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Archive for June, 2010

I’m Back! Jun 28

Karate Kid WannabeDid you miss me? Not even realize I was gone?

Well either way, after a two week blogcation, I’m back baby!

Here are some things to look forward to in the next week or so:

  • I’ve decided to start a new feature where I take a look at the craft of modern scripts (post 2005) and see what lessons they provide.
  • I’ll rave about Avatar — no not that AvatarAvatar: The Last Airbender — the brilliant TV series on which the upcoming movie is based.
  • Michele Wallerstein, our authority on the industry from an Agent’s perspective, has a July post about Writing Contests.
  • I watched the easily forgettable Invictus last week and when I saw that it had earned a higher score on IMDB than some of the best comedy movies of all time, it inspired a rant I call: “The Madness of Comedy Movie Ratings”
  • There may be one or two posts about lightsabers… just because.

I noticed my subscriber numbers have continued to increase in my absence, so thanks for sticking with me, and a hearty welcome to the newcomers!

If you have any questions, ideas for posts, just want to say hi, or share a crop circle story, I’d love to hear from you.


Category: General  | 4 Comments
Screenwriting Lessons from Mixed Martial Arts Jun 12

There’s a UFC event tonight, so I thought it would be appropriate if I posted the following article I recently wrote for the Scriptwriters Network June newsletter.


The Mixed Martial Arts Screenwriter

The Mixed Martial Arts Screenwriter

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is one of the world’s fastest growing sports. As the “mixed” part of the name implies, athletes must integrate and excel at a variety of combat disciplines — from kickboxing to wrestling to jiu-jitsu.

That’s similar to screenwriters, who must hone a variety of skills from structure to style to dialogue. Indeed, to be successful in Hollywood, screenwriters have to create scenes that rise above their competition.

As a passionate screenwriter and mixed martial arts practitioner, I can tell you there are a number of lessons that can be learned from MMA to elevate your screenwriting game and make your scenes leap off the page like a flying side-kick.

If you think of your scenes as “fights” between characters — where each character wants to win (i.e. achieve their goal for the scene), your scenes will be much more powerful.

Add Conflict

When fighters don’t engage each other, they usually receive a chorus of boos from the crowd. The screenwriting equivalent is that your readers get bored, skim pages or stop reading your script.

A surefire remedy to keep them interested, is to up the conflict. That doesn’t mean throwing a fight into every scene, it means adding a realized (or threatened) element of verbal or physical “combat.”

Take this scene:


JEROME (17), testosterone in a t-shirt, and KATIE (17), sexy but studious, share a table.


What are you up to Friday evening?


I’m heading out with some friends.

Kinda boring, right? But if we add some simple conflict?


JEROME (17), testosterone in a t-shirt, and KATIE (17), sexy but studious, share a table. Katie takes a long sip of her double chocolate frappuccino.


I’m still waiting for an answer.


Chillax. I’m busy Friday evening, okay?

More interesting now right? A little bit of conflict or tension goes a long way.

A Different Agenda

Quite often you’ll see a classic striker versus grappler match. The striker wants to keep the fight standing, while the grappler wants to take the fight to the ground.

Giving the characters in your scene, two different agendas, can make your scenes more engaging.


I’m glad you agreed to meet with me. I’m really looking forward to getting to know you better.


Excuse me? I’m here because you hired me to tutor you in Algebra.


There’s a UFC fighter named Lyoto Machida. Until recently he had not only won every single fight he had ever been in — he had won every single round! That’s quite an achievement. He did it by avoiding his opponents.

One way to add tension to your scenes is to have one of your characters try to avoid the “attack” (i.e. agenda) of another character. If one character is trying to set something up and the other character isn’t biting, it makes the scene more interesting.


Do you see how factoring lets you find those two numbers?


I know I’d like to factor your number.

Actions Not Words

In MMA there’s always a lot of trash talking before the fight (and often during the fight). But when the cage door closes, actions speak louder than words.

Try going through your scenes to see if any of them would be stronger if one or all of the characters simply let his actions do the talking.


I’m just saying, if your clothes distract me from learning, maybe that’s your fault. Your lessons come with a money-back guarantee right?

Katie slams her coffee cup on the table, launching her chocolate frappuccino into the air like a geyser. The liquid splatters across Jerome’s face.


Is that a “no”?

Tap Out

Let’s review these screenwriting mixed martial arts lessons for improving your scenes:

  • Add Conflict
    Find a way to add conflict to your scenes and you’ll engage the “crowd.”
  • A Different Agenda
    Give your characters different agendas in your scenes, to ratchet up the tension and interest.
  • Avoidance
    Have one of your characters completely avoid or ignore another character’s attempts accomplish something in the scene.
  • Actions Not Words
    Sometimes the most powerful statements aren’t made with words.

Hone your full set of screenwriting skills, have your characters fight to “win” each scene, and your script may be in fighting shape to win you a contract.


The Scriptwriters Network, founded in 1986, is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization created by writers for writers and industry professionals.  The Network serves its members by enhancing their awareness of the realities of the business, providing access and opportunity through alliances with industry professionals, and furthering the cause and quality of writing in the entertainment industry.

For more information, please visit their website.

Need someone to review your screenplay? Please take a look at my script services.

Category: Scenes, Writing  | 7 Comments
Q & A with Michele Wallerstein Jun 11

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


One day I hope to study film and become a screenwriter/director. I don’t know much about the film industry quite yet, so that’s why I plan on getting into a good film program in college. I have only one concern: How do filmmakers such as producers, screenwriters, and directors make money from their films? How do independent filmmakers make money?


The basic answer to this question is that Screenwriters, Directors and Producers have agents who negotiate their deals with the movie Studio and/or production companies who finance the film.  Writers, Directors and Producers often receive money during the development phase of the project and usually receive a large bonus if the movie gets produced.

The amounts of these payments are tied in to the budget of the film.  The bigger the budget, the bigger the pay day.  There are many more deal points that can be negotiated by the agents.

For example the artist may receive a percentage of the profits, they may be paid if the movie becomes a TV series and if there are games and toys produced based on the film, etc.

Independent filmmakers usually only make money if they are lucky enough to secure distribution by a major distribution company and/or sell their picture to a studio.

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:

Steve Kaplan’s Comedy Workshop Part 2 Jun 09

Steve Kaplan Comedy IntensivePart 1 can be found here.

Steve Kaplan’s Comedy Intensive is hailed as “The Industry’s #1 Course on Comedy.”

This past weekend I had the opportunity to check it out. So this week I’m imparting a few of its key teachings to all you aspiring comedy writers out there.

Today I’ll tell you about another one of The Six Hidden Tools of Comedy that I found to be particularly useful.

Note: All of the examples are my own, based on my understanding of the material. For a definitive discussion of the concepts, you’ll need to take Kaplan’s workshop.

Metaphorical Relationship

A metaphor is when something literal is used in place of another to suggest a likeness between the two ideas. In film it can be used to great comedic effect.

Remember this scene from Planes, Trains and Automobiles?

The bedroom scene starts out looking like a classic moment where two lovers wake up together. While that’s obviously not what’s going on here, it suggests the bonding of these two friends, and we get an immediate understanding of the predicament they’re in. The result is pure hilarity.

There’s actually a double whammy of the Metaphorical Relationship in this scene. After the two characters leap out of bed, horrified, they go into a stilted discussion of football. It’s a metaphor for the stereotypical conversations that all red-blooded American males of course have.

More Examples

Suppose you have to create a scene in a living room where Friend A needs to tell Friend B about something that’s troubling him. If you played it straight, you might end up with just a couple of talking heads.

But what if, when the two friends walk into the room, Friend A lies down on the couch and Friend B sits next to him in a chair like a psychiatrist? When Friend A starts unburdening himself, Friend B says things like, “And how did that make you feel?”

Or suppose you had to write an office scene where your nervous protagonist is about to go in to an important meeting. What if he gets a pep talk from his coworker in the style of a cornerman giving advice to a boxer, complete with a swig of bottled water and a spit into a garbage can?

“I want you to go in there and keep the witty banter up, dodge those budget questions and pepper them with your statistical reports. This is your meeting! Got it?!”


This tool is just that — a tool. It doesn’t have to appear in every scene, but it can certainly help you craft a comic moment if you’re stuck for an approach to use.

Are there opportunities to ramp up the funny in your scenes by using a Metaphorical Relationship?

Note: There’s never a good substitute for taking a class yourself, so if any of the ideas posted here intrigue you, I encourage you to sign up for the workshop the next time it’s offered (December 4-5, 2010 in L.A.).

For more information go to

Need someone to review your screenplay? Please take a look at my script services.

Steve Kaplan’s Comedy Workshop Part 1 Jun 07

Steve Kaplan Comedy IntensiveThis past weekend I attended Steve Kaplan’s Comedy Intensive workshop in Los Angeles.

He had some pretty nifty insights for comedy writers. So over the next few days I’ll try to decipher my chicken scratchings and post a few of the key things I learned or that I think you’ll find interesting.

The focus of day one was The Six Hidden Tools of Comedy. I’ll tell you about three of them that I thought were especially compelling.

First up…


Great comedies tend to feature “an ordinary guy or gal, struggling against insurmountable odds, without many of the required tools to win, yet never giving up hope.”

Of course many great dramas also feature ordinary guys or gals struggling against insurmountable odds, but the main point he was making was that the comedy protagonist is so woefully unprepared as to be laughable.

Those characters in Tropic Thunder had zero actual skills to survive in the jungle. Whereas Schwarzenegger and his team in Predator were army commandos.

Paul Blart was just a mall cop, who had difficulty detaining an old man in a wheel chair. Whereas John McClane in Die Hard was a trained police officer with a gun.

And so on…

Does the protagonist of your comedy have too many skills at the outset? Is (s)he too aware of what’s going on? “In drama your characters know too much. In comedy they don’t know enough.”


Tomorrow I’ll go over another one of Steve Kaplan’s comedy tools — the “Metaphorical Relationship.”

Note: There’s never a good substitute for taking a class yourself, so if any of the ideas posted here intrigue you, I encourage you to sign up for the workshop the next time it’s offered.

For more information go to

Need someone to review your screenplay? Please take a look at my script services.

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