Ashley: Welcome to episode #141 of the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I’m Ashley Scott Meyers Screenwriter and blogger over at – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I’m interviewing, James V. Hart, his writing credits include: The Stephen Spielberg film, “Hook” Francis Ford Coppola’s, “Dracula”, and many, many, more. And James also created, “The Heart Chart” which is a screenwriting tool to help writers plot the emotional journey of their characters. We talk about all of the this and much, much, more on today’s episode, so stay tuned for that.
Today’s episode of the Podcast is sponsored by www.screencraft.org. “Screencraft and today’s guest, James V. Hart are running a Masters Class. And the first 200 people to sign-up will receive an exclusive offer, to the 25th Birthday Celebration, of James V. Hart’s celebrated classic film,”Hook.” Directed by Stephen Spielberg, starring Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, and Bob Hoskins, and Julia Roberts. Following the screening there will be a special celebration with James V. Hart, and the Lost Boys Cast. At Sony Picture Studios, where the movie was filmed. This special screening takes place, on the evening of Friday, November 11th 2016. The weekend before the Master Class on November 12th and 13th 2016. There is a generous 10% off coupon code to all SYS Podcast listeners. That coupon code is – SC0916. And if you’re a student you can get half off by using the coupon code, STUDENT, that’s the word “Student” in all caps. I’ll put all this in the show notes as well. Or you can go directly to www.screencraft.org, to register.
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If you would like my free guide, “How to Sell Your Screenplay in 5 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 a week for 5 weeks. Along with a bunch of free bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. How to write a professional log-line and quarry letter. How to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for new material. It really is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
A quick few words about what I am working this week? Once again, the main thing I am trying to push through. Is post-production of my crime/action/thriller film, “The Pinch.” The rough cut is in, I watched the full rough cut last night. And I am excited to dig in and get things tightened up. So, now for the next couple of weeks. I’ll be spending a lot of time watching and re-watching the film and writing down notes on tweaks that need to be made. I’m probably going to be sick of this movie by the end of the week. Right now, I’m really, excited to just dig in and get to work. This is the fun part of the process. A lot of the hard, grueling work is done.
And this part of the process is pretty, creative. It’s a lot watching the scenes and trying to figure out if we are using the right take, or the right cut. If it can be shortened or tightened, all that kind of stuff. With this sort of budget there’s not really a way to do a lot of re-shoots. So we got to make the best movie with the footage we have. So, we kind of, it’s creative, but it’s creative way of a certain box. Anyway, that’s the main thing I’m working on, for the next couple of weeks. Hopefully by, let’s say, the end of November-ish, I will have a locked picture. And then we will start moving into a lot of the technical stuff after that. Then there’s the sound mix, sound score, color correction, all that kind of stuff. That’s very technical, I leave not so much creative. But this next month is going to be a lot of just working with editor and getting the picture to the best that we can make it.
So, now let’s move on to the main segment of the Podcast. Today, I’m interviewing screenwriter – James V. Hart, here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome James to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast, I really appreciate you coming on the show with my today.
James: A pleasure Ashley, I’m glad we’re both in the same time zone.
Ashley: There ya go. So, to start out, maybe you can give us a quick overview of your background, kinda how you got into the business. And maybe just bring us up, maybe include a few highlights of your career.
James: Wow, I did come into this business in, roughly what they call, “The greatest decade of the world.” Which was the 1970’s. When so many others were just starting out, straight out of film school, and on the heels of Vietnam, in the 60’s and that sort of framed all of us. And, we came to the business with no rules, we were making films, we were writing scripts. I mean, I was hanging out with Dennis Hopper, a Steven Spielberg, who was directing television, Coppola had started Zoetrope, up North. And was trying to do THX-1138, with George Lucas. American Graffiti I was offered American Graffiti. I had money in Texas. I tried desperately to finance, we were having these types of opportunities. With kinda legends now. And they were actually framing the future of this business. And it was exciting, it was, there were no rules. They were being made up moving along, and still, studios were seeing a new kind of cinema emerge from American film makers. Influenced by the French, new wave by Dugard, Trufu, and all the great Italian directors. My film school, in Dallas, in essence, which was a nothing film school. Yet, we had people like George Roy Hill, bring the answer print of,
“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” to our cinema school to view. We were the first college in country to see the film. Author Hibbord, directed “Bonnie and Clyde.” I’m sorry, yeah. I don’t have to through it, I was a pen, directed “Bonnie and Clyde.” In Dallas, Day, with Warren Beaty, but whatever her name was? Nobody knew who Fay Dunaway was? A lot of our students worked on the film. So, I had an amazing kind of education, where we were out making movies. We didn’t have “Black List” we didn’t have Sundance, we didn’t have workshops, we didn’t have, you know, mentors. It was really, pretty, exciting. And I think I learned my first film in Europe when I was 22 years old. With no money, and an understanding that we learned under fire. That you produced in 7 countries, 15,000 miles.
Learning how to pick-up crews where we went. And won a lot of awards, but that was my first film experience, producing a film in Europe, it was 1972.
Ashley: Wow. Now, tell me, so, like, with American Graffiti, you said, you got offered that? What is exactly does that mean? Did George Lucas was trying to write the story and you were somehow involved in that?
James: There was a script written by William and Dorie Height, who had re-written George. George had come off of THX-1138, there was a wonderful agent who, at
ICM – Geoffrey Barnes, who heard, had become legendary. Who was trying to help George raise money. We had, we were trying to raise money up from Texas, my fraternity brothers, and my high school buddies. And to get venture capital to make the movie. And so, the script was given to us, and I fell in love with it. And I remember having a phone conversation with George Lucas, at the “Hollywood Vine Hotel.” He was trying to raise money. And nobody would give him any money. And we were unable to deliver it, in the time that was needed. To Coppola’s, his credit, Coppola came to George’s rescue. And conveniently arranged for $750,000.00 to be put up for George to go and make the movie. And Terry Malic was trying to raise money for “Bad Lands.” So, Terry and I were both in Texas had long conversations with Terry sitting, the DP sitting there. The Production Designer, Jack Fisk, told him how to raise the money. He went off and raised the money for “Bad Lands.” So, it was that kind of Climate, “Last Picture Show” had been made. Nobody knew anything about Lester, for show, for a million dollars, with kind of an unknown cast. It was the beginning of some fine careers. So, it was a really exciting times.
James: And getting into this.
Ashley: And how were you meeting these folks? You guys were just all hanging out? Sort of all in that Hollywood scene? How were you actually meeting these types?
James: It was actually very, really interesting, there was such a, Scorsese used to have these screening, he had a screening room at Warner Brothers, that was dedicated to him. So, on Friday nights he would have screenings. There would be no seats in the theatre, you had to lay on the floor. It was a small community that wasn’t divided by agents and that, managers and lawyers at that time. We were all sort of young film makers. Trying to Find our way. One of the real pieces of to learn here was Carson, Ellen DeCarson, who was really, ground-breaking, independent film. We lost him two years ago, out of Texas. He worked with some of the great young film makers, just coming out. And he was making really, he was a journalist, he was also a film maker. And there was a lot of connections, there were just no walls between anybody.
Ashley: So, you said you could produce this film. And it sounds like the early 70’s. When did you make the move to where you always were writing? And when did you kinda decide, okay, I’m going to be a screenwriters instead of verses a producer or a director, or any number of other things?
James: Um, in the late ‘70’s, we were going to come back and make some other independent projects. But, I was also just getting annoyed with the scripts I was reading. I had read plays, and short stories in college. I never thought of the possibility of having a writing career. You know, it didn’t occur to me, that somebody wrote the screenplay for Robin Hood, you know. My favorite Errol Flynn film. Until I got in the business then, I began to read, and read, and read, and read, and read, and read anything, I can do this. And I would begin to fix scripts on my own. And I finally wrote my first script under pseudonym, called, “The Frat Rats” which became sort of a challenge of Animal House, and ended up in a big law suit. But, I sat down and wrote, in pencil, on yellow note pads. About my experiences in college with the fraternity. Put somebody else’s name on it, and circulated it. And the reaction I got, was encouraging to me. But, they didn’t know it was me. And then I started writing, I wrote my first screenplay, prior to 1978. It was kinda about my raunchy days in Texas. In a very bad film called, “Give Me an F” or I think they changed the title to, what was it? It was a “T & A Camp, Part 2.” And it suddenly became a cult classic, and put me on the road. Wanting to write bigger, more significant material in this time, film fantasy genre.
James: So, it took me a while to get this.
Ashley: Yeah. So, on this script you wrote, “Frat Rat” and you said, you circulated? What exactly does that mean? When you circulate it, you just knew enough people in the business, so you started handing it out to them?
James: By that point, you knew enough people, producers, a couple of agents, you know. Someone who can get it to, a certain director. By that time, you had access to certain people without having to go through. I finally, got partnered up with Kirby, Bill Kirby, who wrote some great films in this, ‘70’s and ‘80’s. And bill, he wrote, “The Rose” and “Smokey and the Bandit” and “Hooper.” And he just wrote some great stuff. And after working with me, he said, “This is the last time you’re not going to be writing your own screenplays.” So, I started writing, in the ‘80’s. “Dracula” was one of the first screenplays I tried, I wrote. I then began to get hired, in development deals. I wrote for everybody, I wrote “Frank Marshall” “Spielberg” I wrote for
“Fred Newman” I wrote for some of the leading credentialed people in the business. But, nothing was getting made. So, I was a development deal junkie. I could raise my kids, live in New York. I have a wall full of screenplays, and no movies. And in those days, it just, they would throw money at a good idea. Or, you know, something that sat there, a writer, with the possibility of going straight to an actor. And I had some good teachers, I had some very good producers that I worked with. That were very good creative producers.
Ashley: So, let’s talk about, I’m sorry.
James: John Even was the name I, John Even, a great producer, great writer/director, who was very encouraging to me.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, let’s talk about your writing process a little bit. One of the things I always just ask writers is? To get a sense of sort of how they go about approaching material is? In terms of outlining, in terms of actually opening Final Draft, and writing. How much time do you spend in the preparation faze, outlining, preparing, thinking about it. Verses how much time you’re actually in final draft, writing script pages.
James: A, and also don’t forget. A, the last thing I do, the very last thing I do, is hit the screenplay. And by that point, I have outlined, I have charted, I have done treatments, I have done treatments, and treatments, and treatments, and they get longer and longer, and longer, and longer. So, when you finally get to the screenplays page. It really, I really try to make that a mechanical process. Where you take a screen and the manikin and put it in a bottle and stroke when you need it. But, the actual screenplay process, you’re always writing, something you’re adapting. A written page that you’re adapting what you’ve written to a screenplay format. So, I’m not just sitting here trying to start with that all ridged all restrictive, all confining, format that I write into a screenplay. That’s the last thing I want to do is write the script. And, hopefully, it flows mechanical, there’s still surprises, there’s still magic, there’s still things that happen. But, if you’ve done your prep-work. Just like going and shooting a film. You just don’t go out and start shooting a movie, you prep it. So, I’ve tried to approach, my writing process, like somebody like Francis Ford Coppola wrote a script, and shoot a film. The last thing you do is make the movie. And I know a lot of people say, I just sit down and write. I just go, I don’t, one, I don’t believe that. I know that Frank Durban, said he wrote the script for, “Shawshank Redemption” in six weeks. But, I know for a fact, that he thought about that script for ten years. So, I think prep is everything. Research, prep, outline, outline, outline, treatment, treatment, treatment. And now, the charting process, I started about 15 years ago. It really charts the emotional journey of my characters, for a character driven narrative it’s a part of a popular narrative.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. And what part, and we’re going to get to that here in a minute. What is your writing schedule like, do you have like a set schedule? Do you get up in the morning, and do you try and spend a certain number of hours writing, just what is your daily schedule look like?
James: Well, I’ve been writing since 5:00a.m. this morning, pacific time. I have a rule where, just what I call a “Wudu” w-u-g-u “Wake-up, get-up.” A wonderful screenwriter gave me that piece of advice a long time ago. And that, I am very early to rise, and very early to work. Because I often have 4-5 hours to write, before the rest of the world gets up. And if you are laying in bed, trying to go back to sleep? Your brain woke you up, and if you are laying in bed, trying to go back to sleep and not write, your burning writing time, you’re burning brain power. And you’re not getting any results out of it. So, I usually end up working by 6:00a.m. I will work until about 1:00p.m. I’ll take a break, come back around 3:00p.m. or 4:00p.m. and go till midnight, in the morning. So, I don’t sleep much during that stretch. But, that’s every day when I’m stationary. I’ll write on an airplane, I’ll write on a train, hotel room, it doesn’t matter. Early morning wake-up is become my sort of my mantra, wake-up, get up. And it’s very peaceful,
nobody is bothering you. It’s interesting, when you’re in New York, L.A. is asleep, London thinks it’s too early to call you. And so, you really get five, six, seven, hours, that you really are isolated from the rest of the world as a writer.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. And you’re consistently doing that? Even if you like don’t have a writing assignment, or something that you’re being paid to write. Will you just start writing a spec? Just to keep that routine going?
James: I’m always writing. I mean you’re constantly writing. Television these days, you had better be generating ideas. And you had better be coming up with TV projects you want to sell. And if you’re waiting around for an assignment, there’s about 25,000 other people ahead of you. And I’ve always been kind of a self-generator. Although, I do get assignments. But, yeah, I’m never not writing. You’re, you need to be working on something, whether it’s your own or somebody else’s, or just an idea. Nah, I’m never not writing.
Ashley: Yeah. And I really, appreciate what you’re saying about outlining, and I think it’s especially important for new writers tend to jump the gun and get into Final Draft way too early. One of the things that I have learned, to do, and I know other writers face this as well. In the outlining process, when you’re thinking? One of the problems I have, is, it, you get done that day. And you don’t feel like you really, accomplished anything. And I know intellectually, I can sit back and say, yes I did, I thought about this, and I thought about that. But, at least when you’re in Final Draft, you know, there’s like a page count. That you can look back on and show some sense of accomplishment. How do you deal with that? It feels very demoralizing, sometimes if you spend a week, just thinking about your script. And not actually producing pages. Do you find that to be true, and how do you deal with that?
James: I taught a Columbia, I taught at NYU, for years, my kids are both there. And I found there are entire measure of progress in screenwriting. Which is page count, which I think is a false positive. There is no equation that equites page count to good screenwriting, it just doesn’t. Some days I’ll produce one page, some days I’ll produce 15. The page count thing is not a measure for me, how the progress I measure I’m making? The craft, rules, the craft tool kits that I have developed over the years. Have given me a way of a great story, that forces me to break story. It forces me to answer questions that end up getting me a character driven narrative that falls apart. So, I don’t sit around and face blank pages. I’m, I might write some shitty ones. But, I’m not facing a blank page in the treatment of that long stage, I’m just not. And it is nice to say, hey, I did five pages today, or hey, I did ten pages today. But it’s nicer for me to say, I figured this out, I figured out where I have to plan, you know, I figured it out. Now, the next day, I can go address that. But, I would be very careful, at least for me, without measuring my progress, and success in the story telling in page count.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, let’s, I think that’s a good segue, let’s now talk about,
“The Heart Chart” a little bit. Maybe you can start out just by giving us an overview of what that is? And I will link to the website, so people can learn more about that. I’ll put that in the show notes. But maybe you can kind of give us an overview of this whole “Heart Chart” you’ve developed?
James: Yeah, thank you, “The Heart Chart” was born at the Austin Film Festival. At Basher House writing workshop, about 15 years ago. And, it’s a story mapping tool. But is actually a visual duel graph of the emotional journey that your characters are going on. Through a series of narrative sign posts.
You can actually craft the heartbeat and track the emotional up and down success and failure of your character. And see it, as opposed to it being cards on a wall, which I have a hard time with. I never know where I really, am on that emotional journey when I’m looking at cards on a wall. An outline, you try and turn a page, you turn a page and you may have forgotten something you see you did over here. Back where you want to pay off free. And I started it because writers were having a hard time with structure and then they run out of gas on page 30 or 40. And I started a chart to begin to show them where they were succeeding and where they were failing, and where they needed shoring up. To where they needed a paint job, or a flat tire fixed. And I did it, you know, on white boards and on paper. So, everybody would make their own chart of their own draft. It started out as a re-write tool. You take a draft, of something you’ve written. And before you re-write it, you can apply all of “The Heart Chart” diagnostics to it. It’s a diagnostic tool. You plug in your car and see what’s wrong with the engine. So, two years ago, and I’ve been doing it at the AFF for years, as this became. This went from 20 people to 200 people, in the “Heart Chart” session. And I would do other films that weren’t my own, I did, “The Martian” “The Dallas Friers Club” “Imitation Game” I mean, Graham Morris were blown away by how much more I knew about his screenplay than he did. Two years ago, I was approached by Guy Goldstein, who developed “The WriterDuet.” He came to one of my sessions in Austin and said, “I can do that as an app.” Where you can actually have it on your computer. So, it’s traveling white boards, something that goes with you everywhere. And I had been there, being asked for years. Can you please do this as an app. And I just never did it. So, guy developed the applet, last year. And we launched it at the AFF, in 2015. And now, it is, I carry it with me everywhere. I started out by using it, the app. As a re-write tool. Now I use it to break story. I’ve had directors that have used it, because it’s visual. They actually see on one page their entire film. Where they’re supposed to be emotionally. I’ve had actors that are using it to chart their own characters journey through a script, or play that they are doing. I had a group of Irish actors, and Irish playwrights having a hard time getting a play to work. So, they took “The Heart Chart’ and all the questions it can come with it. And they improvised the play to “The Heart Chart” and re-wrote the play from the improvisation, and it worked. So, we’re now trying it on TV season. Look, can you do the Heart Chart for an entire season? Can you apply those narrators, story mapping tools, and see where you are in mid-season, as you are in episode 6, with your character’s journey? I’ve had novelists use, I used it on my first novel. And it is a serious writers tool. I think it’s very helpful for threshold writers. Who are maybe having a hard time following the key, or some of the other kinds of applications that are more texturative. This forces you to write, this makes you write. And it gives you a chance for you to decide on whether this is good or bad for your character, what degree is good or bad, is there progress, is there set-back? What is the emotional state of my character is in? You see it, you don’t read it.
Ashley: I’m curious, you mentioned that you’ve done a bunch of movies, like, “The Martian” and stuff. Do you ever plug in one of those movies and find major flaws with them? A movie that was even a studio level movie, that may have even been successful. Or is there some correlation when the Heart Chart shows issues, those shows maybe didn’t do as well.
James: Well, the Heart Chart, will reveal deficiencies in the film. I had charted three block busters that were huge, that were dismal on the chart. And when I engaged my seminar, “So let’s identify these points in this existing film, they couldn’t do it. They were having a hard time pulling out the story points if it explained it to somebody. So, it does show you a deficiency.
But, it also shows you were your strengths, and where you might need a tune up. Like if you had a character interact one, the chart will tell you how long that character is off screen. And that might be the central character you need for the deeper in your narrative. You realize, oh my god, I haven’t been, I haven’t see him for 25 pages. You know, so you, it makes you, it shows you a blue print of where you’re at. Or, It’s how you break story in the beginning. So, hopefully you can head off some of these problems before you get to the editing room.
I started this separate set for “Dracula” Francis gave me, the three magic questions that started me on this kind of character driven journey. I now have 8-10 magic questions that you do, before you start to chart. We had to go back with “Dracula” and not re-shoot, but shoot pieces of narrative that somehow the screenplay. And only when the footage became living and breathing, did we begin to see, gee we need this piece of narrative, we need this piece of narrative in here. Not re-shooting a scene, but adding new pieces of narrative. So, this is what sort of chart a demographic. Dracula was the first movie I put to the test. And it did follow the chart beautifully. But it wasn’t necessarily how the script had been written. You know, so.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
James: My theory was, can we follow the heartbeat of our characters, in the written stage. And maybe head off some of these problems we are going to face in the editing room. Especially in an independent film. Where you don’t have money to go back and re-shoot, so add new scenes. So, what you got, what you see is what you got. So, especially in a low budget medium. Where you’re in TV, or just a tight schedule. And you don’t have time to go back. Hopefully, it helps you to head off some of those problems before you get to the editing room, and before you start production.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. I wonder if you could just give us an example of one or two of those
“8 magic questions?” You’re talking about, just so we can kind of get a sense of what it’s all about?
James: Well, I can give you the first three questions? Then the ones that come after that, are on the chart.
James: The first three questions and these will seem very rudimentary, very basic, and very screenwriter 101. But, just remember, these are the questions that Francis Ford Coppola gave to me. So, I pay attention to when they come from his source.
Ashley: I see.
James: The first question is? Who is my main character, and what do they want when we meet them? Very simple, but what is want? Is it usually ego driven. I, I, I, me, me, me, it’s usually very ego driven. But, if you don’t know what you’re character wants? You’re going to drive them to this narrative, you’re in trouble. And it can be very simple, I want a new car, I want to cut school, you know, I want to go to the dance with so and so. I want to move to London and find new blood to suck, you know.
What does Matt Damon want in “The Martian?” Everybody says, he wants to go home. No, he wants to learn to survive those 3.3 years until the second probe, his second ship comes and lands in the middle of Martian. You know, so, as soon as you are able to identify what your main character wants. You then have a motor for what drives your narrative.
Second question, who are the relationships and what are the obstacles my main character has to encounter to get what they want? And you literally list, you know, they’re their own worst enemy. They are their worst obstacle, their nagging mother, evil step-mother, Darth Vader, the hurricane that is about to strike the ship. I mean, you literally start listing obstacles that the main character has to go through to get what they want. Does he, Indiana Jones want, in the good first one, “Raiders.” He wants the ark, yeah, you know. Now, if he found it, the ark in act 1, boom, the movie’s over.
The last question, is a trick question. This is the one I had Francis say to me 3 or 4 times. In the end, doesn’t my main character get what they want, or not get what they want. Or is it good or bad for them if they did, or didn’t…. Did they get what they need? And that’s the one you really have to pay attention to. Because sometimes pursue what we want is good for us. But, you can’t discover what you need, unless you pursue what you want. Need being that interworking, that inner fear, that inner anx, that inner part of you that’s desperate to get out and be discovered. That’s the Rolling Stones, I’m sorry. You know, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what ya need. You have to try to get what you want, or discover what you really need. That’s what drives characters, through any storm. It’s that want, that ego, that goal, that selfish, that possessive, that me, me, me, that I need it. You know, that’s what drives narrative. And at some point, that want is going to get you in a shit load of trouble. But it’s going to lead you to what you need. And as soon I started thinking about those, that’s how I started. And if you answer those questions, before you even open Final Draft, if you answer those questions, you will have created a character driven narrative. As opposed to a creative narrative. So, you’re character will be pulling you through the narrative story. Instead of the writer pushing us through the story with plot. And that’s what I found I had been doing. I was relying on too much on plot. Thinking that’s what is important, is plot, as opposed to character. And then and now I start from a totally and completely, character driven story. Look what they did in “West World” this season, when they shifted the focus, to the robots. Giving them emotions, and giving them POV, and giving them, putting us in their shoes. As opposed to the shoes of all the asshole guests who come to kill people. Suddenly the robots have a limit. Suddenly we have empathy for the robot. So, that’s character.
Anyway, those three questions lead me to “The Chart.” And then I began to add questions over the years. So now, we have about 8 or 10 questions, that you have to answer before you start charting. Or before you start answering those questions, you have actually written a narrative.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, let’s talk about your, as I said, that’s all great stuff, and I’ll link to
“The Heart Chart” in the show notes. So, People can learn more about that. Let’s talk about your Master Class, coming up, it’s on the weekend of November 12th and the 13th, at
the L.A. Film School. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about that?
James: Well, it actually starts November the 11th.
James: This is the 25th Anniversary of “Hook.”
James: Which is my first kinda really big kinda break through. And we are having the screening of this at the Sony Lot at the Carry Grant Theatre. For the first 200 registrants, who sign-up for the seminar. “The Lost Boys” are going to be there, Donte Bosco who played Ruffio is going to be there. We’re having a big birthday party to celebrate 25 years of “Hook.” So, that’s how we’re starting the weekend. And then on the 12th and 13th, we’re at the L.A. Film School, doing an emersion into the use and demonstration of “The Heart Chart.” We will do The Heart Chart for “Hook.” I will do The Heart Chart for “Martian” or “Imitation Game.” On Sunday, we’ll also be doing some interaction with participants engaged and being able to use the chart on their own work. And share that with the group. And it is an expansion of what I’ve been doing for years in Austin. And in Europe, I’ve done “The Heart Chart” all over Europe. And it’s the first time we’ve brought it to screen craft, to have been a credible organization, I wish I had, had when I started out. I’m bringing a new ways, and ways that work, to help the screenwriter get there and get the screenplays and scripts market ready. It’s not going to write it for you. You still have to do the writing. But it’s a tool that has worked for me, and saved my ass on many occasions. And hopefully we will be sharing it with a number of writers and colleagues in L.A.
Ashley: And is there a particular type of writer that this is good for, like, you know, beginners, verses experts. Can everybody, every screenwriter benefit from this do you think?
James: Well, I think, most of the experts, I should say, experts and professionals. They have been in this business a while have their own method, their own tool kit, their own skill set. I have found this to be extremely helpful to threshold writers, and early writers, in the early method. So, there a bit more keys them, an actual tool kit that works. It makes them, I’ve seen them, when we did the writers branch in Austin, in the late ‘90’s. And early 2000’s. within 3 hours, within 4 hours, writers were solving their own problems, threshold writers. And helping their colleagues solve their problems by using the questions and the chart. And had I not, had I seen it over and over, and over again. I had students from Columbia, back in 2001. That are in the profession now, and are doing good, and very well. They are directing that they have written, they have won Pulitzer Prizes, they still use the chart. It’s become part of their methodology. And part of their even, and I still use it. I mean, this is not just something I do a ceiling and I walk away, you know. I use this every single day in my work. In order to keep that lightening in the bottle, where I need it. So, I think it’s great for professional writers and screenwriters. It’s great for anybody who is doing re-write, and they’ve not found a way to analyze what it is the re-write needs. You get notes from everybody. You get several opinions, Ah, we don’t know? If you take the chart and use it for your re-write, I think you’ll find it very rarely worry and constructive, in certain decisions. About what you need.
Ashley: And you mentioned earlier, that you had started to apply it, to TV? Do you find it as helpful in TV writing as for feature writing?
James: This is a brand new application for television. What we’re doing is taking “The Chart” and having it be a whole season, instead of just one episode. And hey, look it, what is one episode need to do on the chart? What is the mid-season episode need to do on the chart? What’s number 6 in the 8 part limited series got to do? And I, also, it needs to follow the characters, your entire season, as opposed to following the character through a 2 hour film. So, you’re still applying the same principles, but you’re following it the character over a longer arc. It’s been, I’ve used it in Europe, where it’s been. We’ve had two franchised writers who are using it. And I’m starting to try and whatever the next show is, that I am lucky enough to do? I’m hoping to be able to introduce “Chart” to the room, so it gives us a story map, the whole season.
Ashley: So, as I said, I’m going to round-up the links and get them and the screen craft link to the Master Class, I will get them and “The Heart Chart” link and put them in the show notes. I always just like to end the interview, by asking the guest, how people can sort of follow along with what you are doing? If you are on Twitter, or Facebook, or have a blog. Anything you are comfortable sharing. You can say that now, and again, I’ll add it to the show notes. And I’ll add it later on. And people can kind of keep up with what you are doing?
James: Yeah, there is a “Heart Chart” place Facebook page. You can also follow me on, you go to – Screen Craft Facebook page, you’ll see “Heart Chart” announcements. I’m on Twitter, @heartchart. And we try to keep people informed of what’s happening, when? I would urge everybody November 11th through the 13th 2016, which will be here pretty, quickly. Go, and register and sign-up, there’s a discount that they are carrying for the Austin Film Festival, that’s available, there are student discounts. And you get that free screening of “Hook” there on the Sony Lot, with the “Lost Boys.” And Sunday, goodies all day. And we’ll have a reception all day and hang out, Sunday is over at 2:00p.m. So, everybody can make their way back home. And this is an experiment, and to see, if working writers, and writers that are in the L.A. area. Who are breaking into the business. To see if the story backing too, makes a difference?
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, well, Jim, I really appreciate you coming on the show and talking with me today, excellent interview. I wish you luck with both, “The Heart Chart” and the Master Class this is interesting and I think a lot of screenwriters can benefit from it.
James: Thank you sir, I appreciate it. A, my parting phrase, is, “Go, with gravity.” Let gravity take you to good places not bad.
Ashley: That’s a good call. So, thank you again, Jim.
James: Thank you, take care.
Ashley: I just want to mention a couple of things I’m doing at “Selling Your Screenplay” to help screenwriters find producers who are looking for new material. First, I’ve created a monthly newsletter that will be sent directly to producers. Every member of SYS Select can submit one log-line per newsletter, per month. I went and Emailed my large database of producers and asked them if they would like to receive this monthly newsletter of pitches. So far I have well over 350 producers who have signed-up to receive it. These producers are hungry for material and are happy to read scripts from new writers. So, if you would like to participate in this monthly pitch newsletter? And get your script into the hands of lots of producers, sign-up at – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/select, again, that’s www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/select.
And secondly, I’ve partnered up with one of the premier paid screenwriting leads sites, so I can syndicate their leads to SYS Select Members. There are lots of great paid screenwriting leads coming in each week from our partner. Recently we usually get between 10 to 12 high quality leads per week. These are producers and production companies that are actively looking to produce material. Or they are looking to hire a screenwriter for a specific project. If you sign-up for SYS Select, you’ll get these leads Emailed directly to you several times per week. These leads run the gambit from production companies looking for a specific type of spec. script. To producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas. Producers are looking for shorts, features, TV and web series pilots. It’s a huge aray of different types of projects that these producers are looking for. And these leads are exclusive to our partner and SYS Select Members. Again, to sign-up, just go to – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/select.
On the next episode of the Podcast, I’m going to be interviewing Paul Schrader. Last week I mentioned that Craig Van Sickle would be on today’s Podcast. But I had to move him back. I wanted to publish today’s episode with James, before the Master Class, so people could learn about that. And then, as I said, the interview next week, with Paul Schrader. Paul, is a long, he’s been writing scripts since the early ‘70’s. He wrote the script for, “Taxi Driver” and some other great scripts he’s written. And he has a new film coming out starring Nicolas Cage, and
Willem Dafoe called, “Dog Eat Dog” so, we dig into that film. But, we also talk about the other aspects of his career. And just some general screenwriting advice. So, keep an eye out for that episode next week.
To wrap things up, I just want to touch on a few things, from today’s interview with Jim. I think there was a lot of great points. A lot of really, interesting stuff, from Jim. But, I wanted to pull out a couple of things that I felt were particularly interesting. I think it’s a great lesson to hear him talk about his writing routine. He’s writing every day from many, many hours. If you haven’t already done so, please look him up on IMDb, again that’s James V. Hart. I mean, he’s had a career spanning decades. And listen to what he has said, he’s always writing for many, many hours a day. And always producing new work. He’s not sitting around waiting for his agent to call with a writing assignment. He’s writing new stuff, and trying to make things happen for himself. And this is a guy who has been doing it for decades. And really, listen to that. He’s an established writer. Many, many big movies are on his resume, and he’s still out there trying to just generate work, and get things going. Just listen to the warning he gave in the interview where he said, if you just wait around for assignments, and you’re not always generating new material. That could be a potentially big problem for any writer. Again, this is coming from someone, who is successful and has a long, long, career. I feel like so many writers have this idea that they have that, if they could just sell that first script. Things would get a lot easier. And maybe sometimes that happens. But that’s not always the case, and I think James is a prime example. You just have to keep working.
It’s not gonna be about selling one script, or two scripts, or three scripts, or four scripts. Your career spans, like, James has shown, many, many decades. And you need to get into the routine of working hard and constantly generating material. I also thought it was super interesting hearing Jim talk about the early ‘70’s, film scene. These guys were out there raising money and making movies. I often feel like a lot of these services today, are in some ways just a distraction. And I include my own services here at SYS here in this group. George Lucas, again, listen to what Jim was saying. George Lucas wasn’t uploading his scripts to “The Black List” or “Ink Tip” he wasn’t using the SYS Email and Fax Blast Service. He was out there trying to raise money to shoot his film. That’s super hard work. And it’s a lot of work writing, when you simply don’t want to do. Which I think is a big mistake. Obviously I think SYS Services are fantastic I wouldn’t sell them if I didn’t. I’d use the valuable Email and Fax Blast in the past. I continue to use “Ink Tip” to this day. So, I think all of these services have their place. I think these services can be a part of your screenwriting marketing plan. But they shouldn’t be the entire marketing plan. I’m also out there writing/directing/producing my own film. And I think you should be doing this as well. I’ve talked about this on the Podcast many times in the past. If you don’t have any production experience, what so ever? Get out your IPhone, get a few friends and just start shooting films and see what and where that leads. With each terrible short film that you make, and you do, you will get better, and better. You’ll start to understand what it takes to shoot a feature film. And it really won’t be long before you’re ready for that.
And once again, I just want to mention the Master Class, with Jim. It’s the one weekend of November 12th and 13th 2016, here in Los Angeles. And again, there’s generous
10% off coupon to all SYS Podcast listeners. That coupon code is – S (as in Steve)
C (as in Charlie) 0916. (SC0916). And if you are a student, you can get half off by using coupon code – STUDENT, that’s the word “Student” all in Caps. I’ll link to it in the show notes. And you can actually go directly to www.screencraft.org to learn more about it and sign-up.
Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.