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.

Friday, 8 July 2016


Just a short post today as I'm busy with projects...

I was reading a screenplay last night in which the writer was over-writing and over directing character movements. 

For example, the writer was micro describing movements such as - let's call the main character John - 'John's eyebrows lift in the middle, he lifts his hand to his neck, scratches nervously. '

Or, 'John takes out his wallet, he opens, it, finds $200 in mixed notes, then offers them to Michelle.'

There's far too much action being described and it slows the read waaaay down. 

This is something I see far too often in screenplays. If you're writing a novel and you want to get into describing micro-movements - go nuts - have at - it's a novel, there really are very few 'rules.'

But because screenplays have set page lengths - you have to use your writing real-estate wisely. 

Your feature screenplay should never come in over 110 pages. And really, if you're starting out, as in, you haven't even optioned a screenplay yet - then you really should bring your script in at the 100 page mark at the most. 

One of the very first things a reader looks at is page count. Why? Because a seasoned reader can tell from the page count what kind of writer they're dealing with. 

If an unknown writer has handed in a 123 page script to read - you know from the get-go the writer hasn't taken the time to edit their script back to a far more digestible 110 pages. 

If you, the writer can't be bothered to take the time to edit your script down, then why should the reader take you seriously?

They've got 100 other screenplays to read - literally. ANY excuse to start skim-reading and they will. 

Now, if there's anyone reading this right now and saying to themselves, 'that's not right, I see plenty of scripts that are over 110 pages'.

Yeah, you do, they're either major screenplay competition winners, or they're from writers that have managers, agents and have pre-existing relationships with producers. 

If you're not one of these, then do yourself a huuuuuuge favor and learn how to write concisely.

Using the second example above, let's look at how to trim down the writing. 

John takes out his wallet, he opens, it, finds $200 in mixed notes, then offers them to Michelle.

That's four beats -- 

beat 1 - John takes out his wallet.
beat 2 - he opens it
beat 3 - finds $200 in mixed notes
beat 4 - offers them to Michelle.


A concise way to write this is - John offers Michelle $200 from his wallet.

This way, you have conveyed all the information in the previous sentence in one simple sentence and in one beat. 


Take a look at your screenplay you're working on. Do a pass where you focus solely on trimming down sentences where you direct the actions of your characters. 


I've talked about concept before quite a lot - but now I want to talk about it in relation to an actual film that came in February this year.

The film is TRIPLE 9.

I remember reading this screenplay way, way, back. Somewhere near 2011/12. 

It didn't strike me as a terribly interesting script, but quite a few people were going nuts for it. I never really got why?

It cost $20m to make, and has only done $20m at the box office. 

To the uninformed eye that might look the film broke even - but it's not so. To break even at the box office, you roughly need a 3:1 ratio. 

So if your film cost $20m to make - a box office take of $60m puts you in the black. 

I could write an entire post on why that is and the numbers that go into box-office break down of receipts... but for now, I'm in a rush, so do some googling about it if you want to know more. 

The Concept of Triple 9 is - Some nefarious cops conspire to kill one of their own.

That it in its simplest form.

It's a movie about cops killing cops. That's it.

That's not a terribly interesting or unique concept. There's nothing hugely new about that - and there's no new interesting angle to the execution of the concept. 

So you've got a film with really good actors throughout - and a decent budget - that is a financial flop. 


Look at your concept. What is the simplest way to sum up your film? Can you summarise it in a few words. How interesting does it sound when it's reduced like that? 

Be honest to yourself - would you want to pay money to see a film about 'X'? (X being the short summary of your film concept.)

If not - then do yourself a favor and move on - OR if you're married to the concept - at leat re-work it until the concept really pops. 

Remember, if you're working on something we've all seen before - you need to have a unique execution of that idea. What is the NEW ANGLE you're bringing to the tried and tested story. 

I'm out... 

Hope those two tad bits are helpful.... :) 

Sunday, 3 July 2016


This is the second instalment in 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.

DtS: On method. Can you give us a concise understanding of your method?

RR: The screenplay show is for new writers. People who want to know if they're doing it right. When I started out I was fascinated by the method of writers, actors and even athletes. I wanted to know how they prepared. I deal with method in the screenplay show in two parts. 

One is the physical method. Most of us have jobs when we're starting out. Most don't have the luxury of being a writer all day. An uncle of mine told me the rule of one degree, which is, most people who are working have a routine. When I started out, I was coming home from being a salesman, driving my territory all day, I had a little boy, I'd come home, play with him, put him to bed, eat dinner, then I would try to get an hour or two of writing done before bed, but it was at the end of the day and I was exhausted. 

My uncle said to me, if a plane landing in Honolulu is off by one degree it's not just going to miss the runway, it's going to miss the whole island. He related that in terms of the way I was preparing to be a writer.

One little adjustment was going to mean the difference between hitting the threshold of opportunity or missing it completely. So I did it. I started to get up earlier in the morning and give myself that extra hour. And I'm not sure writers understand how protective they need to be of that one hour or two hours where they're not going to be bothered and they can really focus. I also have certain rules that I follow, that's my physical method, how I go about the business of making sure I get the work done. 

Then, I also think the method is intellectual, because if you have a consistent way to solve the problems you've got a really valuable secret. So, in part two of the screenplay show I talk about finding the way you solve problems when you're writing and that's the intellectual approach to method. 

DtS: It's interesting to hear you break it down into the physical vs the cerebral. I have many friends that work long hours while trying to write and force themselves to get up early to write before they have to go off to work. I know a lot of writers who I would call part-time writers, they love the idea of being a screenwriter, but I don't think they realise the dedication required. Do you come across many people like that?

RR: Yeah, and it always makes me sad when they have genuine talent but they don't have the discipline to stay with it. 

DtS: What's that maxim? 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration. 

RR: Yeah. I have this saying, there's no such thing as a part-time producer, because when you have a project on the line you've got to give it 110%. I've always looked at my career that way too, the minute I could sustain my life as a writer, I treated it like a job. 

I was writing from 4am 'til noon. Because the other side that people don't realise is that writing is a business and once you get a manager and lawyers and agents and producers in your life your phone starts ringing. They don't care if you're writing, they'll call during the day at any time, so I would work the early hours, knowing that I was going to have a lot of calls in the afternoon. 

DtS: On the note of finding the time to work, how do people close to you deal with your dedication to writing. Are they understanding? 

RR: I took the time to explain why I was doing this. If you're living in a house with your partner and children, they need to understand. I used to have this joke where my son would walk into my writing room and say, 'Hey dad, I don't mean to interrupt, but...' and I'd be like, 'Well come on in, it's too late now...' But I never got shitty about it because that's stupid. Life happens. But for the most part, once people see the work happening, then they're respectful of it. 

DtS: Having people around you that understand how important writing is to you, is super important. 

RR: It's funny, because, I tend to watch the scene in my head, then write it down then I work with it from that point on. But you wouldn't walk into a theatre and tap someone on the shoulder, and say, hey, come outside for 5 minutes. 

DtS: Good analogy. 

On producers. A producer I work closely with loves meeting new people, going to events and rubbing shoulders and working the crowd, I'm a lot more introverted when it comes to that. Are you extrovert? Do you enjoy going out and meeting new people? Are you introvert? Where do you lie on the spectrum? 

RR: I'm shy. It's always very fun for me once the meeting begins, because I lose those nerves. I think the first producer I met, Richard Zanuck, (producer of Jaws) I was scared to death of, but he was so utterly welcoming it put me at ease. It's hard to explain to new writers, but these people really want your success. If you're in that room, there's a reason. You wrote something that intrigues these guys. 

DtS: And they read a lot of screenplays. 

RR: If you're there, they want you to succeed. And I think that once you accept that then working with them becomes easier. You see, I've always embraced notes, I've always thought of them as protection, because I want my work to be the best it can be. It can be pretty hard to look at someone like Richard Zanuck giving you notes and say, 'I disagree.' He's forgotten more than I've ever known. So I always embraced notes. And going into those rooms, once I got in there, I was always fine. It's like being an athlete, you better have a few butterflies, because you want to be at your best. 

DtS: If you're too confident about the meeting and you go in too calm and composed, you're not taking it seriously enough, that will come across. 

RR: Yeah, and the other thing is, these people are paying you a lot of money. I never wanted to let anyone down. Because if anything, after you sell a script, the pressure on you is greater. It doesn't go away. 

DtS: How do you deal with notes? I've had notes where I thought, that's a bad note, but I'm going to incorporate it to appease the producer that gave it. Have you had that situation?

RR: There's three phases, there's the honeymoon phase, where they've just optioned it, or bought it, and you need to ask questions in that room to find out what they like about it, because you know that what they don't like about it is coming. 

Then once I start hearing the notes -  I'm always very aware that I'm in a highly political environment. There are assistants, there are producers, executives, so I would never argue with a note. Not in that room. I would listen and say, 'okay, let me work with that, that's interesting.' Which really meant, 'that sucks and I can't imagine doing that,' -- and it's not kissing ass, because you've got to remember, these guys just paid a lot of money for your script, and to embarrass the executive is absolutely a mistake because they're going to remember it. 

Just be political, I'd say, 'yeah, let me work with that, I'll see what I can do.' And then I would go home, and as far fetched as some notes would be, I would actually try to see if I could get the note to work, and then I would make a private call and say, I'm working with the note you gave me, do you want to take a look at it. And 9 times out of 10, they'll admit, 'yeah, that doesn't really work does it.' 

DtS: That's a really great point you've raised. Bringing the producer that gave the bad note in to reject it, you've done their work, and you've shown it to them. Now let them make the decision to cut it. That's a really important thing. 

RR: I've sat down with some really smart story executives, and the really good ones will know when they gave you a bad note. And they'll be like, 'yeah, let's move on. But thanks for trying.' But you've got to give people credit. And I think it's important because they're in this business for a reason as well. Now, the key to all this, is that if you're not careful, you can write yourself out of a job on your own script very quickly if you're obstinate or hard to deal with. I work really hard to stay with my script. I want to make steady progress so I stay with it as apposed to them turning to someone else. 

DtS: I've seen scripts out there, that have started off in a great form, but for what ever reason, they've been handed over to a second writer, who has, not necessarily butchered the script, but taken it in a different direction and I've always felt sad, watching that, especially when I know the original writer, and even with people I don't know the writer. I'll read the original script and love it, then see the film on the big screen and it's completely different, and I wonder what the hell happened? It's very important to realise that you're working for these people -- I recall someone saying once that 'no one sets out to make a bad film' - everyone sets out to make the best film they can.

RR: I had a producer tell me something really interesting once, we were talking about how some of these films even get made, because there's these fantastic scripts circulating, but they don't get made, but instead, some idiotic film will get made, and we were going to one of the few Hollywood parties I've ever gone to, and he said, 'Oh, you want to know how that happens?' And I said, 'yeah, I do, how does it happen?' And he says, you're about to find out.' And we walked in the door of this fantastic mansion in Beverly Hills, and there was Salmon pink shag carpet with lime green drapes, and he said, 'you see Rick, it's a matter of taste.' And I'll never forget that, because I was like, 'Yeah, this is a subjective business and taste matters.' 

DtS: Talking about subjectivity, that's a really important note, I was in an environment recently where a guy was talking about the film John Wick, which I wasn't a massive fan of, and he turned to me and said, 'Hey man, have you seen John Wick?' And I said, 'sure I've seen it,' and he was like, 'How amazing was that film?!' But I didn't think it was great. Then I was looking at this guy, he was a 20 year old kid, to him seeing Keanu busting up some Russians was the greatest thing ever, but here's the thing, he's a vote - he's got money and he votes where he spends his money, to him, that was a great film, it is really important to be aware just how diverse tastes are. 

RR: Of course, there's the old axiom, what's the one thing you leave a movie theatre with? An opinion. Everyone is entitled to theirs. 

DtS: When I was in LA, at Universal Studios for Halloween night, there was thousands of people going to this horror event, and I suddenly understood why horror does so well in America. There’s this huge cross section of society that loves it. Horror doesn't play so well overseas, not compared to the US domestic market, and I was looking at this crowd of people going in to the Halloween night, and thought, wow, that's a demograph, they've all got money, and they all get to vote.  

RR: That's an interesting way to put it, 'they all have a vote,' because they're all buying tickets. And you've been in those rooms, it's about buying tickets. 

I'll leave the interview there for now... up next, Rick talks about the influence of STAR POWER.

A recap of some of the insights Rick has offered in this part of the interview and how to apply them to your writing... 


1) Method. The break down into the physical Vs the cerebral. It's really important to realise just how much effort is required to become a successful screenwriter. There's no golden rule, but on average, most screenwriters don't find success until they've written 10 screenplays. That's not ten polishes of the same screenplay, it's ten original scripts written from scratch, each one with several re-writes. A major problem I encounter with screenwriting is - people spend their lives watching films, and there's this misconception that somehow by watching loads of TV and movies that is an education sufficient for you to then go and write your own movie or TV show. 

Let's apply that analogy to cars to show just how misguided it is. I've ridden in cars countless times. Driven for hundreds of hours. Does that suddenly make me an expert on how to design and build a car? The answer is obvious. The same applies to screenwriting. If you want to write scripts successfully, you have to study the craft, you have to get in and understand what STORY ENGINE is. What drives story. That's only the beginning. There are at least 20 other major elements of screenwriting that you need to become intimately familiar with before your writing will stand out. 

Rick's main take-away regarding the physical act of writing is to make time to write. If you're time poor, and you really want to write, it's on you to find that hour or two where you can put the words on the page. 

2) Explaining and communicating with those that are close to you. When you've made the decision to devote a large amount of your time to writing, it's important to make sure that those people close to you understand your decision. This note obviously varies greatly depending on each person's individual circumstance, but it's a valid note to consider, and not something that is discussed much in screenwriting forums. 

3) The visual writing process. Rick envisages a scene in this mind, then writes it down as he saw it, then uses that as his starting point to meld clay. This is a process I also use. You might think this is the process all writers use, but I have spoken with many who say they don't work visually. If you fall into this camp - try visualising a scene before you write it. 

Then even when you have visualised it once, try to address what didn't pop in that scene for you, then re-visualise it over and over until you feel you have it playing out as best you can in your mind's eyes. Then and only then write the scene down. But don't think that's your scene written to perfection. Good writing is good editing. Take your lump of clay and re-work it until it's as good as you feel you can get it on the page. Then move on. But also keep in mind, that you will come back to that scene and re-work it again, when you have the next scene written. Each scene before and after will shape the way your current scene will look. There is no scene that sits in isolation. Every scene lives within context. 

4) Notes, and the hierarchy of the producers. Rick raised a really important note that the majority of emerging screenwriters don't realise - once you have sold your screenplay - it is no longer yours. You really have absolutely no say what so ever in the direction the producers want to take with it. And if that means bringing in a different writer to re-work your script - they can do it. So as Rick said, it is incredibly important to appease those with the power to remove you from your script. Work hard to incorporate all notes, don't be obstinate.

5) Nerves. It's great to hear someone as accomplished as Rick say that he gets nerves going into an interview. In fact, it's a good thing, as it means the STAKES of the script meeting are high. If you're going into a script meeting and you're nonchalant about it, that's going to come across as arrogance. No one wants to work with an arrogant writer. 

6) Taste. It is important to understand there are a plethora of varying tastes when it comes to film. A lot of writers will get caught up in their one genre. "I only write drama.' Are you a stick-in-the-mud writer? Or do you embrace the challenge of writing outside of your comfort zone? Once you understand STORY, you should be able to write in any genre. The principles that make for a compelling story work across all the genres. Horror, thriller, drama, comedy, sci-fi... 

It's really important, especially when you're starting out, to be realistic about what scripts are likely to be picked up and made.

If you're focusing on a $100m sci-fi - odds are your script will never get made. But if you can re-write that same story for a sub $5m budget, suddenly you open up the playing field. Your chances of success have increased manifold. 

Perhaps you've been working on a rom-com for 4 years and over 10 drafts - but still no one is interested in it. Perhaps it's time to put it on the shelf and start working on another script in a different genre. It's important to be aware of what films do well at the box office. 

You can do an easy breakdown yourself. Go to a website like and look at the films that had the highest profit to cost ratio then break down the genres. You'll see definite patterns emerging right away. From there you are aware of the market before you've written a word. You might just even save yourself 4 years and ten drafts of writing. 

More insightful knowledge soon from Rick Ramage - creator of The Screenplay Show.