flying wrestler

thoughts on screenwriting from writer-producer erik bork

I’m a screenwriter best known for my work on the HBO miniseries BAND OF BROTHERS and FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, for which I wrote multiple episodes, and won two Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards as part of the producing team. I’ve also sold series pitches (and written pilots) at NBC and FOX, worked on the writing staff for two primetime dramas, and written feature screenplays on assignment for companies like Universal, HBO, TNT, and Playtone. I teach screenwriting for UCLA Extension, National University and The Writers Store, and offer one-on-one consulting to writers.  Click here to email me.

Why “Flying Wrestler”?

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Teaching at UCLA

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Teaching at National University

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Online classes

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Most Influential Screenwriting Blogs

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One Problem Affecting Everyone

At the heart of a good original TV series idea is one big problematic situation. It somehow affects all the series regulars. And it leads to endless new stories. It's not unique to particular characters, but is the over-arching reason for the series' existence. It's...

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Who is My Antagonist?

Many writers believe their story needs a villain -- a single character who is the main source of opposition in the story, or the primary “bad guy.” Since arguably all stories have a “protagonist,” don’t they all need an “antagonist”? I don't believe they do. Not every...

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Main Character’s Problem/Goal

The main character of a story has a problem they want to solve. The main character of a story has a goal they want to achieve. Which is it? It’s either, and it’s both. The main character has a problem and/or a goal. Sometimes people refer to it as the “problem/goal."...

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Out of the Bottle

I see a lot of scripts these days where the writer initially depicts the main character as kind of a selfish jerk. This is on purpose, because they want to “arc” them to a better, nicer person in the end. I get this desire, as many of the best movies feature powerful...

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Changing the Game

In any story, the problem gets worse in the middle for the main character. Or at least it gets more complicated, more difficult, more dangerous, etc. They are generally not “winning.” They're overmatched by whatever they’re involved in. The difficulties of writing the...

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Dude with a Problem

They’re trying to kill me! That’s what’s happening in the most misunderstood of the ten “genres” in Blake Snyder's Save the Cat books. "Dude with a Problem" is misunderstood because of its name, which really describes every story. Movies are always about someone with...

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Character Introductions

One of the most frequent notes I give on scripts is one I’ve given so often that I’ve created a macro for it on my computer. All I have to press is ";na", and the following pops up: "I would recommend not introducing characters by name, unless they’re about to do...

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Institutional-ized

When developing a screenplay (or series) idea, I’m always looking for what the main problem is. The one big problem that is really hard to solve, which becomes the main focus of the narrative. It should have huge stakes, which are not just...

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Golden Fleece

A “team” goes down a long “road” in search of an important “prize." These are the key elements of the movie genre that Blake Snyder's Save the Cat books call the “Golden Fleece.” Inspired by The Odyssey, such stories track progress over time and/or space toward a...

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Rite of Passage

My favorite thing about Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat screenwriting books is his theory that successful movies tend to each fall within one of ten specific types of stories. These ten “genres” can be a hugely helpful tool for screenwriters at the all-important concept...

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The 8 Story Problems

There are only so many types of situations a human being can be in, that are big and relatable enough to base a movie on. As I see it, successful scripts generally have one of 8 essential challenges or story problems for their main character, when you boil them down...

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Series = Ensemble

When coming up with an idea for a television series, and writing a pilot script, writers often make the mistake of approaching it like a feature. Meaning, they focus on a single main character, with a single problem and goal. That’s not how television works. I can...

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The 20 Script Must-Haves

The things that make screenwriting hard to succeed at are not mysterious. They're just not easy to achieve. Successful scripts differ from unsuccessful ones for some pretty concrete reasons. Below you'll find my list of the 20 most important attributes of screenplays...

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Degree of Difficulty

I often say that a good story idea focuses on one big problem that it takes the whole story to solve. What that means is that the problem has to emerge early in the story (traditionally at the “Catalyst” or “Inciting Incident,” about 10% in), and not be resolved until...

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What are the stakes?

It's a constant question producers, agents and executives will ask: What are the stakes? And it's maybe the most common thing that causes a script to "not work." If the stakes aren't big enough, the audience won't tend to care, or stay engaged. It's also very...

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Keeping it Real

One of the most frequent and important types of notes I give on scripts is to question whether something seems REAL. Another way of saying it is this: “Does the situation and what people are doing and saying seem BELIEVABLE? Would this happen in the real world? Would...

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Chasing Success

We writers realize that the chances of any one thing we write being “successful” are slim. At least that’s true if we define “successful” as “reaching an audience,” “getting produced or published,” “bringing in income,” or even “advancing a career in some way, like...

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Perfect Counterparts

What makes an audience root for two people to be together? The Save the Cat books have a name for the type of story where the primary external conflict is that two people who are “perfect counterparts” have something big in the way of “living happily ever after.” It’s...

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Web of Conflict

What’s the key thing to focus on when developing a TV series idea? The answer is simple: the characters. Specifically, a web of entertaining-to-watch characters who have conflicted relationships with each other. Ideally, you would also have a big, intriguing,...

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Script coverage services

What exactly is script coverage?  Is it a good thing to pay for, and how is it different from script consulting? I’m glad you asked. When someone “covers” a script, they analyze its perceived strengths and weaknesses, and write up a brief report about them.  The...

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8 Characters of Comedy

When I work with anyone developing a half-hour pilot, I always recommend Scott Sedita’s book The Eight Characters of Comedy.  Written primarily for actors (Sedita is an acting coach in Los Angeles), it can also greatly help writers.  It presents eight archetypes found...

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95% is Problem-Solving

Billy Ray, writer-director of the new SECRET IN THEIR EYES, and screenwriter of CAPTAIN PHILLIPS and THE HUNGER GAMES, was recently interviewed on the WGA’s podcast.  Among other words of wisdom he had about screenwriting was this quote: "If you are a mechanic, you...

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The Idea is EVERYTHING

I’ve consistently found that most of the notes I have on any script I read — and certainly all of the most important ones — are notes I would have had on the basic idea behind the story, if it had been pitched to me before it was written. And so, the #1 piece of...

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Two types of TV stories

Somehow an article I wrote for Script Magazine a while back never got added to my own website -- and it's about an important topic that I teach TV writers about all the time: the two different kinds of TV stories, and why it's important to know which kind you're...

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Why They Make Bad Movies

Beginning screenwriters often are shocked to hear how competitive the field is, and how difficult it is to break into.  If only the writers with the very best skill, craft, artistry and ideas are able to sell their material or get hired, how does that jibe with the...

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Unmet Needs

I think the best television characters want something they can never have — and spend every episode pursuing it.  What makes them compelling is that they are under siege, in some way, by the world around them, and unable to secure that version of their life that they...

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How I got my big break

I was recently interviewed for Ashley Meyers' "sellingyourscreenplay.com" video podcast, about how I got my professional start as a screenwriter, and some of the key things I've learned along the way. It's a free one hour video: the interview starts about eight...

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Flaws and Character Arc

The best movies tend to have a growth arc for the main character.  In the end, they have often somehow become better versions of themselves, as well as having solved some big problem in their world.  This means they have to start the movie as the “not best version of...

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Internal Stakes

The main character in a movie generally has a big problem that it takes the whole movie to solve. And this is what a professional reader of a script is generally focused on understanding first.  What is that problem?  Why will it be so difficult to solve that it takes...

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Audiences are sadists

If I could sum up the number one most common overall weakness in screenplays I read, it would be that the main character does not have a big enough overall problem, and a high enough level of difficulty and complications as they try to solve it. When you get the...

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The Problem with Flashbacks

Jumping around in time with flashbacks can be confusing in a script, and can make it hard for a reader to get oriented and settle into one particular story, in a specific time frame.  And this is what tends to really grab readers — a discrete challenge for a main...

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Gordy Hoffman interview

Gordy Hoffman, award-winning Writer-Director (and founder/judge of the BlueCat Screenwriting Competition -- which I believe is one of the top ten contests out there) recently interviewed me for BlueCat’s blog.  Then I interviewed him back!.  Here are his answers to my...

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Screenwriting contests

Screenwriting contests — are they a good idea? Agents and managers I’ve talked to have emphasized that there are handful of top competitions that can be a feather in a writer’s cap, if one place REALLY highly in them.  And these can be mentioned at the bottom of an...

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Screenwriting’s #1 rule

Show, don't tell.   These are probably some of the first words any of us ever heard in a screenwriting class. At first, it might seem obvious.  Film and television are visual media.  You always want to give the audience something to watch.  It's boring to hear...

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Unlikable Main Characters

With the rise of somewhat unlikable main characters in cable dramas like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and True Detective, anti-heroes are everywhere.  We don’t need to “sympathize” or even “root for” the main character(s) in a story anymore, it seems -- as long as they...

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In defense of formula

Script Magazine has just published my new article where I discuss the issue of "formulaic" writing, and the use of story structure paradigms to help guide the process of crafting a screenplay. It begins thusly: Writers often rebel against the idea that a screenplay...

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Left brain, right brain

So much of writing seems to be about “figuring stuff out.”  Figuring out what should happen in a story, or in a scene.  Figuring out how to address feedback you’ve gotten.  Figuring out whether anyone will ever care about your project, and make it a success.  (As if...

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Dealing with Feedback

At all levels and at all points in the process of screenwriting, there are "notes" from others.  Whether it's you first screenplay that you give to trusted loved ones -- or a network pilot where every draft of outline and script is run past a production company,...

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“Premise pilot”

"Premise pilots," in my experience, are not seen as a good thing. But the definition of a "premise pilot" seems to move around a bit, depending on who you ask. Some sources on the internet say that a "premise pilot" is when the characters and situation of a series...

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Sellable Screenplay Concepts

My March 12 webinar on "Creating a Sellable Screenplay Concept" is now available from The Writers Store. In it, I analyzed the loglines of some spec scripts that sold in 2013 -- and discussed the common elements. It's a 90-minute audio/powerpoint presentation that...

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Award Season Genres

SCRIPT MAGAZINE has published my online article where I break down the SAVE THE CAT "genres", as I see them, of most of the big movies vying for Awards this season.  Check it...

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Serialized Storytelling

Over the holidays, I finally checked out HBO’s THE WIRE, a decade after its five-year run began.  I found myself binge-watching through the first three seasons.  This show was never a clear hit with audiences, and didn’t win many major awards.  But WGA screenwriters...

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People We Care About

This Sunday Downton Abbey goes up against Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Homeland, Mad Men and House of Cards to try to win its first Emmy as Outstanding Drama Series.  It’s probably not going to happen, I’m guessing – thought it is now the most-nominated non-U.S....

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All-time best written series

I couldn't resist creating a chart that breaks down the recent WGA member-voted "Best written series of all time" by decade and type of show. What conclusions, if any, can be drawn from this? (If you have trouble viewing the document below, you might need to log in or...

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Specs that sold in 2012

SCRIPT Magazine has published my article analyzing the common elements of screenplays that sold in 2012.  One of the key things that I noticed was the pretty obvious SAVE THE CAT genres of each.  Here's how the article begins:   We screenwriters want to sell our work,...

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Finding the right genre

Blake Snyder's ten "genres" and fifty "subgenres" in his Save the Cat books are my single favorite tool for screenwriters.  I have long believed that studying this system of story types, and making sure each script you write clearly fits within one of them, is one of...

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The Two Types of TV Stories

Script Magazine has published my new article delineating the two types of stories on television -- "procedural" and "personal" -- which are easy for writers to get confused by. It's being posted on their website in connection with my upcoming April 3 webinar for The...

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Loglines don’t tease

Loglines describe a movie (or series) idea in a quick sentence or two that provide enough of an idea of what it’s about to (hopefully) seem like a grabby, fresh and commercially viable concept.  They present a compelling situation for characters one can imagine...

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Spec Scout

A very cool new website called "Spec Scout" tracks the status of currently unproduced screenplays in the Hollywood marketplace, in a variety of categories.  It also offers aspiring writers a chance to get their work professionally evaluated and ranked -- with the...

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Script Consultants: A Waste?

A few years ago, screenwriter Craig Mazin wrote a blog post voicing his skepticism about "script consultants" --  titled "Screenwriting is Free".  Craig (Identity Thief, The Hangover Part II) was advocating for aspiring writers, who he felt could be ripped off by...

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