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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Old-School 16mm Moviemaking Goes Digital

New digital camera out. Been following this for a while, since its Kickstarter days. Looks great.

Yes? Thoughts?

Here's an article about it:

Monday, December 16, 2013

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Locations and conflict

One more thought on locations - they can create conflict, or tension. 

Knife in the Water

As the title suggests, there is tension in this location. Most of the film is shot on a boat which runs through the water. The boat at times becomes a prison. A jail for the three characters. Surrounded by water. Nowhere to go.

As the tension mounts between the two men, the boat and water serve to fuel that tension. There is no where to escape. The boat is a knife in the water. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Actor friendly locations

So, we're talking about locations for the past week or so. Mainly how they should be viewed as being a 3rd character - meaning, the right location can serve your story and it's character's wants and needs. It can create a world in which the viewer better understands the story and the emotional state of it's characters. It can put us there!

It can also be an actor friendly location. What do I mean by this? Well, I'll use my first film Sleepwalk as an example.
Most of the film is shot in one location - a very, very large loft-like space. It's actor friendly for several reasons; as for lighting, we pre-lit the entire space - had all our practicals set and most of the main keys. So come time to shoot and move the camera, we had very little tinkering to do - so this allowed us more time to shoot, which was less time hanging around waiting for all the set ups. Thus we could working faster, it felt more "organic" and proved to be very fruitful.

Other reason is simply we didn't move around all the time. We dug into one space for most of our time, which allowed us a lot of freedom and extra time to be creative. It was actor friendly in that it was a warm and inviting space. It was not difficult to work in. It served as an excellent creative environment.

Point being, not all locations are "actor friendly," so this is something to keep in mind when location scouting, and even much prior to this, when writing the script. Don't write/create locations which will be difficult to shoot in.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

More on locations

To continue with the thought of how important locations are in film, and how they really should be treated as a 3rd character, here are more examples:


What better film to serve as an example of the importance of location. NYC is indeed a 3rd character in this story. Travis and the city of New York are connected at the hip, and the city in all its loneliness and filth, help explore the inner mind of the character.


Another great example. It's either the barren, desert landscape which help defines the characters, or the honky tonk bars and diners. The small cabin, the old cars - every location in this film is perfect.


Amazing location. It feels like you can touch it. The director here really puts us there - he creates a world which we are aloud to enter and live in - which helps to explore and understand the characters and story.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Great location examples

Last post we discussed how important locations are to your film. How they can "sell" your story. How they can make us feel. How they can even develop character.

Yes, locations should be thought of as a "third character." Here are some examples of great locations:




Friday, November 22, 2013


Ok, so the tip of the week is treat your locations as a third character!

What do I mean by this exactly? Well, as creating a strong, well liked character is a tool for the filmmaker to connect with the audience, so is a location. Just look at this picture above. It puts us in an emotional state right away. It creates a mood. It is dramatic. It is beautiful. Mysterious.

When we write, our goal is to put the reader there. To create a place to be. So when we get to the pre-production stage and we're scouting locations, finding the exact place for our scenes to take place is a must.

More on locations in the next post.

Friday, November 15, 2013


So, we have three stages of film production; pre-production, production, and post production.

We've spent most of our time here discussing pre-production, as this stage is really so, so important. We get it right here, we have the chance of getting it right in production. What do I mean by this? Well, pre-production is our foundation. Like building the foundation to a house - it supports everything. So if we build a strong foundation, we will be on good ground come production time.

The main elements of pre-production we've discussed thus far are:

• developing and writing the script
• creating a film proposal
fund raising

The next main points of pre-production are: securing your locations, casting your actors, assembling the crew, breaking down the script , creating a shooting schedule and coming up with a budget.

Let’s start with what I call The Big 3: LOCATIONS, ACTORS, CREW. I refer to them as the big three because that’s exactly what they are. Once you’ve cast your film, assembled your crew and have all locations locked down, you’ve basically finished the majority of your pre-pro work.

So, in the next post we'll discuss; how important they are what kind kind of plan you need to secure them.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Raising funds

Ok, where should you start when thinking about raising funds for your film? 

First, make a list of every single person you know or have come into contact with. And I mean everyone: Uncles, aunts, cousins, friends of cousins, co-workers, nephews, those who you know at the church, the country club, the tennis court, the bar, school, or the ones who walk their dog the same time you do. Everyone, from past to present. Have a Grandfather? Put him down on the list.

Let's take a step back and look at what you already have: you've got your film proposal, which we went over in previous posts, and of of course the script. And now you have a list of possible investors. So what do you do with these 3 things:


film proposal

possible investors

It will vary in terms of your relationship which each person. For example, if you'll be going to a family member for funds, perhaps all you will need to do is speak with them and go over your film proposal. For all others that you don't know quite as intimate, they more than likely will want to read the script. 

Here with the script you have two options; you give them a copy, or you hold a reading. A reading is my preferred method. Why? Because scripts are not written to be read, they're written to be filmed, and most people don't know how to read scripts.

Want to know more, I discuss it all in the book:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

short film which helped director do a feature

Swingin in the Painter's Room

Click on above link to watch a short film by Greg Mottola.

This is a great example of what I was speaking of in the last post - make a short, a good short, and it will help you get a feature going. If you don't know who Greg is, which I'm sure most of you do, check him out.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

on the path to making a feature

Ok, back in July and August I spent some time on film proposals - how to create them and what exactly they should include. So now, let's talk about money. Yeah, I know, it's a drag, and yes, my least favorite process of indie filmmaking.

But the good news is that today, film equipment is getting cheaper by the minute, and using SD cards and the like is SO much cheaper than film! So you should be wanting to make a film for very little money. Yes, VERY little money.

We'll spend some time on this in the next few weeks, that is, what and how to deal with making your first feature film, and really, is that the best option for you? Meaning, is it perhaps a wiser idea to make a great short first?

I know that making a feature is the holy grail, and every young filmmaker is very eager to do so, but my first piece of advise is - write/direct a great short film first! Why? Because it's the smartest thing to do. That simple. Because of the internet, there are so many avenues of distribution - so many vehicles to get your short film out to the world.

So yes, if your smart and hard working enough to actually make a great short, the world will see it and this will help you down the line when you're ready to make your feature. Gotta crawl before you walk. Make a short, make it great, then you'll gain confidence and a following, which will all help with your feature.

Next post we'll get into that dirty subject of money - how and where to start finding it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Hitchcock's requisite for a film story

"It must blend two things which seem almost mutually exclusive: it must hang on one single central idea which must never get out of the mind of the audience for one single solitary minute, either consciously or subconsciously; and it must offer scope for the introduction of a number of elements: suspense, drama, emotion, and so forth.

In other words, for me, he's saying in all scenes, the thruline of your story must be present, and you must do this in either a dramatic or comedic context.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


"I've always believed that the imagination is a spiritual quality that, like memory, can be trained and developed."  -- Luis Bunuel

Yes. Agree with passion. The imagination can be developed.

So prior to writing a script, or during, or while in production, train and develop your imagination. How? Keep a journal. An intimate, reflective, honest journal. This will train you to think, observe, and yes, use your imagination.

Think of the imagination as a muscle. It needs to be used. Keeping a journal will help.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Get in late, get out early

Get in late, get out early!

A golden rule of writing. Was in class yesterday at USC, watching films, when I brought this up. Why? Because there were several scenes in some films which went on for way too long. Less is always more. Always.

We have two chances of making the scene work, in terms of it's length, and really, it's impact - in the writing and in the editing. 

When we are writing the scene, you want to ask yourself how late can I start this scene? Why is this so important? Well, think about it. What's the opposite? Starting the scene too early. 

Does that sound like a good idea? No. Not at all. We start the scene too early, it's going to be boring, long, overwritten and it will certainly not start with a bang. It will start with fluff, or filler. You want your scenes to have a purpose. Start them with a purpose.

"If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter."  -- Mark Twain

My favorite writing quote of all time! It's simply the best, and certainly applies to start late, get out early. This is why we write and rewrite and write some more. Many drafts. Because we edit. We carve. We polish. We hopefully get to the point sooner than later.

Yes? Make sense? Always, always, always, start your scenes as late as possible.

In the next post I'll discuss why we want to get out as early as possible.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

"Kisses From Paris"

Here's another good short film. Yes, another love story, and yes, simple on the outside. Clear intentions of the characters. Simple production - did not need a lot of money to make. Less is more.

It's visual - it shows, not tells. The city of Paris serves as a third character. It's warm and inviting.

It is my strongest recommendation to all young filmmakers, to all filmmakers who want to make a feature - make a good short film first! And this film is yet again another good example that you do not need to break the bank to make a good film. Get a camera and a couple of actors and explore!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Great short film:

I'm posting clips of short films and am happy to do so for so many reasons. Like the short story, the short film is just a great art form. But most importantly, as I talk about in my book, for those young and up and coming directors who want to make a feature, making short films is the correct and only path.

Yes, making shorts is where and how you will learn and prefect your craft. And making a really great short will give you the best opportunity to actually make a feature. Because if it is really great, many people will see it and many will want to see you  make a feature!

The film centers on a passing encounter by two people who share a charged moment. It's absolutely lovely. Extremely creative, and for me, does capture that feeling we can have when we meet that someone special. 

Nuit Blanche

Monday, August 19, 2013

Wonder Boys

I've always wanted to see this film, but for some reason just never got around to it. Finally caught it the other night and it's great. Very well written and directed, and of course the amazing cast are just that - amazing. One of Michael Douglas' best roles. He's really good.
It's directed by Curtis Hanson who is really good. Another great character driven story. So for those of you who are writing and will be directing character driven stories, watch this. Every character is well developed and unique. With flaws and goals and all kinds of obstacles.

Here's a clip of a very well written scene:

Friday, August 16, 2013

Express yourself!

The link below is a great interview/rant by our father of the American independent film movement, John Cassavetes.

Watch it. Feel it. Listen. You want to create something? Create something personal, without fear, and with some truth. And btw, evidently, this interview was never aired, because he says at the end television sucks?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Yes, subtext. When in the classroom, and I speak of subtext in a script, most students don't know what the hell I'm talking about.

Show, not tell is a favorite mantra of mine, so in that spirit, here's a clip from THE BIG SLEEP with Bogie and Bacall. When they discus horse riding, and you still don't know what subtext means, perhaps you should focus your energies on a less subtle art form, say mime?

Here's the link:

Monday, August 12, 2013

Good short film


So much I like about this film. It's really short, just about 3 1/2 minutes, beautifully shot, well acted, romantic, and for me, it has a lovely fluidity to it. It feels very natural and alive. Really capturing the essence of chemistry and desire.

For those of you who want to make good short films, this can serve as an example. You don't need a lot of money and time and crane shots and all the rest. Two characters, simple locations - hand held, shot on the fly.

roshambo (link to view film)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Some films I've seen recently


Very good indie film. Really quiet at first, then builds beautifully. At times, painful. Such a great cast - Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman and a few other really good actors. Written and directed by Yaron Zilberman.

Great character driven film. For all those aspiring and young filmmakers out there who want to make a character driven film, watch this. Every character wants something, has flaws, needs to overcome obstacles - all very real. Excellent film.


Italian film directed by Luca Guadagnino. Tilda Swinton is amazing in this film. 

Deals with the lack of passion in one's life, then the sudden emergence of passion, and how that changes everything. A beautifully shot, subtle drama. Much like A Late Quartet - it is all character driven, not plot driven at all. Starts slow, and builds and builds. Really dealing with desire, and what we are pursuing in life, or what we should pursue.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Film Proposals (bio's)

After the title page and synopsis comes Bio's.

Here is where you write a simple, one paragraph bio on all the important people who are attached to your film thus far. Of course, you as the writer/ director will have your bio along with others like a producer you’ve attached, a casting director, any actors, a composer, a director of photography.

Don’t have anyone attached other than you at this point? Then stop and begin to gather a team.

If you're in the early stages of fundraising, more than likely you won't have many positions filled. But to make your proposal look more professional and appealing, now is a good time to step back and think about bringing people on board. At least a DP, a Producer, and possibly a Composer and Editor.

Next post I'll continue with creating the film proposal and we'll get into the business plan.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

More on creating a film proposal

The synopsis.

So, next up in our film proposal is the synopsis.

Which is a very short, clearly written overview of your story.  In previous posts, I've discussed the creative process and creating and adhering to good habits,  so you should have no problem with this because back at the beginning stages of the writing process, you wrote your idea out in the paragraph form. Right? Ie; writing an overview should not be new to you.

The story synopsis can be either one or two paragraphs in length. It should convey to the reader exactly what type of story it is.

Everything in the synopsis that should be clear. For example, when I read your one page synopsis I should immediately understand that your story is a comedy, that it’s character driven, and that it’s a coming of age story. Or I read it and understand it’s an action drama, a heist gone bad story.

You get the point, whatever your story is; the reader should get it with this synopsis. Lastly, think of this synopsis as bait. When your potential investor reads it, you want them to be excited and intrigued. You lose them on the first page of the proposal and you’re dead. So be precise, and like you did back when you were developing and writing your script, have many people read it over. Get their feedback and make sure it works before you sit down for that all important lunch.  

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Creating a film proposal

Continuing from where we left off, yes, when you're in the fund raising stage for your feature, you'll need to create a film proposal.

Keep in mind this is a film proposal, and I want you to focus on the word proposal. It means to suggest, or put forward for consideration. You know, you’re single and at the bar and talking it up with that someone special and you’d like to go someplace that’s a little more quiet. You propose this, don’t you? In order to be successful, you ask in such a manner that is charming, and hard for that person to say no.

Think of your Film Proposal in a similar light. Specifically speaking, your proposal should not include everything, going into every minute detail. It’s a proposal, remember? It’s a suggestion, a very attractive, streamlined suggestion to an individual to give you money. What I’m saying is, you don’t want everything, including the kitchen sink in here because it will bog down your presentation. Keep it simple.

The first thing is of course the title page.

Remember, long after your lunch meeting, this is the material your potential investor will be thumbing through, so make sure the look of it is appealing and professional. Also, since we now live in a digital age, this film proposal should live in a digital form as well, like a PDF, which you can email or transfer with Dropbox or other such free services.

So the title page is all important, as it’s the first thing people will see. Don’t have it cluttered with too much information. It should be simple and clearly state what the hell it is. Let’s say the title of your film is “Give Me Money,” the title page can state in some attractive font: “Give Me Money: a feature film proposal.”

In addition, perhaps you can have a great picture here, or an attractive graphic, something which will work well with the text.

Next post we'll get into the synopsis.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

raising money for your feature

The first thing you'll want to get together is a film proposal.

What’s a film proposal? Think of it as a business plan.

Imagine you’re starting a business, and you’re seeking investors. When you have that first lunch meeting with them and you pitch your idea, what will you leave with them after the pitch? A business plan, or a business proposal.

So a film proposal is the same thing. The following is a list of what needs to be in your proposal:

 - synopsis of the story 

- bio of director and or producer and any other attached talent or crew 

- business plan 

- list of comps 

- distribution plan 

- contact sheet 

- title page 

- marketing strategy

In the next post, I'll go into detail on some of the above items.

Monday, July 22, 2013

good short film

short film

Click on the above link to view a good short film. It has what I preach - 1 location, few characters. It's character driven. People wanting to get ahead, people making mistakes...

DetrĂ¡s Del Espejo

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Low Budget Features

Ok. All the time, I get disbelievers. The common statement being - you can't make a feature for under 25K. And yes, it's usually a statement, not a question. People see this:
... and they immediately say no way.

Read the book before you say it can't be done. If you still have doubt or any questions, fire away, that's what this blog is for. Or comment/ask questions on either the Google + page or the Facebook page.

Let's start with the first basic rule of making feature films for in and around this budget - that is 25K and up to like 75K. Two big rules: few locations, few characters.

If you think you can make a feature for under 100K with as many locations and characters as a typical commercial film, you're insane. Delusional. Out of touch.

You can not. Simple. No ifs, ands or buts. This is the place where you start, that is, if you really want to make an indie film for this amount of money. One or two main characters, and maybe one or two supporting characters. And location? You should have one or two major locations.

How do I know? I did it. I shot my 1st feature Sleepwalk in about ten days. Yes, ten days! In the next post I'll talk more about the number of shooting days and how that can keep your budget down. But for now, if you're thinking, scheming, planning on making a feature for little to no money, this is the approach. The only approach. Just a few characters, and one or two main locations.

Here's a link to the book:

"How To Make a Feature Film For Under 25K"

Monday, July 15, 2013


Thought of the day for both directors and writers - what does the character want?

Yes, this is what it's all about. Does not matter what stage you are in; creating the character on paper, writing the treatment, writing the script, rehearsing with the actor or filming - in all of these areas it's about the same thing - GOAL of the character.

You can define or view it any way you like. Their goal, their needs, their desire, all adds up to what they want, which really will define who they are. Yes, actions speak louder than words, so what your character does to achieve his or her goals is all important.

So as the writer, you must create solid goals, needs, wants.

As the director, you must be clear on what the character wants, as knowing this will inform you how to rehearse and direct the actors. It's all about what we want in life, so it's the same in cinema.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Creating character

Getting back to the discussion of plot or character driven stories, here's another great example of a character driven story - TOOTISE.

Click on the below link, it's Dustin Hoffman talking about how the character was created:


This is exactly what I was talking about last week - if you're making a character driven story, whatever stage it's in - script or production, so much effort needs to go in to making the character real.

How to we make characters real? As writers, director and actors? By knowing who they are. How do we know who they are? By defining what they want. What is their goal? What do they have to overcome to achieve this goal?

What are their fears? DreamsInhibitions. Flaws.

Always start by what a character wants. If you create a goal or desire which is strong and real, and hard to achieve, you'll have both a well developed character, and a strong story.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Mean Streets

To continue from last week's short list of all time great indie features, let's take a peak at Mean Streets. It's fitting that we discuss Mean Streets after Faces, as the story goes, John Cassavetes told Scorsese after he made Boxcar Bertha - "You've just spend a year of your life making a piece of shit." He then told Scorsese to make something personal, something you know.

This inspired Scorsese to make a film about his own experiences growing up in Little Italy. The budget was around 300K and raised independently. The film was released by Warner Brothers and was well received by most critics, and has become one of the most original American films ever.

So for all you first time feature filmmakers, make something personal! Write/direct something you are passionate about. The biggest mistake is to try and make something you think will earn a ton of money. Don't think this way. If you're passionate about the story, good chance maybe we will be too.

And be lean and mean. Few locations. Small cast and crew. Keep it simple.

Here's a link to the script. Read it, it's great:


Friday, July 5, 2013


Article on FACES

The above link is a very well written article on the classic indie film FACES.

I single this film out as for me and many other filmmakers, it is the film which inspired us to make our own indie films.

The focus of my How To film book is all about doing everything yourself, from raising the funds, to purchasing and renting the equipment, casting, assembling the crew, etc.

"How To Make a Feature Film for Under 25K"

Well, Faces was made in the most independent way possible. The film was shot over a period of six months, mainly at night and on weekends. Most of the money was put up by John, and most crew and cast members were either friends, or beginners. The majority of the film was shot in John's house, and it was edited in John's garage.

This is independent filmmaking.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Best Independent films of all times

Here's a quick must see list:

1.  FACES - has to be on the top as it's the first American indie film to be nominated for an Oscar. JC really set the path for all to follow.














Missing anything?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Blocking and transitions


Click on the above to watch a quick scene from the film SEXY BEAST. I want to draw attention to two things: blocking and transitions, but mainly blocking.

Notice the 1st and last shot of this clip - both very awkward, tension filled blocking. The 1st shot we see Kingsley at the airport, waiting. But he's not waiting like most normal people do. He's standing very awkwardly, very impatiently, while others sit and walk by. He looks as if he's going to explode. His arms oddly at his side, like they're dangling. He looks down, then away at people. The camera slowly moves in, as very intense music builds. Excellent.

Yes, there are other elements that make this scene work so well, such as body language, intense score and the slow camera move in. But I want you to realize how important the blocking is and how easy blocking this well can be accomplished.  It's simply thinking outside the box. This character is tense, you want to keep him tense, so don't have him sit with and act like the other passengers.

Next is the terrific transition - as the score builds, we cut to a close up of the engine and it's noise builds, then cut to inside the plane, all quiet and nice. Great transition. Simple. Effective.

And the last shot? Very much like the 1st shot. Again, here is is standing. Waiting. Seemingly in discomfort. Awkward. Out there on his own island. Great.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Plot driven stories

To continue from yesterday, if your story isn't driven by the character, what is driving it?

The plot, or the action is driving your story.

Think of the major two plot types - Adventure and Quest. They are both defined as a protagonist in search for a person, place, or thing. So what is the difference between the two? Well, the quest plot is a character driven plot, and the adventure is plot driven.

The protagonist in the quest plot is really shaped by the adventure they go on, and ultimately is changed. Classic example: Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. At the end of the story, she is a different person.

The protagonist in the Adventure plot is not shaped by the journey, and does not have to be different at the end of the story. Why? Because in this type of plot, it is the action which is the most important, not the character. So here in the Adventure plot, it is the journey itself which is the most important element in the story, while in the Quest plot, it is the character.  Think Raiders of the lost Ark.

Getting back to what drives the story - the action!  So, in the Quest plot, the character has to be very well developed with goals, obstacles, flaws, etc, and here in the Adventure plot the action needs to be well developed. It needs to always move forward. Needs to have many obstacles.  Needs to have surprises - twists and turns. If you don't surprise your audience to a certain degree, they will see what's coming next and get bored. By staying one step ahead of them is the way to be entertaining.

Think North by Northwest. One of the greats by Hitchcock. The story and action is always ahead of us. We can never guess what's coming next, and the action hardly ever slows down and it never stops. It moves forward. Always.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Character driven or plot driven?

Ok, so when you are in the initial stages of developing your idea for a feature length script, this is the golden question you have to ask yourself. The answer is pretty easy, but what do you do with this answer?
This is what I want you to think about:

If it's CHARACTER DRIVEN, like the above pic(Rebel Without A Cause) - your character is what drives the story.

If it's PLOT DRIVEN, like the above pic(Raiders of the Lost Ark) - your plot is what drives the story, or the "action."

So, simple enough, but I've come across many beginning writers who don't get this. Mainly, the problems I've seen with the character driven script is that the writer really hasn't done all the work necessary with the character. Has not fully developed him or her, thus not making them three dimensional. 

Your main character, the protagonist, in a character driven script, must be well defined. How do we do this? Be creating goals which your character wants. By creating obstacles which your character has to overcome. Be creating flaws in your character - none of us in real life are flaw free, so don't write your character this way. 

We need to know why your character is troubled - like Jim in REBEL - we get why he's bothered. We get his troubles and we feel for him and route for him to overcome them. This is true with all character driven stories - the character drives the story, so the character is always interesting and very compelling. 

Empathy is also very important in character driven films. Why? Because we must feel for the character - as this is what drives our story - emotions and the character. We have to have empathy, we have to route for this person to overcome their troubles. Very important. 

More examples of great characters in character driven stories:
- Chow in "In The Mood For Love."
- Antoine in "The 400 Blows."
- Marcello in "La Dolce Vita."
- Bernard in "The Squid and the Whale."
- Stephane in "The Science of Sleep."
- Alvy in "Annie Hall"

The list goes on and on. I think you get the drift. In the next post, we'll get into the other option; plot driven stories.

Questions? Comments?

In creating great characters, look to your own lives - as we have so many interesting real people all around us. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

More on writing a Treatment

I received some comments about wanting to know more about writing treatments, and why they're so important. So here we go.

In addition to what I spoke of in the last post, another strong reason as to WHY you should write a treatment is you don’t want to be in the development phase when writing your script, that’s what the treatment is for. So, in the perfect scenario, once you begin your script, your story is fully developed and all you need to do is write it in screenplay form.

Writing scripts to me is all about process, and writing a treatment is just another element in that process. We first develop our idea, and we should do this by writing character sketches - developing and creating characters. Also in this phase, we think about our plot - what plot type is right for our story? Revenge? Love? Quest? Then we do several things - write a synopsis or overview, then we should really try to get the idea and thrust of the story down into one sentence.

Next phase in the process is the treatment. As I mentioned, here in the treatment, we don't write much or any dialogue. Writing the dialogue, and it's a lot of fun to write dialogue - is saved for the script, which is great, because it then forces us to write visually. A script is a story told in pictures, with words - not told in words, with pictures.

So here in the treatment, it is the last peg in the process before we write the script. It is a great place to write in prose style, and really "work out" our story. Trust me, if you can make your story work in the treatment form, your first draft of the script will be really strong, and if it could talk, it would thank you!
Any questions or comments? Don't be shy - post.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Treatment

Yes, we're back to talking about writing. And double YES - writing a treatment is a major deal!

A treatment is a detailed outline of the story from start to finish, written in prose style. It should present the tone of the story, and should always be written in the present tense with very little dialogue. If a screenplay is the blueprint of a film, the treatment is the blueprint of the script.

Unlike the one liner and paragraph, here in the treatment we begin to envision the overview of our story and develop it fully. We use very little or no dialogue in the treatment, which forces us to show, not tell. Keep in mind, we don’t want to explain things, we want to show. We do this by keeping the text simple and visual, and by avoiding exposition and camera directions.

Why don’t we just start with the script? Well, many reasons. Scripts are highly formatted, so writing our story out completely in a treatment allows us to use a prose style much like that of a short story. This process can be a bit more creative and freer, as we’re not bound by the conventions of the formatted screenplay.

Another reason is that the treatment is very useful in developing our story. Again, it’s part of the process in creating a great script. On average, scripts are 90-110 pages, and a treatment is usually more like 35-50 pages, so this is a more useful form to develop our story in, mainly because it is half the size. It’s more a manageable form for developing the story.

So, after you've written and developed your ONE LINER, then the PARAGRAPH, next step before you begin your script is the treatment. You write several drafts of this and get tons of feedback, you will have a much easier time when you begin the first draft of your script.

Here is the 1st page of one of my favorite treatments - Terminator, by James Cameron. read this first page and you'll see what I mean - it is very visual, and all SHOW, NOT TELL!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

More Tips on Working with Actors

To continue from the last post, my preferred method of working with actors if we all have the time -is to get to know one another. And if you are a first time director of a low budget feature film - make the time!

It's all about communication and trust. The actors need to trust you and need to put a great deal of faith in you. If you don't have a "name" or a great reputation, how in the world will an actor truly trust you?

So, one great way to build trust is to simply spend time together. For example, on my first feature, I had a three week rehearsal schedule. We met 3 times a week for a total of three weeks. Twice a week at a studio and once a week at my house. It was here, in my house where we really got to know one another. I cooked dinner, they brought wine, and after we did some work for 2 hours or so, we ate dinner and drank.

Yeah, there's nothing like breaking bread with folks. This is how you get to know each other. To build trust. Have some laughs, let your guard down, and maybe even drink a little too much wine. We're talking about trying to achieve a level of comfort. The actor who played the male lead, Ivan, would take his shoes off when he entered my house and plop himself down on the sofa - this is achieving a level of comfort.

You do not want to be strangers when you begin to work on the set or location. Know each other - this is the first step in  being a good director.

Monday, June 17, 2013

More on Working with Actors

Most of the questions I'm asked either in the classroom or by first time feature directors is always about how to work with actors. What do you say to them? When you don't like what they're doing, what do you do?

First, if you haven't done so already, go to my last post and click on the link and watch the almost 2 hour video - all of which will do wonders for your directing head. It's workshop stuff, all show, not tell. You'll learn a ton from a few masters - Barnett Kellman is a comedic wizard, Larry Moss is amazing and I don't need to say anything about James L. Brooks.

So, what do you say to actors when you're not in love with what they're doing? First thing is, yes, say something! What do I mean by that? Well, I know many young filmmakers go on to do a 2nd take, and a 3rd and sometime more without ever saying a word. Without ever giving direction. Do not do this. It's a waste of time and confusing to your actors. Why do more takes if you're not going to talk about what you don't like about the previous take?

So the first tip is when you are not happy with what you are seeing, after that take, talk with your actors. Explain what's not working, but best of all, give input - have an idea. Offer a way to make it better. Never, and I mean never just say things like "that was good, but you should be angrier." Okay, so you feel the character should be angrier, instead of just telling your actor to be angrier, explain to them why the character is angry. They'll get it this way.

Or you're watching the take and after cut, you say be drunker. Again, stay away from just saying be more this or more that, or less of something. Be specific and give examples. Remind your actor that the scene takes place at 3:00 in the morning and they've had a lot to drink. They will understand this and "act" drunker.

So in this manner, you have explained to your actor the situation, and where the character is at emotionally or otherwise. This works much better than just "telling." And keep things simple. Don't say too much. Have an idea and articulate it in a few words. Don't go on and on. Be precise. And be prepared!

What do I mean by this? Well, before your shoot day, go over the scenes you'll be shooting and know what it's all about in terms of emotion and what the characters want and must overcome. Understand the essence of the scene - if you don't, you will not be able to give direction to the actors.  This is a must! If you don't understand the essence of the scene, you will then resort to saying dumb things like "faster, slower, more, less."

So a lot of how to work with actors really depends on work put in before you begin shooting. In the next post I'll continue on this and we'll discuss what you can do before production starts. Making indie films can sometimes have an advantage over big budget films. Because there is so little money and people in general are freer with their time, one great way to be a better director is to spend time with your actors prior to production. Eat with them. Have drinks with them. Get to know them!

This is a pic from my first film SLEEPWALK, with actors Drea de Matteo and Ivan Martin. We are clowning around, which we did a lot. We did, because we got to know one another prior to shooting - we'll go into more detail in next post.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

James L. Brooks and Larry Moss @ USC with Barnet Kellman

James L Brooks, Larry Moss and Barnet Kellman - YouTube

The above link is a taped and edited event I had the pleasure of watching a month or so ago at USC. Basically, for all you young and inspiring directors - if you want to learn more on how to work with actors, this is it! Almost 2 hours of real workshop style education - yes, they have directors with real actors doing real scenes!

This is USC at it's best. Education at its best.

And for those of you who might not know any of these three gentlemen, you have two choices - abandon your desire to be a filmmaker as you should already know these cats, or quickly find out who they are and promise yourself you'll get out of the house more.

It really was an amazing night. I learned quite a bit. Barnet and Larry have such creative and quick minds. Some of the stuff they came up with, and how quickly, amazed me.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


More on writing. I spoke with an ex-student recently, who asked a lot of questions about staying inspired when writing a feature length script. He told me he found it hard to stay inspired as it took him over a year to write a first draft. He asked how do you stay inspired and keep things fresh. He also asked how do you know when to move on to something else and abandon ship, or keep staying the course.

All good questions. Many ways to answer. Let's start with the idea and you. You, meaning, what types of films do you like? You should write what you like, and try and write what you know. Many first time writers have an inspiration problem sometimes halfway into the script, and it's because of these two reasons; they are writing something they know very little of, and perhaps they're writing something to sell, and they don't really feel it.

For example, I like to watch character driven films, so obviously that's what I like to write and make. I have tried writing plot driven scripts, and always get bored or a headache somewhere in the middle, or in a second draft. Why? Because it's really not what I'm passionate about. I enjoy from time to time a great plot driven film to watch, but not to write. It never feels right. So that's one tip; write what you're passionate about, and more than likely you'll run into less problems.

Another big tip is to always and I mean always write the first draft as quickly as possible. Like six weeks or less. Just get it out. Then let it sit, and then it's rewrite after rewrite.

Getting back to writing about something you know, this is a sure way to stay inspired. When you write stories about people or actions you know nothing of, like hit men and mafia crap, or course you're going to run into problems. Where are the ideas coming from? They're not coming from personal experience, so at some point, your well is going to run dry. So write what you know. Write what you like.

And lastly, to be very frank, you are writing because you LOVE to write. So it's your job to stay inspired. Create good habits. Write every day. Write every morning. Be very workman like, or work woman like. Push yourself. Dig deep. Good things will come.

Monday, June 10, 2013

More on Scripts

Getting back to reading scripts and why, well, obvious, you want to learn. Want to be a better writer, so one easy way to do so is to READ. In the last post, I mentioned a few places where free scripts are. But when you read them, don't just "read" them. Break them down.

First, always read shooting scripts. Don't read the scripts published in book form, these are not shooting scripts. Get the real scripts, on normal size paper if you print them out, which will have the "real" amount of pages. Here, with the shooting script, you want to find out what happens when, where, and how.

For example, on what page does the inciting incident start? You know, the inciting incident is when the story starts. Like in Apocalypse Now, the story starts when he gets his orders to find Kurtz. This is something you want to know. Your story can not start too late. Find out how character is developed, and when, and for how long.

When is the first obstacle? The second, third and so on. How does Act I end? On what page does Plot Point One happen? And Act II, when and how does this end?

These are the things you want to study when reading a script. Because when you write yours, you will copy this structure. You will have your inciting incident happen around the same time, as well as the plot point and the rest.

Here is a pic of MARATHON MAN - one of my favorite scripts. It's all banged up because I've read it so many times over the years. Have studied it. Broke it down. I know what works and when. Do the same.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Amazon Storyteller

Amazon is coming out with a FREE tool which turns scripts into storyboards. It sounds interesting. I like the idea as we always want our scenes to SHOW, NOT TELL, and this might be an interesting way to test this. Can't storyboard exposition, can you?

Here's a link to an article about it:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Free Scripts online

The best way to become a better screenwriter is to read as many scripts as humanly possible. Of course watching films is oh so important, but reading a script really allows you access to the "floor plan."

Pick one or two of your favorite films and find their scripts. Then print them, read them like a dozen times, breaking them down in terms of plot, structure, character development, plot points, goals, obstacles, etc.

Here is a short list of where you can access free online scripts:

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

monopoly on creativity

Yes, nobody has a monopoly on creativity. I've attached a link below to a good article on indie filmmaking, from a seemingly good indie website. This article rings very true to me, and states what I often rant about.

The best asset's we indies have is our creative mind. All the money and star power and shareholders in the world can not out produce creative thought. It's easy to have car crashes and tons of action - all it costs is money. But to have a really amazing story, with a truly well developed character does not take a single dime, just hard work and creativity.