Sunday, January 31, 2010

Book Excerpt: Just Effing Entertain Me

Script magazine contributor, Julie Gray is packing her bags and setting off on a whirlwind, worldwide tour to teach you how to get your Ideas to the Page to the Screen. She's off to NYC February 27-28 for an intensive two-day weekend workshop, then jetting across the Atlantic for UK workshops in London (March 6-7) and Oxford (March 13-14). After that, she's taking some much needed time off in Tel Aviv before heading back to the states to teach workshops in Chicago and Los Angeles in April and San Francisco in May. All workshops are $329 with deep discounts given to early-birds including a 10% discount at the Writer's Store and $50 off attendance at the Great American Pitch Fest in June. Sign up before February 12 to receive a free bundle of three podcasts from Julie's teleclass series Just Effing Do It!

The following is an excerpt from her book, Just Effing Entertain Me, coming out in late 2010.
Origin Stories

In the world of comic books, origin stories are the back stories for the superhero. How, why and when our superhero began his or her trajectory of internal pain and superhero-ness. You know - Batman and his murdered parents, Spiderman, the radioactive spider and his uncle's death for which he blames himself, Superman and his destroyed planet. Luke Skywalker and the loss of his aunt, uncle and very home. Wait - he's not a superhero. But this is still his origin story, isn't it? The beginnings of a lifelong adventure. A pivotal point in his life that changed him forever.

What is your main character's origin story? Regardless of genre, your main character is on an arc of change, right? What was that moment that defined the hole your main character has been trying to fill ever since? What defined them long before your story began? If there was a moment of origin for your main character, your script is then going to be the second most defining moment of their lives, right? Because your script is in some ways the continuation of a story that already began long ago.

Your main character's origin story doesn't have to be tragic - you might be writing a comedy - but the point is that something in your main character's life set them upon a path, positive or negative and now, because screenwriters get to play god, you are going to set a story in motion that will irrevocably change your main character once more. Change the direction of their orbit forever. And it's deeply satisfying, as a writer, because in real life while many do have defining moments, often it's more of a cumulative effect, right? Experiences pile up, one atop the other and slowly shape us, like a rock being battered by the sea. As we get older, we begin to soften and change.

But movies are life writ large - there are defining moments, pivotal conversations, forced decisions and cathartic, satisfying changes. That that's why we like to go to the movies - to look for patterns, closure and exciting outcomes when in real life, things can seem to move at a glacial pace. Even so - look at your own life - do you have a moment that defined you? Or a period of time? Something about where you grew up, something that happened in your family? A bully at school? A teacher who believed in you? That jerk who fired you and led you to your career today? Were you lucky enough to find the love of your life and that person lifted you up to a whole new level because they love you so? Or did you lose someone and that profound loss lent you a whole new point of view?

We writers have more in common with our main characters than we like to admit. Our main characters live out our fantasies - they get revenge when we were unable to. They speak the truth when we weren't heard. They overcome their fears. They have the perfect come back, romantic gesture or courageous response. They turn heartbreak into triumph, they take chances and they discover the truth about themselves. They overcome grief and find grace. They are us the way we wish we were.

Julie Gray is the founder of The Script Department, Hollywood’s premier script coverage service. She also directs the Silver Screenwriting Competition and authors the popular screenwriting blog, Just Effing Entertain Me. Julie consults privately with a wide variety of writers and teaches classes at Warner Bros., The Great American PitchFest, The Creative Screenwriting Expo and San Francisco University in Quito, Ecuador. Julie lives in Los Angeles, California; her book Just Effing Entertain Me is slated for release in late 2010.

Meet the Reader - Book Review: The View from the Bridge

by Ray Morton

Nicholas Meyer is one of Hollywood’s great, if-not-unsung-then-certainly-not-sung-nearly-enough talents. A self-described “storyteller,” Meyer has written novels, non-fiction books, stage plays, radio plays, liner notes, and reviews. He has also directed a number of excellent films, but is perhaps best known for being an expert screenwriter that crafts smart, entertaining, classically-constructed scripts filled with engaging characters and clever, literate dialogue. And now, with the publication of The View from the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood (Viking Press / $25.95/ ISBN 9780670021307), Meyer has added memoirist to his considerable list of accomplishments.

The book traces Meyer’s journey from his Manhattan childhood to the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa to a job in the publicity department of Paramount Pictures that had him writing press kits by day while penning spec scripts at night. A gig as a unit publicist on Love Story led to Meyer’s first script sale (to Howard Minsky, Love Story’s producer) and his first publishing deal (a “making of” book aptly called The Love Story Story). The money earned from those transactions financed a move to Los Angeles, where Meyer began writing television movies and then, during the long WGA strike of 1972, his first novel – the Sherlock Holmes-meets-Sigmund Freud adventure The Seven-Percent Solution, which became a smash-hit best-seller and which served as his springboard into the screenwriting big leagues when he refused to sell the screen rights unless he was also permitted to pen the script for its 1976 film adaptation, an assignment that eventually netted him an Academy Award nomination. After writing and directing (his debut) the classic H.G. Welles-meets-Jack the Ripper time-traveling adventure fantasy classic Time After Time (1979), Meyer was drafted to write (sans credit) and direct Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), an assignment that led to a decade-long association with the crew of the Starship Enterprise, during which he also co-wrote 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and co-wrote and directed 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. During and after his involvement with Trek, Meyer continued to direct films (The Day After, Volunteers, The Deceivers, Company Business) and write screenplays (Sommersby, The Human Stain, Elegy), while earning a solid reputation in Hollywood as an ace script doctor due to his (mostly uncredited) rewrites on films such as Fatal Attraction, The Prince of Egypt, The Count of Monte Cristo, Tomorrow Never Dies and many, many others.

This is a terrific book. Written in a warm, witty style, it is chock-full of intriguing and sometimes quite moving tales about Nick’s life; his experiences in the Hollywood trenches; his insightful observations about the art, craft, and business of making movies; and a few difficult personal experiences that serve to put the whole thing in proper perspective. As evidenced by its title, a significant portion of the book is devoted to Meyer’s time in Starfleet, which was probably something of a commercial decision, but also an entirely appropriate one given his (quite deserved) reputation as “the man who saved Star Trek.” Finally, the book is filled with a real generosity of spirit that reminds us that, while the movie business is filled with movers, shakers, sharks, and stars, it is also filled with a lot of really nice people, of which Nick Meyer seems to be one. If you’re interested in screenwriting, movies, Sherlock Holmes, or Star Trek, this book is pretty much indispensable.

Ray Morton is a writer and script consultant. His books Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Making of Steven Spielberg's Classic Film and King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon from Fay Wray to Peter Jackson are available in stores and online. He analyzes screenplays for production companies, producers, and individual writers. Morton is available for consultation and can be reached at

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tales from the Script: Advice for New Screenwriters

In this entertaining video, celebrated A-listers share hard-won lessons about the pitfalls awaiting newcomers to screenwriting. John August (“Go”), David Hayter (“X-Men”), Bruce Joel Rubin (“Ghost”), Ron Shelton (“Bull Durham”), and Joe Stillman (“Shrek”) are just a few of the professionals offering priceless tips and inspiration. Their remarks are an exciting sneak preview of the book/film project Tales from the Script, which is hitting the marketplace in a big way this year.

Peter Hanson, a regular contributor to Script magazine and the moderator of Final Draft’s screening series in Hollywood, put together this special video to let fans know about his project. The book Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories (IT Books/HarperCollins) is available now from, and the feature-length companion movie, simply titled Tales from the Script, will be released this spring in theaters and on DVD by First Run Features (pre-order the DVD at To receive updates on this exciting project, become a fan on Facebook.

Enjoy the video, and pass it along!

Tales from the Script
Peter Hanson
Click here to order from Amazon

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Discussing January/February 2010 Issue with Andrew Shearer, Pt. 1

Being a screenwriter in Hollywood, or rather, trying to become a legitimate screenwriter in Hollywood, is fucking hard.

Lately for me, it’s been a soul-wrenching experience, testing my very ability to sustain Hollywood’s never ceasing lashings. That’s why I was refreshed to read the Jan/Feb 2010 edition of Script magazine. Within it, I found comfort reading Peter Hanson’s article “The Agony of the Unproduced.” All of us un-produced screenwriters, despite our minor successes, need a pick-me-up here and there, and the pick-me-up in this article is the story of the guy who couldn’t take it anymore, so he quit. I know, it’s sort of sadistic, but that’s what’s making me feel good today. I’m still going. You’re still going. That guy quit. Hoorah – get to work – the next thing we write may be the one.

Aaron Ginsburg made me laugh today in his article “How (Not) to Fire Your Rep.” It’s a useful article if you have a worthless manager, and you’re struggling over the decision of whether or not to fire him or her. My writing partner and I used to have a fairly crazy manager who told me all too much about her personal life and boyfriends and cats. We finally fired her in what was the most painful phone call in my life, but which now that I look back on it, like Ginsburg’s experiences, makes me laugh – again, I’m a sadistic bastard but these are dark times, and I need a pick-me-up. Ginsburg reminds me that although things are a little slow in my career now, they used to be a lot worse.

“10 Things a Rep Will Never Tell You” is a great article by Jim Cirile, which isn’t exactly the trilogy of my pick-me-up, but it’s a necessary sobering splash of water after my brief high. Every time I think my manager is telling me all the answers to all my questions (because obviously we’re chums), I have to remind myself, he is my business partner. Here’s where I have to say, my manager is actually a really laidback guy who you can relax and have a beer with. But still, we’re business partners, so just like I don’t need to know about my former manager’s boyfriends’ medications, my current manager doesn’t feel like I need to know when someone thought our script really blew – just that they passed.

So the good news is, it’s 2010, I haven’t quit yet, I don’t have to fire a manager today, and my manager hasn’t fired me yet. Time to get to work.


A redneck from Small Town, North Carolina (population 8,000, high school drop-out rate 40%), one day decided to tackle the film industry. Andrew’s film-school short, Son Up, based off his experience teaching at a juvenile hall, ended up winning seven festival awards and made the regionals for the Student Academy Awards. Andrew’s feature script version of Son Up, co-written with Nick Sherman, went on to win first prize at Cinequest. Then one day, the screenwriting gods shined their rarely shown light down from the Heavens and awarded the Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship to Andrew and Nick for their feature script, Holy Irresistible. The duo is now repped by Endeavor and Brillstein Entertainment. They have two projects in development and are lucky enough to be co-writing a spec with another writer they’ve admired for years.