Friday, July 27, 2007

Disney's Big Decision

Disney recently announced their pledge to ban smoking in it's films. According to the news, they are the first major studio to do so, and anti-smoking groups have applauded the decision.

While I find Disney's attempts at being socially conscious to be commendable, I worry that they're merely pandering to families and that, ultimately, the company's mission of telling the "best story possible" will suffer from the creation of such restrictions. To quote Robert McKee: Stories are metaphor for life and in real life, people smoke.

Some of the most interesting people I've known are smokers. People in my family smoke. The fact that a person smokes, or even the way that a person smokes, often leads to a much richer characterization of that person. And where does it stop? Will studios next eliminate all overweight characters from their films? After all, being heavy is not exactly the best thing for one's health, and according to many studies, overeating is addictive and obesity in children is on the rise.

While it is unfortunate that parents appear to be doing a worse job of raising their children than ever before, I have never felt that it's the responsibility of a major corporation to do it. As a child, I watched countless films featuring smoking children (PAPER MOON) and teens (THE BAD NEWS BEARS) and never once felt the urge to try it. Not once. And you know what? Neither did most of my peers, many of whom watched the same movies and grew up with smoking parents, friends and celebrities as role models.

What worries me most are the rumors that Disney plans to go into it's vaults and erase any and all smoking from their classic films. The cigarette-rolling scene in Disney's PECOS BILL animated short has already been digitally altered and the character's actions now make no sense whatsoever.

I simply cannot imagine Cruella de Ville without that beautifully insidius wreath of toxin about her head. And it frightens me how the studio's banning of tobacco might affect that endearingly flawed - but very human - character of Wilhelmina Bertha Packard in ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE.

One more thing: I can't be the only parent out there who uses the moviegoing experience as just another tool to discuss alcohol, drugs, swearing and smoking with my "little roommates". What will these parents talk about when every film features perfectly unrealistic, overly sanitized human beings?

And as human beings, are we not beautiful in our imperfection?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Wisdom of the West

"In Hollywood people don't fail, they quit."
-Jack Sowards (1929 - 2007)

"Hollywood is the only place where you can die from encouragement."
-Dorothy Parker

Monday, July 02, 2007


There are an awful lot of screenwriting resources out there and the choices can be pretty overwhelming for someone new to the craft. After burning through my own mountain of screenwriting and storytelling books (read "every one I can get my hands on"), these are the ones I would recommend.

in mind that this is merely a list of books that have proven most useful to me. Anybody who's been working at this for a while will almost certainly have their own favorite resources on the subject, and you can bet that what works for one person might not work for another. I've rated the books from one to five stars based on how helpful they've been to me in the long run.

**"Making a Good Script Great" by Linda Seger

Borrowed this from the Library because it's one of the most popular and recommended books on the basics. Although I highly recommend it to beginners (like me), I am glad I didn't buy it because I didn't learn anything new. It's a fast read and covers a lot of basics using such stalwarts as WITNESS, "BACK TO THE FUTURE and ROMANCING THE STONE to illustrate her points.

***"The Big Deal: Hollywood's Million-Dollar Spec
Script Market" by Thom Taylor

While not a "How-to"
book, it's an awesome read and really educates one about important aspects of the business. Loaded with true stories of successful (and not so successful) screenwriters. Very credible, as most of the content comes from interviews with ex agents, writers (both working and unworking), and development executives.

****"The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for
Storytellers & Screenwriters" by Christopher Vogler

Vogler used to be a bigshot at Fox. He's advised on a lot of Disney classics and is quoted a lot in "The Big Deal". Many of the story guys and development execs at Disney swear by it.

***"The Screenwriter's Bible" by David Trottier

workbook-style book has an awesome chapter on how to handle and correctly format unusual things (such as handling inserts, interruptions, etc.). It also has a fair amount of sample query letters, loglines, script excerpts, etc.

****"Adventures In the Screen Trade" by William

Very funny. A bit dated but both
entertaining and educational.

****"Which Lie Did I Tell" by William Goldman
of Goldman's genius. Good reading even if you aren't interested in becoming a writer.

*****"The Art of Dramatic Writing" by Lajos Egri

Originally published in 1946. One of my favorites - I've reread it several times and consult it frequently. Just goes to show you that there are certain things that have worked for the stage and the screen throughout time and that you can only break away from principles once you've mastered the principles . . .

*****"Story" by Robert McKee

This is my "bible". A
lot of people find it a difficult read but those colleagues of mine that understand it, love it . . . I disagree with those who say it's a "how-to write a script" book - it's more of an analysis of why good stories work. And once you know why we love our favorite movies . . .

***Doing It For Money: The Agony and Ecstasy of Writing and Surviving in Hollywood edited by Daryl G. Nickens for The Writers Guild Foundation

A fascinating collection of essays on screenwriting by working screenwriters. I especially like the variety of tales included in the book - it's nice to read stories from people who have had positive experiences working in Hollywood.

***The Screenwriter's Survival Guide: Or, Guerrilla Meeting Tactics and Other Acts of War by Max Adams

best book I've read on the topic of "surviving". I'm amazed at how many people garner that first big meeting or win that prestigious script competition but then flounder because they are unprepared and/or had an unrealistic idea of what to expect next. Max has won the awards, had her stories produced, and so dispenses that kind of everyday, real-world writer's wisdom that most of the other books neglect.

After reading so many other books, the Syd Field ones about "how to write screenplays" seem kind of weak. Having said that, however, SCREENPLAY: THE FOUNDATIONS OF SCREENWRITING and SELLING A SCREENPLAY: THE SCREENWRITER'S GUIDE TO HOLLYWOOD happened to be the very first books I read on the subject and I learned a lot from them at the time (film schools use them).

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of reading actual produced screenplays -- both good ones and bad ones. It takes the same amount of time as watching a movie (two hours or so) and if you read one a week, that's 52 a year. I'm amazed at the impact this has had on my own writing. There are a few websites that offer free scripts for downloading but because nearly every screenwriting blog out there already has links to the best websites I won't bother listing them again here.

If you're new to the business, then I hope this list helps and if you're a seasoned screenwriter (professional or not), then I'd love to hear which publications - listed or not listed - worked (or didn't work) for you.