Why I Hate the “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and Why You Should Too!

I hate the film Guardians of the Galaxy. I hate it. I understand that my position is not a popular one; but then again, I never really was that popular. Need proof? Look me up in the high school yearbook.

I hate the film and everything about it, from its Kevin Bacon inspired jokes to its talking Raccoon. I have spent the better part of the last two years trying to convince the rest of you, that I am right. With the sequel arriving in theaters, I will give this one another go.

I hate Guardians for one simple reason: lazy storytelling. Essentially, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is a carbon-copy of the Avengers (2012) formula, just with a relatively obscure series from deep within the Marvel vaults. And yes, before you start questioning me and my fan-boy creds, I am in fact one of some twenty-five people who has ACTUALLY read the Guardian’s books.



Tea and Tape: A Review of Better Call Saul’s “Mabel” and “Witness”

Jimmy McGill is my favorite character on television.

There. I said it.

But throughout season one and two of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s wildly successful Better Call Saul, I couldn’t exactly put my finger on why.

Was it the fact that I used to work at a law firm as a legal assistant and had the satisfaction of stumbling through the legal world with Jimmy, fully able to agree that yes, Interstate Commerce is a bitch? Perhaps. Was it the fact that he’s loveable, despite his centrifugally flawed nature? Also possible. Hell, maybe it was that nose thing I mentioned earlier. Either way, I comfortably went along, aware of my not-so-specific reasoning. I mean, I could always divert by talking about how brilliant the show was in other aspects.



For the Love of Pete: Why “Crashing” is one of the Best Comedies on TV Right Now

Full disclosure, I fell in love with Pete Holmes the moment I saw him show up on my screen like some gangly white ray of sunshine.  I stumbled onto his show Crashing by accident, scrolling along the homepage of my HBO GO app until I saw a photo of a man sitting on a couch in the middle of the street mock-screaming directly into the camera. “I don’t know who this guy is,” I thought, “but I have a feeling he gets me.” Long story short, it was a show about a comedian, I’ve done stand-up a handful of times, and I’m a regular sucker for guys whose noses are of the Adrian Brody variety. I gave it a go.

My love of comedy about comedians started with Jerry Seinfeld. For me, he was the first comic to use serialized television to tell an audience the ins and outs of being a working comedian. Yes, I realize this dates me as a ’90s child – I’m sorry about it, too.



APPLY – The Moving Picture Institute’s Screenwriter-in-Residence

From The Moving Picture Institute:

MPI invites applications for a Screenwriter-in-Residence.  This year-long, full-time position allows aspiring screenwriters to dedicate themselves to their craft. In the course of the year, the Screenwriter-in-Residence will write at least one feature-length screenplay on a topic aligned with MPI’s mission to promote freedom through film.  The Screenwriter-in-Residence will also host several screenwriting workshops as part of MPI’s ongoing virtual workshop offerings.

The screenplay will tell a story that advances human freedom in a broadly appealing, mainstreamable way, and that has the capacity to anchor a social action marketing campaign of the sort that Participant Media frequently launches alongside its issue-based films.  Examples of topics that lend themselves to this endeavor include but are not limited to free speech, resistance to tyranny, right to self-determination, human rights, free-market economics, innovation, and entrepreneurship.  MPI’s creative and marketing staff will work closely with the screenwriter from concept development through completion, with an eye to producing the film, ensuring distribution, and launching a social action marketing campaign that educates and activates audiences on behalf of freedom.

To apply for the position of MPI Screenwriter-in-Residence, please apply with a cover letter, CV, and writing sample to [email protected] before the closing date of Friday, July 15th, 2016.  As part of your application, please be sure to pitch your idea(s) for the screenplay you’d like to develop as MPI’s Screenwriter-in-Residence.

Risen cover image

Risen: Faith-based Filmmaking Done Right

This week I’ve been working out how to make a snood, a type of hair net worn by long-haired ladies for centuries but particularly useful on the American frontier and for reenactors who need to hide their short hair. Especially when working with super-fine cotton yarn, I have to be very careful and precise about placing my stitches and deciding on the sequence of rows in order to make the netting come out right.  My mother’s been trying for a year to find a pattern on the Internet that works, but so far she’s gotten nothing but messes.

I bring this up because as I’ve mentioned in the past, C. S. Lewis argues in his essay “On Stories” that a story is like a net used to catch something else that isn’t necessarily defined by the structural elements of the story.  What that ‘something else’ is can vary greatly, of course, and can have an effect on the form, but unless the net is well made, it won’t catch anything at all.  Similarly, he argues in “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said” that it’s almost impossible to start with a particular idea for a moral and build the story around it; for the story to be any good, the story itself has to come first, and the moral will generally make itself known in the end product.

The former is the trap into which many filmmakers fall when they set out to make a film to promote a particular ideology, whatever that ideology might be, and end up making a major mess. The latter is the approach that’s needed—and is, incidentally, the approach advocated in Taliesin Nexus’ workshops from the first session on.  A well-crafted story will attract viewers and provoke discussions better than preachiness.  And that is where Sony’s newest faith-based film, Risen, shines.  The film works precisely because it takes a well-known story, that of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and presents it afresh through outsider POV without crossing the line into preachiness. (more…)


SPOILER REVIEW: The Force is Definitely Awake

If the title wasn’t clear enough; the second section of this review will contain ALL THE SPOILERS.

If you’ve somehow stumbled into this post by mistake, don’t worry, you’re still safe… for now. I’ll start with a basic, spoiler-free synopsis & review and then dig deeper into the good stuff a bit farther down in the post. It will be ridiculously obvious where the spoiler section will start, but if you haven’t seen the film and don’t even want to risk it, then you’d better make the jump to light speed and get out of here now to avoid any plot or character-related spoilers for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” .

With those disclaimers out of the way, here goes.

Spoiler-Free Synopsis:

Currently holding strong at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, I’m only adding my voice to a growing chorus when I say that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a fantastic film.

forceawakens-logo-02Director, J.J. Abrams and co-writers, Lawrence Kasdan & Michael Arndt, managed to flawlessly capture the look, tone, and feel of the original trilogy. I’m not going to waste time beating up on the prequels too much, but for the first time since 1983, everything about this actually seems like the Star Wars I fell in love with as a kid.

The universe depicted in the original trilogy wasn’t exactly shiny and new.

Spaceships like the Millennium Falcon were falling apart and didn’t always work perfectly; droids like C3P0 and R2D2 were dented and scuffed; and the locations were populated by strangely believable creatures going about their daily business. These kinds of imperfections and the physical reality of everything on screen, combined with John Williams’ luscious and emotionally powerful score, gave the world a visual realism and emotional depth that the cartoonish CGI perfection of the prequels completely failed to accomplish.

The magic in those original films has had a profound impact on now several generations of young people who would – like myself – grow up to be film-makers and creative artists. I’m beyond thrilled to say that “The Force Awakens” reminded me of the creative inspiration I felt as a kid seeing Star Wars for the first time.

But the record-breaking success of this film will be owed to far more than style and tone.


apollo wkshp

NOW ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS: The Apollo Workshop: Storytelling in Film & TV

logo-1The Apollo Workshop:  Storytelling in Film and Television (formerly The Filmmakers Workshop) is a weekend conference connecting 25 talented aspiring filmmakers with 25 members of our faculty of Hollywood screenwriters, producers, executives and talent representatives.  It will take place in August 14-16, 2015 on the UCLA campus.

And imagine this:  the workshop is completely free of charge — free tuition, free room and board, and even travel stipends to those coming from outside of Southern California.

The Apollo Workshop offers training in two critical areas:  Storytelling Development and Career Development.

Click here to learn more and apply.

most wanted pilots

7 Most Wanted Pilot Scripts

blacklistStephanie Palmer over at Studio System News has compiled the seven most wanted tv pilot scripts for writers to download.  One of the best, easiest, and most fun ways to refine your own writing is to read other scripts, especially if they have been produced and as well received by critics and audiences alike.

Last year, Palmer assembled a similar list of 10, which included scripts from Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The Office. With Mad Men about to join the other two in television’s retirement home, she has compiled a brand new list of seven current television hits.  Among the collection are pilot scripts for House of Cards, Masters of Sex and The Blacklist… 

… As for how The Blacklist came about, Bokenkamp said, “I was kicking around ideas with John Fox, a friend who’s also a producer on the show. He brought up an idea. Whitey Bulger (Boston organized-crime kingpin) was in the news then. What if a Whitey Bulger-type criminal was captured? What if you had a TV show that flashed back on where Hoffa was buried, who shot Kennedy? A bad guy who knew all the secrets, hopping around in time and place. I spent about three months developing it, coming up with a pitch.” Everybody passed on the show but NBC.

At the upfronts, Bob Greenblatt of NBC said Blacklist testing results were, “better than all other 125 NBC drama pilots in the past decade.”



THE REAR VIEW: Back to the Future with David H. Steinberg

“But the point of the scene is, Doc Brown is the one that is supposed to go back in time.  Until the terrorists show up, and we have the big chase scene, and Marty is the one that goes back in time accidentally.  So that’s the genius of the scene!” says screenwriter David H. Steinberg (Slackers, American Pie 2) when he sat down with Matt Edwards to discuss the rare perfect script of Back to the Future on The Rear View Podcast

Steinberg sheds light on how Back to the Future (written Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, and directed by Zemeckis) builds up enough goodwill with the audience that by the time the third act rolls around, the audience cheers in their seat with Doc Brown’s improbable zip-line flight to the rescue.  The film is 30 years old this year and with a script, cast and production  as perfect as you can get, it’s really… timeless.



Staying Out Instead of Breaking In


It’s not a secret. Everybody wants to break into Hollywood. Your retired uncle on your mom’s side took an acting class at a community college. Your father-in-law got a GoPro for Christmas and thinks he’s the next Spielberg. Hell, even your sixteen-year old dogwalker has a spec screenplay that’s “kind of a romantic sci-fi comedy scavenger hunt written for Ryan Gosling as the lead.”

Fame, fortune, following your passion, feeding your ego… There are plenty of motivators, but have you really sat down and thought about why exactly you want to be a part of Hollywood? Maybe the answer isn’t quite clear. Maybe it’s a gut feeling that you have but can’t explain.

With filmmaking technology becoming exponentially better and cheaper, screenwriting contests and fellowships becoming more prevalent, and social media turning nobodys into kind-of-somebodys, aspiring filmmakers are constantly being told that there are more ways to break in than ever. But, is “breaking in” even worth it? If filmmakers have everything they need to create content (especially content in which they have creative control over), then what exactly do they need Hollywood for?


png_base64b0a2c8f2e1ca9194Mitch Hurwitz created arguably the greatest sitcom of all time, Arrested Development. As such, many wannabe sitcom writers envy this comedic genius and would no doubt love to be him in certain capacities. However, as he explained at the Banff World Media Festival last week (and could be ascertained from previous interviews) it wasn’t all fun and games creating/running a show for Fox. And “running” was a loose term, since they tried so very hard to handicap him.


This isn’t significantly new information, nor is Mitch’s case all that unique. Some show runners have even been fired from the very show that they created (ahem…Dan Harmon…ahem). The difficulties aren’t specific to high-level show creators either, as the path to get there is rarely easy. There are tons of screenwriting horror stories which relate breaking in to having gone through war. Actors and actresses don’t have it any easier, as many are reduced to reality show roles to pay the bills until they land that Oscar-worthy part in a Martin Scorsese feature.

And once you’ve “broken in” it’s not like you automatically get a Bentley, estate in Beverly Hills, and a loyal-customer punch card for the best attorney in LA. You have to stay in. Professional screenwriters, John August and Craig Mazin, have talked frequently on their Scriptnotes podcast about how “staying in” is sometimes harder than breaking in.

So, you struggle to get in and once you’re in, you struggle to stay in. Sure, you might be rich, but money doesn’t buy happiness, especially not if you’re constantly stressed out about getting kicked out of Hollywood and losing everything.

Consider, instead of breaking in, using the available tools to create the content you want and staying out of Hollywood. The scope may be on a much smaller scale, but you’re level of happiness may actually be improved due to a lower level of stress and higher level of control over your content.


png_base645aab9a5e12d6edccThis independent attitude isn’t new, but with so many more young filmmakers entering the industry, I feel like there’s more promotion of the gold rush mentality, rather than the idea that you can carve out your own small segment of the industry and happily operate without constantly trying to get noticed by Hollywood.


Yes, I realize that the lack of monetary rewards probably impede the desires of many filmmakers to stay outside of the Hollywood bubble. But if more and more filmmakers actively stay out of Hollywood, eventually someone’s going to figure out how to make a decent living from it.

Instead of constantly trying to break in, maybe the new goal should be to stay out, stand out, and and enjoy the view of Hollywood from the outside. Of course all that goes out the window if you’re offered a check for $1 million. You’ve got bills, so cash the check. Seriously, renting a Bentley for an hour is so much more fun than struggling from the outside…

Breaking Records and the Liberty Lab

Our last (but not least!) mentor for the Liberty Lab for Film is a record-breaking screenwriter.  No, he didn’t set a record for growing the biggest pumpkin or juggling the most chainsaws.  Instead, mentor Bill Marsilii (along with co-writer Jerry Rossio) sold the time-travel thriller Deja Vu to super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Touchstone Pictures for an unprecedented $5 million.  The resulting film, starring Denzel Washington, grossed more than $180 million worldwide.

Of course, as with most “overnight successes,” many years of sweat and hard work went into preparing for that moment.  Bill spent years working in improv and theater, acting in and writing plays before he moved onto movie scripts.


Since the Deja Vu deal, Bill has sold several other screenplays and pitches, including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea:  Captain Nemo to Walt Disney Pictures, and Blood of the Innocent, an adaptation of the Dracula vs. Jack the Ripper graphic novel,  to Inferno Entertainment.  He also adapted the classic children’s novel The Wind in the Willows which is currently in production at Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop, starring Ricky Gervais.

I’ll let you in on a little secret:  whoever is assigned Bill as a mentor is very, very lucky.  And one more secret before I wrap up here:  The final day to apply for the Liberty Lab is May 15 — just two days from now.

If you’re a procrastinator like I am, you may have left your application to the last minute.  Not to worry!  You’ve still got time to write that one-page treatment and turn it in right under the deadline, even if you have to set a writing record of your own.


“Liar Liar” and the Liberty Lab


No, our pants are not on fire.  Instead, we’re thrilled to announce that Paul Guay, who conceived and wrote one of Jim Carrey’s greatest hits, Liar Liar, will serve as a mentor in this summer’s Liberty Lab for Film.


Paul’s movies have grossed more than half a billion dollars.  Liar Liar was Carrey’s second-biggest hit without the word Batman or Grinch in the title (number one was Bruce Almighty, in which Carrey played God — how do you compete with that?).

At the time of its release Liar Liar was the sixth-highest-grossing comedy in history.  The screenplay received an Honorable Mention (along with Fargo, Million Dollar Baby, The Full Monty and Catch Me If You Can) in Scr(i)pt magazine’s list of the Best Scripts of the Past 10 Years.

Paul has been involved in numerous other projects.  He co-wrote the feature film version of The Little Rascals, Universal’s second-highest-grossing movie of the year, and co-wrote Heartbreakers, starring Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Gene Hackman, which opened #1 at the box office, and the rights to which he co-licensed to MGM for production as a stage musical.

Paul is a much sought-after script consultant.  But you can get his feedback for free if you are accepted into the Liberty Lab program.  Apply soon; the final deadline is May 15th.

What do Matt Damon and the Liberty Lab have in common?

Battle of Shaker Heights

It’s really simple, actually.  Matt Damon was one of the producers of HBO’s reality show, Project Greenlight.  The winning screenwriter of season two was Erica Beeney, whose script The Battle of Shaker Heights was made into a movie that also served as the first starring vehicle for actor Shia LaBeouf.

After winning HBO’s Project Greenlight contest, Erica wrote and developed numerous projects including an updated version of the classic teen surf movie Gidget for Sony and the comedy New Sensation for New Line.  She wrote Love & Other 4-Letter Words, a romantic comedy, for producer Chris Moore.  With husband Rupert Wyatt (director of Rise of the Planet of the Apes) she wrote a feature film Ice Road Truckers based on the popular TV series.

Erica has also worked extensively in television, including writing a TV movie for USA Network, a TV pilot for Viacom, and a one-hour drama pilot for Lifetime Television.  She’s currently writing a pilot for Media Rights Capital (producers of the House of Cards series) called True Believers.  Erica researched and developed It Might Get Loud, a documentary on the electric guitar, for Davis Guggenheim, the Oscar-winning director of Waiting for Superman.   She is currently working on Devil’s Canyon, an original screenplay she is slated to direct for Paramount Pictures.

And Erica will serve as a mentor to one fortunate team of filmmakers who are accepted into the Liberty for Film program.  Applications are free until midnight PT, April 25, and just $25 during the week after that.