What Quentin Tarantino Taught Me About Buying In

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I’m not the biggest fan of Quentin Tarantino. I like his work but I’m not a devotee like so many are. I’m not an authority on his career. I actually prefer Reservoir Dogs to Pulp Fiction. And I’ve not seen his last two pictures. (Mr. Tarantino, if you’re reading this, don’t be mad, they’re in my queue.)

I also didn’t grow up watching kung-fu movies. My Saturday mornings were filled with WWF action called by Gorilla Monsoon & Bobby Heenan. And then there was NWA World Championship Wrestling at 6:05 on the Superstation TBS. So Hulk Hogan & The Four Horsemen filled my over the top action quota for the weekend.

Many years ago, Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2 arrived in the mail. Yes, I still use DVD. I like physical media. Old school. I was curious about Kill Bill but not overly excited. I didn’t run to the theatre to see it and basically was watching it to keep up with the buzz.

I popped Volume One in and relaxed on the couch. A mere few minutes in, Uma Thurman confronts a suburban mom in her doorway. There’s that noise, you know the one, as Quentin closeups on their eyes narrowing in focus. And then BAM they’re fighting all over the house in as high stakes a life-and-death struggle as I’ve seen.

That was it. I was in. Wherever Tarantino took me, I was going. Oh Quentin, My Captain. He could have taken me to the villain giving a monologue while making a sandwich and I would have been riveted. Oh wait, he did and I was. I watched the whole thing from the edge of my seat loving every second. I wanted to shake Quentin Tarantino’s hand and buy him a beer for the experience.

I was hooked. We often talk about the hook as vital for the early pages of a screenplay. But makes an effective hook can be quite elusive. Whatever the genre, the hook is the thing that makes someone want to keep reading, pay money for a box-office ticket or drop the remote while saying “Ooo, what’s gonna happen next?” But we know all too well how hard that interest can be to capture in our gigantic media and ever-busy world saturated with distractions & content.

And let’s be honest – a hook also can help the filmmakers pull off the slight of hand of hiding a film’s flaws by seducing the viewer into the journey. We’re trying to get you so into the piece, so interested in the story that hopefully don’t notice the joins or figure out those trespasses they make fun of Mythbusters. If you’re on the edge of the seat about how they’re going to rescue the princess, you’ll overlook the obvious shot of the stunt-double in Act 2.

To borrow a phrase from sports, a hook makes the viewer buy into the movie the way a player has to buy into a coach.

Friends chatting about movies can be an invaluable resource for screenwriters and filmmakers. It’s a first hand focus group where people are talking about what they like and don’t like about a movie. Not over-analysis or overused jargon about inciting incidents and payoffs.

That being said, I’d suggest gently that people don’t always know how to accurately articulate what it is they didn’t like about a movie.

Some examples:

“It had no plot or story.”  If you think a summer blockbuster had no plot or story, I have a long list of 60’s art films for you to check you. Movies that have no plot or story aren’t released widely. You may not like the plot or the story, you may find the story very boring or you may not really care about it. But it’s very difficult to find a movie with no plot or no story.

“It was sooooo bad.” Problem with this is bad is a relative term. You hear it all the time – objectivity planted onto subjectivity. I’ve heard it was “soooo bad” about movies that have won awards on every level with a fierce loyal audience behind it.  I’ve heard it “was so bad” about some movies that when I finally saw them I was expecting such dreck that I actually said “it’s not that bad.” The reverse happens to be true as well. I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience.

Fortunately, no one has ever told me a script of mine was “sooo bad” but if they did, I wouldn’t know where to begin. Obviously I thought it was good. Chances are another of my readers liked it as well. So how do I fix “sooo bad?” I can’t. Boring? Sure, we can pick up the pace. Low-stakes? Can do, we can ramp those up.  Too many story threads? Cut & combine. But sooo bad? I’m gonna have to ask you to be A LOT more specific.

And if I’m hearing my friends complain about a movie and someone says “I just didn’t buy it.” A-HA! Now we’re talking. Usually, there was something that was a bridge too far when it came to suspending disbelief. And that’s important and something us screenwriters can work with:

*Was there an inconsistency in character behavior?

*Was the emotion of the story not the right pitch?

*Was world of the script something the viewer couldn’t believe could happen? (Not necessarily realistic, but credible.)

Can we answer those questions within the story enough to get the audience to buy in? That is the great quest but you can see how much easier those questions are to work with. And some of them can be answered by a great hook.

See, it’s easy to say “Come up with a great hook that gets the reader/viewer interested.” But it’s more than that. You need a great hook that seduces the viewer into another world they don’t want to turn away from.

Every movie has a hook somewhere in the top. Movie history is overrun with great hooks that make people say “I’m not going anywhere.”

*The HUGE spaceship that kicked off Star Wars

*Jack Burton’s driving monologue at the top of Big Trouble In Little China

*Harmonica’s first gun fight at the top of Once Upon A Time In The West.

Hell, at the top of Annie Hall, Woody Allen tells you directly some of his favorite jokes that are the theme of the movie. In some ways, he’s saying “This is what this movie’s about. Let’s go.”

Those are a few of my favorites. You can probably think of hundreds more. Talk about it with your friends this weekend. It’ll be fun.

You don’t want to lose the viewer. You don’t to let up the excitement/drama/stakes, all those synonyms for story. BUT the lightning in the bottle is get that hook that grabs people and doesn’t let go, that makes people, “Oh, I am IN” or “How will Harry & Sally finally get together?” “How are they going to catch that shark?” “How is Bruce Willis going to fix that little kid?”

Quentin Tarantino is a MASTER of the hooks. The Madonna chatter at the top of Reservoir Dogs. The robbery at the top of Pulp Fiction. And my favorite, the fight at the top of Kill Bill.

He cinematically tells you in 30 seconds or less, “This is the story I’m telling. I make no apologies for it. And I’m not holding back.” (For the record, that’s not an actual quote, just my interpretation.)

Because here’s the sad truth. Sometimes, the viewer just isn’t going to buy in.

I’ve watched movies that are objectively of a very high quality, that have been made by intelligent artists with the most painstaking care, that are honest and raw with a real message. And I still just don’t like them. You can say the same thing. I can guarantee it. (Again, the “sooo bad” being relative to the point of meaningless.) I just didn’t buy in. I can usually point to something specific that undid the hook. 

This is meant with the highest respect to the filmmakers and this is all a matter of taste, but…

*Room: I don’t know of a mother who wouldn’t figure out how to escape through that skylight during those 5 years.
*The Dark Knight: The Joker’s henchmen engaged in basil exposition dialogue during the bank robbery for reasons I saw as just moving plot, not story. Also, Batman beating up the cops of Gotham City isn’t a Batman story I’m interested in.
*High Plains Drifter: A cowboy raping a woman is horrible and unacceptable whatever era the movie was made in or portraying.

I could not buy into those movies. If you could, great! I’m glad you enjoyed them. What bothered me didn’t bother you and fair enough. Goo goo g’ joob. (Well, High Plains Drifter is a tricky one to justify. I’ve seen attempts but no, he raped that woman so fuck that movie.)

So sometimes that Hook doesn’t work. Sometimes we’ll look right at the stunt-double and change over to Food Network. What’s the answer? How do you get that great hook?

There’s simply no surefire answer. No one knows that and be dubious of anyone who does. But what I’ve learned, I’ve seen clearest in Quentin Tarantino’s films. “This is the story, no apologies, come along if you can.” In other words, if you know not everyone will buy in, there’s no reason to compromise your story. Stay as true to it as you can when inviting the viewer along for the ride.

I don’t write universal stuff. Not everyone will like my scripts and that’s quite frankly OK. Because to try and please everyone would actually undermine the stories.

So the hook shouldn’t be a cheap trick or gimmick. A dead body for the sake of a dead body. Like bad magic, people will see right through that. They’ll be insulted and uninterested.

I believe the Hook has to be something at the core of your story. Something that could define WHY you wanted to write this story. Something about what’s possessed you and made you obsessed with it. Something that will offer that same possession to the audience. Or a moment that will lead to that core of the story.

One of scripts I’ve written is about the French resistance of teenage girls fighting the Nazis during World War II. I got the note from several producers and writers that it took too long for the action to begin. A fair note and something I could work with. So I added a flash forward. The very first shot on the very first page is my lead character, Sophie, pointing a rifle at a Nazi soldier. Before they even speak, the core of the story is there both visually and on the page. The feedback and interest in the script went through the roof. Fingers crossed you’ll get to see it one day (and that you’ll buy into it.)

Revisiting those examples above:

*The HUGE spaceship that kicked off Star Wars

(A love letter to Flash Gordon, the inspiration of Star Wars, but it’s the start of Darth Vader’s chase of the heroes throughout the trilogy. Central to the story)

*Jack Burton’s driving monologue at the top of Big Trouble In Little China

(It’s ridiculous and funny but Jack is essentially describing his whole philosophy. He’s introducing himself to the audience)

*Harmonica’s first gun fight at the top of Once Upon A Time In The West.

(Harmonica’s revenge is the driving force of this story. We get started page 1, shot 1.)

No, you won’t seduce everyone with your hook. Someone’s going to read your script and say either “eh” or “that sucks.” But that’s not your audience. Your audience is the people who will get hooked by what your saying and stay with you for the entire ride.  And if they do, then your story will truly resonate with them the way it resonated with you. Or in ways you never even though of which can be the most fun at all.

Keep writing. I’m pulling for ya. And I hope people are buying in.

The Handsome Timmy D Express is proud to be a part of:

The Dan & Travis Show Podcast: An Awesome Thing

http://thedanandtravisshow.libsyn.com/

and 

The Chronic Rift: A series of podcasts that attempt to “find the culture in pop culture.”

http://www.chronicrift.com/

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On The Importance Of Tits And Dragons

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Ian McShane is a master of his craft. I don’t know if I’d call him a genius because that label sometimes discounts the many hours of disciplined work and practice someone puts into their profession. But Ian McShane is a master. Just watch any episode of Deadwood for evidence. But the 73 year old actor has an incredible resume of achievements from “Dallas” to “Pirates Of The Caribbean” to his famous series “Lovejoy.” If I ever have the privilege of meeting him I would shake his hand in Congratulations on a stellar career.

Recently, Mr. McShane has raised the ire of many genre fans for giving away spoilers for his appearance on “Game Of Thrones.” He gave a response in the Telegraph which said, “You say the slightest thing and the internet goes ape…I was accused of giving the plot away, but I just think get a fucking life. It’s only tits and dragons.”

Here’s the original Telegraph article:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/tv/2016/03/11/ian-mcshane-game-of-thrones-is-just-tits-and-dragons/

I encourage you to read the entire article because there’s a lot more than just the “tits and dragons” line that made the headline.

And before you get excited, this isn’t a complete rebuke of Ian McShane’s comments. He’s done more than enough in this business to be entitled to whatever opinion he has. Besides, interview quotes are tricky. Was he just joking? Was he rolling his eyes at internet outrage? The quality of “Game Of Thrones” is pretty much undisputed so I’m sure he’d have some very glowing things to say about the script and experience. Of course, the internet being the internet, that’s harder to find than the mean comments.

But he does bring up some interesting points about internet outrage, spoilers and the genre experience.

Ian McShane cannot be more correct when he says “You say the slightest thing and the internet goes ape.” One just has to look at the ongoing feuds between many Bernie Sanders supporters and many Hillary Clinton supporters to know that’s true. Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders are putting an exemplary debate exchanging ideas in the political discourse. Some of their surrogates, however, are shouting at each other on talk shows and across social media. (Following the example of those they profess to love is some advice that wouldn’t go amiss.)

As I have explored in these pages, the keyboard can be a sword bringing bravery to many a troll. The black and white image of one quote taken out of context can instill an extreme judgement of “HOW COULD THEY?!?!” when in fact there was much more to the story.

I ain’t mad at McShane’s comments because every once in a while (or maybe every day) internet outrage really does need to be told to chill the fuck out. Judgments shouldn’t be made on one out of context quote, but by meticulously researching all aspects of a story. And I say this from no high horse. This all has to be learned the hard way. (“Well, OF COURSE, Iraq has weapons of mass destruction,” said I in 2003. We all can be very wrong about who we believe in.)

I was blocked on twitter not that long ago by a fellow Democrat who was losing her mind about Bernie Sanders ATTACKING Barack Obama. Mr. Sanders wasn’t in fact attacking Obama, but just pointing out how his policies differed from the President’s. In a very reasonable manner. It’s also reasonable to guess President Obama wasn’t mad at Senator Sanders comments. Disagreements happen all the time in politics but the mere suggestion that Bernie Sanders wasn’t the enemy lead to a barrage of rage from this person toward myself and several other people. I’m a loyal and proud voter of Barack Obama but I apparently betrayed the cause by not being mad enough at Bernie Sanders it seems.

(I’ve received the same rage by the way from some Bernie supporters for not loving him so much. There is no political bent that is immune to the pitchfork mentality of mob outrage.)

There’s also the matter of spoilers. In this day and age, they’re getting harder and harder to avoid, but as I’ve mentioned before, apps like this can be a lifesaver:

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/unspoiler/oookgbbhgojdebhnmkmhgfagoiknifgi?hl=en-US

Typing in Game Of Thrones into that app might have kept fans safe from the secret being spilled. It’s impossible to ask the whole world to be quiet about spoilers but there are earmuffs out there that we can wear.

But then there’s the matter of dismissing the genre. In all honesty, I don’t think that’s what Ian McShane meant to do. However, for a great number of years, many us who lurked in Comic Book shops have had to deal with our passions being dismissed with an easy wave of the hand. The explosion of genre programming today shows that those passions weren’t just passing phases and they should not have been so easily dismissed.

Recently, even I was gobsmacked by the amount of attention the new “Captain America: Civil War” trailer got. I don’t mean the buzz but I mean voluminous articles breaking down every shot. Spider-Man’s uniform being combed over. New theories about the plot were written in great detail. People went nuts over this trailer. Google it if you don’t believe me.

Why in the hell would anyone spend so much time and energy over a single few minute long trailer?

The answer is quite simple: It’s important to them.

VERY important to them.

Some scoff and say that Comic books, sci-fi and escapist entertainment is nowhere near as important as serious drama. Perhaps not. That is the endless debate between critics and fans.

Then of course some say that people shouldn’t get so emotionally invested in these kind of genre things. It’s not as important as cancer, domestic violence, rape, abuse and all the other horrors of the world that need fixing. “Why don’t people spend more time worrying about that than the new Godzilla movie?” some will ask with furrowed brows of disappointment.

Those furrowed brows are missing a very key point. Cancer, domestic violence, rape, abuse and all the other horrors of the world are WHY genre is so important. The words nerd and geek have now become affectionate labels for those of us who spend time watching the TARDIS materialize or dress in Starfleet uniforms. It’s easy to forget that the words nerd and geek used to be (and maybe still are) some of the worst names you could be called on the playground. Bullies earned their stripes by inflicting as much torment on the geeks at school and as far as dating went? Forget it.

The “It Gets Better Campaign” reminds us these trends are still there despite the mainstream money-machine that genre has become. So when school is a place of abject terror, when home is a hell of domestic violence, when the steel grip of depression keeps you clawed down, it’s hard to know where to turn.

Many people find not just solace and comfort, but pure bliss in the pages of a fantasy novel, the images of comic book or the wild adventures found in deep space. That faraway land isn’t just mindless escapism but where our troubled minds can escape the painful, chaotic asshole that is real life and find some kind of peace.

And that is the one place I would respectfully disagree with the estimable Mr. McShane. Many of the people who are so invested in shows like Game Of Thrones ARE in fact getting themselves a life.

Yup. Genre entertainment can be damn silly. The sets sometimes wobble and the acting can reach over the top proportions.

Yup. Genre entertainment can take itself way too seriously. Fandom can overreact to the slightest changes in canon and should sometimes take a step back a bit. (I still for the life of me do not get the rage at Goyer & Mazin’s She-Hulk jokes. Google that if you don’t believe me or maybe don’t.)

The world is unfair. The world is filled with tragedy that can strike at any second. The world hurts. Genre, escapism and entertainment, I put it to you dear reader is not just spaceships and superheroes. It is medicine for those hurts.

People often ask me if I’m ashamed of the work I did in Reality TV. “Are you kidding?” is usually my reply. I spent more than a decade laboring to entertainment millions upon millions of people. Even some of the small shows I worked in got around 700,000 viewers. That’s a SHIT TON of people when you think about it. If the show I was working on was a way for those folks to unwind, relax from their day and deal with whatever they were stressing out about, I’m not only not ashamed of the show – I am HONORED to have been a part of it.

Yup. Genre entertainment IS people’s lives. And it will always be of vital importance as long as there are hurts that people need healed.

And besides, the description of “Tits and Dragons” I daresay would attract a great number of viewers. I mean, come on, a show about tits and dragons – how can you go wrong?

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The Handsome Timmy D Express is proud to be a part of:

The Dan & Travis Show Podcast: An Awesome Thing

http://thedanandtravisshow.libsyn.com/

and 

The Chronic Rift: A series of podcasts that attempt to “find the culture in pop culture.”

http://www.chronicrift.com/

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Ideas On Ideas

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Happy New Year one and all! The holiday lights are down and everyone is pretty much back to work. I hope all the screenwriters out there have pen to paper fighting the good fight.

As we embark on an adventurous new year, I figured it’s a good time to explore one of the more difficult questions a writer gets asked:

“Where do you get your ideas?”

Much has been written on the subject. There are few straight or easy answers. Harlan Ellison famously acidic reply to this question: “When some jamook asks me this one (thereby revealing him/herself to be a person who has about as much imaginative muscle as a head of lettuce), I always smile prettily and answer, “Schenectady.” And when the jamook looks at me quizzically, and scratches head with hairy hand, I add: “Oh, sure. There’s a swell Idea Service in Schenectady; and every week I send ’em twenty-five bucks; and every week they send me a fresh six-pack of ideas.” 

In some ways asking a writer where they get their ideas is kind of like asking a gymnast how they perform an somersault. It’s a skill very difficult to explain but more than possible after a lot of practice. Of course, having an idea is not unique to writers. But having a large number of new and fresh ideas is an essential part of the writer’s job. Whenever I tell someone I’m a writer, I often get the response, “I’ve got a great idea for a movie!” to which I’ll sometimes reply, “That’s great. I’ve got about 50.” (And 50 is low but I don’t want to be unkind.)

Screenwriters are constantly bombarded by ideas and sometimes it’s harder to decide which one to pursue as opposed to thinking up bold new concepts. At the same time there are fair number of people who’d like to try writing or are even very experienced who have a hard time coming up with ideas.

This is by no means a definitive guide, but here’s some things that I’ve learned over the past few years that have helped me generate a constant flow of ideas for stories:

BE OPEN: This is actually harder than it sounds, depending on your ego. But a great way to be open to ideas is to – be open. Be open to new concepts, new opinions, new theories, new judgments, new…well, ideas. No matter how intelligent, intuitive or well-educated we are, there is always new things to learn in our ever changing lives. Shedding preconceived notions and retaining as much curiosity can be an absolute gold mine. In other words, revel in the fact that you don’t know everything.

Open your ears, open your mind, listen and watch the world around you. Everyday life is actually an endless supply of source material for story. Everyday scenes in life provide countless inspirations for writers. Don’t worry if the idea is concept or genius, just be open to what’s happening. Fantastic movies, novels and TV shows have been born out of those small struggles.

The concept for one of my pilots clicked into place while delayed in airport terminal and I started to think about a bunch of grumpy people being trapped together. Then I thought, what if everyone trapped together were a mix of criminals, outcasts and losers? Then I thought, what if they were exiled together in the last hiding place an Earth? What if that last hiding spot was actually a remote, hidden bar? A few weeks later the first draft of Finnegan’s was written. A year later, Finnegan’s was collecting laurels on the Festival circuit and today is in the hands of several gatekeepers.

A lot of ideas manifest and grow just by looking around and saying “what if…” Practice by trying to make a story, any kind of story, even just a concept, from things you see every day. You may be surprised how many are feasible and actually pretty good. (Honestly, I think I’ve thought of 10 movies just from walking the dog.)

Listen, Listen, LISTEN: This is similar to above but it’s worth going over. Listen to people. Especially people with dramatically different views and experiences than you.

Some of the very best writers I know spend their time at parties or at the bar asking people questions (and not pitching their stories.) And I mean A LOT of questions. One of the reasons I started the podcast was to ask lot of questions and to absorb the answers.

Talk to people you don’t agree with. Don’t argue with them, just talk them. Are you atheist? Find out why someone is a true believer in God. Don’t judge them, just do your best to understand them. Liberal? Have dinner with a conservative or vice versa. Explore all the layers that make up the difference of opinion and that far too often get lost in “YOU’RE WRONG.” This won’t only help you with ideas, but in creating real three dimensional characters and not one-dimensional stereotypes.

So much of writing is reliant on a distinct understanding of people. Not snap judgments or social media wisdom “People who believe in common core are stupid” kind of thing. I mean, a real understanding of people. Hopes, dreams, fears, adversities, pride and belief are the playing field of the writer. Sticking to only our own can be narrow-minded and detrimental.

READ: If you’re shy or don’t want to talk to people because they’re people and who needs that aggravation, there’s still plenty of ways to explore the world and the people who live in it.

You don’t have to be like Sarah Palin and read “all the newspapers” but there’s little excuse to not have a firm grasp on current events. I can think of several writers I knew of whom I suspected would fail because they just didn’t care about the current events.

Watch the news when you exercise. Read about your community on the subway or in waiting rooms. Read about other communities far away. Whatever news you like, as long it’s telling you “This is what happened today and this is what a number of people think of it.”

If you can’t stand the news or politics, fair enough. Every month fine publications are printing things you don’t know. For example, these are some of my favorite screenwriting magazines:

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“Breaking Bad” was inspired by a newspaper article, don’t forget.

Story mechanics are reinforced by story mechanics so it’s always good practice to be reading as many stories as you can. 

And don’t get mad, Script magazine, I read and like you guys too.

Write down well, everything: Waiting for genius or inspired greatness can be a very long wait. Many fail at writing anything at all because they’re waiting for that “perfect idea.” Many succeed at writing because they write down the imperfect idea and get to work on making it better.

Your local pharmacy or office supply store sells notebooks for literally a few bucks. Grab some. Take one with you everywhere you go. Or use the notes app in your phone or tablet.

Write down EVERYTHING that inspires you. Write down every little idea or even scene or line that occurs to you. Again, don’t worry about the quality or level of genius. Just write it down. The next thing you know, you’ll have a notebook filled with an armada of scenes, ideas, dialogue all kinds of things that could really save you as you write your story. Or maybe all those things will become one story. Whatever works, you’re the writer after all.

The more you write down, the more you’ll write down. The more you’ll be looking for stuff to write down, the more open you’ll be. And the more confident you’ll be because now you’ve got an arsenal of ideas under your arm wherever you go.

PAIN: This is the one I hear the least about in a lot of screenwriting literature and I’ll argue it’s the most important source for ideas – Your own personal pain.

No, I don’t mean embarrassing stories from high school or that time you got fired for being late too much or whatever. I mean the deep searing pain in your soul. I’m talking about the pain that comes from alcoholism or a childhood of abuse. I’m talking about the pain from rejection, from people hating you, from abandonment. The pain that makes people do drugs, cry endlessly or stay awake all night.

There’s a lot of other phrases like “emotional truth” but people are for the most part talking about pain. Of course, you can explore your happy place as well but conflict, drama, struggle, adversity and obstacle all come from the well of our own personal pain we struggle with every single day.

The exploration of that pain is extremely difficult but in many ways it’s necessary to become any kind of writer worth a damn. If you’re hiding or lying about the pain in your life, it’s going to be hard to sit down and write a scene where your leads come to terms with the pain in theirs. Not impossible but hard. And the quality of the drama won’t be there.

We’re artists. And artists not only recreate the world around them, they also explore the world inside of them. How many times have you said during a movie or TV show “It’s like they know exactly what I’m going through?” It’s because they do and they’ve had to face it in order to bring that story to the screen. It’s easy to feel like we’re alone with our pain but the reality is that there’s a whole audience out there who are feeling exactly what we’re feeling.

If you want to be a writer, be ready for tears on the keyboard.

Hopefully this post offers a way to several new ideas. Which one should you write? That’s up to you. But I always let myself be possessed by one. In other words, I may think of an idea on Monday, let’s say. If I think about it every single day that week, I’ll ideally start it the following Monday. If I forget about it or it gets lowered down the ladder by other ideas, I’ll start it much later.

Great stories possess the soul of the viewer, but first they have to possess the soul of the writer. The idea has become something I HAVE to write. Keep writing, keep being open, keep listening, keep reading, keep exploring your pain until you find one.

I hope these pages are at least somewhat helpful as you embark on the good fight. Have a great 2016, everyone!

The Handsome Timmy D Express is proud to be a part of:

The Dan & Travis Show Podcast: An Awesome Thing

http://thedanandtravisshow.libsyn.com/

and 

The Chronic Rift: A series of podcasts that attempt to “find the culture in pop culture.”

http://www.chronicrift.com/

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A Tiny Bit Of Inspiration: An Interview With Kyle Newmaster

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Writing music feels like voodoo to me so it’s with great pleasure I welcome composer Kyle Newmaster to the show. Kyle is a classically trained musician who studied jazz before turning his hand to movie soundtracks. A lifelong fan of the movies, Kyle has scored a variety of films including “Where Hope Grows”, “ABC’s Of Death 2”, “Something Wicked” and “The Myth Of The American Sleepover.” With “Star Wars” in the air, we also touch upon Kyle’s work on video games for the famous saga.

at piano        At Abbey Road

Kyle gives us a detailed rundown on how a movie score is completed, from those first notes on a piano all the way to orchestration. The process is not that different from that of screenwriting as we found many similarities in our discussion. Sometimes creative endeavors seem impossibly daunting but Kyle offers great insight on how to tackle them one step – or note – at a time. Enjoy:

For more on Kyle and his music, check out his website:

http://www.kylenewmaster.com/

Kyle’s IMDB page is here:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1786083/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

For samples from his Kinect soundtrack:

https://soundcloud.com/kylenewmaster/sets/kinect-star-wars-soundtrack   

The Handsome Timmy D Express is proud to be a part of:

The Dan & Travis Show Podcast: An Awesome Thing

http://thedanandtravisshow.libsyn.com/

and 

The Chronic Rift: A series of podcasts that attempt to “find the culture in pop culture.”

http://www.chronicrift.com/

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The Success Of Failure: An Interview With Jennifer Sharp

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Screenwriters constantly have to do deal with feedback and notes. They should always be listened to and considered. But then there’s THOSE reads. Those reads that say “this script is horrible” or “you can’t write.” Festivals and coverage services can be great sources for criticism but you run the risk of sometimes getting that kind of reaction.

Joining me to talk about how to handle that is Jennifer Sharp. Director of the feature film “I’m Through With White Girls” and an award-winning screenwriter as well, Jennifer shares some of the soul-crushing reads she’s received. But she also talks about how that doesn’t have to be the end. This a great conversation about having the resiliency to block out those who hate your work and finding the people who will love it. Enjoy:

For more on Jennifer and her films, check out her homepage.

www.jennifersharpfilms.com

Jennifer can be found on twitter with her brand new handle: @jensharpfilms

The Handsome Timmy D Express is proud to be a part of:

The Dan & Travis Show Podcast: An Awesome Thing

http://thedanandtravisshow.libsyn.com/

and 

The Chronic Rift: A series of podcasts that attempt to “find the culture in pop culture.”

http://www.chronicrift.com/

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What Screenwriters Should Say When Rejected

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“When it’s over for a woman, it’s over. You’re not getting an appeal.” – Jack Nicholson

“No one wants your stuff” – William Goldman

“Everyone gets a lot of no’s. It’s almost always more no’s then yes’s.” – Vince Gilligan

If you’re a professional football player, you’re signing up  to get tackled. Even the kickers take a fair share of brutal shots.

If you’re a boxer, you’re signing up to get punched in the face.

If you’re a screenwriter, you’re signing up to get rejected. A LOT.

There is no avoiding it. Think of your favorite screenwriter. Be it David Mamet, Aaron Sorkin, Paddy Chayefsky, et al, they’ve all heard the most four-lettered of all four letter words: “PASS”

Let’s not mince words, rejection sucks. It is one of the great fears in life up there with spiders and public speaking. And rightfully so. If one thinks of their most painful moments in life, it’s reasonable to guess some of those are directly because of rejection. It reduces grown adults to tears, it wrecks self-esteem, it jades optimism and can often send one down a self-destructive path.

So it is no wonder that when some people turn away from the creative life, “fear of rejection” is often a primary reason. The idea of pouring your blood, sweat and tears into something artistic only to get a “meh” or a “PASS” from either the audience or the gatekeepers is not, on paper, the best way to spend one’s days.

Over the past few years, I’ve been fortunate to have some success and create some in-roads. I’m in the process of signing with some representation as we speak. But I’ve also dealt with A LOT of rejection. In fact, some actors have told me they think screenwriters deal with more rejection than they do. That’s a scary stat, though not an insurmountable one.

Because one thing I’ve learned is entertainment industry rejection is a lot different from real-life rejection.

When someone doesn’t want to go out with you, it sucks. And a lot of times, the terms are not negotiable. There may be no physical attraction, the philosophies don’t mesh, you just don’t enjoy each other’s company etc. The internet is filled with ads about “how to trick people into going out with you” and fortunately, I’ve never had to use those so I can’t verify their results.(For the record, I remain dubious of those claims.)

If you’re an aspiring screenwriter and are scared of being rejected, let me assure you it is not like “I don’t like you anymore” or “I’m breaking up with you.” It’s still painful to get a pass on your script but it’s really not the same thing. Scripts being passed on are not a personal judgment and shouldn’t be taken as such.

“Your script doesn’t fit our slate” is very very different from “I hate you, wish I never met you and never want to see you again.” There’s a ton of reasons why a company (production or management) will reject your work that have nothing to do with the quality of the script.

*They don’t have room on their slate for your project.

*It wouldn’t be a good fit for the leads they have deals with.

*They may think it’s too risky for them.

*They may not know how to market it.

*They may not be able to afford it.

And there’s one thing every Screenwriter should say to a PASS – “Thank You.”

Seriously. Say Thank You.

First of all, no one owes you a read. No one owes you a yes. No one is waiting to bow down to the brilliance of your script. Everyone you’re pitching to has read a pile of scripts taller than Andre The Giant. No one owes you anything so the fact that they are taking a few minutes or an email or a phone call to hear your idea is a big deal. You don’t have to grovel or go into penitent-man-will-pass mode. But say Thank You. I open and close all of my pitches with “Thank You for listening to my pitch.” Time is the most valuable thing anyone has and showing the proper respect for one’s time will never hurt and only show you’re a professional.

Even if you get a pass, say Thank You.

Not everyone has the good graces to call and say “Sorry, we’re passing.” Some folks will just leave you hanging because they’re scared of hurting your feelings. (***Note to those folks: I suggest giving the bad medicine. It hurts, sure but it also tells us to look elsewhere instead of holding onto false hope.) If someone tells you they’re passing but you then respond like a professional, you’re now not dealing with rejection – you may have just made a new connection.

Being defensive doesn’t help anyone, least of all the screenwriter. Everyone knows you’re mad or hurt or upset about the Pass. Let me repeat that – EVERYONE knows you’re mad or hurt or upset about the Pass. You don’t have to tell them, it’s no secret. By all means, complain loudly over some libation to friends and loved ones. This is why God invented bars. But getting into a fight or being a smart-ass to the person passing only gets them to cross your name off of their list. Being a professional and being cool about it can get you in their rolodex. Because again – EVERY single screenwriter gets passed on. It’s how they respond to that pass that matters.

If you’re confused about why you got a pass, go ahead and ask. They may answer, they may not but if you’re open-minded and are receptive to their reasons, then your reputation only goes up. Hollywood is BIG business but it’s a small town. Falling outs, bad attitudes and unprofessional behavior are remembered.

Even I get defensive replies from writers if I say that I don’t have time to read their scripts or am not available for a collaboration. And it’s stunning and quite frankly, shameful. My schedule has been so busy lately, I’ve been unable to record any interviews for a while. For people to treat that or the producers and gatekeepers their pitching to with attitude is just downright selfish and rude.

It’s a cliché but it’s true – you will probably be seeing these people again and again. Let’s say a producer passes on you and you’re so indignant about the insult of the pass, you tell them to fuck off. You make a fresh start elsewhere and build up your screenwriting career. Years later you end up pitching the head of let’s say Universal for a big, big money show. In walks that producer you told to fuck off. They pass on your pitch – AGAIN – and your “fuck off” has gotten you nothing. Seriously, save the bitching for the bar. Sleep it off and get back to grind after the coffee washes away the hangover.

It’s Not You, It’s Them: For real. Production companies and management firms are looking to make money in a hyper-competitive marketplace that is changing at warp speed. We know there’s more Star Wars movies coming. How kids born today will be watching them in five-six years is anyone’s guess. So we screenwriters have to remember that Producers and Agents are not waking up and saying “How can I make some screenwriting dreams come true?” They’re waking up trying to survive – just like we are.

You’re talking to people who are balancing multi-million projects and making high stakes decisions with their careers on the line. Understand that before you walk in the room. Your script may be a huge part of your life but in context, it is a smaller piece of a much, much large industry with probably a million other decisions to be made even if you’re lucky enough to get a yes.  They may look at your project and say “can’t make that work right now” but the more you pitch, the more they hear your voice, the more likely it is they will soon be making it work.

I’ve gotten tons of passes. I’ve gotten zero “don’t come back.” In fact, I’ve gotten many “Not for us at this time, but we’d love to hear future ideas.”

Industry rejection is not permanent: Let’s say a company passes on you but you do some rewrites, maybe find a manager or that same script wins a few laurels on the festival circuit. That company maybe very open-minded to revisiting your idea. They don’t know everything and they know they don’t know everything.

Production slates and management needs are constantly changing. Today’s “pass” could very well be tomorrow’s “Where have you been??” which leads us to…

Research Who You Pitch: This is a very important point because it’s something agents, managers and production companies say all the time. Many aspiring screenwriters think that casting as wide a net as possible is the best strategy with queries and cold calls. If you’ve written the most revolutionary horror movie in years, chances are the company producing 10 rom-coms a year isn’t going to buy – or even waste their time hearing the pitch.

Yes, there are exceptions to every rule and maybe your horror will be what turns “Rom-Com Productions” into the next Blumhouse. It’s still a smart strategy to focus your efforts onto the people who are representing and producing the material you like to write.

I’ve made this mistake myself. I got a read from a manager who I didn’t realize repped like 80% comedies so my gritty crime drama got a pass with a “needs a lot more jokes.” Oops. I’m much, much more careful now and learn from my mistake, you’ll save some aggravation by heading off some of these rejections at the pass.

Every Pitch/Rejection Is An Opportunity: I know that sounds real saccharin but it’s true. This past year alone I had two rough pitch sessions. The people passed but the questions they asked me pointed out some clarity problems in the pitch. I put my “well, fuck you” aside and used their questions to rework my pitch. As a result, I’ve heard “YES” several times since. So quite frankly, if I saw those folks again I’d happily shake their hands and say “Thank You.” Those rejections actually helped me out huge and on a purely pragmatic level.

Listen to how people are responding, what questions they’re asking and the notes they’re giving. There is no better window into what the other side of the desk is looking for.

We Already Have Something Like It: One of the best you can get. Sure, someone got there first, but it also shows your idea is relevant and you’re onto something. If someone is buying and idea like yours, then in this competitive market it’s likely someone else is looking to buy yours. This pass is a big, flashing sign that says “KEEP GOING.”

If They Do Hate It: If you believe in your story, with your heart of hearts and think it should be told to the world and then you pitch to someone who responds “That’s dogshit” well, smile, say thank you and move on. Don’t look back. They’re probably not going to like your voice or your stories so you need to find the people who will.

I don’t always love to hide behind the blanket of “subjectivity” but there IS a matter of tastes to this business. That said…

Your Script/Pitch May Actually Be Terrible: Here’s the one none of us want to deal with but until it gets made, the idea of your script not working at all must remain on the table. Screenwriting is a strange vocation because even when we’re “done” the script is still a launching pad for production and post-production. And the script will go through changes, sometimes HUGE changes, during those processes. Scripts are constantly fluid and subject to reworking.

If your scripts are really generating no reception, no reads, no buzz or heat, it’s a good idea to take as objective a look as possible at the material. Maybe it’s your pitch. Maybe it’s how your idea is being presented. Maybe it is in fact your script.

A circle of readers or being a part of a writer’s group might help you out with this. If you don’t have access to that, there are sites like The Black List and script consultants out there to give you notes and coverage to get your story where it needs to be. (VET any script consultants. Don’t just give some schmuck who’s written two unsold scripts $$$ for notes. I’ve won awards and wouldn’t even think of charging – even if I did have time to read a stranger’s scripts.

So yes, the possibility your story isn’t working has to be considered during this discussion. Sometimes it is you, not them. But the doors are not slammed to you. If your rewrites help and you get the story on track, the same people who said no before may become your new champions when it’s ready.

Being as objective as possible or having the perspective of a reader are vital tools to being any kind of writer. So you can’t always chalk up the “no’s” to “well, what do they know?” Hell, constantly trying to improve your writing is a part of the quest – yes or no. Sell 12 scripts last year? That’s great, you should still be trying to get better.

There is no avoiding rejection and “PASS” on the screenwriting journey. But if you arm and prepare yourself properly, you’ll be able to survive this minefield. How many and how much you can take is up to you. I suggest you take all the no’s on the chin and learn everything you can from them. Say Thank You and put that pen back to paper.

Because one yes will wipe all the no’s.

The Handsome Timmy D Express is proud to be a part of:

The Dan & Travis Show Podcast: An Awesome Thing

http://thedanandtravisshow.libsyn.com/

and 

The Chronic Rift: A series of podcasts that attempt to “find the culture in pop culture.”

http://www.chronicrift.com/

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Legends Never Die, They Just Get Better: Remembering Rowdy Roddy Piper

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I like to unplug from my phone and internet during lunch. If I check my phone, I will have to rewind the TV to see what I missed. So it was with quite a shock this past Friday, after a late lunch my girlfriend Megan called me with a frantic, “Are you OK?”

“What the hell happened?” I asked, going from relaxed lunch to full alert.

I heard her take a deep breath and say, “TMZ Sports is reporting Roddy Piper died.”

What? No, that can’t be right. Not THAT Roddy Piper. Not Rowdy Roddy Piper. Must’ve been someone else. Must’ve been Lonnie Phipher, someone got confused somewhere. There’s no way Roddy Piper could be dead. Not someone with that much life and zeal. But in this day and age, TMZ is pretty accurate when it comes to reporting this sort of story. Remember, these are the guys who outwitted the entire NFL with one well-placed phone call during the Ray Rice scandal. I had to believe the story was true even though as a story it seemed unbelievable.

I talked with Megan for a bit and then read up on it, hoping they were wrong somehow. There are celebrity death hoaxes all the time after all but it wasn’t long before Vince McMahon, the boss with whom Mr. Piper had a long love/hate relationship, took to twitter to eulogize Hot Rod.

I can’t sit here and claim to have been a close friend of Roddy Piper or even that I knew him very well. But as the picture above shows, I did work with Rowdy Roddy Piper. And yes, technically for one night at least, at Chippendale’s in Las Vegas. So I thought I’d share some thoughts and memories.

As my homepage tells you, I worked as a producer on WWE Legends’ House which put Roddy Piper along with WWE Legends Pat Patterson, Mean Gene Okerlund, Jimmy Hart, Tony Atlas, Howard Finkel and Hillbilly Jim inside a house in Palm Springs, CA for a month-long shoot. The resulting episodes can be found on the WWE Network and as a life-long wrestling fan, the experience remains one of the fondest memories of my entire life. And while I did some work as a referee on the New England independent wrestling circuit in 2001, I kept that information to myself. I did not want these Legends thinking I was in their league or their business. I have too much respect for what they achieved to do that.

All of the Legends were fantastic people. They were always telling stories, trying to make the crew laugh and were consummate professionals. If you got to spend 10 minutes with any of these Legends, you’d have a great time and will be happier for it.

Wrestlers are one of a kind people. Roddy Piper even more so. The internet is now a memory lane of a generation’s favorite memories of the Rowdy One. My aforementioned girlfriend never watched or like wrestling yet she knows exactly who Roddy Piper was. Roddy Piper was not just a wrestling celebrity. He was a bona-fide celebrity, an indelible part of this generation’s childhood. I’ve long argued “I have come here to chew bubble-gum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubble-gum” is one of the great lines in movie history.

As a person, Roddy Piper could be a tricky character. I know this because he told us. He was weary of the crew at first. Mr. Piper was a veteran of scheming territorial promoters and Hollywood crews so his weariness was completely understandable. But within a few days of seeing how professional things were going, he became as gracious as could be. When I first met and told him I’d be interviewing him about some of the scenes we were shooting, he beamed and said “ask me anything you want, a pleasure.”

Roddy Piper was an open book to the camera. He would regale the crew with stories from the road, such as the famous night in Fresno with Bob Orton, or clotheslining plants with Ric Flair. And of course, when he was put in warpaint for a day of LARPing, he told us about the time Andre The Giant & Arnold Skaaland made sure he stayed painted half-black for several days after Wrestlemania VI. But also he was happy to hear stories from the crew. One night while waiting before the shoot, we talked about my screenwriting career and my life with Megan back home.

Most nights at 8 PM he’d feel a burst of energy from years of being amped for showtime. Some nights, he’d howl at the moon. He was fascinated by the moon. Many days though, he and his roommate, Hacksaw Jim Duggan would just relax telling stories about their kids. One night I was interviewing Pat Patterson about a scene, but Roddy wanted Pat at dinner with the other Legends. He came over and pulled Pat away from the interview but don’t think he was being disruptive. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You’ve been working all day, you all need dinner too. We’re taking a break.” I could make a quip that one doesn’t mess with this former Intercontinental Champion but I’m guessing this was the father in Roddy Piper, making sure everyone got fed during a long day.

Roddy Piper could tell you stories about a million fights he’d been in. But now in his late 50’s, he was the peacemaker when some heat between Jim Duggan and Tony Atlas flared up. And he seemed to enjoy it. For his wild reputation, Roddy Piper was now a man happy to bring peace to the valley. When another argument between two wrestlers occurred, I conducted an interview with Roddy about it. Maybe in 1985, he would’ve said “Let them fight!” But in 2012, he enthusiastically looked at all angles and perspectives, sympathizing with where people were coming from and trying to come up with solutions.

For weeks, he called me Bambi. One of the executive producers asked him why I was called Bambi. He snapped his fingers, going, “Bambi, not Bambi, Lassie, aha, Timmy” and smiled. That’s how he remembered my name and you know something? Never in my whole life could I be more pleased to be nicknamed Bambi. Only Rowdy Roddy Piper could make that nickname cool. When I got ribbed a little by one of the wrestlers, I told Roddy about it conversationally. He perked up and looked at me very seriously, “Was he mean to you?” And I said, “No, not at all, just playing around.” “OK,” he said. THAT’S when Roddy Piper got Rowdy – whenever anyone was threatened. But don’t think I’m the only member of the crew he had nicknames for or was protective of. By the end of the shoot, lots of folks had autographs, nicknames and stories.

When I tell people I worked on Legends’ House, the first question is “what were the wrestlers like?” Awesome is always the answer. What was Roddy Piper like? Always took a picture with the fans. Always had a great story. Always polite and professional. Never hiding anything.

And more than anything else – Rowdy Roddy Piper was a family man. Many wrestlers have called Roddy a great father in their remembrances and our cameras can back up at that story. One night, Roddy Piper told his fellow Legends his proudest moment was that he was saw all of his kids being born. Considering wrestlers are on the road 300+ days a year, that is no small feat. And while Roddy Piper’s achievements made him a unparalleled figure in the century plus history of pro wrestling, he never ever lost sight of what was most important in his life.

On the last day of shooting, I was busy doing closing interviews with some of the Legends. There was a rush to get things signed by many of the crew. I could only get one thing by each signed because it was so busy. I handed my copy of Roddy Piper’s autobiography to one of the EP’s to get it signed.

Later on after the shoot, I happened to bump into Roddy Piper. “I didn’t know you were a referee,” he exclaimed, “Why didn’t you tell me?” I told him basically what I said above. A guy can play in the minors but that doesn’t necessarily make him a peer of Mickey Mantle. But I’m glad that EP told him the story and that he was glad to hear it. He wished me all the best with my writing and gave me a big hug.

Of course, I’ll remember the dog-collar match, the coconut shot to Jimmy Snuka’s head, Wrestlemania, the match with Bret Hart & They Live. But more than that I’ll remember this kind, generous and unique person who carved his own path in a harsh world and knew how to make everyone smile. 

His autograph remains one of the finest pieces of advice I could think of:

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I haven’t watched the WWE tribute to Roddy Piper yet. I hear it’s amazing and I will. Soon. But not yet. For now, I’ll raise my Scotch north toward Oregon & Canada while listening to “Scotland The Brave.” 

Below is a picture of Roddy Piper preparing his roast. He didn’t know I took this quick, grainy shot. Maybe I shouldn’t have. But I was nearby while this artist was at work. He sat quietly alone taking note after note of what he was going to say . This producer became a journalist, saw a moment and snapped the pic. I’d like to think he’d be pleased.

Safe travels to Rowdy Roddy Piper who was 61 years young…

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Rowdy Roddy Piper’s homepage:

Official Rowdy Roddy Piper Website

The Handsome Timmy D Express is proud to be a part of:

The Dan & Travis Show Podcast: An Awesome Thing

http://thedanandtravisshow.libsyn.com/

and 

The Chronic Rift: A series of podcasts that attempt to “find the culture in pop culture.”

http://www.chronicrift.com/

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