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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.

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mpi

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.

Periscope

Periscope – The New Way to AMA and Connect

As I write this, screenwriter David H. Steinberg (Slackers, American Pie 2) is broadcasting from his own smartphone, answering questions from followers via the app Periscope.

While AMA (ask me anything) sessions are very popular on Reddit for users when someone interesting pops on to answer questions about their career, life or any other topic, it’s limited in that it’s all done via a keyboard. With Periscope, all Steinberg had to do was bring up the app, connected through his twitter, and start broadcasting video and take questions via text on the app from his followers. A tweet went out and notified his fans that he was on and ready to talk screenwriting and the movie business or anything that comes up.

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YouTube Spot

DEADLINE EXTENDED – 2015 Liberty Lab for Film

May 15 is here and if you thought you missed out on applying for 2015’s Liberty Lab for Film, then good news… you’ve got seven more days to get your act (or three acts) together and apply for a $10,000 grant, a Hollywood insider to mentor you and 100 days to make your film.

You can read more about the program here or below on the next page.  But perhaps you are more easily persuaded by the visual and would like to watch a short reel showing off last year’s lab participants.

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Short Film – Jujitsu-ing Reality

If you’ve ever succumbed to the pressures of writer’s block or other type of artistic stagnation, give over 16 minutes of your day to watch this award winning short about a screenwriter with ALS.  In Jujitsu-ing Reality, writer Scott Lew’s words come alive on screen by some notable Hollywood actors in his film Sexy Evil Genius,  of which scenes from the film are highlighted throughout.  We witness the lengths he, his family and assistants go to, to fulfill his creative desires.  Not only does the film display the remarkable perseverance of the individual human spirit, it compliments the advancements of technology, medicine and attitudes towards the invalid.

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.”

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BTTF

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.

 

 

Medium Hero 6

I should love almost everything about Big Hero 6.

unnamed-7I love science fiction and I love comic-book movies, and this movie is both. I love Isaac Asimov and his bright vision of a future driven by fantastic innovations in science and technology. This movie has that in spades. I love robots (who doesn’t?), but I especially love robots with innocence at their core, like Brad Bird’s “Iron Giant”. This movie has that too.

I really, really want to love “Big Hero 6.” But alas, I only kind of liked it.

There’s a lot going on in the movie that is really cool on a conceptual and visual level. And yet its whole script is surprisingly weak. With 3 credited screen writers and 2 ‘heads of story”, perhaps it was a problem of a film being written by committee.

Note: I can’t make some of the points I’m going to make without giving away plot details and a few hints and minor spoilers. You’ve been warned.

It’s a pretty good set-up for a while, but even within the first major scene, I started to wonder about some of the writers’ choices.

unnamed-1We meet 14-year old Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) and his big brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) right away.

Tadashi is an engineering student at San Fransokyo University, and Hiro is a brilliant robotics prodigy more interested in hustling for money at illegal robot fighting tournaments with his home-built robot than doing anything more important with his talents. In a really short amount of time we get to see who each of these guys are, and how much they care about each other.

The problem is, all this would be a lot better if the writing during this set-up wasn’t also pretty bad.

Take the way in which we learn that the brothers’ parents are dead and that they live with their aunt Cass. There are numerous subtle and emotionally compelling ways to convey that kind of information in a film, but Hiro literally blurts it out to his brother while riding a Vespa, as if it was news to the both of them.

Sadly, this was just the first of what will be several instances of aggressively on-the-nose exposition stated from one character to another, including one moment toward the twist reveal where T.J. Miller‘s character, Fred, loudly announces that “This is a revenge story!”

Thanks for clearing that up, Fred.

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Truthfully though, what bothered me the most about the first act was the introduction of the most cliched and underdeveloped character in the movie, Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk), resident nefarious tech-billionaire, and his supposedly good-guy nemesis, robotics pioneer Dr. Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell) – who also happens to be Tadashi’s mentor, and a celebrity crush for Hiro.

Callaghan tells Hiro that his students “go on to change the world”, and to get in to the program, he must invent something amazing.

Enter Hiro’s microbots.

Hiro creates tiny robots controlled by a neural transmitter that magnetically link together to form any shape or do any task the user can dream up. It’s a huge breakthrough for construction, transportation, and literally any field that you could imagine. It’s one of those incredible concepts buried in the movie.

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But what happens next is where things go wrong again.

Like any reasonable person with a successful technology company would have done, Alistair Krei offers Hiro “more money than a fourteen year old boy can imagine” for the patent. But when Dr. Callaghan angrily paints Krei as a villain motivated “only by his own self-interest” (a truly ironic statement in this case), Hiro turns down the sale so he can go to college instead.

I guess in this world, making billions of dollars from an incredible product you invent when you’re fourteen and also studying robotics is impossible?

It’s an especially odd choice coming from a kid who, minutes earlier in the movie, waved a wad of cash around excitedly after having cleaned up at robot fighting. Not to mention the fact that in reality, the only way to really “change the world” with your invention is for millions of people to know about it and use it every day – which is the one thing that will never happen if you keep to yourself in a workshop.

unnamed-10For me, though… The way that the evil businessman trope is so clumsily pushed the into the first act was really an early signal of a script filled with heavy-handed cliches, just like the dozens of bits of flatly expository dialogue.

Still, the worst part about this kind of writing is that it telegraphs way too much about the rest of the story.

Shortly after Hiro’s presentation, a fire breaks out that supposedly destroys his microbots and kills Tadashi, setting up for his real journey to begin. When Hiro and Baymax discover that someone had actually started the fire to steal his microbots, the film has already tried so hard to make everyone assume it was Krei that the plot contains no real surprises from then on. Even the “twist” was so obvious by the time it was finally revealed that I was just annoyed that Disney went down such a cliched road in the first place.

All that said, there are some things to absolutely love.

After we make it out of the first act, the movie gets really good. It’s got a ton of wonderfully fun moments.

The action sequences and the richness of the world of San Fransokyo are really well crafted, as is the supporting cast of Hiro’s friends.

Baymax (Scott Adsit), a healthcare robot invented by Tadashi who befriends and protects Hiro, is worth the price of admission by himself. Especially when he goes bobbling around like an almost-human bouncy castle through the streets of the city. Baymax is both the movie’s heart and its comic relief, and somehow the balance is perfect.

It’s just too bad that all these great characters and concepts didn’t get a plot built on a stronger narrative foundation.

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…

Comedy and the Liberty Lab

A couple of weeks ago we introduced one of the mentors in Taliesin Nexus‘s new Liberty Lab program, Daniel Knauf, as a producer and writer of horror and other “darker” genre projects.   Today we do an about-face and talk about comedy.

David H. Steinberg took a circuitous route to writing comedy scripts via law school.  David entered Yale at age 16 and earned his law degree from Duke University.  After four years of practicing law, he quit and entered USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program.

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David sold his first screenplay, Slackerswhich went on to become a cult classic starring Devon Sawa and Jason Schwartzman.  He went on to write several films in the American Pie franchise (including American Pie 2), National Lampoon’s Barely Legal, and the remake of the 1980’s classic Porky’s.  David has written several animated movies like Pixie Hollow Games.  He’s also written several TV pilots for various networks.

David created and directed the award-winning short film, The Babysitter (with Brie Larson), which garnered more than four million online views on Atom.com, and made his feature directorial debut on the romantic comedy Miss Dial.  He recently checked off one of his bucket-list items by writing an episode of The Simpsons.

And yes, David will be serving as the mentor to one lucky team of filmmakers this summer who are admitted to the Liberty Lab program.  So apply soon, as applications are free until April 25 (and just $25 after that).