MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT

Blog Tips

Sunday, August 31, 2008

MAUI WRITERS CONFERENCE (HONOLULU)

DAY 1: orientation. Ran into old friends: Steve Fisher from APA, Neil Nyren from Putnam, Roger Jellinek of Jellinek & Murray Literary Agency (Hawaii’s only lit agency!); Marcia Markland from Thomas Dunne, Jillian Manus (thank you for inviting me!),

And met Steve Berry, whose The Charlemagne Pursuit I’d just finished on the plane from L.A.



Got his autograph, and talked to him about the film rights (which I will discuss with Pam Ahearn, his New Orleans agent and an old friend); John and Shannon Tullius, the founders and organizers of the Conference (in its 16th year), Stephen Bulka, head of original movies at Lifetime.

After a rousing sunset cocktail party on the 36th Floor of the Ala Moana, managed to watch Obama’s magnificent speech from the Democratic Convention.


DAY 2. Met Columbia Pictures’ exec DeVon Franklin and pitched him Tracy Price-Thompson’s Gather Together in My Name; Jaime Levine, exec editor of Grand Central; Georgia Hughes, Editorial Director of New World Library (The Power of Now); Jay Schaefer, Editorial Director of Chronicle Books—who remembered me from Ron Nowicki’s The San Francisco Review of Books; Elizabeth Evans of Reece-Halsey North Agency; Dena Fischer from Manus Lit; Jacqueline Hackett (of Literary Works, Atlanta); Robert Strickler (of San Francisco’s Kul’cha Literary Agency). In a full day of pitches, encountered a number of potential AEI projects and even more writers I thought Writer’s Lifeline could assist.



Night 2: The entire audience was blown away by the keynote speaker, Bryce Courtenay, #1 bestselling author in Australia. His mesmerizing storytelling was about storytelling, including the best description I’ve ever heard of what we used to call at Yale “the fictive reader,” who is as much a character in your novel or screenplay as any of the other characters. He calls this unseen persona, who is MORE important than the other characters, “the fourth protagonist,” and convinced us with vivid examples that it should be he that controls what a writer puts in and takes out. Wish everyone could have been there to hear it!

DAY 3. More consultations and discussions with agents from New York about the kinds of stories we’re looking for for film and television. Finally got to meet Mike Palmieri, head of the Conference’s screenwriting program; and to chat with Catherine Fowler (Redwood Agency in Portland) and Holly Root (Waxman Agency, NY) and with Georgia Hughes, about Latino publishing in the U.S. Met 3 exciting African-American authors who we’d love to sign if their writing is as solid as their pitches!

Night 3: Sunset at Waikiki and a special advance screening of Robert & Amanda Moresco’s film, “The Kings of Appletown,” on a thirty-foot screen on the sand at sunset.

DAY 4. With Dena Fischer (of Manus Lit Agency) and Jacqueline Hackett (of Literary Works, Atlanta) presented a workshop entitled “Every Author Is a Publisher,” emphasizing the necessity of extending your belief in yourself to marketing your book—a tradition as ancient as Sophocles (who needed to enlist an admiral or general to finance his great tragedies) or Shakespeare (who convinced the Queen to help him establish the Globe Theater for his plays).

Lunch with Marilyn Horowitz, NYU screenwriting prof and new NY associate manager for AEI.

Introduced AEI client Tracy Price-Thompson to DeVon Franklin, Columbia Pictures Director of Development, who will be reading her Gather Together in My Name.

And the next morning, after one-on-ones, listened to Bryce Courtenay talk about the need for massive commitment to putting in the time at the outset of a writer’s career.

Aloha, Hawaiian Islands Writing Festival. And Mahalo to John and Shannon Tullius, Sam Horn, Jillian Manus, and everyone who had a hand in organizing it.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Script Writing Continued--more on the Beat Sheet

A couple of days ago I talked about Beat Sheets. Beet sheets (also called a Step Sheet or a Scene Breakdown) break down episodes beat by beat. To give you a better idea I thought I'd show you an actual Beat Sheet for AEI.

JUDAS SILVER
by
Jon Hargrove

• A tight-knit group of six graduate students, all best friends, are conducting an historical excavation of a colonial church in Boston. The church had been recently burned down. They are led by an eccentric professor. The students are history grad students.

• Beneath the new church, one of the grad students comes across a previously unknown room. In fact, it's a crypt.

• They enter the room, which is burned and destroyed, and unstable at best. Dirt sifts down from above. Timbers creek. The professor finds an unusual leather pouch of coins buried with one of the corpses. He picks up the bag.

• Immediately the roo
m starts to collapse. The students make it, but the professor is killed. His hand, the only part of him not buried, is still clutching the bag of coins.

• The pr
ofessor’s corpse is later removed, and the six shocked students attend his funeral.

• Days later, the six students gather in a sort of tribute to their killed professor. They gather inside his office on the university, drinking, remembering the old man.

• The professor’s wife arrives, grieving. She hands them the bag of coins, found on the professor’s body
. Since the coins are part of the excavation, she wants the students to have them to further their research.

• They open t
he bag and count out thirty silver coins, all ancient. Could they be the thirty coins used to betray Christ? Some of the students scoff at the idea, but others believe.

• One of the students, Gerald, an intern at the Boston Museum, has had considerable experience in dating artifacts. He tests the coins and concludes that they are over two thousand years old.

• Valery, a student
at the Harvard Divinity School, uses history books to place the coins. She’s confidant that they are from the time of Christ.

• Two of the students, Robert and Piers, go out on the town. Robert immediately gets into a fight at a local club and is stabbed to death.

• The remaining five friends are in shock, horrified. Two deaths in one week. Julie, who’s into the arcane and the occult, does some more research. She discovers that the Judas coins are thought to be cursed, and she’s beginning to believe it.

• Sheila brings in a numism
atist, who states that the coins could be potentially worth millions if sold to the right collector. The coins have only been rumored to exist. They have on their hands a major find.

• The students argue over who should oversee the coins, now that the coins are valuable. They quickly begin losing trust in each other. They decide to use the museum’s safe.

• Later, Piers and Julie, who are engaged to be married and have known each other since they were kids, suggest that they sell the coins, and share the money. But Sheila reminds them that the coins are not theirs to sell. They belong to the parish, and she thinks they should give the coins back.


• That night the others find Sheila dead. Fallen from her fifth floor dorm room. Her death is ruled a suicide by the police.

• The remaining four students secretly wonder if Sheila’s death was truly a suicide. None of them have alibis.

• Piers is losing it. He bel
ieves the coins are cursed and they need to be destroyed. Julie and Gerald go down to the museum to find the coins. But the coins are gone.

• They all suspect each other of stealing them, leading to another murder.

• The three remaining students have decided toss the coins into the Atlantic. Just as they are about to do so, Gerald turns a gun on them.

• They fight and Gerald is killed, falling overboard, leaving only Piers and Julie.

• Piers turns around to see his fiancĂ©e Julie holding a gun on him. She wants the coins. He tosses them to her, and she promptly pulls the trigger.

• Alone, with five o
f her one-time best friends now dead, Julie turns the sailboat back to shore.

• In the distance a storm is coming, and the seas are choppy. Lightning illuminates the entire sky, revealing ominous thu
nderheads. The little sailboat rises and falls on the massive swells, standing little chance against nature’s fury—and the curse of the coins.

THE END


A Writer's Time: Making the Time to Write by Ken Atchity discusses the craft of writing, explains how to make effective use of one's time, and gives advice concerning writer's block, revision, inspiration, and manuscript submission.

"A Writer's Time"(Revised and Expanded Edition) is a gold mine of ideas and suggestions for the writer at any level. This is one book that will stay on my book shelf, along with all the other reference books I could not do without. You'll feel as if you have hit the mother-lode with the invaluable information and strategies for organization. It is written by a writer with complete understanding of the writer's mind. I also found it to be extremely motivating. I often found myself shaking my head up and down as I was reading, as if the Author Kenneth Atchity, could read my mind, or knew exactly what I needed to hear. By L. Shirley "Laurie's Boomer Views"

Read more great reviews and buy
A Writer's Time on Amazon here.

I’m happy to respond to requests from visitors to the blog.

Friday, August 29, 2008

How To Have a Successful Book Signing

by Judy Azar LeBlanc

Success always comes after failure only if you try again. Everyone loves a successful book signing! When I had my very first book signing it was a total flop! Well, maybe not totally, the book store did order 6 books and I did sell 2 of them!

So what went wrong, I asked myself. Several things went wrong. First, I didn’t invite anyone to come to the book signing; I didn’t have any promotional material with me; I barely spoke to the customers because I “foolishly” thought they would all run up to my table to see what the book and author were all about, and the worst thing I did, was to stay sitting behind that little table for the whole 2 hours! Wrong – wrong – wrong.

Today, because of that failure, I have not had a book signing any where that has not been a complete sell-out!

So, how did I go from being a complete flop to becoming a complete success?

Here’s how: Where I live in Arizona, all of the Barnes and Noble Bookstores are independently run, whereas Border’s Bookstores are centralized. That means that each Barnes and Noble bookstore decides independently on who, what, when and where and if they will authorize book signings. In this case, it is important to get to know the “store” and the manager at each store. Establish a rapport with him or her, and give them a little background about yourself and your book. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can have a book signing at their store, or to emphasize the fact that you are a local author.

Because Border’s Bookstores are centralized, that means that the Regional Manager decides on all of the book signings for all of the stores. Here is where you really want to establish a rapport. I made it a point to do so with our Regional Manager and since then, she willingly books me at any of the Border’s bookstores that I want. Some are too far for my willingness to travel, so I usually decline. The reason for this is that I was informed about the demographics! Who would have thought? Apparently, each bookstore sells a particular type of genre more than others. For example, where I live, the community is very family oriented, so a book on fantasy, child rearing, and especially children’s books are hot items. A few miles further south, there is a university town … believe it or not, “romance” books are a hot item at that store! Who would have thought that would be the case in a university town?

Although The Regional Manager does book all of the book signings for all of their stores, each Border’s Bookstore “handles” the mechanics of the book signing independently. Here again, it is important to get to know the store and the Store Manager because that means they give you a better location, more traffic gets directed to you, and more announcements are made about you over their loudspeaker.

Next, prepare … prepare … prepare. I can’t say enough about this. We are published authors which connotes “professionals” … Prepare for your book signing just as a professional would.
Always check with the store BEFORE contacting any media. It has been my experience that they do a great job with the media and advertisements. If you want to send a press release to a local paper, ask them who to contact. They are very nice about giving you that information, or they will tell you that they are going to do it.

Make invitations and give them to all of your friends, acquaintances, and family members, and e-mail everyone you know who would be interested. I also give them to my dentist, doctor, people I know at the local grocery store, and people I know at church.

Have a framed 8x11 or 11x17 picture of your cover on an easel for display.

Prepare flyers - not just black and white blurbs about your book, but jazz it up and make it look professional. Include a short “eye-catcher” blurb about your book, a list of one liner endorsements, a short bio about yourself and the availability of your book. Be sure to always include your web page on every piece of paper that you have for handouts.

Always have bookmarks to give the customer with every book you sign.

Have a candy dish at your table filled with candy. However, always ask the store manager if it is alright. This is important because some store managers don’t like food in their store. I’ve never been turned down; however, I do always buy the individually wrapped mints.
People love “free-bies.” Here is a list of what I take to every book signing.

(1) A framed cover of my book on a stand. Not all bookstores have signs printed for your book signing.

(2) A transparent bookstand to show off the books. They display the books better as opposed to just having them lying on the table.

(3) Postcards to handout with your book cover with a short blurb, availability and web page.

(4) Flyers printed on colored stock so that they stand out. Ask the store manager if you can put a few up on their windows. I’ve never been turned down. After all, they want to sell books too.

(5) Brochures - This is up to you. I have brochures with me, but I don’t put them out because of the expense. However, every now and then I do run into a librarian or a school book buyer and I do give one to them.

(6) A Banner - This is optional, however, a medium to large size banner with your book cover and endorsements on them calls attention to your table as well. Once you have one made, it can be used at every book signing, book fair and book festival that you attend thereafter.

(7) Business Cards – have them in a nice business card holder next to your book cover – make sure they have your web page listed.

(8) Pens with your book title and web page printed on them – this tip I picked up at a book conference. When a customer buys my book, I sign it with one of my pens and then I give them the pen along with the book.

(9) Bookmarks – This is a must. Every book should include a bookmarker. Have them made with a small picture of your book cover, a list of very short two or three word endorsements and your web page.

(10) A table cloth – It has been my experience that some book stores have already set the table with a table cloth and some don’t. I always carry one with me just in case.
This may seem like a lot, but believe me, when it is laid out on the table, it isn’t much. Keep in mind we are professionals, so everything you do, think like a professional.

Last but certainly not least - never sit at your table. Don’t be shy, greet the customers as they walk by, smile, introduce yourself, hand them a flyer, and tell them that you are a local author who is having a book signing today on behalf of (name of bookstore). Tell them a little about your book.

If you are like me, book signings are a lot of work, but they are also a lot of fun! You meet a lot of very interesting people, and even if they don’t buy your book, they walk away with a flyer or a postcard and they will either read it or check your web page.

More importantly, when you are done, ALWAYS thank the store manager and the staff who participated in your book signing. Never leave without a thank you and a hand shake.

Since I have practiced this, I have been invited back several times to most of the bookstores in my area, and they now order a minimum of about 25 books, and I always sell-out!

Good Luck and Happy Book Signing.


Judy Azar LeBlanc is the Award Winning Author of Many Faces to Many Places. Visit Judy's website and buy the book on Amazon here.


So you want to write for Hollywood? Find out "WHAT IS A BEAT SHEET?"

A beat sheet is a writing tool used by film industry writers, directors, and producers to identify in broad strokes the sequence of events, and actions in a story. It is an abbreviated way to break down the structure of your story, making it easier to organize and change.

The beat sheet charts the sequence of events that cause your main character to do something and maps how your main character progresses in his change from the beginning to the end of your story.

Create a beat sheet by using bullet points that illustrate in one or two lines the order of your plot’s progression. Remember plot takes place when a character does something or acts upon another character.

A beat sheet is a diagnostic tool, not an end in itself. There are no hard and fast rules—it’s like jotting down the main turns on the map that takes you to the end of your story.

Then you let a road guide take a look at it, to make sure it’s going efficiently where it is meant to go.

When you actually drive there, you’ll know where you’re going—and you’ll know that your creative time not only knows but has helped you make the best possible route.

--From KJA’s notes to
Writing Treatments That Sell.

For someone that is new to the business of writing screenplays, the term "treatment" will most definitely be new to them as well. Basically, if a writer has an idea for a story but for one reason or another does not want to write an entire script, they'll need to know about treatments.

Click on book to buy Writing Treatments that Sell on Amazon.

I’m happy to respond to requests from visitors to the blog.

News about Demonkeeper by Royce Buckingham In Germany

Looks like Damliche Damonen (Demonkeeper) has come out in Germany. Amazon Germany has it ranked (it looks like it's an instant ranking for German books). Here's the link. At last check it it's #43 overall and #3 in Fantasy behind JK Rowling and the new Eragon.

Demons are all around us—most of them are relatively harmless, like the ones that go bump in the night or make you stub your toe. But some are dangerous—some can kill. Since he was orphaned as a boy, Nat has been trained by his aged mentor Daliwahl to be a demonkeeper, controlling a menagerie of demons in their old, rickety house in Seattle. But now Dahliwahl is gone and Nat is on his own.

Keeping demons isn’t a very social activity, and when Nat goes on a date with Sandy, a junior librarian’s assistant, it’s a disaster in more ways that one—while Nat’s out, a very scary demon called the Beast escapes. Can Nat get the Beast back to the house and make things right with Sandy—and do it all by himself?

With its fast-paced action, slapstick humor, and a winning, unlikely hero, Demonkeeper is a high-spirited romp that will keep readers glued to the page. Click here to read more about Demonkeeper and buy it on Amazon.

AT HOME WITH TRACY & GREG PRICE-THOMPSON AT MILILANI MAUKA


One of the advantages of traveling is being able to meet AEI's clients on their home turf--in this case the brand new home of the Price-Thompsons, where Kayoko and I enjoyed an outstanding hearty lasagna ("my mother's recipe," according to Tracy) and the P-T progeny--we watched Bill Clinton's speech together, and commended the performance of Michele Obama. Best of all, got to see the 'wall of fame' in Tracy's den where her award-winning books' kudos are displayed. Her latest, Gather Together in My Name, is the best so far--we've been trying in vain to get it to Spike Lee's attention and will keep trying until we succeed! Her forthcoming, 1-900-ANYTIME is fantasic so far (I'm on page 100!). Greg and Tracy, thanks again for inviting us over. And congrats to Greg for his retirement after 23 years in the U.S. Army.



From the nationally bestselling and Hurston/Wright award-winning author Tracy Price-Thompson comes a heartbreaking story of loyalty and love that goes beyond the ultimate sacrifice.

Coming of age in the heart of crime-ridden Brooklyn, Shyne Blackwood is one in a set of triplets born into poverty and great tragedy. While his brothers are raised to seek a life of promise, Shyne's path veers early on. A street-seasoned hustler, he becomes known as a liar, a thief, and ultimately, a killer.

Personifying many of the negative stereotypes attributed to black men, Shyne is accused and convicted of the brutal murder of a child, and an entire city demands vengeance as he's sent to death row in a cold New York state prison.

On the eve of Shyne's execution, five people travel to Quincy Correctional Facility to witness the event. As the clock counts down to midnight, and while everyone has long since abandoned Shyne to his fate, a secret at the heart of this unthinkable crime remains to be discovered. It is a secret that will test the bonds of family, the strength of one man's character, and the redemptive power of a love worth dying for. Click here to read more about and buy Gather Together in My Name.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

OBAMA AND HISTORY

From Dennis Palumbo--For what it's worth...

Tonight, Joe Biden accepted his party's nomination as Vice President, to run with nominee Barack Obama, who speaks tomorrow night in Denver.

However, as good a running mate as Biden is, I think Obama's real running mate is history itself. The first African-American nominee of a major American political party. A man whose father was from Kenya, and whose white mother raised him herself, with the help of her parents. A black man with the unlikely name of Barack Hussein Obama, running for President. If this isn't the unfolding of history---a history with a new face, a new contour, a new expectation of how things go, I don't know what is.

History itself is Obama's running mate, and partner, and advisor. History itself is the thing with which he must contend, the thing he must convince with his oratory and policies, the thing he must both respect and challenge. But it's not his personal history that accompanies him on the upcoming campaign trail. It's our history, the history of the American voter, that stands with him on every podium at which he speaks in the coming months. It's our history that will be challenged, tested, wooed. It's a nation's history that will be made and, perhaps, re-made, in a new, 21st-century image.

Yes, history was made tonight, when Obama became the Democratic presidential nominee. And so he begins his campaign with his new partner, new constant companion, new (and truest) running mate: American history---as conflicted, complicated, disheartening, inspiring, and surprising an entity as any living, breathing person.

Only in November will we know whether the team of Obama and history itself can work together in such a way as to, frankly, reinvent each other.


Dennis Palumbo is the author of From Crime to Crime: Mind-Boggling Tales of Mystery and Murder

Click on book image to buy From Crime to Crime on Amazon.
Visit Dennis Palumbo's website here.
Read his blog here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Since We're Talking about Writing Screenplays

Yesterdays post on writing screenplays drew in a surprising number of readers so I thought I'd continue on the same topic and share this interview I did with my partner Chi-Li Wong. If you're interested in writing screenplays read on.

Striking Oil: An Interview with Kenneth Atchity and Chi-Li Wong
by P. J. McIlvaine

What does Minnesota Governor, best selling author ("I Ain't Got Time to Bleed") and former pro wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura and novelist/screenwriter John Scott Shepherd (who made an astounding six film sales and one TV series sale in little over a year) have in common?

If you guessed a body slam, sorry. They're all represented by the burgeoning AEI firm, a self-described "one-stop full service management machine for screenwriters, novelists and nonfiction writers."

AEI's feature projects include "The Kill Martin Club" at Warner Brother's with comic Ben Stiller attached; "Henry's List of Wrongs" at New Line with funnyman extraordinaire Jim Carrey tentatively set to star; "Life or Something Like It" at New Regency; John Mulholland's "Dante's Inferno" with Mike Richardson's Dark Horse Entertainment; and the biopic "Robert Ripley" of Ripley Believe It or Not! fame with Barry Sonnenfeld ("Men in Black") interested in directing, and actor George Clooney interested in playing Ripley.

President and Chief Operating Officer Kenneth Atchity is a veteran producer, teacher (Occidental College, UCLA's Writing Program and Fulbright Professor), literary manager, poet, entrepreneur and author (the best selling "A Writer's Time") and co-wrote with AEI Partner and Exec Vice-President for Development and Production Chi-Li Wong "Writing Treatments That Sell: How to Create and Market Your Story Ideas to the Motion Picture and TV Industry."

P. J. McIlvaine: First, let me say that I liked the book ("Writing Treatments that Sell") a lot. It works for the beginner, the intermediate, and the more experienced screenwriter.

Kenneth Atchity: Thank you. That's what we were trying to accomplish.

McIlvaine: How did the book evolve?

Atchity: My partner Chi-Li and I gave talks around the country on selling to television. The questions we were asked the most often were about treatments: How do you write one, and what do you do with one? Basically, we answered the question so many times that we got tired, and looked around and realized there were no books on treatments. We also started talking to people in the industry and realized there wasn't a clear kind of agreement on what a treatment was. We find now that almost every studio uses our book as a kind of handbook -- when somebody says, We need to do a treatment, they hand them our book. It's very exciting that a lot of creative writing classes have also adopted it as the first book on treatments. We based it (the book) partly on a survey we did of development executives in television and film to find out what they consider to be a treatment. McIlvaine: What do you receive more of at AEI, completed scripts or treatments?

Atchity: It's a mixture of both, but we get more treatments than we do scripts, partly because we want them. You know, it's much harder to sell a script unless the script is outstanding. But somebody can write a pretty good treatment and not write a good script and their real goal is just to sell the story and get started, so that's where a treatment can be very, very useful. We can sell the treatment, and have a great scriptwriter attach to it.

McIlvaine: This is the opposite of what people have told me: Write the script and then try to sell that. You, on the other hand, seem to be saying, "No, write the treatment and then try to set that up." Am I correct?

Atchity: It's not that simple. It depends on what your goal is as a writer. If your goal is money and/or just getting a credit, then writing a treatment is a faster way to go and get you into the business -- and get you some money. And it also gives the buyer maximum flexibility. Let's say you come up with a great idea for a story but you're not a known writer yet. Rather than invest a year in writing a script, write a treatment. We sell it, they attach an A-list writer to it, and you have a movie up there that's based on your story. But if your goal is to be known as a screenwriter, then yes, that advice is the right advice -- which is to write a spec script first, and let us go out with it because studios pay more money for spec scripts than almost anything else in the business -- other than novels by famous novelists.

The two important reasons for writing a treatment are to sell and to diagnose your story. It's not always easy to write a treatment of the whole story before you've tried to write at least part of the script. Sometimes you start writing it and it flows along nicely until page twenty, when suddenly you pause. Generally that's a good time to stop and write a treatment of the whole thing because it will help you structure the rest of the screenplay.

To me, it's a complete waste of time for a screenwriter to write a screenplay for six months, then we look at it and say, This is never going to work because what's happening in Act 3 means I can't sell it to today's buyers. If the writer sent us 20 great pages of a screenplay with a treatment of the rest of it, then if we were excited by the writing and the treatment, then we could say, This is great, but you need a new Act 3 -- and the writer wouldn't mind because "it's only a treatment." He hasn't yet committed all that time to writing the screenplay, which to me is the most challenging kind of writing there is. A screenplay is highly precise, technical writing, and you've really got be very, very good by that time and know your story inside out, and so many people drill right through a screenplay and they turn it in and it's just no good at all. So what good does that do when instead you should take the time to work the story out?

In my earlier book, "A Writer's Time," I talk about how you should never sit down to write until you know what you're going to write before you sit down. And that's what a treatment lets you do. It lets you know what the story is, and you just put it down in broad beats as though you're writing a letter to a close friend and just telling her what happened to you the other day. That letter's free form is similar to that of a treatment -- anything goes, the point is to get the story across, whatever you have to do to get the story across. A good joke teller can tell a fully-elaborated ten-minute version of a joke if he's got the audience's attention, or he can tell a two-minute version if he has to. The same beats are there to make the joke work either way.

McIlvaine: Then maybe this is a misconception, but a lot of my screenwriting friends would really love to set up treatments. That's their goal. They go to websites where you can pitch for free, send in a logline or a synopsis and want somebody to pay them to write the script.

Chi-Li Wong: Yes, that's a misconception. Unless you're already an established screenwriter who has sold projects, it's rare. I'm not saying it never happens, but I would say it's extremely rare that someone would buy a treatment and ask a writer to write it without his having some kind of track record.

McIlvaine: What do you think are the most common mistakes screenwriters will make in writing a treatment?

Atchity: Somebody that should know better sent me a 34-page treatment yesterday. I said, "I'm not even going to read that -- you've got to be joking. After we've been doing this for four years! Send it back to me at 15-20 pages at the most." The most common mistake is to put everything in the treatment, try to get everything into it when the truth is, you don't need to put everything into it you -- just put enough. It's a selling tool. But also the purpose of it is to put the skeleton of the story in so that the bones show clearly, so you can see what the story structure is. You don't need to go into so much detail; it's the flavor of the story. So the mistake people make is trying to make it into a synopsis, which is something that tries to cover every detail in the story.

Wong: Probably they write them too long, put too much dialogue in, they're not concise, that kind of thing, they become a bit too verbose, they don't realize that it needs to be very short and the action and the characters need to be presented very quickly. I would guess that's the biggest mistakes when they're first starting, but I also want to say that's okay because it's like making chicken soup, you have to have that big huge pot of water and throw everything in it and then just reduce it down. So start that way and teach yourself.

McIlvaine: Can a treatment be less than 15-20 pages or is that pretty much the standard?

Atchity: We say in parts of the book that the ideal thing is to have a battery of treatments of different sizes starting with the longest one which might be at the most 20 pages, and then a shorter one that might be 5-8 pages and then an even shorter one that might be 2-3 pages, and then ideally, a one pager, and then one that's a paragraph and then finally, you get down to the logline which is the shortest treatment of all that just gives you, for example, "Under Siege" is "Die Hard on a boat."

McIlvaine: It sounds like a Chinese Menu.

Atchity: The writers should do it backwards, because it's easier for writers to write long than short. Mark Twain said, "if I had more time I would've written a shorter letter." Writers tend to write long but the discipline is to keep shortening it and sometimes you have to write the long one first to know what you have to cut out.

McIlvaine: In my own work, I feel that since writing a treatment is almost as hard as writing the script itself, so why not just write the script first and the treatment will come later?

Atchity: The second purpose of a treatment is diagnostic. If you write a treatment first it's easier to spot the flaws in the story structure. When you do it that way, you're less invested in what's in the treatment than you're with the script. I know it sounds like a lot of hard work to write the treatment as compared to the script, but the truth is, I think once you have a version of your script, then you generally end up, realistically, having to do 5 or 6 versions of the script before it's really presentable anyway -- and so you just count all of that and before you know it, the script has taken you six or nine months or a year at least to write. At least with a treatment, if you really got serious about putting your story beats, you could actually do that in a couple of days. Chi-Li is really the best one in the company at writing treatments, and helping writers write treatments. Her treatments are very, very strong.

Wong: I think that every writer has her own process so if that's what works for you or another writer, then that's the way they should do it. Some writers need to first have everything in there, and know their characters and what they're saying and how they're reacting before they can go back and figure out how to tell the story in treatment form -- although I do know a lot of writers both novelists and screenwriters who can't write a treatment. That's it. It's just something they cannot do. I suppose it's a different kind of writing. I don't know. I've done it for so long ... I started in the business immediately where I was always asked for treatments of books, so I learned to write them short and quick right off the bat.

McIlvaine: What do you think of Internet websites cropping up like mushrooms where writers can pitch an idea or a treatment? At some of these websites, they don't even require that the idea be registered (with the Writer's Guild).

Atchity: If I knew that my clients were putting up stuff on the Internet without protecting it, I'd be very upset with them. It's so easy to have things go off in different directions that way. I think it's very, very alarming for writers. And I doubt that professional writers -- those who are actually making sales -- make this mistake. They've learned better.

McIlvaine: So newer writers should be more careful, which is hard when it seems like everyone from Canada to Peoria is trying to get a leg up and it's very enticing when you see websites offering access, whether it be free or fee based.

Atchity: I've never seen any evidence of those websites really working. I mean, if a major studio like Disney or Warner Brothers were saying put your treatment up on our website and we'll look at it, and you have to sign a release, maybe I'd believe it. But I've never seen anything other than what almost appears to be a vanity press situation.

We all get e-mails every day saying put your short stories, poetry and screenplays up on our website -- but what does that invitation have to do directly with the business of buying and selling stories? It's only a few people in town who know how to sell and only a few people in town who have the money to buy, so they're the only ones you want to be dealing with as far as I'm concerned. I guess the answer depends on exactly what the situation is on the particular website. I'd be very, very cautious.

McIlvaine: I see this all the time on my screenwriting boards. Someone will post that they have an idea that will make a lot of money and if you help me write it, we'll split the profits 50-50. I mean, you can have an idea but that doesn't mean you have a marketable idea or that it will even make a good script.

Atchity: Yes, and one of the problems is that when people come to us wanting us to find a writer to work on their idea -- a writer that will do it on spec -- it doesn't make sense. The good writers don't have to do it on spec. We refer them to Writer's Lifeline, Inc. Program, run by Vincent Atchity from New York -- where we have writer clients who are very promising and are working on their own projects and in order to earn money we put them together with people who need somebody to write for them. But they have to pay for that. Our writers could be doing something of their own -- they need to be paid one way or the other.

I've a rule of thumb about collaboration: You should collaborate only with someone who's better than you, never someone who's worse than you or who's at the same level as you -- because you can't profit from that. It's called "value added." Nobody's adding value to the situation if you get somebody who's at your same level. When somebody's better than you, then you have to ask yourself, why would they do it? So the minute somebody agrees to collaborate with you, it's suspicious if you're in the position of you're not broken in yet. Why would they do it without getting paid unless they're not as good as you and certainly no better than you?

McIlvaine: Is it easier to sell a treatment to television or to a studio or production company or does it take a different type of treatment?

Atchity: In general, TV uses treatments as a way of buying much more often than the feature world does. Many, many shows and movies start from a treatment. In effect, the way a series starts -- we went into pre-production today on client John Scott Shepherd's series "Sherman's March," that started with him writing a bible which was based on what he read in our book (Chapter 4: Treatments for Television Series), which he'd never done before. First, he actually began with the short treatment, then a bible.

Television is used to operating that way because that way the experienced execs can guide it in more successful directions. Let's say they don't like the mix of the characters, they have to have a diversified group of characters, and they can tell you that easily in a treatment before you've invested yourself in creating a character in a script.

Feature films tend to buy treatments when they're extremely high concept and/or when they're from well-known writers they've already dealt with. But it's very hard for an unknown writer to sell a treatment to feature films; they like to deal with people they know. An exception is -- and Hollywood is filled with "exceptions" to every rule -- if you've got a truly great story and we can then take your treatment and then attach a writer to it who's already a known entity. We get calls every day from attorneys and from other managers and agents who say they have clients looking for stories, Columbia owes them a deal, Disney owes them a deal, do you have any stories that we can attach one of our writers to?

McIlvaine: But you'd think their writers would have their own ideas.

Atchity: Just because you're a well-known writer in demand doesn't mean you always have ideas. A lot of writers are good in terms of writing structure and dialogue, but they don't always have great ideas. About a third of the scripts we see are very well written and completely unsaleable because of the concept.

McIlvaine: I'm an unofficial, unpaid reader for an entertainment company and it's given me a good sense of what's selling in the industry right now and I've to admit, the one thing that most surprised me were the quality of the scripts. Most of them are dreadful.

Wong: We find the same thing. I don't know what that means about the industry or what it even means about writers today. One of the things I find interesting is that I don't think people read much anymore. People trying to write a script have not bothered reading professional scripts. I also don't think people have literary backgrounds or foundations as they had in the past and I think it really shows.

One of the things I think is brilliant about Ken in development and that I feel so fortunate in being his partner on is his literary background and his foundation in Myth. That's one of the reasons why the things we develop really end up having so much flesh on the bone because Ken has all that background and then when you meet people who don't know any of that stuff, who don't know the basics, or haven't read basic literature, you're confused how they can write at all. But it's the same thing in the publishing world. Nobody reads and it's very tough to sell literary projects to publishers for the same reasons. We have the same problem there and in this industry (movies): People don't read and that's why the treatment is so valuable because there's so little time to get someone's attention. And that's why I think treatments are valuable and people shouldn't look at them as something that's going to deter the sale of their script. I think if you can blow somebody away in three great pages, he's going to look at that script -- and he's going to take that script. The business has changed today because we all move almost faster than the eye can see.

McIlvaine: Between cable, television, movies....

Wong: Yes and that's why I think the treatment is so valuable and why it's valuable to learn that process and get very good at it.

McIlvaine: Given the current state of the industry, is it easier to break into television and still a little bit harder to break into features without an agent?

Wong: It's difficult to break into either without an agent. Period. It's very difficult to get read by agents. Young writers, new writers -- I think they're going to have difficulty no matter what. They just have to be tenacious and figure a way how to get to people. They should research and find out who's taking on new writers. They always want to go to the big guys and sometimes you're better off going to somebody smaller or to production companies or to management companies and not try to get that William Morris or CAA agent.

McIlvaine: Do you think newer writers tend to have unrealistic expectations? They shoot for the top agencies rather than a mid-size or a boutique agency.

Wong: I don't know if it's unrealistic because I always say you should set your sights high and then work your way down if you have to. So I would say sure, go to the big agencies first, why not? But I think where they become unrealistic is maybe what you said before, in where they want to be paid to write a script.

I went to a pitch festival that was sponsored by Fade In: Magazine and they had some very wonderful agencies and production companies that show up for this, it's a great pitch festival, and I actually had someone argue with me about the fact that he pitched something to me and I said to him, is this written, I don't know what made me ask the question. Something must have told me, and he said to me, oh no, I expect to be paid to write this. I was trying to explain to him, oh no, you're going to have to write it first and I'd love to see it because it's a great idea, and this guy was really annoyed with me, I mean, very angry with me, telling me off. Jeez. Get a life! Find out how people actually break in!

McIlvaine: Because you weren't telling him what he wanted to hear.

Wong: Yes. And he was like I should be paid, I'm a writer, and I was saying, but it doesn't work this way, that's the unfortunate part in one way, you have to be entrepreneurial or you have to another job, a day job, as a writer. It's just the way it is. I look at someone like John Scott Shepherd who was under our wing for over two years and wrote 30 versions of one script before the doors finally opened up to him. He had to move his family back to Kansas City, he'd lost his original agent, ended up with us, and the guy kept writing from Kansas City and sending stuff into us.

He does everything in treatment form first and we work out the story with him in treatment form because we don't want him to start on something we don't think we can sell -- and we don't want him to take a wrong direction so we try to do it in treatment form in a rough way, it doesn't have to be polished or anything, just so that we can see the framework of the story and where the characters are going to go. Then he does the first draft and then we get into more specific development notes.

McIlvaine: What is AEI looking for right now? Any particular genres?

Wong: We sometimes look for particular genres -- and I guess there are genres and trends that happen but they change so quickly that as soon as I put it on the site, sometimes, I almost have to take it off the next day. But I do know that people at this moment are looking for paranormal stories like "The Sixth Sense" rather than horror or gross. Somebody asked me today that they want true stories with happy endings or do you have a true crime with a happy ending and I've to say, oh, let me think a minute. Some people are sometimes very specific like when Disney was looking for a gladiator film they actually asked us for a gladiator film. And now they have one and now it has to come off the site because there was only one to be purchased.

McIlvaine: How many gladiator scripts could there be floating around? Maybe they'll be a renaissance of "Jason & the Argonauts" movies.

Wong: Everything always goes full circle so as soon something is successful, everybody wants one of those.

McIlvaine: But the problem is, with screenwriters, it takes the average screenwriter a couple of months to write something, they're working on something that was hot six months ago, and by the time they turn in the draft, it's not so hot.

Wong: Exactly. That has happened. We've had people where we've developed something and we got it at the right time and say okay, we know we can sell this but they couldn't finish it in time and we lost the window. We've had that happen to us a couple of times and it's unfortunate. But you can't make a writer hurry up and come out with a good product. They have to do it in their own time, and sometimes if we miss the window, we miss it. So we just wait. And there are certain things that never change. Always romantic comedies, they always want romantic comedies, even though they're hard to sell, but if you can find a unique concept to it, find a unique thing about a romantic comedy and write it, you'll always sell one. That's for sure. Or a unique angle into an old story. Anything that was a winner, if you can find a new hook, like when they did "Dangerous Liaisons" -- they started to redo and adapt all of these, "10 Things I Hate About You," "The Taming of the Shrew," for instance, that was very smart so the industry picked up on it and we ended up with like three or four of them over a spread of time, over I think a two year period, where they were being shown and I thought that was really smart, whoever first thought of it. So the idea is to make anything old new again and you can sell it.

McIlvaine: Concerning a newbie breaking in, would it be easier to slant their writing towards television rather than features? Or would you be fearful of them getting pegged in one particular genre? Or as in John Scott Shepherd's case, can you be both?

Atchity: It all depends on who your manager is, frankly. We wanted to develop John in every area, so he's a novelist and now television as well as feature, and he's also going to be doing a play that we can stage in New York in a couple of years. And that all depends on the vision of your coaches. Agents tend to want to pigeonhole writers because the agencies themselves are organized as pigeonholes. But it's up to the writer to avoid that. Some writers are very happy working in only one medium and other writers want to write in many different media so there isn't a simple answer -- it's really a matter of your individual character and vision about yourself and your career.

McIlvaine: For someone starting out, it's hard to get a manager or an agent to look at their work.

Atchity: It's very true, though because managers are much more entrepreneurial they tend to be more open. I look at my writers as creating assets -- for themselves and for us. Obviously, if you're creating diversified assets, you have a bigger chance to succeed. It's like the oil business. If you don't drill new holes, you don't advance. If you drill fourteen holes, you have a much better chance of striking oil than if you just drill one or two. I kind of regard that literary properties are that way both generally and particularly. The more an individual writer can write in different media, the better chance she's going to have financial freedom -- and freedom to me is the key to creativity.

McIlvaine: Do you think it's easier to get a manager than an agent?

Wong: I think the processes are the same. Maybe managers are a little bit more accessible. You know, it's hard to say. My first gut feeling is no, it's probably not all that easier.

McIlvaine: Do you think writing can be taught or is it an innate talent? For example, anyone could pick up your book, maybe somebody who doesn't have any writing talent, but maybe has an idea -- it's possible that they could write a decent treatment.

Atchity: I think storytellers are born, not made. Talent is something you're almost born to, that you nurture from an early age. But I think the difference is craft and skills. That's what Vincent and his team of development editors teach writers who want to break in, in our Writer's Lifeline program. Every writer who's really great has talent. The treatment book really just talks about the craft and skill and if you have talent, you still need them.

We get so many scripts that show promise, but no one has the time to develop them anymore -- which is why we started the Writer's Lifeline program as an extension of our former careers as teachers -- so we could actually develop promising talent. Now, after our first three years in the management business, everyone refers writers to us -- studios, publishers, agencies and production companies -- because they don't have the time to develop a writer that has plenty of potential but just isn't there yet.

The Writer's Lifeline Program is focused on teaching the craft and the skill and reminding people of the main important points about storytelling. But you have to be born a storyteller. It's like a joke. Some people can tell them, some people can't -- and if you can tell a joke, that's a different thing from somebody who tells a joke and nobody laughs because his timing's so bad.

McIlvaine: In my own writing, I've discovered that it's also useful to write the treatment first rather than the script to find out if your idea isn't already out there. You've written a fine treatment and then somebody tells you that your great idea is already being developed by Dreamworks. I've had that happen to me.

Atchity: And you saved all that time! Imagine how you'd feel if you'd spend six months on it dying to get it right, and you turn it -- and somebody tells you within ten minutes, I'm sorry, we can't read it, there are already three movies like this in development. You've wasted all that time. So you see the marketing value of a treatment is to let you know what the market is much sooner, which is why we urge people who we think are talented to send us short e-mails just saying, Here are some things I'm thinking of writing, which one do you think? -- and we can instantly pick out the ones that are more commercial. Don't waste your time on ideas 4, 5, and 6, idea 2 and 3 are great, it's something that could be commercial. Then you're motivated to write a longer treatment and then we can work out the story details with you.

McIlvaine: One aspect a lot of screenwriters tend to forget is that when we write our treatment or script, we don't think of the marketing end of it or the selling part of it.

Wong: I've a writer who's become very good at writing treatments, though when we first started, it drove him crazy because I'd tell him I want a three page treatment, I want a one pager, I want a teaser -- I want a little bit of everything because all my buyers are different. Some prefer just a teaser, a logline, and just a paragraph, and they may say, yup, I like that, and they'll take it into their meetings, it kind of depends on how they work. And so they have these meetings, let's say, every Monday, and they'll do a teaser or a pitch, a one page pitch of scripts that they're going to consider for a read or a purchase. And that's where we use the treatment a lot, for those executives who aren't actually going to bring in the script for everybody to read but for everybody to see what it contains and why they like it, what is this story that you think we should be reading and we should be buying.

McIlvaine: Now let's say a writer pitches you an idea or a treatment that you like, and perhaps you don't like the treatment they hand in, then what would you do? You like the concept but you don't like the writer's take on it.

Wong: I'd develop it with them just like I do everything else. As a matter of fact, I just did that with a young woman. Brandy (singer/actress) was looking for a project for herself. She (the writer) had a script and I asked her to change it to accommodate a twenty-year-old rather than this older ballerina (the character). I wanted to make her (the character) younger and in college. So she's (the writer) doing it in treatment form, and now we've gone through the treatment and now I tell her I just think you need more or this or less of that or have her do this or have her do that. Someone like her, because she already has a script that exists, even though it's not the same script, and she's a new writer, I might be able to sell her project based on the treatment because she has a script to back it up, she has spec scripts.

So it's a project she's already working on so they might say, okay, I do like the way the treatment reads, I do like the way you write, now write the new script for Brandy, that could happen. It could happen for her and that's why I told her (the writer), do you want to put the time in and do it because they may very well ask you to write the script since a script already exists but not the one they want. But they can see that you can change it for them and if they like the way the original script that you wrote reads, they may say go ahead and now re-adapt it for Brandy. So we try to find different ways to get people read and that's one of the ways I thought of for her, the treatment.

McIlvaine: Now what if you have a writer who's writing you like, but just hasn't come up with a concept that you think can sell or is marketable?

Wong: Sometimes we might give them some ideas of things that are running through our heads or something that we read that we think might be more commercial, that might be to their taste. We do that sometimes. We have matched up novelists and screenwriters, we've done that or people who have good concepts but aren't great writers, we've done that. I mean, we're sort of an odd company in that way, that we match a lot of writers up with other different kinds of writers that if they have a certain weakness, maybe we can match them up and still get the project sold for them. So everybody's happy and everybody's sort of gets involved. But it's a lot of work because you really have to know your writers and who's gonna do what and trying to figure out all the credits and everything, it gets a little crazy.

McIlvaine: But you would advise a writer breaking in to write the script first rather then try to set-up the treatment.

Wong: You know, I would never say do this or do that because anything can happen. If you can get to someone and get them to read a treatment, and it blows them away, and you have a spec script, I mean, you have to have some kind of script written, let's put it that way, and you have a great spec script and a treatment, I say go for it, why not. Try it. The whole idea is that they want to know if you can writ so if you have a really good treatment and a really good spec script, you could get hired to write the script based on that treatment. Why not? Stranger things have happened in this town. But I would say to them it's probably better if you write the script. It's not impossible.

McIlvaine: It's not impossible, but not probable.

Wong: Nothing's impossible, I've learned that. I tell people all the time, don't ever, even if it's something I don't like or I turn it down, I tell them, go somewhere else, never stop, you have to get to that yes, because my taste is one thing, I see things a certain way.

Same thing with writing treatments, I've a certain style that I like and maybe somebody else likes another style. It's like I've heard people say, there shouldn't be any dialogue in treatments. Well, I guess that's a rule, that you usually don't have dialogue in treatments. But sometimes, because dialogue is action, you can give information so fast and so quickly and so much information in a piece of dialogue, that sometimes it fits in a treatment.

McIlvaine: I think one concern that screenwriters have in treatments is that they don't want to give too much information, they want the producer or the manager or the agent to read the entire script, so they try to leave it a little bit tantalizing at the end to make them want to read more.

Wong: The idea of the treatment is to get the story across so I think they're doing themselves a disservice if they don't prove that they can tell the story and that it's fully there. A teaser is one thing. I think they have to figure that out. A teaser is one thing you would put in a query. So when someone sends me a query and it just has a paragraph or two about a script, that to me is a teaser, it's not a synopsis, and it's not a treatment. So I might call back and say you've intrigued me, send me the synopsis and the script, and I always get that they don't want me to read the synopsis because they're afraid I'm not going to read the script.

First of all, that's not the case here. The reason we do it here is to save time. One, so we don't have any projects that's similar to something else we have, which is also why we require a release, everyone thinks that they're idea is the only idea out there, and ideas are always in the air. So that's part of it, they don't want you to get a synopsis or a treatment because they're afraid ... but you can register treatments and synopsis', and they should do it.

Anytime someone sends me something, the first thing I ask them, is it registered? Don't send it to me until it's registered and we used to read things without releases, but now we also take our lawyers advice and we better do releases because we're selling so much product, just as a safety net. Some people do think their idea is the only idea on something out there. For us, it's to save time, for that reason, and it's also because I want to know that the whole story is there. Also, if I read it, I usually know in the first act whether I like this writer as a writer, so if I read the first Act and I love it, and I already know what the rest of the story is about, I can save time by calling that person up and saying, look, I read the first Act, I think you're a really good writer, good dialogue, I mean everything is there for me, I love the treatment or the synopsis because it tells me the whole story, that I can see you've got the whole thing there, come in and talk to me about developing this. I can get through more scripts that way.

McIlvaine: Because based on your years of experience, you've developed your sense so you can do that.

Wong: I guess that's true. I can tell pretty quickly if I like something.

McIlvaine: AEI seems to be very accessible to new writers.

Wong: Definitely. We love new writers, that's really what were known for. We're known as developers. If something isn't even quite there, or it's 99% there but the buyers want to change something, they probably will take the chance on our property because they know we're going to guide that writer through the development process they require -- unlike an agency that sells a product just the way it is and generally doesn't help out the buyer afterwards. That's because we're producers, not just managers; Ken and I were producing before we went into the management business. Management just gave us a wider reach. We will go in and say, okay, what is it you want and we can redevelop it and sell it again to the same company just by them knowing that we're going to do that for them. Because there's so little development money out there anymore, few do it anymore, so we're unique that way, and we really like new writers for that reason because they tend to have that excitement and that enthusiasm and that willingness to develop and work on things, a lot of writers who have success too soon too fast are unwilling to go through that process anymore. They think everything they write, every word, is golden and they want it sold, or they want it sold and then "Pay me to rewrite it." If you're in that place in your head, we don't want you as a client. If you're willing to do anything you need to do to succeed, no matter how long it takes, give us a call when you've got a great treatment ready!

TIP FOR THE DAY: The difficulty you are experiencing is normal - and necessary. Writing is the highest expression of human creative potential. So how could it be easy? If it were easy, everybody would be doing it (instead of just talking about doing it).



For someone that is new to the business of writing screenplays, the term "treatment" will most definitely be new to them as well. Basically, if a writer has an idea for a story but for one reason or another does not want to write an entire script, they'll need to know about treatments.

Click on book to buy Writing Treatments that Sell on Amazon.

I welcome your comments, questions, and discussion.

Monday, August 25, 2008

So you want to write a screenplay?

The following is an excellent piece by Barry Pearson "16 Ways You Can Create a Better Hero and a Better Screenplay"

Shakespeare created many of the most memorable heroes in the English language. We acknowledge him as an artistic genius. But the Bard was also the most financially successful writer of his time. Even in modern times, tidy fortunes are made from retreading his work.

One of the keys to his extraordinary success is to be found in this trenchant and insightful quote form Dr. Samuel Johnson, who published a definitive edition of his plays in 1765.

The stage but echoes back the public voice
The drama's laws, the drama's patrons give.
For we that live to please must please to live

That one is worth pinning on your wall. It's as true for you as it was 400 years ago when Shakespeare was penning his audience-pleasing masterpieces. Writing stories that will satisfy the desires of your audience can lead directly to your success.

Moviegoers, like the Globe theatergoers in 1600, have definite and strong desires about what they want in a hero. and they vote with their feet and their wallets.

You will write better heroes and better screenplays if you use the audience's desires as your writing "laws." What are those desires? And how can you tap into them? I'm going to suggest sixteen types of audience desires, both positive and negative, that may be helpful. I'll try to illustrate with examples of what audiences want (or do not want) and what you can do about it.

1. The audience wants the Hero to be forced to struggle, change, and become a better, happier, and more successful person.

Professional screenwriters recognize this want and take ingenious steps to exploit it. Have you ever noticed that heroes at the beginning of a movie are stuck in a rut? They're usually in a state of paralysis (literally or figuratively). They're often imprisoned in some way. In Gladiator, for example, Maximus (Russell Crowe) starts out trapped in a miasma of political intrigue, and progresses to a literal state of imprisonment and despair.

By portraying this admirable hero so far from "happy and successful," the writers intensified the audience's desire to see him struggle toward justice and freedom.

Try to imagine how your Hero, at the beginning of your movie, could be in a state of paralysis, unable to act.

Perhaps she might be like Angela Bennett (Sandra Bullock) in The Net. Angela, in retreat from a hurtful love affair shrinks from human contact. She has woven a protective cocoon around herself and forged the bars of her own prison.

Then again, your Hero might be "imprisoned" like William Broyles Jr.'s hero Chuck Nolan (Tom Hanks) in Castaway. Chuck is so obsessed by the deadline culture of his job that he has become a barely human automaton.

2. The audience wants the Hero to exhibit a sense of humor.

This is a simple but important desire to satisfy. You don't need a gag writer. Audiences respond positively to self-deprecating or ironic humor. When Angela Bennett is accused of not being a risk-taker, she counters that she does like risks: she doesn't always floss, and she tears the labels off her mattresses. Try to make your Hero exhibit a sense of humor as soon as possible.

3. The audience wants the Hero to have bigger-than-life dreams and desires.

Maximus dreams of winning his freedom as a gladiator, and of bringing down the regime of the murderous usurper, Commodus, and freeing Rome. What dreams and desires (perhaps secret) can your Hero develop to satisfy this audience desire?

4. Moviegoers want the Hero to believe in (and act according to) the basic set of values that they believe in.

In Titanic Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) believes that a poor sincere artist should be true to his inner calling. He believes in the value of life. He believes that true love should triumph over class barriers and financial considerations. He believes in heroism to save a human life. These are all values that North American movigoers believe in.


Dirty Harry believes that a cop should not follow regulations if it's a case of protecting the honest citizenry from the scum that infest the streets.

What are your Hero's values? Are those values shared by the majority of the audience? Take your best shot.

5. The audience wants the Hero to struggle to overcome increasingly more difficult obstacles.

In Analyze This, written by Kenneth Lonergan (and others), Dr. Sobel (Billy Crystal) tries to get out of treating a depressed mob boss (Robert De Niro). At first, there are meetings in offices, and chases around a hotel, but the obstacles escalate, until Sobel finds himself pinned down by a hail of lead in a waterfront shoot-out.


Is your Hero's struggle escalating to the utmost level consistent with the premise?

6. The audience wants the Hero to take on an opponent who is more powerful and successful than the hero.

Erin Brockovich takes on the chemical company, Jeffrey Wigand takes on the tobacco cartel (The Insider), Angela Bennett takes on the wealthy megalomaniac computer baron, Chuck Noland takes on the ocean, and Luke Skywalker takes on the galactic forces of evil.

Some movies -- romantic comedies mostly -- don't have an antagonist or opponent in the typical sense. The opponent is the person whose love the hero needs to win, As Good As It Gets, When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, Bridges of Madison County -- in movies like these, the gulf between the hero and the loved one seems to be more powerful than the hero.

What about the opponent for your Hero? Is he or she as daunting as you can imagine?

7. Moviegoers want the Hero to play for high stakes, some outcome, or ideal, or benefit that they believe is supremely important.

What's at stake in your Hero's struggle? Will your audience believe in its importance? Is it life or death? Is it the integrity of the community? Is it winning the only woman (or man) for the hero, as in a love story?

8. Moviegoers want the Hero to be forced to undertake frightening and difficult tasks which they would not willingly undertake themselves.

This is the "don't go down in the basement!" syndrome. Nobody in their right mind would go down in the basement after a serial killer the way Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) does in Silence of the Lambs. But it's exactly what the audience wants her to do -- because she's the hero.

9. The audience wants to believe that the Hero can win. They don't want to be sure that the Hero will win.

John Book (Harrison Ford), the hero of Witness faces three lethal, armed killers who invade the Lapp farm. Book, although a trained police officer, has no weapons. The audience is on tenterhooks through the whole final sequence. They believe he can overcome the villains, but they have no idea how he will do it.

10. The audience wants the Hero to face his or her worst fears.

In the final sequence of The Terminator, James Cameron's breakthrough movie, the hero, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) faces the robotic relentless killing machine all alone. Her worst nightmare has become a reality. What's your Hero's deepest fear? Use it.

11. The audience wants the Hero to escape death (literal or figurative) by means of strength of character, persistence, cleverness and courage, not raw strength.

The quintessential example of a writer manipulating this audience desire occurs in William Goldman's Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. The heroes find themselves trapped at the edge of a cliff, with the posse closing in. Instead of surrendering, they jump off the cliff into the river below.

How many of these types of moments can you set up for your hero?

12. The audience wants the Hero to win the prize at the end of the movie.

At the end of Working Girl, Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) wins her dream job and finds herself in the corner office. What's the prize for your Hero?

13. The audience does not want the Hero to be lucky, unless the luck is caused by the hero's cunning or provident preparation.

In the final battle of Star Wars, it could be argued that Luke Skywalker "gets lucky" when he destroys the Death Star. In fact audiences readily accepted his good luck, because they had shared his hours of preparation with Obi Wan Kenobi.

14. The audience does not want the Hero to be able to quit, to abandon the task he or she has undertaken.

You need to create good reasons why your Hero cannot quit. In Robert Towne's superb detective story Chinatown, Jake (Jack Nicholson) cannot quit because he has a score to settle with the villain, and because he's fallen in love with Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), whose husband was murdered.

15. The audience does not want to have its expectations fulfilled.

It wants to be surprised. So don't let your Hero do what the audience expects him or her to do. Write against the expectations of the audience, or have the expectations fulfilled but in a totally unexpected way.

16. The audience doesn't want the Hero to be motivated by base selfish desires.

Audiences dislike base selfish desires like greed. They like admirable selfish desires like striving for achievement (to become a great opera star, or head of the company, or discoverer of Insulin).

They dislike base selfish desires like pure revenge. They like admirable selfish desires like wanting to redress an injustice one has suffered.

They love unselfish desires like wanting to redress an injustice others have suffered, so as to make the world a better place to live.

Caution: This does not mean that you should never create heroes with base selfish motives.

You can often create great tension and catharsis in an audience through heroes with base selfish motives. Four good examples from different eras: Macbeth, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Goodfellas and My Best Friend's Wedding.

Try to imagine all the ways in which you can satisfy the audience's desires and avoid (or manipulate) the audience's dislikes at every moment of your movie.

Try to put in as as many audience-satisfying moments as possible. Put them in on top of each other if you can.

As you write, plan how you can satisfy your audience in some way on every page. Of course all those other elements -- plot, theme, dialogue, cast of characters and structure -- are important, but the most important task for you is to give the audience what they came to the theater for -- satisfaction.

Tip for the day: Keep moving forward despite your moods.


For someone that is new to the business of writing screenplays, the term "treatment" will most definitely be new to them as well. Basically, if a writer has an idea for a story but for one reason or another does not want to write an entire script, they'll need to know about treatments.

Click on book to buy Writing Treatments that Sell on Amazon.

I welcome your comments, questions, and discussion.