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Archive for April, 2010

Quick Screenwriting Tip: Spacing after FADE IN: Apr 23

Quick Screenwriting Tip

Make sure you only have one blank line after FADE IN:

If you’ve set up your screenwriting software to use two blank lines above your scene headers (triple spacing), you need to ensure that there is only one blank line (double spacing) after FADE IN:

Failure to do so may brand you an amateur right out of the box.

This rule also applies to all other transitions.

Correct Line Spacing:



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Reader Question: Passive Protagonists? Apr 21

Officer Hoyt - A passive protagonist?A reader asks about Passive Protagonists:

I was reading on your site and was wondering what your thoughts were on “passive protagonists” who get drug into hairy situations like Officer Hoyt in Training Day. I am writing a movie where the guy gets involved in a situation and has no choice but to continue on kind of like Officer Hoyt. Is it possible to make a good movie with a reactive protagonist like this?, because that is exactly what I am trying to do.

Let’s break the question down into two parts:

Part 1: Thoughts on “Passive” Protagonists like Officer Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) in Training Day

First things first. What is a passive protagonist?

A passive protagonist is a main character that displays some or all of these traits:

  • has no strong desire
  • doesn’t make decisions
  • doesn’t pursue a goal
  • reactive, instead of active, as a rule
  • allows someone else to dictate their fate

You get the idea.

Are any of those traits, ones that you would respect, like or enjoy in a friend, business partner, lover, person you want to hang around with, etc.? Of course not. That’s why readers/audiences don’t embrace that type of character either.

A Common Mistake

It’s extremely common for beginning writers to craft screenplays with passive protagonists. One of the reasons why many screenwriters (including myself) have fallen victim to this trap, is that on first glance, many beloved movie characters seem to be passive.

In Star Wars, for instance, Luke Skywalker:

  1. hangs out on the family farm
  2. doesn’t protect is his aunt and uncle
  3. gets dragged on a mission by Obi Wan
  4. is put in his place by Han Solo
  5. is given help by Obi Wan to save the day

But let’s take a closer look. Luke actually:

  1. yearns to join the rebel alliance, but decides to help his family on the farm for now. He’s also proactive in finding his missing droid, which leads him to Obi Wan.
  2. races to save his aunt and uncle as soon as he figures out they’re in danger
  3. makes the choice to go on the adventure with Obi Wan
  4. comes up with the plan to save the Princess, takes action, and convinces Han to help him
  5. makes the decision to listen to Obi Wan’s advice, and in doing so saves the day

It turns out, Luke is actually a very active and willful character, determining his own fate.

Officer Hoyt

If we look at Training Day‘s Officer Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) using that same lens, he’s actually not a passive protagonist.

Officer Hoyt:

  • has made the choice to work for crazy Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) to advance his career
  • is passionate and excited about that decision
  • makes the choice to take the hit off that pipe
  • takes action when he sees two guys raping a girl in an alley
  • makes the choice not to take any money from the murdered cop
  • goes after Alonzo on his turf

See I mean? Officer Hoyt is the one making the major decisions that determine his fate in the movie, even though at first glance it may appear that he’s getting dragged along for the ride.

Part 2: Can a protagonist be reactive?

Sure they can. In fact, most protagonists are reactive — for at least ONE key moment in the story. Whether you refer to it as the Call to Action, Call to Adventure, Catalyst, Inciting Incident, Opportunty… typically this is an event that happens to the protagonist.

It’s one of only three places1 where the protagonist can appear to be somewhat reactive or passive. But overall, your protagonist must be a “willful character” for readers/audiences to embrace her.

It’s okay for your protagonist to be forced into a hairy situation at the outset. Just make sure your protagonist quickly begins to take action, or makes the critical decisions from that point on.

That’s really the secret to great screenwriting — coming up with situations where your protagonist is forced to make difficult decisions.

Can anyone out there think of a recent movie that featured a true passive protagonist — successful or otherwise? Please post below.

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  1. For more information, please see my previous article on passive protagonists
Category: Characters  | 6 Comments
No-Spoiler Review: Kick-Ass Apr 19

As with all my reviews, there will be absolutely NO spoilers. Sometimes even trailer moments will be excluded from my discussion. I hate it when surprises are ruined for me, so I’ll never ruin them for you! – Trevor

Kick-AssIn the weeks leading up to the release of Kick-Ass, I had been very concerned about the way the movie had been marketed to mainstream audiences, and how that might affect its opening weekend.

With the final numbers now in, it appears my suspicions were correct. While Kick-Ass managed to squeeze past How To Train Your Dragon to win top spot in the weekend box office battle, the numbers were far from… well, you know.

Why didn’t it dominate the weekend box office?

Most of the TV commercials I saw (excluding those redband trailers only available on the net) portrayed the film as a campy kids movie. It almost felt like there was a disconnect between the people that made the film and the suits who marketed it.

The ads seemed to be saying: “Look everyone — it’s McLovin dressed up as a superhero. Oh the absurdity. You kids are going to love that.”

Or, “Check out the little girl who plays dressup and uses language that would make a sailor blush. That’s a clever gimmick dontcha think?”

The problem is that Kick-Ass is not that movie. It’s much much better.

It’s NOT A Kids Movie

The director (Matthew Vaughn) and the co-screenwriter (Jane Goldman) do a really nice job of anchoring the movie with realistic moments and scenes. Yes Virginia, there are tragic consequences to dressing up as a superhero and trying to fight crime.

This movie goes from being light-hearted and fun one moment, to being brutally violent and shocking the next. And that’s why the movie works so well. When the $#!t hits the fan, the humor isn’t forced.

Unlike other movies where the wisecracks completely extinguish the tension and the reality of the moment, this  movie gets it right. People react authentically to the various situations.

It’s something that all comedy screenwriters should take note of. In situations where the stakes are high, any humor in the scenes should flow organically from the actions and situations themselves, otherwise you risk taking the reader/audience out of the moment.

Sometimes that means you can work in a joke, sometimes that means you can’t (or shouldn’t). Give your audience a laugh in the scene that follows the intense one, and they’ll eat it up.

The Actors Play It Straight

There’s no Tommy Lee Jones, Two-Face style villain, cackling like a cartoon character in this film. The actors all play it straight; they don’t ham it up for the camera. That grounds the movie and makes it believable.

The always impressive Mark Strong does a brilliant job as the ruthless crime boss.

Nicholas Cage is fun to watch as a disturbed father with questionable parenting skills.

But the actor that steals the show is Chloe Moretz as Hit-Girl. After seeing her scene-stealing performance in 500 Days of Summer, I suspected that she would be the new “It”-Girl. This movie removes all doubt.

Nice Touches

There are some really nice touches and surprises in this movie. The first act sorta plays out the way I thought it would, based on the TV ads. From the second act on, however, this movie finds its rhythm and really shines.

The fight sequences were very original, from filming style to weapons technology to choreography (though some of the action was definitely “inspired” by Equilibrium).

There were also some really clever lines, surprising plot developments and character arcs.

Final Analysis

Plain and simple — if you enjoy watching great action or action-comedy movies, you’d be remiss if you didn’t see this one in the theater.

The movie’s not perfect. For example, the protagonist and his friends are no where near as interesting or enjoyable to watch as Hit-Girl and her father.

But when Kick-Ass is good, it’s really really good. Check it out.

Have you seen it yet? Post your thoughts below.

Want me to personally read your script and let you know if it’s ready to go out? Please take a look at my professional script services.

Category: Movie Reviews  | 4 Comments
Q & A with Michele Wallerstein Apr 16

Do you have a question that you’d like to have answered by a longtime Hollywood literary agent? Send it in!

Question: (Gerald Martin)

Who pays the 10% agent fee?

In reading Clause by Clause by Breimer (1995) I believe there was a statement that the studio paid the agent the fee, on top of the sale price owed the screenwriter. Now I can’t find the specific place I read that. I took it to mean if a script sold for example $100,000, the studio would pay the agent $10,000, and the screenwriter $100,000. That’s a far cry from the studio paying the screenwriter $100,000; and then the screenwriter paying the agent $10,000 with after tax dollars! And how does it work for managers or attorneys?

Answer: (Michele Wallerstein)

Sorry to tell you but the screenwriter pays the agent fees, lawyer fees and manager fees him or herself. This holds true for all creative talent, whether they are actors, directors, producers, etc. The good news is that these fees (commissions) are tax deductible. So you can either pay it to the government or to the people who work hard for you.

If a writer is a member of the WGA, he/she may not work for less than the WGA minimum plus 10%. That is to make sure the writer never receives less than the minimum amount. The agent will make sure that this is handled, however, the client still pays the fee. The production company never pays the agent/lawyer/manager.

In the event that the writer is not a signed member of the WGA and if the producing company is also not a signatory, then the agent can negotiate whatever fee they can get. The client still pays the agent’s commissions.

However you look at it… the client pays those fees.

Michele Wallerstein is a Screenplay & Novel & Career Consultant and author of MIND YOUR BUSINESS: A Hollywood Literary Agent’s Guide To Your Writing Career.

Web site:

Quick Screenwriting Tip: Spelling It Out Apr 15

Quick Screenwriting Tip

Any time you have dialogue that spells out a word, acronym, or initials, there are a couple of rules to follow.

1) Make sure letters are capitalized.



Dude, you know what sucks? I have to get up tomorrow at nine a.m.



Dude, you know what sucks? I have to get up tomorrow at nine A.M.

2) Make sure letters are separated by either periods (.) or dashes (-).



Get the car keys. It’s time for Mister Barkle’s appointment at the V E T.



Get the car keys. It’s time for Mister Barkle’s appointment at the V-E-T.


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