Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Lockhart’

“Take the shot when you think you’ve got the moment.”
Christopher Lockhart

We continue our baseball themed week today by looking at Pete Rose. When Rose was a rookie with the Cincinnati Reds he picked up the nickname Charlie Hustle as a derogatory comment after he’d run to first after he walked, and because he’d slide head first into bases.

Rose embraced the nickname and there were a lot of Little League ballplayer who wanted to be just like Rose. I was one of them and in my micro doc Tinker Field: A Love Story I mention going to a baseball camp Rose did back in the day.

Here’s a picture from that camp. (I’m the little guy in the background next to where’s Rose’s left knee.) Charlie Hustle is a good metaphor for what is required of screenwriters. Don’t take my word for it, read the quote below my WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart.


“It’s funny because when I would go out with my wife sometimes we’d be at an event or something and she’d always get annoyed when people would find out where I worked and then say, ‘Well, I have a script.’ And she’d think it was rude or that’s not why we’re there and it would piss her off because she didn’t want me talking about business. And I’d always say to her, ‘Look—it’s their job. That’s what they’re supposed to be doing.’ It sucks for me, it’s worse for you, but that’s what [screenwriters] are supposed to be doing….Take the shot when you think you’ve got the moment…Anybody in this business has to hustle. You just have to. And if you’re not a hustler, it’s not the best business for you. Unless you’re an amazing writer and the writing is going to do all the hustling for you.”
Christopher Lockart
Final Draft Webinar
And for the record Lockhart says half of 1% of screenwriters are amazing writers.)

P.S. Pete Rose is still hustling.

Scott W. Smith

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“A rule says, ‘You must do it this way.’ A principle says, ‘This works…and has through all remmebered time.'”
Robert McKee

“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 synthesis 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 pages 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 Nicholl 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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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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“Never forget this: Ordinary pumpkins are always forgotten. Only the giant pumpkin draws a crowd and lives on holiday cards, refrigerators and grainy You Tube videos…forever. The giant pumpkin is legend. And when you’ve grown one…you will be a legend, too.”
Mike Michalowicz
The Pumpkin Plan: A Simple Strategy to Grow a Remarkable Business in Any Field

A few weeks ago on creativeLIVE I caught a little bit of Mike Michalowicz’s talk on his book The Pumpkin Plan. One of my takeaways regarding screenwriting is your writing has to be a giant pumpkin. Diablo Cody’s Juno script was not an ordinary pumpkin. It drew a crowd, launched a career, and made her a legend. (Heck, it even helped inspire this blog.) Remember, “Ordinary pumpkins are always forgotten.”

At the same time don’t get caught up in writing the great script. Rather focus on what WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart calls The Right Script. Perhaps think in terms of a special pumpkin.

Now if you’re expecting a blog called Screenwriting from Iowa do give something you won’t find in any other blog on screenwriting—here it is:

And here’s a great pumpkin bonus video.

Related Post:

Juno Has Another Baby
The Juno-Iowa Connection

Scott W. Smith

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“In the dizzying world of moviemaking, we must not be distracted from one fundamental concept: the idea is king. Stars, directors, writers, hardware, special effects, new sound systems… all of these can have a role to play in the success of a film, but they all serve as humble subjects to the supremacy of the idea. If a movie begins with a great, original idea, chances are good it will be successful, even if it is executed only marginally well. However, if a film begins with a flawed idea, it will most certainly fail, even if it is made with ‘A’ talent and marketed to the hilt.”
Jeffrey Katzenberg, former Disney Chairman (’84-’94) & current CEO of Dream Works Animation
1991 Disney Memo The World Is Changing

Again, file this 22-year-old memo under— We need to be reminded more than we need to be taught. The thing that sticks out to me re-reading this memo after more than a decade is where Kazenberg says, “even if it is executed only marginally well.” When I did a concept consultation with Adam Levenberg last week he said I had a good idea now I needed to write “a decent script.” You won’t find too many people telling you to write a decent script.

But perhaps words like decent and good need to be reclaimed. Strip away all the hyperole. Here are a couple of  definitions found in Merriam-Webster:

Decent: Appropriate, satisfactory, well-formed

Good: Bountiful, attractive, suitable, well-founded, commendable, skillful, commercially sound

But perfection is really unattainable and can be paralyzing. I think Anne Lamott’s phrase is “perfection is the enemy of the good.” There are many examples in Hollywood where a writer’s script is sold mainly on its idea and shaped into a successful film.

Even Sylvester Stallone says only 10% of his original Rocky script made it into the finished Oscar-winning film. He did the rest in the re-writing stage working with producers after the script had sold. What got Stallone on the producer’s radar is he wrote a “decent script”/a good first draft…in six days. Script readers and producers mention time and time again that there just aren’t that many good scripts out there.

“Why do imperfect (for lack of a better term; no screenplay I’ve ever read is perfect) screenplays finish high on the Black List? You have to understand that most of the scripts out there range from terrible to mediocre.  It’s not just that a lot of scripts are bad, it’s that they’re blandly bad.  In that sea, a script that makes bold choices will stand out more.”
The Bitter Script Reader
If this script is flawed, how did it end up on the Black List

So avoid writing a blandly bad script and go write a good and decent script with a great idea.

P.S. Check out the post by WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart called The Right Script:
“‘Great’ is a buzz word…I suggest writers write the ‘right’ script. The notion of the “right script” selling is just a more realistic approach to the way the business operates.”

Related post:
Concept, Concept, Concept (Tip #80)
Writing “Rocky”
Writing & Rewriting “Pretty Woman” (Part 1)
Writing & Rewriting “Pretty Woman” (Part 2) “Movies are all about rewriting.”—Garry Marshall
Coppola & Corman Aiming to make a living on the way to the Oscars
Christopher Lockhart Q&A (Part 1)What make a script a “right” script?:

Scott W. Smith

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