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  • A New Wave of Horror

    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….

    It Follows
    Cabin in the Woods
    The Babadook
    The Descent
    Let the Right One In
    The Conjuring
    Drag Me to Hell
    Under the Skin
    Insidious (the first one)
    V/H/S
    Evil Dead (Remake)
    Unfriended
    Kill List
    Green Inferno
    Warm Bodies
    The Woman in Black (the first one)
    Zombieland
    I Spit On Your Grave
    The Crazies
    The Strangers
    Human Centipede (the first one)
    The Final Girls
    Paranormal Activity (1 and 3)
    Martyrs
    The Mist

  • Writing Book vs. Film (Writing Visually vs. Cinematically)

    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!

  • 4 Types of Depression

    August 12th, 2014

    I hope you’ll excuse this long, somewhat depressing post that has nothing to do with screenwriting, but in the wake of Robin Williams’ death, I felt it important and maybe it will shed some light on things….

    Depression is a claimer of hearts, bodies and souls. I believe there are 4 types of depression. The first is the fleeting, momentary type everyone in the world experiences over tiny little stupid normal life things. The second is the slightly more prolongued type of depression where something specific happens and it makes you want to sleep, stop eating (or eat more), curl up and cry, and be left alone for days but you know eventually you’ll snap out of it and get over what’s happened. Most people will experience this a few times in their life.

    The third type is more clinical. It’s like type #2 but it doesn’t take a sad acute event to bring on – it can just hit. And it hits hard, and it sometimes hits often. There are triggers, but you couldn’t list them. It’s a depression that lingers with you at lower levels even in happy times, and then flares up like a virus to take you down. And sometimes it feels like it has and you’re not sure you’ll ever shake it. You feel lost and sad and hopeless, but you know somewhere deep inside there’s something worth fighting and living for…

    But the 4th type of depression most people will never know, and thank God for that. Because once you’re inside the 4th type of depression, it’s already too late. Relief no longer comes from seeing the faces of your family or friends or playing with your pet or being great at your job. It doesn’t come from fame or fortune. It doesn’t even come from drugs or alcohol or rehab or therapy. It comes from death.  It’s not about the laughs you’ve had or brought to others, or the love you’ve experienced or given, or what might be waiting for you tomorrow. You can no longer focus on how other people will feel once you’re gone – only how YOU will feel once you’re gone. Relief….

    For reasons we may never fully know or understand, a great shining talent like Robin Williams found himself at Type 4 Depression. He’s not alone. If you feel you are slipping into Type 4, call a hotline, call a doctor, seek out help before it’s too late. That is all.

  • Why Her ?

    January 4th, 2014

    By Danny Manus

    2013 was an excellent year for movies – perhaps the best in quite a few years. And there are many films that I would be very content with winning the Oscar. But for me, the best movie of the year is Her. And no one is more shocked about that than I am.

    I went in doubting the hype. I’m not a huge Joaquin Phoenix fan and Spike Jonze is the kind of manic eccentric genius that sometimes doesn’t translate to a relatable cohesive story. And considering his writing credits include the Jackass movies and Where the Wild Things Are and his directing credits include Adaptation, Being John Malkovich and dozens of music videos, who could guess that he’d write the next great American love story.

    The best compliment I could give Her is that it makes me never want to write again because I don’t think I could ever write something as good that works on so many levels. It is a touching, amazingly relevant, powerful and complete love story that engrosses you more than most love stories where there are TWO people present on screen. It is beautifully crafted, beautifully acted and thematically impactful. It’s a love story for the ages, and the age that hasn’t come yet.

    And I realized there are some specific reasons why this movie works so well.

    1.    It creates an interesting, expansive world but only explores one tiny piece of it. There are so many lovely nuances to this futuristic Los Angeles setting. The green screen backgrounds shows how much LA has changed in the near future, with its endless glittering lights and cell towers pinging like shooting stars. Every single person is engaged in a schizophrenic-like experience talking to their own ear pieces and personal OS systems as they walk down the street completely oblivious that anyone else exists. The sharp, ultra-functional, ultra-modern, color-infused world of the apartments and offices underline the isolation that seems to exist between its residents. There are friendships and dates and social interaction, but the closest relationship people seem to have in this world is with their tech gadgets.

    Other nuances like how email is read and categorized, how fast technology works and is able to absorb and grow and adapt, how people get around, etc. only further help flesh out the world.  Jonze clearly knew every little aspect of his near-future landscape before he wrote this script and was able to pick and choose which ones would highlight his theme and story and characters in genius ways.  There are probably tons of other aspects of this world that could have been explored, but limiting it to what is directly connected to the love story makes it all the more intriguing. When writers know how to create a truly intriguing world that is special yet relatable, different yet plausible, and that world matches the story that is occurring within it, it’s a winning combination.

    Many of the scripts I’ve read lately have these expansive futuristic/dystopian/post-apocalyptic worlds, but they aren’t really necessary to the story – the writers are just hoping that their “awesome” worlds will mask what’s lacking in the narrative. Jonze chose a time and world that complimented the story in perfect fashion and made it feel MORE believable and viable instead of just distracting us from it. Jonze created a big world but made it feel small, while creating a small story and making it feel big. That’s one of the keys to successful world building.

    2.   Timing. Is there a more relevant love story right now than that between man and technology? It’s the right story at the right time. The themes and societal questions raised and explored of what makes for a genuine relationship, what defines a happy couple, what makes for true love, and what constitutes an acceptable love dynamic in society is done so in beautiful ways. At a time when gay marriage is a hot button issue, Jonze takes the concept two steps further and makes relationships with OS’s (Operating Systems) the next issue to be tackled. It’s talked about and accepted by many in this story – but it’s still not the thing everyone is comfortable with. It’s still somewhat taboo and embarrassing for Phoenix’s character. There’s still that unsure “Ohhh…umm…okay” reaction when people hear about this relationship.

    When a writer can tap into the zeitgeist – and what could be NEXT in the zeitgeist – in a way that examines an issue in a brilliant way without ever mentioning the issue, that shows true talent. The concept of the OS/Human relationship is discussed, but it’s more about the doubt the Human and the OS have in their own feelings than their worries about what the outside world thinks. It’s about being comfortable in your own love and your own mind and letting everything else go. And if that’s not an important and relevant message and theme to explore today, I don’t know what is.

    The beauty of the way Jonze explores this theme, however, is how he has elevated the genre and the discussion. Which brings us to…

    3.    It defines elevated storytelling. And that’s not easy to do with romance or romantic dramas. If you’ve ever seen a Nicholas Sparks novel brought to life on screen, they all have strong emotional hooks. They all have an internal dilemma and external conflict that rips the lovers apart only so they can find a way to come back together. But almost none of them feel realistic or relatable. His books explore life-threatening illnesses and death. They are female fantasies underlining the power of true love. None of them are overly intelligent or complex. They connect on an emotional level but that’s about it. The beauty of Her is that it connects on an emotional level AND a cerebral one. It makes you feel, it makes you cry, and it makes you think at the same time.

    Hollywood always says it wants ELEVATED material. This is a romantic drama on an elevated level. Elevated means there is something smarter and deeper about the story than the normal, down-the-middle boy meets girl story. And Her delivers on that in spades.

    4.    It tells a complete love story. It’s boy meets girl (ish), but in a whole new way. But the beauty of the structure of the story is that we really get to experience their whole relationship. I don’t want to give anything away about how the film ends, but every time you think the story can end, Spike Jonze finds a believable and relatable way to throw another plot twist into the mix that progress the arcs of both characters and raises the stakes. And they all feel like REAL twists that would plague any real-world human relationship which is what makes it feel so genuine.

    It doesn’t take much to believe that a person can fall in love with a voice on a computer. So once you swallow that premise, the rest is a rollercoaster ride of emotion from beginning to end that probably feels like a love story you’ve experienced.  Or maybe that’s just me. It uses all the tropes of romantic drama – loss, death, cheating, conflict, temptation, realization, growth, change, love and sex – but there’s only one physical person involved. It’s a focused story, but a complete story. And that’s what you should be trying to do with your scripts.

    5.     It gives its actors immense room to play, react, feel and emote. Movies don’t get made without stars these days, and to get stars you need characters that stand out and give them something to do.  A new situation or mindset for them to explore emotionally. And too many writers focus on the action of what the characters do in the scene and not enough on the REACTION the actors get to portray in their quiet or reflective moments. And all of the actors in this film have those moments and play them perfectly.

    Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams (who looks more like Cameron Diaz in Being John Malkovich than the glam roles she usually plays), Olivia Wilde, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt and especially Scarlett Johansson are all pitch perfect (and listen for the greatest voice over cameo ever by Kristen Wiig).

    The fact that Scarlett Johansson can’t be nominated for an Academy Award is a damn shame. Personally, I’ve never been a big Joaquin Phoenix fan. I find him intense and creepy to watch but not in a fun way (like Daniel Day Lewis). But the man knows how to genuinely emote on screen like very few others can. He’s so open and able to commit to the words, it’s powerful to watch. And I’m not sure if Scarlett was in the room or speaking to him through the ear piece or if it was all done in post, but you’d never know he was the only person in the room.

    Phoenix’s character has a simple enough backstory – a nasty divorce from the love of his life has left him somewhat of a recluse and emotionally crippled. It’s not a hugely original backstory. But when combined with the world created, it’s all you need. The OS Samantha, played by Johansson, has just as much (if not more) or a character arc than the human characters. It’s her character that grows and changes the most. As I said, it’s a complete love story told from both perspectives, even though we are only SEEING one on screen. Give huge credit to Scarlett for bringing a character to life that isn’t even alive and that we never see. If you can write characters like that, you will get a major actor attached to your script.

    6.    The dialogue will affect you. I don’t want to ruin anything, but I will leave you with two quotes that stand out.  “Love is a form of socially acceptable insanity.” This line is brilliant not just because it’s accurate, but because the whole story is about a guy talking to an ear piece, which makes him look even crazier yet in this world it’s socially acceptable. And “The past is just a story we tell ourselves.” It’s one of those lines that stay with you, that become part of the way you think. The script is full of these, and that kind of dialogue is what powerful films are made of.

    Hopefully I’ve convinced you to go see Her, but also to read the script and learn how to craft a story that deserves Oscar gold.

     

  • The #1 Reason NOT to Be a Screenwriter

    June 25th, 2013

    By Danny Manus

    There are a million reasons to want to try your hand at screenwriting; as therapy, as a creative outlet, because it’s been a dream of yours since childhood, because you just love telling stories in a visual way, because you want to leave your stamp on pop culture or create your legacy, etc.  Or maybe you just want to be famous and get your picture taken in US Weekly standing next to Kristen Stewart looking like she just ate a sour candy.

    But there is one reason that should NEVER come into play – Money.

    It’s time for some tough love, No Bull style. Lately, I’ve had a few clients who told me they NEED to sell their script and quick because they are having financial issues. They’re broke, they are getting evicted, they lost their jobs, they can’t find a new job, they need to pay their mortgage, their children are going to college, etc.

    Let me say this as clearly as humanly possible: If you need to sell a script in order to pay your mortgage…you’re going to be homeless very soon!

    Money is the LAST reason to go into screenwriting because chances are it’s going to take you YEARS to make any. And even if you do (by some miracle) sell or option your first script, it’s not going to be for much money, if any. We’re talking a few thousand dollars – certainly not enough to quit your day job or send a kid to school. Even if you got super-duper lucky and get paid WGA minimum for your script, it’s still less than you’d make as a first year school teacher in a bad neighborhood.

    And getting the movie made is a whole other process that can take anywhere from 2-10 years, so I hope you aren’t counting on those residual checks to pay your rent.

    If you are having financial difficulties, please – do ANYTHING else! You might as well get a job at Starbucks because you will make more money, get full benefits, and if you’re working at a Starbucks in Los Angeles – you’ll probably get to meet more celebrities than you will as a screenwriter anyway.

    Screenwriting is something you want to do as a career because you’re so passionate about it, you just can’t picture yourself doing anything else day after day, year after year and because you LOVE writing – not because you’ve tried everything else and writing is the only thing left and you think anyone can do it.

    Being a professional screenwriter isn’t about writing 100 pages. Anyone can do that. It’s about immersing yourself in the craft of writing and the BUSINESS of film and TV. You have to know what you’re getting into.  Being a professional screenwriter means you don’t just have ONE story to tell that you’d like to see get made one day. It’s about having so many ideas and inspirations and stories that your brain can’t hold them all, so they need to flow out onto paper.

    And if you’ve got tons of ideas but you don’t want to write them – then you’re not a screenwriter – you’re a producer! Ha!

    It’s fine to change careers in life and want to try something new, but screenwriting at a professional level is something that takes YEARS to become proficient at – much like I’m sure whatever your current profession required.

    No one leaves their job as a social worker and says, ‘Ya know what, I need to make more money – so I’m going to be a doctor from now on.’ And then immediately starts working on patients and gets paid a million dollars. So why do you think screenwriting would be any different?

    It takes MANY scripts, many rewrites, many classes, education, etc. Ask any professional screenwriter how many scripts or years it took for them to break in and finally feel like they were good enough, and I GUARANTEE you that none of them will say a number less than THREE.

    To make real money as a screenwriter – and by that, I mean quit your day job money – you need to perfect not just your writing, but your rewriting, your pitching, your selling, your polishing, and your networking skills. And if you think you can do that by reading Save the Cat and downloading Celtx – you’ve got another thought coming.

    It’s incredibly easy to write a script. It’s insanely difficult to write a great script at a professional level. And it’s ten times harder than that to sell it. And ten times harder still to get it produced, released and be successful.

    The competition even between amateur (non-professional) screenwriters increases with every year. Just five years ago, the total number of submissions for the top 4 screenwriting contests was about 15,000. Now it’s over 30,000. The number of consultants out there offering to help has increased from about 50 to over 300. And for a buck, many are ready and willing to pat you on the head and tell you you’re wonderful and talented and are gonna be rich and famous.

    But they’re wrong.

    I’m not saying this to dissuade you from screenwriting – it is a wonderful profession that can be incredibly satisfying, creatively fulfilling and fun. I’m saying this to make sure screenwriting is something you are so passionate about that it’s not your answer to being broke – it’s the thing WORTH being broke for.

  • Writing Yourself Out of a Hole

    September 24th, 2012

    By Danny Manus

    There’s an old story I’m tweaking slightly for our purposes that goes…

    A screenwriter is walking down the street and falls into a deep hole and can’t get out.

    A Director comes by and the screenwriter yells, “Hey, I’ve fallen into this hole and I can’t get out. Can you help me?”

    The Director throws a camera down the hole and says, “I can’t get you out, but if you film your journey, I can make it a movie.” And he moves on.

    Then an Executive Producer comes by and the screenwriter yells, “Hey, I’ve fallen into this hole and I can’t get out. Can you help me?”

    The Exec Producer takes out his wallet and throws a bunch of money down the hole and says “I can’t get you out, but if you figure out the way, I’ll pay for it.” And he moves on.

    Finally, a fellow screenwriter passes by and the writer in the hole yells out, “Hey, I’ve fallen into this hole and I can’t get out. Can you help me?”

    And the second Screenwriter jumps down into the hole with him. The first writer turns to him and says, “Well that was stupid, now we’re both trapped in this hole.”

    And the second screenwriter says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down in this hole before and I know the way out.”

    Writers write themselves into holes all the time. But the sign of a truly great writer is being able to write yourself out of it. And let me tell you, more than 80% of writers – can’t.

    Writing yourself into a hole usually happens when you haven’t planned, plotted, outlined or done character exercises before starting to write. Writing yourself out of one usually happens either when you get stuck and you’re not sure what should come next, or after you’ve started rewriting and you (or someone else) begin to find tons of plot holes and unanswered questions.

    If you have left a ton of unanswered questions from not outlining, then it’s like you’ve jumped into that hole and crossed your fingers, hoping everyone would just keep walking and not notice.  But why would you want to stay down in that hole instead of figuring a way out?

    And I’m guilt of this myself. On the conspiracy thriller script I was hired to write, I had a rough treatment going in, but the person who hired me and had written the treatment forgot one major part…the conspiracy. So, we knew where the story started and we knew where it ended and we knew a few of the major moments and action in the middle. But I started writing before I really nailed down how the conspiracy was going to come together or how everyone was exactly connected and what the pieces of evidence were that would ultimately expose said conspiracy… And guess what…I wrote myself into a hole. I had killed a character that I realized could have been the key. I had created a conflict that caused a major plot hole before I had thought of a solution. And I didn’t know exactly how to pace the conspiracy so it would make sense but not reveal too much, too soon. And the hole began to get deeper.

    So when you find that a question is unanswered and a plot hole has formed, instead of continuing on the same road hoping the hole disappears, here are some of the major things to think about and examine to go back and cement that hole and keep your story moving.

    –          Set Ups – I dare say that 60% of all plot holes and story issues exist because the writer has failed to set up something earlier on that would help explain it all. A set up doesn’t always have to be a big extravagant moment – it can be a quick line or quick shot of off-color comment, but that we will connect later on to what’s happening. If your character has to know how to climb a mountain in order to escape her situation in the climax and you’ve never set this up that she knows how – you’ve written yourself into a hole. But instead of going back and inserting many scenes of her climbing, you could just show us pictures of her doing this in the first act or show us mountain climbing ropes and gear in her car, etc. It’s all about set ups, but it doesn’t always means retooling your whole story.

    –          Motivations – Look at why you’re characters are there, doing what they’re doing, and why (and if) it’s important to them, what they have to accomplish and why (what happens if they don’t accomplish it?). You may find that your hole has been created because your characters are doing something unnecessary or not set up as being important to them. If your characters are only doing something because YOU need them to in order for other things to make sense, then you may be writing yourself deeper into a hole.

    –          Locations – Look at where the action (and the hole) is taking place. Do your characters have to be here or is there an easier way? Is it a location that makes sense to the story and action taking place? If it feels like your characters are just pinging back and forth between different locations, is there a way to condense them so your story won’t feel confusing or scenes won’t seem unnecessary? But also, do your locations give you enough opportunities for action or scares or comedy and afford you the visuals you need to make your scenes work without forcing it? If not, you may want to think about changing your locations.

    –          Coincidences – If big moments in your script (more than 1 or 2) only occur because of coincidences taking place, then your plot is not strong enough and you will be writing yourself into a hole. If “coincidence” is the only explanation for your action, you’re not outlining enough. Go back and think of other ways or reasons why that “thing” could occur or bring your characters to where “it” occurs.

    –          Brainstorming – It’s all about thinking about different ways to obtain the same result. If your character has to get into a house without being heard, think of 5 ways for him to do so. Always give yourself options and see which one makes the most sense for your set ups, your characters and your purpose. Ask other people if you need to.

    –          Streamlining – Very often holes are created because you’re trying to do too much with your plot or action or you’re working too many characters into the plot because you think it will keep things interesting. Streamlining your story and only including plot points, subplots and characters that advance the important storylines and arcs of your protagonist will ensure that you don’t write yourself into unnecessary holes.

    –          Common Sense – When all else fails, follow an old adage that always holds true – KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID. If you find that your characters are trapped in a situation or have to do something and they don’t know how to, just use common sense. Think about what YOU would do to get out of that situation – then make it visual.

    So many writers try to get all complex and intricate with their conspiracies or their action or even small innocuous things – like getting through a front door.  But sometimes you don’t have to wire a tree to break a window to signal the dog to chase the cat to jump on a bookshelf to knock over a lamp to ignite a fire to burn the door down…Sometimes you can just turn the fucking doorknob and walk inside.

    There are so many holes that writers can find themselves trapped in – don’t let it be one you’ve created for yourself. And if you do find yourself looking up from that position, don’t be afraid to ask others who have been there for help.

  • Don’t Worry About Them – Just Do You!

    April 16th, 2012

    By Danny Manus

    Two weeks ago, one of my best friends in the world got engaged. Three weeks ago, another good friend of mine had a baby. That makes (no exaggeration) – 13 friends in 8 months to have babies.  So this week, I want to pass along some advice that applies to both your writing and your life. It’s advice that I’ve personally never been able to follow, but am really trying to make efforts to do so. And the advice is…

    Stop worrying about where you’re supposed to be, and enjoy where you are.

    I have struggled with this for over 20 years now. I have never, ever been able to live in the moment – it’s just not who I am. When I was in junior high, I wanted to be in high school. In high school, I was raring for college. In college, I couldn’t wait to move to Hollywood and finally start writing for a living.

    And now I’m in my 30s doing something I love, but never planned on doing.  I’ve always been so worried about what everyone else is doing and how I’m matching up to them and where I’m supposed to be at this stage of my life and at this stage of my career, that I haven’t been enjoying what I’ve accomplished.

    Yes, a couple of my friends are selling scripts for a million dollars. Yes, my old assistant is now a staff-writer on a major network show. Yes, almost all of my college friends are married and/or pregnant while I’m still trying to find the next first date. And no, I didn’t win an Emmy by age 30 like I had planned. But, I have been working full-time in Hollywood for almost 10 years. I run my own successful business and brand that I built almost completely on my own. And sometimes I have to take a breath and just appreciate that.

    I’m sure you all have your individual accomplishments that when you think about them, make you proud of yourself. So you have to let go of the 5 and 10 year plans and focus on what you’re accomplishing right now, today.

    And the same goes for your writing. Don’t worry about where you THINK you’re supposed to be at your given age or point in life. Don’t worry about if you planned to have sold your script by now or have an agent. Don’t even worry if your progress on the script you’re writing right now isn’t on target yet. Just be content with the progress you are making and the improvement of the quality of your work from when you started writing.

    We’re not all on the same time schedule of life. It’s something I’ve had to come to terms with and realize in the last couple years, and it’s still seeping in. But if you can just be happy with the work you’re doing, the life you’re living, and if you’re still inspired to work hard to achieve your dreams, who cares if someone else has achieved theirs first?

    When you get stuck and you’re feeling like the writing is hopeless or everyone around you is eclipsing your success or talent in some way, just think – “Okay, fine, today is their day…But tomorrow can still be mine.” Good luck and keep writing!

  • EMMY’S 2010!! RECAP, PICKS AND SNUBS!

    July 8th, 2010

    By Danny Manus

     

    Many of you know me as a film guy – but in my heart, I’m a total TV whore. I watch everything. I love film, but sometimes I wish I could marry television.  And the Emmys are like my Christmas. So today, the day Emmy nominations were announced, is like Thanksgiving. And there were some fantastic surprises, some unfortunate snubs, and a lot of new (true) blood on the ballots.  So let’s get to it…

     

    First, you can find a complete list of nominees here:

    http://livefeed.hollywoodreporter.com/2010/07/emmy-nominations-announced.html

     

    Let’s talk comedy – I am SO excited for Glee and Modern Family, both nominated for the first time (though it feels like they’ve won before since they have won everything else).  Glee had 19 (!!) nominations including Lea Michele and Matthew Morrison for lead actress/actor and the sublime Jane Lynch for supporting actress. Personally, I feel Morrison is the weak spot of the show, but he was a shoo-in anyway. The big surprise, however, was that Chris Colfer, who plays the effeminate and effective Kurt, got his first nomination! And Mike O’Malley and Kristin Chenoweth were both nom’d for guest actor Emmys (Idina Menzel must be so pissed right now since she and Kristin hate each other!). Mike O’Malley really deserved this, even though all of his scenes were actually dramatic moments in the show.

     

    Rounding out the comedy category is 30 Rock (always hilarious but this season saw its first sign of slippage), Curb Your Enthusiasm (whose Seinfeld finale episodes were beyond funny), The Office (only one more season to go folks), and first time nominee Nurse Jackie. Now, I didn’t immediately take to Nurse Jackie but after watching the whole season in 2 days last month, I’ve become a big fan.  But, for me, it’s Glee or Modern Family’s year.

     

    The big snubs? Big Bang Theory, which is the number one (or two) comedy on TV in the ratings. For me, the other glaring omissions were How I Met Your Mother and Community, which I actually think is funnier than 2 ½ Men and The Office, but that’s just me. Sorry Entourage and Weeds, your time in the sun is over.

     

    The rest of the comedy actress category went as planned – Tina, Julia, Edie, Amy, and Toni. Personally, I think Edie might edge out Lea Michele and Tina this year, but we’ll see. Academy loves Edie!  Snubbed was Courtney Cox on Cougars, though she just plays it too over the top.

     

    The comedy actors with Morrison – Tony Shalhoub (Seriously? Ugh! Thank God it’s his last year), Alec, Steve, Larry David, and Jim Parsons (who, for me, is a mortal lock).  Poor Charlie Sheen was left out this year, as was Two and a Half Men, which I’m okay with and Charlie’s bad press didn’t do him any favors.

     

    All of the actors from Modern Family got supporting noms EXCEPT Ed O’Neill, who many thought would have been a shoo-in for lead actor, but he decided to hold the “ensemble” line – will be interesting to see if he does that again next year.  But he was a major snub!

     

    Other supporting actors include Neil Patrick Harris (sweet Jesus, give him an Emmy!), Jon Cryer, and the aforementioned Colfer (glad he got nominated, but he won’t win). Sorry, Jeremy Piven, you’re a douche. Snubbed were the co-stars of Community, who are just hilarious.

     

    On the actress side, Lynch and Modern Family’s Julie Bowen (LOVE her) and Sofia Vergara (can’t really stand her), will go up against Jane Krakowski (30 Rock), Holland Taylor (2 ½), and the fantastic Kristin Wiig for SNL. Let me just say that I am thrilled that SNL players are finally getting some recognition. It didn’t start to happen until the Will Ferrell and Molly Shannon era, but now it’s commonplace and Kristin, the anchor of the show, deserves it.  For me, snubbed from this category is Jane Adams from Hung, who is so good, and Merritt Wever, who is so fantastic on Nurse Jackie in all her quirky weird glory. It should have been these two instead of Holland and Vergara.

     

    Now, Drama…It must be good to be the Good Wife. In its first season, Good Wife has really stood out. I have to say – I LOVE this show! Definitely my favorite new drama. Good Wife will go up against Breaking Bad, Dexter, Mad Men, the last season of Lost (which I’m kind of rooting for) and True Blood (which I’m also kinda rooting for). I’m torn.  I love 3 of the 6 shows, and with it being Lost’s last year, I kind of hope they win again. Sorry, I don’t watch Breaking Bad. I know it’s good, but my heart goes to Lost and Good Wife. My head says Dexter.  Left out this year was HOUSE, which I love, but this season was under par.

     

    Also left out was Grey’s (which had another subpar season up until the finale episode which was friggin’ awesome), the last seasons of 24 (which sucked) and Law and Order (which would have been nice, but oh well). I thought perhaps S. Epatha Merkerson might pick up one last nod for her big cancer season, but the academy long ago forgot about this show.

     

    On the acting side, I am thrilled that Matthew Fox got another nod for Lost and Kyle Chandler FINALLY got his props for Friday Night Lights. They go up against Bryan Cranston, Michael C. Hall (who will probably win), Hugh Laurie (who deserves it) and Jon Hamm (who I like, but I’m quickly getting tired of).  Snubbed – Timothy Olyphant on Justified, but give him another year. Sorry Kiefer, this year wasn’t worthy. And while I love True Blood, I think Stephen Moyer is the weak link.

     

    For actresses, it’s Julianna Margulies for the win! But she’ll be going up against perennials Glenn Close, Kyra Sedgwick (who I love), Mariska Hargitay (who I really love but this wasn’t as strong a season for her), January Jones, and Connie Britton, who FINALLY also got a nomination. She deserves it! Left out was my choice – Mary McCormack from In Plain Sight, who is just great, but Academy voters probably felt she plays it too comical.  And Anna Paquin! She should have been nom’d over January Jones. Sorry, darlin’!

     

    On supporting, it’s a mixed bag this year. For actors, Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) will tango with Martin Short (Damages) and the men of Lost, Michael Emerson and Terry O’Quinn, who should definitely win (after 6 seasons, he had to play a totally different character!), and Andre Braugher (who I’ve loved for 20 years, but this one’s slightly unearned).  Go Lost! But snubbed from this category was Josh Holloway from Lost, who I think deserved it.

     

    Now supporting actress, for me, is the hardest category in TV this year. So many great performances, and I think the most snubs are in this category. Good Wife’s Archie Panjabi (who is powerful and mysterious) and Christine Baranski will duke it out with Rose Byrne from Damages, Christina Hendricks and Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men, and the surprise – Sharon Gless from Burn Notice. Really?

     

    How about Elizabeth Mitchell on Lost (who DID get a guest actress nom, so that’s better than nothing), Lisa Edelstein who had an amazing season on House, and Katey Sagal who is so sublimely perfect and evil on Sons of Anarchy. Plus, Rutina Wesley and Michelle Forbes were standouts for me on True Blood. I’m sorry, but Baranski, Gless and Hendricks – not sure they deserve it this year.  

     

    A big COCO chant for Conan O’Brien who scored a slew of nominations for his defunct Tonight Show. He was nominated for himself, writing, directing, and the show. And Jay Leno…nada! Good. This was the industry’s way of saying “NBC, you got it wrong.” As if they hadn’t made themselves clear already. Leno hasn’t scored a nomination in years, and this year, Conan even beat out Letterman.  Good on ya! It goes up against Daily Show, Colbert, Bill Maher and SNL. Tough category as all had banner years.

     

    Another big cheer for Betty White, who in her most successful year ever, has scored her 17th (!) nomination for her SNL hosting gig.  Next year, she will probably get one for supporting actress on Hot in Cleveland, mark my words!

     

    Reality went the same as it always does. But let me put in that next year, I think Kat Deeley from So You Think You Can Dance should be nominated- she is fantastic and sweet and funny and does a wonderful job moving that show along. The Amazing Race isn’t THAT amazing and its host does barely anything. On the nonfiction side, this year is Deadliest Catch’s year – how could it not be? Oh wait, it’s up against “Life” narrated by Oprah. Nevermind. The one glaring omission was Survivor: Heroes vs Villains, which was pretty damn awesome and I’m not really a big Survivor fan, but it had me hooked!

     

    On miniseries, it was all about THE PACIFIC, which got 24 noms (the most of any show/movie). I haven’t seen it as I cancelled my HBO (yes, I still watch True Blood and Bill Maher, but that’s about it), but I’m sure it will win.

     

    For all other noms, go check out an actual news source. Haha. As we get closer, I’ll bring you all my picks for this year’s winners (and those who SHOULD win). But for now, keep watching!

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