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Archive for January, 2012

Henry Miller’s Writing Commandments Jan 31

I must confess, my only real exposure to author Henry Miller is the provocative film, Henry and June. Based on that movie, I’m surprised he found time to write (Lucky bastard!). But nonetheless he seemed to have an effective approach.

Here’s a graphic, courtesy of The Chive, that appears to show part of his work schedule. It contains some great writing tips or “commandments” that can also apply to screenwriting:

Henry Miller Writing Tips

While items 4 and 8 seem to be somewhat contradictory, there are some wonderful “commandments” here. Which ones do you find most helpful?

Category: Writing  | 3 Comments
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, SzzzzZZZZ…. Jan 27

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, SpyTinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – NOT a Thriller

Anyone else a feel little disappointed by this movie?

I’ve decided that you can’t call your movie a Thriller if A) no one runs in it, and B) the protagonist is never shown to be in any real danger.

An intense Espionage Drama? Sure. But a Thriller? That’s a bit of a stretch in my opinion. Damn you false advertising!

And what was the big fuss over Gary Oldman’s performance? Solid acting to be sure — but some of the reviews were making it sound like it was the role of his life.

Or maybe it was — what do you think? Was his performance understated, nuanced and bravura? Or was it just stoic, boring and unchallenging?

Did the trailer or the commercials have you feeling a little deceived when you finally saw the movie? Or was it just me? Let me know!

The Difference Between “Tentpole” and “High-Concept” Jan 05

Reader Questions: Tentpole vs. High Concept

Mission Impossible 4


I received some good questions from Lauren the other day:

What is the difference between a ten-pole [sic] movie and a high concept movie? Or do they always work together? Is there a minimum budget or max budget?

A “tentpole” movie is one that a studio hopes will do extremely well at the box office. Just like a pole holds up a tent, such a movie will provide the necessary financial support to the studio.

The term: “high-concept” is a little trickier to define. Essentially it’s an innovative movie idea that immediately captures viewers’ imaginations in a few words and is believed to have mass-market appeal.

As Steve Kaire writes in this insightful article, a high-concept movie can be sold on its pitch. It’s not execution dependent.

Movies like Jurassic Park (cloned dinosaurs running amuck in a theme park) or The Sixth Sense (a pscyhiatrist trying to help a boy who sees dead people) are high concept.

Movies like Star Wars, or Black Swan are execution dependent, and therefore not high-concept. It’s hard to describe them in a few words in a way that does them justice and excites the viewer.

An original script may get made because it’s high-concept. If it does well, then its sequel may be set up as a tentpole for the studio.

In fact, most tentpole movies these days are sequels or based on franchises with built-in audiences. Usually that means they are big budget productions, where the studios put lots of money into them, expecting a lot more money to come back.

But there are no hard and fast rules on budgeting. It depends what type of movie it is. Twilight only had a $37 million dollar budget, but was expected to be a hit (though, it went on to shatter expectations worldwide).


Is it important to always add humor to high concept scripts, for the studios and agents sake?

Limitless Poster


No, not at all. It depends entirely on the genre of the script you’re writing. But most movies have at least a moment or two of humor — if only to provide a brief respite for the audience. That’s why they call it “comic relief.”

Regardless of the genre though, the goal is to make your script as enjoyable to read as possible. Humor might be a part of it, but ultimately it’s about writing an engaging script. Make the reader want to turn the page to see what happens next.

So if you’re writing a dark horror movie, don’t feel that you need to add humor to the scene descriptions just to make the read more enjoyable. It would probably have the opposite effect.

However, if you’re writing an action-adventure, where part of the goal is to make the audience laugh, then have at it. If you’re writing a pure comedy, it’s probably a necessity.

Spiderman Reboot

Would you say the movie “Spiderman-Reboot” is high concept?

I would say that whether the Spider-Man reboot is high-concept or not is irrelevant. It’s a franchise movie, and a tentpole. We know it’s going to be a hit.

“High-concept” is usually applied to stories that haven’t been seen before on the silver screen. Spider-Man has been around for a while now. Everyone’s going to go see it, not because of an innovative story concept, but rather because we already know what a Spider-Man movie entails.

The original Spider-Man story (young man gets bitten by radioactive spider and develops spider-like superpowers)? Yes, very high concept.

Do you have any questions you’d like me to answer? Send ’em in!

Home Video Commentary Track [video] Jan 02

Not Where You Saw

Not Where You SawJohn Ramsey  and his brother have created a hilarious commentary track for one of their crappy home movies. They critique the footage in that stilted self-congratulatory, pseudo-intellectual style that we’re so used to hearing.

“Not Where You Saw” tells the riveting tale of one brother’s courageous stand for justice.

Check it out:

(via geekosystem)

Modern Family Horror Movie Goes Viral! Jan 01

Expectations Exceeded

Modern Family HorrorWhen I posted this extended Modern Family horror trailer spoof, I was hoping that, over a year or so, the video would maaaaybe receive 50,000 views.

Much to my surprise and delight, the video exceeded that number in just 3 days, and over the holidays!! BuzzFeed first picked it up, and then it spread from there.

Surreal Moments

There have been some really cool moments over the last few days:

3. The video appears in The Huffington Post
When an article about your video appears in The Huffington Post, you know you’ve touched upon something that has struck a chord outside your own little world.

2. While surfing IMDB, I see a news story about it
Last night, while visiting, I glanced down and noticed the top related news story was an article about the video! Of course, I was on The Bad Seed movie page, so I guess that makes sense… but still — wicked cool!

1. Ariel Winter tweets about the video — twice!
It was hugely rewarding (and relieving) to see that Ariel Winter, the brilliant young actress who plays Alex Dunphy, got a big kick out of the video. Here’s one of her tweets:

Ariel Winter tweets about "Modern Family" horror movie trailer spoof

“WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY???!!!!!!” – Phil Dunphy

So why did I make this video? What was the inspiration?

  • I love Modern Family!
  • Genre-bending and re-cut videos are hilarious. I was especially inspired by this video for Sleepless in Seattle.
  • I’ve always enjoyed movies about clever, evil kids (e.g. Macaulay Culkin, The Good Son / Isabelle Fuhrman, Orphan).
  • I was surprised Dexter didn’t go in this direction… yet. I mean seriously, look at Astor. That girl has darkness in her.
  • I was impressed by the acting of Ariel Winter. How does she have that much poise and confidence? When I was that age, I couldn’t even look an adult in the eyes.
  • Let’s face it, Alex only needed a strategic nudge or two to make it work.
  • Thought it would be fun to figure out the puzzle and put it together. It was!
  • It gets something entertaining out there right now for people to see. I love screenwriting, but it takes years for the fruits of your labor to pay off.
  • I thought the material was really interesting. We’ve seen evil kids before, and even smart evil kids. But a psychopathic child genius? Never. So I’m currently working on a feature film treatment! I’m excited about it, because I’m tellin’ ya, the the ending of my story gives The Usual Suspects a run for its money.


The overwhelmingly positive responses to the video have been incredibly flattering, humbling and very, very much appreciated. Thank you everyone!!!

Wishing all my Scriptwrecked readers (and my new Modern Family Horror Movie fans) all the best for the New Year! Let’s make sure 2012 is killer!

Stay tuned for my next video project… and of course more great content about screenwriting and movies.


Modern Family as a Horror Movie [Video]