Download The Modern Moviemaking Movement

If you are looking for filmmaking information, make sure you download your free copy of the Modern Moviemaking Movement. In this guide, ten of Hollywood’s most innovative filmmakers provide insight on how to navigate the ever changing world of Independent filmmaking.

Topics covered in this book, include how to write your script, how to raise the money and also, how to implement modern movie distribution strategies.

Here’s an overview of what’s included in this FREE Filmmaking Book! Download here.

  • Uncover Successful, Modern Screenwriting Tips with Jurgen Wolff
  • Find Out How To Make the Most of Movie Money with Norman C. Berns
  • Discover Six Ways to Finance Your Feature Film with Gordon Firemark
  • Bankroll Your Movie with Tom Malloy
  • Get The Inside Scoop On Crowdfunding with Carole Dean
  • Plan Your Production For Maximum Success with Peter D. Marshall
  • Modern Guerrilla Filmmaking with Gary King
  • Navigate Film Festivals and Do Them Right with Sheri Candler
  • Sell Your Movie Without the Middle-Man with Jason Brubaker
  • Know The Producer of Marketing and Distribution and Utilize The New 50/50 with Jon Reiss

This filmmaking book is 100% FREE of charge. Enjoy!

[Download Here]

Seriously. Add this one to your collection of filmmaking books!

Aspiring screenwriter: Go Hollywood or go indie?

Aspiring screenwriter: Go Hollywood or go indie?
By, Screenwriter Jurgen Wolff

Because I’ve written a few books about screenwriting I sometimes get questions from people just starting out on their careers. One query that has started coming up more often recently is whether it’s better to chase the Hollywood dream or get involved with indie films, including ones made for the web.

Well, as Socrates once said, “That depends.”

Hollywood is hard to crack. At any given time, people tend to say it has never been harder, but maybe that’s actually true as far as mainstream feature films are concerned these days. It won’t have escaped your attention that the trend is toward movies with huge budgets. Knowing that a picture is going to cost $200 million or more makes decision makers prefer to go with writers and directors with a track record.

Sometimes they do gamble. For instance, they got a guy who’d never directed live action to direct “John Carter.” The outcome of that one probably set back the cause of risk-taking for a few years. On the other hand, maybe that was offset by the success of “The Artist.”

Of course hiring a name director is no guarantee of success, but it gives the decision makers more of an excuse: “His last three were big hits, how could I know this one wouldn’t be?”

The upside of screenwriting for Hollywood

If you do break into that small circle of (mainly) guys who are tapped to write the big summer action pictures, the financial rewards are considerable. The smaller the pool of A-list writers, the more they get paid. It also gives you power. If you write a couple of hits and want to direct, you’ll get the chance. If you want to make a small picture that nobody think will make any money, if they want you badly enough for a big script assignment, you’ll get that, too.

You will also find entities like HBO and Showtime will be interested in hearing your ideas, if you decide at some point you’d like to do a series.

The downside of Hollywood

The power I referred to lasts only as long as your projects are a success. There can be a lot of reasons for a movie to fail other than a bad script. The first time it happens they’ll cut you some slack. If it happens again, the phone calls will slow down. Three strikes and you’ll wonder if your cell phone is broken.

Also, your power doesn’t extend to having final say on what happens with the script. Even the hot writers get rewritten. How’s your tolerance for seeing other people make those decisions without you? Once you’ve turned in your draft, generally they don’t want to have you around any more. As a courtesy (actually, to satisfy the Writers Guild agreements) you’ll get a copy of the script after everybody else has finished messing around with it. A few of those experiences and you may get into the habit of pouring yourself a stiff drink before you turn to page one.

The upside of indie films

The definition of independent cinema has always been a bit vague, and now that people are starting to make films directly for distribution on the web and having success with documentaries and a variety of harder to categorize formats it’s getting even more blurred. For the sake of this discussion, though, let’s assume that we’re talking about anything from no- to micro- to-low budget, and distribution via DVD (not for much longer), or Netflix, or other means via the web.

The upside is that you can write a story that doesn’t have to bring out the teen audience in massive numbers on opening weekend. The breadth of the subjects you can deal with, the pacing options, the opportunity to experiment are all huge advantages.

You’re much more likely to remain involved in the later stages of production, too. Generally indie producers and directors are happy to have the writer around to make adjustments that may be needed during the shoot. It’s much more likely to end up being the story you wanted to tell.

When it comes time to promote the film you’ll probably be asked to help with that, too, because there’s no big star involved who sucks up all the media attention.

There’s also a new model emerging of raising finance through crowdfunding, which Jason has written about on this site a number of times. The idea that you don’t need to convince a banker or manager of an investment fund of the viability of your story, that you can pitch it to your final customers, is exciting and this method of financing is only going to grow.

The downside of indie films

Money, lack of. Starving for your art can be romantic for a while, but eventually you do want to eat something other than peanut butter sandwiches. You may want to start a family, buy a place of your own, take a nice vacation once in a while. All the stuff that sounds hopelessly middle-class when you’re 20 seems a lot more attractive when you hit 35. Of course some indie films break out and make a lot of money, but it’s far from the norm.

The low budget can also impact the quality of the final product. Even if nobody changes your words, the limitations in terms of the cast, the sets, the number of shooting days, and so on can mean the film isn’t as polished as you’d like.

Above I mentioned that you’ll be more involved all the way along, from raising the money to helping to market the film, and I classed those as positives. It’s actually a mixed bag because all that takes time. It can eat up a lot of time you could be spending writing.

What’s the bottom line?

I think it comes down to what you value and your temperament. If you’re a good team player and can separate your ego from the process, and you are excited by the lifestyle that comes with earning a lot of money, then Hollywood may be your best bet. That’s especially true if you like the kinds of films they’re making.  If you think they’re crap, don’t kid yourself that you can fake it. Never works.

Even though you’ll have to be able to put your ego aside, you’d better have a strong one to start with. Confidence is a prerequisite. Even arrogance is rewarded in Hollywood more often than it’s punished—assuming you have the writing chops to back it up.

If your primary drive is to tell stories and your values are not heavily weighted toward material things, the indie route is more your thing. There are a number of indie filmmakers whose definition of success is that they make enough money on their last film to be able to make the next one.

If I were starting out today, I’d go for the indie route.  But, hey, maybe that’s because I love peanut butter.

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Jurgen Wolff has written more than 100 episodes of television, the mini-series “Midnight Man,” starring Rob Lowe, the feature film “The Real Howard Spitz,” starring Kelsey Grammer, and as been a script doctor on projects starring Eddie Murphy, Michale Caine, Kim Catrall and others. His books include “Your Writing Coach” (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) and “Creativity Now!” (Pearson Publishing). For more tips from Jurgen Wolff, also see www.ScreenwritingSuccess.com

Writing and making a short film?

Writing and making a short film? Less is more (unless it’s too much less)
By Screenwriter Jurgen Wolff

I’ve seen a lot of short films over the years. Frequently I’ve been impressed by the visuals, the level of the acting, sometimes the innovative use of a mix of media. Can you guess what most often is the weakest link?

It’s the script. Or sometimes the lack of one.

In one case, the filmmaker has decided that a short film can’t really tell a story, it can only create a mood. Then we suffer through long, long shots of the sun going down, the blinds casting interesting shadows on the wooden floor, and the smoke spiraling into the air as the protagonist smokes his French cigarette.

Don’t make us suffer. We want a story. Even when we watch a 30-second commercial, we want a story. If the moody shots serve the story, then use them (in moderation), but they’re not a substitute for a plot.

At the other end of the spectrum are short films that try to be feature films, 90 minutes of story struggling to fit into ten or twenty minutes. The result is that we, the audience, are confused or things go by so fast that we don’t have a chance to engage emotionally with the characters and what’s happening to them.

Feature films and novels often are about the transformation of the protagonist in some way, for instance from selfish to caring about other people, or from fearful to bold. Those are big changes and a challenge to make credible even with 90 to 120 minutes at your disposal. You can’t cover them adequately in ten.

It’s useful to think of a short film as being like a short story. It can capture a moment in time, a phase of a transformation. It can hint at what went before or what goes after, but not reveal those at length.

For instance, let’s say that in a feature film we were doing the story of a man who is totally absorbed in work and neglects his family but assumes they’re fine and happy.

He loses his job and can’t find another one.

Now that he’s spending so much time at home, he realizes two things–his kids don’t actually like him very much and things are really screwed up–his wife is sleeping with the neighbor, his daughter is cutting herself, and his son is selling drugs.

Maybe at first he lashes out at them, blaming everything on them, but then something happens that wakes him up to the fact that he’s responsible for a lot of this (I don’t know what wakes him up, but let’s assume we’ll come up with something brilliant).

He starts working hard on changing, winning his kids over, learning how to be humble…

Then he gets an amazing job offer–one he’s always wanted–but it would mean going back to his rat-race lifestyle.

If it’s an American film he takes the job but on his first day, as he puts a picture of his family on his desk, he realizes he’s made a mistake. He tells the powerful head of the company that he can’t take the job because he’s got more important things to do. He races to his daughter’s school and arrives just in time for her ballet performance.

If it’s a European film (and especially if it’s a European film about Americans) he takes the job, convincing himself that he can handle both.  When he comes home from his first day at his new job the house is empty. Maybe they burned it down before they left.

In a short film you could show one part, but imply a lot of the other things. Here are three ways you could treat the same story:

  • You could start with his workaholic lifestyle, then show him getting fired and, at the end, show his horrible growing realization that his family doesn’t love him.
  • You could start the story where he’s trying hard to change (his former self is implied), but then the amazing job offer comes. Maybe you give a hint as to what he’ll do but you don’t show it or the consequences.
  • You could start at the end–the smoking ruin of the house. As he sifts through the ashes there are flashbacks to moments that, when you put them together, let you understand what happened.

A really good short film makes the audience do a bit of work to put everything together and leaves them with something to think about.

If you’re a writer, instead of trying to make a short film something that it’s not, embrace its qualities and make them work for you instead of against you.

Here’s an opportunity if you want to write a short film: on Sunday, April 15, I’m hosting an online Massive Action Day (I call them MADs). Why not use the MAD to write your short film? If you have questions along the way, I’ll be online to help. Want to check how a title goes over or test a few lines of dialogue? Put it in our chat window and our friendly group will give you instant feedback. It’s fun, supportive, and I give away prizes every hour.

I’ve given Jason 10 free passes to give to his Filmmaking Stuff fans.  If you don’t manage to wangle one of those, you can still join us for the very reasonable fee of $23.25—or a lot less if you buy a subscription of ten. All the information is here: http://massiveactionday.com/new-annual-mad-sign-up-page/

 

Short Film Ideas

Seven Ways Screenwriters Can be More Productive

Seven Ways Screenwriters Can be More Productive

Do you want to write your screenplay faster but without giving up quality? Here are the top tips based both on my own experience in writing more than 100 episodes of TV as well as TV movies, a feature film, and script doctoring, as well as the experience of top writers I’ve interviewed:

  1. You don’t have to write the script in order. Sometimes you get stuck on the best way to open a script, or on a scene where you’re not quite sure exactly what a character would say. There’s no rule that says you can’t jump forward or backward and write the scenes that you do know how to write at the moment. You may find that writing other scenes helps you figure out the ones that were stopping you.
  1. You don’t have to do all the research before you start. One successful novelist I interviewed puts an X in his draft when he encounters something to research and keeps on writing. When he’s finished the first draft he goes back to all the X’s (using the search function to locate them quickly), does the necessary research and incorporates it into his second draft. This won’t work all the time, of course, because sometimes you need the information before you can write the scene, but  when you can delay it, bunching the research is a great time-saver.
  1. Set daily or weekly page goals, not time goals. If you say you’re going to spend an hour a day working on your script it’s easy to spend that hour reading the trades or checking out a few sites that relate to writing your project but not actually get any writing done. Once you’re in the writing phase, set a page goal for those sessions—e.g., to write 3 pages a day, 3 days a week, or whatever fits your schedule.
  1. Don’t keep going back go revise what you’ve already done. Instead, if you know you want to change something, make a note in the margin and do it when you write the second draft. The note might be something like, “Have this take place in Joe’s apartment instead,” or “Make Millie more aggressive.”
  1. Instead of writing character biographies, discover your characters using your imagination. I adapted this from a method Alvin Sargeant told me he uses. He writes scenes in which his characters experience a variety of things, just to see how they react and what it reveals about them. These are not necessarily situations that will be in the script. I do the same thing, but in my imagination (it’s faster). For instance, imagine your protagonist saw someone trying to break into a car. What would he or she do? Call the police? Ignore it? Try to stop the crook? Usually your intuition will give you an answer quickly.
  1. When it’s time to evaluate your first draft, print it out and go into a different room to read it and make your notes. When you are at your usual writing location you are in a creative mode. To evaluate your work you have to switch to a critical mode and it’s easier to do that when you’re in a different place, with a different posture (perhaps sitting back in a comfy chair). In the critical state, identify the problems. Then go back to your usual creative state to figure out and implement the solutions.
  1. When rewriting, tackle the big issues first. Don’t start doing little dialogue rewrites, for instance, when the bigger fixes may mean that scene may not even be in your script anymore, or may require drastic changes.

Want more? Be my guest—Free!

I’ll be sharing more ideas for writing faster and writing better on Saturday, March 3, on our online Massive Action Day. It runs for 16 hours so that people in just about every time zone can take part. For instance, whether you’re on the West Coast or the East Coast, you can join in from 9am to 4pm your time. If you’re in the UK, we start at 9am your time and keep going 16 hours!

You declare your goal at the start of the day (e.g., write an outline of a short film, clean up my office, compile a list of agents, etc.) and check in every hour to let us know how you’ve done. At the start of every hour I do a live video feed for about 5 minutes with tips and to answer questions. I also give away prizes and we have a lot of fun along the way.

Usually this costs $15, but I’m inviting Jason’s people to join me for free. Just send me your name and email address and I’ll send you the instructions. Email me at [email protected]. Please do that now, because Saturday is not far away and I think you’ll find it will be a most productive and enjoyable day.

Jurgen Wolff has written more than 100 episodes of television, the mini-series “Midnight Man,” starring Rob Lowe, the feature film “The Real Howard Spitz,” starring Kelsey Grammer, and as been a script doctor on projects starring Eddie Murphy, Michale Caine, Kim Catrall and others. His books include “Your Writing Coach” (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) and “Creativity Now!” (Pearson Publishing). For more tips from Jurgen Wolff, also see www.ScreenwritingSuccess.com

Write Screenplays From The Heart

A page of a screenplay I wrote in Latin based ...

Screenplay Image via Wikipedia

I see that there’s a one day workshop being offered with the pitch, “Who better to teach you to understand characters than EXPERT BEHAVIOR ANALYSTS?”

It’s not my intention to diss the people offering the workshop (which I also why I’m not going to name them)—they are both screenwriters as well as Expert Behavior Analysts and sound like a couple of smart guys with credible credits.

However… If you think you actually NEED to have an Expert Behavior Analyst tune you in to what people do and why they do it, I respectfully suggest you consider another career. Maybe one not involving people.

To me, the best stories come from the heart.

Yes, we have to shape them and we have to make sure they’re ones that will be meaningful to other people as well. But generally they come from some seed of hurt or love or confusion in our own lives. By the time we write them they may have changed so much that nobody else can ever track them back to the source, but if they work it’ll be because they started from that kind of connection.

If you have an extra two hundred bucks (the Early Bird price), there’s no harm in going to a workshop like this. If you don’t, I suggest you spend the day walking around. Talk to a homeless person. Chat with the person behind you in the line at the grocery store. Have dinner at a restaurant and notice how people treat the waiter. In the evening, get together with a friend and let the wine flow and get them to talk about their triumphs and their disappointments—and talk about yours.

If you’re cut out to be a writer, you’ll learn more that day than sitting in a workshop with Expert Behavior Analysts.

- – -

Jurgen Wolff has written more than 100 episodes of TV, several TV movies, the feature film, “The Real Howard Spitz” starring Kelsey Grammer, and has been a script doctor on films starring Eddie Murphy, Kim Catrall, Michael Caine, Walter Matthau and others. His plays have been produced in New York, London, Berlin, and Los Angeles. He is the author of 9 books including “Your Writing Coach” and “Creativity Now.” If you would like to find out more about “The Seven Things That Are Stopping You From Writing And How To Overcome Them,” check out Jurgen’s screenwriting website: www.ScreenWritingSuccess.com