“I’m more of the sort of Lars von Trier Breaking the Waves school. The movie [Lion] is primarily an emotional journey, and the movies that matter to me, you experience them here, in the heart and the gut. They’re not such intellectual exercises as visceral and emotional experiences.”
Screenwriter Luke Davies (Lion)

“I made mistakes in drama. I thought drama was when actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries.”
Director Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life)

If asked me what the the two most important posts of the 2,500+ I’ve written over the past 9 1/2 years that would help any writer it would be Conflict—Conflict—Conflict (or my first post on conflict in 2008; Everything I Learned in Film School) and 40 Days of Emotions (Which is a cheat because it’s a reference to 40 other posts). But if there is a bookend to the importance of Conflict—Conflict—Conflict in screenwriting then I think it’s Emotion—Emotion—Emotion.

In Hollywood they don’t buy screenplays, they buy emotion. So if you can make a reader feel something on a very visceral level then it cannot be ignored. Haley Fox was the development executive at the the production company that bought my first screenplay. And she was so passionate about it that she said ‘If you don’t buy this screenplay I am going to quit. I’ve been here seven years, but there’s no need for me to be here.’ She felt that deeply about the material. When writers are coming from a place of truth, facing that hurt we talked about, they can take that hurt, or that rage and put it on the page and then eventually makes it to the big stage of cinema or television because somebody felt something—they felt deeply about it. It can’t be ignored.  And those are the screenplays, teleplays, pilot episodes that sell.”
Screenwriter Paul Castro
Interview with Alex Ferrari on the Indie Film Hustle podcast

Related posts:
40 Days of Emotions
Finding Authentic Emotions (Part 1)   “Everyone wants to find a way out of pain.”—
Alex Blumberg
No Emotions? “Your Screenplay Sucks!”
“Visceral Emotions”
Goal: Elicit Emotions“Emotion grows out of conflict.”—Michael Hague
Emotional Transportation Biz “You don’t talk about what the film was about, you talk about your experience seeing the film: I loved it, I laughed, I cried, I observed. That’s what makes people go to the movies.”—Rain Man Executive Producer Peter Guber
Pity, Fear, Catharsis (Tip #69) 

Scott W. Smith

Write What Hurts

There is a lot of luck to [breaking in], but I also do have to say I wrote a lot. By that time I sold [the screenplay] August Rush I had written 11 feature films—maybe 12. I think you know my philosophy, it’s not write about what you know—it’s write about what you know hurts. Everyone has there little owies from life. Something that’s happened to them—usually it’s from childhood— that has stayed with them, and the writers who are brave enough to go into the belly of the beast of that situation early on don’t have to write the 9,10, or 12 scripts they can actually nail it on the first, second or third time. You don’t have to write about that situation—it’s about writing about that emotion. So what is an emotion that when the wave retracts of something that was horrifying, or embarrassing, or shameful to you that when that wave retracts what are the seashell gems left behind? What is that emotion?”
Screenwriter Paul Castro
Interview with Alex Ferrari on the Indie Film Hustle podcast

Related post: 40 Days of Emotions

You’ve got to have a story and characters the audience will love. [Oscar-winning screenwriter] Callie Khori invited me to speak to the screenwriter’s guild and she said ‘you make a movie by making the audience love the characters and then you torture them.”
Dr. Art DeVany (Former UCLA economics professor who created mathematical and statistical models to precisely describe the motion picture market.)
Podcast interview with Tim Ferriss 

Related posts:
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (part 2):
“Baboom! Something comes in and turns your character’s life upside down. The thing that was their grand passion gets taken away from them. Woody gets displaced by Buzz.”—Michael Arndt on Toy Story
The End of the Rope Club (Oscars ’14)

I did a binge watch of The People v. O.J. Simpson over the weekend and finished all ten episodes in three days. It was a remarkably well crafted production of a sad chapter in recent American history. It captivated the country in a pre-internet saturated world, and in terms of celebrity, money, power, injustice, domestic viloence, sexism and racism seems more relevant today than when they happened in 1995. Or at least gives a layer of context of how where we got where we are today.

The multiple Emmy winning TV program which aired on FX last year (and currently available on Netflix) was based on  The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. by Jeffrey Toobin.

One way of looking at the case is that it had everything that obsessed the American people: It had sex; it had race; it had Hollywood; it had sports; and the only eyewitness was a dog. So for the first time in American history, you had this strange convergence of so many factors, each one of which would have made the case interesting, but all of them together created this really earthquake of interest.

“…O.J. Simpson was probably the most famous person ever accused of murder in the United States, so you start with that. Also, you had it in a setting that was really the most glamorous place in the United States — Los Angeles, wealthy people. And then you had the element of mystery. It was not, whatever you think, an open-and-shut case. You had to sort of figure out what happened. And then what really pushed the case into the stratosphere of interest was the Bronco chase, the way he was arrested on national television in the middle of the NBA playoffs, watched by tens of millions of people.

“The case was building as soon as the crime was uncovered, but once the Bronco chase happened, it was just a national obsession. Those of us who were involved kept saying, ‘Well, interest has peaked; it will start to go down now.’ And it never did. Something new always kept coming up that was even more bizarre and fascinating than what had gone forward, until you got to the point of the verdict, when essentially the whole country stopped. Long-distance phone calls dropped during that period. Trading on the stock exchange dropped. Everything simply stopped for the announcement of the verdict, because that’s how much the country was interested.”
Jeffery Toobin
2005 Frontline Interview

 Scott W. Smith



When I started this blog I didn’t have any long terms plans. I certainly didn’t think that 9 1/2 years later I’d still be writing blog posts. I mentioned in January my plans to end this blog on the 10th anniversary of this blog which is six months from today. That’s still my plan.

I have finished a book version of this blog and hope to have that available before the blog end next January. One friend who read the first draft said that it’s like Tim Ferriss’ book Tools of Titans—except from a screenwriting perspective.  I’ll take that compliment.

The similarities being I’ve pulled hundreds of quotes from some of the most accomplished screenwriters and filmmaker throughout film history and tired to bring them together in a cohesive and inspirational way.

And speaking of inspirational…this morning I did something for the first time, but something I’d been thinking about doing for a couple of years—I  took a few first steps into the world of triathletes. I sprinted/walked one mile, swam 400 yards, and biked 10 miles.

I don’t have any ironman dreams, but I’d like to compete in a sprint triathlon in the next six months.  The sprint triathlon tend to look something like this: swim 500 yards, a 12.5 mile-bike, and a 5k-run. There is a sprint triathlon in nearby Clermont, in the greater Orlando area, this September and that could be my first attempt. (Clermont is home to the National Training Center, where many professional athletes have trained.)

Merely completing a sprint triathlon may not be the most ambitious goal, but for those of you who’ve followed this blog for a few years may recall I went through chemo and radiation treatment for cancer at the end of 2014. So the past 2 1/2 years have been a slow and steady build up to get back to “normal.” 

So between doing a sprint triathlon and finally getting a book out there—the next six months should be interesting. And even as I work on ending this blog, I am working on a new creative educational venture. 

Many thanks to those of who you’ve been along for the journey.

Scott W. Smith 





“The most important thing is the story. We need to be telling a better story.”
Attorney Johnny Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) in The People v. O.J. Simpson

This morning I woke up at 4:30 AM unintentionally and did what any other sane person would do—I watched the first episode of The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story  on Netflix. I missed it when it first aired last year on its way to winning nine Primetime Emmys including Outstanding Limited Series.

Of course it was fueled buy the announcement yesterday that O.J. Simpson would be released in October after spending nine year in a Nevada prison. The sports world is full of fall-from-grace stories (Pete Rose, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, etc.) but O.J. Simpson—The Juice— may be at the top of the heap.

I remember very clearly pulling for O.J. Simpson in 1973 as I watched the snowy game on TV as he not only beat Jim Brown rushing record, but became the first NFL running back to rush for more than 2,000 in a single season.

He would go on to become a broadcaster, and an actor in Hollywood movies, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. For those of you not even born in 1995 when O.J Simpson was on trial for murder of his ex-wife and Ron Goldman. It was called the “trial of the century” because O.J. Simpson was a well liked, and huge celebrity.

Watching The People Vs. O.J. Simpson brought back a few memories off how that story intersected with culture in general and my world in particular.

Los Angeles: I lived in L.A. from 1982 to 1987. While in film school I worked for Yary Photography which was co-owned by Ron Yary who was an Outland Trophy winning while at USC and later a Hall-of-Fame player for the Minnesota Vikings. Yary blocked for Simpson when they played together at USC when Simpson one the Heisman Award for being the best player in college football.

Brentwood: One of the shoots I did for Yary Photo was at the Brentwood County Club where golfer Greg Norman was speaking to a group called Friends of College Golf. I showed up in jeans and was told I wouldn’t be allowed into the clubhouse. I hadn’t got that memo so they gave me some tacky golf pants to wear for the shoot. The Brentwood County backs up to less than 1,000 feet where Nicole Simpson was killed.

White Bronco: I was on location for a video shoot in Morgantown, West Virginia when I was walking down the main drag near the University of West Virginia where there is restaurant and bar after restaurant and bar. I walked down the sidewalk I noticed that every TV was what appeared to be the same shot. A areal view of a a white Bronco driving on an interstate. I finally stepped inside on establishment to see what that was all about and learned it was O.J. Simpson on the run from police. That was 1994 and 94 million people saw that slow speed chase on TV.

Eric Dickerson: I hate to bring former NFL running back Eric Dickerson into O.J.’s world, but in 1984 Dickerson beat Simpsons rushing record by rushing for 2,105 yards. I took the team photo for the Rams during the ’85 season working for Yary Photo, and in ’87 filmed an interview with Dickerson at his home in Calabasas, California and had him sign a 16X20 print of that team photo. (I still have that signed photo 30 years later.)

Florida: Is the world ready to have President Donald Trump and O.J. Simpson (and the media circus that will follow) in the same state at the same time. Probably both in South Florida. More stories for the “Florida Man” files.   I bet Carl Hiaasen finished the first chapter of an O.J.-like character returning to Florida inspired novel last night.

Watching episode 1 of The People Vs. O.J. Simpson was as perfect as TV gets. Writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski did an outstanding job. Just a few months ago I read the shooting script for The People v. Larry Flynt. A movie I’ve yet to see, but amazing how they pulled off the screenwriting equivalent of a ice skating triple axel.

And I look forward to finally seeing the rest of the episodes, including “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” for which D.V. DeVincentis  won Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or a Dramatic Special Emmy for writing.

Scott W. Smith







There is often strong connection between the inciting incident, the characterization of the protagonist, and the objective (and even the obstacles and the climax). The respective protagonists of Ikiru, Haut les caeur! and Breaking Bad have the same inciting incidents: they learn they have cancer. But because they don’t have the same characterization, that inciting incident doesn’t trigger the same objectives. In the first case, Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) stops working and fights to construct a garden for children in the center of town. In the second case, Emma (Karin Viard) struggles with whether she should keep the child she’s carrying. In the third case, Walter (Bryan Cranston) starts cooking meth to provide for his family. 

“Too often I see loglines with no logical connection between the inciting incident, the protagonist, and the objective. Make sure that yours makes this coherence apparent.”
Yves Lavandier
Constructing a Story
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