Fear of a Blank Page

01 Feb

The Eleven Deaths of Larry

Almost all of my full-length scripts feature a character with the last name ‘Kealy.’ Most (not all) have a first name of Larry.

Larry Kealy is my real life friend that I kill off in script after script.

Here is the script title… his role… and the way he died…

203 – Idiotic perv side-kick cop – bone saw to the neck

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25 Jan

The Fourth Nail – NOT a plot driven thriller!

Sometime back in June of ’14 I conceived the background to THE FOURTH NAIL (TFN). Almost exactly seven months later, I wrote FADE TO BLACK.

Now, during that time, I was doing a bazillion other things, mostly writing and re-writing SAFE.

Plot-wise, TFN is the most complicated thing I’ve ever tackled. My inspiration came from movies like SE7EN, PRISONERS, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and GONE GIRL.

Along with the rather long script, my background work included about two hundred pages of story notes.

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20 Dec

Standard Script Formatting

I can’t remember the last time I saw a produced screenplay that didn’t cheat formatting. Conservatively, it seems to happen about 99% of the time. I allow for that 1% because I figure someone, somewhere hasn’t done it.

Why is this OK?

It’s because of what’s important at a moment in time.

In one moment, you need to sell a script, so you do what you have to do to SELL. If that means that you need wonky formatting to make your script faster / slower / longer / shorter than you do it. You’re always trying to get to the next level.

In another moment though … well, all hell can break lose if you don’t follow industry standard formatting (which, again, nobody follows.)

The reason you use standard formatting is because production people assume that certain things will happen at certain times. This helps the crew plan. It can also impact your budget.  Let’s say you cram 145 pages into something formatted to 119 pages. A line producer goes through the script line-by-line to work out a budget, props, catering, extras, lighting rigs, lodging, and much more — including shooting days. You 119 page script that turns out to be 145 pages can bust the budget.

So then why do scripts that blatantly cheat formatting get made?

It’s because, ultimately, a studio or a producer is in charge, and they care about different things. So you may piss off an AD or a line producer (and countless others…) but at least you got that far in the process, right? Of course, wouldn’t it suck if the whole project got scuttled because you cheated the formatting?


What is proper screenplay formatting?

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26 Nov

Patience, my padawan learner.


Near the end of 2013, the idea came up “how about a bunch of high school kids rob banks? HEAT meets KIDS!”

Of course, there have been a number of films with that through-line (the kids robbing banks part, not the HEAT meets KIDS part). I was intrigued, saw a way to spin it, and away I went.

The treatment was done the first week of January, twenty pages that skimmed over the story and characters.

Notes were received and, as I believe I’ve previously discussed, questions were asked that weren’t in a document a mere 20 pages long. This is the fallacy of the short treatment. You can’t win.  Too short and you’ll get questions you’re not prepared to answer. Too long and, well, you might as well have just written the damn thing, right?

Writing a short treatment is like building your castle on the swamp:

… and of course, after the first, 2nd, and 3rd castles sink into the swamp, you end up with the STRONGEST CASTLE IN THE LAND!


My second treatment, completed around 3/9, was a whopping FIFTY-ONE pages. Hah! That would show them!

Away I went, turning my swamp — err, treatment — into a script. No big whoop there, it was damn near written for me in treatment form.

And so, on 4/11, version one of SAFE was out the door!


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13 Sep

Go big with supporting characters

A lot of times, minor characters serve only as a bridge to plot points for main characters. Spouters of exposition, but generally needed and considered an acceptable cheat.

Supporting characters tend to be nothing BUT exposition fountains (think Ken Wantanabe as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa in 2014’s Godzilla). Just about the ONLY thing the good Dr. did was explain to the audience what was happening and spout some science gobbledegook to make it seem vaguely plausible. The more astute might say: just cut his character, what do you lose? (hint: nothing)

Dr. Serizawa doesn’t SHOW us anything. He TELLS us… ad nauseam.

But we’re really not talking about those sort of characters. Most of your summer blockbusters have that sort of character and we just sort of roll with it because, well, we roll with so many other God-awful movie sins, sure, let’s throw in Professor Exposition.

What we’re REALLY talking about are the hidden gems. Where can you REALLY make a minor character literally change the movie.

Two examples.

1) Alfred Molina in Boogie Nights

(Boogie Nights has a TON of examples where minor characters are BIG)

When the gang stops at Rahad Jackson’s house to sell him fake coke and rip him off, Alfred Molina steals the scene:

There are a million ways to write and perform that scene. This was the RIGHT way. They give Molina a KILLER set-up. Everything works here:  the set-up, the music, the dialogue, the pacing. Continue Reading »

27 Aug


There’s a saying “you have to be able to eat your own dog food” that basically means — you’re making dog food, you should be willing to eat that dog food.


For example, people who work at Microsoft use Windows, not the latest Apple OS.

Or McDonald’s execs should actually eat at McDonald’s.

In the writing world, eating your own dog food translates into reading and enjoying your own work. Continue Reading »

27 Jul

It’s in the hole!


What an incredible Cinderella story, this unknown comes outta nowhere to lead the pack at Augusta.

He’s on his final hole. He’s about 455 yards away. He’s gonna hit about a 2-iron, I think. Oh, he got all of that!

The crowd is standing on its feet here at Augusta, the normally reserved Augusta crowd, going wild, for this young Cinderella. He’s come outta nowhere. He’s got about 350 yards left. He’s gonna hit about a 5-iron, I expect, don’t you think? He’s got a beautiful backswing — that’s — oh, he got all of that one! He’s gotta be pleased with that.

The crowd is just on its feet here. He’s the Cinderella boy, uh — tears in his eyes I guess, as he lines up this last shot, he’s got about 195 yards left. And he’s got about a — it looks like he’s got about an 8-iron. This crowd has gone deathly silent, the Cinderella story, outta nowhere. A former greenskeeper and now, about to become the Masters champion. It looks like a mirac-

It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole!

Not just an improvised line, but an improvised scene. Pretty awesome. Continue Reading »

20 Jul

Analysis Paralysis or How to Not Get Caught Procrastinating in the Closet

All things have a beginning.

I’m almost positive that’s a quote from some super-hero movie.

But of course all things have a beginning. But in script writing, you have to plan the beginning (and the middle, the end, and all points in-between).

Combine the idea of “massive planning” with the idea of “writing is re-writing” and one cancels out the other, doesn’t it?  If writing is rewriting, why plan to the umpteenth degree? You’re just going to have to re-write it, anyway. Continue Reading »

12 Jul

The most unkind cut.

The term ‘kill your darlings’ refers to the feeling that occurs in the editing process where something you’ve written has got to go. Doesn’t matter if you love it — if you have pace issues, length issues, story issues, sometimes you’ve got to delete that stuff. Save it for the sequel, maybe.

Those cuts are bad, they sting the soul.

But they’re not the worst.

The most unkind cut is turning one hundred ten pages into… ONE page. Not more. Not less.


My UNTITLED POSSESSION SCRIPT clocking in at 23,792 words spread across 113 pages. My one page synopsis is about 500 words and took me about two hours to write.


I’m a pretty good typist. I can type 500 words in about seven minutes. How, then, does that stretch to two hours of effort? Continue Reading »

04 Jul

Cheese Smells So Good On A Burnt Piece Of Lamb

What does “cheese smells so good on a burnt piece of lamb” mean?  That’s where I’ve been over the past few days. What does it mean?

I’m going to tell you.

But first, let me back up…

Coming off SAFE (an exhausting experience), we decided to squarely focus on something that was easy (easier) to sell and settled on a cop / CIA / FBI thriller.

They make those all of the time. A nice big market.

Of course, you still actually have to write something compelling. Still have to check the same boxes. Still have to find a way to stand out against a crowded market filled with talented writers.

Before I started sketching out a cop thriller, I took a close look at 1995’s SE7EN…


… a movie I consider to be close to perfect.  Great pace. Great direction. Iconic landscape. Iconic roles. Highly re-watchable. If I could get even close to what Se7en achieved, I was heading in the right direction. Continue Reading »

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