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Archive for July, 2010

Modern Craft: Brad Cutter Ruined My Life… Again Jul 27


Screenwriting: Modern Craft

As I mentioned in this post (where I brilliantly announced my blogging return, then promptly disappeared for a month), I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the craft of some modern scripts that have garnered attention.

Every week or so, I’ll showcase a script that does something really well. The discussion will center on a specific facet of “screenwriting craft.” It won’t be a critique of the full script.

This week’s script is…

Brad Cutter Ruined My Life… Again

Genre: Comedy
A successful business man is forced to relive his miserable teenage years when the cool kid from his high school is hired at his company. (via IMDB)
Writer: Joe Nussbaum
Details: 112 pages / March 16, 2006 draft
Status: In Development / Black List 2006

Screenwriting craft — What sets this script apart?


Somewhere along the line, many screenwriters were scared into believing they should never indicate a character’s thoughts or emotions in scene description. “Only physical actions you can see!”

Obviously, physical manifestations of thoughts and emotions are mainstays of effective screenwriting. But surely, if a character is angry, shocked, embarrassed, etc., we know what that looks like too right? So it’s okay to come up with creative ways to express those thoughts or emotions when appropriate.

Now having said that, determining when it’s appropriate is an art form unto itself. What’s even trickier is coming up with ways to describe a character’s reaction or emotional state with language that’s doesn’t feel bland, and in ways that allow the reader to approach the scene from the point of view of its main character.

Joe Nussbaum is a master at this aspect of modern screenwriting craft.

Check out this script excerpt where the protagonist, Dave, is in a conference room with his boss and coworkers. The set up is that he’s been expecting a promotion to come his way for some time now.


I have an important announcement to make this afternoon.  I’ve worked in this business a long time.   I’ve seen a lot of people come and go.  Hard workers, creative people, smart businessmen and women.  And it takes a lot to impress me.

Dave pumps up.  Could Whitman be announcing his promotion right now?


So when I see a person with that special combination of smarts, skill, charisma and character, I jump at it.

Dave can’t believe this.  This is going to be so awesome.


Every team needs a star player.  And I think I’ve found ours.

Dave could burst with excitement.


He came in to interview last week and I hired him on the spot.



He’ll be starting on the ground floor, but I have a feeling he’ll work his way up quickly.  He arrived a few minutes ago and I sent Cathy to bring him in so you all could meet him right away.  Ladies and gentleman...

On cue, Cathy opens the door and brings in...


Brad Cutter!

Holy shit!  Dave gasps.  He can’t believe it.  Standing next to Whitman is the one and only...


He looks great.  At thirty, he’s handsome, tanned athletic and dripping charisma.  Of course he has a full head of hair and hardly an ounce of body fat.

The women are wowed, the men are impressed, and Dave may have just swallowed his tongue.

Notice the way Nussbaum he weaves the physical (e.g. “Dave pumps up.” / “Dave gasps.”) with the internal world of the character (e.g. “Could Whitman be announcing his promotion right now?” / “He can’t believe it.”) You feel like you’re right there with poor Dave.

If memory serves, using a thought reaction as a description (e.g. “What?”) was first pioneered by Oscar-winning scribe Ron Bass. It can be a very effective technique, when used correctly.

Keep In Mind

  • Beware “unfilmables” — descriptions that are impossible to see. For example: “Herbert looks up from his meal. Wonders if he should save a piece of lettuce for his pet rabbit, Hoppsie.” How the heck are we supposed to see that on screen?
  • In amateur scripts, I commonly see a thought response and a redundant physical response, that doesn’t add any new information, in the same line (e.g. “Huh? Sally looks confused.”)
  • I’ve also heard stories of screenwriting contest readers giving negative feedback to correct uses of this technique — just because of their unfamiliarity with it.
  • You should also be careful not to interrupt every line of dialogue with description. It’s a big pet peeve of readers. In the scene excerpt above it was used for a very specific comedic effect, and is not representative of the script as a whole.

How about you? Do you utilize thoughts and emotions strategically in your writing?

Further Reading

Category: Modern Craft, Writing  | 4 Comments
Screenwriting Contests Jul 09

Screenwriting Contests

by Michele Wallerstein

Okay, you finished the world’s greatest screenplay.  You’ve sweated out the hours and hours of work.  You’ve managed to get through the days of self-doubt.  You might even have managed to stay married through it all.  Here it is, that great masterpiece, staring you in the face.  You say to yourself: “What do I do now?”

The answers come to you in droves.  There are agents, managers, producers, studio executives, lawyers and consultants that might see your genius and want to buy your script, sign you to contract and/or at least refer you to a powerful friend.  If only you knew who they were and how to get to them.  There’s the rub.  Then, there’s that little voice either in your head or whispered by a friend or screaming at you from the myriad of internet blogs and sites.  It says:  “ENTER THE SCRIPT IN A CONTEST!”  Well that sounds like a very good idea.  It is a good idea if you know exactly what to do if you win, place or even show in that contest.

Winning a script competition is a great feeling and it often comes with a few dollars as a prize.  It might even show some of your friends and relatives that you actually do have some talent.  All of this is fine, but what does it do insofar as your professional career is concerned?

Unless you take the next steps, entering and even winning contests doesn’t do a thing for you.  The steps begin with your showing up at the film festival, event, seminar, etc., that has sponsored your contest.  You must be there to receive your award or prize and to be seen by the people in attendance.  Next, you must connect with everyone who is a professional in Hollywood who attends that event.  Do your networking in a powerful and positive way with these people.  You are someone that they need to know because you’ve won or placed in the contest and because you have a terrific and marketable screenplay that they should read.

Make sure that you have the basic information on all of those professional Hollywood people.  Get their names, addresses, emails, phone numbers and their exact titles as well as the names of the companies for whom they work.  After that you must make sure they have your business card or at least a piece of paper with your name, address, email and a reminder note that you are a writer that they met at the “such & such” event.

Now you are home and the real work begins.  Follow up with those people and remind them that you met and that you were in the contest.  Ask if you can send the screenplay or any other original screenplay that you have.

The next step to using a contest positively in your life is to write query letters to other agents, managers and producers or development executives wherein you mention one or two of the contests that you’ve won or placed in.  Never mention more than a couple of contests.  These people want information delivered to them quickly and precisely. They are not interested in a list of you accomplishments.

If you continue to enter many, many contests without following the above, you will be wasting a tremendous amount of your valuable time and energy.  Use that time and that energy to write another screenplay, or rewrite the ones you have.

A contest is merely an end to a means for getting your foot in that Hollywood door.  Use it wisely.

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:

Copyright 2009 Michele Wallerstein. Not be used without written permission from Author.

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