What are the stakes?

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...
Keeping it Real

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...
Perfect Counterparts

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...
The Idea is EVERYTHING

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...
Flaws and Character Arc

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...
Internal Stakes

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...
Audiences are sadists

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...
The Problem with Flashbacks

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...
UCLA class taking students

UCLA class taking students

My UCLA Extension class on “Finding the Story in True Stories” is now taking students for Summer Quarter starting July 1. It’s an all online class that can be taken from anywhere.  The 15 slots have historically filled up very quickly, so if...
Unlikable Main Characters

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...
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