"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."


—Muriel Rukeyser

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Build your brain. Read a book.



I've read some truly excellent books lately. The kind where you grow attached to the characters, miss them when they're gone. The kind where the haunting, lilting quality of the prose lifts you up, makes you think, expands your consciousness, has you emit little gasps of astonishment.

The kind you remember.

I am a voracious reader. I go through probably two to three books a week. Reading is my escape, my haven, my inspiration, my fascination.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was to come across research from the Yale School of Public Health demonstrating that reading books likely extends your lifespan by two years or more.

("Great!" I thought, "I'll have two more years to read.")

The Yale researchers were reviewing 12 years of data from the University of Michigan's Health and Retirement Study (HRS). The HRS is a longitudinal panel study that administers surveys to around 20,000 Americans over the age of 50 every two years. It is supported by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration, and is one of the largest longitudinal studies of its kind.

What the Yale researchers discovered was that in analyzing the health statuses and reading habits of over 3,600 men and women over the age of 50 in the HRS, a distinct pattern came to light.

It turned out that people who read books for at least 30 minutes a day were living, on average, two years longer than those who didn't read anything. Plus (and this part is important), the book readers were 23 percent less likely to die than people who were only reading newspapers or magazines.

In other words, if you want to live longer and have a more resilient brain, read books. Not just newspapers, magazines, tweets, Facebook updates, Instagram posts, or online articles. It doesn't matter whether the books are fiction or nonfiction; it just matters that they're books.

The Yale team had the same question you're probably asking right now: What is it about reading books specifically that boosts brain power and overall health, when things like newspapers and magazines don't?

The researchers had a few theories. First, books encourage what they deemed "deep reading." Rather than just skimming over a headline and the bite-sized information in an article or social-media post, reading a book forces you to make connections between chapters--and to the outside world.

When you make those connections, you forge new neural pathways between regions in both hemispheres of your brain, as well as in all four lobes. (It has been repeatedly demonstrated that establishing new neural networks is one of the best ways to stave off dementia and other cognitive decay.)

This concept was backed up by research out of Stanford that looked at the fMRI images of study participants tasked with reading a novel by Jane Austen. The researchers had participants first leisurely skim a passage (like you might do when deciding whether to purchase it at a bookstore), and then perform what they called "close reading"--reading as if you were studying it for an exam.

According to Natalie Phillips, the literary scholar leading the project, brain scans showed significant increases in blood flow during close reading. This, she suggests, shows that "paying attention to literary texts requires the coordination of multiple complex cognitive functions."

This makes sense to me on an intuitive as well as intellectual level. Because I feel different after reading disparate Instagram posts versus spending 30+ minutes reading a book. It's much like the difference between eating junk food and having a real meal; the shorter posts are fun and pleasurable to read, but I feel empty after scrolling. When I read my book, on the other hand, I feel filled up. Nourished.

If you're like most people, you want to live a long, healthy, and meaningful life. You want to contribute to the world. You want to be a leader.

But if you're constantly running around, scrolling through feeds, and never actually sitting down to relax and focus on something like reading a book for half an hour--half an hour!--you're doing your body and brain a disservice.

Taking care of yourself means more than just making sure you don't have three venti coffees in one day.

Build your brain. Read a book.

For those interested, here are the three best books I've read lately. They've each touched me in a different way, but they've all had a lasting impact...and likely added years onto my life:

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, by Dominic Smith (fiction): Some of the best writing I've seen in years. Stunning. Themes of redemption, aging, class, theft of all kinds, and love.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson (nonfiction): The true and riveting story of the 1893 Chicago World Fair, told alongside the story of a serial killer operating in the city at the same time. If you're from the U.S., you'll be stunned that didn't know more about this major part of American history.

The Land of Love and Drowning, by Tiphanie Yanique (fiction): You have to pay close attention to this one--its themes are many and its eerie, lovely prose is as melodic as it is disturbing. Highly recommended.
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"Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them." --Lemony Snicket


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Tome Tender Reviews A Potter's Tale by Dave Davis



A fascinating and intriguing tale of life, love, betrayal and murder, Dave Davis’s A POTTER’S TALE challenges readers with mysteries from the past, the brilliance of a present day life snuffed out too soon and long held secrets that could spell the destruction of the universe.

When a former physician now reporter teams up with his tenacious partner, they had no idea that the story of the murdered teen would lead them across continents, civilizations, religions and scientific research facilities. Who is trying to cover up hidden secrets of the universe? To what end?

Dave Davis has added enough twists and left enough imaginative breadcrumbs along the way that science fiction buffs, history buffs and lovers of all things mysterious and suspenseful will each find a compelling reason to turn page after page! Taut writing, believable characters and some “didn’t see that coming,” moments make this one of those tales that boggles the mind, because, what if?...


SYNOPSIS:

Love. Betrayal. Murder. Then the universe started to collapse. They say it all started in 1935 when Roz Lhulier and his team unearthed the massive tomb of Pakal, the greatest Mayan king, and with it, an ancient text, called a codex. They're wrong.

The codex is deciphered by Alan Turing, the genius who broke the German's Enigma Code during WWII, but its message is jealously guarded by the Astronomers, a lethal offspring of the Catholic Church. Astronomers have compromised or killed anyone with knowledge of the secret--presidents and prime ministers, just for instance.

The codex pulls others into its deadly orbit: Noah, a former physician, and his partner Kate, reporters for the Washington Post. They investigate the murder of DiShannia, a precocious teen, who's achieved national recognition for her research on the demise of Mayan civilization. They're led from Washington DC, to the British Museum, to the Center for Nuclear Research in Geneva, to Melbourne, Australia.

Each step enlightens them, offers clues, frightens them. And us.

The two strands of the novel--the codex and its rich human stories--are joined by another narrative, creating a kind of weird DNA. This third strand involves the Potter, who crafts the story. And the genes that craft us all.

Does the universe collapse? The Potter knows the answer. Noah, Kate discover it. We learn it too--on the last page.

Are Screenwriters Really No Longer Looking for Agents? By Nancy Nigrosh

Misdirection in how to get or ‘manage’ an agent, has always been abundant



I wrote what I believe to be a still useful Indiewire article, If You Want Screenwriting Career Tips, Ask A Literary Agent, in 2015. For those of you who believe writers need an agent in order to have a writing career, my advice, then as now, is the same: be open to learning about and appreciating agents as uniquely trained professionals. They’ve been taught to carry on basically the same work ethic and industry practices handed down to them since the Golden Age of Hollywood. No joke. 

Every class I teach, I ask: “What does an agent do?” and then wait. There’s silence until someone finally volunteers. Typically, it goes like this:

 “They make calls…” 

 “They make deals.” 

 "They’re gatekeepers.” 

Many people seem to think the relationship between agents and writers as being some form of doctor/patient relationship — a dreaded necessity due to illness or injury that requires clinical intervention, but much harder to appreciate. It seems to be a lot more logical to trust a physician’s skills than your average literary agent’s. Not so with managers, who generally receive a globally hearty thumbs-up. “They really care about you,” is the comfort meme, while the conventional sentiment “agents only care about the deal” won’t go away.

All the managers I know personally or professionally care just as much as the agent and the client do about the deal. But, managers also care about the essential role agents play. Yet, unless that manager was once an agent, or trained to become an agent, even the manager might consider the literary agent’s playbook to be as mysterious as a magician’s hat. One thing everybody does know for certain is that lit agents zero in on high-profile media buyers in order to broker intellectual properties. While they’re sharpshooting in the stratosphere of the insider media-marketplace, they can also secure gainful writing employment for their clients. But, no one is sure exactly how they do that. I can assure you it would take a few hundred pages to explain the how and why of what lit agents do. 

 Some aspects are deceptively simple: agents are clinicians to clients, and magicians to buyers, and vice versa. Nevertheless, their skillsets, though obviously invaluable, can also generate doubt. Doubt creates instability within the intimate alliance between a writer and an agent, a situation that is routinely disrupted by the demand that literary agents be experts in negotiating changing realities in an evolving marketplace, while also staying in touch with a writer’s usually static expectations. 

Yet, even when they are far apart about one issue or another, agents and writers have more in common than you might think. The majority of literary agents, like their clients, work alone in organizing meaningful information from multiple sources in a committed effort to convert that intelligence into calculated opportunities. From raw to refined data on any given day, agents customize complex immediate and long-range strategies to further their client’s overall career. These are skills that are not fungible to a writer’s immediate and long-range overview of their tangible creative work, so it’s harder for a writer to evaluate or measure what an agent is doing for them. The efforts made in representing a client appear to be awfully subjective, making the agent’s job hard to appreciate. When it comes to paying up the ten percent generated by mutual success, nearly every writer becomes a stingy tipper. Add to that the often universally expressed suspicions both inside and outside the industry about what agents do, and it seems everyone is quick to denigrate them as a whole population. 

Whether they’re understood or appreciated, lionized or devalued, literary agents, often in close tandem with managers and entertainment attorneys, professionally orchestrate more than 99% of all screenwriting careers. 

Yet the web contains no end of screenwriting career recipes snapped from the lens of one person’s single literary or literary-related career in declarative “listicles” of career must-haves and must-do’s. Doesn’t insight from the lens of only one career seem a little… narrow-minded? Those who know most about the professional screenwriting trade are literary agents, whose seasoned expertise encompasses thousands of careers. 

I was often told I didn’t “seem like an agent,” as though this were a compliment. I was proud of the job, handed down to me by my mentors, Phil Gersh and Scott Harris, who created his own fiercely independent agency that consistently books high scores in the daily talent hunger games. Scott was trained at what was once the William Morris Agency by TV maven, Jerry Katzman. Also, Scott’s dad had been among the well-armed ranks of Lew Wasserman’s MCA, once upon a time the largest talent agency in the world. Wasserman invented the 16-hour workday and broke the long-term studio contract system. Jack Valenti likened Wasserman to a God, rather than a mere Hollywood “Godfather.” 

 Phil represented a dazzling array of talent — among them, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Wise, and Don Siegel. He didn’t dwell on his own past, but preferred to toss me Golden Age nuggets about the career-steering feats of legendary agents Charles Feldman and Ray Stark. Feldman invented packaging and profit participation in 1942. His clients included Cary Grant and John Wayne, while Stark started out as a literary agent representing Raymond Chandler, then branched out into talent and shepherded the careers of Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, Kirk Douglas, Richard Burton and Ronald Reagan. Phil also enjoyed reminiscing about lesser-known participants, like the raspy, chain-smoking studio business affairs attorney, who invented rolling “breakeven” — which may have been inspired by his tobacco habit, since it was as inexhaustible as a studio’s overhead expenses. 

Conversations with Phil made it clear to me that agents had the best access to information by virtue of their incentivized maneuverability, especially when it came to the guarded inner-workings of the entertainment machine. He taught me about very specific insider-business behaviors, gauging predictability and unpredictability as part of the art (and science) of the deal. I learned that in Hollywood, a negotiation could be as grubby as a wrestling match over the cash drawer, yet at the same time, as cerebral as chess. 

He explained many other important concepts, while warning me about routinely camouflaged snares. He was also quick to give tough love. While I was still a baby agent, I made the mistake of insisting that a production start date for a script I’d sold was poured in stone, though no star was set. The director’s pay-or-play date passed, so to update the agency’s talent and below-the-line departments, I announced the film’s production start at the staff meeting, to which Phil retorted, “She’s right. They’re starting on that date… with or without actors!” 

The key difference between a missile and a rocket is that one is guided while the other isn’t. Agents strategically calibrate career trajectory for maximum impact using their unique tactical training in service of creative storytellers. If you want to know all about what it takes to have the screenwriting career you want, ask a literary agent.

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Nicole Conn's More Beautiful For Having Been Broken International Independent Film Awards!!


Best Actor - Cale Ferrin
Best Actress - Zoe Ventoura
Best Supporting Actress - Kayla Radomski
Best Choreography - Kayla Radomski
Best Narration for a Feature - Henry J Carr
Best Original Score - Nami Melamud
Best Editing - Nicole Conn & Dave Eichhorn
Best Picture - Nicole Conn & Lissa Forehan
Best Directing - Nicole Conn

Fall in Love With Time...



Film Courage: One of your many books Ken is WRITE TIME? And in the forward you say that the world can be divided into two people, productive people and non-productive people. And you say that productive people have a love affair with time. I’ve love to know what makes someone on the right side of time and what make someone where time is their enemy?

Dr. Ken Atchity, Author/Producer: Well that’s a very good question put in a very intelligent way that makes it hard to get a handle on it because time is…time doesn’t really exist. Time is a human construct, we created time. Squirrels and chipmunks don’t have much idea of time. They know that the sun rises and the sun goes down and they know that it rains but they don’t think the way that we do and they don’t keep track of their birthdays for example, only humans do that. And it’s unfortunate because you’re only as old as you think you are. And that’s the way a squirrel looks at it and nobody is arguing with the squirrel about it but humans know better.

Some people look at time as the enemy and some people look at it as a friend. There is an old Spanish saying that is “There is more time than life,” which I always thought was a wonderful way of looking at it because that is what a productive person would say “there is more time than life.” And another Spanish or Italian saying says that “Life is short, but wide.” And that’s another way of productively looking at it. Like people say “How can you do as much stuff as you do?” Well that’s because that’s what I do. I don’t do anything else. And I used to give classes on time management and do a lot of studies on it, in fact WRITE TIME is filled with time management theories. And one of the things I noticed about people was they had no idea where their time went. And they go “I don’t know where you find all the time.” And I would say “I don’t know where you lose it.”

I mean we all have the same amount of time and they go “How much time do we have by the way? How much time is in a week?” And 2 out of 10 people can ask the question right off the top of their heads because they’ve never really multiplied 25 by 7 and realized exactly how many hours there are in a week.

Everybody has the same amount of time. So what I would do in a time management class at UCLA or elsewhere is I would say let’s chart your time this week. I just want you to make a chart of what you do with your time and let’s come in and talk about it next week when we come back together. And they would come back in and that was before I asked them how many hours there were in a week I would wait for the third week to ask that question.

And some people would come in with 98-hour weeks and some people would come in with 62-hour weeks and nobody seem to agree in general how many hours there were in a week because the hours they gave me didn’t add up, they didn’t make sense. They’d say “I sleep six hours a day.” But it turned out in the third week of analysis that instead of 6 hours a day they were actually sleeping 10 hours. They just were telling themselves they were sleeping 6 hours a day.

How much time do you spend talking on the telephone? Most people thought they maybe spent 15 minutes a day, when in fact it might be an hour a day. And watching television (of course). Some people said they were only watching an hour a day when they were actually watching three hours a day.

But a productive person knows exactly how long it takes to do something. Like when I write a screenplay or a book, I can tell you how many hours it takes to do it and so I know that I can get it done in a certain amount of time. Agatha Christie apparently wrote as many as 10 books a year. She had to use four or five pen names because she just kept writing. When you think about it writing is a function of how fast you type. Because I always say (in my writing book including that one) if you’re making a rule not to sit down to write if you don’t know what you’re going to write then you’ll never waste any time and you’ll never have writer’s block. So simply don’t sit down until you know what you’re going to write. It’s just a matter of how fast can you type. So it’s better to be walking along the beach thinking about the structure of your story then it is to be wasting a lot of time sitting in front of the computer typing stuff and throwing it away and all that stuff. Just figure it all out in your head. “Well what if I forget it?” Well guess what? If you forget it that’s probably good. You are forgetting forgettable things? You won’t forget it when it starts getting really good. Because then it will do what Faulkner said, it will start haunting you and you won’t be able to forget it and then you’ll just write it down.

William Saroyan was asked once how long it took him to write the Human Comedy because somebody had told the journalist it had took him three days and he said “No, it took me all my life to write it. It just took me a few days to type it out.”

5 Lessons Hollywood Can Learn from the Surprise Hit "Hustlers"



The popularity of “Hustlers” is poised to send a message to Hollywood: It stars a pack of women of all different ages and ethnicities, deftly handles tricky subject matter, and feels like a bonafide event for audiences. So what can the industry learn from the success of Scafaria’s winner?

1. Women want to go to the movies
As Forbes reports, 68 percent of the opening night ticket-buying audience for “Hustlers” was made up of women. The breezy film is a perfect fit for girls’ night out events, and positioning it against films like “It Chapter Two” and “The Goldfinch” meant it had little competition for that honor. But women go to the movies even without such enticements, something Hollywood seems keen to forget even when numbers consistently prove otherwise. In the MPAA’s most recent THEME Report (billed as the trade associations’s “comprehensive analysis and survey of the theatrical and home entertainment market environment”), the statistics again show that women make up 51 percent of domestic moviegoers, a number in line with the population representation.

And what do women want to see on the big screen? More women. Of the top five highest-grossing films last year, the MPAA study found that only one of them included gender parity amongst its audience (“Incredibles 2,” which leaned on a female-centric storyline involving Elastigirl), while the other four were dominated by male moviegoers.

Earlier this year, a study by USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that the top-grossing movies with women as central characters took a huge jump in 2018. According to the study, women were main characters or co-leads in 40 of the top 100 grossing movies of 2018. The number marks the highest percentage of female-driven films in 12 years, an increase in eight movies from the previous year. When Hollywood backs movies about women, the audience comes out in a big way.

2. Diversity is big business
The numbers also point to an audience eager to see diversity and inclusion on the big screen. Scafaria’s film includes stars of various ethnicities, ages, and gender identities, all bound together by their gig stripping at a Manhattan club — from Lopez to Constance Wu, along with Cardi B, Lizzo, Trace Lysette, Keke Palmer, Mercedes Ruehl, Lili Reinhart, and Madeline Brewer. Forbes also reported that, on opening night, a similar dynamic was at play in the audience, which was made up of 73 percent attendees over the age of 25, with an ethnicity breakdown that included 33 percent Caucasian, 28 percent African-American, 27 percent Hispanic, eight percent Asian, and four percent Native American.

That same Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study also found that films that offer such diversity are moving up in the box office world. Per the study, underrepresented racial minorities were leads or co-leads in 27 top films, compared to 21 from the previous year. In addition, 11 films featured a female lead from an underrepresented group, compared to just four the previous year. Lastly, 11 movies were led by a female actor age 45 or older, versus 5 in 2017. Overall, the percentage of characters from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups rose from 29.3 percent in 2017 to 36.3 percent in 2018.

3. Female-centric movies don’t need romantic subplots
What could have been a marketing pickle — just what genre is this film, really? — is instead one of the greatest strengths of “Hustlers.” It’s not quite a drama or a comedy, and even the “dramedy” distinction doesn’t really fit. It’s also a crime-centric feature with elements of a thriller. Even IMDb is at a loss here, listing the film’s genres as “comedy, crime, drama.” It’s all that and more, but what it’s not is a standard female-centric comedy that hews close to convention. While films like “Bridesmaids,” “Booksmart,” and “Mistress America” are all winners in their own right, they also tend to stick to the playbook, and are mostly comedies that sandwich laughs next to emotion.

While that’s refreshing enough — and “Hustlers” also makes space for key female friendships, just like those other films — Scafaria’s film refuses to stick to the kind of genres, tones, and stories that most female-centric films are expected to embrace. Consider this: “Hustlers” doesn’t include a romantic subplot. Olivia Wilde’s charming “Booksmart” hinged on the bond between its leading ladies, but even it was beholden to the inclusion of some minor romantic entanglements, just like “Bridesmaids,” which similarly shoehorned in a cute flirtation that was ultimately unnecessary. “Hustlers” finds its heart elsewhere.

4. Crime films aren’t just for guys
This fact-based tale of grifting, drugging, and credit card fraud definitely is also a crime story. It’s no coincidence that, at one point, Martin Scorsese had considered directing the film, envisioning it as something a female-facing “Goodfellas.” For all the glitz and glamour of “Hustlers,” it’s still very much in tune with those sensibilities, and it doesn’t shy away from the dirtiness of breaking the law or the way it impacts everyone involved.

Scafaria’s film doesn’t give its stars an easy out, either, and the film is intent on showing the mucky side of crime along with all the perks. The closest “Hustlers” gets to characters preaching about its lessons is a fraught conversation between Wu’s crime-committing stripper Destiny and Julia Stiles as straight-laced journalist Elizabeth (a stand-in for Jessica Pressler, who wrote the article the film is based on). It’s the kind of back-and-forth that trusts its audience to draw their own conclusions.

5. Don’t discount festival momentum
There’s nothing quite like debuting a film at a lauded festival like Toronto, where any well-received fall release gains instant cachet. Combined with persistent buzz for Lopez’s potentially awards-earning performance, the choice to premiere “Hustlers” at TIFF ensured it would be viewed as much more than a late-summer film aimed just at women. This means “Hustlers” stands a shot at being a genuine awards contender, even in a competitive season that includes everything from Nazi satire “Jojo Rabbit” to Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” just by virtue of its launchpad during TIFF’s crammed first weekend. “Hustlers” may not be a frontrunner for Best Picture, but it did manage to remain visible and generate real buzz alongside some of the bigger contenders.

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Turn your book into a movie: 16 treatment tips by Kenneth Atchity

Making a book into a film can cost producers anymore $1 million to $200 million, so this is clearly a major investment.

Talk to a story editor from any production company, studio, or agency “story department,” and they will tell you the weaknesses they see in novels submitted for film or television.

The story department’s report on the book’s potential for translation to film, referred to as “coverage,” is their feedback to the decision-making exec. It can make or break it for you — and it kills countless submissions.

The sad thing is, most writers will almost never even get as far as a coverage of their novel.

That’s often because of the book’s “treatment.”

What’s a treatment?


A treatment is a relatively short, written pitch of a story intended for production as a motion picture or television program. Written in user-friendly, informal language and focused on action and events, it presents the story’s overall structure and primary characters. It presents three clear acts and shows how the characters change from beginning to end.

You can write a better treatment if you know about the typical weaknesses story editors find as they prepare each option’s “coverage” (see my book, Writing Treatments that Sell). When you address these common weaknesses, you give your story a much better chance in the rooms where people decide whether, and how much, to spend on putting your story onto the screen.

Then you can use that treatment to market your story to Hollywood.


16 treatment tips that will help you turn your book into a movie


Here are 16 things to know about what your treatment needs to include.

1. Make sure your primary characters are relatable (that’s also called sympathetic).

If we can’t relate to them, we don’t feel for them. This addresses the comment: “I can’t relate to anyone in the book.”

2. Trim the number of characters way back so the treatment’s reader isn’t boggled by the immensity of the cast. 

Also, keep the treatment focused as much as possible on the protagonist (and his or her love interest and/or ally) and antagonist. Comment: “There are way too many characters, and it’s not clear till page 200 who the protagonist is.”

3. Build a strong protagonist in the 20 to 50 star age range, one we want to root for

Comment: “We don’t know who to root for.”

4. Make sure your hero or heroine takes action based on his or her motivation and mission, and forces others in your story to react.

Comment: “The protagonist is reactive, instead of proactive.”

5. Offer a new twist in your story even if it’s a familiar story to avoid the comment: “There’s nothing new here.”

6. Write it so the story editor reading your treatment can see three well-defined acts: act one (the setup), act two (rhythmic development, rising and falling action), and act three (climax, leading to conclusive ending).

Comment: “I can’t see three acts here.”

7. Make sure the turning point into the third act of your story is well-marked with a major twist that takes us there.

Comment: “There’s no Third Act…it just trickles out.”

8. Create a well-pronounced theme for your story (sometimes called “the premise”) in the treatment, so that the reader (audience) walks away with the feeling they’ve learned something important.

Comment: “At the end of the day, I have no idea what this story is about.”
9. Be sure there’s plenty of action in your story. 

Action means dramatic action, of which there are two kinds: action and dialogue. Action is obvious:

She slams the door in his face.
The bullets find their target, and he slumps in his chair.
The second plane crashes into the Pentagon.
But good dialogue is also action:
“Would you do something for me now?”
“I’d do anything for you.”
“Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?” (Hemingway, “Hills like White Elephants”)

10. Sprinkle character-revealing dialogue throughout, enough to let the reader know what your characters sound like—and that they all sound different.

Comment: “There’s no dialogue, so we don’t know what the characters sound like.”

11. Make sure the plot is hidden not overt, dropping clues act by act so the audience can foresee its possible outcomes.

Comment: “At the end, the antagonist lays out the entire plot to the protagonist before he’s killed.”

12. Ruthlessly go through your treatment and remove anything that even hints of contrivance.

The audience will allow any story one gimme, but rarely two, and never three, before they lose their belief. Everything needs to be grounded in the story’s integrity.

Comment: “The whole thing is overly contrived.”

13. Make it well-paced, with rising and falling action, twists and turns, cliffhangers ending every act, etc.

Comment: “There is no real pacing.”

14. Be able to pitch your story  in a single punch line (aka “logline”), and put that line at the beginning of your treatment in bold face:

She’s a fish out of water—but she’s a mermaid (“The Little Mermaid,” “Splash”).
He’s left behind alone. On Mars (“The Martian”).
An inventor creates an artificial woman who’s so real she turns the table on her creator, locks him up, and escapes (“Ex Machina”).

This is also called “the high concept,” which means it can be pitched simply—on a poster or to a friend on the phone.

Comment: “How do we pitch it? There’s no high concept.”

15. Make sure your story feels like a movie, which includes taking us to places we’ve probably never been, or rarely been.

A movie transports us to locations we want to feel, like Antarctica, or the Amazon jungle, or a moon of Saturn, or, in movies I’ve done, a brothel in New Orleans (The Madams Family), the experimental lab of the inventor of the vibrator in Victorian England (Hysteria), a mountain cabin during a blizzard (Angels in the Snow), or the Amityville house in Long Island (Amityville: The Evil Returns).

Comment: “There are no set pieces, so it doesn’t feel like a movie.”

16. Get someone who knows the industry well to read your treatment and give you dramatic feedback on it before you send it out.

Comment: “The writer shows no knowledge of movies!”

Of course anyone with the mind of a sleuth can list films that got made despite one or more of these comments being evident. But for novelists frustrated at not getting their books made into films, that’s small consolation.

If you regard your career as a business instead of a quixotic crusade, plan your novel’s treatment to make it appealing to filmmakers–and to avoid the story department’s buzz-killing comments.

Available on Amazon

What is a Treatment?

As Hollywood insiders know, the first step in selling your story idea for film or television is preparing a treatment, the brief pitch that sells the concept to a busy producer or agent.

The Hemingway Scene That Shows How Humanity Works

The novelist Téa Obreht describes how a single surprising image in The Old Man and the Sea sums up the main character's identity.


Ernest Hemingway’s novella The Old Man and the Sea is haunted by a recurring motif of lions running across an African beach. It’s a wet and briny book, full of boats and fish buckets and the smell of salt, so the repeated mention of lions—more typically associated with savanna than with coastline—seems odd and out of place. Even the titular old man, Santiago, is not sure why this moment from his youth looms so large in his mind. “Why,” he asks himself, after days at sea, “are the lions the main thing that is left?”

The novelist Téa Obreht, the author of Inland, addressed that question in a conversation for this series, explaining how Hemingway boils his main character’s entire history down to one inscrutable image. She discussed how the book’s radical closing gesture elevates memory above all other aspects of the human experience, as the last thing left when one’s strength, pride, and reputation have faded. And she shared how, in her own work, she searches for the surprising, fleeting moments that seem to contain a character’s whole being to give fictional people the appearance of real life.

Inland is Obreht’s second novel. A reimagination of the Western genre set in the Arizona Territory of the 1890s, it manages to be both deeply magical and deeply realist at the same time, combining the stories of two ghost-haunted protagonists, a fantastic beast lurking on the outskirts of a homestead, and the historical, stranger-than-fiction camel corps that once patrolled the American West. Obreht’s work has appeared in such venues as The Best American Short Stories, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic. She teaches at Hunter College in New York City, and spoke with me by phone.

Téa Obreht: I read The Old Man and the Sea pretty early on, I think in middle school. You know how as memory distills and years go by, you just have one image that’s associated with something? What I remember most from that first encounter was this strange detail of lions running on a beach. Returning to the book as an adult, that seemed to make no sense. The story has nothing to do with lions. It’s a book about a fisherman and a giant marlin and this incredible battle that takes place out at sea. But the lions, who appear in this moment of interiority that’s stuck with me for years, help explain one of the qualities I look for most in fiction.

The book follows a fisherman named Santiago. He’s had many years of successful fishing in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Cuba, but he’s an old man now and has gone 84 days without taking a fish. As the book begins, it almost feels like he’s carrying around a kind of curse, and he seems utterly depleted. He has a loving relationship with a young boy who brings him coffee and newspapers, but whose parents have forbidden him to spend any more time with Santiago—encouraging him instead to spend time on a boat that is more fortuitous in its harvesting. As the old man goes out to fish one final time without the boy, the boy’s care and respect for him is the only anchor the reader has to hold on to for emotional purchase.

Santiago sails farther than he’s ever gone, closer to Florida than Cuba, and he catches a marlin. The two of them battle for essentially three days before he manages to kill the marlin—the biggest fish he’s ever seen. In his sleeplessness and physical pain, he’s deeply torn between respect and admiration for the fish and the grim inevitability of having to defeat it. So much of the battle section is about sensory detail—descriptions of the sea, and the sun, and the pain in his hands, and the weight of the marlin. We get very, very few moments of interiority. Except one night, as Santiago falls to sleep with the fish still on the line, he dreams of lions he saw on an African beach as a young sailor. It’s this weird, jarring, haunting, beautiful image.

Once Santiago has killed the marlin, he straps it to the boat and heads home. But the blood in the water attracts sharks, who eat the brilliant, beautiful fish he’s suffered so much to catch. All that’s left is the head and the tail. In the final scene, he arrives badly sunburned, exhausted, his hands all cut up from the rope, with his prize destroyed.

As readers, we’ve been close to Santiago’s perspective for many pages, but in the book’s final moments we pull out and spend time with other people on the beach, including his fellow fishermen, who are measuring the carcass to estimate what the great fish must have been like. Later, we pull out even further to the tourists sitting on the boardwalk, overlooking the spine and tail of the now-decapitated fish:

“What’s that?” [a woman] asked a waiter and pointed to the long backbone of the great fish that was now just garbage waiting to go out with the tide.

“Tiburon,” the waiter said. “Eshark.” He was meaning to explain what had happened.

“I didn’t know sharks had such handsome, beautifully formed tails.”

“I didn’t either,” her male companion said.

Up the road, in his shack, the old man was sleeping again. He was still sleeping on his face and the boy was sitting by him watching him. The old man was dreaming about the lions.

The book ends there. From a craft perspective, what strikes me most is the boldness of this kind of perspective shift so late in the game, when your reader has been accustomed to one lens for so long. There’s tremendous risk of creating a distancing effect. And yet somehow Hemingway manages to make the whole thing much more intimate. Because he shows you, in the briefest of maneuvers, the whole scope of how humanity works.

By the final lines, Santiago’s epic battle is already being misconstrued and misunderstood. And so, as the novella ends, you sense that Santiago’s story doesn’t have much of a future: It’s going to dissolve with the tide; it’s already being carried out to sea. That’s the fate of all life, and the fate of all stories. The truth of what really happened out there in the Gulf Stream belongs only to us, the readers, because we watched the old man’s struggle with his fish.

But in the end, even our memories don’t seem to matter. We’re left with an image that seems to transcend that epic battle: the lions on the beach, which Santiago dreams of as the story closes. Somehow, these lions he glimpsed as a boy capture the essence of his humanity. They remain, even when everything else has been eroded. Even the life-changing brutality of his experience at sea can’t change that.

By ending on that image, Hemingway suggests that what matters most is the preservation of a person’s sense of self—which only that person can know in life, and which a reader can know through the intimacy of fiction. To a degree, you get the whole story of the battle with the marlin in order to be able to come back to this image. It’s an utterly inactive moment—Santiago is asleep, after all—and yet it reveals what his soul is all about. The lions are the door into his personhood.

One of the things that has struck me as I get older is that as more and more information fills your brain, you have less control over what you remember. Your ability to access the things that remind you of you becomes less reliable. It would be wonderful to have complete recall of the moments I think should be most meaningful to me—some great moment in my family, or the instant I met my husband, or some fantastic exchange that I had with another writer. But those memories often fray, leaving only their essence. When people do remember specifics, the sharpest, most luminous details are often strange, or surprising. We all have our lion moments.

I think that’s a widely recognizable feeling, and something to which a reader can respond when establishing intimacy with a character. Being privy to something the character experiences in a moment of interiority—something that’s so out of their control, they themselves aren’t sure why that particular memory is surfacing, or what it means—can create a sense of deep closeness. Hemingway rejected the notion of any symbols at the heart of The Old Man and the Sea. His attitude was more or less, The fish is a fish and the sea is the sea—what do you want from me? Which is a very Hemingway thing to do and say. But part of the magic of the lions is that they escape any kind of easy symbolic interpretation. They really do feel like the kind of image that might surface organically in a mind, when you, the reader, just happened to be there to glimpse it.

I often feel it’s my duty to invent these moments for my characters—memories that aren’t overtly symbolic but feel essential somehow. The only way to do it is just to write into the errors.

I’m happy to make mistakes, and go the wrong route with characters, and find all these false moments just for the sheer feel of them being wrong. I can feel when it’s wrong and I can’t deliberately get something right.

But eventually you get there. I think cracking a character open is about coming back to that character again and again, with slightly better questions each time, until you hit the lions on the beach—if you’re lucky.

There’s a lot that’s contentious about Hemingway, and for good reason. But whatever issue you take with him, I think The Old Man and the Sea is kind of unassailable, especially in its final moments. Hemingway presents a painful, unforgiving world, and yet in this last image, we’re given an enduring note of meaning. It suggests that a small kernel of eternal truth burns inside us all. That reality is so convincing on the page that it seems as though Santiago’s life will keep on going, even though for us, the story must end there. It’s a familiar sadness, the thing that makes all partings in life meaningful: the sense that when you cease to be part of a situation—a job, a community, a relationship—you are never going to know what might have happened if you’d stayed.



By Heart is a series in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature.

JOE FASSLER is the editor of Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process. He regularly interviews writers for The Atlantic's "By Heart" series. He also covers the politics and economics of the American food system as a senior editor for The New Food Economy. 


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How Film Producers Became the New Expendables: "There's Panic and Confusion"

With major studios cutting back movie slates and streaming services focused on talents who also write or direct, the once-thriving middle class among non-writing producers is becoming just the 1 percent and everyone else.




In March, Amy Pascal was scrambling. The producer's overall deal at Sony Pictures — greenlit by the studio's former chairman and chief executive Michael Lynton — was set to expire in three months, and there was little chance that current film chairman Tom Rothman would renew a 4-year-old arrangement that saw Pascal earning significant backend compensation on movies she produced. The deal had led to a $10 million windfall on 2018's Spider-Man spin­off Venom, according to multiple sources, and with two guaranteed release slots every year, Pascal essentially was guaranteed an eight-figure income for her services. Even more disconcerting for the Sony film chair turned producer, there was little appetite elsewhere for a similar contract.

One month later, Pascal moved her deal to Universal. But what wasn't mentioned in press coverage at the time was that her new pact is a significant downgrade from her Sony deal. Sources say instead of $10 million a year for overhead and discretionary buying, the Universal setup is in the $1 million to $2 million range annually. The guaranteed release slots are gone.

"No one else was knocking down her door," says a source familiar with the dealmaking. "No one was willing to pay those Spider-Man fees."

Even in the era of deep-pocketed streamers and what many have described as a content bubble, the golden producing parachute is becoming extinct, coinciding with overall pushbacks on non-writing film producers — both the powerful and journeymen. In quick succession, Matt Tolmach, a former Pascal lieutenant, exited his first-look film deal at Sony (a source says it was the Venom and Jumanji producer's choice to let the deal lapse, opting for free agency, and he will remain with the studio for TV), while Neal Moritz was dropped from future Fast & Furious movies, beginning with spinoff Hobbs & Shaw, after making the first eight movies of the Universal franchise (he still has a film producing deal at Paramount). And in perhaps the most glaring sign of the times, X-Men gatekeeper Simon Kinberg — whose Fox film producing deal was one of the richest in Hollywood (he took home $40 million on Deadpool alone) — isn't staying on after Disney's acquisition of Fox (his deal quietly ended in 2018, and he was dropped from future X-Men films as Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige takes over Fox's Marvel properties).

The message rippling through the community was clear. Producers, at least on the movie side, are seen as expendable.

As the major studios move to increasingly tentpole-heavy slates, producers are being squeezed like never before. The trend reflects America's broader disparities: There is the one percent, consisting mostly of writers like J.J. Abrams, who is in final negotiations on a $500 million deal at WarnerMedia that covers both film and TV, followed by a dwindling pool of top-tier non-writing producers like Lorenzo di Bonaventura (Paramount) and David Heyman (Warner Bros.), who still boast sizable overhead deals with major studios even if backend is shrinking. Then there's everyone else. All the while, the once-thriving middle class is fading fast.

"It sure helps to have a franchise," says di Bonaventura, who produces the Transformers movies as well as nonfranchise hits like The Meg. "It helps you through any eventual down cycles."

Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, talent agencies are discouraging high-end producers from renewing their traditional studio deals so they can have multiple buyers competing for intellectual property and land progress-to-production contracts, largely absent at the major studios. After all, Disney is down to making one or two original movies a year, while Netflix is churning out 40-plus. Right now, the streamers are leading the charge, but neither Netflix nor Amazon is doing film producing deals at the same pace as the traditional studios once did. Netflix currently carries 10 producing deals that would qualify as film-centric, including those with Matt Reeves' 6th & Idaho Productions and Adam Sandler. Amazon has three including Nicole Kidman's Blossom Films.

Kinberg, for one, says his Fox exit was by design. Among his upcoming projects are the independently financed thriller 355, which sees him taking an ownership stake in the Universal-released film that he also is directing, and a War of the Worlds series for Apple. "It's a good time to be a producer when there's such a proliferation of platforms, streaming and who knows what's next in technology," says Kinberg, who also produced The Martian, a film that was based on an obscure self-published book that went on to earn $630 million worldwide. "There's a lot of panic and confusion out there, but there's more opportunity than ever before."

Still, the landscape is proving to be particularly rocky for the so-called noncreative producer, the ones who don't generate or write material. "Unless you're a Simon Kinberg type with an established track record, studios don't want you," says one agency partner.

The tenuous plight of the producer has been intensifying for some time, since the height of the profession back in 2003, when DVD sales were strong and the seismic quake of the 2007-08 Writers Guild strike hadn't yet cleared the stables. As studios grappled with ways to cut costs during the strike, they extricated themselves from their pricey producer relationships, all in the name of efficiency. That trend was exacerbated by the downsizing of the studios' average annual film output. For instance, in 2007, Paramount released 25 films a year. Now it is down to nine. As a result, the first-look deal and its accompanying perks, including "put pictures" — that coveted guarantee of having at least one movie on the calendar per year — have never rebounded. Consider Disney, which had 24 first-look film producing deals during the 2003 peak. Now it is down to seven.

"If you focus just on motion pictures from major studios, yes, the business has changed in the last 10 years, and there are probably fewer big overall deals," says Matt Kline, an entertainment lawyer at O'Melveny & Myers. "A lot of factors contribute to that: expense, changing approaches to management and some deals that some would argue went awry."

The studios' cutting back on output has proved to be a factor in subsequent deal slashing, but the rise of branded event-size movies also has hurt those who don't have their own financing or ties to intellectual property.

"The reality now is that Disney and Warners try to focus exclusively on franchises. That's half the slate," notes a production exec. "Then there are the remakes. And then, in Warners' case, a Christopher Nolan movie. Who needs producers for that?"

On the flip side, as the old-fashioned movie producer may have lost his or her place at e. baldi, the seat is being kept warm by the television producer.

"Given all the different platforms out there, particularly the way TV has changed so much and there is such great storytelling going on, I actually think overall there are more producers working and more people are doing more interesting work than ever before," says Kline.

That point was echoed by one producer with a major studio deal, who acknowledged that first-look pacts are harder to come by for those working in features, but "for TV, it's triple what it used to be. No, make it 10 times more."

That might be so, but the nine-figure deals are the exclusive domain of such writer-producers as Ryan Murphy, Shonda Rhimes, and David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, all at Netflix. The film component of these deals is largely an afterthought given that this type of talent is being courted more for their series prowess. Furthermore, a typical deal at a streamer, particularly Netflix, doesn't include backend compensation. However, the streaming giant will buy out an A-list producer's backend based on a formula that factors in the budget and what the movie would likely do at the box office. A knowledgeable source says Netflix paid producer Joe Roth close to eight figures as a backend buyout for the fantasy The School for Good and Evil, which is in preproduction.

The shift of resources toward the making of serialized content is leaving less to go around for overhead film deals, making it more difficult for a new generation of producers to break in. "It's harder to start a new [film] company because of deals that have little or no room for paying [staff]," grumbles one junior producer.

The grooming of the next generation is a concern for even seasoned producers, some of whom see the corporatization of the studios as squashing any producer dissent.

"Studios don't want to be challenged; they like consensus," says one studio producer. "But then, that's reflected in the vanilla product you will get."

The days of vanity deals also are on the wane. One source pointed to the fact that Judge Reinhold still carried a deal at Paramount not that long ago. Reese Witherspoon, for one, lost her deal at Universal in 2008 amid the strike (the actress has no current film deal despite such producing credits as Gone Girl and the upcoming Natalie Portman starrer Lucy in the Sky, though she is very active in TV). Margot Robbie and Michael B. Jordan are among the exceptions (both are based at Warners).

The convergence of factors has left most producers looking for outside money to finance development. And though many are successful — Raine Group made a $100 million-plus investment in Imagine Entertainment after the Ron Howard-Brian Grazer-led shingle lost its once-lucrative deal with Universal — there are only so many distributors who can release a film theatrically. Several notable indies have imploded in recent years (The Weinstein Co., Broad Green, Open Road), while others are holding on by a thread (STX, Annapurna).

"Every independent producer right now is facing the exact same battle," says producer Matthew Baer (Unbroken). "The problem isn't about raising money for good independent screenplays. The problem is how are the films going to be distributed? Who's interested in paying the money to market the movies? So the distributors are getting cold feet about picking up good movies and you're left with a gigantic heartbreak, which is even the case when you've made a genuinely good movie."

Others are looking at this moment in Hollywood with some guarded measure of optimism because the three biggest studios — Disney, Warner Bros. and Universal — will soon be launching their own streaming services, prompting a renewed demand for feature content to feed the pipeline, albeit with non­theatrical features. That means a need for producers to fill the void. Universal has actually begun adding to its roster, with Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) providing the most recent example.

"We are in a moment of transition," says Chris Bender, who has a first-look deal at New Line and whose banner also includes a successful management division. "Traditional studios are entering the streaming platform space and they are going to have to increase content to be competitive. And for that, they are going to need producers, for ideas and to oversee production."

In fact, Bender believes that one of the hardest jobs for producers is knowing what area to focus on. "While I'm waiting for major studios to figure out their streaming strategies, do I focus on Netflix or HBO Max or Quibi?" he asks. "As a manager, we see talent going to work in ways we didn't pre-strike. So, I feel this odd mix of excitement and concern."

***

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