Tuesday, 23 August 2016

INTERVIEW - DAN BENAMOR Writer/Director/Producer - PART 2

Today's post is the second part of an interview with Dan Benamor. 

Dan is a screenwriter that recently exploded onto the scene with his screenplay Onward, Through The Night. 

Onward, was selected as a Tracking Board Recommended script.

For anyone reading this that doesn't know what Tracking Board is - you need to check them out now.

Tracking Board Recommend is the highest accolade any burgeoning screenwriter can get. 

As far as fast-tracking careers goes TBR is better than the Nicholl Fellowship. 

Dan is a worthy recipient of that accolade. 

He is also the writer of a highly polished thriller 'Initiation' out now on VOD on iTunes - and various other VOD platforms. 

Here's a link to the film on US iTunes. 

Here's a link to the film on Canadian iTunes

Here's a link to buy the film on youtube

Here's a link to the trailer for Initiation on youtube.

You should be able to find it on Amazon, Xbox, Sony PlayStation, Google Play, YouTube (for rental/purchase), and VUDU plus on most cable VOD providers.

DtS: So, after having made your first low budget feature straight out of film school, how did you come to move to LA?

DB: Honestly, it was all because of my buddy Kyle. He would call me every two weeks and say, when are we going? If it wasn't for him pushing me, I probably would have put it off for another year. 

DtS: When did you arrive in LA?

DB: 2011. 

DtS: Did you know anyone going into LA?

DB: My cousin. 

DtS: How do you feel about LA?

DB: It's a great city. It depends on where you live. I lived in Hollywood at first, and that's a very dispiriting place to live. It's like a refugee camp. I've since moved to Burbank, and I love it there.

DtS: How did you get your fist job in the industry? I met you when you were working at NGN. 

DB: Yeah, Nasser entertainment, NGN. I started as an intern, just doing coverage. Then I got hired as a development assistant. Then I got promoted, and eventually I was head of development. 

DtS: How long did that take?

DB: It was really short. I had a really good rapport with the producers. We're talking maybe 6 months to a year. 

DtS: How many films did you do there?

DB: I did thirteen movies in three years. We were pumping them out pretty good. 

DtS: You have a very distinct voice in your writing. I talk about voice on the blog, and how it can carry a writer and carry a script. Your voice is very unique. Can you talk about your voice for a moment, how did you create your style?

DB: I was in a weird mental place when I wrote Onward, I had just gotten engaged, and I had left the job as the development exec', but I wasn't properly represented at that stage, I was sort of in this middle ground, and I had seen the money I could make there, and realised that unless I wrote something that changed things significantly for me, I was going to be earning less than I wanted to be. 

So I went to this hotel, and I wrote the first draft really quickly and I chose to not second guess any of my decisions. I wrote it with anger, I think. I think that most of the stuff I have written has been done so with some element of anger. 

DtS: You have a very noir tone to your writing. You have super short, blunt sentences. Where does that writing style come from?

DB: Part of the reason I left my old job, I had written a script under a pen name, and we got Michelle McLaren interested in it, who did more episodes of Breaking Bad than anyone, before she completely blew-up, she read my script, met with us, and she said that the thing she took away from it the most was the sense of humour. 

But that was kinda weird, as it was a violent, noir script. I've noticed that most of my scripts that resonate with people has had a lot of dark humour, which prevents it from being too dark. And I think it's also my own sensibilities. 

In Onward, there's a scene where there's this guy who's a torturer, and he has an ice-coffee that he brings with him to each torture session and he had a coaster, cause to me, you see, films that often have these genre elements, tropes, they're not real people. 

So I think to myself, he's a real guy, that's his job, he goes to work and tortures people, and so little things and little moments like that end up being really important to me, and I think they're all about voice, they're not about story. I always try to approach it, like, even bad people are still people, they're not cartoon characters. 

DtS: Onward is the script that has done things for you.

DB: Yeah, It got me representation, manager, agent, lawyer.

DtS: This has all come from the Tracking Board Recommends?

DB: I've gotta give them a ton of credit. It has made a huge difference for my career.  

DtS: How is the process of working with a good production company on this script compared to what you've experienced perviously?

DB: When you're making an independent film it's all about, let's go make the movie. When you're working with a company like Anonymous Content, the bar for the quality of material is really high. They are also, sooooo smart. It forces me to be on my A game. 

DtS: Dealing with notes. Have you received notes you don't agree with? And if so, how do you deal with that?

DB: I'm working with people that are incredibly accomplished and so smart -

DtS: So you haven't been hit with a note that you thought - well that's just stupid -

DB: No, definitely not.

DtS: As a writer, getting bad notes from other projects, how did you deal with it?

DB: I think that because I was a development exec, I've seen both sides of the table. So when a producer gives me a note I know that they're not just saying it for fun, that there's a reason behind it. If it's something I disagree with it's a conversation. 

I say, well if I do that, then this is what the domino effect of that will be, and this would be my concern, and then it becomes a conversation and we figure it out. I think that having been a development exec has been super helpful with that. 

DtS: Initiation, your film that's just come out on VOD. When did you write it?

DB: About three years ago. My cousin had a script, I ended up coming in and co-writing the script with him. 

DtS: How was the co-writing process?

DB: We had a really good working experience together. My cousin brought some great things to the table. He thinks outside the box and it was great. His background is more visual than mine, and he brought things up that I would never have thought about.

As writers we tend to think of the internal workings of the script - the elegance of the structure, themes, arcs, metaphors etc, and for me I'm always trying to bring emotion to everything I'm working on, but with my cousin he thinks how all that is going to be conveyed visually, which is something that writers often forget about. For me, it's all about trying to create an emotional connection between the story and the audience.

DtS: Do you go into a screenplay thinking how can I create a vicarious connection between the audience and my script? Or is that something that you feel is second nature to you?

DB: When I sit down to write, I think, if I was going to read this, why would I give a shit? And I try to set the bar on that relatively high. 

Unfortunately, I think we are so numb to stories, that now they have to be so intense or otherwise we just don't care. I'm a horrible audience member. I try to watch a movie now and it's often a disaster, if it's not awesome, after 20 minutes, I'm out. 

DtS: Back on your writing process. You said you locked yourself in a motel room and wrote Onward, how long was that?

DB: The first draft was three days. Then I did a couple more drafts before I sent it to anyone. Once the script got the recommend and then I got representation, we changed the script significantly before it was sent out and now that there's a production company involved it's changed again but the spine of the story hasn't changed since that first draft. 

DtS: Further on your method. Aside from your three day bender with Onward, what has been your process?

DB: It depends on the circumstances. If I've been hired to write something I'm not at liberty to be as wild with it so it becomes a lot more about craft, I'll do 5 pages a day and I want each page to be really tight. 

If I'm writing a spec it's really more about prep, the actual writing of the script doesn't take me that long, it's about the outlining and research, I will read about two or three books about what ever the subject matter is.

And there ends the interview with the talented Dan Benamor. 


1) Getting out to LA sooner rather than later worked well for Dan. He took an internship and turned it into a development executive position within 12 months. Obviously everyone's journey is different, but if you feel that you're a procrastinator, possibly spurring yourself to make the move sooner rather than later could move your career faster for you.

2) Voice - is a very important element of screenwriting. I often talk about how voice is the sum of all the elements of your screenplay. If you nail all the smaller elements of your story your voice will come across as strong. Voice is also the way you write. Do you use short sentences, do you have a good sense of dark humour like Dan does. Are you able to write the fine detail that will make your script and the characters feel real like Dan's torturer who brings an ice-coffee and coaster to work with him every day?

3) Tracking Board Recommends is great at starting careers. Dan is a great case study for this. When you have a script that you feel is ready, send it to TBR. If it's not recommended then take their notes seriously and apply them. TBR has the power and contacts to get you representation. 

4) Dealing with bad notes. Make it a discussion. Don't be blunt. Don't just say, no, I'm not going to do it. Voice your concerns about the note and give reasons why you think it wouldn't necessarily work. Most importantly - make it a dialogue - not you simply saying, no, not gonna do it.

5) Method - when writing a spec - outlining and working on your structure is critically important to the success of your script. The more intimately you know the framework of the screenplay you're about to write - the easier it will be to do the actual writing. 

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

INTERVIEW - DAN BENAMOR Writer/Director/Producer - PART 1

Today's post is an interview with Dan Benamor. 

Dan is a screenwriter that recently exploded onto the scene with his screenplay Onward, Through The Night. 

Onward, was selected as a Tracking Board Recommended script.

For anyone reading this that doesn't know what Tracking Board is - you need to check them out now.

Tracking Board Recommend is the highest accolade any burgeoning screenwriter can get. 

As far as fast tracking careers goes TBR is better than the Nicholl Fellowship. 

Dan is a worthy recipient of that accolade. 

He is also the writer of a highly polished thriller 'Initiation' out now on VOD on iTunes - and various other VOD platforms. 

Here's a link to the film on US iTunes. 

Here's a link to the film on Canadian iTunes

Here's a link to buy the film on youtube

Here's a link to the trailer for Initiation on youtube.

You should be able to find it on Amazon, Xbox, Sony PlayStation, Google Play, YouTube (for rental/purchase), and VUDU plus on most cable VOD providers.

Today I had the pleasure and privilege of speaking with Dan about his path from Baltimore to Los Angeles and his rise as a writer. 

DtS: Let's rewind, take it from the start, where are you from? 

DB: I'm from Baltimore. I always liked writing as a kid. I was going to be a novelist. Actually, when I just went home this weekend, my mom pulled out all this stuff I had written, I had eight of these children's books I was reading the I was young, and I had written mini books of my own, so I was writing while I was a little kid, and then I decided it was an unrealistic occupation 

DtS: At what age did you realise writing was not economically viable as a career?

DB: Middle school, twelve or thirteen. 

DtS: So you were already thinking about careers at that stage?

DB: Yeah, I grew up an old man. I'm still waiting for body to catch up to my mental age. (laughs) So basically what happened, I was going to be a psychotherapist, I was really into it, I have a degree in psychology, and I realised I was not going to be happy as a psychotherapist.

Once I got more into studying it, I realised, I'm too emotionally alive, it would be hard for me to disassociate and have the distance you need to be a good psychotherapist. 

So, I saw this movie that, man, I always feel bad referencing it, because the guy that wrote it also wrote Nightcrawler which is an awesome film.

DtS: Dan Gilroy.

DB: Yeah, so I know that guy's a good writer, but there's this movie called Two For the Money, and I saw that at a movie theatre and I was like, there's no way that I can't come up with something that's better than this.

I think that sort of thing happens to all writers. But then you go through and you find out that the original script was probably good. 

DtS: Did you ever see the first script for Yes Man? The first script was great, then the film turned out really badly. Nothing like the original script. 

DB: I figured out how that can happen through my career. And we'll get there -- but what happened was I started writing screenplays, I bought a book called Screen Writing for Dummies, and I just started writing screenplays. 

And I just kept writing them and I got onto a site called Trigger-street which taught me a lot about screen writing. At that stage I was still full on studying psychology, screenwriting was just something on the side. 

DtS: What pushed you over the edge into film?

DB: I was reading script magazine and they had a scholarship to Vancouver film school. So I sent off a sample of my writing and I got a partial scholarship about 5 thousand bucks or something and it was like a one year program, so I ended up going up to film school, that really was the choice that sent me on this path. 

While I was there I think I did about six or seven short films, as a writer, and then I directed a feature film right out of film school, with no money, just with film school buddies and stuff, and then I moved to LA and it snow balled from there.

DtS: Were you surrounded by cinephiles growing up?

DB: No. No one around me was into film that much. You know, Maryland doesn't really have a big film culture, I grew up in Baltimore which is very blue collar. 

DtS: My understanding of Baltimore comes from The Wire.

DB: There's like three blocks in Baltimore where the story of The Wire takes place. 

DtS: How was moving away from Baltimore up to Vancouver, did that culture your desire to make films or did it freak you out? 

DB: My experience was great, I was surrounded by people who loved film. For me it was an extreme comfort level, we're all speaking the same language. That only made it more fun for me and more exciting.

DtS: The transition from Baltimore to LA. When did that happen?

DB: I made my first movie Betrayed, right after film school, then my visa expired in Canada so I came back to America. And I spent six months editing the movie, I would sneak into my university's lab and edit in there because they had Final Cut, then when the movie was done, there was nothing keeping me in Baltimore.

DtS: You won a gold Remi for that film at the Houston World Fest, right?

DB: Yeah.

DtS: Congrats on that, first one out the gate. What was the budget on that?

DB: In all seriousness, it was like, $4400 USD.  

DtS: How'd you get your talent?

DB: Vancouver has a thriving scene. They film a lot of stuff in Vancouver. And also I was affiliated with the film school. So, through just asking around, we ended up doing a couple of days of casting and we found actors. 

DtS: Were they all unknowns at the time? Or were there many people that had much experience?

DB: They were all unknown, but they had all worked, they were experienced actors, they weren't names or anything. 

DtS: Did you make any short films before you stepped up to a feature?

DB: I did like six of them. Anytime anyone would ask me for help with a short film, I was like, no problem, I'll write it. I also ended up directing three shorts also. 

DtS: I kinda hate short films in general. How do you feel about short films?

DB: The thing is, now it's so easy to make a feature. You hear people talking, like, they made a 20 minute short and they spent ten grand on it, I just say, take that ten grand go make a feature.

It takes a little more to stretch the dollar, but, there's nothing stopping you from doing it, I mean, anyone can go make a feature today. 

DtS: How much did you learn from making your first feature?

DB: Loads. But it's a continuing education. That's one of the reasons I'm so happy I worked as a development executive. I got to see so many scripts written then filmed.

Every single time you do it, you learn something new. It's so different from the page versus when it's on the screen. We, as writers love writing dialogue, but we can over write it 'cause it's fun to do and easy, but when you put it up on screen everything is so obvious, so when you over write it's really clear what you're doing. 

That's the biggest thing I've learned from seeing things I've worked on be made. We have a tendency as writers to show off, with dialogue and different kind of things, but that stuff is blindingly obvious when you film it. 

The people we write for is not the audience, in a weird way, when you get into the process of making the movie everything changes. 

The initial script that we write is really for the reader. And that reader is whatever, a producer, agent, manager, and they're extremely savvy about it. So ever more so, any of that stuff, if you over write it, these readers are going to pick it up immediately. 

DtS: How did your first movie play at festivals?

DB: Great. So we made that film for $4400, but I didn't know, through my own ignorance, you have to get something called errors and omissions insurance. 

We had a distributor interested in distributing it, but they needed this insurance which was going to cost almost the entire budget of the film again. 

And I just didn't have the money. It played at World Fest Houston. I went there with some of my cast and my producer and that was cool, it made it a worthwhile thing. 

The main thing I took from it, if I was going to do another low budget feature, and I'd say this to anyone out there thinking of doing a low budget feature, I'd spend a little more time raising money and try to do it for, you know, 20 grand, or something then you have a little more flex. 

DtS: Did you find it easy to wrangle that film at such a low budget? 

DB: I was lucky. I did it under the umbrella of having just graduated film school. The majority of the people who worked on my movie knew me from a previous project we had worked on. 

DtS: Were you the only one in your school with a feature script ready to roll?

DB: No, there were others. But I think it was my gung-ho attitude that got people onboard. Looking back, truthfully if I had to do it again today, I don't think I could do it. I had a ton of help and a big cast and crew with me, but I was just a possessed person, I refused to give up once I had started. 

Well leave the interview there for this post.We're halfway through.

In the next post I talk with Dan about his success with managers, signing with an agency, assignment writing, and his feature film Initiation.

For now - let's look at the TAKE AWAY.

There's two main points I want to highlight from this part of the interview.


Dan talks about how much he learnt from being a development executive. He found it incredibly helpful being on the development side of things and seeing a screenplay go through re-write after re-write, until it finally got made into a film.

Seeing the difference between what was written on the page and how that played on the screen is a really important lesson to learn.

We can get tied up in writing, and forget that ultimately what we're writing isn't writing at all. We're really writing a blue print for a visual film. 

As writers we need to step back and acknowledge that, then learn how to best write for the final medium, not the written form. 


Attending film school was a great boost for Dan's writing and his career. Making a feature film right out of the gate, a low budget feature is a great way to learn.

We, as writers, need to remember that writing is only part of the film making process. The more you, as a writer, understand about each and every aspect of that process, the better equipped you are to write the blue print for a successful film.

You don't need a million dollars to make a feature film. Now days, making a feature film becomes more and more accessible.

If you can get $10k together you can make a feature. It won't be the greatest film ever made, but you shouldn't look at it like that. You should look at that 10k as an investment in your career. It's probably the best 10k you can spend. 

Also, when you have a produced feature credit to your name, people start to take you more seriously. Even if that film only plays at film festivals and doesn't secure distribution. 

It shows that you're serious about the craft. There are literally tens of thousands of writers vying for only hundreds of writing assignments. The more you can do to help yourself stand out the better. And one of the best ways to do that is to make a low budget feature.

Check out Dan's feature film Initiation.

Here's a link to the film on US iTunes. 

Here's a link to the film on Canadian iTunes

Here's a link to the trailer for Initiation on youtube.

You should be able to find it on Amazon, Xbox, Sony PlayStation, Google Play, YouTube (for rental/purchase), and VUDU plus on most cable VOD providers.

More from the interview with Dan coming soon.

Oh, also, interesting side note and why you should pay attention to what Dan has to say - he is a long time reader for the Austin Screenplay Festival.

Austin Screenplay Festival is one of the top tier screenplay fests in America. In fact, in the world. It ranks up there with the Nicholl Fellowship and The Page Awards.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016


Another quick post about something really important. 

The scene of death.

What is a scene of death?

It is any scene that does not move the story forward. Most often these scenes don't have any conflict in them either. 

The best way to identify if you have a scene of death in your script is to go through and look at EVERY scene individually. 

Take each scene out of your script one at a time. Go ahead. Just delete the first scene. Now read your script. If the story still makes perfect sense - you know that scene was very likely a scene of death. 

A great example of the most common scene of death scene there is - is the infamous - 'arriving somewhere scene'.

You have a character arriving at a party. Or you have your character walking into work.

Hey wait up, if I show my character walking into work - that's not a scene of death, because I've moved the story forward by showing you where they work, right?


You could show us where your character works while simultaneously having your character get into an argument with a fellow work colleague. That's far more interesting than seeing them park their car, ride in the elevator then walk to their desk. 

Go through your current script and look at any scene where a character is arriving somewhere - if we don't learn something really important about them or the story as they're arriving -- delete that scene of death. 

The second most common scene of death scene is when two characters are just talking. 

You might have two friends out fishing and they're talking about their kids. 

That doesn't move the story forward at all. It gives us some clunky exposition about their children perhaps - but that's information that you should be able to weave into another scene.

There's another type of scene of death scene that often goes unnoticed. 

The scene where the story does move forward - but only by a little bit. 

Go through your script and look at each scene - write down what beats in that scene move the story forward.

In scenes where there is only one beat moving the story forward and that beat isn't hugely significant - see if you can delete that scene and MOVE that beat to another scene.

This way - your story will seem more layered. There will be multiple story beats occurring in each scene - this way your scenes will become more engaging. 

CONFLICT - is the big story mover. 

Remember - drama is conflict.

You don't HAVE to have conflict in every scene - but if you have three scenes in a row where there's no conflict - where everyone is getting along really well - you're going to soon lose your audience. 

I would urge you to never have a scene without conflict. But in those moments where you simply can't work conflict in organically - what ever you do - don't follow that scene up with another non-conflict scene. 

That's all for today.

Just a short and sweet piece of screen writing advice. 

Now go and apply it to your latest script and see if you can make it scene-of-death-free. 

Tuesday, 19 July 2016


Just a short post as I've started work on another script today when really I should finish the last one I was working on. 

But that is the nature of ideas. You can never know where they're going to come from, or when.

Okay, so I was going to post about something different, as the title of this post suggests - but I'll touch on creating ideas quickly....

Last night I watched an awesome episode of The Black List. 

So what I did was write down the episode beats in their generic form. When I had the episode broken down in general terms I worked with that as a basis to create another story.  

In the episode there was a clever reversal - where a 'bad guy' was taken into custody and then gives information in exchange for immunity. 

But it turns out that was just a play - and it was mis-information that was given, sending the police on a wild goose hunt. 

I thought that beat - allowing yourself to be captured so you can deceive the enemy - was a great idea. So I flipped it - and asked what if that character was the 'good guy', the person we're supposed to get behind? 

From there I've spent the last 24 hours outlining an entire new film which I'm really pleased with. 

Why do I tell you this? 

I thought I'd share the technique of coming up with a new idea. 

Take an episode of your favourite TV show. Write down the beats of that episode in its generic form - i.e - instead of writing the character's name - write their function. So in this instance instead of Elizabeth Keen - the character's name - I wrote - FBI agent. Etc... etc... 

I found this process a really good jumping off point to create a fresh story, yet doing it in a familiar way. Something that the industry badly wants. 

Familiarly unique. 

That's what hollywood wants. 

Okay... moving on...

Engaging your audience.

I just watched the first 27 minutes of the cop thriller film - 999 or Triple Nine.

It stars some great actors. In fact I love all the actors in this film, but at the 27 minute mark something happened and I had to stop watching. 

There will be spoilers from here on - so be warned.

Let's first look at the budget of this film - it cost $20m to make and made $20m at the box office. That's a huge loss. 

Why is that a loss? Because of that $20m budget the producers would be lucky if they got $10m back from the cinemas. Then on top of that - the $20m budget doesn't include P&A - prints and advertising - or publicity and advertising.

Typically if a film cost $20m to make, a minimum advertising campaign would be $10m. And that is absolute rock bottom. 

Take a film like Blair Witch. It cost $15k to make. Was bought for $1m. Then had $19m in advertising before it went to cinemas. 

So a $15k film suddenly become a $20m film. 

Same thing happened with the film UNFRIENDED. It was shot on $1m but had at least a $20m marketing budget. 

So it's safe to say that 999 made a huge loss. In the tens of millions of dollars. That makes it a financial flop.


Watching the first 27 minutes of the film - there is not one single empathy beat for any of the characters. 

We watch a bunch of crooked cops perform a bank heist, then deliver the safety deposit box to the wife of a Russian mafia king pin, who demands that they perform another job or they won't get paid for the first job. 

There is not one moment where any of the characters do anything that makes me like them. Some of them even have negative empathy beats. 

Casey Affleck's character is cold. When he exits the car for his first day at the new precinct, it's his son that says I love you dad. And how does Casey reply? He fist bumps his kid. 

That's it? Your kid just said I love you - and you fist bump him? There's no empathy in that. That's an ice cold reclusive father. 

So you have an ensemble film (ensemble films 99% of the time never make money) - where none of the characters are likeable. 

That's mistake #1 there. 

And it's a huuuuge mistake.

Had the producers and the writer gone about creating empathy for the characters then the audience would have been much more connected to the story. 


Now - what's the next HUGE thing that engages your audience? 


What is an inner journey? I hear you ask?

It's simple. It's when your character has a FLAW - something wrong with their personality that stops them from being their absolute best. Something that holds them back in life. 

Almost none of the characters in 999 have a flaw.

Paul Aaron's character does - he doesn't think things through. He makes a mistake during the robbery that causes a problem - but you know what? - there is no significant consequence to the problem. 

When you have a flaw that doesn't cause any significant consequence - that flaw isn't really a flaw. Not in the story sense. 

For a flaw to be a real story flaw it has to really hold you back from achieving your goals. Now had his flaw meant that the robbery was completely botched - then it would count. But the robbery goes off - pretty much fine. They get what they came for and it's delivered and no one is hurt or caught. So, to that end - it's not a proper story flaw.

So here you have a film where you have an ensemble cast of characters who don't have any significant story flaws. 

What's the next main thing that engages your audience?


Once they've done the heist there is no goal -- until -- the Mafia lady says you have to do another job or no payment. That's a new goal - but the problem with that is do we care enough about that goal?

The answer is no.

GOALS that are motivated by making money illegally in a nefarious way aren't goals that your audience typically revere. So, to that end, you're not going to engage your audience. 

Take the goal in PRISONERS. Get his daughter back alive at any cost.

That is a goal that any human can get behind. Why? Because it's a primal goal. 
We all have loved ones we would kill for. As parents it's in our DNA to kill to protect your offspring. 

Going back to the goal in 999 - their motivation is - do the second job to get paid money. Now that goal COULD work if they needed the money for a noble cause. 

But there is nothing noble about any of the character's motivations. 

OKAY... moving on... what's the next thing that engages your audience?


What will happen if your characters don't achieve their goal.

Looking at PRISONERS again - the stakes are his daughter will die if he doesn't find her. That's some pretty damn big stakes right there. 

Look at 999 - what would happen if they walked away from the second job? 

Well, we're told that they would be 'hurt' by the mafia. 

But they're cops. Dirty cops, and you haven't given me any reason to care for them, so, you make your bed you lie in it. 

What's the final thing that engages your audience?


In PRISONERS - they know that if the daughter is not found within 72 hours - the chances of her turning up again becomes almost nil. She can only survive for that long without food and water. Any more and she's dead.

The ticking time clock keeps your audience engaged. 

In 999 - there is no urgency. None that I could discern from the first 27 minutes that is. Perhaps urgency comes into it later - but if so, that's a screenwriting mistake #101 - you should always have urgency in every one of your scenes. Especially in the first 30 pages. 

Urgency doesn't have to be dooms day is coming urgency - it can be as simple as being late for work, or a meeting...

There you go folks... 


Five key ways to engage your audience.

Don't make the same mistake that 999 did. 

Tuesday, 12 July 2016


This is the third and final instalment of an interview with Rick Ramage, the creator of The Screenplay Show. 

The Screenplay Show is a ten episode web series presented in a fun and unique narrative style. Crafted like no other writing series. Rick will expertly guide you through every aspect of the art, craft and business of screenwriting.


Go ahead - check it out, and sign up to get updates.

Rick Ramage's Screenplay Show has an indiegogo campaign that's just been launched. 

Click here and get involved.

DtS: What's your writing experience with star power, where ultimately a project being green-lit hinges on a star saying yes or no.

RR: My first film, The Proposition got made because of Kenneth Branagh's willingness to do it. They went to him first and he said yes and therefore, green light. And by the way, Patricia Arquette for Stigmata, as soon as she said yes, the studio said yes. I don't write with actors in mind, so I'm always surprised when a director starts to put names up and I'm usually pleased, but it tells me a lot about how the work is perceived. When a producer or director says, 'what do you think about so-and-so for this role?' Because then it's like, alright, now I can tell how they're thinking about my material. Is it going to be a low budget indy, or is it going to go to a studio? And that's the difference, it's the name of the star that drives the film. 

DtS: Coming back to the notion of why bad films get made, there was a film that got made, without naming names, the room-mate of a famous actress' boyfriend wrote a terrible script. The boyfriend, said, hey, I'll direct this, so he convinced his famous actress girlfriend to sign on. When she signed on to it, she convinced a bunch of her famous actor friends to also sign on, and that's how this incredibly bad film got made. 

RR: That defines the indy market. The indy market is fluid, it's all about finding a package and money, and sometimes it doesn't work. The difference between a studio movie and an indy movie is that studio script is going to go through many machinations, and sometimes an indy feature can be as much luck and helter skelter as it can be a well thought out business plan. 

DtS: How many scripts did you write before you sold your first one?

RR: I had six short films made while I was going to the AFI. Which doesn't really mean anything, as they're student projects. At the time I was working on a thriller feature screenplay and a producer saw it and picked it up for $5000, and it wasn't the money, even though it felt like $5 million at the time, it gave me the confidence to keep going. Then six months after film school, I was running out of money big time, then a friend I was going to film school with managed to take a script of mine called Shakespeare's Sister into an exec at Disney, and Disney was never going to buy that script, but they ended up giving it really great coverage and word got out. I tell new writer's all the time who ask 'how do I get an agent?' I say, you write a script that people want, you get a script that will travel the town because it's well written, then agents will find you. 

The person at Disney said, 'this is great, you should show this to an agent,' and we said, 'we don't know an agent,' so she picked up a phone and that's how it went. Then your script has credibility. I call the process friendly eyes. You put a script out and someone likes it, and - you don't order spaghetti at McDonalds, some production companies get a script and there's no way they're ever gonna buy it, it doesn't fit their wheel house, but that's a valid come-back, because they don't sell that kind of widget, but if it's a great writing sample, they might just go, you know what, we're not going to buy it, but we have another project that we'd love for you to look at, because it needs a re-write. 

Now you're talking, now your name is getting out, your script is travelling and it's actually travelling in front of you, because there was no internet when I started out, and my script was getting around town faster than I was. So that's what I tell new writers all the time, take the time to get a really great writing sample, because even if they don't buy it, you might get a job with that writing sample. So -- Shakespeare's Sister went out, agents found me because of it, they put it out and there was a small bidding war, and I think I had $17 dollars of my $5000 option left, and it ended up selling for $400,000. 

DtS: Fantastic.

RR: Yeah, it was a dream, when I look back, all I can do is shrug my shoulders and say, wow, that was amazing. From there I never looked back, because suddenly everyone wanted to know what I was working on. 

DtS: Tarantino talked about when you do break through, be ready, because the first thing everyone asks, is what else have you got? 

RR: Yep, that's it, you better be able to pitch, or back it up with an outline, or let's hope you have other good scripts in your saddle bag, so you can pull them out right away, because you want take advantage of that heat. Most readers and producers are looking for a reason to say no. But when they hear there's a good writer and they've got good material, they want that next piece of material, so they'll lobby for it, they'll work your agents so they can see it first. 

DtS: On agents, have you had the same ones your whole career? 

RR: I'm only with a manager now, I could point to two or three agents that literally made my career, but now, without trying to sound arrogant, I don't really need agents. I now have a lot of contacts, and as a producer I can pick up a phone and pretty much talk to anybody. Having said that, I do, on occasion lean on a few agents when I really need something to go to someone, luckily I have those relationships, where those agents will do me that favor, but they're quick to point out that they're gonna make a fee, but hey, that's cool, it's a business.

DtS: Is your manager the first manager you started out with? 

RR: I've always been with her. She's phenomenal, and she's a producer too, so it's not like we have that daily grind, where we talk about what Universal's looking for, but I definitely count on her for her good taste.

DtS: The longer you've known someone, the more honest they can be, there's a certain friendship licence.

RR: There is. There have been times where she has picked me up and said, 'you can do this.' I reached a point in my career where I took a few years off, I really burned out. I had two TV shows go back to back and TV can be a meat grinder. It's not like the luxury of being a feature writer, where you're told I'll see you in six weeks with a first draft, and then everyone leaves you alone, in TV it's constant, it's turning a draft everyday with notes, there's pressure, it's a much different experience, and so I began to wonder if that was what I wanted, because, once again I got really lucky, the first TV pilot I worked on was picked up, filmed as a pilot, then we went to series, and before that series ended, I helped another pilot out, I did another re-write, well, I actually co-created it, then that went to pilot and then that got picked up, so then the pressure got even more intense, because people are like, hmmm this writer has something going - so here comes more projects, and I really began to wonder if that's what I wanted.

My son was in high school and I was missing soccer games, I wasn't living at home, I was in the Hollywood hills renting a house and I never left because I was doing most of the writing for the shows, and I wasn't very happy. So I said alright, I'm outta here for a while, and it was a big risk.

DtS: That's good that you value home life so much though. 

RR: My wife is my muse, my family is my sustenance, you reach a point where if you can't reach back in the well and rejuvenate then something's wrong. And the other side of it as well, is, that I used to meet these writers that were sooooo cynical, I mean, we make such a good living, if you're in the stream the money's so good and you're doing what you love and your dream is coming true, then I'd meet these cynical writers and I told myself, you know what, I'm not going to be that guy, and the day I start to feel that coming on, I'm not going to do that anymore. 

DtS: On pitching. What's been your experience?

RR: I had the worst experience ever in Hollywood with pitching. At my very first pitch I went brain dead. I even forgot the title of the film. I was shown out the door real quick. It took about 2 more years for me before I could even think about pitching. But I eventually figured out a method and I'm going to talk about it in my show, of getting through a pitch in a very systematic way. 

Going into TV you have to pitch. So you've got to get a method for your pitch that you can rely on. So from there, I pitched Haunted in the room at CBS and they bought it in the room, and the same with Peacemaker. Then I pitched another show that never got made, but they bought it in the room. 

DtS: What films of yours that haven't been made are gems in the rough waiting to be made?

RR: I've sold 10 or 12 specs' and I've setup or sold over 40 scripts. I sold a script for $2.5 million and it never got made. So you've got to keep that in perspective because in the grand scheme of things if someone pays that kind of money for a script you would think that they're going to follow through and find that other $50 million, but guess what, it's a long way from the cup to the lip, and people don't really think of that. People are like, okay, I sold my script, now it's going to be made into a movie, but Hollywood is a career charged place, the person that bought your script has moved on. So keeping your script aloft and in front of people becomes a real art form. So when you're working with that producer you have make sure he knows you're on his team. It's such a process from packaging to financing and now days, marketing can green light movies, if they don't know how to sell it, forget it. 

DtS: So the majority of your work that has gone into production has been writing assignments. 

RR: Yeah, book adaptations, re-writes, and I've had my spec sales. A writer is one cog in the wheel. You can deliver a really good script, but there's no guarantee it's going to get made.

DtS: We've been chatting for over an hour now, just one more quick question -- do you have a method for developing ideas? 

RR: Part of having a good idea is being able to discern whether or not it's a good one and if it's worthy of spending a year of your time on. I'm drawn to a premise where I don't know the answer. So I can work through the premise dramatically and arrive at an answer. The premise of my first film was based on the idea of a couple hiring a surrogate to give them a baby in the 1930s. A husband was sterile and so he hired the surrogate to impregnate his wife. And the question to me was, do I love my wife enough to let that happen? And I didn't have the answer to begin with. So that became a mission for me to work through that. This way I have my through-line. I know what I'm trying to solve. It was the same thing with Stigmata. I'm really drawn to movie premises that I don't automatically have an answer for. 

DtS: So your ideas are motivated by the unknown. 

RR: I write character pieces. I don't write the big action adventure scripts.

DtS: I think it's easier to learn how to write plot driven films than it is to write character driven pieces. 

RR: I would have to agree. If you can hook your reader in those first 8 pages to say what would I do here? Then you've got 'em, they're gonna stay with that script to the end. 

DtS: I talk a lot on this blog about how important it is to connect the audience to your characters via the use of empathy beats. Do you consciously do that? Or is that something you just find yourself doing? 

RR: I go out of my way to do it, because I want to hook my reader right away. How do you grab someone's attention? There's this great old saying that we write in search of ourselves, and I think new writers often try to invent a completely new person than they are, and if you begin with that initial question, if you're in search of an answer then 9 times out of 10 you'll hook someone because they identify with it.  

There in lies the end of a most insightful interview with screenwriter and producer Rick Ramage. 

QUICK SUMMARY OF THE TAKE AWAY... from this part of the interview.

1) Star Power. If you can write a script that a Star will love, you have a much better chance of it going into production. It doesn't matter if producers love it, ultimately it comes down to will a name actor will like it? With that in mind, look at the actors out there that get films made because of their name. Think about what films they're making, then write with them in mind. Don't just write a script that you love, then automatically think that the star will love it because you do. Look at the actor's most recent 10 films - what have they done? What don't they do? Then write with them in mind. 

2) Don't rush breaking in. When you do get your foot through the door, people will want to know what other projects you have ready. If you don't have any other scripts, you're going to lose an opportunity to cash in on the 'heat' you have as a hot new writer.

3) Pitching. Everyone gets butterflies. Don't worry if you screw up a pitch. Just practice and practice and work on developing a method for your pitches. 

4) Hollywood is career charged. Just because you sold or optioned a script, don't think it will definitely go into production. More often than not, it won't get made. It's up to you to do what you can to keep your script alive and in front of the producers - to try and get it green lit. 

5) When you have an idea, be critical of it, try to discern whether to not it's worthy of you spending a year working on. Is it a concept that could sell?

6) Go out of your way to hook your reader in the first 8 pages of your script. Go out of your way to create empathy beats for your hero. 

Rick Ramage's Screenplay Show has an indiegogo campaign that's just been launched. 

Click here and get involved.