February 23rd, 2017
Hey there! Welcome to my slightly late February Newsletter. I hope all your writing goals are being met and you are working hard at advancing your projects and stories because it’s an exciting time in Hollywood.
Two weeks ago in Los Angeles, I attended a panel of all 9 of this year’s Oscar Nominated Screenwriters as they answered questions about their careers and their nominated films. And through their anecdotes and stories, I gleamed a number helpful quotes, tips and advice that I wanted to share with you.
Writing is Rewriting and sometimes it takes Years. Half the nominated writers wrote dozens and dozens of drafts of their script. The other half said they wrote only 3-5 drafts but over many years. There is no one process, but no script is ever done after draft 2. Tarell Alvin McRaney (Moonlight) wrote only 3 drafts of the original script but over 10 years. Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea) said his first draft took 8 months, the second draft took 2 years, the third draft was the production draft.
Put your character in a crisis of identity. The main character in each of these films faced an identity crisis in some way. Many of them reshaped the world they’re in to fit their needs or goals and find themselves. What are YOUR characters doing to find themselves and do they face a crisis of self in your story? How ingrained into your story is your character’s very identity?
“Writing (and character journeys) is about finding your true authentic self” — Mike Mills (20th Century Women)
“By unsuppressing things he held on to for so long, he was able to achieve his goals and find his identity.” — Luke Davies (Lion) on his main character played by Dev Patel.
Write who you are. Know why YOU are the only writer who could tell that story the right way. Allison Schroeder was a scientist at NASA before she was a screenwriter, so co-writing Hidden Figures was her destiny. It was also a writing assignment she got BECAUSE of her experience. Allison said, “It’s okay to be a woman and love dresses and heels and lipstick and also love math and science and want to be a screenwriter.” Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester) said, “Any good screenplay can only be written by THAT writer.”
“Understand the tone of what you’re trying to say.” And what your characters are trying to say. — Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water)
“Where’s the fun?” — Kenneth Lonergan. Know the fun of your story, your concept, your pitch. What is the entertainment factor of your story? If you cannot define that, why would anyone want to read or watch it?
When/If you feel you’re lost or ruined everything, put it into the creative. As I wrote in my own mantra in a newsletter about two years ago – write your way out. Desperation breeds achievement if you can channel it correctly. “Get out your last F*CK! and go do something.” — Eric Heisserer (Arrival).
Give yourself an inspirational and isolating place to write. Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) went to Brussells and shut out the internet.
Every success story comes on the heels of horrible failure stories. Allison Schroeder gave 44 pitches around town and no one bought anything. Her manager literally told her ‘I can’t get you hired.’ Taylor Sheridan was unable to pay rent when his girlfriend told him she was pregnant, so he started writing and didn’t stop. Eric Heisserer had two options die and his manager leave the business all in the same 45 days. Then he landed on the Blacklist. So, each failure brings you closer to success.
When stuck on an emotional scene, ask yourself – what’s the conversation you wish you could have with your parent and/or child? That will usually get the emotional and honesty faucet turning.
On Procrastination – “Procrastination is normal, if not inspirational.” Only ONE of the writers on the panel (Barry Jenkins) said he does not procrastinate. Everyone immediately hated him. He said his procrastination IS writing – he writes other things to get him in the mood to write the thing he needs to write. But every single other person on the panel confessed to “researching” for hours a day. Whether it’s creating playlists, setting the mood, cleaning the house, watching favorite films or TV series, clearing the DVR, driving around endlessly, etc. It’s normal. You’re not alone.
“I procrastinate by being depressed. I just recede from everything.” — Mike Mills
Luke Davies loves to read Poetry because it “puts you in touch with the primal linguistic energies of existence.”
“I do nothing as often and as intensely as possible. Procrastination is life.” — Kenneth Lonergan
“You have the right to write about anything you care about…If you care about it, others probably will too.”
— Kenneth Lonergan. True, however, you need to be budget and demographic conscious. If you know it would only appeal to a small demographic, then your budget needs to reflect that.
If you’re ever searching for story ideas, read the NY Times obituaries. Read incredible life struggles and stories and apply it to your own work. “Always go to the truth and your research” — Allison Schroeder
I hope these inspiring and talented writers help you on your journey to success, and I hope I can help you as well!
December 18th, 2015
By Danny Manus
I’m sure you’ve heard it said that screenwriting is a marathon, not a sprint. But in truth…it’s both. And sometimes it’s not the first step OR the last step that’s most important, but those treacherous steps in the middle as you make the run from aspiring screenwriter to professional.
As a script consultant and writing coach, many of my clients are at a sensitive juncture in their writing career. They’ve written their first scripts – and perhaps their second, third or fourth as well. They’ve gotten feedback, they’ve rewritten, they’ve polished, they’ve submitted to prestigious contests and they finally get the email they’ve been waiting for… They’re a contest finalist or maybe even the big winner!
They have beaten out thousands of other aspiring writers and have won the grand prize of whatever prestigious contest it might be.
This is the question that so many writers don’t know how to answer and because of that, either they don’t know how to capitalize on it OR they try to capitalize when they’re not actually ready and end up screwing their chance.
First things first. If you were lucky enough to win a major contest with your first script, that’s amazing. But you need to go write your second one before you start contacting agents. Yes, you can start querying and calling production companies with your contest-winning script but while you’re doing that, ride that wave of motivation to write and finish your next script!
Next, look at the contest you won. You should be entering contests that afford you opportunities to get read and make in-roads to industry connections. So, if those contests promise to send your script to X companies, then that’s your next step.
You want to capitalize on whatever buzz or momentum you can muster in this business. So, if there are social media announcements about how you’re the big winner – use that! But don’t just rely on the contest to do the work for you. Start making phone calls and your first sentence is “Hi, I just found out I beat out 4,500 other writers to be this year’s grand prize winner of Script Pipeline (for example), and I am currently looking for representation. I’d love to talk to you about my script.”
But before you start calling every manager, agent and production company out there about that first contest win, you need to know a few things that no one else will tell you…
1. If you won (or were a finalist in) a TV contest with a spec of an existing show, managers and producers don’t care as much because they can’t sell that script. And every single rep you call will say, “Great, do you have an original pilot you can send?” They may want to read your spec ALSO, but they will definitely ask for an original. If your answer is no, then your win doesn’t really mean anything except it should give you a big vote of confidence to start writing your original pilots!
If you won with a spec for an existing series, and you DO have other original pilots that are completed, polished and ready to go, then use your existing spec win as leverage to get reps or producers to read your original pilot. Call about the win, but have the pitch for your original series ready for that call. You should absolutely mention the contest win in your query letter, but your query should be for your original pilot. Leverage the spec win to get the read of your original. It will mean much more.
2. If you won (or were a finalist in) a TV contest with an original pilot, and you have an additional writing sample already completed, polished and ready to go – then start querying, calling, emailing, and try to use any executives who read your script as part of the prize to see if they would recommend you to any of their rep friends. Create a buzz about your win even if the contest doesn’t.
3. If you won a contest or film festival with a SHORT film or Web Series, you need to know what you’re calling places for. Are you calling places to help distribute your short? Are you querying because you shot the first episode of a web series and are looking for funding for the rest? Do you have a vision (or a script) for the full feature based on your short and you’re hoping someone wants to develop that with you? Are you calling because you’re a writer/director and want to find representation as a multi-hyphenate? You need to know why you’re calling and how to pitch yourself and your project, as each of the aforementioned goals would require a different type of pitch or query.
If you’re promoting a short or web series, create a strong social media platform and following to prove that your contest or film festival win isn’t just a lark, but that there is real support brewing for this idea. Use that platform to your advantage as proof of concept. If you were ONLY the writer on the short (as opposed to also directing or producing), chances are that’s not enough to get anyone to read you unless it’s a script for the feature version of the short that won.
4. If you won one of those top contests with a feature script, strike while the iron is hot. Know where you are in your career and what that next goal is for you. If you only have the 1 script and 1 idea, then your best bet is going to be contacting producers because they don’t care (as much) about how many other scripts you have. If they love that one, that’s all you need. If you have more than 1 finished script or at least 1 finished (winning) script and a bunch of other fleshed out ideas, then try querying and contacting managers.
If you have at least 2-3 finished, polished and semi-commercial scripts, then you can also contact agents. Go to pitchfests and use online pitch services if you can’t get to execs or reps any other way.
But again – know where YOU are in the process. And don’t get discouraged if your contest win doesn’t lead to fame and fortune – most don’t. It’s the writers who know how to capitalize on the win and follow-up on a win with their NEXT great script, that usually break out.
Winning a prestigious contest is a great step in your career – but it’s basically step 20 out of the 100 steps you need to take. The upside is that you’re now one giant step ahead of all the other writers who are still trying to win. Be excited and proud for your accomplishment! But then focus on your 21st step. You need to be aggressive, but realistic. Productive, and entrepreneurial. And above all…keep writing!
Because that next step is a doozy.
November 11th, 2015
By Danny Manus
Halloween is over, but that doesn’t mean horror films aren’t still selling. But there has been a substantial shift in the types of horror films that are driving the market in the last two decades. There are a number of reasons for this, including oversaturation of the market in the 80s and 90s, and the new low budget mindset of horror producers. But also what scares us in our core has changed.
When the serial killers of the 60s, 70s and 80s were at the height of their popularity, the film business exploited that and that’s why slashers did so well. But today, people aren’t scared of the crazy masked serial killer who breaks out of the mental ward – they’re scared of the mentally ill neighbor who one day forgets her meds and just snaps without warning. We like our horror to have an element of escapism and fantasy, but also be grounded enough to scare us in our souls. The reason horror films do well overseas is because fear is universal, and the things that shake us to our core or give us the shivers or nightmares is something everyone can connect with.
While producers are looking for the next great franchise, now that Saw and Paranormal Activity are done and Insidious has completed a trilogy, launching a new slasher franchise has proved all but impossible the last decade and torture porn is a trend that met its maker. In fact there have been a number of trends that have come and gone in the last 15 years…
Asian horror remakes certainly had its heyday (The Ring, The Grudge, Cure, Audition), Zombie films like 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead launched a horror movement still enjoyed today though usually with a more humorous slant (Pride & Prejudice with Zombies and Scout’s Guide to Zombie Apocalypse are about to be released), then it was haunted houses that made a comeback (The Haunting, House on Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts), then demons and exorcism knock-offs were all the rage (Devil Inside, The Rite, Deliver Us From Evil, The Last Exorcism, Annabelle), evil children movies tried to remind us why having kids is not always the right choice (Orphan, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Cooties, Insidious), socially conscious horror movies tried to make a splash (The Crazies), and of course there’s the found footage film trend, which is still bankable depending on the story and what you do with this style of storytelling (like in Unfriended).
But in the last few years, it has been the more cerebral, paranormal, comedic, and even true stories that have been driving the domestic horror film market. And personally, I think we will see more horror anthology films like V/H/S in the near future as more “scary story” books from the 80s get optioned and developed.
There have been a number of great horror films that are redefining the genre. So, I wanted to compile a quick list of 25 great horror flicks from just the last decade that you need to see if you want to compete in this market. They aren’t all blockbusters, but a few of them have ended up on my personal list of best films from their year (The Babadook, The Conjuring, Cabin in the Woods), and they all deliver upon a horrific premise, have great scares and suspense, set a great tone, and have a specific hook that makes them original. They are ELEVATING the genre, and that’s exactly what you should be trying to do if you want your horror films to stand out.
In no particular order….
Cabin in the Woods
Let the Right One In
Drag Me to Hell
Under the Skin
Insidious (the first one)
Evil Dead (Remake)
The Woman in Black (the first one)
I Spit On Your Grave
Human Centipede (the first one)
The Final Girls
Paranormal Activity (1 and 3)
November 11th, 2015
By Danny Manus
If you’ve been paying attention lately, you surely noticed that the hottest thing selling in Hollywood…is books! And with the success of films like Gone Girl, Hunger Games and yes, even 50 Shades of Gray, more and more book writers are making the jump and adapting their own material or trying to get their books adapted to film.
And while the goal in both mediums is to create the best story and tell it in the most compelling way, there are some major differences between writing for book and film.
Whether writing book or film, you always want to think and write visually. As storytellers, we are always picturing whatever we’re putting on paper. But writing visually is not the same thing as writing cinematically.
Writing visually is making sure something is happening in the scene (or chapter). Writing cinematically is about making sure something is happening behind the scene. Writing visually in a book is about describing the scene – the location, the wardrobe, the way the moonlight shines in the effervescent blue sparkles of your character’s eyes. In film, it’s about expressing what’s happening in the scene in the fewest amount of words. It’s not about feelings or thoughts – it’s about actions and word choice.
With books, it’s often about writing a story that everyone can relate to and say, “I’ve been through that too, so I understand. This is like a book about my life.” It’s about creating a community of people who relate to what is happening in your story in some way.
In film, it’s about creating a story that no one else has gone through and then finding ways to make it relatable through your themes, characters and dilemmas. The threshold is higher with stories meant for the big screen, because people go to the movies to escape – not to commiserate. Ten thousand books a year can be published about fighting cancer. You know how many movies about cancer there can be in any given year? One.
Writing cinematically is about having moments. Yes, certain structural moments that keep a reader and audience engaged. But also, visual, impactful, shocking, powerful moments that people will be talking about or quoting later. It’s about bringing out the hook of your story and exploiting it to its maximum dramatic (or comedic or horrific) purpose. It’s about focusing your project down to its most important moments and details that create a world and tell a story and a character arc without feeling novelistic.
If you’re interested in adapting your book to a screenplay, this is how you need to think. You take your basic concept, your world, probably your main character, and the 5-10 major moments that define and exploit your hook and concept in your book – and you leave the rest behind. Sure, there are some lines of dialogue and description that will carry over. But adapting from a book is basically like writing an original screenplay inspired by a true story. Except it’s inspired by the book it’s based on.
And the great part about writing books is that even if no one else wants to publish it, you can still do it yourself and get your voice out there for the world to read. There’s always a pay off! That’s something you can’t say about a screenplay.
But to that end…No BullScript is here to help! After working with a number of book writers, speaking at numerous book conferences, and forging great relationships with publishers, editors and book agents around the country, I am thrilled to announce that No BullScript is now offering a service specifically for BOOK WRITERS!
If you have written a manuscript and want to know if your story and writing is strong enough to grab a publisher or agent’s attention, or if you’re thinking about adapting your book to a screenplay and want to go through how and if it’s worthwhile to do so – we can help with that! I will read your book and we will go through all my notes, chapter by chapter, over the phone (or Skype) to make sure your book is as strong as it can be. And if it is, I will help you get it into the right hands. *I want to make it clear, I’m not EDITING books. But if you are unsure about your story, characters, flow, overall writing, plot, or its ability to become a feature film, I am here to help! Please check out my services page for the NEW Manuscript/Adaptation Notes Service. And I hope to work with you all soon!
November 11th, 2015
By Danny Manus
There’s always a sharp adjustment period after I return from Austin Film Fest every year. And not just for my liver. It’s a constant whirlwind event for 5 days – and not just because of the Tornado that almost hit this year! There’s so much to take in – it’s wall to wall panels, parties and people! If you have never been, I highly recommend it!
This year, I was back teaching the Pitch Prep seminar alongside Pixar executive Emily Zulauf, as well as judging the early rounds. And I got to moderate a great panel on pitching as well.
While extreme weather and falling on Halloween certainly affected this year’s events, there was still a huge amount of learning and networking to experience.
My favorite panels that I saw were Phil Rosenthal’s interview with the legendary Norman Lear, who at 93 is every bit as sharp, hilarious and inspirational as he ever has been; the conversation between action heroes Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Long Kiss Goodnight) and Jeb Stuart (Die Hard, The Fugitive); Michael Arndt’s (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3) course on Endings; the TV/Film Crossover convo between Justin Marks (Jungle Book) and Amy Berg (DaVinci’s Demons); and my own panel on the art of pitching with Chad and Carey Hayes (The Conjuring, San Andreas).
From all the panels I heard, as well as the pitching competition this year, there were some clear lessons, tips and quotes I want to share with all of you who couldn’t make it that will hopefully help you on your writing journey.
1. The greatest writers in the world all think Structure and Formatting is important. There are a few consultants and writers out there spouting about how structure is killing creativity and how having a beat sheet or using three-act structure isn’t necessary. And maybe it isn’t. But, when I hear writers like Michael Arndt, Brian Helgeland, Jeb Stuart and Terry Rossio touting the importance of specific structure, it’s clear those who don’t believe are in a vast minority. Even those who hate structure – still love structure. They just call it something else. You can look at structure from your character’s POV or thru visual beats or emotional beats – but it’s all structure. And it’s all important.
2. “At the moment of (true) commitment, the universe conspires to ensure your success.” – Norman Lear on becoming successful and what it takes. “We all walk in on the shoulders of others.” – Norman Lear.
3. “The big difference between action and suspense – suspense is cheaper.” (Jeb Stuart) He also said (and I’m paraphrasing): Action is when something exciting happens that the character and audience both experience. Suspense is when the audience knows something the character doesn’t and we’re not sure when or how they will discover it. For example, action is a bomb exploding. Suspense is seeing there’s a ticking bomb under the table and the character doesn’t know. Then finding ways to build the tension of that moment.
4. Humanizing your characters is about laying foundation with those small clues and moments early on that give us insight into them and connect us in some way. (Angela Kang, writer/Exec Producer, The Walking Dead)
5. When Die Hard was being developed, Joel Silver told Shane Black, “You have to blow up the top of the building!” Because if you don’t, you’re teasing the audience too much and audiences don’t want to be teased at the end of an action movie.
6. Insanely great endings are positive, surprising, and most of all – meaningful. There’s an emotional release, a new look on the world, and meaningful emotion… Always ask yourself – what’s at stake? And look at the External, the Internal, and the Philosophical (paraphrasing Michael Arndt in his Endings class).
7. “The connectors kill your script. They are what cause the lulls,” Shane Black said. He is referring to the exposition-filled PLANNING scenes where it’s just characters talking about what they are going to do or how they’re going to do it.
8. Good action scenes advance the plot. Never hit pause on your story to include action – it should be part of the story. (Angela Kang) And if you imbed the story in the action, then it can’t be cut for budgetary reasons later on. (Jeb Stuart)
9. In terms of pitching, TV was king this year. Two years ago, the pitch competition was about 60/40 in favor of film. Last year, it was 50/50. This year, it was about 70% TV pitches! And to that end, the WINNERS the last two years were TV series pitches.
10. When you pitch producers, pitch the External. When you pitch actors, pitch the Internal.
11. Have your pitch down. The winner this year had her pitch down so perfectly, she did not get ONE note in her preliminary judging session OR the finale. Her TV Comedy series pitch had everything one should have; a funny concept, likable characters and a strong entrée into the world, clear conflict, it wasn’t just a great pilot but a strong series, and she had great one-liners with perfect word choice, rhythm and cadence to the pitch. And she was unshakable. She knew her story and pitch so well a room full of drunken peers and three A-List writers judging her couldn’t shake her. That’s how you pitch!
12. “It took every moment of your life to get right here. And every second of mine.” – Norman Lear.
September 1st, 2015
By New Writer on Message Board
Hey guys, thanks for accepting me into your Facebook group. I’m new to screenwriting though I’ve read at least two books on it. Well, almost two books. And I read at least 3 scripts last year which I think really prepared me for my new writing endeavor, but I could use some guidance because…
I just wrote a complete sentence and I think I really have something here.
I know it’s not much yet but it took me 4 months and I think in the right hands, it has huge commercial potential and could sell. It’s certainly better than most of the crap Hollywood is churning out these days, which I can’t stand. It’s like there’s no originality anymore, right? I only want to write my own original thoughts. But I thought I’d ask you all for feedback and advice before I start sending it to production companies and agents.
Be brutal – but kind. Because this is the first thing I’ve ever written – or at least the first thing I’m willing to show anyone – and I think it’s a pretty great sentence. Here goes –
“No one else could possibly imagine the tortured pain he felt inside after she drove away.”
What do you think? I’m really proud of it. I think it conveys a new type of character that’s never been seen and some deep emotion. I heard stories are all about internal conflict.
But since I’m new to screenwriting, I was just wondering a few things. I hope you can answer my questions and help find me the success I know this sentence deserves.
I heard Tarantino once wrote a sentence and it was bought for a million dollars. I’m not saying this sentence is as good as Tarantino’s of course, but who knows?
First, do you think I should capitalize any other words in my sentence? I’m pretty sure I read that the first letter in a sentence should be capitalized in screenplays, but am I getting the format right? Should I capitalize DROVE since it’s a verb? Or PAIN so that the reader really knows what I’m going for?
Second, I was thinking of Morgan Freeman when I wrote this sentence. I just think he’s brilliant and would really get it, ya know? Do you think he would be interested? And does anyone know how I could call his agent and send it to him?
I heard that you should register everything you write. How do I go about registering my sentence? When I send it out, should I put the registration number under the sentence?
How would you suggest I pitch this sentence? Should I read the whole sentence or just part of it and let execs ask questions about the rest? Should I send blind queries for it, and if so, would it help if I tell the execs that I’m currently working on the next sentence so that they know I really have a vision and I’m a hard worker who won’t give up until I’ve written a whole paragraph?
Do you think agents will like my sentence? Do you know any I could email about it? I know CAA is the biggest, but I’m thinking maybe ICM would respond more favorably?
In case you’re interested or know any investors, I also just launched a GoFundMe campaign so that people can donate to this project. Anyone who sends over $10 gets a personally written copy of the sentence. And a producer credit when it gets made. Please tell your friends!
Hey, guess what? I just bought a $45 online pitch session. I was told all I need is an idea, but luckily I have way more than that with my sentence so I think the exec will be impressed. How many writers do you know that have optioned their sentence? Does it happen often? How long should I wait to follow up on the pitch of my sentence?
That brings up another point – if my sentence gets optioned, should I move to LA? How much money do you think I should expect for the option of my sentence? I’m not looking for much, I’d rather just get my foot in the door. But if I move to LA, I’m going to need that sentence option money to get me through.
Oh shit, guys! I just read my sentence in another script that has already sold. But I’m pretty sure I thought of this sentence years ago before that script sold or was even written. I can’t believe someone would take my sentence and put it in their own script. I really feel like this sentence means more coming from me than it does in this other guy’s script. I think I’m gonna sue…
Does anyone know a good entertainment lawyer who will work for free until the settlement money comes in? I know it’s gonna be huge.
May 21st, 2015
There are so many opinions out there for writers to listen to these days. So many voices trying to tell writers what to do, what not to do, how to do it, how not to do it, who they should hate, who they should respect, how to succeed, how not to succeed, etc. It’s coming from all sides. And some of those voices have begun to take a tone that, for me, seems almost unhealthy to listen to. I’m not sure when social media became the technological equivalent to a Branch Davidian compound, but it needs to stop.
All writers want to do is connect. Especially those still trying to “break in”. But I think some of the recent rhetoric has made it hard for writers who are trying to get noticed, get read, learn, or make that connection with a professional they admire, to figure out when they are actually networking and learning…and when they are unknowingly part of a cult.
To be honest, I don’t even think the professionals themselves are aware of their Jim Jonesy behavior and what type of self-aggrandizing, arrogant dome of cynicism and power they are creating. So, in hopes that there is still time to save others from drinking the Kool-Aid, and as a public service to inform those unknowingly responsible (on both sides), here are some ways to know if you’re leading a cult…
– Your followers or fans have a collective name they are referred to by outsiders.
– You have tried to preclude your followers, fans, friends, or people within your circles from communicating or forming relationships with others who don’t share your way of thinking. You make introductions and arrange “instant friends” for those you want to be part of your group. You make your world seem like a loving, supportive place to be. But if anyone disagrees with you or leaves your circle, they suddenly lose all their new friends. When support = control, it’s not a friendship or mentorship…it’s a cult.
– You suggest your followers and fans not seek out or read outside information that disagrees with yours. Only information you provide is correct and will help your followers. Anyone else providing information is a false guru with a sinister motivation. Only your motivations are true.
– You denounce outside education, classes, advice, feedback or knowledge from anyone other than yourself or those you have personally endorsed and deemed as worthwhile. And you discredit other people’s information or advice not based on how true it might be, but on the basis of how it supports your party line.
– If you are attacked on social media, your followers quickly exact revenge on your behalf in heinous and personal ways without even knowing your attackers personally.
– You cast aspersions on outside computer programs or software your followers may use (…and then launch your own and charge for it).
– You advise your followers that they need to move closer to you, and can only truly be part of your world if they are living nearby in the same town.
– You create your own terminology for words and concepts that don’t require new terminology (or perhaps your own font?).
– You offer FREE information, FREE help, or FREE access to some higher power that can get followers closer to their dreams. All they have to do is believe and be loyal.
– You often emotionally break down those seeking your advice by saying their chances of success is infinitesimal. That if they don’t have an innate talent, they are hopeless, and that the only people who can truly help them are people who won’t – except you.
– Your group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader or group is on a special mission to save others from what you deem as making mistakes).
– The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
– You enjoy being equally feared and revered by your followers. You make it clear you have direct access to a higher authority (like, for example, the Studios). Anyone disagreeing with you might as well be disagreeing with that higher authority. Questioning your authority or opinion is seen as a sign of stupidity, naivety or inexperience.
– You are self-funded and use the fact that you are accountable to no one and have no direct allegiances or corporate ties to convince followers that unlike others out there, you have no agenda other than their well-being.
– You answer logical reasoning or other’s valid points with your own brand of false reasoning, shaming, guilt, peer pressure or character assassination. In terms of character assassination, you may say things like, “Maybe the reason you’re not as successful as me is because you’re not doing it how I did it.” Or something like, “How could you possibly disagree with me? I’ve been doing this longer than you and at a higher level. You are obviously unsatisfied with what you do and are jealous of me and my success, and your rebellion to my opinion is only hurting yourself and others.”
– Your followers display excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to you and your teachings and regard your beliefs, ideologies, and practices as The Truth.
This list is obviously meant in a humorous way and should be taken as such. But if you take anything else away from it, let it be this… Those who spout off about how THERE ARE NO RULES – but then continue to tell you exactly what to believe and think and how to act and who to do business with – are either wildly hypocritical, or completely oblivious. And you don’t need to listen to either one. If you are worried that you or someone you know has been involved in cult-like behavior, please seek help immediately – and stay off social media.
May 8th, 2015
By Danny Manus
Have you sent out dozens of query letters? Hundreds? Thousands?
And no response? No reads? No meetings? Not even a polite rejection letter telling you why they won’t read your material?
Then let me be clear…It’s YOU. Not THEM.
You’re the problem. Or at least, your query letter is.
There have been some articles lately about how the whole idea of a query letter in today’s Hollywood is a hoax. I don’t believe that. Why? Because while 98% of queries may go straight into the trash and the chances of them paying off are indeed incredibly slim… they’re no less valid than any other way of trying to get read, signed, produced or otherwise noticed. And they’re still the least expensive. Everything’s a long shot. Everything’s a crap shoot. Queries are no different. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a try. IF you’re doing it right. The problem is – 98% of you aren’t.
I recently agreed to help a boutique agency sift through their backlog of hundreds and hundreds of queries that were piling up – something I’ve done for other agents and managers in the past. I was asked to keep the ones I thought might be worth reading or contacting the writer about. I read about 550 queries just for this one company over the course of a couple weeks, and it quickly became frighteningly obvious how many ridiculous, unnecessary, sloppy, unprofessional, clueless, amateur mistakes writers were making with their queries.
For the record, of the 550(ish) queries, I gave 35 query letters back to the agent to look at. All the others are now sitting in my recycling bin. Except for the handful that were so ungodly awful, unprofessional or ridiculous, that they are now being kept in my folder of query gems that I use in my classes as examples of what not to do (don’t worry, I don’t use names).
But it doesn’t have to be like that. You CAN get read and noticed and even signed from your query letters. If you’re not committing any of the cardinal sins of queries listed below. A checklist I crudely call…
The 50 Reasons Your Query Letter Sucks. I hope you’ll forgive my foul language.
- TYSPOS. If yuo cant right one paragraf without dozens of tyspos then you’re script is probably illegidable. See how insanely annoying that is. Makes me sound like a fucking 4th grader, doesn’t it? Why would a manager invest their time in someone who writes like that? If you cannot write a half a page without correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation, I will not read your script. Period. Hire someone to edit your letter if you need to. You have no idea how many letters I read where the script’s own TITLE had a typo in it. There is NO excuse for laziness or stupidity.
- You didn’t include your EMAIL ADDRESS in your letter. Do yourself a favor and stop including a SASE with your query. No one is mailing you back. If we want to read your script, we’re going to email you and let you know. If there’s no email address on the letter, then guess what…we can’t contact you and you wasted a stamp. Of the 550 queries in this batch, well over 100 did not have email addresses and went right in the garbage. Also, make sure your Email address is appropriate and professional. If your email is Hottieforyou69@aol.com, do yourself a favor – get a second account.
- You’re writing stories everyone else is writing. Sometimes it’s just your concept or lack of originality. In this batch, there were some CLEAR trends. The most common concepts queried included: War/Soldier Stories (at least 15% of all queries received), Aliens/Robots/Sci-Fi stories (15%), True Stories likely based on the writer’s life (at least 10%), Bank Robbery/Heist stories (10%), Christmas movies (5%), Torture Porn (5%), Rape/Abortion Stories (5%), Sequels to Existing Movies (5%), etc. The other 30% were broken up between comedies, other types of dramas, thrillers, a few ghost stories, and TV pilots. In other words – most of the queries were for stories and genres that can’t sell.
- YOUR QUERY IS WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS OR SOME FUNNY FONT.
- You sent a handwritten serial killer-style manifesto. It’s called a computer. Use it. And stop torturing animals in your shack.
- You don’t tell us your genre and you don’t have a good logline (or ANY logline). The people you’re sending queries to have to pitch your concept to their bosses. That’s why your logline is so important. Plus, if your logline is truly great, the rest of the letter doesn’t need to be that long. But I can count on one hand how many of the 550 queries had a truly GREAT logline that made me excited to read more.
- Your query is written in all Spanish. No hablo, muchacho.
- The first line of your query is “I’m a first time writer…” – well then you’re not ready to be querying and definitely not ready for an agent or manager who don’t want to be your guinea pig.
- You’re querying agents about your first script. Do not bother. You need at least 2 polished and ready scripts for agents to care about you. You can query producers, but honestly, it’s probably not ready for them either.
- You are querying about an IDEA you have and not a script you’ve written. Thanks for the idea. Next time, write the script and register it. This is how ideas get stolen – and it’s YOUR fault. No one is going to sign you based on an idea. They are worthless.
- Your brief story synopsis is really just ONE scene or only covers the first 15 pages of your story and it doesn’t point out the situation your character must do/overcome/achieve or what your hook is.
- You’ve written a sequel to a major franchise, book, or film. STOP WASTING YOUR DAMN TIME AND MINE! No one is buying your Batman or Star Wars movie – CUT IT OUT! It makes you a fan, not a screenwriter. DO NOT write scripts for stories, characters or films you don’t own the rights to. Producers and studios have a prestigious stable of million-dollar screenwriters they want movie ideas from for their franchises and you’re not one of them.
- You’re querying about a spec you’ve written of an existing TV show because you want to sell it to the producers of that show. This is NEVER going to happen. If you want to be a TV writer, you should be querying about your ORIGINAL PILOT and as a 2nd sample, you can mention you also wrote a spec of an existing show. But you should never query an agent because of a spec of a show you want to sell to its producers.
- You included autographed headshots of yourself. Unnecessary. Unless you’re really hot.
- In your letter, you ask for DONATIONS to your Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign! I even got one letter that was a query asking for donations to his college education for film school. No joke.
- You’re sharing TMI or opening with something personal or embarrassing. If you have a legitimate mental illness – DON’T tell us about it in your query. I read at least 3 queries where the writer told me in the first line that they are bipolar. You’re a screenwriter – I already assume you have mental issues.
- You tell me to call your MOTHER. Yes, in one of the greatest/worst queries I’ve ever read, it was a 3 page hand-written letter on yellow legal paper and at the end, the writer – who is 27 YEARS OLD(!!) – says he lives in his mother’s basement and to please call HER cell phone and leave a message and she will pass it along. Seriously, Norman Bates? Would I have to ask your mother if you can come to a meeting too?
- You’re starting your query by telling me your whole life story. I don’t give a shit. And you’re not that interesting. I have only read 2 query letters ever where the life story was so moving and powerful I had to read their script. TWO. Out of tens of thousands.
- Your story is about rape, domestic abuse or abortion. Especially if you’re a male writer. These are NOT the most interesting things about women to write about. Even if you’re a female writer, it’s been done to death (no pun intended) and 90% of the time we know it’s based on your own true story. Not even Lifetime is making movies about rape and abortion anymore.
- Your whole query letter is one huge block of writing without any line spaces or paragraphs. I can only imagine what your script looks like.
- Your query is for a Game Show or (unmade) Short Film. No one represents short film writers or game show writers. Try writing something that can make you MONEY.
- You’re not using both capital and lower case letters like a normal person. The title of your script better start with a Capital Letter. It should also be in quotation marks and can be capitalized (though not necessary).
- You INSULT other movies in your query letter to make yours sound better. You have no idea who’s reading your letter or who they’ve worked with or what movies they worked on or love. Don’t tell us your story is “like X movie but with a good story, more likeable characters and actually funny.” Makes you sound like a jealous dick.
- You promise us your script is the best script we’ll read all year. It’s not. I guarantee it. Don’t set the bar higher than you can reach.
- You tell us to check out your Tumblr blog or website or Twitter feed to find out about your story or download your script. Don’t troll for followers or website hits.
- You close your query with “Kiss, Kiss” or something stupid and immature. End your query with “Warmest” “Warmest Regards” “Sincerely” or “Respectfully” and then your name, email, and phone number. That’s it.
- You are LYING in your query and it’s really fucking obvious and insulting. Do not tell me in your query letter that you’re an award winning writer if that award is some high school competition or 3rd place in Scriptapalooza 2006. You didn’t win shit. Don’t say you have lots of agents begging to represent you or numerous producers clamoring for your story – because I know that’s not true. You know how I know? Because then you wouldn’t be blind querying me, would you!? Do not say studios or actors are interested if you don’t have a Letter of Intent. It takes ONE phone call to confirm you’re a liar. Do not tell us about what your “friends in the industry” said about the script. If you had real friends in the industry, you wouldn’t be querying like this. You’re trying to start a long-term relationship with someone – don’t start on a lie. This isn’t Tinder.
- Connected to that, you try to exaggerate to make yourself sound better by using words you think we can’t decipher. For instance, “My script is currently with X MAJOR STUDIO” – We know that means you randomly emailed your script and haven’t heard back. Or “My script is currently in contention for the Nicholls Fellowship” – which means you paid the entry fee and submitted.
- You say you’ve been inspired by God to write your story. God has nothing to do with it. Unless the God you pray to is Aaron Sorkin.
- You’re a repeat offender. If you have sent the same query letter to the same company 16 times – guess what? IT’S A FUCKING PASS! Take the hint. Stop sending it. You only seem like more of a desperate nut-job (I’m talking to you, Jack!).
- You don’t tell us anything that makes you stand out in a POSITIVE way or makes one think you have a strong enough voice or pleasant and professional enough disposition.
- You start your query with a ridiculous rhetorical question. “Ever wonder what would happen if your dog turned into a beautiful woman?” Umm…NO. No, I haven’t. Better question is – Why have you? We can’t answer you and if we answered NO, then we have dismissed your premise before reading your story. This is an antiquated way of writing queries – stop it!
- You offer to send me pictures of you, and ask me to send you pictures of me. It’s not that kind of agency, you creepy fuck.
- You make it feel like a form letter even though we know it is. Send your letter to a specific person and spell their name right! Don’t address your query to “Dear Sir or Madam” or to the wrong name or wrong company, and don’t address it to “Dear My Next Agent” or “Dear Gatekeeper” or “Dear Development Person.” Do your due diligence and research and know who you are sending it to. It’s called IMDBPRO.
- You’ve included random coverage reports and you didn’t even get a RECOMMEND! A CONSIDER is nothing to brag about. And those coverage/notes reports are private.
- You tell us who should star in your movie or who you wrote the characters for. If it’s well-written, producers will know who should play that role. The way to cheat this is when you describe your character, you can say “A Seth Rogen type” instead of “I wrote this for Seth Rogen” – because what if the agent or producer hates him?
- You tell us in your letter that you demand to produce/direct/star in the movie. I even had one letter where the writer said he would appreciate it if the hypothetical movie would be scheduled around his day job. INSTANT PASS. Unless you’re also financing the film.
- You’re writing your query letter in the third person. Danny Manus has written a wonderful new thriller that Danny Manus would like you to read…. Danny Manus sounds like a douche.
- You’re bragging that you got honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest Contest of 2006. Who the fuck cares? It’s not a major contest, you didn’t even win, and it was like 10 years ago. If you haven’t WON or been a FINALIST in one of the 10-15 major prestigious contests (or semifinalist in the top 3 contests) in the last 5-6 years then it’s not worth mentioning in a letter. It just tells us your script has been around FOREVER and no one has wanted it or signed you off of it.
- You’re not setting up a context for your script. Use “It’s this meets that” or “It’s in the vein of this and that” because it allows execs to see where your project fits in the marketplace. But use the RIGHT template films that show tone, genre and context.
- You’re making it sound like you only have ONE idea and want a quick sale and are only in it for the money. If you’re querying producers, that’s fine. But not if you’re querying reps because they’re in it for the long haul and want someone looking for a career.
- You include copies of your Library of Congress Copyright form, WGA Registration receipt, or anything else that makes it look like you’re expecting us to steal your idea.
- You’re including MULTIPLE loglines when sending to a producer. Your query to a producer should be about ONE project. If querying reps, you can include 1-3 projects in your query but more than that and it looks like a red flag that no one likes your work.
- You’re pitching multiple scripts in multiple genres. This is what I call spaghetti queries because you’re just throwing a bunch of shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. You can include more than 1 logline to a rep, but if it’s 4 projects in 4 genres then you don’t know what kind of writer you are yet and you’re not ready.
- You bad-mouth an agent or manager you USED to have. It’s a small world in Hollywood. Keep that in mind and don’t be that guy.
- Your query letter is longer than ONE page. Some people send treatments, some send packages, some send the first 10 pages of script (not ONE of them were good). All you need to send is a ½ to 1 page query letter. That’s it.
- You tried to be overly clever – and failed. Comedy is subjective. Let the comedy of your story and concept sell us instead of you trying too hard to make me laugh.
- You try to promote or sell your personal agenda, message, political affiliation, or social beliefs instead of telling a story. That’s not what screenwriting is for. Write a blog. Because no one gives a shit.
- You quote box office grosses of movies because you think it means yours will be likewise successful. Just because Saving Private Ryan made half a billion dollars does not mean YOUR war story will. That movie had the biggest movie star in the world and the biggest director in the world. You cannot in any way compare your movie to that one. And you don’t have to tell us how successful other movies were – we know!
- You’re just not a good enough writer. Brutal, but possibly true.
Let’s be realistic – there are upwards of 60,000 scripts registered every year with WGA plus thousands more that are not registered. Agents, managers and producers receive many thousands of queries each year and 90% of them don’t even accept unsolicited queries. The competition is staggering. The window is small. So just having a good idea, good script, or good query simply is not enough. I’m not telling you to stop writing or stop querying – I’m just begging you to be better. Be better than the 550 queries I just read. Be ready. Be professional. Heed the above list and give yourself a shot. Write a query that no one can resist…and no one will. Or, you can just keep writing queries that suck.
***This month, No BullScript Consulting is launching an exciting new Second Reader Service, where you can purchase a one-hour phone/skype consultation with a working Development Executive or Manager who will read your script and discuss their constructive notes and answer your questions! No assistants, no middle-men, no B.S.! Make it a combo and get TWO sets of comprehensive notes at a discounted price! Check out the Second Reader Page for more details!
February 11th, 2015
2014 was a very interesting year for film. It was a grab-bag of wonderful cinematic experiences, powerful true stories, big comic book blockbusters, British invasions, and some movies that perhaps never should have been. And with the Oscars right around the corner, I figure it’s time I break down my personal Top Ten Films of 2014, and what screenwriters can learn from each.
I want to preface this list by saying there are about a dozen high profile films I (shamefully) still have not seen including Inherent Vice, Interstellar, Big Eyes, Fury, Snowpiercer, Jennifer Aniston’s Cake, Maze Runner, Obvious Child, Unbroken, and Edge of Tomorrow. So I reserve the right to change this list slightly in the future. But, I don’t I will. Here we go….
10. The Babadook – The best horror movie I’ve seen since The Conjuring. It does what possession films have been trying to do for years and very seldom succeed at. Besides a performance by star Essie Davis that could rival most of the Best Actress nominees, this is a great movie to watch if you’re writing horror/thriller and want to learn how to create tone, build suspense, employ frightening visuals, and how directing can really make a difference. I’m not sure I loved the last 10 minutes, but it is a scary film reminiscent of The Shining and Bug.
9. Wild – While I think it is the directing and acting that make this film more than the script, it’s a great example of how to bring a powerful emotional journey to screen in a satisfying way. Though it’s a small, personal story, the writer creates moments of tension, fear and raises the stakes even when there’s no actual threat.
8. The LEGO Movie – For me, the biggest snub of the year and while based on the well-known toys, its writing is beyond original and clever and takes characters we know and love and gives them a whole new spin. It exemplifies animation that is just as enjoyable for adults as it is for kids. And it will only give you half an epileptic fit. The voice casting was pitch perfect, and it had a powerful, relatable theme driving the story. In Lego Movie, everything is awesome.
7. The Imitation Game – The first British invasion film on my list, and one of the fascinating true stories this year. It’s a great example of creating characters that should never be sellable on film, and making them compelling. It’s also a great example of how to make every character, no matter how small a role, matter and add to the whole of the plot. Trying to craft strong supporting characters? Check this one out.
6. Captain America: Winter Soldier – My favorite of the comic book movies this year. It’s a complete film with magnificent action, huge visual, exciting set pieces, strong chemistry and levity from the characters, and it doesn’t feel longer than it needs to be (I’m looking at you, Dark Knight Rises and Avengers). I liked it even better than the first Captain America.
5. Boyhood – I saw this movie long after everyone else did, so I guess I was expecting a little bit more. But I still really enjoyed it. As a filmmaking gimmick, it’s brilliant. It’s original, it’s compelling even though very little is actually happening in many scenes. There are only a few real “movie moments,” but it’s theme and gimmick and Patricia Arquette’s realness make it enjoyable and Linklatter is a great storyteller.
4. Theory of Everything – Another true story British film about a character that doesn’t sound like one who would make for a watchable film. But is. What could have been a 90 minute montage of a movie as time passes, instead became a thoughtful and moving love story. It’s damn near impossible to make an audience invest in a love story in a way where viewers are still happy even after they divorce and still root for each of them to be happy with other people. This is a great example of how a writer took a three-prong approach to the theme and story, and wove all three elements of the plot together in a masterful way. And Eddie Redmayne’s performance is simply perfect.
3. Gone Girl – A controversial film that many of my friends HATED, but I thoroughly enjoyed. Besides some great performances and being beautifully shot, I was riveted by the story (and never read the book). This a great example of how to create morally bankrupt characters and keep them compelling while creating a strong mysterious tone that makes you constantly question everything. If you’re looking for an example of how to incorporate twists and turns and how to structure a mystery, read this script. The fact that she was not nominated is a damn shame.
3. Whiplash – Yes, fine, it was a tie. I couldn’t decide. Another small story, well-told and well-acted. It’s compelling, powerful and sometimes cringe-worthy in a good way. If you want to know how to write roles that attract actors while still writing low budget, this is one to watch – and read. Could there have been other subplots or more depth to the female character? Yeah, maybe. But this story is about two relationship dynamics – student and teacher, and music and musician – and their consequences.
2. Birdman – What can I say about Birdman that hasn’t already been said? Its filmmaking gimmick wasn’t as well-publicized as Boyhood’s, its characters were fascinating in their unlikablity, and its ending is purposefully open to interpretation. But it is captivating filmmaking, acting, and a premise told in an original way. Would this movie be as good without Michael Keaton? Fortunately, we never have to find out. If you like movies that think outside the box while still connecting to those inside the box, this is your movie.
1. Nightcrawler – Yup, this is my #1 choice. A script that broke all the rules because it could (the writer, Dan Gilroy, also directed). It is a perfect example of how to create tone, how setting can impact a story, and how to craft an anti-hero in a whole new way. It’s a great example of how to tell a story where the protagonist is not only the antagonist, but also has no arc. Gilroy has said that he thinks character arcs are fallacies, and while I may not totally agree with that, I love how he brought that to screen in this film. It walks the most perfect line between satire and psychotic and its view on society is gripping. If you haven’t seen it and read it – you should!
Okay, those are my picks! What say you? And before you start to rebel in outrage or question the voracity of some of my snubs…read this –
*Almost made the list – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes could have made the list if the human characters weren’t drawn, written, and tracked so poorly. American Sniper probably would’ve made the list if I had seen the movie before all the social media attention and true life details of Chris Kyle were brought to light. And I still liked last year’s Lone Survivor much better. Ditto for Selma, which is a very good film and Ava and David should’ve been nominated, but I think the (social) media outrage set up expectations for me that it didn’t QUITE live up to. I was expecting the greatest movie ever snubbed, and it’s just a good movie. Chef – another good movie, but the plot and goals were too easily achieved.
*Movies I Thought Were Overrated – Foxcatcher, Guardians of the Galaxy, Grand Budapest Hotel, Into the Woods. I liked Guardians – it was a ton of fun – but there were issues. The rest just didn’t do it for me.Life in Hollywood, Random Ramblings, Screenwriting Tips Acting, Adapted, Babadook, Birdman, Boyhood, British, Captain America, Comic Books, Filmmaking, Gone Girl, Guardians of the Galaxy, Lego, Nightcrawler, Original, Oscars, Screenwriter, Screenwriting, Theory of Everything, Top Ten, Whiplash, Wild
December 1st, 2014
By Danny Manus
Last we left off, you were trying to get laid and made it past the inciting incident, got asked back to her apartment (or you asked him back to your apartment), and while making yourself comfortable and beginning your mission, the first major turning point in your courtship reared its ugly head – she’s got a live-in boyfriend who’s supposedly away for the weekend. But you decide to forge ahead anyway into heavy foreplay – welcome to your Second Act.
Your Second Act is about progressing your story forward and keeping the audience – or the person you’re with – invested and engaged as you and your character make your way through unforeseen obstacles on your way to the promise land.
This is where many lesser men (and writers) falter and fail. You (and your character) may be deterred, distracted and even in some way defeated – but you keep going and try to build that momentum and pressure until you just can’t take it anymore.
As Chris Vogler says, it’s about your “Approach” and the “Ordeal” you need to go through to claim the “Reward.” Ding!
Without momentum, your second act will stall. And if you can’t build momentum, you allow too many moments where your partner could change her mind and ask you to leave. And the last thing you want when getting it on – is a bathroom moment. How do you keep momentum? Your scenes (or your movements) need to seamlessly flow into one another. There should be a give and take between your protagonist and antagonist – and between you and your partner.
This is also where your B Story may be introduced. And throughout your Second Act, you need to come back to this B Story and interweave it through your “A” Storyline so that it pays off in the end. Perhaps you’re texting your best friend this whole time letting him know what’s up and he’s giving you advice on how not to fuck it up (not that I’ve ever done this). And in the words of the late structure guru Blake Snyder – pgs 30-55 or so is where you have your “fun and games.” So whip out the naked Twister!
This Second Act is about creating a lot of action – not just talk. Amen, brother! Talking is for the first act – now it’s time for the good stuff! This can’t just be a personal, private journey (unless you’re alone) – but you and your character take the next steps in your arc to reach your objective. And we all know what that is…
In the first part of your Second Act, your character usually confronts or reveals his worst nightmare – like maybe realizing that chick you’re mackin’ it with has an Adam’s apple.
But it’s also about courting (compliment her even if you don’t mean it), preparing (breath mint, hand lotion, condom – check, check, check!), complications (like those damn button fly jeans and unfortunate lighting), and going through some sort of test or obstacle (like her saying “this isn’t just a one-night stand, is it?). And since we all know that half of what a woman says is in what she DOESN’T say, you must use and understand subtext!
I think Chris Vogler, author of The Writer’s Journey, proves my point about how connected screenwriting structure is with sex as he uses terms to describe the second act like “temptation, synchronicity, discomfort, threshold guardians (you mean, like Trojans?), and the Secret Door” – and we ALLLL know what the Secret Door is!
Okay, so you’ve reached the midpoint – you’ve past second base and you’re heading towards third. You’re halfway to the big finish. The point of no return. But your midpoint better be exciting and you better show your partner – I mean, your reader – that you know what you’re doing because if you can’t keep their attention here at the midpoint, they might doze off before you reach your climax.
This midpoint is where the stakes are increased. Physical, emotional, mental – it all gets kicked into high gear. And another wrench is thrown into the mix – maybe she starts to get cold feet.
At your midpoint, your hands start to make their way south and the pressure mounts. You – and your character – plan your next move. But don’t forget – your B story is also developing – and the bad guys are coming. Maybe that out of town boyfriend isn’t so much out of town.
Structure guru Marilyn Horowitz says the second half of the Second Act is about what your characters would die for. And every guy in the world knows that if we have to go, we want to go while getting lucky. That IS what we’d die for. So you disregard any red flags or warning signs and you forge ahead.
Then you need a twist. Something special. I suggest going counterclockwise. Maybe she brings out the handcuffs and blindfolds – twist! Don’t go too far with the twist though just yet – you want a game changer that increases the physical and emotional stakes, but it still needs to be the same game.
At the third turning point – as you break into your third act – something big happens. Perhaps you (and your hero) find yourself in a moral dilemma (like maybe you realize you’re both pretty wasted). Or perhaps she turns the tables and takes over. Either way…you overcome it.
Then – as Vogler himself says – it’s time to “Approach the Inmost Cave.”
And at this point, you can see your reward – it’s within your sights. So you “seize your sword” and go for it. And through whatever darkness or hairy situations you might encounter, or whatever low point you might reach as you go down into the abyss – you and your character must put an end to your foreplay and persist into your Third Act.