Thank You Christopher Nolan

Just saw INCEPTION for the 2nd time. After my first viewing I jumped on the internet to gauge the collective "buzz", in what way the INCEPTION meme was inserting itself into our social consciousness. Most people reacted as I did - completely blown away. Others, not so much.
Not everyone's going to agree, I understand that. And INCEPTION isn't a perfect movie, even I can admit that. But I've seen a lot of screenwriters and industry folk take a lot of shots at this film, and for that, I'd like to take a shot at them.

Is the film to long? Does it make perfect narrative sense? Does it break cardinal rules of screenwriting? Is there too much exposition? All fair questions, but while we're pondering those, why not ponder some of these questions:

Aren't you sick and tired of sequels, movies based on video games, board games, comic books, old T.V. shows and Y.A. novellas?

Aren't you sick of Big Hollywood using their resources to pander mostly to children, rednecks and illiterates? Aren't you sick of them insulting your intelligence - and CHARGING you for it?

Don't you wish studios would spend more time and money producing original stories and spec scripts instead of the above? Wouldn't you like some of that money to go towards smarter films, the kinds of films YOU'D like to write and see?

When you pay to see a film, don't you want to walk out feeling you got your money's worth and then some?

Wouldn't you like to see the creativity and passion of the filmmakers pour through every frame, instead of the current paint by numbers esthetic?

Don't you want filmmakers to EARN your time by packing their film with action, depth, comedy, pathos, intelligence, creativity and interesting characters? Do you want to be shown a unique and complex world like none you've seen before?

Do you want your filmmakers to take narrative and stylistic chances?

If these are among the attributes you look for in a film, you know such films are increasingly rare. Especially in today's marketplace. So why on earth - when we so lament the absence of quality films, intelligent original stories geared towards an adult audience - why is it when we receive such triumphs as Inception do some people find the need to nitpick the thing to its grave?

Nolan worked his ass off on this film, and it shows in every frame. His camera is impeccable, his cast is sublime, the music is epic, the story is intricate and most of all, original. Here is a film which instead of talking down to its audience (see Despicable Me), actually challenges us to intellectually engage on a level we've rarely experienced before. Why begrudge Mr. Nolan for that? If INCEPTION is the ONLY adult oriented major budget action thriller around and we'd like more of those types of films, then why nitpick?

Maybe it's that disgusting internet disease, you know, that urge for everyone to bash everything regardless of its quality or whether they could do better? I read a particularly puffed-up, know-it-all post pointing out INCEPTION'S flaws, a post from a professional Hollywood writer. Needless to say, when I looked up that writer's credits - well, let's just say they were less than stellar. Shame on you, for your films and your attitude.

If we want better films, original films, films adults can watch and be engaged and swept away in, why bitch about INCEPTION? Surely there are other films out there who actually deserve the ill will? All you need to do is sniff most of this year's titles. There should be a sign posted above the info superhighway entrance that quotes mom's "If you can't say anything nice..." bromide, people on the net seem to be the antithesis of that sentiment (internet code of conduct seems more akin to "Flay the fuckers).

To get on screen what Nolan has is a herculean effort - especially in today's marketplace, and he's done an amazing job as a filmmaker and story teller. Any filmmaker/writer would be lucky throughout the span of an entire career to score a Memento, a Dark Knight or an INCEPTION. Nolan has all three, and his career is still in its infancy. What that says to me is to pay attention, for we are in the presence of one of the all time great filmmakers. Rather than nitpick his shortcomings, I think I'll sit back and bask in the sheer brilliance of this man.

So a big THANK YOU to Christopher Nolan from yours truly for all your hard work. I, for one, will be eternally grateful for the gift of INCEPTION. And in my opinion those who underestimate Mr. Nolan's artistic achievement simply need to... well... wake the fuck up.

PS - for those who haven't seen the film, I wouldn't watch the following trailer; one of the beauties of INCEPTION'S concept and pre-release marketing campaign is the fact that the original trailers gave away very little - actually none - of the story. This made for a wonderful viewing experience since everything in the theater was a surprise.


A Dangerous Career Update

Sorry I haven't posted for months now, but I have a fairly good excuse: I've been writing! Or more accurately, rewriting. In my opinion, rewriting is the core of the writing process. It's where all the heavy lifting is done. It IS writing.

I just finished my structure passes; all I focus on is making sure the structure is solid and the core concept is  - well - still the core concept. After the structure rewrite(s) I reread the whole thing in one sitting - has to be one sitting - to see how the story "flows". If it does, I can now set aside any major worries about the WHOLE and focus in a little tighter on fixing the PARTS that don't flow, along with any major narrative/character holes. This constitutes another rewrite. Once that's done and I'm happy with every scene and the basic flow on a storytelling level, I give it to a few trusted readers. While waiting for feedback I either work on what I already know needs fixing, or set it aside for a week or so and brainstorm on my next project.

Once comments come back I take all issues into consideration, and rewrite where I see appropriate. I then move on to my character pass, which is where I'm at right now. My character pass involves listing all the characters, questioning their individual story functions, thematic functions and general personalities. I've done this once already, before I started writing the screenplay. But knowing what you're going to write and executing it precisely are two very different endeavors. Now that it is written, have I given my characters enough familiarity? Enough uniqueness? Enough to do in each scene? What do they add to each scene they're in? Etc. Once I'm done with this character pass, I'll move on to my "connection" pass. If you haven't the foggiest what that could be, you should check out Pilar Alessandra's podast On the Page episode 112 "Rewrite".

After a few more passes my spec should be in market shape. I think I'm getting close. Which is why, on the tail end of this script, I'm also starting to put together my new spec. Right now I'm fleshing out the plot - beginning, middle and end - characters, and theme. Taking copious notes on any pertinent ideas, looking for inspiration everywhere; sketching out scenes and making scene cards.
A side note - a business note - these 3 specs I plan on using as writing samples all have one major attribute in common: they're all high-concept tentpole genre films. I'm choosing to work on these projects as opposed to others in my catalogue because these projects serve to "brand" me as an intelligent, high-concept, tentpole writer. Seems a good move, since my goal is to write those types of movies.

I also feel I could be writing faster if I were more focused. Given the nature of the business, writing well and writing fast have to be second nature, right? So I'm giving myself deadlines on the next spec, we'll see how that goes.

Aside from writing, I've always been a reader, but only recently rediscovered the library. Remember those things? Feel like I've fallen in love with the written word all over again. I ALWAYS have a book with me now. Reading about movies and writing, but also reading authors and about subjects that excite and inspire me. Highly recommend a library card because it's FREE, and you can check out like 30 things nowadays. So I'm getting exposed to a lot of stuff I otherwise wouldn't have sampled because I'm interested, but not $24.95 interested. So hopefully I'll discover some new favorite authors soon.

Might be stating the obvious, but the library's also a great place to sit and think. Research. Dream. It's quiet and usually sunny, lots of windows, very conducive to creativity. Beats the hell out of trying to be open and creative amidst the clutter of posers littering Starbucks like a bunch of geeky little hipster alien tech-heads. No offense.

I'm also reading produced screenplays I admire, as well as giving feedback on various friends' screenplays - working those analytical muscles.

I'm also compiling a target list of managers to start hitting up. This means doing lots of research - scouring the forums at Done Deal, Artful Writer and others in the quest for mangers' names and affiliations, their track records, their reputations, buying habits, looking for personal connections, compiling email addresses,  listening podcast interviews with agents/managers/producers/writers, pouring over industry news coming from my subscription services, websites, etc., updating my contacts list and keeping connected. Any and everything to keep current and know who's out there - who's buying what, who's looking for what, and with whom I may have the best chance of building a stellar career.

So again, my sincere apologies (and gratitude) to those of you who actually read this blog for not posting in some time. I've been a little busy lately. But if you're a comer, hopefully you've been busy too!


Still Dangerous?

First, my sincere apologies to those of you who check back here regularly for not posting for a while. Things have seismically shifted in the Dangerous Screenwriter's life since my last post and I've needed time to deal with my new situation. I haven't given much information into my personal life in the past, mainly because this blog is about a screenwriter's journey. But something has happened in my personal life which has affected my screenwriting aspirations. Mainly, I moved out of state.

Yes, I'm no longer living in Studio City, the heart of the industry. I have a 4 year old daughter and have been worried about her formative years for a while now, specifically, what quality of childhood will she have if I continue to raise her in Los Angeles? To those of you considering a move to L.A., be forewarned: L.A. is a great place for single people, and rich people. I am neither, which makes L.A. a very difficult place to live. The crowds, the rudeness and relative lawlessness, no sense of community, dirty, mostly devoid of nature, difficult to set roots, and the general cost of living is exorbitantly expensive.

On the other hand, I grew up in Salt Lake City, and had a wonderful childhood there. I want my daughter to have a similar childhood, relatively safe, surrounded by neighborhoods, community, family, growing up in a home - not an apartment - with a front yard, a back yard and unfettered access to nature. None of which we had in L.A. So my wife and I decided to make the move to Salt Lake, mainly for the sake of our daughter. This was a heartbreaking decision for me, as my singular lifelong dream has always been to live and work in the film industry.

So what now? I now have a day job totally unrelated to the industry, a wife, child, two dogs, a house to take care of (front & back yards, yay!) and my writing, which together pretty much consume all my waking hours. I feel disconnected from the industry and from the face-to-face networking opportunities that happen in L.A. by simply walking out your front door. I haven't lost any of my passion or drive to make films, but here I am, 800 miles from L.A., lost in a place where you tell someone you write screenplays and the response is "What's a screenplay?" (I shit you not, 2 people so far have asked me that).

So on to the main question: does not living in L.A. make me any less "dangerous" as a screenwriter? Have I given up some sort of advantage by moving? The answer is a definitively ambiguous "yes and no".

On one hand, had our decision to move been predicated on a location not so close to Los Angeles, I would not have made the move. Part of my decision to move was based on the fact that I'm only a 2 hour plane ride from L.A., or a 9 hour drive. I am therefore still able to make it to L.A. for any film related business on relatively short notice. I have friends I can stay with in L.A., and after living there for almost 20 years know my way around and how to relate to those who live there.
Also, being a bit removed from the industry does give way to a unique creative advantage: I'm not swimming in the same mental pool as the others, so my work won't be influenced by the lack of originality and rampant fear that permeates the town. I am out from under the "L.A. Brain Cloud" (see I Love L.A.) For all intents & purpose, I'm out of the shit. Through the internet and my L.A. connections I can still have my finger on the pulse of the biz, but don't have to drown in it.

On the other hand, my networking opportunities have now dwindled to cultivating the few industry connections I've already made in L.A., and the online filmmaking community. Not much to work with. I realize my position is no different than any other serious aspirant who lives outside of L.A., except the fact that I gave up my prime location to be in the same position as those others (maybe you). I was in the mix, now I'm once removed. There is also a creative "can do" energy and inspiration that comes naturally with being surrounded by the industry. In L.A. you're steeped in the industry at every turn, it becomes a lifestyle, it becomes part of your natural thinking process. You eat, breath and think film, which can give you an immense boost over those who only diddle in it.
But truly, aside from networking opportunities, industry perception of where you live equaling how serious you are and plane fare, I can't think of much more advantage to living in L.A. as opposed to somewhere close to L.A.

So how will it play out? I suppose only time will tell. But I'm still obsessed with film. I'm still writing. I'm still serious. I'm still smart and industry savvy. Which, I suppose, makes me still Dangerous.

So keep writing... I am!



There's "Formula", and there's "Process", and most new screenwriters seem to get them confused. New writers, they hear about a writing "Process" and seem to immediately assume "process" means "formula". You'll be slave to a system, forced into a write-by-numbers approach, locked into a set of arbitrary "rules" who's sole purpose appears to be to decapitate any creative impulse until millions of us all end up writing the same story because that's what the "rules" lead us to.

I think they're mistaken. I think most new writers misinterpret the term. I think "Process" is our friend. From a creative standpoint, probably one of our BEST friends. I don't think "Process" means or leads inevitably to "Formula".

Process is what every professional writer has, and they're never the same. Yours shouldn't be. You're not Simon Kinberg, so why work like him? Or Robert Towne? Or Billy Wilder, or Billy Ray or fuck it - pick your favorite screenwriter (if you don't have at least 4 favorite screenwriters you can rattle off the top of your head, stop reading this blog and go back to working on your 7 act tone poem for the deaf).

The creative process is by nature different for everyone. You can't hear how some successful writer works and just emulate that. You'll inevitably feel constricted if you use someone else's process. So you must invent your own, and know what that process is. But in developing your own process you can certainly cherry pick techniques gleaned from other writers. Simply try different techniques and find out what works for YOU.

For example, Kinberg is big on detailed outlining, and detailed outlining is a writing technique that seems to work well FOR ME. So I've made it an integral part of My Process. I'm also big on theme. I think it's the heart of Story. So in my process, I never open Final Draft to write until I'm totally clear on my theme and have a solid outline.

Now what you've been dying to know (I just know you have): What is the Dangerous Screenwriter's Process? Glad you asked. Since I believe Theme is the core of all good storytelling as well as at the core of all good scenes, regardless of my story idea/concept/character idea etc., the first question I ask myself when designing every story I write is "What am I trying to say with this story? What is the story about?"

It is essential that I identify Theme first, because every scene, every subplot, every character and the plot itself all revolve around the theme. For me, if I don't identify a theme to work with as the first step in my process, everything's floating in space with no anchor. My Theme is the connective tissue for all of my scenes/characters/plot, but by no means is it set in stone. Throughout my preparation and first draft my Theme may change, but I need A Theme to anchor everything together and give my story a definite forward trajectory (notice I said my Theme may change, but not until after the first draft).

Throughout the entire preparation part of my Process I'm of course writing down anything - scenes, character traits, dialogue - ANYTHING that pertains to my story. I'm writing those things down, but I'm not working with them right now. That comes after I've identified my theme. Since my story is ultimately about my theme, once I know what it is my next step is to ask how I'm going to PHYSICALLY (show, don't tell) EXPRESS that theme. The answers to this question will dictate my settings, character actions scene content and settings/locations.

The first step in figuring out how those physical expressions will play out - the chronological telling of my story - is to ask myself "What is my main character's major flaw?". I design this flaw so it is in direct opposition to the Theme. This gives my story it's "drama", for whatever is opposing my main character are now the story's OBSTACLES, and they all relate directly to the Theme of the story. I can be as creative as I want, but within these guidelines I have no fear of drifting of on a tangent that isn't applicable to my story. At least, not too far.

For example, the theme of my current spec is "Life takes courage". So my main character's major flaw is he lives life/thinks of himself as a coward. If my theme is about courage and I have a main character who is the opposite of that theme, my main character now has a direction in which to grow. A direction that will be filled with obstacles which relate organically to the Theme and leads naturally to a solid CHARACTER ARC. Now I know that throughout the story my main character will grow from cowardice to bravery, or fail in that endeavor. Regardless of the story's outcome, since every scene is tied to theme and Character Arc, all scenes will now inevitably be an expression - positive or negative - of my Theme. My main character now has a solid Character Arc as well as a solid, PHYSICAL GOAL to fight toward.

Aside from a specific Theme, I now have my PROTAGONIST, my PLOT, my GOAL, my OBSTACLES and my STAKES. These are the core of my story, and they also happen to be the necessary components of my LOGLINE. It is at this point I feel I can now develop a "working" logline for my story.

Now that I've aligned my basic story components - plot, character, goals, stakes, obstacles and theme (as well as my logline) my next step is to create an outline or beat sheet. I start by identifying the beginning, first act marker, midpoint, second act marker and finale of my story. The objective here is to break a story into smaller pieces I can work with instead of writing a bunch of scene ideas and trying to fit them together like a puzzle. Might feel like an artistic process, but this is a business too, and if you want to get paid you need to turn things in on time, and to do that you can't put together puzzle after puzzle, never knowing how long it's going to take. A defined Process just makes things go faster. It's organization, nothing more. I'm setting dramatic markers within the story that my audience subconsciously expects, and they are aware when those markers have been violated. This is why people can say they like or didn't like a film, but can't express specifically why.
Also notice in designing my stories, I don't start writing until I know the end - what I'm writing toward. I think new writers who say "I'm just writing, letting it all come out, I don't know how it'll end" will never write a decent first draft (I can't speak for you pros). They'll have to do a TON of revision in the rewrites, because dramatic storytelling is all about SETUPS and PAYOFFS. How can you pay off something you haven't properly set up? How can you set up something if you don't anticipate what the payoff will be? By this point a lot of new writers may think I'm following a "Formula", but again, this is Process. My Process.

I feel like we're just passing the tip of the iceberg, and this post has become incredibly long already (even by my standards). So hopefully you'll be back shortly when I post part 2.



WHEN Are You Writing?

One of my favorite screenwriters is Simon Kinberg. Love that guy. I can't stand to sit through Jumper or a XXX movie (the Vin Diesel ones or the ones hidden in your closet in shoeboxes; I fast forward). I liked Mr. & Mrs. Smith, liked his versions of X-men Last Stand & Sherlock Holmes. But Simon Kinberg the Writer? Love him (and the faults of those movies aren't necessarily the writer's).

What I love most about Mr. Kinberg is his process. Simon writes. Every day. Is he obsessive? Borderline, but he has to be, and so do we. Disciplined? Very. He has definite "office hours", and we should too. Do you have certain times carved out for you to write on a daily or weekly basis? If you don't, you're cheating yourself.

I'm well aware of how busy life gets and how unexpected things crop up (not to mention the expected stuff). I have a wife, a 4 year old, 2 dogs and a day job. I'm also in the process of moving into a new home which is a major fixer upper and will require more of my scant time. But at least 5 nights a week from 9 until 1/2 a.m., I'm writing. Plus any extra moments I can take advantage of. I take care of any other "computer business" - this blog, emails, web surfing, screenwriting/career research, etc. - at other points during my day so when that "writing time" comes, I can just focus on my projects.

I have a writer friend who has a high-powered day job and a family. But 5 days a week this guy wakes up at 4:30a.m., works out and showers, hits the computer by 6 and writes until 9. Then he goes to work, comes home to the family and squeezes two more hours in every night before bed. That's 25+ hours of solid screenwriting work this guy gets done every week. Yeah, he's tired. But he's also a working writer, living the "dream" and loving what he does. Where there's a will, there's a way. Do some research, you'll find every successful writer has definite hours for "butt in seat" time.

A screenwriting career is one of two things: a hobby, or a profession. There is no in between. If you structure your time and act like a professional (see A Major Difference Between Professionals and Amateurs), you are treating your "dream" like a reality. You're giving yourself the best possible shot you can.
But if the only time you write is "here and there, whenever I can", you're not giving your "dream" the respect and attention it deserves. You're treating your career aspirations as a hobby. Work that way, you'll never get anywhere, you'll just be one of the countless other "wannabies" and "dreamers".

Simon Kinberg knows this. My writer friend knows this. I do too. You?

Creative Screenwriting Magazine did a very insightful audio interview with Simon here about his work habits and process. I highly recommend it, as well as the hundred or so other interviews on there (I've listened to almost all of them).


What Are YOU Writing?

I was talking to a writer friend, someone in the same position as myself - talent, drive, great specs but no Hollywood sales yet. My friend mentioned the commercial potential of Dark Rum Chronicles as a "no brainer". I thanked him and asked what he was working on. He said an indie comedy, that's where his sensibilities lie. But wait - this friend wants to write for Hollywood! So, what's the problem?

The problem is the current spec market. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go to www.lifeonthebubble.com. Jason Scoggins runs this website, which tracks screenplay sales throughout the year. The numbers aren't pretty. In fact, you should probably be sitting down and have some sort of liquor close by before you take look. They're dismal. Which means a new writer getting a spec sold nowadays is almost impossible. Yes, impossible (almost).

Today's spec market is so slim and ultra-competitive you have to absolutely ensure you give yourself the best chance possible, or you'll never get work. How do you do this? Write what studios want to buy. What do studios want to buy? Properties that will make them MONEY. Like, Avatar/The Dark Knight money. Think your indie relationship film is going to do that? Neither do they. Which is why they won't even consider it past the logline.

Does that mean you have to "sell out" or write crap? Absolutely not. What it does mean is what you're writing has to be in line with your career aspirations. If your dream is to make indie films, I say go for it (I have a few indie ideas gestating myself). Just don't hold any illusions. The cold, hard truth is your intimate indie project will never attract Hollywood assignments. Not in today's climate.

That's not to say you can't go out & shoot it yourself - that plan of attack is probably the best way to go in any case. But if your eye is on a Hollywood career, you'll either have to shoot your own indie and hope it hits big (which are astronomical odds once you take a look at festival submissions and the indie market/financing in general), or write what Hollywood is buying. Specs from new writers rarely get sold. Today's spec market is dryer than ever. Now more than ever, you have only ONE CHANCE to impress "the gatekeepers" with your concept. So make sure your writing projects reflect the kind of career you envision. What are YOU writing?


Aspiring Screenwriter? This Article Could Save Your Life

Ever been to Wordplayer.com? If you aspire to a screenwriting career and haven't, you need to get there.
I'll wait.
Just bookmark it and come back though, start poking around and you'll be there for hours.
At some point, you'll want to read every article on that website, and you'll be that much further ahead of the pack for doing so. However, I'm writing this post regarding the subject of one article in particular: YOUR LIFE.

I urge everyone to read this, because ultimately, Terry is right. Harsh as it may sound, he's trying to do you a favor, so listen. If you're willing to be truly and deeply honest with yourself, this article could save your life:



Proper Spec Format for New Writers

When it comes to the actual words on the page, it occurs to me new writers face quite a few different problems than pros, but not all new writers know this.

A great way to learn how to write professional screenplays is to read lots of screenplays written by professionals. Just be careful which lessons you're gleaning from a particular screenplay, because pros break a lot of rules new writer's simply can't. If you're unaware of that fact, reading those pro screenplays could lead you astray instead of closer to writing a sellable spec.

For example, though there are unspoken limits, pro writers are able to write using much more black ink than a pre-pro. Pros can afford to fill a few pages with ink, because they have proven track records. Therefore readers trust if there's lots of black on the page, the pro has good reason for doing so. Not the case with new writers. We haven't earned that trust yet.

So what are we to do when we have entire pages with no dialogue, few or no "Cut To"s or new slug lines and lots of action to describe? After all, film is a descriptive medium, better to show than tell, right? Part of the point of a screenplay format is to make for a quick, easy read. If there's lots of description for the reader to wade through, the read becomes long & laborious, which is a great way to piss off a reader. So how do new writers deal with the conundrum of showing - not telling through dialogue - yet needing to have ample white space on the page?

Solutions: is there anywhere you can make a natural page indent? Can you put a "Cut To" anywhere, a new slug line for a mini-location or is there any character dialogue you can slip in? Remember, the dialogue must be justifiable - as must new slug lines - but there's usually something your character(s) can say about whatever current situation you've put them in. I'm not suggesting some cheap exclamation like "Oh, shit" or "Uh-huh", be creative.

Also, you have pages before and after your problem page. Figure out ways to shorten your description lines on the problem page until it forces lines on the previous/following pages to transfer onto your problem page. For example, if there's a line of dialogue or a scene transition at the top of the next page, shorten the descriptions on your problem page until that dialogue or transition is pulled up to your problem page.

Look for any "orphans", single words that take up an entire line because the sentence you've written is too long to fit on one line. Find new descriptive words or a new way to write your line until the sentence is short enough for the orphan to disappear.
There are other tricks - again, just be creative - but large blocks of black ink on a spec script is a sure sign of an amateur. If you have an entire page of just scene description or action lines, it is imperative you find ways to break up that page.

Another rule I follow is every scene/action block must take up no more space on the page than four lines, and even four lines is pushing it. I try to keep all my description/action blocks limited to one, two or maybe three lines. That way a reader's eyes are naturally drawn down the page, making for an easy, quick read. I've heard this called "vertical writing". If I reach that four line mark, I look back at my paragraph to see if there's any way to shorten it or create a natural break into two separate paragraphs.

I'm sure you've read - or will read - some pro scripts that have four, five, six or more descriptive lines to a paragraph (check out some Tarantino, Wachowski, Eric Roth or J.P. Shanley scripts). Again, be careful what you glean from reading such scripts. They're usually great for breaking down how a master works with story structure, theme, rhythm, pacing, character development, etc., but they're terrible examples of screenplay format for newbie writers to emulate.
If you look at who wrote them, almost 100% of the time you'll find they were written by well-established writers, or writer/directors, i.e. the writer is writing with the intent of directing the screenplay him/herself. They are "names" in the biz already, they've already proven their talent and marketability, and therefore are allowed a certain degree of leeway. Once you've had a few sales and produced specs, you can loosen up on some of those rules too. Until then, your pages must always look uncluttered, simple and clean. In a word, inviting to a reader. I'm doing everything I can to make that happen... are you?


I Just Wanna Be Me!

So... I'm getting my 4 year old daughter ready for bed last night, and from the blue she declares "Daddy, I just wanna be naked!". Probably no cause for alarm, but as a parent my Future Adult Industry Alarm went off. I ask her "why" she wants to be naked. Imagine my surprise when the answer turned out to be deep insight into Character, Motivation and Theme:

"Because I just wanna be me. Did you ever notice in movies everyone says they just want to be them? Well, I just wanna be me!"

She then proceeds to rattle off examples of movies she's seen - Tarzan, Little Ponies, Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, etc. - where the main characters wanted nothing more than to be or express their true selves. That got me thinking...

There are many different ways to analyze a story - the Hero's Journey, Aristotle's Poetics, the Dramatica method, the Gozzi/Polti theory of 36 plots, ad infinitum. But it seems to me that the simple exclamation "I Just Wanna Be Me" is a thematic sentiment that beats at the heart of most modern filmic story structure. Not all, but most. Even if it isn't at the very heart of every story, the sentiment is usually something the protagonist or one of the other main characters is going through.

Outwardly, they are fully clothed - sometimes armor-clad - in layers of pretend. They pretend to be the happy husband/wife, the loyal friend, the good employee, when in fact what they long for is something entirely different. They want to shed the clothes, shed the armor and let people see them for what they really are. They wanna be naked.

It seems to me this is the essence of the term "Inner Conflict", and if at least one of your main characters doesn't have some form of Inner Conflict, your story is bound to be shallow and therefore, not emotionally effecting.

In my work, one of the first questions I ask myself while outlining my story - BEFORE actually writing - is "what is my main character's Inner Conflict?". The reason I start here is that Inner Conflict deepens a character and deepens the story. It makes for a more complex, well rounded and realistic telling of the story, because we can all identify with Inner Conflict. Audiences empathize with flawed characters much more than with characters with no flaws/weaknesses/doubts. Yes, watching 007 or Jason Bourne kick ass is fun and gratifying, but on the whole not really emotionally involving.

But perhaps the most important reason defining the Inner Conflict is crucial before I begin writing is that Inner Conflict also leads directly to defining your THEME. In my opinion, most poorly written stories are poorly written because they lack clarity of theme. Most amateur screenplays I've read lack theme completely. To fully explore Theme in your story, you need a main character that is flawed, one that has Inner Conflict. It is through confronting this Inner Conflict that Theme is explored. Doesn't really matter if they win or lose, but for an emotionally engaging, fully fleshed out story, your main characters must have an Inner Conflict they must confront.

Same concept, different medium...


Sample Query Letter: Dark Rum Chronicles: The Adventures of Nick Drama

Following are two sample query letters of my latest spec I'm e & snail mailing to various management companies. I have 5 different versions, but am only posting what I believe are the two strongest.

The first is pretty straight forward. I tried opening strong by referencing a successful film/character which shares some attributes to my spec/protagonist. My goal was to immediately paint a picture in the reader's mind of the protagonist. Naturally, it makes sense to lead with my spec's strongest attribute, and my protagonist is the strongest part of my concept - he's fun & interesting and could be spun off into many stories over a variety of media:
Dear ________,
If Han Solo relocated to the Bahamas we'd have Nick Drama, an irresponsible but lovable scoundrel living the easy life in an island paradise. That is, until his ex-wife shows up. 
All she asks is one simple favor, and there's dollar signs at the end of the rainbow. But like all rainbows what you see ain't necessarily what you get, and what Nick gets is a high-flying tropical adventure that will pit him against an international drug lord with a penchant for gourmet cooking and burning people alive, a psychotic band of not-so-merry Mercenaries and a nuclear bomb plot to blow up the U.N.
Now, in order to survive (much less pay off his bar tab), Nick will have to use every ounce of discipline and loyalty he never had, pit his ragged old seaplane against four Stingray helicopters in an aerial dogfight, and possibly even face the sobering fact that no matter how hard you try, you can't turn your back on the rest of the world.
Yes, it's shaping up to be a hell of a day. But if one thing's sure as gravity, it's that wherever Nick goes, drama is sure to follow.
To request a copy of Dark Rum Chronicles or discuss other original genre properties, please send your standard release to...

The second letter I took a little more creative tack. My intent with this one was to create some connection between the reader and the story by appealing to the fantasy we've all had at some point of shrugging all of our "real world" responsibilities and finding a simpler way of life. My only concern is it may come off as gimmicky:

Dear _____,
Quit your job. 
Sell the house. 
Chuck the credit cards. 
Take the car keys, cell phone, T.V., drown 'em all in the deep end of the big blue sea. Leave the world behind and spend the rest of your days collecting little umbrellas on some palm strewn, white sand beach.
We've all had the thought. But Nick Drama is an ex-Air Force pilot who went for it -- or at least, tried. See, Nick's spent the last six years in the Bahamas reinventing himself as a carousing bush pilot, a Jack Sparrow of the Skies. But Nick's got money problems, and he's being leaned on by a local loan shark for all the scratch he owes. 
Then his ex-wife Lys shows up, offering enough cash to keep Nick's plane in the air, his business afloat and his head connected to his torso. All he has to do is give her any information that could lead her to finding her missing fiancee.
Any information. Sounds easy enough. That is, until the International Drug Lord, psychopathic Mercenaries, and nuclear bomb angles are all factored in.
Yes, it's shaping up to be a hell of a day. But if there's one constant in the universe, it's that wherever Nick goes, Drama is sure to follow.
For further information on Dark Rum Chronicles: The Adventures of Nick Drama, open assignments or other original genre properties, please forward your release to... or call...

Of course, on letterhead these letters will appear much shorter. Still, my major reservation about both of them is they may be too long.
One hallmark of a solid query letter is its brevity - no one wants to read a page long description of a spec by an unknown writer.
Another hallmark of a great query is its ability to draw the reader in immediately. Hopefully I've accomplished that.

A great query must also paint a vivid picture of the story, world and character. It gives an comprehensive idea - in broad strokes - of what the story is, where it's headed and the probable outcome. I don't think it's a good idea to give the actual ending. If they want to know the ending - which hopefully they will - they'll have to request the script!
And that leads to probably the most important attribute of a great query letter: it makes the reader NEED to know more. Hopefully both of these letters accomplish all those goals. I'm a little to close to be objective anymore, so any advice would be welcomed!