The One Unbreakable Rule Of Screenwriting

Computer for blog

Quick Note: I was going to blog this week about the plagiarism allegations against “True Detective.” But quite frankly, the allegations are so baseless, so ridiculous and so without merit, I did not want to give said accusers and their site even one more hit. I will explore the topic of idea “borrowing” at a later date.  Besides Mr Paul J Garth repudiates the allegations thoroughly here:

On and off over the next few weeks, months and dare I say years, I’d like to visit some of the “rules” of screenwriting. Many an aspiring screenwriter has an inbox filled with material from various websites, webinars and publications promising the secret to “writing a feature script in 10 weeks” or “the most important elements of a TV pilot.”  Some of this material is very useful and worthwhile.  Some of this material, quite frankly, is snake-oil, especially when people talk about the r-word: rules.

It’s not really accurate to say the film and TV writing has no rules. Act lengths are established in TV by commercial sales so that of course influences the shape and flow of the drama. Movies, while commercial free, are given a set time limit to maximize number of screenings and not exhaust the human attention span. So yes, there are rules, formats, structures and limitations the writer finds themselves facing in the media arts.

But there’s much debate over the rules of screenwriting. You’ll find many a list of rules on the internet. Head over to our pals at google and type in “Rules Of Screenwriting” and you’ll find several credible websites listing very sensible and worthwhile “rules” of screenwriting. Your local bookstore, should you be so lucky to still have one of those, will be happy to sell you any number of books on screenwriting rules from a wide variety of well-established sources.

But the fact is, many screenwriting rules are often up for debate. Some rules I quite like, as they’re not really rules but mileposts to guide a writer along the natural flow of a story. There’s reasons why movies and TV shows flow in a certain order, the most important of which is the viewer likes it that way. Some rules I don’t buy into at all, such as “start late, leave early.” I’ve seen way too many great scenes in movies that start early and leave late. Recently, the screenwriting internet world was cleft in twain by the vociferous debate about whether or not it’s acceptable to type in “We See” in a screenplay. (For the record, I’m in the “it’s OK to use We See” camp.)

So really, when someone says “these are the hard-and-fast rules of screenwriting” I suggest to any screenwriter to take them with a grain of salt.

I’ve had many a meeting with professional writers, directors and independent film producers. Like, real, proper meetings about the development of projects and making a movie or TV show. Rules very rarely come-up. Format? Sure. Structure? Absolutely. But no one credible has ever said, “don’t do this, do do that.”  (I have heard that from uncredible sources. Yes, I know that’s not a word, but I’m a screenwriter, I can just make shit up. It’s awesome.)

Speaking of credibility, I’m not a repped screenwriter so why should you listen to me? I placed in several festivals last year, including being a twice second rounder in the Austin Film Festival. This year, I continue to place and recently won the Chicago Screenplay Contest in the TV Drama Pilot category. I’ve been producing television for 11 years and I’m currently attached to several independent producers. Those are my bona fides and whether or not they’re enough to make you listen to me is completely up to you. If you stop reading now and never visit my blog again, no hard feelings, enjoy the rest of the internet.

But that’s the point of this, really. A lot of information and advice and rules that are bombarding many of today’s aspiring screenwriters can be dismissed as so much ephemera. The most important things screenwriters need to listen to is whatever will help them finish their script. The rest goes on the compost heap. Including my own blog. If the words I write are helpful, great! If what I’m writing isn’t helpful to you, my apologies and I wish you well on your writing adventures. For reals.

I will argue that, formatting and structure aside, there’s a whole world of valuable information out there but only one unbreakable rule. Ready? Here it is:

You have to actually write a screenplay.

You have to write it down. Write the thing down. On paper and everything. At least 85/90 pages.

Any mistakes you make are nothing to fear. Get the structure wrong? Head to your local pharmacy and pick up a pack of index cards for a few bucks. Get the format wrong? Lots of guides online to help you realign the plot points and act breaks. And there’s always that stack of books about “rules” on your nightstand to help you because those rules are mostly about structure and not really how to tell a story that will move millions of people.

Or the worst possible scenario: the thing totally sucks. Look, a lot if not ALL first drafts totally suck. We screenwriters will sometimes think that first draft is objectively brilliant since it was the culmination of many years of research and hard work, but the reader doesn’t care about that. If it’s “meh” they will tell you “meh.” (Or to put it another way, when was the last time you walked out of the movie theatre after watching a movie you absolutely hated and said “Yeah, but the crew worked real hard.” Because they did. The worst movie you ever saw had a crew that busted their collective ass. But the viewer doesn’t care if the movie doesn’t entertain or move them.)

Now, yes, you will hear stories of pitches, concepts and ideas selling in the room. In fact, the idea and the pitch are vital. So if you don’t have a script but sell an idea to Paramount for 80 million, good for you – you still have write the script (or else, Paramount’s gonna renege on that 80 million. Or just buy the idea and split the 80 million amongst other writers who will be able to brag at the rooftop bars “Yeah, I wrote that. It was hard.”)

And in this day and age, when Hollywood is being bombarded by more aspiring screenwriters than ever before (especially if one goes by the increased submissions in prestigious festivals such as Nicholl Fellowship and the Austin Film Festival) do you really want to take a chance on having JUST a brilliant idea? 

Especially, because here’s another bit of buzz-kill.

Anyone in LA who tells people they work in the movies will be inundated “I’ve got a great idea for a movie!” You have a brilliant idea. Wow. That’s great. Guess what? I’ve got like 50. And I’m on the low end of brilliant ideas compared to some of the writers I know. For every one script a screenwriter sells, he or she may have 20 screenplays, equally brilliant but rejected, collecting dust in a hard drive before they can be taken around town again after the execs who rejected them have been fired. Brilliant ideas are just not enough to differentiate yourself around town, not anymore. (Besides, we’re screenwriters, we CONSTANTLY have brilliant ideas. Telling a screenwriter you have a great idea for a movie is like meeting Tom Brady and saying “hey, I can throw a football in my backyard.”)

I’m a grizzled veteran of a wide spectrum of reality shows. I’ve had to bite my tongue at many a BBQ and dinner party when someone quips, “X and Y are so funny together. They should put them into a reality show.” No, no they really shouldn’t. One little example of cuteness or wit over tapas makes for a fine first date. That’s not quite enough to invest millions of dollars and man-hours into a series that’s designed to build a large, fiercely loyal audience that a network can sell advertising to.

But what if someone really well and truly DOES have a brilliant idea for a movie that can revolutionize the entertainment world?  GREAT! I’m all for it.

You still have to write it down.

If it’s that brilliant, that mind-blowingly-light-up-a-cigarette-orgasmic, if it’s really going to justify a studio head putting a down payment on a Ferrari then writing it down into a script should be a piece of cake, right?

But you see something happens when we put our brilliant ideas on paper. The brilliance somehow disappears. What makes it special becomes more elusive. The old “it sounds so much better in my head” monster rears his head.

And that’s OK. It’s fine when that happens. In fact, it’s normal. “All first drafts are shit” said Hemingway so don’t panic. Keep writing. 

The art of writing is using words to translate and communicate experiences to a reader eliciting an emotional response. It doesn’t happen the first time or even the tenth time. But it can be done. And only if you write it down.

Once you write it down, you can reshape and remold and transform it until the images you see in your head that get you so excited are there on the page in a way that someone who’s never met you will see those very same images when they read it.

I’m repeating an old topic here, but it’s why I bristle whenever I hear “writing is rewriting.” Yes, you can write crap and make it shine in subsequent rewrites but you can’t get to that crucial stage without writing it down first.

I used to think everyone was capable of writing stories since we all expresses ourselves and our stories in one form or another over the course of the day. It feels painfully naive to write that, but after seeing too many empty notebooks, I understand now that nope, not everyone can write.

In fact, not a lot of people can write. The only way to find out if you can or not is in fact to write. And if you can’t, maybe you can learn how and become a great writer, but you have to start by writing.

Before the agony of realizing it’s not that good and needs a ton of reworking. Before the agony of dipping into the reservoir of human misery to pull out jealousy, embarrassment and sins that all contribute to interpersonal conflict. Before the sealing yourself off from the world to spend more time with imaginary people over real ones…before all that, it has to start with putting down one word, then another and another.

Unfortunately, I know many aspiring writers who are actually stopped by much of the material and snake-oil that’s meant to help them. I’ve heard people say “I’m not supposed to start writing yet because of [INSERT SOME BULLSHIT]” or “I haven’t done enough reading so I can’t start writing yet according to [THIS ASSHOLE] I read on a writing forum.”

Sometimes otherwise talented writers will psyche themselves out with “the studio doesn’t make movies like that today” or “why would anyone want to watch a TV show I would write.” This attitude always perplexed me. Yes, the studios may completely pass on your script – just like the pretty girl or boy at the dance said no, but don’t worry they’re not actually in cahoots with studio heads. Studios are CONSTANTLY looking for new writers, new ideas, new scripts because they don’t know that your script that you think no one will like won’t make them a billion dollars.

Aspiring screenwriters go through hell and back to get meetings with executives and production companies. I’m sometimes envious of those people who are so convinced that the answer will be “no.” What are other secrets are they not telling us?

I should amend that statement. Aspiring screenwriters – who truly believe in their work – go through hell and back to get meetings with executives and production companies. Ever watch a movie and think “How in the hell did anyone buy that script?” The writer knew how to sell it. The writer believed in it so much that not selling it wasn’t an option.

If you believe that much in your idea. If you believe that your idea can change Hollywood or entertain millions or even just find an audience and move people, then write it down.

There’s no rule about when or why to start writing. There’s no one way, no one right way or any wrong way to get the words onto the page. If you need to write out of order, do it. If you have to have a long, exhaustive outline before opening your screenplay software the first, time, more power to you. If you have to jog around the block 4 times counterclockwise before you can start writing – get jogging.

If you’ve started the screenplay and are stuck, go back to square one. “The only writing that happens is in your screenplay software, outlining and treatments are not writing.” Another bullshit rule. If you can’t get past page 30 or page 40, something is amiss with your characters and the paths their choosing. Revisit the treatment, draw out their goals and obstacles that are standing in their way. Head back to the index card aisle and buy some notebooks to write out who these people are and why they’re doing what they’re doing. (It’s back to school season so you may luck out on a sale.)

Just write it down. It’s the only rule that if you break, you have no story and no script.

Write your story down. Write down why you were possessed to tell it. Write down how it moved it you action. Write down how it speaks from your soul. Write down good stuff, bad stuff. Good scenes, bad scenes. Strange dialogue, good dialogue, stilted forced dialogue. Write down whatever comes into your head. Are you ready to tackle and reshape the story with open honesty that will bring out the truth of your characters? You’ll only find out if you write it down.

Write it down. Because someone, somewhere, is waiting to read it.


Penumbra: An Interview With Beleeve Entertainment

First of all, I want to thank everyone who shared the female Ghostbusters article. We’ll save the world one movie at a time. And again, if you like something I’m posting do not be afraid to share and spread the word. I don’t have millions to promote this little venture so every RT, facebook share really does help. Thanks so much! Also, my apologies again for the audio cutout in Episode 4. This issue has now been resolved and the show sounds better than ever.

On to Episode 5, I’m delighted to welcome Chelese Belmont and Shannan Leigh Reeve. They’re the founders of Beleeve Entertainment and this interview ties in perfectly with yesterday’s theme of women making their mark in today’s Hollywood. Chelese and Shannan are currently campaigning on indiegogo to finish their new feature “Penumbra” which takes an honest and unapologetic look at the struggles of addiction from several sides.


“Penumbra” tells the story of Erin Jacobs, a gifted artist who’s harboring a destructive cocaine addiction. She has a run-in with a police officer Valerie, who has a past scarred by her own addiction. Erin struggles to find sobriety but Valerie shows us how hard sobriety is to maintain.

CBheadshot                                Shannan8x10

Shannan and Chelese are two women who wear many hats on a movie set and they’re trailblazing their way across the indie scene making the movies they believe should be made. They’re setting a tremendous example to all of us who want to make films but are sometimes intimidated by the complexity of the studio system. The work they’re doing reminds us that if you truly want to achieve something, there’s really nothing stopping you. This a great conversation about believing in yourself and making your own path, especially in the face of glass ceilings and preconceived notions. I’m really proud that they took time out of their busy schedule to appear on my podcast:

For more on “Penumbra”, check out the links below. And again, if you can’t donate money, please share these links on social media. This is an important and universal story that will speak to a lot of people’s lives. Spreading the word will help this movie find those people:

The indiegogo campaign:

The Penumbra film website:

For more on Beleeve Entertainment:


Her Name Is Mary Ann Evans: Why The World Is Ready For Female Ghostbusters


If you look up the book Silas Marner, you’ll find it was written by George Eliot. Most people know the story. I remember it was taught in my English class and it was revealed that the author, a woman (GASP), used a male pseudonym because women authors in the 1860’s were not taken seriously.

Unfortunately, today, in 2014, the case is true – in some circles – that women authors along with women screenwriters and directors are still not taken seriously.

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the dearth of women writers and directors on television. This is an all-too striking graphic that’s been going around public and private conversations in the business:

Women Stats

There’s a lot to talk about and explore with this issue. I’m not going to claim to solve it by any means but the purpose of this week’s entry is to be an on-the-record-for-the-world-to-see look at how perceptions in the business need to be changed.

“Perception is reality” epitomizes the entertainment industry. That shone with bizarrely outdated clarity over the weekend as several columns by respected industry journalists were written questioning and/or downright objecting to the idea of a Ghostbuster sequel or reboot (it’s still deep, deep in development) with an all female cast. People asking “is the world ready for an all-female Ghostbusters?” may indeed be asking if female leads can carry a complicated nuanced comedy.

Let’s see, after:


The Heat

I Love Lucy

9 To 5

Sex And The City

The Golden Girls


Hot In Cleveland

Breakfast At Tiffany’s

The Mary Tyler Moore Show


Outrageous Fortune

The New Adventures Of The Old Christine


It’s Complicated

Legally Blonde

Charlie’s Angels

Big Business

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

How To Marry A Millionaire

One Day At A Time

Pitch Perfect

Ally McBeal

Mean Girls


Desperately Seeking Susan

Happy Endings

It’s A Living

Miss Congeniality


Sister Act

Working Girl

Miss Congeniality 2

Sister Act 2

Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion

The Amy Schumer Show

The Phyllis Diller Show

The Mindy Project

Playing House

Parks And Recreation

30 Rock

and the critically acclaimed, award-winning show about Girls dating that’s called GIRLS.

Yeah, after all those, I’m going to go out on a limb and say, yes, the world is ready for an all-female Ghostbusters. “But Tim in some of those examples you cite it’s different because the women are are not playing, you know, beer-drinking men like Ghostbusters.” In other words, it’s OK for women to play girly-girl action heroes like Charlie’s Angels, but not macho heroes like the Ghostbusters which is kind of ridiculous on a ton of levels. Apparently there’s an intrinsic maleness to Ghostbusters that I missed on the first 250 times I’ve watched it. They were bumbling academics, not the Expendables. (Oh and the Expendebelles is in development. By Kirsten Smith and Karen McCullah, two wicked talented writers who should give you hope it’s gonna be pretty fun and wicked good.)

And is that really a defense these columnists want to take? Women should not be cast in MALE roles. They can’t be cast in roles where they kick ass, knock down doors, shoot some guns, blow up some buildings, shoot off some smart alec on-liners. And God forbid, capture ghosts in a humorous way? Is that really what those who question an all-female Ghostbusters want to hang their hat on? Have the people objecting to the all-female Ghostbusters not seen The Hunger Games because while I’ve not read all the books or seen all the movies I’m under the impression Katniss Everdeen can kick a lot of ass.

(Some have pointed to Peter Venkman’s chauvinism as the charm of his character, completely missing the point. Venkman could only win the heart of the one woman he loved when he dropped all the chauvinistic bullshit and became BIGGER GASP the nice guy who helped out by researching the origins of Zuul and Gozer. Oh and when the chauvinism returned between Ghostbusters 1 & 2, what did the woman of his dreams do? Dumped him.)

Imagine Kristen Wiig as Venkman, Amy Poehler as Stanz, Tina Fey as Egon, Wanda Sykes as Zeddmore and throw in Bradley Cooper as the man of Venkman’s dreams plagued by demons in the fridge. Hell, throw Julia Louis-Dreyfuss in there as the mayor.  Seriously, imagine her demanding the Ghostbusters be brought to her office to save the city. Awe-fucking-some. Directed by Paul Fieg. As an updated love letter to the original Ghostbusters. (We might even get a “Yes, your honor, this woman has no clitoris” joke. Fuck yeah!)

As my friend Gabe O’Connor would say “I want to see that now.  Now. Now. Now.”  Though, of course, maybe it would fall short. Maybe it would be far inferior.  Maybe it would be fail miserably. But we’ve all seen and heard much worse ideas. And as we all know, you can’t be successful if you’re afraid of failure (see previous blog posts – and tell your friends.)

The world is ready for female Ghostbusters.  The world is ready for female action heroes.  The world is ready for female writers and directors.

And you don’t have to take my word for it.  Did you see “Lucy” the new film by Luc Besson starring Scarlet Johansson in the eponymous role? Well, A LOT of people did. $80 million in 2 weeks worth. In fact, she outdrew action movie mainstay and former USWA Tag Team Champion The Rock in his new film “Hercules.”

And this past weekend? Chances are you saw and loved “Guardians Of The Galaxy.” Don’t worry Part 2 is well on-track (probably farther along in development than Ghostbusters 3 quite frankly).  $94 million opening weekend, oh let’s just call it a $100 million coming out party. And what makes Guardians special besides it’s awesomeness?  Guardians is the first Marvel movie to be written by a woman. Congrats to Nicole Perlman who broke a barrier this weekend and had a whole nation of men, women, comic book fans and non-comic book reading movie goers chant “This-Is-Awesome-(Clap-Clap-ClapClapClap).”

This summer may indeed be the turning point. It may not. The idea that an all-female Ghostbusters is a bad idea in the minds of some shows there’s a long way to go. One of the authors of such a piece backtracked, saying on twitter he was just objecting to remakes in general, though his piece in Deadline cited the all-female Odd Couple as an example of a bad idea remake. It’s almost like the idea of an female cast is a gimmick. But would anyone say that about an all-male cast? Imagine someone walking out of Glengarry Glen Ross and saying “I just didn’t care for the gimmickry of an all-male cast.”

What I think is happening in some circles – not all, I want to be very clear about that one – is that women, gays, African-Americans and all manner of minorities are being marginalized to one side. So let’s say you’re a studio and you hire an accomplished female director to direct a big tent pole movie. But that director turns out to be awful, a nightmare to work with who suffers from borderline incompetence.  The response from some people will be “That’s the last time I’m hiring a woman director.” Which is the wrong response. The right response is “That’s the last time I’m hiring THAT director.” Because the next 10 women directors that one works with may be great but are being denied the chance unfairly – and we in turn, are denied their talents.

Some folks really do need to learn that women are just like men. They come in all shapes and sizes with a wide variety talents, aptitudes, strengths and weaknesses.

Hollywood is a place that LOVES to pigeonhole. In fact, Hollywood doesn’t really function unless everyone is seen in their tiny little compartments. Screenwriters know this all too well. “Wait, you wrote a comedy – how can you write a horror movie?” “You write dramas, you can’t write comedies” and so it goes. Good/bad, right/wrong.

Many aspiring writers think that having a wide ranging portfolio is the best thing to show an agent or production company. In fact, every credible agent and producer I know has told me and other writers to have as non-diverse a portfolio as possible. They need to know what category to put you in so that you can be identified and in turn, hired.

I imagine (and have heard) that many women writers get shoved into the rom-com or chick-lit box. We may be getting denied many a great action, sci-fi or horror movie or TV show because those authors are being told “You wrote a psychological thriller? No, no, no, how about a true love piece.” (For the record, this is not a knock on rom-coms or chick-lit. I wrote a rom-com myself, based on Megan’s first novel – and it will make you laugh & cry promise. I’m just saying, maybe not every women writer is only interested in those things.)

Where this gets Hollywood into trouble – or where this perception is fallible – is, that’s not at all how the audience works. “What kind of music do you listen to?” is asked on a million first dates. The answer is usually the same, “I listen to everything.” The audience, ESPECIALLY in 2014, is not putting things in tiny little categories.

At the Austin Film Festival this past year there was a panel with Jenji Kohan and Callie Khouri called “The Heroine’s Journey.” They quickly dispelled the thesis by saying that the Heroine’s Journey is the same as the Hero’s Journey. Good characters are good characters, they said several times. They want to tell good, compelling stories first and foremost.

It occurred to me as I listened to these two brilliant writers not only how much I liked their work but how on paper that must confuse some people in Hollywood. I’m a late 30’s white male who grew up on a steady diet of pro-wrestling, science-fiction and the Transformers. On paper, it makes no sense that Orange Is The New Black would be one of my favorite shows of all time. I listen to heavy metal, I love football and I don’t mind shooting darts at a bar over some tall beers. Thelma & Louise is another favorite of mine, I could watch it several times every year.

(And no, I don’t think it’s anti-male as some suggested when it came out. Thanks Republicans. SPOILER ALERT: Louise shoots a rapist in a parking lot. I have no sympathy for him.)

I’m 0% Hispanic – I was riveted by every second of American Me. I’m 0% African American – Boyz N The Hood is amazing. I’m 0% Jewish (well, a little more than that I guess thanks to 5 passovers with my Jewish lady caller) but still, need I be Jewish to weep at the power of Schindler’s List?

Hollywood, in some circles, seeks universality from the product it sells, yet in some corners, finds that same universality an almost baffling business practice.

Now, I keep saying some circles because I’ve worked for and alongside some very talented women at all levels of the business, literally from PA’s to Executives. I’ve been taught, mentored and developed by women, some of whom are the best in the business. I recently worked on a show with two male editors and one female editor – all super talented, all of us got along great and worked really well together. If gender was an issue there, I certainly don’t remember any instances.

Monty Python famously said they couldn’t write women. I believe they could if they were active today. I believe they had trouble writing 1970’s women and the expected types of the day, so to speak. But gender roles are changing in our society. I know of several stay-at-home dads who’ve said to me, “What a racket, men have no idea what they’ve been missing going to work everyday.” I’m guilty of that too. Writing during the day, going grocery shopping, changing the litter box, cooking & doing the dishes. I’m in Heaven. My Grandfather’s generation would fall out of its chair to hear that, but that’s the new reality. And why shouldn’t we embrace it? For some outdated nonsense like “a man’s role is the breadwinner, a women’s role is the kitchen.” Fuck that. Much to the chagrin of the far right, our society just doesn’t work that way anymore. And I’ll argue for the better.

It’s high time Hollywood didn’t work that way anymore either. Whatever the pigeon-holing, or just blatant chauvinism or sexism that “women can’t write this” or “women can’t direct that” has to change. Because as my love of Orange Is The New Black and Thelma And Louise will attest to – we’re all missing out on good shows and great stories when segments of the population are left out of the room.

The audience is changing with the times faster than maybe even Hollywood can keep track of. $100 million weekend, if anyone objected to a woman writing Guardians Of The Galaxy, their voice was drowned out like Homer Simpson objecting to the Flaming Moes. And quite frankly, I think the only argument I’m going to get from friends on Facebook about this blog is going to be about my Ghostbusters recasting choices – and not because they’re women.

There are circles in Hollywood changing with society. I know several male Hollywood execs who I promise you are trying to change the tide. There are also more women exec’s, women producers and women showrunners than ever before. If the tide isn’t turning yet, the stage is certainly being set. It is happening, conversations are happening but, of course, there needs to be more.

The fact is though, people are not just going to change their minds. I mentioned recently on the podcast with Megan that comedy legend Jerry Lewis STILL doesn’t think women are that funny. Show him the list I showed above and he’ll probably remain unconvinced. (One has no reason to believe he’s been exposed to that material and those talents.) And he’s categorically wrong. I love & respect the great Jerry Lewis, but Tina Fey & Amy Poehler could read the phone book and it would be HYSTERICAL. (They would also make an excellent female Odd Couple, Deadline.)

I don’t believe the perception is going to be changed that easily. The reality has to be changed thus forcing the perception to change. And many women are changing the reality by not accepting this perception. Many women are forming their own production companies, making the movies others won’t allow them to make and many more are still pounding on the doors demanding a fair shot. The Hunger Games, Lucy and Guardians Of The Galaxy give me some hope they’ll get it.

In fact, whenever the question is, can women play this or can women write that or can women direct that – quite frankly the answer in 2014 has to be yes. Or to put in another way, “Ray, when someone asks if women can play the Ghostbusters you say YES.”

“But Tim, maybe there just aren’t that many women writers and directors?”  That question does get thrown around more than you might think and it’s more than a little laughable. I recently went to a Writers Guild Foundation event, did some networking during breaks between Q&A’s and it didn’t even occur to me until I got home – every business card I collected was from a woman writer.

Also, in my own household, my girlfriend is a writer.  Actually, she’s not just a writer, she’s a damn good one. She could be staffed right now, this minute. She won the Fresh Voices competition this past year and has placed in other contests to back up that accolade if you don’t believe me. It annoys me, yes, as the overprotective boyfriend, that she will face barriers and walls in the business that her male counterparts will not have to face.

I can’t completely knock those barriers down but hell, I can throw out another plug for her books, which are available here:

And then there’s Chicks Who Script That’s Chicks not Chick.  Lauren Schacher, Maggie Levin and Emily Blake exemplify much of my argument as they are women writers outside the “type” who could easily be staffed on a wide variety of shows or could write as equally wide a variety of movies. I highly recommend checking out their podcast and giving them a follow on twitter. Emily Blake also knows a thing or two about Doctor Who so she’s Aces in my book (no pun intended.)

They recently had on their podcast Stephanie Folsom who wrote “1969: A Space Odyssey Or How Kubrick Learned To Stop Worrying And Land On The Moon” which was chosen as the first script to be presented live by The Black List and it absolutely deserved that honor:

And speaking of women taking over roles, about 10 million viewers on CBS watch a female Watson. There’s going to be a female Doctor one day in Doctor Who. It’s all but guaranteed. Fortunately, my friend Tara O’Shea and whole slew of talented women writers have made sure that moment has been prepared for. A great collection about fandom and how fandom isn’t always the demographic you think it is:

There’s a lot of women writers out there. There’s a lot of women industry pros out there. A website that highlights many of them is and an incomparable colleague of mine, Etta Devine, has written some columns on independent production that offer invaluable advice for anyone who wants to figure out how to get your story on film:

Etta’s in post-production of the second feature she’s doing with her longtime partner, the also super talented Gabriel Diani. While I’m plugging stuff, here’s a preview of that new movie that’s going to be awesome, original and funny (That’s right Gabe & Etta are also comedians and would be both make great Ghostbusters. In fact, they had to deal with some dastardly spirits in their brilliant first movie “The Selling”.)

While talking about women writers, I feel like I would be doing this piece a great disservice if I didn’t mention Amanda Pendolino’s blog. It is essential reading, reminders and great advice for all screenwriters, whatever their level – or gender. Bookmark it and read it once a week, it will absolutely keep you sane – and teach you how to be a pro:

One of the other women who I’d like to mention who’s certainly changed her perception is Morgan Fairchild. An iconic figure of blond blue-eyed Hollywood beauty. What do you think Ms. Fairchild tweets about these days? If you said latest politics, international news and climate change awareness, you’d be right. “But she’s just an actress who was on Falcon Crest.” Well, yes and she’s also an intelligent person interested in the world around her. Following her on twitter is a great way to stay informed about current events from numerous news sources (and she was in a lot more than Falcon Crest):

And I’m sure some of this will come up in the interview I’ll be posting tomorrow with Chelese Belmont and Shannan Leigh Reeve, a female director/producer team shooting a movie right now:

There are A TON more women I could list here – and several of  whom I hope to have as guests on the blogcast soon.

I’ll probably revisit this topic more over the next few months. The business is changing rapidly and, who knows, maybe the next spotlight will see a lot more progress made. Maybe next summer, half of the comic book movies will be written by minorities. Maybe TV production will see a huge spike in women directors being hired. Maybe I’ll be in a writer’s room – and I’ll be the only guy. I should be so lucky, right? Kidding, Megan, kidding.

But hopefully more progress will be made and women screenwriters won’t have to write George Eliot on their title page to get noticed or hired.

Because wouldn’t it be nice if George Eliot became a footnote to the story and someday someone will say, “Wait, who wrote Silas Marner? George something, isn’t it, not wait, it was Eliot right?” And the answer will be “No, her name is Mary Ann Evans.”

George Eliot


Programming Update

Hello Dear Readers & Listeners,

Just wanted to check in about some exciting developments with the old HTD Express.

First, a little bad news.  Unfortunately, there was a fair amount of Skype cutout on the Dan & Travis interview toward the end there.  I don’t think it took away from the overall enjoyment of the show as I’ve gotten some nice feedback, but it’s more than I would like.  So this weekend I will be looking into some upgrades to minimize that as best I can.  Bear with me, I’m a one man show making it up as a I go along but I want this to be as well-done as possible.

Speaking of feedback, I’ve gotten some great compliments from some of you and I’m very grateful and humbled to hear them. Comments are always welcome (name-calling is not) but a few folks have asked me in private, “Mind if I comment” or “Do you mind if I share this.” Let me put it on the record: It is very OK with me if you share this blog.  This isn’t being produced for money or anything, just collecting positive and productive insight about screenwriting and the entertainment biz.  This meant for public consumption to help people who are stuck at the typewriter and spread useful info in this age of plenty of misinformation on the internet.  Please feel free to share any blog you’d like on facebook, twitter, bulletin boards, pinterest or foursquare if that even works.   Thanks very much. Together, we can save the internet.

Moving on to some good, dare I say, GREAT news.  I’m excited to announce that starting tomorrow the Handsome Timmy D Express audio segments will be streaming on The Chronic Rift network!  For those who are unfamiliar, the Chronic Rift is one of the premiere, if not THE premiere network of podcasts covering pop culture. The people who participate in their podcastsis Who’s Who of creative talent suchDr. Arnold T Blumberg, Scott Alan Woodard, Keith RA DeCandido, Paul K Bisson and Bill Meeks just to name few:

Check out some of the shows they got:

How do they make the Walking Dead? Find out in this episode of Doctor Of The Dead:

Cinemafantisque interview Sharknado 2’s Dante Palminteri:

and of course, they have a really awesome show in The Dan & Travis Show:

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Lots of great shows on there and I’m delighted my interviews will be found there as well.

Speaking of  the interviews, got some really exciting folks lined up including but not limited to, other screenwriters on the festival circuit, a creative executive, a researcher and even a college professor.  Next week, I’m scheduled to interview a Director/Producer team who blazing their own way through the business and we’ll be talking about the world of independent film, crowdfunding and their heartfelt drama which is dealing with the battles of addiction.  Oh and they’re women so we’re also going to talk about breaking perceptions and glass ceilings that women unfairly face.  Their movie looks great & check out their indiegogo fund here:

Work commitments permitting, I’m going to do my best to schedule things going forward with a written blog on Monday and Audio Post on Tuesday.  I know people are reading and listening by their own timetables but still I’ve noticed some stability to posting helps traffic so there you have it.

If you’re an industry pro whom I know, please don’t feel slighted I haven’t ask you to be on the show yet. There’s scheduling issues and a method to my programming/recording but there’s no one I’m not avoiding anyone. Trust me, if I’ve worked with you over the past 10 years, I want to interview you.  Most of you. 60% at least.  (There’s a lot of dicks out there)

If you’re an industry pro or have a project/film/script whom I don’t know and you’d like to talk about it on the Express here, shoot me an email at and we’ll see what we can figure out.  This whole project is about getting a myriad of viewpoints and insights about the creative process so I’d love to hear from you.

And to recap, I’m thrilled with the interview numbers so far, but just in case you’ve not heard the shows yet here’s a quick recap.

Episode 1: An interview with Matt The Cat, world-renowned Radio DJ:

Episode 2: An interview with Megan Karasch, novelist and award winning screenwriter:

Episode 3: An interview with Mike Doto, director and digital media producer:

Episode 4: An interview with Dan & Travis, podcasters and masters of pure hilarity:

Thanks again everyone for reading, listening and sharing.  Be well and all the best…




An Open Letter To William Shatner And George Takei: Please Stop

Dear Mr. Shatner and Mr. Takei,

I’ve never had the privilege of meeting you gentlemen either in professional situations in the entertainment industry or at the many of Star Trek conventions you’ve headlined. I would consider it a privilege if one day I got the opportunity to shake your hands and say “Thank You” for the many years of entertainment you’ve provided me and millions upon millions of people around the world.  And it is with the utmost respect that I make this impassioned plea:

Please Stop.

Stop fighting. Stop feuding. Stop publicly calling each other names. Stop recounting the stories of difficulties on the set. Stop throwing more gasoline onto a fire that should have long burnt out.

You may be saying “But Tim, this is really none of your business. Our feud is our business, not for you to tell us how to conduct” and well, fair enough.  Except of course, you are public figures who’ve taken an on-set personality conflict and made it the subject for numerous public interviews, Q&A’s and books.

Things had quieted down for a long time.  I was heartened to see George Takei appear on the William Shatner roast in 2006.  They exchanged insults as is the custom of a roast, all in and good fun. They even exchanged a hug!  But then came the wedding-invite-gate of 2008.  I’ve read some of the articles covering this particular breakdown and my head spins.  Mr. Shatner felt slighted by not being invited but Mr. Takei and his husband (Congrats by the way, guys) insist they did invite Mr. Shatner. I think, I’m honestly not sure.

It’s a dizzying conflict to be sure.  I’ve looked up a lot of articles and videos covering it this morning.  One can easily find in a google search “Takei just wants peace from Shatner” and conversely “Shatner just wants peace with Takei.”  One reads these excerpts hoping against these two television (not science fiction, but television) icons will finally bury the hatchet.

But recently, Mr. Takei appeared on Bill Maher and said this:

Why The Wrap thought this was headline worthy is beyond me. Mr. Takei has documented his dislike of Mr. Shatner in his autobiography, on the Howard Stern show, in numerous media interviews and God knows how many conventions.  To the best of my knowledge, and I could be wrong but Mr. Shatner has yet to respond this particular barb.  (Though I’ve seen some say that Takei’s comments on Bill Maher are a response to comments in about recent Takei in a recent Shatner book and Oh My God are you realizing what I’m typing, does this read anywhere near as ridiculous as it feels to be typing it?)

Of course, entertainment is filled with epic feuds:

-Pink Floyd fans have long taken side and debated about who was right – Roger Waters or David Gilmour in one of rock’s most acrimonious split.

-Vince McMahon had blistering public feuds with Bruno Sammartino, The Ultimate Warrior and Bret Hart.  Like real-life feuds not wrestling feuds.

-Recently, the Sunday night cartoon landscape saw harsh words exchanged between Family Guy and the Simpsons.

And  Star Trek, it’s got William Shatner vs George Takei.

To be honest, I’m not unsympathetic – to both of you.

Mr. Takei – I’m so very sorry you felt disrespected and slighted by Mr. Shatner while shooting Star Trek.  I’m very sorry that he’s the kind of person that you just don’t like and probably will never like.  It’s the entertainment business.  I don’t have to tell you the bottomless egos involved.  At the same time, one can’t help but also feel like, “William Shatner was the lead in the show. He had the most lines, the most scenes.  He was under the most pressure.”  It’s not a complete defense but I can understand why Mr. Shatner did not always go out of his way to talk to the other cast and crew.  (Compared to some stories I’ve seen and heard from leads in the business, Mr. Shatner doesn’t sound remotely the worst in this category.)

Mr. Shatner – You’ve been blasted by most of the Enterprise crew.  Leonard Nimoy is your staunchest defender and possibly in part because he could relate the most the amount of work you had to do and pressure you were under.  I’m sorry that you’ve been judged so harshly by your shipmates.  I don’t think the public forum is necessarily the place to air these grievances. Someone should have pulled you aside and talked to you face to face. Maybe they did and you didn’t listen. You probably could’ve been nicer and more cordial to your costars but as sins like this go, I certainly can’t point fingers.

But let’s also take a look at Mr. Shatner and Mr. Takei away from Star Trek.  When it comes to reinventing themselves in the internet age, it’s hard to find two better examples.  Except for maybe Weird Al.  (Thanks again everyone for reading last week’s blog on him. Very overwhelmed)

George Takei has embraced the internet in not just spreading goofy jokes and Memes.  He’s become an inspiring champion for gay rights and equality in general.  Sometimes he does it with great gravitas:

Sometimes he does it, tongue firmly in cheek:

And Mr. Takei’s best work of his career may be happening right now on stage with the powerful play about Japanese internment camps in the play “Allegiance.”  If you get the chance, do not hesitate to see this production:

Bravo, Mr. Takei!  Anyone who wants to sum up your career as Mr. Sulu is doing you a great disservice. You’ve taken the platform that Star Trek gave you and used it spotlight stories of injustice and human courage. And you’ve become role model, not only for gay people, but for anyone who feel themselves crushed by the weight of intolerance.

The William Shatner of today has so reinvented himself that when I watch the original Star Trek series, it’s hard for me to believe it’s the same man playing Captain Kirk.  Sure, there are stories of Mr. Shatner being a jerk on set.  If you google “Stars who were jerks on set” you’ll find that Mr. Shatner is in excellent company.  As in most stars.  Everyone cracks under the pressure sometime.  Remember Christian Bale’s rant on the Terminator: Salvation set.  Roy Scheider didn’t seem like a prince in some of that Jaws behind the scenes footage.  I still get in debates with friends over who was right, Lily Tomlin or David O’Russell.  And of course us Doctor Who fans have many a William Hartnell and Tom Baker story recounted at conventions.

Sure there’s those stories.  But there’s also the stories of a William Shatner who had to live out of his truck for years because he was typecast for work and had to give what money he did have – and rightfully so – toward feeding his children.  There’s William Shatner who’s written dozens of books, fiction and non-fiction (including the must read Star Trek Memories series, as honest a look at film production as I’ve read). There’s the William Shatner who’s constantly tweeting with his fans, recently the poor souls stuck in line for Hall H this past weekend at Comic-Con.   There’s the William Shatner who made not just one but several comebacks which included leads in TV shows in the 1980’s (TJ Hooker) and the 2000’s (Boston Legal).  For a guy with (unfounded) reputation for overacting, he stole Boston Legal as a show and has a couple of Emmys to prove it.

He’s also a master Equestrian and has brought a spotlight to aiding horses, even establishing the annual Celebrity Horse Show.  And through his association with Star Trek has given more time and money to charities such as Habitat For Humanity and American Cancer Society so one can’t exactly question his generosity.

And Patrick Stewart likes him, so I mean, really, how bad could William Shatner be?

And if that doesn’t convince you, just take a minute and watch William Shatner steal the show, the entire show, at the AFI salute to George Lucas:

So what happens when Bill Maher has George Takei on to talk about gay rights?  “George Takei explains why he can’t stand William Shatner.”

“But it’s the media overblowing one small part of the interview”  Don’t give them that small part.  Don’t say anything bad, untoward, mean, spiteful, sliteful and do your best to be mindful. This stuff can overshadow all the wonderful, wonderful work you both do.

I mean, you guys are both in your 70’s – can you really NOT make up?  Do you want exit stage left with feelings of resentment and bitterness still in your souls about something that happened in the late 60’s?  Patrick Troughton was The Doctor when you guys were making Star Trek for crying out loud.

And let’s revisit those other feuds:

-Roger Waters and David Gilmour may never record together but they’ve mended fences for both charity and peace of mind:

-Bruno Sammartino, Bret Hart and The Ultimate Warrior are all in Vince McMahon’s WWE Hall Of Fame.

-And Family Guy & The Simpsons?:

If I had my wishes or a bunch of money, I’d hire you guys to do a two-hander, either a play or one-off TV special. Force you guys to sit in a room and work together, battle it out, yell, scream but ultimately work together toward the greater good of putting on a good show with a greater respect and understanding of each other.  But I don’t have the money and it looks like you guys don’t have the will so it’ll probably never happen.  (Hell, I would take you guys performing Comfortably Numb.  Maybe we can do it at David Gilmour’s house, he can fight with Roger Waters over he’s a better grillmaster. I’m kidding. Maybe.)

You guys are heroes to countless people.  You are bigger and better than this.  If the grand finale of this isn’t a peaceful resolution, then please let each other be.  You’re both doing fantastic, wonderful work with long, wonderful careers behind you. You’re both doing selfless, generous work that’s important to charities, to the helpless and the voiceless.  You may not ever like each other – or be able to forgive pass transgressions.  But you guys are both awesome. You should be awesome together. But if really can’t, I think the best thing for each of your souls would be if you looked across the stage, exchanged a nod and raised a glass.

At the very least, you each deserve that.



Star Beasts: Taking A Look At The “Alien” Saga

alien poster

Just to be safe, this contains SPOILERS for every Alien movie ever made (& even some comics) so if you’ve not seen those, proceed with caution.

On many, if not most, lists of screenplays that are must-reads for screenwriters “Alien” invariably comes up.  But which draft?  The original “Star Beast” by Dan O’Bannon (Story by Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett) or “Alien” by Walter Hill & David Giler?  Fear not, dear reader, I intrepidly read drafts from both parties then watched the final version of the film.  

“Alien” is a classic.  It’s hard to overstate its success, both commercially and creatively.  Obviously, I enjoyed this exercise very much and moved on to “Aliens” by James Cameron, so this week is all about some observations about the “Alien” Saga in general.  “Alien” was first released in 1979, before many of you were even born (I was a spritely 3, so no, didn’t see it during its original run). 

The thing that jumps out immediately to me about the “Alien” scripts (whatever drafts), is how unmarketable they’d be today.  In one of O’Bannon’s drafts he says that all the characters are interchangeable, to be played by men or women, with no physical descriptions and few behavior character keywords.  God almighty, Black List readers would have a heart attack and couldn’t type 0/10 fast enough.  And I wonder how it would do in the Script Notes “3 Page Challenge”.  I’m guessing not well.

Anyone up for some technobabble?  Both scripts are rife with plenty.

From O’Bannon:


From Giler & Hill:


I don’t think Giler & Hill even know what they’re talking about.

Structure?  Yikes:


Step on it, fellas!  Oh and the chestburster scene, page 91.  In those days, that meant minute 91.  The early drafts are a very slow burn (more on that in a bit).

And of course, one of the clunkiest lines of exposition still exists in the movie:  “I saw it. Yellow light for my eyes only.” But that’s a very minor quibble, though Tom Skerritt doesn’t seem very comfortable saying it.

So should today’s screenwriters read the rest of these scripts?  YES, immediately.  

What does make them work is their almost austerity-like sparsity of words.  This is from the final battle between Ripley and the Alien by Giler & Hill:


That is simply terrific.  Each line is a punch.  You can actually snap a rhythm to it (go ahead, the rest of the blog will be here when you’re done).  Simple, little jabs telling you not only that each word counts but also where to cut.  Each line is a shot, without having to describe camera angles.  Pretend you’ve never seen “Alien,” then read that sequence again.  Your mind will be instinctively directing and editing the scene based on the words, which at the end of the day, is the whole point of screenwriting. 

Not to be super clever or literary, not to impress anyone with your descriptive talents or audition as a director.  (Yes, I’ve been guilty of all of those).  It’s creating the movie with words so that when you read the script you can SEE the movie with instinctive ease.

O’Bannon was right not to dwell on character descriptions.  You learn who each person is from their words and actions.  You simply don’t need to know on page 2 (an all too common note these days).  And quite frankly, once the action starts, you kinda don’t care.  Is the Alien going to eat these people or not?  What would I do in their place?  Would I go back and save the cat?  (Unless you’re a psychopath, of course you would)

And the character stuff they get right, they get really right.  If only Ashe had listened to Ripley when it came quarantining Kane and the others, none of this would have happened.  She was the wisest one to see the danger and survives it at every turn. 

Despite the slow burn and slow start in both scripts, they get on with one job and one job only – telling you the movie.  Even though there are significant cuts to both scripts in the movie (did you spot that Ripley & Dallas are fucking? And what about Ashe & Lambert?  Does it work the same for androids?), there’s little wasted motion.  If there’s a word that’s not telling you the movie, you won’t read it because it has already been deleted.

It’s sounds like a such a simple reminder but it’s one every screenwriter, myself included, needs to hear.  Myself very much included.  Just when I think I can’t take out a single thing, I invariably reread a script of mine and find not a few, but maybe as much as 10-12 pages to cut – all based on too many words.  Tell the movie.  Anything else is extraneous and as my screenwriting teacher, Emerson’s own Kevin Miller, told us many times – command-D is a screenwriter’s best friend.  (I know he wasn’t the only person to say that, but he was great teacher so I’m giving him a shout-out)

One other thing about the slow burn and today’s marketplace – yes, both of these drafts were improved greatly by quicker pacing over subsequent drafts.  BUT I hate hate hate the phrase, “Start late, leave early.”  It oversimplifies a storytelling technique (again a top for another blog).  “Alien” is a great example why I cringe when I hear it:

If these movies were made in 2014, “Alien” would begin with the shuttle landing on the planet, a quick recap of why they’re sidetracked and by minute 10, Kane would be back in the ship with the face-hugger on him.  All of that reality, all of the establishment of normalcy, (the cups of coffee, discussion of bonuses, etc.) would be lost.  Look me in the eye and tell me the truncated version is a better movie.

So yes, screenwriters, whether you’ve not finished your first script or if you’ve written 50, the Alien drafts are must reads.  And interesting challenge, see what words you would add.  I’m betting zero to none.  (Does anyone really miss the fact that the crew does not regularly refer to the alien as an alien?)

But as good as these scripts are – I almost think Aliens is better.  Now, I think “Alien” is a better film overall, but Aliens is a pretty unimpeachable sequel.  What do you do with a nearly indestructible killing machine?  Throw a squad of bad-ass marines at it, of course.

And the tag-line: “This time, it’s war.”  (Geek swoon)

I’ve not always been the biggest fan of James Cameron.  I didn’t like how Ed Harris nearly drowned on The Abyss.  I didn’t like that he hung Jamie Lee Curtis out of a plane (even though he did as well).  Many on-set and industry tales of his overall jerk-ness turned me off to him.

And then I saw “Avatar.”  Yup, I loved it.  Every single minute (another slow burn).  And so did the whole sold-out New Year’s Day theatre I saw it in.  Avatar has been much lambasted by Internet literati who think that similarities between “Fern Gully” or “Dances With Wolves” are some kind of indictment.  Maybe it is in your mind too or maybe you just didn’t like it.  Fair enough, but that sort of story borrowing is as old as movies themselves – but we’ll save that for another blog.

(Quick side-note, the overall stories to “Alien” & “Jaws”?  Not a million miles apart)

But how did Mrs. Cameron’s baby boy react to becoming (again) Hollywood’s most hated director?  He set a record for deep sea diving to one of the most dangerous locations on Earth:

James Cameron is 100% certified bad-ass.  I’d be honored if I could one day shake his hand and just say “Well done, Jim”.  And one of those reasons is “Aliens” – both the movie and script.

Aliens is wordier than Alien, but dammit it works.  When Cameron goes long, it’s for real purpose, usually character driven:  Newt rolls her eyes as if to say “don’t pull that five-year-old shit on me, lady. I’m six.

Awesome.  Yes, literary, but still you can see the shot in your mind’s eye.  Cameron the writer is telling Cameron the director exactly what to say to his child actress to pull off the scene.

“Aliens” is also paced like a mother-fucker.  I found myself reading pages at time while holding down the scrollbar.  Cameron incorporates the best of “Alien” while ratcheting it up for the action-crazed 1980’s audiences.  The slow burn is there again but builds faster and faster.  Sure the Marines shoot off lots of guns but this is still at its heart a suspense thriller.  The guns are actually taken away and one could argue the most harrowing sequence is when Ripley and Newt are trapped with the face-huggers.

Camera angles are done through looks and expressions.  When “Ripley’s expression becomes sober” your mind’s eye will probably go to a tight close-up.  Atmosphere is established by the emotions the visuals are supposed to evoke, not just picture perfect description.  Cameron is admittedly dictatorial about production design so he knew he didn’t have to go crazy filling the script with the details he wanted on set blueprints.  All screenwriters should remember that one.  Scripts should give the production team emotional direction, not tell them exactly what and how they should be building things.

Possibly the most amazing thing pulled off by Cameron is his sleight of hand.  The script is filled with cool sci-fi shit, tons of technobabble about the various weaponry, and the word EXPLOSION sprinkled throughout.  But what is the script about?  A woman who gets a second chance at motherhood.  Underneath all the blood, guts and shredded hardware is a touching mother/daughter story – and it even has a wicked happy Disney ending (anyone mind that really?).  This ability to hide all the happy stuff under the things that producers worried about (the action pieces) is nothing short of brilliant – and at the same time, pragmatic. 

And my favorite favorite favorite thing about the entire “Aliens” script (and it’s STILL in the movie) is during the highest point of drama:


Fuck yeah!  One of the rare examples where a story doesn’t rely on the “we’re out of time” cliché.  And yes, Cameron underlines & boldfaces wherever he wants.  And I don’t blame him.

And as far as I’m concerned, that’s the end of the Alien Duology.  The stories continue in the highly recommended Dark Horse Comics world where Ripley, Hicks, Bishop and a grown-up Newt launch great new adventures fighting both the unstoppable aliens and the military/corporate forces that wish to control them:

But what about “Alien 3”?  “What about it?” says I.  Look, David Fincher is a master filmmaker.  “Zodiak” and “The Social Network” are masterpieces.  Fincher is in a class of his own, especially thanks to Se7en which continues to stun audiences today.  “Alien 3” is a beautifully made film.  But as a story…

It’s been well-documented in the “Alien” Quadrilogy boxed-set that well, no one really wanted to make “Alien 3” but it was a cash cow so a script about a monastery was commissioned eventually becoming a story about Ripley trapped in a prison but the prisoners had sort of taken a vow of spiritual celibacy something.  

The contracts for Newt and Hicks were not retained so their characters were killed off in a terrible narrative move.  Immediately the story suffers from taking an uncomfortable wide left, not dissimilar to the feeling of waiting for Steve Guttenberg to show up in “Police Academy 5”.  You just don’t WANT Newt and Hicks to be killed so the movie is already buzzkilled.  And what does Ripley do now that she’s so broken up that Newt died?  She bangs the Doctor.  Yeah, previously movie, she walked through an industrial alien hell to get the girl back.  Now, we’re supposed to believe she just “accepts” Newt’s death?  

Charles S. Dutton does a fine job playing Dillon (cool name).  Actually nothing wrong with the cast at all.  But when Dillon says he’s a murderer and rapist of women….ummmmm, why I am rooting for him again?  Because he’s human and the alien is an alien?  Um, sorry.  We don’t hate the shark in “Jaws” because it’s a shark.  We hate the shark in “Jaws” because it kills a little kid.  Yeah, OK, the alien uses either a dog or cow to come to life (depending on the draft you read) but not sure I shouldn’t root for the alien against the serial killers and rapists. 

Let’s put it another way:  Adam Lanza, the BTK Killer and Charles Manson vs the Alien.  Whose T-Shirt are you wearing to the fight?  I’m wearing the guy with two mouths who’s mother is a face-hugger.

Most offensive of all is the attempted rape of Ripley.  So in “Aliens,” this is a character who goes through hell and back to save Newt, confronting the entire alien menace and their Queen as an industrial superstructure melts and explodes around her – but that same character is overpowered by 3 prison skinheads and then needs help from Dillon to free herself?  “Oh, but she’s weakened by being pregnant with the Alien queen.”  I’m not buying it.  Andy Dufresne getting raped in prison?  I’ll buy that.  Ellen Ripley?  Not on your life.  She would skin any would-be attacker alive.  You wouldn’t do it to John McClane or Dirty Harry or any number of male action heroes (or at least they wouldn’t have needed rescuing).  It shouldn’t have been tried with Ripley.

“Alien: Resurrection?”  Has real merit.  The first hour is pretty bad-ass.  Aliens using their acid to get free.  The underwater fight.  A Ripley clone that’s part alien?  OK, pretty cool.  And the scene where she finds the clones that “didn’t work” – very powerful stuff.

But the whole hybrid monster thing.  I can’t help but find that all a bit sad.  They created this poor creature who must be put to death for the good of humanity or something.  Now, thematically, this is a call-back to the first movie which was filled with reproductive motif in which Giger designed the face-hugger after a vagina and the alien after a penis (even the computer is called Mother) but still, the movie just loses me at this point.  It’s not a selling point – “Want to go see Alien 4 where a Ripley clone has to kill an experimental monster who thinks she’s its mother?”  Do you want to see that?

It’s always easy to Monday Morning Quarterback after the fact but I can’t help but do that after revisiting the saga.  After revisiting the first two scripts, there’s only one natural story for Alien 3 if one follows the narrative at its most basic thread – the aliens come to Earth.  Sigourney Weaver didn’t like all the guns in “Aliens” (which influenced some of the creative on “Alien 3”) but that’s fine, she still could have used her wit, guile and cunning to find a way to save the Earth from aliens that somehow came back with her and her new family of Hicks, Newt & Bishop – who should absolutely have lived into “Alien 3.”  Whether they all lived until the end of the film is another story – and another source of drama.

What about “Alien Vs. Predator?”  I liked the first one.  Granted, I’ve only seen it once.  But I liked the action scenes, dug the Alien-Predator hybrid and incorporating Lance Henriksen as the original Weyland was a nice throwback – and also helped explain his heirs’ obsession with getting the creature. (I guess the first AVP is technically the first Alien prequel.)

“Alien Vs Predator: Requiem.”  Lots of fun action sequences but again muddled morality.  The Predator blows away a Sheriff – and then I’m supposed to root for him the rest of the movie?  There’s edgy and dangerous storytelling and then there’s stuff like that, which expects too much at times out of an audience.  Some people bought it, of course.  It turned me off to the rest of the film.  As did the small town melodrama which tried way too hard.  But I salute the filmmakers for trying to wrap honest story around the action set-pieces.

The AVP sagas: OK, fun, action movies.  But overall, I was disappointed.  A friend of mind indignantly said to me, “What did you expect, it’s ‘Alien vs Predator’?”  Exactly.  It’s “Aliens Vs Predator,” the two best sci-fi horror franchises of the past 30 years.  They should have been a lot more than OK, fun, action movies.  They should have been classics.

OK, only one left…

I don’t feel too bad about being critical of movies that are well over ten years old.  (I don’t think David Fincher would consider “Alien 3” his finest work)  But I thought long and hard about what to say about the other “Alien” film.  The film is still wet, relatively speaking.  I know people who worked on the film and I know people who know the people who made the creative decisions.  I don’t find it to be in good taste to be overly critical of fellow professionals’ work.  You may hate my scripts, dear reader.  I doubt it – but you might.  So who am I to rip apart a recent film?

That said, I don’t think I’m talking out of school when I say “Prometheus” wasn’t a successful picture.  I know of many people who left the theatre furious.  I was one of them.  Much as been written about the many problems with the piece.  For me, I’ll say this: I was never given a reason to buy-in to what I was seeing – and given plenty of reasons to check-out.

Side-Note: I never really liked the idea of the alien as a bio-engineered weapon.  I always felt that it being an animal, evolved in the harsh climates of space, was much more interesting.

At least we have a truly amazing trailer:

How does a disappointment like “Prometheus” happen?  Lots of reasons, probably best saved for another blog.  Was it the writer’s fault?  The director’s fault? The producers’ fault?  All of the above.  Was it just a (well-documented) troubled script development and then once they found a usable script, they thought “yes, we got it”?  Maybe.  When they replaced a puppet with a guy in a suit on “Howard The Duck,” they thought they solved all the problems.  I don’t want to point any specific fingers (though some involved certainly have publicly) because it’s hard in the world of movies to see the forest for the trees.  It happens.  It’ll probably happen to me and my colleagues one day.  We all work hard to prevent it and I’m sure everyone on the crew of “Prometheus” did as well.  But it gets us all sooner or later.

But revisiting “Alien” again, I couldn’t help but wonder – and maybe this will happen in one of the (gulp) “Prometheus” sequels – should not the last few minutes of “Prometheus” been something like this:

-The newly discovered aliens get away from the company, taken by a revived Engineer in one of their ships.  The ship ends up crashing landing on a planet designated LV-426.  What’s the company to do?  They want the aliens but that planet is waaaay out of the way and they don’t want to get their hands dirty.  Someone plucky, young executive (Carter Burke Sr?) discovers a freighter, the Nostromo has flightpath toward LV-426.

-Last scene: Dallas gets his crew together to take off on their journey.  The last minute, his regular science officer is replaced by Ashe.  The ship takes off. And the crew descends into hyper-sleep.

Where did I get that idea?  It’s all right there.  In the “Alien” scripts.


SPOILER ALERT – Or How I Learned To Block Spoilers And Love The Internet

In this golden age of television and comic book movies, the internet has presented a big problem: SPOILERS!!  Every so often, my Facebook page (and I’m guessing yours, too) explodes with a debate about the etiquette for what to say when, how to say it or if it should come with a warning.  Fortunately, though, like any internet problem, there’s a solution often found by spending a few minutes on a search engine.

Recently, a news site presented on-set pictures from an eagerly awaited sci-fi epic which featured a familiar spaceship possibly returning.  This really is no surprise as said familiar spaceship appeared in every other live-action chapter of this franchise but still many on the internet cried “SPOILER” so I thought this would be a good time to write some thoughts about the Spoiler pandemic, about what I’ve done and what you can do to protect yourself.  So read on – and I highly encourage you to spread the word about what you read here.  Not to promote my blog (but cheers anyway!) but to help save the internet.  Kidding, but kinda not.

****JUST TO BE SAFE: The following blog contains spoilers for Alien3, Watership Down and Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan.  I can’t recommend the latter two enough, by the by.

To be clear, I HATE SPOILERS.  I think they ruin the fun and overall experience of a television program or movie or stage-play et al.  There was an article that went around recently called “Why Spoilers don’t actually matter.”  I never read it and won’t.  I’ve had enough things ruined for me to know that they do matter.

Full disclosure, dear reader: I do actively seek spoilers on one thing and that’s Doctor Who.  For whatever reason, maybe because I’m so close to it and want to be so informed about it, I don’t want to be left in the dark.  But I seek those out.  I find the key and unlock them.  I don’t broadcast them for all to hear.  (And I have made that mistake, so I’m not trying to talk about this from a high horse.  I have unintentionally spoiled things for people – and it’s a shit feeling)

There’s also the case of inaccurate spoilers.  I won’t go into the details of the infamous Red Wedding from Game Of Thrones – but the so-called spoilers I got were well inaccurate so some surprise was maintained there.  (Game Of Thrones deserves a shout-out, though.  I know the Red Wedding was coming in Season Three, but there were THREE different weddings being prepared and built up toward, so I’m watching going “Which one is gonna be the Red Wedding?” Confusion or extra info can be an interesting way to combat spoilers.  The folks did that during Star Trek II, when rumors of Spock’s demise leaked, they added the “Aren’t you dead line?” jokes from Kirk to Spock in the beginning to give the audience a false sense of security.  Brilliant!)

And of course, as a person in the industry, one hears spoilers from everyday conversations and scripts passed around.  I know more about next summer’s blockbusters than I’d like but that’s from the inside.  I would NEVER post such information online out of 1) professional courtesy 2) I don’t spoil it for people who want to see those pictures.  Because I know how much it sucks to have things spoiled.

I’ve had the following things, among many, spoiled for me:

-The ending of a season of Breaking Bad.

-The ending of Torchwood: Children of Earth

-A very specific death in Game Of Thrones.

-And Alien3.

Yup, Alien3.  (I don’t know how or care to know how to type the stupid squared thing)  Way back in 1991, I was reading Premiere magazine (remember that?) and in one of the first paragraphs about Alien3, the reporter described in detail how piping hot lead was being used to the destroy the Alien.  This was a few months before it came out.  No warning or anything.  The action climax of the duel with the monster right there for all to see.  

Suffice to say I was pissed and disappointed.  Granted, that’s not the sole reason why Alien3 sucks (a prison full of rapists, murderers & serial killers?  Um, OK, I’m rooting for the Alien.  And no one is raping Ripley.  No fucking way.  But more on the Alien sage next week, rest assured.)

Still I was incensed that some magazine author arbitrarily decided that THAT point was not salient enough to be protected so naive readers like me could be, I don’t know, surprised and caught up in the movie.  When I brought this episode up in film class a few years later, I was taken to task by my classmates.  “The ending of the film is the least important part,” I distinctly remember one of them yelling that at me.  We didn’t become friends.

This discussion rages on today on Facebook and twitter and all over the blogosphere.  I’ve always advocated that a “SPOILER ALERT” type warning should accompany ANY potential spoiler (see above).  I’m glad people are so excited about movies and TV they run to the internet to say “I can’t believe such-and-such just happened.”  I’ve been blessed to work on shows that make people that excited and am equally excited to work on more.  But I don’t think there’s any excuse to not give a “head’s up, I’m gonna talk about something you may not want to hear.”  In my mind, that’s never been (and still isn’t) difficult.

But not everyone (in fact, far from everyone) agrees with me.

“Spoiler Alerts don’t work,” argue some.  They always have for me.  I see spoiler alert, I scroll past.

“People who complain about spoilers are telling others they can’t talk about the shows they like,” I can sort of see how this is implied (not really, I’m being generous) but don’t see how a spoiler alert is equal to shut up.

“Just stay offline or off social media for a few days,”  Um, just not realistic in this day and age.  And we are coming closer and closer to a day when we will never be offline.  Good/Bad, Right/Wrong, it’s true.  

So what to do?  When we’re in a bar or at parties we show consideration.  You wouldn’t scream the ending of True Detective out loud in the middle of a room where people hadn’t seen it, would you?  (The fine gents at Script Notes left their TD segment on the end of a show with many warnings for anyone who hadn’t seen it.) You wouldn’t discuss the twist ending of a movie as you leave the theatre in front of the line of folks waiting to get in, would you?

People have a tremendous sense of etiquette and common courtesy – except for the internet, it seems.  Or at least, we haven’t reached universal accepted behavior there just yet.  (I just learned the phrase trolling can apply to any kind of critic online.  What the fuck is that?)

And like Fiver coming to that realization of a dog loose in the woods in Watership Down, I remembered something.  A conversation I had weeks ago.  A friend of mine of on Facebook commented that he didn’t want a bunch of sports comments in his feed (this may have been for the NFL playoffs, I don’t remember)  I recommended an app that blocked sports scores from social media.

After a recent debate about spoiler etiquette, I remembered this app and researched.  Not only did I find it, I found several.  And that’s probably the thing that shocked me the most about the various Spoiler debates I’d had.  We actually have the power to block Spoilers from our online life – and just not enough people know about it.  Long threads of “you do this,” “no, you do this” can be eliminated by any of links – freeing us up to watch more TV!

For the past month, I’ve been using The Chrome Unspoiler:

Effectiveness: I’d say about 95-98%  Simply install in your browser and type in what you don’t want spoiled.  It’s a good idea to include character names and keywords as well as the title.  That sounds like a pain but actually only takes a few seconds. News articles, blogs, social media are personally and selectively shielded so you don’t see anything you don’t want to see yet.  Not so ironically, Breaking Bad is the default.  Every spoiler blocked is presented with the option to show it.  You can turn as many options on and off as many times as you wish.  This has been a lifesaver.  

Now it’s not 100%, as I said.  One noticeable gap is that it won’t hide the Facebook trending column to the right, at least not yet, so be warned on that one.  And sometimes a headline will flash for a second or two before it’s blocked.

But the price-tag of “free” is hard to beat.

There’s also a version for Internet Explorer:

What about my phone?

Works for both iphone and Android.  Has great reviews from many users.


I haven’t found anything that’s as good as the Unspoiler.  It might be out there and if you find it please post a link in the comments section.  There is however, a comments blocker.  (And gosh, if some websites don’t desperately need that)

Safari?  I’ve not found one yet, but again if there’s a link I missed please post.

There’s also these articles on other ways of blocking out spoilers, but some of these seem a bit complicated so I’m sticking with the Unspoiler.  But hey, they may be perfect for you so check ‘em out:


So anyone mad about seeing the spaceship reveal from Star Wars, download one of these, install it and type in Star Wars – because those are only going to get worse between now and December 2015.

(And parents, these apps may be useful for parental control measures as well)

So the next time you’re on Facebook and you hear someone bitch about spoilers or someone bitching about someone bitching about spoilers – send them to these links or apps.  One of them will absolutely solve the problem.

We’re the on-demand generation.  We’re twisting media to our personal demands, regular programming schedules be damned.  (I JUST started Justified, for example)  We decide what and when we watch TV, movies or listen to music.  So if only follows that we’ll be exposed to spoilers – but only when we want.

If these links work for you, help spread the word. We can make the internet a nicer place to discuss things we disagree on.  And any other spoiler solutions are more than welcome in the comments section.  Thanks!