This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 278: Writing Better Scenes With Writer Jim Mercurio.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #278 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screen writer and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing Jim Mercurio who’s a writer and author of the new book The Craft of Scene Writing. He’s got a unique approach to writing the actual scenes in a screenplay. We dive into that and discuss into the specific tactics to strengthen your scenes, so stay tuned for that interview. If you find this episode valuable please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes, or leaving me a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook.
These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast so they’re very much appreciated. Any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast and then just look for Episode Number #278. If you want my free guide-How To Sell A Screenplay In Five Weeks, you can pick that up by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free you just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons.
I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional logline and query letter and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material. Really it’s everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing Jim Mercurio. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Jim to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Jim: Yeah. Thanks a lot Ashley. I think we’ll have a lot of fun.
Ashley: To start out maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Jim: [laughs] I grew up in a small town near Weston, Pennsylvania. And it’s funny, my friend’s father was one of those first places to have like a, I don’t know, VHS players back in the day. He used to bring home, I called a movie he’d wanna watch like French Connection, GodFather, some of the 70s classics. So I didn’t necessarily come to film as like the kid of the Star Wars. I always had this weird thing of films were for adults. But I went to film school, University of Michigan and I wrote for Creative Screenwriting Magazine when I got up to Los Angeles. And basically, not to be a cliché, in my head I always wanted to be a director. I’m an extrovert, I like dealing with people, I love the intensity of being on a film set. So I was always screenwriting and that would be part a of it, but I sort of fell in love with it along the way, so I was writing about it, taking classes, I would give notes here and there, sort of working in development.
So I started realizing I was pretty good at talking and teaching about development and also the crafts, because with the Creative Screenwriting I directed the DVD, so I just… as a teacher focusing on crafts or something that I realized I was kind of good at and working as a story analyst. So the same way promoting writers, I do what you do, do what you’re special at. Screenwriting was a specific thing given my experience as a filmmaker and my kind of forte is talking about craft. I just kinda stumbled upon this thing while I’m making low-budget Indies, writing some non-guild stuff, kinda grinding it out like a lot of typical screenwriters.
Ashley: Sure. Let’s dig into your new book The Craft of Scene Writing. Maybe to start out you can just give us a quick overview. What is that book all about and why is it different than all the other screen writing books?
Jim: Well, it’s interesting because I know what you do at your company will specialize in screen plays and marketing. In a way what’s great and powerful about it is a compliment. It’s like this thing that not as many people are focusing on. The same thing with The Craft of Scene Writing. It is the first ever, I’m pretty sure, scene writing books that focuses solely on books that were fiction or getting in on with the focus on scenes. It was the first one. Personally, it was like, “What do I do well that’s different and special?” but then on a practical level it’s like, “Well, this craft and execution stuff isn’t talked about as much as story structure, dramaturgy, that stuff.” So if you look at all the classical screenwriting books, they’ll tell you, and I don’t have much to add. I mean, I’ll say some books are better than others but I don’t have much to add about constructing the story or where things go.
I mean, I’m not bad at it, I’ll talk to clients about it or give them different ways to think about it because I’ve read everything that’s out there. But I felt kinda proud that I found one little area that hadn’t been talked about as much. And that’s the individual craft and the focus on… I don’t know, the nitty gritty of scene writing. And if… go on.
Ashley: I was just gonna say, so it’s not necessarily an emphasis that the scene, the actual scene is more important than structure, it’s just you hadn’t seen this particular book, you’re not necessarily down on the structure.
Jim: No, no. I’m not saying at all. I mean, like an improv, you say yes then. I have no reason to dismiss or say that structure’s bad. I’m saying yes to that, but and this will also help. Because, look, I know structured storytelling is like really important. And then a book I wrote out by Eric Burke about the idea. I know concept in just the idea of your premise is important. I talk about that a little bit in my book. However, I also believe execution and taking the best content in the world, you still have to make it work on the page. So nowadays, with the way the spec script market is… like back in the 90’s, you’d have a cool concept and it would sell based on, “Yeah, that’s kind of interesting, we’ll develop it.” But they don’t do that anymore very much.
So if I want people to execute it, so even if you do think that you’re the best concept, which is very practical and tell a great story it still has to happen at the at the execution stage because there’s not a whole lot of money for development. Spec sales are different than they were years ago. And also, to be honest, if you want your script to attract, packaging will tell actors and directors. In a way it has to be director bader actor baits. It has to be on the page, someone has to read it and say, “Yeah, I see that as a movie,” and then for an actor, your characters not only have to be great or sound dramatically, or dramatically sound meaning they’re based in a real honest place.
They also have to have great lives be great conflict and kind of like what I call actor bait. I don’t mean just being like flashy or showy just for the heck of it, I mean, giving people, the actors, great moments, great dialogue and sometimes a little bit of monologue, a little bit of a show off the rant or diatribe. But you wanna make it like, “Oh, I just wanna play this.” Because those attachments can make the difference between, “Oh, great sample,” in a movie that’s being made, and also an agent or manager saying, “Wow! We could pack into this. This is ready to go out to directors and actors.” I feel like there is a practical business side to my stuff, but I just don’t emphasize it. It’s not what I do best and someone wants to know about marketing, I send them to you.
You do that and focus on that while I don’t wanna waste my time or someone else’s with except that anybody else could do or other people like you do better. I focus on what I do really well. I think the book does a great job at that without saying, “No, ignore this other stuff.” It’s definitely part of it.
Ashley: Yeah, exactly part of the whole overall picture. Maybe let’s dig into some of the actual parts of the book. You’ve got it divided up into sections. The first section is called Fundamentals. Maybe you can talk us through that. What is sort of the fundamentally… what is a scene in a screenplay?
Jim: Well, I think I pointed this out in the book. Everybody’s got their own idea of a scene intuitively and it’s probably 110% right? But the thing is that we don’t probably bring those tiny details. I get very… for moment, very technical like it’s a single unit of action unified by time and space, there’ll be a change, a climatic twist and usually that’ll involve a change in the story and the character. I get very specific just so that everybody knows what we’re talking about. But then I feel Mike Nichols definition about the scene being either a negotiation or a fight or seduction, that might be just as helpful to you. Or you might, as you’re writing figure out, “You know what? To me, I need to think of the scene as a goal or an obstacle and everything else flows from there.” I don’t say no to that.
It’s like yes! I’ll say yes to that but let me just give you really specific details so you can wrestle it out or if you have in your mind and it’s like, why does there always have to be a change in character and in the action or in the action and the character? I try to make a little argument for that. But I basically go down into a scene or break it down into very kind of strict, somewhat left brain at times, ideas without taking an idea like a reversal or a crime out of a scene or surprise and basically give you the craft of it. I don’t believe you’re gonna be a [inaudible 00:09:06] as I am sometimes in this first part. But I want you to understand what a surprise looks like. Like a surprise that goes way to the right like, “Wow! That’s crazy surprise,” will be balanced by, “That’s a zig zag… that’s a zag.” The zig is called the absolute opposite way before we go to that surprise because it’ll accentuate it or bolster it, basically like try to find languages as well.
What is the opposite? If a surprise is… well, I say basically a surprise is an accentuated expectation. So if the surprise goes to the right, where’ the left? It’s the expectation where you thought you were gonna go, and if you specifically know the shape of the surprise, the way it twists or reverse or works is by going way to the zig to the left before you go to the right. I‘m just trying to make it really clear for people and then that’s when I’ll build on your intuition. I’m not saying, hey, these are rules and you’d better write these down. They’re from God, I’m just saying, let me break this down and make you understand that beyond intuition and then take it into your mind, your brain and your heart any way you want and it can hurt what you’re doing.” Because I’m not trying to go against what you know or intuition but I’m trying to balance it out with some really concrete craft ideas.
Ashley: Sure and I wonder if you could… I think that what you’re talking about there with the reversals and the surprise, I think it’s fantastic. Maybe you can give us just an example from actual movie, the zig and then the zag of the surprise. I’d be curious to hear an actual example from a movie that we all know.
Jim: Well, I would say that every great reversal or moment or scene has it in their show. Like read chapter two of the pitch and you go like every gay movie you’ll see it. But I just did this guest blog for one of the companies. I was talking about the moment in The Hangover, right? They wake up, it’s like they’re drunk and they’re in their hotel suite. And the joke is that they forget about the night before, right? And I was looking at that moment and that’s a pretty fun surprise, a pretty great turning point. It’s pretty clear. But that was in a class and I said, “Okay, guys. You remember what happened the night before you set it up?” And no one did. That’s the lesson. You do but you don’t know. And I said, “Well, what was the night before?” And they were like, “Well, it was a party,” and what do you do at parties and they got around to making a toast.
What kinda things do you say at a toast? And they were like silent a little bit and I said, “Well, remember now.” You see the moment before it was all about forgetting and not remembering and they got to, “Oh, to a night we’ll always remember,” or “To a night we’ll never forget.” Actually that very much the line- To a night the four of us will never forget. It’s almost like reverse engineering. That kind of line, that kind of moment has to be there to make the next one actually better. And now when it’s seamless you don’t remember that or you don’t focus on that. But it’s like that’s line exactly before, it’s like perfectly setting up and contrapuntal or whatever or the opposite. But that’s the zig before the zag. It’s like, let me say, this will be a night we will never forget. Right?
And then cut to what’s next. They forget it. It’s like it doesn’t feel clunky or like crap. It feels like, “Oh, that’s funny. That’s a punch line.” So it’s like it’s there, even when you don’t necessarily see it. But in retrospect it’s so obvious. When you watch a movie a second or third time and you know where it’s going, now you see the setups more clearly. So I just point out things like that of some of your favorite surprises, reversals, moments in movies, there’s a counterbalance to the craft that takes the Zig to the left before you go to right. I just kinda point that out very clearly so that you can then incorporate that into your instinct and your writing process.
Ashley: Yeah. No, that’s a fantastic example. I do appreciate that. I wonder if you could give us some examples on the same thing of exposition. I know exposition is something that a lot of new writers struggle with getting all that information out. Maybe you can give us a couple tips on an exposition in a scene?
Jim: Sure. Well, first I think we should go back to the fundamentals in the first few chapters. Talk about a scene being beat by beat. And a beat is like an action, has an intention, like I want to seduce you, or I want to convince you or I wanna get something from you. So if you go through your lines, and you’re… [inaudible 00:13:14] a moment was like it’s sharing information [laughs] or it’s giving information. The point of this is that get it out so you’re allowed to have it. You just know you know that it’s not really possible to do it. So I try to give a general way to think about expeditions, like you wanna take the information you have that is necessary to the story but there’s always a hard way through, there’s always a way that will pass the character or challenge them, or be difficult for someone.
It’s like, find that person, if you can’t find that person usually it means that either the characters are wrong, or the information isn’t kinda necessary, because if something’s important to the story, moves us forward, causes conflict, someone is gonna have a strong reaction to it. Like if two cops are sitting at a scene of a murder or something, and they’re saying, “Oh, here are the details, blah, blah, blah,” and they’re just going through it, that’s obviously really banal. It’s not important to them. It’s just that. But now let’s say, in fact it’s like you can use that as an example ironically. Let’s say you are saying it dispassionately and very quickly the relative or the life of the husband of the deceased person overhears your casualness and is now offended by it.
Now, that quick little moment of slack details could become immediate conflict to someone else. Or they could make the mistake of presenting it like neutral information to a person who’s surprised, that reveals themselves as the person who it really matters to. This is the zig and zag. I’m gonna think this is unemotional and not important, I’m gonna give you information. Surprise is the most important emotional information in the world based on who you just told it to. It’s basically trying to figure out how to take what you have and create conflict and create a difficult, challenging way to do it. And I say this is not an easy thing to do. Because if you take my definition of this, it’s basically I’m saying… they call it. Take the things you have with your story, or your information and make it the best, most dramatic thing you can possibly make it be.
And that’s like a metaphor or that’s like a description of what dramatic writing is in general. It’s not easy, but it’s the same principles. It’s like you use your stuff, do what you’re best at use that stuff to create the most interesting, conflict filled, dramatic, difficult moment for the characters. First, you gotta look at what you have and you gotta rearrange it and arrange it so that it comes out of the right person’s mouth or through the right person, or in a way that offends someone. It’s basically taking what you have and twisting it so that it works to your most powerful end.
Ashley: Yeah. And do you have an example off the top of your head on that one? I think The Hangover example was great for the reversal. Do you have an example for exposition where a script really handled a lot of exposition well?
Jim: In my book I do this example from the movie Heat and Al Pacino’s the lead guy, he’s the audacious Al Pacino character like always. And they’re out checking out Neil, the Robert De Niro’s character and his crew. Neil stops to look around and they’re looking at stuff, they don’t seem to really know what’s going on. Then all of a sudden Al Pacino starts talking, starts teasing his people, starts self-depreciating a little bit because he realizes that the bad guys had played them. They’re the ones being watched. Although he was into surveying the bad guys, they actually tricked him and they’re doing it to him. But he doesn’t say anything. He didn’t come up and say, “Hey, guys, by the way, surprise, they’re watching us.” He starts realizing it, he starts making fun of them, he lures them in, maybe they’ll be smart enough to figure it out but they’re not.
And then he finally reveals why he’s teasing them, why he’s being sarcastic about it, why he’s being this way. It’s like, “Oh! They’re watching us.” So it’s a surprise for the characters. There’s some conflict and then he’s like chasing them and mocking them and pushing them a little bit, but he’s also… now you can say this is a writer doing craft towards the character playing around. I think it works. He’s actually kind of finding a fun way to explain the discovery and make it clear to them but it also works for the audience and it’s like, “Well, if you don’t…” [inaudible 00:17:02] although he’s talking about is not [inaudible 00:17:05] because he’s not letting the character get ahead of you. But if you don’t it will be like, “Wait a second, what’s he talking about? Why is he mad at these people? Why is he taking the tongue-in-cheek?”
Then all of a sudden it’s like, “Aha! The information.” So the information that they’re being watched could be done very bad and very boringly but they do it within character, within some fun space, within mystery and suspense, like, “What’s he talking about?” So it’s like once again, make it as fun as you can. And a very cliché example is like you and I are cops, you’re in room A, I’m in room B. I could say, “Hey, Ashley, come in room B, there’s a bloody body here.” Or I could say, “Ashley, quick, get in here now!” All I’m doing is I’m creating a moment of suspense, you have a little bit of suspense, I’m toying with you, we’re toying with the audience a little bit so you have a quick second of, “Oh, what’s Ashley gonna see when he walks into the room with Jim and his body is… in the cop movie, right? What’s he gonna see? There is an example that sometimes it’s overused.
When you take the information and say, “What can I do with it to make it intriguing, suspenseful, dramatic, conflict-filled?” It’s just thinking about organizing your information in the best way?
Ashley: Yeah. So one of the advanced topics that you cover is breaking the rules with style. I noticed that chapter. And maybe you can talk about that a little bit. First off, what are the rules and second off, how can you break them with style without seeming like an amateur as opposed to seeming like someone who’s fully in tune with sort of the craft?
Jim: Now, that’s a great question. Let me emphasize something. I’ve been talking about this topic and I’m developing a version of it for a couple conferences. It’s like, let’s say the rules, I’m saying that a little bit tongue in cheek because they’re a bunch of… I mean, rules, what you can see, what you see in here or scripts should be this format, there should be about 110 pages. That stuff all makes sense and I’m not going to argue that. But there’s certain “rules” that that seem to come up or seem to be there looming over screen writers. Like, “Don’t use voiceovers,” and I’m saying it in this voice, “Don’t use flashback,” and, “Don’t write long scenes, don’t have too much dialogue.” Now here’s the thing, when I say rules I’m gonna be tongue in cheek. They’re there as unwritten rules written by so called gurus or the imaginary ‘they’.
The ‘they’ who say those things. I think some of them have good intentions. I think for a beginning writer or a writer with not a lot of skill, writing a long scene can have a lot of pitfalls. It can be static, it can be repetitive, it can be long winded, it cannot make this point, while too much dialogue is not a great place to start. However, if you understand the principles, the fear that makes people start setting these rules, you can worry about that. So a long scene, if I say the reason why I want you to not do that is there is some dramatic and static long stuff. Or things you can do. You can break the scenes to little movements like actions, like the great long therapy scene with Sean Penn… not Sean Penn, Robin Williams and who plays Sean in Good Will Hunting and Will and Matt Damon.
The long therapy scene’s like, well, first you have the math teacher there and then Will comes in and then he has to push the teacher out or the professor out, then [inaudible 00:20:07] and Will they have a nice long scene with this movement blocking and visual things which are nice. Then they have their conflict moment where he puts them up against the wall. Then Will leaves and he comes back in so you have shifts of characters. There’s three characters, and there’s two, and then there’s one, and then there’s a different two, so those sort of movements. Or like the middle of the opening scene in Will’s Bastards. It’s literally the bomb under the table dramatic irony thing that he starts talking about. You show the soundless family underneath the floorboards literally under the table, like the bomb under the table so now there’s dramatic irony.
Now we watch the rest of the scene from a different perspective knowing that, “Oh, we now know that there is a Jewish family under there and it totally changes. So there’s moves you can do to make sure that how it moves that make sure it doesn’t low, that it’s visual and not just talking. There’s craft elements that allow you to do that and the same thing to dialogue scenes. If you look at the opening of Social Network, the long scene with his BU- Boston University girlfriend and Zuckerberg was going to Harvard, the words are actions. She says, “Why do you think my life so easy?” Or something like that, and he says, “Well, it should be good to be you.” And it’s like those are words but those are actually actions too.
They have conflict, there’s subject, they reveal a character. In a way, that big long dialogue scene, that talking scene that you’re not supposed to do is done so well and it’s fast, it is conflict-filled and frankly it’s doing everything that an opening image does. It sets up the world, the rules, the character. It [inaudible 00:21:34] some of the themes. But then ironically it’s like you’re breaking the rules but you’re also using them. The moment after that is like this, I don’t know, three or four sentences about him walking back to his dorm. But in the movie his picture turns into like a million-dollar sequence going through the campus back to his dorm. So it’s like that dialogue scene, which is a great dialogue scene. It shows you the things you have to do but it’s also breaking the rules. It’s opening images. They should be images. They should be visual if you’re bringing it into the world.
Well, Sorkin does the classical opening image, right after that scene where he could give them both to you, but he rearranges the order a little bit. I think even he is understanding the principles, like, “Hey, an image, visuals opening scenes of something represent important and since it does that in that second moment but also the scene has the coffee scene, it has every scene that a dramatic short scene or visual scene should do also. If you understand what you’re trying to avoid, the principles like don’t be boring, don’t be exposition, don’t be long winded, don’t get off track. If you understand those ideas and address them then you don’t have to worry about the nitpicky rules about don’t use this or don’t use that.
If an apparent setup is redundant the guy is angry, and he’s red face and he’s yelling, take him back, drop him and give me 50. Do I need angry as a parenthetical? No, it’s because it’s redundant. It’s wasting words. So like that principle of not being redundant, nothing static, not giving more information you need that principle’s more important than ‘don’t use a parenthetical’. So I try to give people the tools to understand what they’re avoiding when dealing with those so called rules. But you do have to be aware of the principles of storytelling that you don’t want to violate those. That’s what the rules are trying to capture, but I’m trying to be more specific, like, you know, here’s the things you’re avoiding. Avoid those, and then you can break those rules, with style with craft by doing it well.
Ashley: Yeah, you know, voiceover is something that comes up and I’m in a writers group and it comes up quite often, and I’ve been asking a number of the podcast guests about that. What what’s your take on voiceover? I think you just laid out a great sort of thesis for the social network and how he was able to really break. I mean, those first 10 pages are so crucial and I don’t think there’s anybody on the planet that would recommend to a screenwriter that they have a 10 minute scene in a restaurant to open the movie.
Jim: Right, exactly.
Ashley: But what’s your take on voiceover?
Jim: Well, I think what’s interesting is I realized I didn’t address flashbacks, and voiceovers directly. Not very much in the book. If I ever go back and do a second edition that would be a good topic to do. I don’t have a big… I haven’t thought about voiceover and flashbacks that way. So I don’t have some big theoretical lesson about it but it’s part of those principles. Like a flashback, for instance, if it stops the movie in its track, if it feels like exposition, if it’s a kind of tangential, and I’m like, no. But if you think of a flashback is like no, it’s not, whether it’s the past or present. In the story, the thing we need to know or feel or understand next, if the flashback goes there, and we can’t really appreciate what comes after that, then the suspect is named the suspect. It’s just a way of telling the story.
So it’s like, as a writer, my approach to that is right now very intuitive. And based on all the stuff that I think about that are in my book, like effective principles. If voiceover is necessary to explain, what’s redundant, or it’s like you just character information just to do it, I say no. But for the [inaudible 00:25:00] if it creates conflict, if it’s necessary to give an extra level to what we’re seeing, or if you’re unreliable narrator. It’s not so much like I have, well, this is the way you’re supposed to do it, these are the rules. It’s more like, you know the principles. If a voiceover is adding something special, that can only be added by this, and that was when we need it. And also, if you’re gonna do it, not just one time as a fix, but if your concept for the most part incorporates voiceover as a technique you’re using… It’s the same like in a… I don’t watch that much TV, but the House of Cards, where you talk to the camera.
If you do that three times in the season as like a cool type of way to get out of something, then no, you’re just adding that one concept. You’re being lazy, do it a better way. But a voiceover breaking the wall, fourth person stuff, you know, like the fourth wall, if that’s part of your story in the storytelling, and that’s what you’re doing then fine. It’s integrating, is it used ironically, is it used to bring something special to the moment that will only come from that? I guess I don’t have that sort of role. It’s more intuitive. It’s like is it doing the things that good storytelling is, it’s not acting like exposition, it’s not being redundant, it’s not explaining, but it’s like, hey, this is a cool, clever, fun way to get through this, we’re doing it often, we’re in control of it, we’re never getting lazy with it, it’s not a crutch.
But if it’s doing good things, they’re using information a really great way, so that’s when I would say yes to it. So I seem to have a picky lesson about it but this is where… like I said the book will go very left brand and very specific about things like well, expectation here and surprise here. But sometimes I just want you to understand these ideas on a deeper level, because then you’ll be able to answer your own questions of like, well, is it doing the bad thing stories shouldn’t do? And if it’s not, then I have no problem with the voiceover or flash back?
Ashley: Yeah, fair enough. And I think that is a great way of looking at it. And one of the final things from your book I wanna talk about and it kind of leads into voiceover a little bit, because a lot of times I feel like voiceover is done out of almost… is a stylistic choice. And one of the things that you hit on in your book is this idea of personal voice. And I’d be curious to get your thoughts on that. What is a personal voice and how do you develop your own voice?
Jim: Well, it’s interesting, because I wrote chapter 13, which is called your voice, and I was done with it. And then the one copy editor that would help me out was really about content, you know, Julie Marshall, a great development mind. She pointed out, now, you have to go deeper because I started out with this first notion of voice of your script is so consistent, and so faithful to what you set up and what you promise that it’s totally unique, because nothing could be like, if you have your concept and your character and this background and scene, and location, you put that in there, your scene will be so specific. I go to a very funny genre film and come up with a line that can only come from those basic things. And then she pointed out, was like, “Jim, you have to go deeper, because there’s more personal people.
There’s sometimes themes or obsessions or way of telling a story. I thought about it for about six months, and I came up with the next chapter, Your Personal Voice. So you got to be consistent, you have to use what’s best and special about your scripts, concept, character, but then there’s also more you can challenge. You can challenge things that are more universal personal, like it might bug you that all stories about white men and white females and… not homosexuality, it’s always about these people or this class, or it never talks about important things like you wanna talk about class and do your version of Daniel Blake or realism. It never talks about food stamps, or medicine rationing or insurance.
So it’s like, there might be things are very important to you, that class with the unwritten rules of cinema, having to do with the rules of cinema, or even the rules of society. And you have to be personal, you have to make some assumptions like that, and break those rules and let that be part of your storytelling. So you’re challenging bigger things than just, “Well, yeah, I’m just trying the genre because I decided to make my character black.” Or, “I decided to make my character female.” Now, I’ll say one thing, I talk about aliens [inaudible 00:29:06] just by making this female lead a character already transcends the genre, and we’ve done well of it. Transcends the genre. And I would say in [inaudible 00:29:15] by following the ripple effects through it actually makes it kind of a masterpiece.
So sometimes it’s a small little disruption, or change, or thing that you take control of, could do a huge thing, then we start talking about ideology or patriarchy or society, the big things that matter, they can be really special and unique and allow you to kind of disrupt things and challenge things. So I want people to do with what’s special about the script, with their story and that kind of stuff. But also what’s special about them, like they have a perspective on politics, or race, or gender, or even sex. The way sex scenes in movies are totally cliché and it don’t really… they’re happier being all ready for the violence than realistic sex. We might say I do wanna show this, honestly, I don’t wanna say it out, or I don’t want to gloss over this, or I don’t want the camera to pan away.
I wanna do this seriously. What happens is you take one little piece that’s important to you and fight for it, even if you’re not aware of the fact you’re being political, that you’re backing the status quo, it will actually do that. Because you take it one thing, you’ll be you’ll be violating and challenging the tested kind of unwritten rules of cinema. So it’s like, take what you know that’s special unique about you, important to your scripts and make sure that every part of your script has that. So it’s like basically just honoring what’s special about you and following through. The same way I would say I wrote my book. I wanted to put what was special about me. I don’t talk about crap. I don’t talk about marketing my book. I’m not good at that. I’m good about craft, nitty gritty detail stuff, thinking like a filmmaker analyzing scenes, making sure actors want to say those lines.
So I wrote that, and same thing with your script. Yeah, you wanna be faithful to the rules and the story that you set up, that’s part of it, you have consistency. But it’s also recognizing what’s special about you. What do you do better than everybody else? And if you can put that into your story with consistency, always, just like labeling it so you know what to look for. I have five scenes in my script but I’m special. They don’t do what I do best. Maybe I think to myself, I do sexual politics and men, women relationships better than anybody, but I don’t do it in this scene, and I don’t do it in another scene. I gotta make sure it shows up in those special moments. So it’s about being consistent, but also then emotionally finding what you’re good at and honoring it. And making sure it’s on the page. Sorry, that was long winded?
Ashley: No, no, that was great. Yeah, that was great. How can people buy The Craft of Scene Writing? Do you know where it’s available?
Jim: It’s basically, pretty much everywhere books are sold, especially online. If you wanna save some money Amazon right now, it has a huge price tag on the Ebook or the Kindle version and it’s been hovering around the top 20 in screenwriting. I think it’s because they thought they would sell more books with a low price for $6. So it’s a deal. But also the book is available at a discount in prime shippings. I think only Amazon. And then when you love it make sure you write a review afterwards. It looks like it’s the best price there. And also, I think the reviews there help it out too. So yeah, check it out.
And also people… for me part of writing the book was in the fact that I’m happy now because like I said, I’m an extrovert. I’m a director at heart. So the idea of the book, it inspires people. I wanna hear about it, ask me questions, challenge me. I work as a script consultant so you can check out my site but more importantly, ask me questions. Tell me… I wanna hear about how it’s impacting the world and meet new people and talk about it, so yeah. Definitely Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Walmart, every place that you can imagine a book, it’s there. But I know specifically, it’s on sale at Amazon, it’s a prime so it’s free shipping and that’d be great. If you love it put a review there too.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So perfect, perfect. Hopefully people will do that. What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? You just mentioned that you had a website. You can mention that now. Twitter, Facebook, anything you’re comfortable sharing I’ll round up for the show notes.
Jim: Yeah. Sure. By the way, I’ll give the permission if you wanna add it later. Yeah, my website, my name, JamesP material.com. My email’s, Jim@ that. But you can come there, I do consulting and more stuff. There’s really no hard shell, if you like what I do, what I say and you need somebody like me, you know, come to me. But there’s also newsletters, there’s few newsletters, you can sign up for there. You can sign up for both classes. And there’s actually some content to all the articles and stuff I’ve done. So go to my website, send me emails, check it out. I have a DVD set, I have the book and I work with writers one on one. It’s all kind of… yeah, it’s there in my website.
Ashley: Okay. Perfect. I will link to all that. Well, Jim, I really appreciate your coming on today and talking with me. It’s been a great interview, and I think people will get a lot out of it.
Jim: Well, thanks, Ashley, I appreciate it. I appreciate what you’re doing too, it’s like finding your own niche in a way to complement what’s going on with the craft stuff. I think it’s great for writers to add that side to it.
Ashley: Yeah. Well, thank you. Thank you very much. So perfect. We’ll talk to you later. All right, take it easy.
Jim: Okay, talk to you soon.
A quick plug for the SYS Screenwriting Analysis service. It’s a really economical way to get a high quality professional evaluation on your screenplay. When you buy our three pack you get evaluations at just $67 per script for feature films and just $55 for teleplays. All the readers have professional experience reading for studios, production companies, contests and agencies. You can read a short bio on each reader on our website and you can pick the reader who you think is the best fit for your script. Turnaround time is usually just a few days but rarely more than a week. The readers will evaluate your script on six key factors-concept, character, structure and marketability, tone and overall craft which includes formatting, spelling and grammar.
Every script will get a grade of pass, consider or recommend which should help you roughly understand where your script might rank if you were to submit it to a production company or agency. We can provide an analysis on features or television scripts. We also do proofreading without any analysis. We will also look at a treatment or outline and give you the same analysis on it. So if you’re looking to vet some of your project ideas this is a great way to do it. We will also write your logline and synopsis for you, you can add this logline and synopsis writing service to an analysis or you can simply purchase this service as a standalone product. As a bonus, if your screenplay gets a recommend or a consider from one of our readers you get to list the screenplay in the SYS Select database, which is a database for producers to find screenplays and a big part of our SYS Select program.
Producers are in the database searching for material on a daily basis, so it’s another great way to get your material in front of them. As a further bonus, if your script gets a recommend from one of our readers your screenplay will get included in our monthly Best Of newsletter. Each month we send out a newsletter that highlights the best screenplays that have come through our script analysis service. This is monthly newsletter that goes out to our list of over 400 producers who are actively looking for material so again, this is another great way to get your material out there. So if you want a professional evaluation of your screenplay at a very reasonable price check out www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants.
On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing Victoria Freds and Aaron Fradkin. They are a writing producing duo who just did a film called Electric Love. We talk about how they wrote the film and how they were able to raise money for it. They have a lot of really innovative interesting ways that they went out and tried to raise money for this film. So we really dig into that. And if you’re thinking about potentially producing a film of your own, this is a great episode to listen to. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.