Archive for March, 2021

“The internet is a miraculous things. Just share as much as you can, self-publish, blog, podcast whatever you need to do. Just make sure you are not withholding your gifts from the world. Because you have so many opportunities now….We’re in a new frontier.”
—Diablo Cody

I don’t know if the Scriptnotes podcast was the first podcast I ever listened to, but it is the first one the I ever followed on a regular basis. And since I started listening back in 2011, it’s the one I’ve listened to the most. If you’re interested in screenwriting, then it’s a great place to start. (My goal is to finally launch my screenwriting and filmmaking podcast before Scriptnotes hits its 500th episode soon.)

But I was listening to Scriptnotes episode 492 tiled ”Grey Area” where hosts John August and Craig Mazin talk about a screenwriter who took money saved for screenwriting contests and used it instead to produce her own narrative podcast.

Playwright/screenwriter David Mamet says the best way to test your material is to put it in front of an audience. When he was a struggling playwright in Chicago that’s what he did. Instant feed back. It’s a little harder for screenwriters to just produce their own stuff unless they have production skills and equipment. (Or a small team of filmmaker friends.)

But narrative podcasts are the new middle ground between mounting your work on stage or producing an indie film (or trailer of your idea). Read the post “Screenwriting competitions aren’t worth the money” to read how and why Paige Feldman decided to self-produce the podcast How to Fall in Love the Hard Way.

”I took one of my already-written pilots and adapted it for audio. Then, I hired actors and recorded it remotely over Zoom. I hired a composer to write original music, an artist to design a logo, and used YouTube to teach myself how to edit and process audio. And now I have an audio pilot up across podcasting platforms. Plus, it was such a fun experience that I wrote the remaining nine episodes of season 1 and we’re starting to record them this weekend!
—Paige Feldman

Producer/ manager Mason Novick found Diablo Cody when she was a blogger with a day job in Minneapolis (and not long after she graduated from the University of Iowa). He just stumbled on her writings one night and ask her if she’d ever written a screenplay. She hadn’t. But she did. Then a few years later she collected her Oscar for writing Juno.

That’s a once upon a time in Hollywood story that happens maybe once a decade (a generation?). But if Diablo Cody was starting out today I bet you’d find her gathering some actors in Minneapolis and producing her own narrative podcast on her way to greater success.

In the coming days and weeks I’ll share with you some of the technical aspects of recording, editing, and uploading podcasts.

P.S. If you don’t know the connection between the Mason Novick/Diablo Cody/Juno success and this blog then check out the post Juno Has Another Baby (Emmy)

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

Related posts:
Scriptnotes #300 & The Difference Between Screenwriting and Directing

The 100th Podcast of Scriptnotes

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There is no production related book that I have given to my creative friends more than Jessica Abel’s Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio. There is a 10 part companion podcast of the same name. Both are outstanding. What follows is a re-post from 2017 that fits in well with my current string of posts on podcasting for screenwriters.

“The key to writing fiction and screenplays in terms of character is conflict, just like it is in non-fiction. And you have to come up with what is the thing that’s going to test that character. And how are you going to make evident what they’re all about? If you can’t make it evident through action or the results of action it’s not believable.”
Jessica Abel
Author of Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio

Just a few years ago as the economic dipped and newspapers and magazines started to go out of business or lay off thousands of journalists, some colleges started to drop journalism as an undergraduate or a graduate degree.

Then an interesting phenomenon happened. Podcasts helped revive a new type of audio storytelling.  This American Life, Radiolab, and Serial are currently in the top ten on the iTunes chart and are great examples of audio storytelling/reporting at its best.

On her podcast Out on the Wire, host Jessica Abel explores what radio masters like Ira Glass go through in developing their stories. You may or may not be surprised that the questions are the same ones screenwriters, filmmakers, producers, and studio executive ask when developing their stories.

—What’s the hook?
—What does your protagonist want?
—What’s the inciting incident that disrupts the protagonists life?
—What’s the arc of the story?
—What’s the central conflict?
—Where’s the special sauce?
—Why is it interesting?
—How are the stakes raised?
—What’s universal about this story?
—How will it resonate with an audience?
—What’s the focus sentence? (More on that tomorrow.)
—Is there mystery, surprise, and irony?
—Is there a “You won’t f-ing believe it!” moment?
—Who or what changes?
—What’s the theme? What’s the takeaway when it’s all over?
—How do you make the story land most effectively?

Over the years since graduating from film school I’ve worked professionally in film, television, newspaper, photography, radio, and video production (and non-professionally in theater), which possibly makes podcasting my next frontier to explore creatively.

The tools for working in audio (a microphone, a recorder, headphones, an XLR cord, computer/editing software and batteries) are cheaper to acquire than what’s needed for shooting video/film projects. That and the fact you can work solo, you don’t have to have a college degree (or even have finished high school yet), perhaps explain the rise in individual podcasts.

Sure there’s a gap in storytelling quality between the person just starting out and This American Life, but even Ira Glass said he was bad for a long time before he became good, and eventually great.

On Episode 1 of On the Wire Jessica interviews Stephanie Foo (@imontheradio) a former young skateboarder who once had a podcast with a few listeners called Get Me on This American Life (that she says wasn’t legit but got her press passes). That opened an opportunity to work on Snap Judgmentand she now is a legit producer at This American Life.

In that interview I think they hit on a universal truth; in the world of storytelling it is not only the protagonist who struggles toward their goal, but the storyteller does as well.

Jessica Abel: What do you want to say to the skateboarding girl who was pretending to journalist, who had a podcast Get Me on This American Life? 

Stephanie Foo: “I wouldn’t talk to that girl because she was excited. I would talk to the girl who was at Snap Judgment producing five stories in a week and feeling like her head was going to explode, and that she was crazy and not good at her job. And I would just say you’re in it.  This what it takes to be good. And it’s working. And you might not feel like it’s working, because you might be buried in a million stories. And you might not be able to find your way out. And the bosses might be like arguing with you, and everybody at work might be an absolute chaotic mess. But that’s what it takes. That’s what everybody goes through to become good. Getting completely messy, feeling completely lost is absolutely necessary to finding your way out and becoming good.

Jessica: The German Forest.

Stephanie: Yeah, the Dark Forest, exactly. Getting completely lost, over and over and over again. Because each time you find different paths out. And so at a certain point you can go almost anywhere and know how to find your way back. It’s kind of nice. 

In 2021, Stephanie launched the podcast Home. Made. where “every home has a story.”

P.S. If you want to do some workshops or gather info on audio storytelling check out the Transom website located in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Related post:
Conflict, Conflict, Conflict
Ira Glass on Storytelling
The Major or Central Dramatic Question Commitment in the Face of Failure
Finding Authentic Emotions “Just because it’s a worthy cause doesn’t make it interesting.”— Alex Blumberg

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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“In essence, we’re in a new golden age in audio.”
—Alex Blumberg

There have been a few moments in the last decade that elevated podcasting in contemporary storytelling. But one of the biggest was when Oscar-winning actress Julie Roberts signed up to star in the streaming show Homecoming. Without Roberts, there might not have been that memorable pelican in the office shot. The trained pelican reportedly cost Amazon Studios $25,000 for its day of work. Director San Esmail thought it was important enough to include.

Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg created Homecoming for Gimlet media, and the narrative podcast debuted in 2016 and the Roberts’ version debuted on Amazon Prime two years later. Considering the Serial podcast launched in just 2014 (exploding the popularity of podcasting), we’ve seen considerable change in a short time.

”In a very short time Micah [Bloomberg] has gone form hunting freelance work in a university library to helping run a big budget televison show starring Julie Roberts.”
—Alex Blumburg
Making a TV Series podcast

Dirty John is another example of this new school of rapid prototyping. LA Times reporter Christopher Gooffard’s first venture into podcasting not only capture the nations attention in 2017, but the following year there was already the cable version of Dirty John released staring Eric Bana an Connie Britton.

You could say that started out as a non-fiction story, that was turned into a narrative story, and at the end of the day it was public service announcement on what are the dangers and warning sign to be aware of when finding romantic partners online.

Audio story telling is an honored tradition where creators like Orson Welles before making Citizen Kane, made an impact with the radio version of War of the Worlds. And where Lucille Ball, before making her classic TV series I Love Lucy, was on a popular radio show called My Favorite Husband.

Podcasting is a place where creators can create their stories and get them out into the world. And if they attract a wild audience it can expand into larger productions. I that trend will continue to grow.

P.S. But considering that almost 2 million podcasts have been launched, the fact that I highlighted two home run success stories should be taking with a dose of reality check. Think about dusting off that un-produced script from a few years ago and repurposing it as a narrative podcast. Then be content with getting it produced—even if it only has 100 listeners.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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“The way I recognize a great theme is I feel something when you say it. If I’m intellectually That’s cool, we’re not there yet.”
—Meg LeFauve
The Screenwriting Life, ”Turning Ideas Into Screenplays”

My plan in the coming weeks is to actually walk you though my experience of starting a podcast. But today I’m going shine a light on the podcast The Screenwriting Life co-hosted by screenwriters Meg LeFauve (Inside Out) and Lorien McKenna (who’s worked in the story department at Pixar).

They launched the podcast last year and have done interviews with Ed Soloman (Men in Black), Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird), Mike Jones (SOUL) and others. And here’s a sample of some the titles and topics they’ve covered so far.

“Turning Ideas Into Screenplays”

“Uncover the Theme of Your Screenplay”

“Mastering Structure in Your Screenplay (Parts 1 & II)”

“Enduring the Roller Coaster of Rejection”

”Voice: What It Is and How to Find It”

There are so many free resources out there for screenwriters that just weren’t available 20 or 30 years ago—or even 10 years ago.

And just to show the different directions that screenwriters are pursing in new media, LeFauve recently worked on the web series Breakroom USA.

P.S. If you have a podcast and would be interested in letting me pick your brain for 20 minutes (Libsyn, Buzzsprout, or Podbean?), or you’ve enjoyed this blog and would be interested in telling me what you’d like to hear in a podcast, shoot me an email at info@scottwsmith.com.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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So I started blogging in 2008, and around 2012 Adam Levenberg (author of The Starter Screenplay) said I should start a podcast. That just seemed like more work with very little payoff. But Levenberg’s a smart guy and I should have listened to him. But back in 2012, podcasts were off the radar for most people. (Scriptnotes began in 2011, but I listened to those early shows on my computer rather than my phone.) I point to the fall of 2014 when season one of the Serial podcast dropped. Since then there has been an explosion of podcasts and their popularity. (In the past year, I’ve listened to more free podcasts than watched movies, streaming and TV shows.)

By 2015 I was hooked on podcasts. I think that was the same year the Chris Krimitsos launched the first Podfest in Tampa, Florida. The had 100 gather for that event. Last year Podfest was in Orlando and I started watching the videos with an eye toward launching a podcast. Last week there was a Podfest Global Summit and I watched as many of those as I could. I’ve never heard the word niche spoken so many times in a short time.

But what is screenwriting if it’s not a niche market? In the next week or so I’ll try to pass on what I’ve learned about podcasting and why I think it’s a great avenue for screenwriter to explore. But before we get to narrative and non-narrative podcasting, and how you can launch your own podcast this month, I want to start with the basic concept of starting ugly.

“What is the foundational principle of Starting Ugly? Basically, you need to do some research and planning but then you need to put your ass on the line and take action! That’s your Start Ugly moment.

You can’t wait for perfection. Or to be perfectly organized. You can’t wait for approval. You have to be thoughtful in creating a plan, but more than anything, you must BEGIN.

—Chris Krimitsos
Start Ugly

That reminds me of the story where Bob Seger told Glenn Frey (before he was with the Eagles) that if he wanted to break out from Detroit he needed to write his own songs. Frey said, “Well, what if they’re bad?” Seger said they would be bad, but to stick with it and that’s how you get to be good.

That’s why Scott Beck and Bryan Woods wrote around 30 screenplays before they hit it big with A Quiet Place. It’s why before he became a hit TV writer back in the day, Stephen J. Cannell said that because he was unable to land any film or Tv industry work he went to work for his dad. Then he wrote after work.

“I’d come home every night and write for five hours—I had a snack and wrote from 5:30 to 10:30 and then had dinner. I did that for five years and couldn’t get an agent. I was basically doing spec (sample) scripts for television, but no one would read the stuff. I’d send ’em out and they’d come back—some unopened, some with nasty notes like ‘There’s nothing here.’
—Emmy winning writer/ producer Stephen J. Cannell
GQ, “Exit Interview: A Final Chat with ‘A-Team’ Creator Stephen J. Cannell”

It’s okay to start ugly. And one good thing to come out of this pandemic is we’ve accepted all kinds of bad audio and video production. So the crazy thing is if, you start ugly now, no one is really going to know the difference. And as the pandemic draws to a close (some time) you’ll have improved greatly just by learning as you go.

Now if podcasting is still way off your radar let me point you to the The Messengers: A Podcast Documentary.

P.S. In case you missed my first podcast interview, here it is with Alex Ferrari on Bulletproof Screenwriting. Probably the jump start I needed.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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“The hilltop is lined with corn. Golden and brown. Shimmering in the morning heat.”
The opening like of an early draft of A Quiet Place by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods

I started this blog Screenwriting from Iowa …and Other Unlikely Places in January 2008 soon after seeing Juno and could have ended it in 2018 after The Quiet Place. The screenwriter of Juno screenwriter (Diablo Cody), and the original screenwriters of A Quiet Place (Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) all graduated from the University of Iowa. Cody wrote Juno in Minnesota and the original concept for A Quiet Place began in Iowa. Both were massive hits. They make nice bookends and my point that the creative outliers can make an impact and become insiders.

(Heck, outlier Tyler Perry and his studio have more than a few Hollywood moving trucks heading to Atlanta. If this pandemic lasts for years, Perry is going to be making an offer on the Hollywood sign.)

Their cinematic touchstones include the silent films of Chaplin, the silent-like movies of Jacques Tati. their “gold standard” write/director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Signs, Unbreakable, The Village), Alfred Hitchcock, Alien, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Night of the Living Dead, Attack the Block, and Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. The later shaping the opening of their first draft of A Quiet Place. Here’s a couple quotes pulled from the excellent podcast Script Apart hosted by Al Horner.

Scott Beck: “I think it’s our love of The Twilight Zone series where they do such a good job of throwing you into an environment that you slowly realize in some of these episodes that something is slightly off-kilter. To a degree that by the end of the episode you’re at such a different place than when you started. I think for us it was interesting for us that in the first draft of A Quiet Place where it felt like our own backyard here in Iowa, where you’re just going about your daily chores on a farm, and then all of the sudden five pages in you realize that you’re not in Kansas anymore, you’re not in Iowa any more. There’s something terrifying out there that’s going to kill you if you make a sound. And all of the sudden changing the rules right on page five and then telling the audience like you’re in for a hell of a ride for the next 90 minutes of your time.”

And because I have been accused of overstating how brutally competitive the film business is, here is Woods from the same podcast unpacking the path to getting A Quiet Place made. (One in which they are also grateful to John Krasinski for bringing his talent and sensibilities to the script and pulling of as actor and director.)

Bryan Woods: “Scott and I have been writing scripts ever since we met each other as 12-year-olds. In other words we’d written 30 scripts that never got made—throughout high school, college and into adulthood. And we were trying to crack the code and one of the things you start to realize as you forge a professional career in the film industry is that everybody’s job in film—executives, studio, producers—their job is basically to not make movies. Their job is to read scripts and go ‘Well, we’re not going to make this film because of A, B,C, D, E, F. G.’ So we started about a decade ago to think let’s start writing movies that are scalable. Let’s start writing movies that could be done for a lower budget, or a medium budget, or a bigger budget, and write scripts that are effective at all those levels. That check all of those boxes so that we remove one of the barriers to getting a movie made which is budget, or logistic, or production. A Quiet Place is a perfect example of that. We always talked about that worst case scenerio this is a movie we could go back to Iowa and we could make it for half a million dollars. Use our friends farm that we know out in the country. Assemble a small cast—it could be done. Nothing was going to stop us for making this movie.”

I would actually like to see that low budget version of A Quiet Place. Maybe Paramount can give Beck and Woods half a million to pull that off. Shoot it in three weeks and call it A Quiet Place: Pandemic Version. That could start a whole new trend. They’ve already finished shooting one film during the pandemic, 65. It’s produced by Sam Raimi and stars Ariana GreenblattAdam Driver, and Chloe Coleman.

P.S. Juno hit theaters in 2007—only seven years after Diablo Cody graduated from the Iowa. That was the same year that Scott Beck and Bryan Woods had a short film in the Cedar Rapids Film Festival in Iowa titled The Bride Wore Blood. And I actually had a film called Elephant Dreams at that festival. And things were percolating to start this blog. Things were happing in the Midwest in 2007. My blog eventually resulted in the book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles (which Beck and Woods wrote the introduction to). And now in 2021, things are percolating again. This spring I plan to launch a screenwriting podcast and hope you’ll come along for the journey. I’ll spend a week or so starting tomorrow talking about what I learned at the recent virtual Podfest. I do believe that if Cody was in college today, or Beck in Woods in high school today, that there’s a good chance they’d be cranking out narrative podcasts.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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“Hi John! My dark comedy just made the quarterfinals of the 2020 Academy Nicholl Fellowships competition! Would you be interested in taking a look?”
—Screenwriter Sophie Dawson’s email query to John Zaozirny

I think it was filmmaker Robert Rodriguez who said that every screenwriting class should come with a disclaimer saying basically— You have virtually no chance of making screenwriting a career. And that was before the COVID pandemic. Yet writers are still getting hired, writers are writing, and new writers are still being discovered.

“We had the number one movie on The Black List back in 2020 with Sophie Dawson’s Headhunter. . . . Sophie was someone I found off of a query letter in August and four months later she was the number one writer on The Black List. We’re really happy with the success in terms of finding people and helping launch up and coming writers.”
—Producer and manager John Zaozirny (Eli)
Bulletproof Screenwriting podcast #103

Listen to the entire John Zaozirny interview with Alex Ferrari to be inspired and encouraged (with plenty of realty checks along the way), and to learn about how he and his team at Bellevue Productions function to nurture and develop literary talent. He reps screenwriter Ian Shorr whose script for Infinite (staring Mark Wahlberg and directed Antoine Fuqua) is schedule to be released later this year. You can also find Zaozirny on Twitter @johnzaozirny where he’s given a wealth of information about the film business and on how to approach managers.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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When Alex Ferrari asked WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart (who estimates he’s read over 60,000 scripts in his career) about screenplays that people who want to write screenplays should read, he gave this answer:

“I say this because I use it in my classes—Insomnia. Hillary Seitz wrote a screenplay that was adapted from [the 1997 Norwegian film Insomnia]. The [Seitz] screenplay is much better than the [2002] film. I believe the screenplay for Insomnia—the actual reading experience— is flawless. I would say that is the very best screenplay that I have ever read. I’m not talking about the movie, so don’t go out an watch the movie. I’m talking about reading the screenplay. I think that script was and is brilliant. ’Cause it just does everything that a screenplay should do. And does it so well. And in a fairly complicated way.”
—Christopher Lockhart
Bulletproof Screenwriting podcast #110

Here’s a link to Hillary Seitz’s Insomnia script.

P.S. The 1997 version of Insomnia was written by Erik Skjoldbjærg and Nikolaj Frobenius.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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Remember when you held me tight
And you kissed me all through the night

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
Lyrics by Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield

La La Land came out in 2016, but just in case you haven’t seen that fine film—MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!

“At the very start [of writing La La Land] I knew roughly where we were headed in terms of the final scene. I knew I wanted to tell a story about a romance that doesn’t last forever. Something that winds up ends up being a finite moment in these people’s lives. And they’re kinda cross like two ships passing in the night. They cross for a moment and that moment is crucial for both of them, but they wind up going their separate directions. And I knew I wanted the tone of the ending to be okay with that. That I didn’t really see it as a tragic ending. I mean I’m certainly very inspired by The Umbrellas of Cherbourg —the French musical from the ’60s—that similarly does not keep the romance going at the end. But where the tone there is a little more tragic. I think here I wanted there to be a real hope to the ending. And also this idea that some dreams come true, some don’t. This wouldn’t be an honest movie if every dream came true.”
La La Land writer/director Damien Chazelle
Interview with James V. Hart
Bulletproof Screenwriting podcast #107

Related post:
Tender Mercies in La La Land
Difficult + Changing Times = Whiplash
Setting the ‘Whiplash’ Tone

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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