Archive for the ‘screenwriting tips’ Category

“My first eight to 10 scripts were pretty horrendous, but I stayed at it, stayed at it, and stayed at it, until I eventually found a voice and a subject like Rocky that people were interested in.”
Writer, director, actor Sylvester Stallone

Yesterday’s post was a Christopher Lockhart quote about how nobody who reads scripts cares about screenwriting rules—only a great script. Or as Lockhart says in other places “the right script.” I’ve heard others say there are no rules—but break them at your own peril. And, “There are no rules, only guidelines.”  And yet another common phrase is,”know the rules before you break them.”

Is there any way to bring a synithsis to these somewhat opposing views?

I look at writers and filmmakers like I do athletes. Being tall is an advantage in basketball, but not in horseracing. And even within the same sport like American football each position has different requirements. Having the ability to catch a football is a basic requirement of a wide receiver but not expected at all of a left guard playing offense. One has the gift of catching, the other of blocking. There are hall of fame players who wouldn’t even make the team if they had to line up at a position that didn’t play up their strengths.

Screenwriters tend to have strengths in one or two particular genres. And even working screenwriters have a mixed writer’s grab bag of some of the following traits in their writing; great characters, solid story structure, snappy dialogue, humorous dialogue, minimal dialogue, emotional writing, theme, visual storytelling, etc, etc.

Maybe the problem with the word “rules” is we’ve all read and/or written scripts that have followed basic accepted rules of screenwriting and are lifeless. Most if not all script readers say that they only recommend between 2-10% of the scripts they read. But I honestly think that has less to do with rules, and more with talent and how it’s developed.

You may have heard the story about how Michael Jordan,  one of the greatest professional basketball players of all time, was once cut from his high school basketball team.  He had talent, but it needed to be developed. He had to hone what worked with his skill set. He had to play the game a little better.

So while Lockhart says there are no rules, if you listen his whole one hour Final Draft webinar you will find plenty of suggestions based on his years of experience that will help develop your talent and hone your skill set. Here’s some bullet points that jumped out at me. If we don’t call them rules, maybe we can just call them realities.

(Note these are my quick notes from the Q&A with Lockhart not direct quotes. Any errors are mine.)

—Active portagonist: The script revolves around this character. The one who makes everything happen and who moves the story forward. Is in almost every scene. And has to be involved in the climax of the story. Good example: Taken.

—Emotional range: Lead actors like to play roles with a wide range of emotions.

8 to 10 pages: No set page count when he knows a script is working, but if it hasn’t happened by page 8-10 experience tells him that it’s probably not going to happen.

Visual conflict: Watch the movie Insomnia (2002) 

—Starting Out: Find a manager willing to work with new writers. Know that every writer with an agent, at one time didn’t have an agent. For an unknown to get recognized with an agency like CAA/WME you need to bring some kind of heat to the table, like having a film at Sundance or be a Nicoll finalist. An agent wants to represent you when you have something to sell (or ready for assignments), a manager will help you get to that place.

—One right script. It may take you ten scripts to write that one right script, but you only need one to open doors. It may not get made, but solid scripts always advance a writer’s career.

—Pitching stories: 
Getting in the room to pitch a story is reserved for experienced writers.

—Screenwriting contests: The majority of contests don’t open doors, but they give writers goals and deadlines which are helpful.

—High concept: Best chance for new writers to get traction.

—Query letters/emails: A query from Canada can land on the right desk and get noticed. Never put the word “query” in subject of email—just the script title. Put your logline at the top of the email or letter. Example: “Hi Chris, I have a new horror thriller it’s about a psychiatrist who struggles to help a young boy overcome a bizarre affliction—the boy sees dead people. It’s called the Sixth Sense.”

—Movies vs. TV: In movies the story is in the foreground and in TV the characters are in the foreground.

—Hustle: If you don’t want to hustle then the film business may not be the best career for you. Writing is only about 50% of the job. It’s not rude to ask someone to read your script at a party, standing in line, walking down the street—that’s your job. Just be respectful. When networking realize that people want to work with people they like and want to be around. (i.e. Don’t be a dick.)

—Voice: Not about the words you use, but how you tell the story.

—Page count: In theory, 100-120 pages is the norm in Hollywood.

—Living in LA: You can write from anywhere, but you have to be able to take meetings in LA. (And if you’re Joe Blow/Jo Blow from Idaho traveling to LA comes out of your pocket.) If you do live in Idaho concentrate on writing the right script that will get traction. (That’s what Diablo Cody did with Juno when living in Minneapolis.)  Kevin Fox (Queens of Supreme, Lie to Me) lives in New jersey.

—Treatments: Joe Blows in Idaho don’t sell treatments.

—Pitchfests: Good place if you have the money to get learning experience (but the chances of actually selling a pitch are slim because the people you’re pitching to tend to be from the lowest level of the places they represent).

—Read newly sold scripts: It’s helpful to get your hands on scripts that just sold and see how it creates the movie in your head without any preconceived notion of actors. Understand why that script sold.

Related posts:

Christopher Lockhart (Q&A Part 1)
Christopher Lockhart (Q&A Part 2)
Christopher Lockhart (Q&A Part 3)
Christopher Lockhart (Q&A Part 4)
Christopher Lockhart (Q&A Part 5)

Scott W. Smith

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“About rule breaking—there are no rules. Do whatever you have to do—it doesn’t matter. Nobody cares. Listen to me, I’ve read 30,000 screenplays, I work at WME, and I’m telling you anybody in this business who reads scripts doesn’t given a flying f*#k about the rules. All they care about is a really great script. And as a writer you have to do what you have to do in order to communicate your story to the reader.”
WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart
Final Draft Webinar

Related post:
Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule
Everything I Learned in Film School (Tip #1)
“Everything Was Perfect…”
Neil Simon on Conflict
Getting Your Script Read (Tip #51) Another Lockhart quote.

Scott W. Smith


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“Remember that scripts are not so much written as rewritten and rewritten and rewritten (Mark Twain’s rule for writing: ‘Apply seat of pants to chair’). During a period of nearly ten years when I was under contract to a British studio, first as a contract screenwriter, then later as a writer/director, a pattern emerged. Every screenplay that finally became a film was rewritten a minimum of five and a maximum of seven times. There was no explicit rule about this, nobody could explain why it became standard practice—it just worked out that way. Another noticeable pattern was that many subjects did not even reach screenplay form at all and were scrapped after the first draft (while a script that required too many re-writes was usually abandoned after the seventh draft.) So plunge ahead regardless. Don’t wait to get it right, just get it written.”
Writer/Director Alexander Mackendrick (Sweet Smell of Success)
On Film-making edited by Paul Cronin

Related links:
Writing & Rewriting “Pretty Woman” (Part 1)
Writing & Rewriting “Pretty Woman” (Part 2)
Coppola and Rewriting
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 1)

Scott W. Smith

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My January 1 post Write 2 or 3 Scripts This Year was based on a quote by Christopher Lockhart on how to improve your craft. Today is a nice bookend to that post adding a little advice on one way to chip away at that goal.

“I have a rule: I try to open my script file daily, I say to myself, I must write at least one line. It doesn’t feel hard or overwhelming. And, strangely, when I do open my file, my brain will often find itself dictating a stew of words or concepts that I had no previous conscious sense would come out of me.”
Producer/writer/director Pen Densham (Moll Flanders)
Riding the Alligator

Here’s the trailer to Moll Flanders, a movie based on the Daniel Defoe novel, that Densham wrote and directed. It stars Robin Wright and Morgan Freeman.

P.S. A couple of years ago I did an interview with Densham but never got around to transcribing it. So I’ll make that a point to do this year along with the interview I did with writer.director Dale Lautner (My Cousin Vinny). I’m looking at using something like Dragon Diction to help with those interviews and ones in the future. If you have a system for streamlining an audio interview into a text please pass that info on to me.

Scott W. Smith

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The Twilight Zone was in peril of not being renewed, season after season. It was not a hit, rating-wise; succès d’estime, yes but not the sort of series anyone could have predicted would be running thirty years later. [Rod] Serling’s skill as a writer has a lot to do with that…also his compassion for the human race as he saw it around him, from day to day. His optimism about the human condition led to stories that made one feel good about the race and its chances for emotional triumph. That, well told, will always sell.”
Producer Buck Houghton (The Twilight Zone)
What a Producer Does (First published in 1991)

P.S. Look at this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominations and look back on past Oscar-winning Best Pictures and see how many end showing an “emotional triumph.” Not all, but it’s an interesting gauge. And even in death there can be an emotional triumph—Gladiator, Titanic, Braveheart.

“The Twilight Zone at its best is better than anything else I’ve ever seen on television…Walking Distance is maybe the show’s best episode.”
Producer/Writer/director J.J. Abrams (LOST)
Time/ Top 10 Twilight Zone Episodes

Related Posts:
The Twilight Zone Secrets
Rod Serling’s Binghamton Roots
Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany
40 Days of Emotions

Scott W. Smith

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Warning: Even though I’m dealing with some older films, I still feel I need to mention that there are some spoilers today.

“A good ending must be decisive, set-up, and inevitable—but nonetheless unexpected.”
Screenwriter Terry Rossio
Wordplayer, The Big Finish

“Endings, frankly, are a bitch.”
Two-time Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman
Adventures in the Screen Trade

In yesterday’s post Chaplin on Clichés I mentioned the only four choices to conclude your screenplay were “a happy ending, a sad ending, an ambiguous ending, or an ironic ending.” And while that’s true of probably 99.9% of all films I realized that there is another rarely used option. Just as there are cross-genre movies, I believe there are a few movies that have mixed endings.

First let’s recap the cross or mixed genre angle. A good example would be The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) —it’s a horror film, a comedy, and a musical. Quentin Tarantino’s vast film knowledge may make him the master of cross breeding genres. Django Unchained is part historical drama, part western, part comedy, part action, part love story—part something else when Tarantino drops in the ’70s Jim Croce song in at a pivotal point in the film which he also directed.

Tarantino pulled it off and walked away with the Oscar for writing Django Unchained. So mixing things up can be good.

But it’s easier to mix genres than endings. In the Robert Zemeckis directed film Cast Away Tom Hanks stars as a Fed Ex executive who becomes a modern-day Robinson Crusoe when a plane crash leaves him stranded on a deserted island. It’s the film that came to mind as a film with a mix of endings. (Maybe it doesn’t—maybe it’s more an example of a couple false endings.) First let me define what I mean by happy, sad, ironic and ambiguous endings:

Happy: The Graduate, The Shawshank Redemption, It’s a Wonderful Life: Up endings where the guy gets the girl, there’s freedom in paradise, the shark’s killed, and/or order restored.
Sad: The Perfect Storm, Chinatown, Buried: Down endings, often where a key protagonist dies. And in some cases with injustice or evil prevailing. Sometimes what’s stated is just the hard realities of life, other times leaning toward nihilism (life has no meaning) as director Ingmar Bergam once said,” We are trapped in the senseless illusion of human history and we realize at the end that all hope is gone.” (Often found in art  house and foreign films). And yet a sad or down ending can be like a greek tragedy serving as a cautionary tale like Death of a Salesman (Don’t spend your life climbing the wrong ladder).
Ironic: Rocky, Toy Story 3, Silence of the Lambs: This is the core of many great endings. It’s where the hero doesn’t get their intended goal, but gains something greater. Or they get their goal, but lose something else. Rocky loses the fight, but gets the girl and gains self-esteem. Clarice gets the serial killer Buffalo Bill, but psychopath Hannibal escapes. Jack saves Rose’s life in Titanic, but sacrifces his life in the process.
Ambiguous: Memento, The Wrestler, 2001 A Space Odyssey: The “chose your own adventure” of the group. You decide what happened to the characters.  Filmmakers of ambiguous endings tend to say things like, “I think it’s best if audiences bring their own conclusion to what happened to the main characters.” Many times the audiences just walks out confused.  (Tough endings at the box office, but in a few cases where audiences go back to a film again hoping to figure the film  can result in a healthy box office. But most times audiences are still just as confused as they were at the ending to the TV show LOST.)

So how was Cast Away a mixed ending? (At least the movie could have ended at any of these points.)
Happy: Tom Hanks’ character survives years on the deserted island…
Sad:  But discovers his fiancé is now married with children (Bummer).
Ironic: But it turns out that they still have deep feelings for each other and end up kissing. (This whole sequence is filled with emotions and very well done.) Sitting in his old jeep he tells his one time fiancé (Helen Hunt) that’s “It’s time to go home.” And just we think they’re going to ride off into the sunset (even though it’s at night and raining),  he pulls into her driveway and sends her back to her replacement family. They love each other but they can’t be together.  His goal of reuniting with the woman he loves is crushed. But he’s grateful for that love because that hope of being with her kept him alive all those years he fought for survival on the deserted island.
Ambiguous: Now what’s he going to do? Where’s he going to go? There’s a blimp of hope that he’ll end up with the artist who the audience was introduced to at the beginning of the film because he has a package to deliver to her at the end of the film. But she’s not home so he leaves the package and a note. So where’s he going to go now? His jeep sits at a four-way intersection in the middle of remote Texas and this is what happens:

The angel wings on the back of the truck tell Hanks that’s the artist he just dropped the package off for. I believe most people in the audience are begging Hanks to at least explore that option. Zemeckis, Boyles, Hanks, and every executive at Twentieth Century Fox had to know that’s what the audience wanted. They may have even shot the scene where after some contemplation he at least heads his Jeep down the dirt road toward the angel wing women’s house. I think that’s how Chaplin would have ended it.

“I’m not afraid of doing a cliché, if it’s right. We don’t wade through our existence with any sort of originality. We all live and die and eat three meals a day, and fall in and out of love, and the rest of it. So people say, that’s been done before. So what? In avoiding clichés I think one can become dull.”
Charlie Chaplin

Which way does he go? This is the last sentence from Boyles’ screenplay from Cast Away—The Shooting Script:

“It doesn’t really matter which way he goes. At some point in life’s grand journey you just have to let go of the oars and have faith. His new life begins…now. The end is just the beginning.”

The last shot fades out on a close-up of Hanks contemplating where to go next. My guess is Zemeckis and Broyles decided end on ambiguity–to avoid the happy ending cliché. I thought they already did a great job avoiding cliché by having his fiancé be married.

Cast Away screenwriter William Broyles  Jr. later said, “Chucks’s first words of dialogue in the movie is ‘time.’ Time runs his life and for six years time ran our lives as we made this movie. His last words are ‘thank you,’ an expression of gratitude which defines his transformation.” Intellectually I think he’s 100% correct. Dramatically he has taken the Hanks character on a classic journey where he returned a better man.  But emotionally is where ambiguous endings often falls short.

Would Hanks at least getting in his Jeep and heading down the dirt road toward the artist have been, to borrow Michael Arndt’s words, an Insanely Great Ending? (Insanely Great = positive & surprising and meaningful.) We’ll never know. But I did find a version of the script (marked 3rd draft) where Hanks’ character ends up in a remote area talking to (ironically) a Fed Ex driver named Erica.

          What brings you out to the sticks?

          Had a package to deliver.

          You?  Personally?

          I had it on the island with me.

          Must be a story there.

There's a connection building here, effortlessly.


We are wide on the beach, watching the truck move along the
water, kicking up wisps of sand.

                     CHUCK (V.O.)
          Yeah, a long one.

                     ERICA (V.O.)
          I've got lots of time.

                     CHUCK (V.O.)
          So do I.

The truck goes down the beach and then turns inland, away
from the ocean.  Away from all that.

                     CHUCK (V.O.)
          So do I.

And we pull back, taking in the sweep of the beach, the
estuaries, and the green forest stretching back into America.

The end is the beginning.

A little less ambiguous.  It took six years to make Cast Away and it would be fascinating to learn how the filmmakers wrestled with the ending during that time. 
Update 1/6/14: I wondered if I could find any movie critics addressing the Cast Away ending and found this Stephen Holden quote from the NY Times: 
"Because the conflict between romantic convention and the movie's angst is never resolved, 'Cast Away' leaves us hanging. But that final, lurking ambiguity is a small price to pay for the primal force of what has come before."

P.S. I believe it's on the 20th Anniversary DVD of The Shawshank Redemption where writer/director Frank Darabont said he wanted to end Shawshank simply by having the Morgan Freeman character being freed from prison and riding off on a bus. Fade to black. Ambiguous. But the producers pushed for him to at least shoot a sequence where Red and Andy are reunited on a beautiful island paradise. The ending the audience yearned for. The ending that was set-up in the script. Darabont basically said that if they would have used his ambiguous ending Shawshank would not be the highly regarded film it is today and he wouldn't be doing a 2oth anniversary commentary.  

Related post: Insanley Great Endings (Part 2) Michale Ardndt makes the case for knowing your ending first.

Scott  W. Smith

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Looking for a New Year’s screenwriting resolution? Here’s one nicely tucked in just two sentences that you can adopt:

“The road to Hollywood is neither a sprint nor a marathon…it’s a death march. The smartest things you can do to advance your craft and career are to read scripts, watch movies, be up to date on the current script marketplace/industry, network, and write 2-3 scripts a year.”
Christopher Lockhart
WME Story Editor, Producer

And as a bonus link to learn how to get started today (and exactly what equipment you’ll need) to write those 2 or 3 screenplays this year, check out screenwriter Brian Koppelman’s video Six second screenwriting lesson No. 121.

P.S. And that second Lockhart sentence is good even if your goal is making indie films in unlikely places. (My WordPress annual report said last year this blog had readers in 191 countries. Thanks for stopping by and best wishes for you and your writing this year.)

Related Posts:
The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70)   “I would say 99% of your effort should go to writing a good script.”—Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3)
Bob DeRosa’s “Shortcuts” “There are no shortcuts. There is only hard work. Perseverance. Luck. Craft. Failure. Success. Mistakes. And yes, dreams that come true.” Bob DeRosa (The Killers)
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2) “For me, it was a matter of years of trying to develop my writing in the same way that some people spend years learning to play the violin.” Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption)
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously)” “I lived in a tiny studio apartment…” John Logan (Hugo)
How to Become a Successful Screenwriter (Tip #41) “When you’re starting out, it’s hard to imagine how you’ll ever ‘succeed.’” Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3)

Scott W. Smith

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Steven R. Covey
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Habit #2)

After I wrote the last screenwriting tip, Writing Good Bad Guys (Tip #85), I discovered a Facebook thread over at The Inside Pitch where WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart listed some of his favorite bad characters in movies. (I’ve added his list to that post.) The first character mentioned was Archibald Cunningham (Tim Roth) in Rob Roy. I’d never seen that 1995 movie before and caught it on Netflix over the week.

Tom Roth’s character is in fact a bad guy of the highest caliber. No question there. It made me want to find a screenwriting quote from Scottish born writer Alan Sharp (Rob Roy, Night Moves, My Talks with Dean Spanley) who just died earlier this year.

“I try to get the story to tell itself from front to back. It’s very helpful to have a final scene in mind, a sort of destination, if you like, but often that doesn’t reveal itself until you’ve taken a number of false turns. Re-writing is the key and the ability to view previous drafts as material to be changed, cut and shaped. Start thick and end up thin.”
Screenwriter Alan Sharp
RT Burns Club Interview with Scottish Screen Writer Alan Sharp 

Here’s a scene from Rob Roy where actors Jessica Lange, Brian Cox, and Tim Roth, under the direction of Michael Canton-Jones, and the cinematography of Karl Walter Lindenlaub bring to life Sharp’s words. (Semi-spolier note: It’s a powerful scene that does foreshadow the wonderful Rob Roy ending.)

P.S. Rob Roy was overshadowed at the box office in 1995 by that other Scottish-centered movie Braveheart. Both films stand on their own as well made movies, and I’m sure more than one person has done an analysis of the similarities and differences of both films. Both Liam Neeson and Mel Gibson are characters at the end of their rope.  One has a theme of intergity and the other about freedom. But from my limited knowledge Rob Roy MacGregor (even by Sharp’s admission) was a minor character in Scottish history. William Wallace was a major leader in the War of Scottish Independence. Given the choice to pick a major or minor character in writing an epic film—go with the major character.

But I think what really separated the two films is Rob Roy had a good ending and Braveheart (to use Michael Arndt’s words) had an insanley great ending. Braveheart’s highly emotional scene hit audiences hard.

Braveheart walked away with five Oscars including best picture and is listed at #80 on the IMDB Top 250 chart. Rob Roy is unfortunately still known more as a cocktail.

Related Posts:
Insanely Great Endings
Insanely Great Endings (Part 2)
Earn Your Ending (Tip #76) Writer/director Edward Burns on It’s a Wonderful Life
Coppola and Rewriting
Screenwriting Quote #177 David O. Russell quote about rewriting Silver Linings Playbook “over 20 times.”

Scott W. Smith

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“Every villain is the hero of his own story.”
Actor Tom Hiddleston

“This was my first time acting, or even thinking about acting.”
Actor Barkhad Abdi (Lead freighter hijacker in Captain Phillips)
NPR Interview, October 20, 2013

The thing that surprised me most when I first visited Minnesota more than 15 years ago was how many Somalians lived there. (Today there are more Somalians living in the Twin Cities than any other place in the United States.) So it’s no surprise that Hollywood went to Minneapolis when it was looking for Somalians to cast in the movie Captain Phillips.

Barkhad Abdi was one of more than 700 people who showed up for an open audition in Minneapolis and I bet he was surprised when he walked away with the lead Somalian hijacker role (Muse) acting opposite two-time Oscar-winner Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips). And maybe even more suprised when he recieved a SAG nomination yesterday. Not a bad first acting gig.

“I hope people understand the culture clash between these very, very different characters, Capt. Phillips and Muse. One had just, the normal life, you know, he went to school, college, graduated, family, and now he [has] a job. And the other one is just someone that grew up in a war-torn country, that had no hope, no school, no job, no government, nothing…A ruthless man who has nothing to lose. A man who has nothing to lose is dangerous. So, that’s how I became his character.”
Barkhad Abdi
NPR Interview

I remember seeing the trailer for Captain Phillips (“Look at me. I’m the captain now.”) thinking of Abdi “that dude looks real.” Film is about illusion so it’s no surprise that he had no acting experience. That’s not uncharted territory. Remember last year when Quvenzhane Wallis received an Oscar-nomination for her first role in Beasts of the Southern Wild? There’s also the trained Cambodian physician Haing S. Ngor who came to the U.S. with no formal acting experience and won an Oscar in his first film, The Killing Fields. (Bruce Robinson also recieved an Oscar-nomination for his script of that 1984 film.)

But good filmmaking is also about experienced, skilled people working together—and the Captain Phillips cast and crew had that in abundance. They were led by documentary trained director Paul Greengrass known for his work directing The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, and United 93 (for which he received an Oscar nomination).

And there was screenwriter Billy Ray (The Hunger Games) to bring his more than 20 years of experience writing the script based on the book A Captain’s Duty by Richard Phillips and Stephan Talty.

“From the beginning we were very determined that we didn’t want cardboard bad guys. That’s just not good writing. You always want to dimentionalize your characters whenever possible, whether they’re good guys or bad guys. You always want them to look like full, actualized human beings. Not so much that audiences can sympathize, but so that audiences can understand and maybe recognize a piece of human behavior in those characters and that was very important to me.”
Billy Ray
Interview with Captain Phillips screenplay writer Billy Ray at NYFF premiere

P.S. A clip that always come to mind of an evil character is from Schindler’s List. (And an example of no dialogue needed.)

Update 12/16/13:

From a Facebook thread on The Inside Pitch here’s a list (off the top of his head) of good bad guys by WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart:
Rob Roy/ Archibald Cunningham  (Tim Roth)
In the Line of Fire/Mitch Leary (John Malkovich
Working Girl/Kathrine Parker(Sigourney Weaver)
Bravehart/ Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan)
RoboCop (1987)/ Clarence J. Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith)
Schindler’s List/ Amon Goeth (Ralph Finnes)
The Wizard of Oz/ Miss Gulch/The Wicker Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton)
Kiss of Death (1947)/ Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark)
White Heat/ Cody Jarrett  (James Cagney)
Training Day/ Det. Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington)
Also noting that Gary Oldman (JFK, Bram Stroker’s Dracula, True Romance, Murder in the First) , Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road, The Iceman, Man of Steel) and Kevin Spacey (Se7en) “all play good bad guys when they play them.”

And I found this video on evil characters as well:

P.S. Can anybody  recommend a Solmalian-made film that can give those outside Africa a different view of the country and its people? I did find a Wikipedia link to the Cinema of Somalia—but I’d love to learn about screenwriting from Somalia and the country’s filmmakers.

Related posts:

Screenwriting Quote #172 (Christopher Lockhart) “You just have to ask yourself, “Okay I’ve seen this a million times, so what can I do to make it a little different?” (I think Captain Phillips fits the “unique, but familiar” mold.)
“To Live or Die?” “The best drama for me is one which shows a man in danger. There is no action when there is no danger. To live or die? What drama is greater?”—Howard Hawks / “I would never write about a character who is not at the end of his rope.”—Stanley Elkin
Don’t Bore the Audience! Can Tennesee Williams and UCLA’s Richard Walter both be wrong?
Starting Your Screenplay (Tip #6) “Who is your hero, what does he want, and what stands in his way?”—Paddy Chayefsky
Writing “Black Hawk Down” Another Somalia-based story

Related links:
The Screenwriter’s Guide To Movie Villains Screenwriting Spark as gather more than 40 links related to movie villains
BBC News Somalia Profile
AFI’s 100 Heroes & Villains (
And in this racially sensitive culture we still live in I feel the need to point out that the top villains are all white—except for Bruce the shark in JAWS and the Alien in Alien—and the first film black villain on AFI’s list is #50 Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) in Training Day. (Okay, #3 villain Darth Vader did have James Earl Jones’ voice—but Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates, the Wicked Witch of the West and the rest of the AFI list are all crazy white people. So please hold off on the emails.)

Scott W. Smith


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“The truth is your friend.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Nicholas Kazan (Reversal of Fortune)

“Truth is not found in the sunshine, truth is found in the shadows.”
Novelist Paul Lieberman (Gangster Squad: Covert Cops, the Mob, and the Battle for Los Angeles)
Interview with Jessy Williams

“When I write I don’t aim to shock people, and I’m surprised when I do. But I don’t think that anything that occurs in life should be omitted from art, though the artist should present it in a fashion that is artistic and not ugly. I set out to tell the truth. And sometimes the truth is shocking.”
Screenwriter and Tony & Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tennessee Williams
(A Streetcar Named Desire)
The Paris Review interview with Dotson Radar

BTW—I’m thinking that “I set out to tell the truth. And sometimes the truth is shocking.—Tennessee Williams” would make for a fine sign above one’s writing desk/space. That’s my favorite quote to come across all year. And if you’re keeping score that’s the fourth straight day Tennessee (the state or the playwright) has been mentioned. Think I’ll see if I can keep that trend going all week.

Related Posts:
Hunting for Truth
Telling the Truth=Humor

Scott W. Smith

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