s perhaps had the most invaluable experience here. (OKAY FINE YOU CAUGHT ME. I admit I had to think for a while what ‘invaluable’ actually meant. I kept double guessing myself and eventually just had to look it up for confirmation. Let’s all agree it’s a tricky fucking word.) But after understanding, I was so excited that this was a vibe I somehow gave off especially after being so whiny and full of self-doubt most of the time. Because this is EXACTLY what this experience has been for me. Let me count the ways…
1. This is the first time any creative writing of mine has had a deadline. I hated it. I still hate it. BUT I can go the rest of my life saying I wrote a 128 page screenplay (that was at one point 142 pages) in a month and a half. And on a more practical note, if I am one day blessed with the opportunity to write professionally, most if not all of my writing will have deadlines to meet. So I’ve (sorta) learned how to suck it up and just deal, because that’s life.
2. I set up my Twitter account a few weeks before the Six Week Spec started. I had, like, twenty followers. Maybe. Now I have almost 100, and pretty much ALL of them are writers I’ve been virtually connected to through this. Every time I need to be reminded that I’m not alone in this whole writing thing I can just hop on Twitter and there they all are. Having the same experiences I am. And it’s the coolest thing, really.
3. The past six weeks I spent more time on a computer than I ever did in college. It made me realize my vision’s gotten worse. So I got new glasses. I can see clearly now. The astigmatism’s gone. (Sorry.)
4. Speaking of computers, I’m writing my next script by hand. And then probably hiring someone to type it for me. It seems nuts, but one day I was so tired of staring at Microsoft Word that I said ‘fuck this shit’ and wrote out an entire scene by hand. I loved it. Something about writing manually made me more conscious and thoughtful of what I was saying. I was much more quick to realize if something was good or not. I feel like a grandma but whatever.
5. I really feel like I’ve learned to have more confidence in my writing. Which is nuts, because I rarely ever said anything nice about anything I wrote. But the boost in confidence is there somewhere. It obviously still needs a lot of work, but I think this opportunity has helped more than even I realize sometimes.
6-999. All the other ways this experience has been invaluable to me that I don’t have time to list because this update is due in 11 minutes.

1000. And last but not least… Geoff and the other Selected Ten. I don’t think I’m exaggerating at all when I say you are some of the coolest cats I’ve ever met. I know I haven’t actually met any of you, but just going through this process with you guys makes me feel like I don’t really have to meet you in person to know you. Because we all just did so much cool stuff together. (That being said, I still want to meet all of you. Anyone going to be in the Mexico, Missouri area anytime soon?!) Seriously, y’all are awesome. And some of you are so naturally, effortlessly funny I just want to puke and then throw in the towel I used to clean it up. And Geoff, thanks for thinking I deserved to be in their (and your) company. Seriously.


Anyways, my script is (at the moment) titled WHERE WE BEGAN. It follows two 20-something-year-old lifelong friends (Lena and Luke) who had a recent falling out as they travel to their hometown for a funeral together. Essentially, the road trip forces them to sort of come to terms with this friendship that’s felt forced upon them their entire lives (their parents were friends since before they were born). That’s a decent synopsis I guess. I’m honestly not brave enough to make it public on The Black List, but if anyone is interested in reading it, let me know on Twitter (@anirishwhiskey) or through email [dmcneil2(at)illinois(dot)edu]. I’m happy to send it to you guys.”

(Please contact Delaney directly if you’d like to read the script.)
“I’m still not at all happy with my script, but I looked in my writing directories for the shorts I have written and I usually do 9-12 full drafts before they go into production. So expecting that a first draft, that is 10 times as long, would be ready for the Black List is just ludicrous. I’m still looking forward to the feedback from the readers though. It’s going to be fascinating to see if we agree on its strengths and weaknesses, and on my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I’m ready for it to be harsh. Everything I’ve done has blossomed under criticism. So bring it.As exhausting and terrifying as the whole process was I’ve emerged mostly invigorated. I’m no longer afraid. I have a drawer full of
feature ideas that I now know I can bring to life. Maybe clumsily and naively at first, but that’s OK. I have many writing years left in me.
@MysteryCr8tve said that it took over 15 years of solid writing to write something he wasn’t embarrassed by, and I found that strangely
Thanks to Geoff for taking a chance on a nerdy mum from the other side of the world. You’ve unleashed a feature screenwriting beast for which
the world is unlikely to thank you.My fellow writers: I’ve written mostly comedies in the past, and you guys make me feel like a hack. I’ve learned so much about punchy writing just from your updates and bios. Your scripts must be spectacular (yeah, give it up me). I feel like the worst house on the best street, but we all know that’s the smartest place to be. I can’t wait to see where you all go next. I’ll be watching you as best I can from darkest Tasmania, and when I make it to LA next year I’ll be trawling through your trash for discarded manuscripts. Guess that actually means breaking into your computers these days. Oooo, I can do that from here.”
(Claire has chosen to not make details of her script or the script itself public at this time.)
“I’ve been thinking a lot about what I learned during the past six weeks, and a lot of it is small stuff that just made the writing process easier: taking the time to outline, writing even when every word I can think of is stupid, re-outlining the whole thing after finishing a draft… blah, blah, blah. Also, to be honest, I realized when I was at about pg 120 that I hadn’t thought of the words “Three Act Structure” in weeks. And whatever I read from Save the Cat at the start of this experiment, I have since completely forgotten. I think what’s going to end up happening is that my own formula will appear as I continue to write. ‘Cause using someone else’s certainly doesn’t seem to work for me. The most important thing that I got from this thing is the reassurance that I actually like writing. It’s the thing for me. It feels like what I am supposed to wake up and do every day. I’ve never written so much in so little time, and the feeling of accomplishment is definitely worth the struggle it took to get there. Special shout out to Delaney who answered my panicky ‘IS THIS RLLY HARD FOR YOU TOO?’ emails with similar anxiety. It was nice to commiserate over the process. 

I guess that was the awesome thing about this little experiment: we were all kind of overwhelmed, and anxious and freaking out about writing a script in six weeks, but we were in it together. Feeling like the world was ending, and then reading that someone else was having a similar crisis was hugely helpful. Especially for someone like me, who tends to retreat further and further from the outside world when I’m having writing problems. 

**Also I’m amazed at how funny some peoples’ updates were (Jerren/ Jesse: Hi) in the middle of this process. By the time I sat down to write my update each week, the most creative thing I could come up with was something along the lines of: “Writting iz hAAard”. 

THANK YOU Geoff, for letting be a part of this, and for checking in with me when my updates began to get shorter and more panicky. I really appreciate that you took the time to encourage and reach out to writers, even though you’re a busy guy and no one asked you to do this. That’s so cool. 

Can’t wait to read everyone’s scripts!”


“After her first novel crashes and burns, Meryl Oberst moves back home to write novel #2, but the only writing inspiration she can find is from the idiots who work with her at her new job in the book shop her parents own.”


“My entire household, spanning continents, breathed a sigh of relief when this project was done. My poor husband certainly did. He expressed profound relief and begged me not to take on anymore nutty deadlines. Don’t have the heart to tell him that if I’m ever successful, this will pretty much be everyday all day.My body and soul and heart have just exhaled. Feel profoundly tired. Tried to nap but just lay there thinking odd thoughts, listening to the humidifier, watched the light flickering.Nutty. Wow yes. It’s been nutty.People care. I can’t ever say that people don’t care about my writing ever again. People definitely care. And this is huge.

I started out this year pretty much wondering whether I should pack it in. I’d been through a few grueling rewrites on another project. A painful fourth draft, a comedy pass which should have been fun and was a little bit. Though preparing it felt like an enema.

And then I submitted to Sundance Labs. All through that process wondering whether it was really worth it. What’s the point? Should I give up this screenwriting malarkey? Go back to corporate communications? Wouldn’t be so bad would it? But it would be. Corporate communications almost killed me. But that was then. I’m older. I have more control over my emotions. God, I sound Vulcan.

In any event, I entered Sundance Labs. Tripped around the world to see my family who asked me predictably, “what I was doing with my life” I’m glad to know that it’s not just a ‘brown’ thing and it’s not just a ‘writer’ thing. Young people on the edge have been pushed over by elderly relatives all over the world.

Also uploaded my script to the Black List fully expecting a 2 or 3.

I came back. I’d gotten a 7 from the Black List. Not bad right?

And some weeks later, a lot of weeks later, as I was prepping another project, Sundance Labs wrote back.

Saying, ‘We’re pleased to inform you….’ I couldn’t tell you what the rest of the email said because my brain stopped working.

I think it took me a full 3 hours to become functional again. And about 17 calls to my husband who, of course, was in a low-signal area.

This was a big deal.

In a week, I rewrote the blasted script AGAIN. Lord knows I’ve never worked that hard on a script in my life. But I know now I’m capable of it Alhamdulillah.

And then somewhere in that week (yeah, in that very same week), Geoff selected me as one of the ten who will simply walk into Mordor. WTH?

Friends on Twitter broke it to me this time. My face just froze into that face from the Scream.

But I took a week or three to outline something I wasn’t planning on writing till oh, maybe next year or the year after. A crazy Egyptologist and alien two-hander story. Looking back, my feet up, a cup of tea here, I think I’m crazy. But I think it’s a good kind of crazy.

Yeah, I abandoned (for now) the project I had actually done some prep on and went with another project entirely. It seemed like a good idea at the time. And I actually think it was, thank God. Or at least I’m sticking to my guns now I’ve fired them.

So I outlined as best as I could. Which it turned wasn’t that good. But still I asked my characters a few questions, beated out the script, did some very preliminary research (I wouldn’t be surprised if I receive hate mail and bricks through my window from irate Egyptologists – no, it’s not that bad. I’m a drama queen) and wrote a first draft.

Fifty-six pages it was. It was really hard to write too. Because I knew as far as screenplays go, it was pretty bad. This much I knew.

But still even so, it was enormously helpful. I figured out the emotional arc in a lot of the scenes, though it still needed some significant cleaning up.

I guess I discovered that I love love love outlining. Especially after hearing how much work Damian put into his outline and feeling JEALOUS. Who would have thought an outline could make me feel jealous?

I went back through my script. I read it 3-4 times. Seeing that it was only 56 pages, that wasn’t that hard. But essentially I familiarized myself with the structure as it is.

I then went through and figured out what I’d learned about my characters from each scene. Okay, they are acting in a certain way. Why?

I wouldn’t let it go until I got an answer that seemed sincere.

I forced them to open up to me. Well, at least my main two characters. With the others, I have much work to do, especially the more significant supporting characters.

Once I figured I’d learned what I could from this iteration, I dove into the outline again. I fleshed it out. And added a first Act which I had omitted at the beginning, thinking the audience wouldn’t need it – they ALWAYS need a first act in sci-fi.

That added a good thirty pages to my total. And that page count continued to tick up as I wrote thereafter.

I found myself getting terrifically bored with my writing. There’s a few stock words and phrases I use. ‘Nonplussed’, ‘suddenly’, ‘scuttled’.

I like my ellipses too….

But still I wrote.

I’ve never done out and out philosophical discussions in a screenplay before. Sure, there’s philosophical battles being fought in the sub-text, but never in the text-text. This was a gamble. I wonder if it turned out any good. But I guess all art is a gamble.

I wonder also if anyone will care as much about my work as they have in the past few months. I sincerely hope so.

I hope I am worthy of such caring. And it’s my job I think in the coming months to really up my game, get better and learn from the greats.

This is my fourth script project (counting the first which was too embarrassingly bad to show anyone). Since it occurred in such a compressed time frame (8-9 weeks in total), all my normal reactions to the various stages of screenwriting came into sharp relief.

At first, it felt like going on a really big water-slide. Yeah, sure you might die. But you might also have the time of your life.

Then came the really hard part. Facing up to the fact that this thing has some kinks that’ll need sorting out. That’s disappointing but not necessarily bad. Mistakes can always be fixed as long as the script hasn’t been sent to Harvey Weinstein (I don’t think he’d be interested in my non-Oscar-winning-genre film anyway).

Tiredness sets in and the usual questions begin to present themselves. ‘What’s the point? Nobody cares. I’m the only person that cares about this silly story.’

My husband says he can set his watch by when in a project I start to ask those questions. He even parrotted them back to me.

Other more deep-rooted concerns also presented themselves later as tiredness really began to set in. I found myself caught up in the Islam wars between Maher and Affleck and Reza Aslan too. Flurries of articles on my Facebook and Twitter. Intellectual and not-so-intellectual responses. This is around the time I start to wonder whether I should pay attention to the world a little more. To politics. Whether I should give my community a hand.

But as I’ve read the arguments back and forth and back and forth – people have been talking about this since September 11th, since probably before the Internet as well. It’s just the Internet has made these conversations front and center in our lives i.e. Muslim lives. 

I’ve decided something (though I might wake up tomorrow and change my mind). This politics crap is too complicated for me. There are much smarter people who can dissect these arguments up the wazoo and write brilliantly worded 2000-word features about them. Not me. Me, I write screenplays.

It frustrates me that however many articles have been and will be written, there’ll always be more demanded. But this is a fight that needs to be fought I guess. But not by me. I can’t do it. My rather gentle polite heart can’t take it.

How am I going to fight Islamophobia? Writing screenplays with Muslim characters being human. Even if nobody EVER reads them or cares. Even if nobody is ever interested in making them into a movie. I owe it to my progeny to try. This is terrifying to me but I think it’s what I’m supposed to be doing.

I’m going to be asking myself, ‘Do I have anything better to do?’ If the answer continues to be no, I will continue to screen-write. That sounds pretty simple.

And I’m going to be a nice person too. Yeah, this is my fight. This is my world. Being a decent person is simple. Smiling at your friends, feeding a hungry child, picking up somebody when they’re down – that’s what decent people do. Politics is not so simple.

Screenwriting is simple too really. Just write an effing good story (pardon my French). I’ll let the really smart people take care of the politics.

And well, all of that aside, I finished my screenplay. I’m dog tired now and it’s done.

I’m going to take a while. Rest. Read other people’s screenplays, especially of the Selected Ten. Review. Recuperate. Eat right. Exercise. Stay out of the sun. However long I need to take (but no longer than two weeks).

By then, I should have an idea whether this project has any momentum. I might choose then to use the last 2 months of the year, plus early next year to rewrite this script. Or something else.

My in-laws are down in December. Big life changes are on the horizon. I’m not going to lose my momentum but I don’t want to burn out either. We’ll see how this goes. As usual, as my husband says, cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“When a misfit Egyptologist is trapped inside a pyramid with an alien, she and the alien plot to ‘improve’ the world, not realizing the alien is in love with her and has less benign plans.”
“What a dizzying six week roller coaster ride this was. 

It started off strong, like a majestic stallion stampeding across the New Mexico plains. Then that stallion crossed the border into Arizona and some obscure anti-horse laws lead to that horse being imprisoned for an awkward two weeks because, you know, Arizona. Then a heroic lawyer, played by RDJ, stood up against that tyranny, and our horse was free to gallop his tired ass all the way to Tijuana for some much deserved R and R.
I think I have my next spec all lined up. 
Am I happy with what I created? Decently. Am I happy with what I created in only six weeks? Absolutely. No matter what this anonymous jury of evaluators over at the Black List say, it’ll all be under the context of having been done in six weeks, for better of for worse. 
Best of all? This was a ton of fun. Nothing could rival the joy of writing a kickass scene and just feeling it. Printing off this script and feeling its weight, its depth, those beautiful, straight edges, the way the black text contrasts with the white paper, how soft it is…
In short, this challenge told me not only what I needed to hear, but thankfully what I wanted to hear. This is possible. And not only is it possible, but it’s fucking fun. And though there will always be swamps to slog through, at least those swamps are in my mind, and not literal, or infested with misquotes, crocs, and tarantulas. 
To all you following around, thanks for reading. To my fellow challengers, congratulations, and to our patron saint Geoff, thank you. 
If you’re an industry professional reading this, go download my script, NUMBER ONE FANS, on the Blacklist. Then go through my Facebook friend list and hire/promote all my friends. Also, as you can see, I have a great horse script in the works, so give me a call next. 
Until next time, Internet!”
“When each of their highly-ranked teams lose in the first round of the playoffs, four extremely obsessive football fans band together to uncover a game-rigging conspiracy.”
The last six weeks have been an absolute whirlwind. Six weeks ago, I was moving from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, looking for a job and a place to live. Since September 1, I have been living at home in Ojai, but I have been fortunate enough to become the Head Lacrosse Coach at Calabasas High School as well as Coach to 11 year-olds in the Los Angeles Mavericks Lacrosse program. Lacrosse has always been a passion of mine, but this is somewhat perfect for my writing schedule as I tend to do my best writing in the mornings.

The premise of my story was an idea that I had just come up with, days before I submitted my entry to the #SixWeekSpec challenge. I have a number of other spec script ideas (last count, 17 one pagers) but this one grabbed hold of me and just wouldn’t let go. The idea wasn’t revolutionary, but it was interesting: a teenager wants to do graffiti legally so he earns enough money to rent a dilapidated billboard and, thus, experiences the trials and tribulations of growing up from the billboard platform. Now I expanded on that concept, including some drama with a gang, a love interest, family dynamics, and racial issues into a feature length drama/thriller. Sounds kinda fun, right? I think so.
Historically speaking, a majority of my screenplays are action (description) heavy. I tend to have more scenes than pages in the screenplay. This is because I am a far more visual writer, often writing my scripts with the perspective of an editor. I may not be able to make the scenes I write on my own, but I can certainly envision them on a movie screen. 
One issue that arises due to this descriptive approach is the proclivity to have my dialogue come up relatively thin across a number of different scenes. This is bad because the conversations tend to come out shallow and we find ourselves visiting the same locations over and over. In an attempt to curb this, I found myself consolidating multiple conversations into one scene’s dialogue. I convinced myself that it’s possible to talk about topics A, B, and C over the course of one meal, not just A or B. So, with longer, more in-depth scenes, I finally brought the scene count under the page count… only by a few though.
After the third draft of this script, I met with professional screenwriter John August. Without going too deeply into the plot of the screenplay itself, John did suggest that (because “The Billboard” is essentially it’s own character in this film and a setting in which I thought was unique) perhaps this film could fall into the genre of scripts that occur in a single location. I liked the idea… what if my main character was forced to stay on the billboard?
That was when I saved the entire script as a new screenplay and went through cutting and consolidating the script toward my main character climbing up to the billboard and staying up there for the second and third acts. At the end of that revision, I had cut nearly forty pages from my script. In an attempt to fill some of that in, I created scenes that helped build drama and move the story to the billboard’s platform, but with just a few days to go until the script was due, I decided it was too late for a full rewrite.
It was time to merge the stories. I trimmed off the excess scenes, streamlining our attention to on (and around) the billboard. I took the new scenes that I had written in the other draft and incorporated them into my latest version of the original script. It felt much more technical than creative. The draft that is uploaded to the Black List is the fourth draft of LOVE & KRYLON I completed in the six weeks allotted.
I can’t explain how much I enjoyed this challenge. I have to admit that I knew I would be successful in completing a feature length screenplay, but what I didn’t know was how much I was going to learn about myself and my writing process while doing it. I learned that I know the writing process that works best for me, from outlining the story on my iPhone to highlighting scene summaries in Final Draft and hand editing my scripts before scanning them. I learned that near the end of my writing process, I become more mercurial, scared that I wasted all that time by writing a story that goes nowhere. The fear is real in my process, but the more structure I give to my story before the FADE OUT, the less fearful I become while going back through it again.
I am eternally thankful for this opportunity for so many reasons. I have been working hard to prepare myself for success as a professional writer, and I believe this opportunity has allowed me to demonstrate that in a public venue. But perhaps more importantly, I became friends with a group of other aspiring writers, known as ‘The Selected Ten.’ We asked a lot of questions of each other, made a lot of jokes, (we haven’t met up for drinks yet but that’ll change), and in the end, we challenged the electrical-meat-mass inside our heads to write a film in 45 days… 
…and we did.”
“Teenage graffiti artist Ryder Fall takes his art to new heights when gang violence, law enforcement, love and Krylon threaten everything he lives for.”
“Ah. The ‘what we learned’ time has come. Honestly, there’s NO END to the shit that we learned on this. More than our combined years of schooling. More than growing up in the streets. Riff-raff, street rat, etc. (We did NOT learn to tone down our Disney’s Aladdin jokes). To avoid the emotional 65-page version we are tempted to unload, we’ll bullet point some of the more important lessons. We learned: – That deadlines are awesome. In the moment, that stress can be crippling, no doubt. But the fire it lit under us is hard to self-impose.– We can and will eat whatever amount of pizza is put in front of us.– We should not eat whatever amount of pizza is put in front of us because NAPS.

– The weekly updates from the other writers and the comments from Geoff were so affirming. It was nice to know there was someone else paying attention, frankly, and that there are other people out there to commiserate with. Unless that’s mad corny and you guys felt differently, in which case… *flash from a memory erasing device*.

– Intense appreciation of a good writing partner and pal. Six weeks ago, one of us would have strongly opposed using an Aladdin reference. But appreciating what the other brings to the writing should be done on a daily basis. Saying it out loud (or in an email or text) regularly is also essential. Livin’ that friendship liiiife.

– Jerren is a terribel speller (left that spelling of ‘terrible’ because PERFECT EXAMPLE) and Jesse’s great at proof-reading.

– Having only one (or two) VERY trusted readers is better than a plethora of only kinda-trusted ones. Look, not every group of pals shares the Ocean’s 11 chemistry. Find that one person that you want to impress, and if you do that, you know it’s up to your standards. For Jerren, it’s his fiancée Beth. For Jesse, it actually is Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and the rest of the Ocean’s gang.

During the writing, when the stress started to ramp up, we realized that we would look back really fondly on this whole thing. Not to be too precious, but it is amazing to us that this script now exists. It was an idea sitting in an email draft somewhere, not much more than some broad-stroke first impressions. Now it’s something we can read. We are very, very thankful to have been a part of this.

TO THE REST OF THE TEN: We know we said this in the non-public (gasp!) forum of email, but you guys are varied, interesting and amazing. Just rad as eff. It was sincerely humbling to write along with you guys.”


“When a retired vice cop becomes a high-school vice principal, it’s either the perfect job to put his violent past behind him or the perfect cover to work an elusive case.”
Now for the extra fun part: if YOU wrote a spec script along with the Selected Ten, I want to hear about it! Send a paragraph or two detailing your process/what you learned (the email, as always, an be found on my website) and the title and logline of your script. If you posted it to the Black List or there’s somewhere else on the Internet where it can be accessed, let me know. I’ll do an addendum to all this in a future post. WE’LL PIMP THAT SHIT OUT TO THE WORLD.
I’ll accept your emails until 31 October – that gives you a week.
(A MUST-READ NOTE: DO NOT SEND ME YOUR SCRIPT ITSELF. FOR ANY REASON. I will not read it. In fact, if you send your script, I will delete the email posthaste and you will not end up in the Update.)
To everyone who participated at home or just followed along as a learning experience…I can’t thank you enough for riding down this rambley road with us. It was a hell of a lot of fun to put on, and I hope you got as much out of it as I did.
And yes, I made up the word “rambley”.


Alright, so this week…LIFE gets in the way of a comprehensive update. That’s a new one. In any event, I am off the grid for a bit, BUT: here’s the penultimate #SixWeekSpec update as the Selected Ten raced to put the finishing touches on their scripts and get them submitted. As of the writing of this update, they had less than 8.5 hours to upload their completed screenplays to The Black List. Will they make it? WELL WILL THEY?

Stop yelling at me. This is MY blog, goddamnit.


“I’ve hit page 90. It’s a bloody miracle, but I have. I don’t seem to be getting beyond 90, because every time I add something new now I take something else away. But, hey, no one said it had to be 91 pages.

Over and over I hear about people overwriting and cutting back. I wish I had an excess of spellbinding material to kill. I just can’t see this ever being me, and perhaps it’s my place in the group to tell others like this that they’re not alone. Please tell me I’m not alone.

Once I had written all the scenes I had outlined I kinda got a bit stuck. It seemed too big a task to go through the whole thing. So I printed out a lovely satisfying stack of paper that I went through and marked everything that stuck in my throat. Somehow this used a different part of my brain – a part that wasn’t so exhausted.

I’ve still got a few things that don’t make sense. I’ve still got a bit that says they are saved by ‘something scientific’. But if I get knocked down by this thing that has made my husband ugly sick I will still have 90 pages to upload to the Black List.

Did I mention I wrote 90 pages?”

As I’m sure Claire will come to find, this is a very, very, very typical growing pain in transitioning from short films to feature scripts – feeling like you don’t have enough material. With each successive attempt at the longer form, you grow more and more comfortable with the structure and the pacing of features and inevitably make your way to the point where you have too many ideas as opposed to a couple too few. Regardless, I’m thrilled for Claire. Looks like she’s going to surprise even herself!



I typed those two words this morning: 6 weeks, 107 pages, lots of hard work and a few sleepless nights. I felt elated, but this evening I feel like crap.

Right now, I hate my script. I’ve read it through again, and wonder how I could have spent so much time turning in such shite.

But however my script is received, I will always be very proud of it. I think it’s better than my previous effort, and I did it from start to finish in 6 weeks. I feel like I’ve learned more in that time than in the last few years. The challenge has been a fantastic experience, it got me writing again instead of just dreaming about it, I’ve been introduced to some great new people and feel like my avocation has been given a real kick-start.

I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks playing my guitar, which I’ve missed very much, then I’m going to sit down and start my next writing project.

Meanwhile, I’m about to upload my script to the Black List – it’s called TOGETHER AS FOOLS – and anxiously await my evaluations. Good luck to my fellow #SixWeekSpec writers.”

“I hate this. Get it away from me.  It is awful. I hate it. I never want to see it again. I hate it. Fuck off, script! Let me know what you think as soon as possible.” Oh, I know this well. So many of us do. Welcome to the club, Damian.


“I can’t believe the six weeks are up. They went fast but–personally speaking–working to a deadline did wonders, and not just in terms of my productivity. The time limit put a vice grip on my insides, and I honestly think a little extra creativity got squeezed out along with all the anxiety, fear farts, etc. 

Now that I’ve uploaded my script to The Black List, I’m giving myself a new deadline. 
The best part about being incompetent is that I arguably have the opportunity to learn the most from the feedback process.  The worst part is that there’s a guaranteed motherfucking BLIZZARD of razor sharp insights headed my way.  I want them and I need them but I know embracing them is going to sting a little.  So here’s the plan…
I’m going to let them sting. I’ll indulge my insecurity.  I’ll binge on cheap wine and old seasons of the Real Housewives–relishing in the petty sense of control I get from knowing how things turn out for their future selves. (Good luck planning a $30,000 christening from your jail cell, dummy.)
But I’ll put a CLOCK on that shit.  After the evaluations come in, I’ll let myself have a few hours. An afternoon at most. Then it’s back to work and, you know, believing in myself and junk.”
How’s THAT for having the right attitude, eh? If you can’t develop thick skin as a writer, attempting to write professionally will eat you alive. You will collapse faster than Beyonce’s connection to reality. Which is what makes me so glad to hear this from Rachel. Also, Rachel sent me the best email I received the entire six weeks, and I will share that with you next week. I still laugh every time I think about it.
“Whoa. Last update. (We think?) (EDITOR’S NOTE: OH DON’T YOU WISH FELLAS.) So revising for us is usually like getting in a time machine and visiting our characters when we first met them. And we say, point blank to their fucking faces: ‘Oh, you’re pretty cool, but we know how you’d be way cooler.’ And then re-write that entry point to make them as cool then as they are at the ending. What’s weird with this project is that we haven’t changed our first scene, our protagonist’s introduction. It speaks volumes about knowing that this is what we wanted to write, and who we wanted to write about. Or, conversely, it speaks volumes about how little we changed as people while working on this.

Speaking directly to that: We’ve found that no matter what, over the course of writing, you yourself inevitably change. And you have to reconcile your current self with the one who started the project. You have to remember all those details and themes you were setting up at the time, and worry about if they changed or, if not, that you implemented them with clarity and intent. Surprisingly, we are still very confident that we got our thematic point across—in a general way—the first time through. Phew.

Yo, you guys, this is where shit gets real romantic (in a tasteful way, don’t worry). We only had one person read our draft/give us notes. This was a big call to make, but we knew if this particular reader was okay with it then we were in good shape. And this person is Jerren’s fiancé, his ‘ideal reader’. That’s a term Stephen King coined, referring to the person you most want to impress with your writing. This is either from his book ON WRITING or his other book KING’S KISSES, we can’t remember which. Either way, real romantic shit, Stephen, good job. That’s why you rival Nicholas Sparks in the romance category. She’s a writer and ex-film critic, so after she read it and generally liked it, we knew that this last few days were gonna be all about sleeping in, coasting, eating waffles, and not worrying about writing at all. J/K yeah right. We’re furiously reading, reading, reading, reading again. Cutting things and moving small pieces around. Making sure to get in all the small details that we may have forgotten. Also, eating waffles? In this gluten-free climate? Get outta here.

There’s been some big take-aways from this crazy project, ones that we will implement going forward. One of the biggest is that, because of the time constraint, we’ve forgone the typical ‘finish a draft, get notes, revise’ process in favor of revising each other’s work AS WE’VE BEEN GOING. The other big take-away is to stop having pillow fight breaks every hour on the hour. So we learned a lot. This whole thing has been (CURRENTLY IS) fun, exhilarating, panic-inducing, eye-opening, bloody, sweaty, teary, and awesome. Our best writing experience alone and together. It’s been a real blast.

(Yes that’s a compliment and an expression of immense gratitude to Geoff, but we didn’t want to get all sappy about it.)”

Out of all the Selected Tens, Jerren and Jesse were the two I thought were most “ready” out of the entire group. They’ve only gone so far as to reaffirm that with each update. So what I’m saying is: if someone doesn’t buy their script, I will hunt them down and set them on fire for making a fool of me.
“An update in two parts, part deux.

Part 1: Fuck yeah, this is a first draft!

This is probably the most coherent first draft of a feature I’ve ever written. The characters arcs are relatively clear, there are some jokes and bits I’m really excited about, and it has the best momentum of a script that I’ve ever written. That’s making me pretty excited, especially since its just a first draft, so the future drafts will be even better. But, unfortunately…

Part 2: Fuck, this is a first draft.

For every bit that works, there is another that doesn’t. The momentum stuff might be in my own head and the characters might not translate at all. I’m morbidly curious about what these pro readers will think, because this is script is far from being ready in any sense more than just technically being complete. Will they like it? Is Dan’s career over before it began? All this and more… sometime next week. Stay tuned! “

Interesting/exciting times for Dan, as he’s under the gun to get this in a place he feels good about in order to submit. Will he make it???? Also, newsflash: writers are terrified that their work isn’t good enough. Not sure if you ever heard that one before. Also, a black dildo-sized FUCK YOU DAN to Dan for that time a couple weeks back when Northwestern demolished Penn State on the football field. EVERYONE AT NORTHWESTERN IS A CUNT.
“Well it’s been quite a ride and it’s almost over. I’m not sure what to think about all of this. Other than this update feels much more vulnerable than usual.

I’m a good 20 pages (I think) from my ending, but I do know where I’m going and how and why I’m going to get there. For now, at least, it makes sense. I’d like to re-read before I submit, so that I’m sure it makes sense.

I’d like to make sure my scene transitions are good. Check for grammar and spelling, of course. And just say goodbye. That’s not such a bad thing, is it?

It looks like I’m going to hit that 90-page-mark this time. Relieved that I have a screenplay on my hands and not a short.

Yeah, my characters debate free will, love and possession, all the while making a religious pilgrimage. Yes, my knees are knocking together, but I’m glad I tried.

I suppose everyone has to say goodbye eventually. It’s much earlier than normal for me. Much like ripping off a Band-Aid. I’m going to have to just do it.

The excellent Scott Myers of Go Into The Story has noted that it takes about three screenplays to notice a pattern in the way we write. This screenplay has showed me a few things.

1. The first part of Act 2 always gives me trouble.

2. I love outlining.

3. Visual writing is not my strong suit.

4. Dialogue seems to be.

5. Love is a frequent theme.

And other insights that I will eventually make in a journal when I have a chance to think about it.

I’m overawed at how awesome the other people in this challenge are. John August actually agreed to meet Christopher. Jesse and Jerren are up to God knows what – building a nucleur bomb or writing a screenplay? Heaven knows but it usually sounds cool. Last update, Damian had an outline and now he has, what, 60 pages. WTH? Rachel is writing a home improvement comedy called ‘Nailed It’. That makes me cry, it’s so good. I wish I’d thought of it. With kids and a full-time job, Claire has probably written something totally hard-core and awesomely sci-fi – I’m so jealous! Chris has done everything under the sun. And now he’s writing screenplay. And Delaney and Emily are youthful and full of promise. And Dan writes for the Onion. Le sigh.

And man, oh well. I’m writing a sci-fi romantic comedy. Those are three of my favorite things. But do they belong together? By that same token, I should put my husband, kittens and Nutella together and see what happens.

In any case, there’s one more update after all of this is over. Is there? If there isn’t, I just want to say I love you all *sob*.”

This is one of my favorite updates of the whole thing. You can tell that, once her script is finished, Sabina will have left it ALL out there. And honestly: what more could you possibly ask for of a writer? Too often we just osmose (I don’t know if that’s a word, but fuck it) what we’ve learned from writing – never hurts to go back and actually examine it. Can only lead to a greater understanding of your strengths and weaknesses.
“Last time I gave an update, I talked about considering a page one rewrite, geared toward one particular piece of my screenplay. So I went through and eliminated a number of seasons that had wandered away from that. I grabbed the ‘point’ of the scene and tried to figure out where else in the script I could put it. Instead of having this conversation at the dinner table, maybe they can have it in the back of a squad car? That kind of thing. Cutting, and rearranging, led to nearly forty pages being removed from my script.

I was very happy to dig in again, and find the content of those pages buried somewhere in the depths of my story, but that’s when the ‘notes’ started coming in. The few people that read my first draft enjoyed the relationships that I had just so painstakingly edited out. I then mentioned to them the major shift in my new script. They had questions, I had a few answers, but the obvious truth was that I had to find the Goldilocks of my stories, not too little, not too much, just right.

This past weekend I blasted off to the Bay Area to see my girlfriend, which normally means at least five hours in the car each way. As of lately, this has become my office, and where I do the real legwork. It’s like the ‘Shower Theory’, except in my car and I’m not naked. I think about the script, talk things out, scribble down ideas, just letting the story churn.

This time I tried something new. After I painstakingly added ‘voices’ to all of the characters in my script, I plugged my laptop into my car stereo and was “read” my script aloud while I drove through the state of California. It was fun to hear it being read aloud, even if it was with the generic computer-generated voices.

As for the remainder of this week, I am officially cutting myself off. I’m temporarily moving into a small house with no television or internet so I can focus on my writing and finish up strong.”

I love the Shower Theory. Even though I rarely come up with ideas in the shower (it’s usually, annoyingly, right before I fall asleep) I’ve heard this from too many writers to ignore its validity. In fact, on one episode of THE BROKEN PROJECTOR, screenwriter Brian Duffield mentioned that he sometimes takes half a dozen showers a day just to think through his script roadblocks. That’s amazing. Also, Chris reinforces the magic of hearing your script read aloud. I can’t wait to see where his script ends up (and I hope he explains in the final update the nature of the changes he made).
“So, I finished the thing some time last week, at a whopping 145 pages. Now I am just refusing to do anything but edit until it’s about forty pages thinner. Part of this process is cutting extraneous dialogue, but because I need to cut so very much, the other task is to take a look at the entire structure of the script and find places where I can cut entire scenes. Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of being able to walk away from the script for a week or so, which would give me a more objective view of it.

I actually re-outlined it upon finishing – I made a chart of every scene, a brief sentence on the action of the scene, then made notes on what in the scene needs fixing. I find that this chart is easier to work with than my 145 pg document when I’m trying to find scenes that won’t be missed. I’ve cut it down ten pages, and it’s been a great lesson in writing economically.

The best thing about this last week, is re-reading the script in it’s entirety, and realizing that it’s not as bad as I thought it was. I actually like it. A week and a half ago I was fully planning on not letting anyone read it for a while. As I’m punching it up, and making everything more concise, it’s turning into something that I feel like I will eventually be very proud of.”

Re-outlining the script AFTER you’ve finished is something that I’m sure has been done before, but I’d never heard of a screenwriter working this way. It’s brilliant – and I think it gave Emily a way of stepping away from the script when she thought she didn’t have time to step away from it. I may well try this myself with my next script. See! Told you I was learning shit too!
“CONFESSION: I just got done writing my script. And I don’t mean with the edits and peer reviews and whatnot. I mean I just got done writing it, period.

For the record, most of it has been done for a while. But I had this chunk in the middle I was REFUSING to write because I thought it would suck, and I finally just got drunk and wrote it. (Yes, I’m drunk on a Monday afternoon. MY PARENTS ARE GOING TO BE SO PROUD WHEN THEY GET HOME.)

So now I finally have a FULL STORY with no holes in it. And about 48 hours to edit the shit out of it.

The reason why I ‘m just now writing those last scenes is because I thought that once I was done, I would have this complete product that I absolutely HATED. And I didn’t want to feel that way about something I worked so hard to put together.

But here’s the good news… I DON’T ACTUALLY HATE IT.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t particularly like it either. I know that, even after working pretty much nonstop the next two days, I’ll be turning in something I’m not totally happy with. I know my script will be something really, really neat someday. Just not today. Or tomorrow. Or the next day. And I’m finally okay with that.

In other words, I feel the same way about my script as I do about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Or Zach Braff. None are particularly off-putting, but there’s nothing all that fucking great about them either.”

Delaney, predictably, has the right attitude: prepare for the worst but hope for the best. Again, I have a sneaking suspicion her script is better than she’s giving it credit for. But even if this is a total whiff for her…I feel like she, out of everyone, had perhaps the most invaluable experience these last two months. And what’s that gotten her? Drunk on a Monday afternoon. I couldn’t be more elated that this is potentially my lasting impact on her life.
“Wow, from sending in updates early, to needing to be chased up. I feel like Richard from THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF. If you’ve not seen Bake Off, it’s the most British thing on TV. Forget DOWNTON, hell, forget SHERLOCK; you want to get on that #GBBO shit.

My last couple of updates haven’t really explained what I’ve actually been up to. These past few weeks have been interesting for me. I’ve had numerous reads and feedback and notes from friends. I’ve got a hefty stack of 3×5 note cards with changes that I’ve put through. I’ve done all things I wanted to do, and understandably I’m bricking it.

Here is some full disclosure on your ass. Because I wrote it so quickly, and have done a fair amount of rewriting, and have had a lot of feedback; I’m now in the position where I have less to hide behind once I get my feedback returned. Yes, I only had six weeks, but my biggest fear now is borne out of the fact that I’m really pleased with what I’ve written.

So what happens if it’s shit?

I wish I could say, ‘It’s all part of the process, to help me grow and develop…’ and I know it is. But, right now I’m too close to it, too emotional. Whatever happens, I’m proud of myself for doing this, and getting it done. Who knows what comes next, but as long as I take it onboard, and keep writing, that’s all that matters.”

The wait. The interminable wait. In the industry, so often the chorus is, “Hey, we need this draft now!” And then you wait eight weeks for them to get you notes. In the meantime, you sweat your nipples off waiting to find out if  you nailed it for failed it. Louis is going through that right now, albeit on a different level. Hang in there, Louis. That’s what you get for being a fucking overachiever.
One last update to go, plus titles/loglines/links to the Selected Ten scripts! Also: I’ll be doing a special blog post at the end of next week to ask those of you who wrote at home for your own titles/loglines/script links, so look out for that announcement 🙂


So…this hasn’t worked out exactly like I wanted it to. From my end.

I’m still working on the script I pitched a while back. Thankfully, I’m working with people who have been in favor of giving me the time I’ve needed to get it right. And I think I am getting it right. It feels that way, even as I’m enveloped by that inevitable sense of dread that comes with being ready to hand it off. “Egads,” I says to myself, I says, “you don’t really expect them to find this smart and funny and worthy of production, do you?” You shut up, Geoffbrain!

Feels like this one is taking me an unusually long amount of time for two main reasons:

1. It’s set in Korea, a country I knew very little about, tangibly, before embarking on this process. In that, this is the most research I’ve ever done for a script, because the concept is steeped not only in the current pop culture of the country but in how that culture evolved – and from whence it evolved. And it’s important, to me at least, that this come through in the script so that Seoul isn’t *just* a backdrop or *just* a location. I’m not trying for detail-laden accuracy.  I am, however, trying for as much AUTHENTICITY as I can get in this first draft. Because it’s the key to the story and the characters. So there’s an extra layer to this particular script, and the danger I run into in NOT nailing it at the outset is people reading it and going, “What are you, some kind of racist?” I mean, I AM, but I don’t want them to know that. That’d be disadvantageous.

So I’ve probably spent more time on this than I should have, but I want to be comfortable that I’ve done the story justice when I hand it in, basically.

2. The concept we’re dealing with is a well-tread, highly tropey one. It’s been done before, make no mistake about it. And I don’t want to try to hide from that – in fact, there’s some comedy to be mined from the tropes alone. But in order to pull that off, I have to go several steps further than I normally would in other concepts. Having cliches and expectations isn’t a bad thing; in fact, it’s basically unavoidable at this point. But to look anything like you’re not just humping and repurposing the work of a thousand others, you have to push that much harder to make it GOOD. To do it BETTER.

And with that in mind, I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself to be different and take chances. This is harder than it seems. Because I am largely stupid.

But also, I’m fighting the absolute worst habit I’ve developed as a professional screenwriter – too often, I catch myself writing something and then second-guessing what I’ve just written because I know I’m going to get a note about it. That mindset has been CRIPPLING to me on this particular project, and it’s only in the last two weeks or so I feel I’ve really let it go and gotten back to writing instinctually. It’s been a great feeling, but it’s also led me to go back through the script with a fine-tooth comb and be honest with myself about where I can push jokes further (without leaving PG-13 territory) or where I can turn the story on its head a bit more. And I think this is always a goal of mine, but I definitely lost sight of it at the outset of this one. Thankfully, I realized as much before it was too late. And thank God for that. Even though I don’t believe in Him. Can’t hurt to offer gratitude just in case.

So that’s me. That’s where I’m coming from. However, as I know none of you give a fuck, here’s where the Selected Ten are – and BTW, a mere WEEK from today, they submit their scripts to the Black List:


“Hi, everybody. Our initial plan was to bang out a first draft in three weeks so we’d have another three weeks to rewrite. Which, in retrospect: LOL forever. This weekend, after combining all our pages to see where we actually stood, we found we had two acts complete (third act in constant state of near-completion), totaling 165 PAGES. It took 10 minutes to print out. Two acts.

This discovery, to quote Abraham Lincoln on his death bed, ‘Sucked a million butts.’

It was discouraging for a minute. But then we remembered, ‘Oh yeah, this is what we ALWAYS do.’ It’s all in the over-writing for us, then we parse through and dig out the good stuff. We spent all of Sunday tearing through it page by page. We scaled everything–plot, character, theme–back to its base to find out how we can streamline it. We removed extraneous story lines wholesale, and braided other story lines together. We trimmed a full 50 pages, without even getting into cosmetic changes or dialogue edits. We felt good.

Heading into this week, we set up a very clear blueprint for what Act 2 needs during rewrite, which Jesse is tackling now. Meanwhile, Jerren is pressing forward into climax territory (cool sentence!). We’re feeling excited and tired. Since this challenge began, Jerren has only taken one day off from writing and Jesse has gotten three haircuts.”

Weird how, in the final days of needing to get a piece of writing done, you have more revelations about what it ISN’T than what it IS. Personally, I’m a big proponent – as I’ve mentioned time and again – of having too much content as opposed to not enough. The issue, then, becomes a careful game of chess: what to cut, what to keep, and how culling or saving reshapes the narrative, if at all. Worst part of this step is losing stuff that you love that just doesn’t fit. Best part is using that stuff in another script later.


“I’ve now been writing the screenplay for a week. Writing it from a fully-constructed story, where I already know exactly what happens in each scene, is a fantastic experience.

The characters can finally speak to each other, after all this building and structuring, and it gives life to their interactions. Sounds a bit poncey, I know, but it’s a buzz hearing them talk to each other and seeing it play out in my head. It’s going down at quite a lick, too: I’m at page 60.

I can’t really say this is my first draft. I did a lot of writing and rewriting/restructuring in the weeks before I ever started on the screenplay, and during that process I came up with more than 1 version of the story. The final draft of that composition, is the story I’m working from now. There will be no major re-writes now; the story is as I want it to be.

I expect to type FADE OUT by the end of this week, which will give me 10 days to polish and tweak. I hope to be able to fit in at least a couple of days off during that time, so that I can some back to it with at least a small amount of perspective.

Some days I think what I have is good, other days I don’t. My last script was a stinker, yet at the time I thought it was great. You never can tell.”

Damian is the perfect example of one of the things that I believe so much about screenwriting, and why I think screenwriting books are total bullshit: there’s no one right way to do this. Damian and I couldn’t possibly approach writing any differently, and yet here he is, 60 pages in after a week and on his way to having, essentially, a second draft done. You gotta find what works for you, not copy what’s worked for someone else. Damian is also equipped with the right attitude: you never can tell, which is why it’s ESSENTIAL that you always be open to criticism.


“I want to start this week by saying a few things about the other writers. *Spoiler alert* I hate them. Jokes.

I was talking to Claire on Twitter, and I realised how lucky I’ve been with how much time I’ve been able to carve out compared to others. I’m not one of those people who say ‘you can always find time, if you want it, if you’re driven enough’. If you can make extra time for yourself, good for you, don’t be a penis about it. I don’t have kids, or family in this country. I have a lot less to contend with. Basically, I’m saying, regardless of how far you are in this process, seriously, well done. You’re wicked. You rule.

So, this week’s update.

There is an artist called Bortusk Leer. My wife and I love his work, and are lucky to have a number of his pieces. When you google them, which obviously you will now, they’re nutso. They’re these amazingly colourful monsters, they make me smile every time I see them. Why mention this?

There is a director called Romain Gavras. If you’ve not seen his MIA music videos or Adidas commercials, get on that. His videos leave me wide-eyed like a loon every time I watch them. For the rewrites, I’m blazing out pretty much any song from a Romain Gavras video. Why mention this?

When I think about why I write, I think about the films I love, I think about Bortusk and Romain. My favourite films still make me grin ear-to-ear. I want to write stories like that. Whenever someone reads this script I hope it will make them laugh, and cheer, and smile. What’s the point otherwise?”

One of the most frequent questions I get from other/aspiring writers is, “What kind of music do you write to?” And it feels like everyone has some kind of muse in that regard, and often it’s scores/soundtracks to their favorite movies. And that makes a lot of sense to me on one level. And then on another it totally doesn’t, because I never listen to music when I’m writing. Never have, no desire to try. If I’m listening to music I’d prefer to engage with it on some level rather than have it become white noise or a synched part of the process. But I feel I’m WAY in the minority. I’m interested in what other writers get out of this, because it’s a totally alien concept to me.


“I finished hand editing my script and just a few days ago, I finished applying the edits and notes. My script grew by twenty pages and I cleaned up many of the loose ends and trails I left along the way. When I was finished, I sent the script to a group of my ‘trusted friends’ and took a deep breath.

That’s when the panic set in. I was terrified that I had just spent five weeks writing a script that doesn’t really tell a story. It just starts, some things happen, and then something else happens, and then it’s over. Boo hoo. I was terrified that I had just written 97 pages of nonsense and I had completely blown the opportunity I was given with this project. I had to step away.

One of my professional heroes is the screenwriter John August (if you haven’t heard of him, or ‘Scriptnotes’, you need to look him up ASAP). He was gracious enough to meet with me over a cup of coffee to talk about the life of a professional screenwriter, broadway, etc. In addition to being a phenomenal screenwriter and app designer, he’s also a very nice human being. Inspirational across the board.

He asked me about my spec and I told him a bit about the characters and the plot. He made a major suggestion that nearly turns my script on it’s head, but at the same time, if done well, it could conceivably be the only way to get it made. It’s risky (and the same risk is also being taken by another writer in this challenge) but it’s so unique that it could actually work out well.

So… with less than two weeks remaining, I’m considering a Page One rewrite. Maybe not starting from scratch, but crafting the story in the direction of playing head-on into the unique situation by embracing it as the only possibility… or place. It’s this, or else.

Boy, do I have a lot of work to do.”

Verrrrrrrrrrry interesting update from Chris this week, and I’ll tell you what: it takes balls to do what he’s doing. Next couple of weeks should be insanely interesting for him. I’m going to resist commenting any more in favor of waiting to see how this works out for him. EXCITING THOUGH.


“It’s been a strange week. A lot of real life drama pulling focus from my make-believe comedy. My characters have gone quiet and I don’t know if it’s because they think I’ve done them justice or–much more likely–because they can’t be bothered to compete with all the other noise in my head.

I also had a mini freak out over my title, which I’ve had (and loved) since the very beginning. But I’m not the sharpest skewer in the fondue set, so something pretty obvious escaped me until fucking YESTERDAY.

My story centers around a DIY disaster of damn near lethal proportions. It’s a two-hander with a male and a female protagonist who have opposing personalities, motives, definitions of “sobriety”, everything. Sort of like if The Odd Couple tried to flip The Money Pit, only in this case Felix has a vagina and Oscar is lying about his identity.

Anyway, there’s hammers! And fuck ups! Endless fuck ups. So of course the title is Nailed It….

Yeah. I’m less than two weeks away from submitting my very amateur script to The Black List with the words “‘NAILED IT’ on the cover. I might as well just add ‘By Kanye West’…

Yesterday I realized this. Yesterday. Then I sob-chuckled and slowly rotated around and around in my office chair until my dogs exchanged a look and both left the room.”

I’m THE WORST at titles. GOING THE DISTANCE wasn’t one I picked – the exec whose life it was based on had it as an idea from before I even started writing. I used to stress like crazy over that shit, and then I just gave up and most stuff goes out now as “UNTITLED LATULIPPE COMEDY”. Fuck it. That in mind, Rachel, keep your title. No one is going to mistake you for being conceited based on the title of your script, and I think a more likely scenario is that you get some good subliminal vibes from it. If it means anything, I like it quite a bit based on your premise.


“It’s really weird how on September 30th I would look at a calendar and go, ‘Man, look at all that time I have left.’ Now I look at a calendar and go, ‘Fuuuuuuuuck.’ It’s not that I won’t finish. I’m definitely going to finish. I’m probably 10 pages away from a coherent first draft, but from there comes the rewrites. Which houses the biggest challenge of screenwriting for me: rewrites.

How do I know a rewrite is better than the original? Much of the time I usually know either way, but sometimes I honestly have no idea. There are times where I write something awesome over something shitty and I feel like a genius, but at times I feel like I’m just spinning my tires and writing for the sake of rewriting. This is a question I’ve posed to a bunch of my former teachers and I never got a definitive answer. Is it a gut thing?

Jesus, what a humorless update. I usually make sure to inject some jokes into these. But I’ve had a scorcher of a headache the past week.

Oh, actually, I know a great place to find some humor. In about two weeks! In my script! On the Black List! T-minus fourteen days! Get your download buttons ready! (It’s all about marketing, folks!)”

Ah yes, another paradox – when rewriting goes from being necessary to you actually fucking up your script. And in reality, at this stage of the game, you are done rewriting when: you feel like you’re done rewriting. There’s absolutely no reason for force yourself to keep tweaking shit when you have the sense that you’ve done what you needed to do. Overthinking ruins just as many scripts as bad ideas and lack of talent. In fact, overthinking and overwriting is exactly why so many movies become disasters – the group decision that MORE tinkering is always better than less. At a certain stage, this becomes a violent spiral of diminishing returns. If you’ve addressed all your notes and you’re happy with what you’ve got, stop. It’s time to turn it in.


“I’m almost 32 pages into my second draft which is good but not great I guess. Still behind on my quotas but that’s okay. Getting into the juicy Second Act soon which should be all kinds of fun.

As usual, I’m thinking all kinds of negative thoughts about my First Act. It’s too long. It’s too bloated. It’s too boring. Nothing much is happening. The characters are cliche. The story is cliche. My life is cliche.

I’m going to defer judgement on my story – and by extension, myself – till after I get this draft done.

Only 2 more weeks to go! OMG!

I can hit that deadline like William Tell and that apple. I can do this. Right?


From writing this, I realize that I don’t know enough to make this screenplay good.

This may well have action elements too. Which means it’s gotta be leaner, smarter, more punchy. Which means my scene description needs to be better. Right now, it’s blasted boring. My style hasn’t evolved much lately and I need to do something about that.

Read a ton of scripts, I think.

Also because of the time pressure, I’m wondering whether I’m falling naturally into cliché. I’m trying not to , but goshdarn it, it’s so tempting and easy.

Another thing I’ve thought of that is super-exciting. Most movies are about a ‘hero’s journey’. My hero’s journey might actually be a pilgrimage.

Which opens up all kinds of research questions. Why do people take pilgrimages? What is the spiritual significance?

Gosh, I love theme. But it doesn’t always present itself at once. In fact, it often presents itself quite late in the game. When character, story, jokes, beats and arcs are all firmly in place. Which is a shame. But still it’s fun to play around with these ideas for the time being.

Getting up to the end of that First Act. I can do this right? Yeah. I can.”

Man, is there ever a lot going on in that Sabinabrain or what? Rather than unpacking and analyzing this update, I’m just going to let it be and let Sabina crack on without trying to add content to an already-cluttered-yet-firing-on-all-cylinders mind. In doing that, though, I want to say this: I like the way she thinks.


“We’re getting to the hairy end now and I’m hitting a different kind of low point. I’m no longer afraid I won’t make the deadline. I will have over 90 pages with words I wrote on them. I don’t want to sell myself too short on that. I’ve never written a script this long before and I did it during a time where I was working full-time and I had other challenges, such as my husband going away and leaving me as a single mum for 8 days. He also works a lot of nights and weekends so I very rarely have more than a couple of hours to write each day. So yay me.

As for the script itself I am still grooming my vomit draft into something that reads. In that initial draft all the characters basically talk like me, so I am working hard on giving each character their own voice. I’m also searching for a way of describing the action that is engaging and attention grabbing, but doesn’t sound like I’m trying too hard. In the shorts I have written I have only needed to convince directors that it will make an interesting film, but I haven’t been too worried about trying to convince them that I am a great writer. I’m not sure that I am.

This is all leaving me with a serious case of imposter syndrome. So you’ve written a script. Who cares? What makes you think any one would
want to read it? Let alone Hollywood types who read professional scripts every day? On top of that productive internal monologue I am
questioning why I haven’t written something more important, or funny, or worthy, or weird.

But I have gotten over a major blockage for me during this process, and for that I will be eternally grateful. I am capable of writing a feature script. One day I might even write a good one.”

Methinks Claire is being a bit hard on herself, and I hope she realizes so having read all the other updates. Most writers go through the same insecurities and feelings of artistic ineptitude that she is. And I think it says a lot about Claire that she’s recognized something in her writing that I and MANY other writers struggle with in perpetuity: realizing when your characters all sound the same (I have yet to confirm that we all developed this tendency from watching Kevin Smith movies). It’s a really though habit to break, but if you can at least recognize that you’re doing it, you can fix it with relative ease. Always important to watch out for.


“Eh. My script is kind of dumb. And then I saw Skeleton Twins and read the script for Whiplash and thought, ‘Why can’t I write THAT?’

It sucks that to become a good writer you have to go through years of mediocre writing. It sucks that I know I am currently in those years and I just have to deal with it and keep trying. It’s that time when you’re taste doesn’t match your skill level yet – that’s what I’ve learned from Ira Glass. Here’s this quote of his that I remind myself of every day: http://vimeo.com/85040589

Don’t have much of an update, it feels like about six hours have elapsed since last week’s update. This end date is sneaking up on me… Ah.”

Again, I think Emily’s just being hard on herself, and again, I hope she’s reading these updates from the others so she knows that she’s not at all alone in these fears. And it’s worth mentioning: worrying about being mediocre is one thing. But unless you put your work out there and get feedback from people who know what they’re talking about, it becomes nothing more than an excuse to stop growing. You should at least get confirmation that you need to grow; hell, you might even surprise yourself about where you are. In other words, DO NOT GIVE UP EMILY OR I SWEAR I WILL HUNT YOU DOWN AND CUT YOU.


“I think the best way to explain how I feel about the Six Week Spec process right now is to say that I don’t really know how I feel about it anymore. One minute I think, ‘Okay, this doesn’t totally blow.’ Then the next I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, okay, this totally fucking blows.’

I think I need to just stop thinking for a while.

One perk recently is that, when people ask me what I’m writing about, I’m answering with more and more confidence. At the beginning, I’d say things like, ‘Well, it’s kind of about so and so and goes something like this but I don’t know.’ Now, it’s more like, ‘Here’s my idea, here’s the full fledged plot, here’s what I’m going for.’ So that’s exciting.

So again, I really like my story. But I’m still struggling to really like the way I’m writing it. It seems to be an issue that’s plaguing all of us.”

This is not a knock on Delaney or Emily or any of the younger writers in the Selected Ten at all, but more of an observation that makes sense: the younger writers seem to be having more issues with confidence and trusting themselves than the older ones. And like I said, that’s hardly counterintuitive; those of us who’ve had more time on this planet have had more time, practically, to develop and trust our voices. And it’s scary as shit when you’re just starting, when you may or not be struggling to figure out how you fit into the world and what your place is in this universal conveyor belt. The only possibly-helpful advice I can offer is this: embrace that. In the right context, that curiosity can be turned into an incredible sense of wonder and can ask some really brilliant questions. It’s great to recognize that you’re not “there” yet, so the best you can do is take hold of it and run with it and see where it takes you. Just because you haven’t figured it all out yet doesn’t mean this time of your life is invalid. Couldn’t be further from the truth.


The reactions from these writers…they couldn’t have turned out any better if I’d paid experienced writers to write them. These weekly updates have turned into everything I’ve wanted you guys to see about the writing process. I hope they’ve been equally as valuable to those of you following along.


Sorry for yet another delay in getting this out – trundled through a birthday, continuing work on the script and now have come down with a fun cold. I LIVE A SOLDIER’S LIFE BECAUSE I AM A CHAMPION OF SOLDIERING ON. Despite my aggressive soldiering, however, the updates this week shall be presented with minimal commentary by yours truly. I apologize to the none of you who are truly upset about this turn of events. Must save what precious little space is left in the brainmeats.

On to the Selected Ten – who, at the time of this writing, have just a tic over two weeks to set their scripts in stone and foist them upon the world via the Black List:


“Ahoy hoy, it’s Bubbe Bennett here. After being christened the Jewish mother of the group (that doesn’t work does it?), I’ve decided to thoroughly embrace my new Jewish heritage in time for Rosh Hashanah.

Mazel tov! Rabbi!

In completely unrelated news, I also spent the last 4 days in Miami. For those of you who have never been to Miami, it’s preposterously, bafflingly brilliant. It was with work sadly, plus is was raining pretty much throughout, but I still loved it. I drank rum, I watched lightning storms deep in the ocean, I had a blast. What has that got to do with writing? Nothing. But this is my weekly update, so shut up.

So, we’ve got three weeks left, and in a break from your regular broadcast, I’m mega excited! There are no worries, no panic, no scares. Now I just write the next version. But what if it sucks? Give. A. Fuck! I’m on that post-modernist, new wave, Kanye West shit from here on out. Now it’s time for some balls out / to the wall hot writing action. In the straight to TV movie of my life, this is where Shannon Elizabeth would turn up.

There is a motto that I have, that keeps me writing, keeps me motivated – ‘Just be better than everyone else.’ But Bubbe, are you saying you’re the next Aaron Sorkin, or Quentin Tarantino? Yes, I am.

I’m not. ‘Just be better than everyone else’ means tell the story you really want to tell. Don’t try to tell stories you think they want to hear. Just be better than everyone else in doing what you’re best at. As Marge Simpson would say ‘You don’t win friends with salad.’

So give them the meat.

Shannon Elizabeth would probably say that line.”

In my opinion, always helpful to step away for a bit before you start a rewrite. Fresh mind, fresh eyes, time to ponder. Yay.


“Being part of a writing team allows you to worry in shifts. Last week was Jesse’s turn to lose his shit. But this week he’s entered a Zen-like calm and is coolly churning out pages. So now Jerren’s up. He’s freaking out about his pages, about the deadline, about where he and his fiancée are going to eat. Whatever he’s doing, he does it at a fever pitch. It doesn’t help that Jesse keeps saying out loud, ‘Dude, I’m so calm. Look at my hands.’ And now constantly wears sunglasses when he writes.

We had a big realization this week. In the beginning of the challenge, we worried whether we’d picked the right script to write. Not because we didn’t love it, but because we knew it wouldn’t be easy to pull off. We had three solid ideas to choose from, and we thought two of them were ‘more in line’ with what we usually do, what our supposed style is. (Though we like to think we had a lot of variety going on in our past projects). The third idea–the one we ultimately went with–well, we thought it would be overwhelming, that it required a certain degree of research that we didn’t have time for, and a certain degree of responsible writing that we maybe couldn’t pull off. Most importantly, we didn’t think we could put our personal stamp on it.

Now, after four weeks of writing and updating, this script has become the most personal project we’ve worked on together. We both think the script COULD be super fucking cool. We’ve seen glimpses in our pages of what this could look like if we keep hitting the right notes. Because our process had never been truly tested in a pressure-cooker situation like this, we wanted to maybe go the easier route. That was dumb. The tight timeline has been an unbelievable motivator. It’s created an urgency that can be hard to manufacture without a deadline. Additionally, the weekly updates have clarified a lot for us. We’ve never had to detail our process before, and doing so has crystallized what (and what doesn’t) work. If we had known this stuff in our ‘der, which script?’ deliberations, it would have been much easier to just immediately go with the idea we were scared of, to trust that our process would get us through.

On the actual writing side of things, one thing we’ve been focusing on is not forcing jokes. It’s tempting, especially in the early going when we’re still figuring out our characters, to just jam-pack punch lines into the script in lieu of authentic character moments. It’s a nice thing to fall back on when we’re finding their voices, but we’ve had to remind ourselves that the more realistic our characters are, the better our jokes will be. The nice thing about this script is that we have a built-in device/story line that allows us to hit some bigger laughs, to be a little broad and heightened, but then we can still scale it back when we need to and have our characters just speak and behave like people.”

I like all of this.


“It’s nearly 3am and once again, I am lying awake and my mind is chewing over this bastard script.

I have to be honest – I am sick to the back teeth of it. I’m supposed to be on holiday, but I am spending the majority of my time either sitting down and writing, or being mentally distracted by my story while ostensibly doing something else. It’s starting to piss off my girlfriend.

I normally devour books while on holiday, but this time it’s impossible. I can’t get into them, as my mind is constantly drawn back to my work.

I almost swam into a sizeable jellyfish yesterday afternoon because I was thinking about how to make a particular sequence less shit.

But let’s be positive – I have an almost finished story down on scene cards. A big structural problem was solved when I excised an entire sub-plot because I could see that it was bolted on and did not serve any useful purpose but simply slowed down the pace.

It’s clear we all approach this in different ways, and I was worried that I was getting it wrong since a lot of the ten seemed to be blazing away at the screenplay stage very early on. For me, I have to know exactly what happens in each scene, and the whole story constructed, before I start laying down the script and dialogue. But I’m almost ready.

I knew this was going to be hard work, but I very definitely underestimated just how hard. And I have no way of knowing if what I have come up with is any good, or absolute drivel. Not long til I find out!”

Worried at the chances of Damian having shot himself in the foot by pre-writing this much. Hopefully this worrying is unfounded, but suffice to say I think he has an uphill climb at this juncture.


“I’m now working on the ‘penultimate’ draft of my screenplay. In a dark and twisted way, this is my favorite part of the editing process. I get to vandalize my own pages. I print out my script and go through it page by page, editing by hand. I make notes in the margins. I highlight themes and circle important plot points. I make squiggly underlines under the dialogue that I need to rework. I keep track of the biggest issues on a separate sheet of paper. What can I say? It’s complicated but so necessary. I love it.

I scanned the edited document and side by side, I will start from the beginning and apply the handwritten notes. I have the physical copy on my actual desk so that I can jump back and forth, tying up loose ends and planting seeds. Once I am finished with this draft, I’ll let someone else look at it. Maybe.
[I tend to keep my scanned edits, just in case something comes up in the future.]

So I just finished the handwritten edits on my screenplay, and let me tell you, this first draft was a car crash that I should have seen coming. In an effort to move quickly through the story and get it down on paper, I made a TON of small errors (mostly syntax and grammar) but I also made a few glaring story mistakes that I’ll have to work out in the rewrites. It shouldn’t be a too much of a problem, it’s just going to take a long time.

Time to get back to it!”

Love Chris’s approach to melding the digital and the tangible. Cannot recommend you try hand-written notes enough. Something about the act of physically writing deepens your connection to the material psychologically.


“I walked away from my first draft for a couple days, after giving it to some people to read. My exclusive harem of feedbackers is composed of two groups. Folks in Group 1 are genetically obligated to love everything I write–but awesome at catching typos. Group 2 is made up of screenwriters I only know via the interweb, so they have no problem ripping my heart out of my chest Temple of Doom style whenever my actual writing is unclear and/or unfunny and/or the worst.

I fixed everything the first group pointed out, and MOST of what the second group took issue with. At the end of the day I have to trust my lady beer gut to steer me in the right direction. There were times when I asked myself, ‘Self, what should I do?’ And my self was like, ‘You’re a grown woman. Do whatever the fuck you want.’ So I did.

It was unnerving how much I still loved my pages when I came back to them. Sure, the bitch needs botox and a nose job. But I couldn’t fault the bone structure….which isn’t reassuring at all because I’M only smart enough to know how dumb I am. (Insert long, drawn out sigh.)

I do take considerable comfort in sharing this experience with everyone. Speaking of comfort, it’s especially nice to know Delaney and I both find solace in the exact same children’s pasta entrees. We also have identical neuroses, leading me to the obvious conclusion that we’re estranged test tube twins and oh god I just realized I’m the DeVito.”

Enraptured applause to Rachel for taking criticism AND sticking to her instincts at the same time. Love love love this update.


“Helllo, all. Shorter update this week because work has been craaaaazy.

I can see the sun on the horizon. The promised land. Where the jokes flow freely and the scenes grow tall and strong. I’m of course talking about…

Act 3.

Act 3 is probably my favorite. It’s the culmination of everything. Jokes that seem stupid or unnecessary in the depths of Act 1 and Act 2 make more sense and have bigger payoffs. It’s where your characters on our their last thread and are fighting to keep what shreds of dignity, family, and limbs they have left. It’s joyful madness.

And bunches of fun. And best of all, the easiest (for me) because that’s where a lot of my outlining and planning took place. For me, what happens in Act 3 is dictated by what happens in Act 1 and 2, so why not start there? Also, Act 3 takes place in a single location, which is doing wonders for my creatively exhausted brain. I’ll keep trucking on, because endings are the best part, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a LIAR.”

Intrigued that Dan’s third act takes place in only one location. Lots of pitfalls in such an approach – and lots of cool opportunities too.


“So this past week I’ve read and re-read my previous draft. Asking questions of my characters. I sometimes have to force my more taciturn characters to open up, but these two (protagonist and antagonist) just won’t shut up. Perhaps why they are well-matched. 

This process has helped a lot with coming up with new scene ideas for the new draft. I have what I think is a workable outline. I won’t say it’s good until the whole thing is actually good, which I hope, God willing, will happen a few drafts from now.  It might even happen with this draft. We’ll see what my own hyper-critical eyes and the Black List readers say.

More questions must be asked.  More pushing will be done. More choices will be made. But that’s in the future.

A big challenge this week was something quite mundane – filing! I’ve got a million notes in a million different places. I had to gather them all up so that I wouldn’t lose any insights.

Was feeling a little homesick this week, so I did what I usually do – watch a few Hindi movies. Even though India isn’t home for me, they somehow manage to do the trick.

I highly recommend Kai Po Che, an independent (I think) Hindi movie, now streaming on Netflix. It was set in Gujurat, rather than London or New York, where every other Bollywood movie seems to be set (don’t ask me why). It had three very relatable protagonists. And best of all, it had a little Muslim kid who was a prodigy at cricket. No, not at bomb-making or wife-beating. At cricket. He gave his poor father – a Muslim man involved in state politics and, judging from the workers in his home, a bridal tailor –  hell with his sullen behavior and fighting. But when he played cricket, he mellowed.

Yeah, towards the end, their being Muslim became a plot point. But still, it was nice to see Muslim people on screen just being normal. Going about their daily lives. Working, fighting, playing, raising their kids. Happythankyoumoreplease. Which is why I’m writing what I’m writing.

Oh yeah and I can’t think of a good title for my screenplay. My working title seems to be it for now – Alien Love Story. What do you guys think?

Will be jumping into pages today. Godspeed, #sixweekspec –tacles.”

Trend this week seems to be “Stepping Away for a Minute” – which, again, I highly advocate. I share Sabina’s issues with fabricating titles. I wish I shared her love of Bollywood.


“Had a pretty good week. Last week was the ‘I should quit this whole stupid thing and TRAVEL AROUND THE WORLD’ week. I think I was feeling a similar thing that Sabina mentioned – a mini crisis of faith. That, and I totally related to Delaney’s post about not feeling like I had the skills to do my story justice. And Dan’s post about how Act Two sucks. Basically – everyone who was struggling with anything last week, I related.

But I combatted these feelings by just forging ahead, and I got a lot of good writing done since then. I’m sure someone’s mentioned this already (maybe I have), but allowing myself to write crap, garbage scenes has been extremely helpful. It’s so much better to write a total shit scene, than to stare at a blank page for an hour. Because of this, my first draft will definitely be rough – and way too long. I’m around page 90 and still have a fair amount of story left to tell. As I was figuring out my characters, I meandered a little, so I have some scenes that probably won’t be missed at all. But, it’s good that I wrote them, because they helped me get a clear picture of who these idiots are. I’m glad this draft will be way too long, because I’ll have a solid objective for draft 2 – cut a LOT. Cut everything that doesn’t move the story forward. And I love cutting.

It’s still intimidating that people are done with their first draft already, and I’m not. I wish I were faster, but it is really hard for me to write a ton in one sitting. After I write a particularly strong, or emotional scene, I need a break! I need to think about something else for awhile! I need to go stare at the wall! I THINK by next week I’ll be done with a first draft. But, damn, these weeks are going by fast.”

If all Emily gets out of this experience is a sense of commiseration and a gelling of her process as a writer, this will have been a huge success. I think she’s going to pick up more than just those, though.


“You know how runners say there’s that ‘high’ they sometimes hit where they feel as though they could run for ever and ever and ever? Is there a screen writing equivalent to that? If so, I think I just hit it earlier today.

That’s not to say I killed my goals for this week. I’m not quite where I want to be, but it’s cool ’cause I’m not really sweating it. Okay, I’m sweating it a little. But not nearly as much as I expected I would or probably should.

My point is I’ve finally gotten to that point where I don’t really want to stop writing / thinking about writing. I’m finally enjoying my story. The fear that I’m not funny, witty, smart, etc. enough to write it is still there, but it’s been rearing it’s ugly head less and less lately. Writing my favorite scene (thus far) probably helped that a little. Or a lot.

There were also a lot of holes in my story I finally patched up this week. I always knew how I wanted my story to begin and how I wanted it to end but I had some shit in the middle missing until just a few days ago. Now they’re filled with ideas I don’t completely hate. I also replaced my very mediocre opening scene with a slightly less mediocre opening scene. Overall, exciting progess.

As for page numbers, I’m in the 70’s. (Someone please tell me if I should be legitimately worried about this.)

Let’s see… I think that might be it. Mostly good stuff from me this week. All hell is due to break loose this time next week ’cause, ya know, it’ll be October. Holy shit.”

On page numbers: remember that, for the vast majority of scripts, 1 page = 1 minute of screen time. So if you’re sitting on only 70 pages and your script is finished, you’ve probably got some more work to do. If you’ve still got stuff to write, you’re probably in good shape.


“The writing retreat thing went pretty well. I won’t bore (disgust) you with tales of the drop toilet and the time I heard a noise outside and WENT TO CHECK WHAT IT WAS LIKE A HORROR MOVIE DROOLING IDIOT. I am now on page 68 and I think I have the bulk of the story. I have practically no description and the action is limited to stuff like ‘A picks up the stick’ and ‘B enters’. So I’m fairly certain I can make up another 20 pages telling the reader what the hell is actually going on.

Since I have come back I decided to step away from it for a couple of days. Last night I let myself think about why it’s just not very good. I think I have a logical plot, lots of conflict, and interesting characters. So what’s wrong? I think it’s that it all feels a bit easy. I’m putting the characters into very dangerous situations, but there is not a feeling of real fear and threat of true loss. I’m trying to write something fun, but I still think without those moments it’s not satisfying. So I need to stoke up my fires of blackness and despair.

I’ll need some of that panic to get me over the line as well. 20 days to go and I’ve slowed way down. Soon I’ll be forcing four poor professional readers to sift through my garbage. Fuck. Yeah, I think that worked.”

Once again, there’s the need to step away. Once again, my guess is that it will cast a positive spell on the script itself.


That’s it for this week – check back in next, when hopefully I won’t feel like I’m dying.


Quick turnaround this week along with a rapidly-ticking clock: all you writers have officially LESS THAN ONE MONTH left to write. IT IS CRAZYTOWN UP IN…WHEREVER YOUR TOWN IS.

Let’s check in on the Selected Ten, shall we? Yes. Let’s shall. Funny/interesting note: several of these guys sent in their weekly summaries with a note saying some form of, “Um…sorry, this week’s entry is long. Really long.” Good thing I didn’t try to make anyone adhere to that two-paragraph bullshit, eh?


“So we haven’t yet talked much about the benefits of being a team, but we’ve hit the time when that aspect is definitely informing the way we’re going about this slash getting us through this.

The way we generally work is Jerren writes ahead at a pace Jesse considers to be superhuman, laying down the skeleton of the story, while Jesse spends time focusing on how our main characters speak and act. Jesse’s scenes then get dropped into the skeleton and Jerren keeps blasting ahead. At this point Jesse begins a pass starting from PAGE ONE wherein he’s revising and, in theory, trimming. (When either one of us ‘edits’ a scene, it often ends up longer. This became very apparent when the skeleton draft hit 84 pages and we were in early ACT II stuff.) So being a two-person team gives us the ability to get to the “editing/revising” phase before even technically finishing a draft.

We know the big Act III beats, so Jerren has jumped ahead and started on that stuff, working backwards to meet Jesse in the middle, like a rogue wave (if we understand rogue waves correctly). The tricky thing is that any change Jesse makes can have far-reaching implications for future beats that Jerren is writing. Likewise, Jerren sometimes realizes that we haven’t sufficiently set something up that needs to be addressed early on. The interesting result is that the middle of the story, the belly of the beast (Act II if you want to call it that), is constantly changing. This is a huge benefit and also a challenge. It requires a LOT of checking in.

For this process to work, it is imperative that our “voices” match, that it becomes impossible to tell where one of us stops writing and the other begins (as Geoff so graciously brought up at the start of all this). It is something we’ve worked hard at on all our projects together, leading to this.

This brings up another crucial benefit to working as a team: Having a pal! (To boost morale/confidence). We were writing long hours during Week 2, mostly apart, so we both inevitably had moments of second-guessing that sometimes turned the corner into deep existential panic. There has been a lot of late-night emailing. Here are some excerpts, along with translations:

From Jesse: ‘I did 3 shifts today and still have a ways to go. Lollllllllllll.  I’m a little anxious about my pace vs. the deadline, but I hope we’re still in good shape. ‘

Jerren knows Jesse well enough to understand that this translates, roughly, to: I am fucking freaking all the way the fuck out.

From Jerren: ‘If it makes you feel better, I’m actually way intimidated by the scenes you’ve been turning out. It usually takes me so long to get to a point where I’m even ready to show YOU stuff, and we’re skipping that step because of the time limit, and it’s making me just full up on self-doubt.’

 Rough translation: Actually, exactly what he said. This was a very honest, confessional email. What a mensch.

 This initiated a series of frank, VERY intimate messages wherein personal insecurities were expressed and much appreciation and support was offered in return. CAPS LOCK featured heavily. Jerren wanted to include this part, but Jesse felt like: can we maybe keep some mystique intact here?”

I am fascinated by these guys and their process. I want to point out: THEY’RE WRITING THESE UPDATES TOGETHER. Their seamlessness in such kind of blows my mind. Way, way back in the day – we’re talking late 90s/early 00s here – I attempted to write a script with a partner (I had totally forgotten about this until very recently). It was kind of a halfhearted attempt, and the script was terrible and I had no business trying to write such a thing, but my writing partner was (and still is) a very cool and passionate guy with a shit-ton of creativity…and I just couldn’t do the sharing-the-stage thing. Still can’t. Probably never will. My ego is too inflated and my need for control too consuming. So I’m duly impressed by two extremely talented people that can blend their voices together and make it work. I am genuinely excited for their script, and I think you should be too.


“Week 3: Page count 44. This week has been a hoot, a cracker, a bobbydazzler! I’m in a sweet spot where I understand my characters well enough that I can put them in a situation and everything flows from there, but I haven’t run out of scenes to write yet. The only thing I’m struggling with this glorious week is budget. I have way more things going BOOM than I meant to. They’re important BOOMs though. There’s stakes and drama and character growth and shit. I’ve decided at this stage to not let it hold me back. This is going to be my aspirational spec and the next can be more realistic. I’m focusing on what works for me to get it finished, and just to try and have fun with it.

I feel I should report on the wine-as-literary-lubricant experiment. I did write a few pages, but it quickly devolved into inappropriate instant messages. What did work was to sit with a friend across a desk and make each other feel awkward about slacking off. I wrote 10 pages in 4 hours with that method. If you don’t have a writers group then find one. Those wonderful people do amazing things to my writing quality and productivity.

If you don’t hear from me again it’s because I am spending a long weekend alone in a caravan. I’m hoping to finish a first draft of at least 70 pages and to not be murdered.”

First of all, let’s pray like gangbusters for Claire and her caravan-based safety. Second, it’s great to see that Claire seems to be breaking through a little bit and getting more comfortable within her story – and she has PLENTY of time to get all the way there. Third, while I’ve never personally worked in a writer’s group, I have worked in group writing settings (in the industry we call them “roundtables”, which I love more than anything), and let me tell you…sometimes there’s nothing more productive than bouncing your ideas off other smart people. DO IT. But lastly, I want to highlight something Claire’s worried about that no aspiring writer should never be: the “budget” of your script. First of all (hey looks like we’re doing this counting thing again), your script has no budget. It does not exist. It is imaginary at best, and it’s not even for your imagination. Second of all, coming up with a budget and/or worrying about what it might be IS NOT YOUR JOB. It is someone else’s entirely, and they get paid very well to figure it out. And third, just write. Just write. If you get lucky enough that your script is in front of someone who wants to make it but they think some stuff needs to come out to make it more economically feasible, worry about it then and only then. Until that point, JUST. WRITE.


“I’m worried.

Don’t worry, I’m not expecting any sympathy. #SixWeekSpec will be full of tweets such as ‘Old cocky-locky Bennett with his completed first draft is worried, I’ll save my tears for the children starving in Africa (which I hate, the situation that is, not the children)’.

Let’s back it up a bit. I read my script all the way through for the first time. I’d spent a few days away from it. I went in with soft eyes (Oh Prez, how I miss you). Afterwards, I felt pretty darn good. I mean, it wasn’t anywhere near good enough to submit. But, my story, it was there, hidden in the rough.

Why am I worried I didn’t hear you ask. I’m worried about what to do next. I have 130 pages sat before me. I have a laundry list of things I know I need to do. I am struggling to know where to start.

There is only so much I can accomplish in the remaining time I have. What should I work on the most? Is it the plot? Is it the characters? Should I just make the whole thing funnier? How many pages do I need to cut? When should I get people to read it? What do I usually struggle with? How many days do I have left? Ideally I would work on all of those things.

But, I’ve had an apostrophe, lightning has just struck my brain (Oh Bob, how I miss you). Any of the Selected Ten who say that they’re not secretly hoping for four 10/10s is a liar and a braggart. We’d all love that, if someone were to receive that they’d be made King or Queen of Hollywood. But I cannot write with that goal in mind, I must write the story I wanted to tell in the first place. It will not be perfect, it will need work, but it will be my story, it will be my voice. That is all I can do.

Still worried though.”

Ah yes. The fear. When you hear the old saying, “Writing is rewriting,” you often don’t hear the afterwhisper, “And terrifying as a crispy fucking hell.” Louis faces a daunting specter: potentially having to cut 30 pages out of his script. And when you’re happy with what you’ve written, you don’t want ANY of it to go. And yet, you must start culling pieces of you. There is no escape. Good luck, Louis. Also, I’ve nominated you the Selected Ten’s Jewish Mother of the Year.


“Happy to report I finished my first draft. I was worried that going into this with an outline might stifle me in some way, or discourage me from changing course as I went along. Fortunately that wasn’t the case at all. It was nice having a battle plan, but once I got down into the trenches…parts of my “strategy” induced so many forehead slaps that I’m pretty sure I knocked myself unconscious at one point.

So I deviated as necessary. Even when there was nothing technically bad about an aspect of the story as I’d conceived it, I still found myself coming up with better options on the fly. Everything stayed fluid.

That said, I’ll definitely stick to this process of creating an outline going forward. Even though doing it sucked like a Hoover, and some of it wound up either altered or discarded–when I got to the actual writing, to the FUN part, it felt so much more focused and productive right from the beginning. It was like it helped me tap into the good stuff sooner.

Like the effort I put into outlining was me shaking the mustard bottle so I wouldn’t get that gross dribble of neon yellow water when I took the cap off. (I guess another option would be to use my brain more often so it doesn’t have a chance to settle and separate in the refrigerator. But whatever.) First draft done!”

Congrats to Rachel on finishing, but an even bigger congrats for finding a process from FADE IN to FADE OUT that worked for her as well as it did. Make no mistake about it: the ability to adapt on the fly and know if you need to shutter an old idea for a newer one is a skill you will spend the rest of your writing career developing, and it will NEVER be a sure thing. But when you learn to get it right more often than not, you’re in a very, very good place. Now Rachel enters Louisland and the inception of the first rewrite. Fingers crossed.


“It’s been a week in which I have done almost no formal writing work, but where I have been gifted a couple of golden story nuggets all the same. I think I am still in credit at the bank but will very shortly be overdrawn unless I sit sit down and put the graft in.

It was my last week at the day job before my summer holiday, and those weeks are always heavy going. It was also my rota’d weekend, and I then had to pack and get us to our holiday destination, which took 2 days. So I have a proper sick note from matron.

I’m stuck in Act 3. I know how it starts and how it ends but I don’t know how to get there. But that’s ok; I now have 2 weeks on a small Greek Island, with more time available than I know what to do with. That’s a double-edged sword; I work to deadlines every day of my professional life, and deadlines have a way of making you turn in the goods. Too much time could easily lead to a sense of beer today, writing tomorrow, but I know it’ll be ok. I’m working to a 6-week deadline anyway.

I have absolutely no fear of not finishing in time, but I have plenty of misgivings about the quality of what I am producing. Part of me feels that since we only have 6 weeks to write an entire screenplay, no-one can reasonably expect it to be any good. A bigger part of me wants to believe I can actually produce a gem-quality script in that short timeframe. Dangerous thinking which is very likely to lead to big disappointment, but being knocked back is as much a function of being a writer as anything else.

I have no words of wisdom to offer fellow embryonic writers save for one: when you do the work, when you sit at your desk or table and actually write, in a way that makes you tired and gives you a headache, things start to happen. Ideas and thoughts do accrete, and come to you seemingly out of the blue, often when you are least expecting it.

This is my third script in 10 years. My first was pretty good, the second (following a 9-year gap) was utter rubbish, and I hope to be able to say my third is the best so far. We shall see.”

Fun Fact: Damian posted a picture of the island he’s on (https://twitter.com/DamianONeilBBC/status/512892239304200192/photo/1) and all the beach umbrellas there look like penises. Neat! Damian also assured me that some of the locals’ penises look like umbrellas, so he seems pretty set to me.


“This update is a play in two parts called, ‘The Two Fucks’.


Ugh, fuck Act 2.

So for that reason, I’m doing Act 3 first. When I plan out a movie in my head, paper, or Etch-a-sketch, I always start by picturing the beginning and the end. That great attention-grabbing scene paired with that touching, emotionally fulfilling ending. They’re like the delicious, butter roasted buns of a meaty movie sandwich. From there, you simply find the right lettuce, roast beef, ham, bacon, cheese, and everything in between to slot inside for an enjoyable cinematic experience.

Geoff described his screenwriting method on Broken Projector one week about just sailing forward and seeing where the story takes him. That blows my mind, because I have no idea how he does it. My brain needs to know where all the ingredients go before I can start roasting that hamburger. But even then…

Ugh, fuck writing jokes.

Writing jokes is the best and worst part of screenwriting. When a joke just pops into your head that you will just fucking kill at that moment in the script? It’s the closest thing to a magic I will ever experience. But when you’re coming up like California in the past six months (read: dry), it’s a damn slog. (See that garbage ‘joke’ I just wrote? That was painful.)

That is compounded by the fact that I come home from work after spending 10 hours with some of the funniest people I know. The ONN writing staff at the Onion is cranking out what seems like five thousand jokes a day. They’re an endless bowl of funny soup, and some days it seems the only thing keeping me sane is that I have, on average, eight years before I ‘have’ to be as funny as they are.

Have being in quotes because, well, if I wanna play with the big dogs, I gotta be that funny now. But for now, back to the joke mine.”

I know how Dan feels. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, do I know how Dan feels – about the jokes. There is pure terror as a comedy writer – and I’ve spoken about this before – that you’re going to sit down one day to write and find out you’re just not funny anymore. Or that you never were in the first place. “What if I’m out of jokes? What if I can’t get it back? What if I never had it to begin with?” It is absolutely maddening, and the only thing you can do is write and pray for the best. And you know what I’ve figured out? The jokes always come. Always. As for Act II issues, welcome to probably the greatest existential bane in the history of writerdom. Act II is tricky as shit – you have to keep the story going forward, but you have to keep knocking your hero back a bit. You have to learn SOME things, but you have to save others for Act III. You need to pay off beats from the first act and create NEW beats to be paid off in the next. Of all the Acts, it’s the most philosophically retarded. Goddamn it all to hell. Sorry I don’t have anything here for you, Dan. Just keep on truckin’ and focusing on making the pages turn-worthy at the very least.


“I just finished writing the climax of my screenplay and I pushed all the way through to the FADE OUT. I still have a handful of scenes I have to go back and write, but I am confident that I have a solid skeleton to build on and refine in the coming three weeks.

I think it is important to take a break from your writing time to time in order to ‘cleanse your palette.’ Tunnel vision is a real thing, and I can see my scenes becoming more narrow as I get toward the end of the screenplay because all I want to do is get there. Sometimes it’s easiest to just push through a scene with expository dialogue and making the intent of the scene outwardly obvious, before coming back to it later and reworking the dialogue to be not so ‘on the nose.’ That is why, quite frequently, my very first draft of any script comes in shorter than I expected. Accordingly, I won’t post my page count on this update, but I will tell you that I have currently written 17,082 words (although this quantifier is essentially meaningless).

Unfortunately, my writing schedule has become somewhat more sporadic than I would have liked. I’m in the process of finding work in Los Angeles while sleeping on my brother’s couch, but I do have a few days off a week where I can find solid blocks of time to work. This weekend I have two full days to myself, so I should be able to write those last scenes and next week start working on my ‘Penultimate Draft’ (more on this next update).”

And we have our third finisher of a draft! WHHHHHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE, these guys are flying. I couldn’t agree more with Chris about walking away from your writing every now and then for a matter of perspective. In every script I write, without fail, I’ll come up with a handful of jokes that are so good that I’m positive I’m going to walk out of my office and get blown by angels…and then I come back an hour or a day later and all I can see is the worst fucking writing by the worst fucking writer that ever lived anywhere ever. Likewise,  I’ve been positive I was never going to crack a certain scene, only to walk off to clear my head and crack it ten minutes later. Your focus can indeed narrow, and sometimes you just need a goddamned break. Give yourself one.


“Whoa. This week flew by. And my pace is slowing waaaay down. I think I wrote ten pages total. I’m at the point in my screenplay where I might be putting it down and working on something else for awhile if it wasn’t for this strict deadline. I’m pretty far into Act Two and writing this thing is becoming a lot more of a chore than the fun, quick Act One was. As always, my outline wasn’t quite as detailed as I thought it was. I’m winging it a lot more than I thought I’d have to.

I find myself avoiding my screenplay for as long as I possibly can throughout the day. I’ve been super productive in other areas, in an attempt to not feel quite as guilty about my neglect – I’ve been reading a ton, cleaning everything I own, exercising – but then I’ll get to my computer at about 8pm, feeling guilty as ever. When I wait all day to start writing, it creates this sense of dread towards my work, as if it’s been looming over me like a dark cloud all day. And that’s really not good. So this next week, I’m going to TRY to be one of those people who writes while the sun is still out.

Overall, this week kind of sucked. Act Two is hard.”

Another one bites the Act II wall. It is a real thing, and it is daunting. And the only thing I can say is: keep writing through it. Just get words on paper, make sure your ideas are somewhere in there, and come back to it as you need to. But also…don’t feel guilty walking away for a couple days. Sometimes you need to. Sometimes you need to allow yourself not to be stressed about it. And Emily? Give Dan a call. Maybe you two can force each other through the haze.


“I’m trying to feel more than think this week – my gut is much smarter than my brain. I don’t want to charge into things as much. My adrenaline levels are much lower, which is good for my health generally.

And my gut has been telling me that my protagonist is the key.

The odd thing is – I’ve never really written a single protagonist film. Ha! All of my films so far have been multi-protagonist.

Maybe that’s why I felt the need to experiment with structure. But I’ve realized – dude, I NEED that first act. To set up the protagonist, to build the world, to introduce the alien – the benefits of that first act are legion. I am however keeping what Linda Aronson calls a preview flashback- a little flash-forward right at the beginning to the second act turning point where the protagonist has lost everything. Hopefully the contrast between that and her cock-sure self in the first act will be enough to keep people flipping those pages.

I realize what I lost last week. Fun and joy. And hanging out with my characters is a lot of fun. I started a sci-fi novel when I was 19 and I had so much fun researching that I spent six years doing it and never really wrote the novel. Ha! I was probably too green to get it done anyway.

I also had a mini crisis of faith as well. It’s pretty normal around this time in a project. My husband says he can pretty much set his watch by my crises of faith. And he even parroted back to me what I usually say, ‘What am I doing? This is stupid. Nobody cares. I should just get a job. At least then my parents would be proud of me.’ He even imitated my voice. If you ever meet him, tell him I do NOT sound like that.

Jobs are funny things. For some reason, society gives you a badge of honor for killing yourself doing something you hate. I had all kinds of health problems when I had a 9-to-5. And I was generally good at what I did. I still got laid off twice and fired once. And in later years, I tried to get back into the workforce but like Legolas from Lord of the Rings, ‘the pain is too near’.

Still the old question was raised, not just by me, but by someone who wrote into John August and Craig Mazin – at what point do we say, ‘This isn’t working?’ I guess the answer is different for everybody. Chip and Dan Heath (who wrote this great book about decision-making called Decisive) might like me to put a deadline on it. I don’t know what’s going to happen in my life so I can’t do that. But I’ll know that time when I see it. When I’ve done everything I can and screenwriting still isn’t working.

But right now, the only deadline I need to worry about is October 15th.

And goshdarn it, I’m happy writing and I feel better than I have in years. Without the over-eating and over-sleeping. I call that a victory.”

Anyone sensing a trend here? As we reach the halfway point, many of our Selected Ten are feeling the pressure condense. What they should see – and what many of you writing along should take to heart – is that this happens to EVERYONE at one point or another in one script or another. How you end up overcoming it or not simply comes down to how you choose to respond. And here’s the only important thing about that: it doesn’t matter HOW you respond, just that you do and get on with it. So figure it out. And get on with it. Yeah, that’s easy for me to say, but don’t make it harder to do than you need to.


“Remember that one time I mentioned I wasn’t really worried about this yet? Yeah, that’s all gone. Poof. Vanished.

The anxiety officially kicked in this week, but I’ve decided that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It made me realize I kinda need to get my shit together.

Looking back on my first two weeks, I was moving at the speed of a glacier. I don’t regret that, even though I cranked out pages at a significantly lesser pace than almost everyone else, because that’s what worked for me. For those who don’t really know me (aka everyone), it’s a truth universally acknowledged that I do pretty much everything at a much, much slower pace than the average person would. I walk slowly. I write slowly. I’m always still sitting at the dinner table 20 minutes after everyone else is done eating. That’s me. So I wasn’t really bothered by the fact that, after reading last week’s updates, I was miles behind some of you Energizer bunnies.

But I’ve finally realized that I can’t keep moving at this pace and expect to finish in six weeks. It’s probably not so much that I just realized, because I think I really knew all along, but I’m just now coming to terms with this harrowing fact.

Hence the anxiety.

I tried working at a super quick pace on Day One, because I heard that’s what all the cool kids were doing, and it felt weird to me. So I slowed way, way down. To be honest, it makes me nervous to speed things back up again. I’m out of my element, here. But to be equally honest, I’m also kind of excited to be writing in an environment that I’m not at all comfortable in. I feel like there’s a lot to learn in this situation. And to be ultimately honest, I really don’t have much of a choice if I want to finish this damn thing. So, roll tide.

I’m hoping to have an entire first draft and a partial second draft by this time next week.

In other news, I just want to say how much I love reading everyone’s updates. Y’all rock my socks. But Rachel in particular said something last week that I can one thousand percent relate to so I wanted to mention that quickly… She worries that her story’s great, but she’s not smart enough to write it. THIS FEELING IS WHAT MY NIGHTMARES ARE MADE OF. Reading her update made me feel as if I was reading my own mind. I’ll go on the record and say that I think my story is awesome. Really. I’m in love. If my story got down on one knee and proposed, I’d say yes without any hesitation. But I’m now living in a constant fear that I’m not smart enough, funny enough, witty enough, whatever enough, to do the story justice. Not that I would wish that feeling on anyone, but it was nice to find out I wasn’t the only one experiencing it.

Also in other news, I started letting my friends read my script this week. I discovered I have exactly one friend who will give me something more than ‘this is good’ or ‘this is funny’ so she’s been extremely helpful. I originally didn’t want anyone to read my script until it was done, and I’m so fucking glad I changed my mind. She’s been helping me a ton with character development and pointed me out to a few different issues I didn’t even know I had. For example, the other day we were talking about my male lead character and she asked, ‘Is he supposed to be an asshole or are we supposed to like him?’ My response was, ‘Both.’ But I hadn’t really written a character that was both an asshole and likable. Or at least she didn’t think so. Of course I’m going to like this guy, I created him. But that doesn’t mean anyone else will. So she helped me realize that every once in a while I need to take a step back and try to read what I’ve written from the perspective of someone who didn’t write it. I honestly hadn’t thought about doing that before, so infinite snaps to my awesome friend.

Good lord, I rambled. This felt very much like free therapy. I’m already looking forward to next week’s session.”

Love that Delaney connected with something that Rachel was feeling, and I want to be very clear about something, and I mean this: I don’t think either of them have anything to worry about, but I’m glad they’re worrying. It shows they care, and it shows they doubt themselves, and the best writers use that to propel forward. So that’s great. I also want to speak to the light and the dark of Delaney having her friends read her script. On one hand, it is VITAL that you have someone that you trust to look over ALL your drafts. What Delaney experienced is, in my opinion, one of the reasons movies so often fail after going the whole way through the development process: the people who’ve worked on it are too close, they have the ENTIRE UNIVERSE of the story in their heads, and no one can see the holes or what’s missing. It’s impossible to – your brain fills in the gaps. Enter: your trusted reader. They are clutch. That in mind…no offense personally to Delaney’s friend, but people who don’t read scripts…you know, ever…are only going to help you to about 10% of the capacity you need them to. This is why it’s vital to make contacts with people who work in the industry and/or read scripts for a living in some form or another. These are the people you need. Find them however you can.



Some week, huh? Will the Selected Ten overcome? Will they be battered back? WILL THEY GIVE UP ENTIRELY???? Those pussies! Check back next week and see if they’ve written themselves out of trouble or into more of it.




Sorry for the delay on updates – wanted to give these guys a little room to breathe in their prep/first stages of writing, so we took last week off.


For my part: I’m still working on writing a pitch that I recently sold, and it’s taking a bit longer than expected – but in a good way. You can never say enough about working with the right creative team, and so far in my (very short) career, I’ve been lucky enough to be tethered to people who have the same vision for our projects – for the most part, at least. No exception this go-round, and what I’m really excited about is the fact that everyone wants to get it *right*. We’re not even remotely trying to reinvent the wheel here, nor are we imbuing some false sense of importance on our story. That being said, it still needs to work, and it still needs to sing, and most importantly it needs to be fun. And I can’t tell you how confidence inspiring it is to place those necessities above rapidity.

Also worth mentioning: since this WAS a pitch, I’ve been working off an outline, which is a double-edged sword for the way I work. I’ve spoken before about specs vs. assignments/pitches, and by nature the latter require a fleshed-out story to be conceived so you can walk into a room and make sure everyone knows EXACTLY what kind of movie you intend to write. These days, writers are required to do more than ever before when it comes to pitching – you’re expected to have every detail of the story down cold and be able to answer any questions about it at the click of a snap. And while it’s good to have all your core ideas set, it’s tough for someone like me who thrives off the improvisational aspects of writing – that is, writing yourself into the story as opposed to writing the story out as you’ve already planned it. It’s something I’ve always struggled with and that I’m STILL vying to make peace with on a creative level. I’m confident I’ll get there, but in the meantime, I’m frustrated with myself that I’ve not yet figured out how to optimize the process.

Based on my pitch, I have a responsibility to the studio and the producers – I am to deliver them the story I promised. And deliver it I will. And if I’m being honest, I’m VERY happy with what I’ve come up with so far. I’ve actually pleased myself, which, contrary to the way my substantial ego often shows its hand, is a tough feeling to come by on first drafts. That, again, I owe very much of that feeling to the people who are, so far, developing this story alongside me. So perhaps playing the tortoise in this particular race isn’t such a bad thing after all. I hope. Maybe this will be the adventure during which it all clicks into place. We’ll see.

Of course there’s always the frighteningly legitimate chance that I’m completely blowing it and this is my last ever spot of gainful employment as a writer. In which case I should let you all know that this has been an incredible amount of fun, and also, where can I learn how to write a resume and do you have any applications I can fill out?

Onto the Selected Ten:


“I have a confession. It’s something I’m hesitant to admit openly. I’ve finished my first draft. And I feel awful.

I finished my first draft in nine days. Part of me thinks that this should be cause for celebration. That it gives me five weeks to rewrite the hell out of this script. That part of me is an idiot. A romantic, and a fool.

I have never written a script this fast, ever. I tried something new with my outlining. I broke my story up into eight 15 minute chunks. I wanted something to happen every 15 minutes, and I wanted to be building up to that each time. I had an index card for, roughly, every 2 minutes. It was a lot of index cards.

It meant that I never stopped writing, I had scenes in front of me at all times. I added a tonne of additional scenes whilst I was going through as well, but I just kept on writing. I was very pleased with my outline, I knew the scenes, I had acted them out in my head, it all poured out of me. It was joyous.

Now I’m done with the first draft, and I’m full of doubt. Is it all guff and blunder? Will I spend the next five weeks polishing a hefty turd? Urgh, I hope not.

I really like my story, I think it’s a lot of fun. It’s a movie I would want to watch. I really like my characters, I know I can make them sing. But, nine days…dude. If I’d spent three or four weeks writing it would feel more (too) legit (to quit). But, I’d have less time to rewrite. I’m never happy, am I?

Plus, now I have the added stress of potentially being the knobhead that finished in nine days, had five weeks to rewrite, and still got four 1/10 reviews…oh god, I think I’m going to be sick.

In the end, fuck you playa haters. I wrote a first draft in nine days, and now I’ve got more time to rewrite. I’ve got material to work with, pages to edit, and cut, and improve, and…

I just thought about those four 1/10 reviews again…”

First of all, a standing ovation to Louis for getting to FADE OUT. That’s incredible, especially in nine days. But do you know what I love about this most? That Louis is scared. That he’s doubting himself. That he feels almost self-assured that he’s blown it. In my mind, those are the most healthy traits a writer can have. Unease and worry and fear drive us, in some odd and counterintuitive way, to force ourselves to not settle for failure. Remember just a bit ago when I was talking about how good I feel about the script I’m currently writing? That feeling is BLANKETED in terror. Because of that, I may be confident, but I’ll never be SATISFIED. And I think that’s what Louis is experiencing here. And to me, that’s the sign of a writer who gets it.


“I started bright and early on September 1, working as quickly as I could through my outline. I had hoped to have most of my script finished by now, but at the time of writing this review, I’m on Page 63. I still have three pages of outline to write through, so I’m sure I’ll be done with the first draft by the update next week.

Along the way, I’ve skipped over a few of the larger, more important scenes in the film. I’ll come back to these once I’m done with the skeleton, spending more time to make sure these scenes are just right. Spit shining.

I do most of my writing in the mornings, when the world is still quiet. I can settle in with a big cup of coffee, and get into the “atmosphere” of my story. I have a playlist on my computer of songs that remind me of my story. I have books and pictures around me that focus on my topic. I listen to some music and look at the pictures and then I’m ready to write.

Back to work!”

I’m really becoming more and more confident that I picked the right people for this challenge. Sixty-three pages is incredible in this amount of time, but much more than that, two things stick out to me here: Chris knows what works best for him as a writer, and he’s having fun writing. I cannot even begin to tell you how much it please me to hear that. I’m chuffed. I feel chuffed. It’s so easy to distance yourself from your writing when it goes from being a necessity to a commodity. But there’s ZERO reason that it can’t be both. I talk to writers all the time who love the end product but hate the process of sitting down to write, and nothing makes me sadder to hear. And all too often it leads to the sense that this is JUST a job, JUST a paycheck, JUST a work-for-hire that you need to bang out like an automaton. Commerciality does not have to equal banality; creativity does not have to be vanquished by the perception of “selling out”. It’s great to be reminded of that every now and then – so thanks, Chris.


“I have 52 pages written so far. None that look good enough to introduce to anyone. But a few that I’d consider making out with if all the lights were out. And I was drunk. And someone dared me to.

Whenever I get stuck on a plot point or a piece of dialogue, I go for a long walk. Of course I’m in Phoenix, where the average temp is still hovering around 105, so occasionally the heat stroke gets me before the inspiration does.
Sure I get weird looks from the neighbors when they catch me doubled over in their front lawns, feverish and dehydrated. And naturally I want to reassure them. “This is what following your dreams looks like, BITCHES!” But the dry heaving makes it tough to say anything so I usually just give a big thumbs up instead. Then I hallucinate my way home and tap out some more words.

Some days I worry my story’s not good enough. Other days I worry it’s great and I’m just not smart enough to tell it. But it’s mine, and I’m inclined to show it to the world, even though it’s a guaranteed embarrassment. Basically I indulge in the same kind of thinking that keeps the Sears Portrait Studio in business.”

After reading this, does anyone doubt for a moment that Rachel’s 52 pages contain some absolutely terrific stuff? No? Me neither. Rachel hits on much the same territory as Louis did, but I love the part about thinking it’s good but wondering if you’re actually capable of knowing the difference. NEWSFLASH: this feeling never goes away, nor should it. As a writer, you have to strike the delicate balance between believing you know what’s good/trusting your instincts and also being dead certain that you will never be sure and may very well be totally wrong. That’s the only way you stay open to criticism, and that’s the only way you’ll ever get any better.


“Okay, so I’m kind of worried about how not worried I’ve been so far. I figured I’d have my first panic attack about this around September 2nd, but I’ve kept really, really calm since beginning and I have no idea how. Even after someone announced they’re damn near done with a first draft (I won’t say any names but you know who you are LOUIS) I didn’t really freak out. This is all very unlike me and I’m hoping this new, awesome nervous system of mine sticks around for a while.

Anyways, pages-wise, I have about 30 put together thus far and I don’t totally hate them, which is also a very new and unexpected thing for me. Writing hasn’t been too difficult yet, but my story’s really just an exaggerated retelling of personal experiences, so I’m really just writing what I know. My roadblocks as of now have really just been family-related. My parents like to come in the room, stand over my shoulder, and ask me what I’m doing even though they KNOW GODDAMNED WELL WHAT I’M DOING. (You’re all writers so I’m sure you know the totally awful feeling that is someone standing over your shoulder while you’re trying to fucking write.) And my brother, Jordan, is now constantly bombarding me with all his film ideas because he’s convinced he can do this better than I can. The other day he said, “You know that movie about the dude that’s born old and gets younger? Benjamin Buttermaker, or whatever? Yeah, you should do something like that, but the guy does the opposite.” I said, “You mean someone that just ages like a normal person?” He said, “Yeah, exactly.” This is what I deal with here.

So I’ve been taking a break from everything/everyone and couch surfing in IL. Currently writing this in grandma’s basement. Back to MO and writing tomorrow.”

And, articulated at just the right moment, here’s Delaney with a different kind of fear: she’s worried that she’s not worried. This is a real thing. Writers are terrified at having created something good – it opens up the doors to too many other possibilities that we might not be ready for. “What if I have to do it again? WHAT IF I CAN’T DO IT AGAIN??” I haven’t read any of Delaney’s work yet, but I’m glad her process has been smooth for the most part (save for her family hanging over her shoulder – if you know a writer, DO NOT FUCKING DO THIS, as it does indeed make you the worst). Could she just be lulling herself into a false sense of creative security? Sure. Could she really be clicking and on top of her game? Absolutely. But the fact that she’s self-aware enough to have even thought this way is a damn good sign that she’s on the right track.


“The past ten days haven’t been too bad. I’ve kind of just decided not to panic during these six weeks. I’ve been writing pretty much every day. A good day for me has been 6 or 7 pages, a bad day, zero pages. But the thing I’ve really figured out that works for me is to free write before every single scene. Or before a scene, and then during a scene, too, if I’m getting lost. I use the site 750words.com (it tracks your word count and the days you write and makes me feel accomplished), and just do a big ol’ mind dump before I face my script each day. I think this is why I haven’t been panicking. Because by the time I get to my scene, I know exactly what needs to happen in it, and where my protagonist’s head needs to be by the end of it.

Also, I’m used to writing with a partner and endlessly discussing what we’re working on, so this free writing thing kind of serves the same purpose. It’s like I’m endlessly discussing with myself what I’m working on.

I’m on page 45, and feeling okay about it. I’m not really letting anyone read it. I have a weekly writers’ group, and I haven’t been sharing pages. It’s too fresh, and the deadline is too soon. I don’t want five different opinions on it. I’m worried it will make me doubt myself. Or make me want to rewrite the whole thing. Or somehow just mess me up. So I’m protecting it, for now…”

I sense that Emily is slightly frustrated at the moment (please correct me if I’m wrong, Emily), but her update was one of my favorites this week simply because she’s finding her way. This is an early script, it’s early in the process, she’s just finding out how to get her head in the right place, she’s working for the first time without a partner…these are all hurdles. What’s great is that Emily seems to be just leaping over all of them, doing what she can to lock into the best first draft she’s capable of. That’s tremendous. She’s even found practical tools that help motivate her. Emily strikes me as someone who’s as intent on learning about writing as she is about writing itself. I think that’s going to serve her brilliantly. And anyway, some of the most fantastic work comes from the people who don’t know any of the pitfalls or contrivances and just go and WRITE. Maybe that’s Emily.


“Shit, are we really 3 weeks in?

My plan to have a completed outline/treatment from which I could write the screenplay by the end of week 3 has not quite come to pass, but neither is it far off.

I think overall, I am reasonably happy with what I have got down. There have been a couple of lightbulb moments where things have come together and problems have been solved, seemingly without
any effort on my part. I know that is nonsense; the fat, juicy worms have come wriggling up because I have been ploughing the field, but such moments are memorable.

It is not the most original story, but as far as I can tell, it makes some kind of sense and most of my scenes seem to lead into each other for valid narrative reasons. Most of them. Some of them. I think. I hope.

Six weeks is nothing. Absolutely nothing. But as far as my chosen avocation is concerned, this is the most intensely productive single period I have ever had, and for that reason alone, I am loving being a part of this. My day job has been especially busy the last month or so, and taken together with the Challenge, I have been feeling pretty strung out on occasion lately. But there is light ahead; my beloved and I are heading off very soon to a Greek island for our annual holiday.

I am massively looking forward to it, and feel that pressing on with my screenplay on a sunlit balcony overlooking the Aegean or whatever it is fits in quite nicely with my delusional, romantic notion of what it means to be a Writer.

So, halfway. Whatever happens, in another 3 weeks, I will have a finished script.”

I ask a serious question: how can you read the above and NOT want to immediately drown yourself in whatever Damian is writing? What I think is so important here is that Damian has a demanding job that keeps him away from his script, both practically and mentally/emotionally at times. So many of you struggle with the same, and that’s not even taking into account, you know…LIFE. How do you keep yourself jazzed to typetypetype and be clever and tell a story you’re not even sure anyone else wants to hear? That’s a question without a one-size-fits-all answer, but are you starting to notice a pattern? In case you aren’t: writers learn to figure shit out, and writers learn how to make their time work for them. I’m not worried about Damian in the slightest, even if he lost time at the outset of this embedded in (basically) a war zone. But what can YOU do to keep the flame alight? Whatever it is: find it. If you can’t, that’s a pretty big sign.


“I have a day job and children so there is no chance I am going to join these young upstarts with their bajillion pages by day 3. I have been dependably plodding away producing at least two pages a day and am now on page 24. On day 2 I nearly switched stories to something about emus as I had not done nearly enough world building for my science fiction script. I couldn’t describe *anything* as I hadn’t figured out what anything looked like. Suddenly something set in 1930’s Australia seemed so, so appealing. But I pushed through, putting in place holders, which I am gradually filling out as everything becomes clearer to me.

I write academic papers all day so I am accustomed to writing precisely and concisely. This makes it extremely difficult for me to waffle in a screenplay and therefore my page count creeps painfully slowly. If I’m going to make it to page 90 I need to chill the fuck out. I think tonight I am going to drink a bottle of wine and set my characters free. Every line doesn’t need to advance the plot. I’m not writing a scientific argument. It just needs to be entertaining.

Don’t fret. I’ll get back to the emus.”

I get the sense that Claire thinks she is behind in this challenge, and I would like to dispel her (and any of you feeling the same way) of that notion; you are, indeed, not. Some people write quickly with no regard for their own personal safety. Some are deliberate and considered. No way is better than the other until it comes to what you’re comfortable with. Once again (and seriously, I’m posting these in the order I receive them each week), we find someone who has a demanding job and an entire life that come before writing. It’s nothing to dismiss, and being that she’s (approximately, statistically) 1/4 of the way through her script with all of that on her plate is remarkable. The idea that having a few drinks will cause you to pour forth all you’ve been holding back in your writing is a terrible cliche and one that I support wholeheartedly. Sometimes you just need a pressure release. Claire may think she’s hit a wall here, but in reality she’s just softening it up so she can finally break through.


“Just to reiterate Jerren’s ongoing spelling struggle, we are now actively working with a document he created titled ‘ACT II CHORNOLOGY.’ Cool.

On this note, we tend to send ideas back and forth via whatever email thread we have open, some of which have subjects like ‘NEW MAD MAX TRAILER OH FUUUUUUCK,’ so it’s been a challenge keeping track of things we’ve discussed. For this project we made the long overdue move of attempting to centralize all of our ideas into one document, which lasted 9 hours.

On Day One, Jerren was still at the Telluride film festival. We had prepared for this by divvying up Act 1 scenes before Jerren left. BUT HE HAD TO WRITE HIS SCENES LONGHAND WHILE WAITING IN LINE TO SEE BIRDMAN, which is very gross for other people to see. I know, tough life, huh, Jerren?

Though the condensed time frame for both preparation and writing had us a little worried at first, the actual typing of the ‘vomit draft’ — a term we both hate because we are always always ALWAYS eating while writing–has been moving quickly. (We’re at about 64 pages now) (Which should really be about 35 but oh well) In fact, because of that pace, we took off this past Monday to throw a giant ‘One Week Of Writing Excellence’ party. Nobody came. It was a block party.

The unexpected speed at which words are being vomited (uggggh) gives us the confidence to ease up on the proverbial gas pedal and keep talking about everything. We scrutinize, outline, email, and scrutinize some more, weighing the effect of every single choice and beat we make and what the ramifications are. This shines a light on areas we haven’t thought all the way through, disconnects in plot points/tone/CHORNology, or when one of us beat-for-beat writes a whole sequence from DREDD. We know from experience that it’s just so easy to lose track of what we actually started writing thematically, especially in a comedy, so we’re constantly stepping back to re-assess what the ultimate goals and arcs of our characters are, and to nail down the most compelling way to disseminate that info through the narrative.

The other big thing we’re striving for is creative ways to get in some set-ups/pay-offs. Our project is dealing with a genre that has no small amount of iconography and standard tropes, so we’re working very hard to mask or obscure all our set-ups behind character beats and/or jokes, usually a combination of the two. We think set-ups can usually be seen a mile away and thus blunt the effect of the ultimate pay-offs, so a lot of our focus is going into this aspect.

But good God for reals have you guys seen that Mad Max trailer?!”

Focus on the last paragraph here, because…well, this is where I’m telling you to focus. Don’t question me. This is important: these two are ACTIVELY thinking about what they can do to make their script stand out, to make their story more memorable, by paying attention to the details. Look, there are no new stories left in the world. None. It’s all been done in one form or another. That in mind, never be afraid that you’re walking a well-worn trail – you are. You definitely are. Everyone is. So what sets you apart is how you make those details your own, how you this familiar tale into your own. Seen it before in a movie? Change it. What to? Well, what HAVEN’T you seen before in that situation? Moreover, what would YOU like to see in that situation. Here’s the best way I can describe it: everyone’s gotten into an argument that they’ve walked away from, only to twenty minutes later come up with a line that’s the nail in the coffin – the “AH FUCK ME WHY DIDN’T I SAY THAT??????” conundrum. Well here’s the great news: if you’re a writer ALL OF YOUR ARGUMENTS GET TO END PERFECTLY IF YOU WANT THEM TO. So manipulate that shit. This is where you get to be you to the very apex of your own narcissism. Have at it. You can’t give us something new, but you can give us something better or unexpected. And then, at the very least, you’ve piqued our interest.

PS – If it makes you queasy, you don’t HAVE to call it a “vomit draft”. Anything excretory will do.


“Nearing the end of week two I find myself nearing the end of Act One. That’s good, right? Six weeks = two weeks per act. I haven’t taken a math class since senior year of high school so it sounds right to me.

I know there’s a bunch of hubbub in the screenwriting ether about act structure, its benefits, its negatives, who its going to take to prom, etc. I personally just use it as a general guide. Act 1 is setting up your rules, Act 2 is playing around, and Act 3 is the big finale. The length, tone, if they’re divided into smaller pieces, and everything else about those acts depends on what story you’re actually telling. It’s a helpful guide, not a formula.

For this one, Act 1 is a bit unique. Chronologically, it takes place over the course of half a day. The entire script will take place over about two weeks, so that is a full 1/3 of the page count all taking place in half a day. It’ll hopefully give it a full-steam ahead energy that’ll grip the audience and not let go. When they blink and realize they’ve been following along for a half hour, they’ll realize they are past all the boring setup and into the fun stuff. And their wallets are gone.

Another fun element is the transitions. For the first twenty or so pages, almost every scene transitions to the next through either a sports show or a phone call. Why? I don’t know. Seemed like a fun idea. Stop asking so many questions.

Next week, I dive into the untamable quagmire that is Act 2. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think a pest control guy is knocking on my apartment door. Cheers!”

“It’s a helpful guide, not a formula.” Dan, I am going to kiss you on the mouth. You could not be righter. This is part of something I try to tell writers as often as possible. There are “rules”, but there are really no RULES. At the end of the day, the only thing  you ever need to worry about is keeping your reader entertained enough to want to flip from page to page and ultimately satisfying them in one way or another at the end. That’s it, and that should always be in the back of your mind: “Have I made the reader care?” Structure is only necessary insofar as the people making the movie agree the story needs to unfold. You can have the tightest, most bit-by-bit screenplay imaginable…and it can still suck big fat wet dogcock. On the flipside, you can have a thrillingly exciting set of scenes that absolutely go nowhere without glue to bind them and an engine to propel them forward. What I’m saying is: don’t be concerned about the box. Be concerned what’s in the box. If someone gives you a stack of cash in a paper bag, are you going to bitch at them because it didn’t come in a suitcase? No. If you would or have, I’m calling the police.

Also, I’m very interested in Dan’s transitions, because I consider stuff like this to be the ultimate hit-or-miss tool in screenwriting. If they feel organic to the tone/theme/story, they can be great. If not, they come off as sad gimmicks. The fact that Dan’s putting a lot of thought into it leads me to believe it’ll be the former.


“Well, these past few weeks have some new kinds of challenging. I was mulling over my outline the Sunday night before lift-off and thought it looked pretty boring. Not visual at all.

One possible solution to that – this seemed like a good idea at the time, I swear – was to get rid of the first act and instead pepper the rest of the movie with it in the form of distorted surreal flashbacks.

I haven’t read over my pages yet, so I don’t know if that’s working yet.

Another pain in the backside – I’m a good 40 pages short. Yep. 40 pages. I’m up to about 55 pages and have pretty much written every scene I thought of in the outlining stage. Needless to say, development is needed.

I’m trying to figure out why this happened and one good reason might be…I didn’t use the board. Yeah, the good old-fashioned corkboard. If I fill a corkboard with index cards, I know that I have at least a 90-page script. Too much more and I know I’m going a bit too long.

Maybe I’m writing short because I want to get the heck outta there. It’s been a lot more painful than usual, writing pages. Sure, writing is hard most of the time but once I’m done, I’m usually quite proud of myself. But this time not so much. I don’t know the world well enough. I haven’t done my time researching or outlining or getting to know the characters. At least I don’t think so.

With my previous scripts, I knew what the “house” of my screenplay looked like even though I didn’t really need to go into every room. I feel much more like a stranger here. I know that a lot of people in #sixweekspec find this compressed time-frame challenging and compressed their process to uncomfortably short lengths. I suppose that’s the point of this whole exercise – what really works as far as process goes. And what SO doesn’t.

Note to self: Use a board.

Oh yes and this writing 10-pages-a-day shtick really doesn’t work for me. At most, I can manage 6 or 7.

Another note to self: pages are meant to be savored, not devoured.

But on the upside, some extraordinary stuff has been emerging re: theme and meaning. I think this screenplay is about activism, ego and free will. How awesome is that? This from someone who didn’t even take Philosophy 101 at university.

Yeah, writing kind of blows right now. But I’m sure it’s going to look up eventually. It might not be at the end of this six weeks. But it will eventually.

It might have nothing to do with writing actually. My husband lovingly decided to share his cold with me. Family gave me grief. Just general suckiness was had in other areas of life. It’s amazing how everything happens at once, doesn’t it? That’s life and all that.

Sigh. Back to pages.”

Sabina hits on a real truth here: sometimes writing sucks. Remember back there when I was like, “I’m baffled by people who hate the act of writing?” (Remember the last time I asked you if you remembered that other time?) Well, that’s true – I am. But that’s also a macro thing. In the micro, writing can be a real fucking tit sometimes. Everyone had bad days, bad weeks, bad months. Some have bad careers (I’m not sure I’m not one of them, honestly)! And if you find yourself in that position, what do you do? Whatever your answer is, it HAS to end with, “…and then I buckled down and started writing again.” Sabina, I know, gets this. I also love the fact that she’s aware of what her weakness is right now – she doesn’t have the whole story yet. When you come up short in your page count (the total of which is imaginary but we all have a basic idea of what to hover around) the problem is almost always that you don’t know, completely, what  you’re trying to accomplish or what you’re trying to say. When you do, you’ll have a frustrating amount of extra pages, not fewer. I also love love love love love that she’s taking a BIG chance with her first act. That’s exciting and interesting and GOD that is so much better than a writer always adhering to what they think they SHOULD do.



I’ve got to say…I’m absorbing a lot from these guys, and I’m almost inexplicably impressed with the considered approaches they’re taking to their scripts. It’s immensely gratifying. They all care, and they’re all thoughtful and cognizant and AWARE. Who knows where each of these 10 scripts end up – will they all even be completed in the first place? – but it’s pretty safe to say they’re all coming from the right points of origin.

More later this week. I’ve heard from a few of you with your own tales and I might still post some at some point – I’ve just been trying to finish up my own shit over here. But continue to write and ask questions and update me on your progress. It’s been a great learning experience/commiseration so far.





Remember a bit back when I talked about the handful – maybe a few dozen? – #SixWeekSpec submissions that didn’t make the Top Ten but deserved an email from me because they were some measure of quality and caught my attention in one way or another?

Yeah, those aren’t going to happen. I’m sorry. It’s a fail on my part in no uncertain terms. I really wanted to find the time to write all these little encouraging sentiments, and this weekend I realized there’s no chance that time will be found. So I’m not going to do any of them.

Here’s what I will say: getting down to ten was more difficult than I thought it would be, and all in all there were around 40 entries that got some kind of serious consideration (including the Selected Ten). And at that point it came down to basic gut instinct. And while I picked the exact Ten I wanted, I feel guilty having to leave some of them out. But that’s how this shit works. And life! Life works that too. With the shit and everything. Sometimes.

I apologize. I know how terrific good feedback can feel and how buoying it can be to the spirit. Hell, it was buoying MY spirit just thinking about connecting with many of you. Though it might not seem so, I enjoy being encouraging. And this was a good opportunity for that. Anyway, if it makes you feel any better, I am a total crapface, as I overpromised and underdelivered, and there’s nothing in the world I hate doing more than that. And do you really want accolades from a crapface? No. You don’t. They’re meaningless. Trust me, as a crapface, on this very important point.

OK, so there’s that. In other news, if you’re going to start writing tomorrow, you are – as I believe the youthful parlance goes – “seriously bitching”. Go get it.