Script Gods Must Die - Chicago Screenwriting Consultant

Character Introductions
Jul 28th, 2015 by paul peditto

The writer Bruce Vilanch once said something in one of my classes that resonated. When you describe your lead character, imagine someone of star magnitude, A-list, reading it. The description is the first exposure to their character. You don’t get a second chance to make a good impression. Protagonist/antagonist descriptions should be nailed down. How do you do that? Find the visible essence of the character. That means you may have to cheat it when it comes to the ol’ “unfilmable” rules. Telling me they’re 35, average height, wearing jeans is telling me you put zero effort into the critical first look we have at the character. And that tells me you don’t want to sell the script.

Here’s a post that speaks to this, from the excellent, one of the best blogs on screenwriting.


Let’s look at a few pro examples of how major characters were introduced, starting with this concise one from Assassins:


Tired travelers trudge, clogs the concourse. But one
man moves briskly. Singular of purpose. Dressed
stylishly, we don’t quite see his face. He’s BAIN, a
presence, and for whatever reason, no one ever seems to
be in his way.

The Wachowskis do quite a bit with only two lines here. Singular of purpose, a presence, no one gets in his way. We can see this is a guy not to be fucked with.

Bad-Santa-ThorntonHere’s a classic from Bad Santa:

A wiry, hard-bitten, sun-baked saddlebag of a man, GIN SLAGEL
sits behind his cluttered desk sucking on a filterless Pall
Mall. We can hear his in-taken breath rattling over and around
the phlegm, growths, and polyps that line his embattled
trachea. His words come out on an exhaled cloud chamber’s
worth of smoke:

“Fuck stick”?

Nailed! Get over the unfilmable stuff, cheat in critical moments, like when your protagonist is introduced. Not to mention actors LOVE this sort of detail. There are no CG effects involved, we’re not gonna actually show phlegm and growths and polyps, but this dude is played out, and we can see it in our minds here.

Bull-Durham-mv02Another method of visual essence, visually defining your characters, is describing the world they inhabit. Here’s a great example from Bull Durham:

covered with objects and lit candles. A baseball, an old
baseball card, a broken bat, a rosin bag, a jar of pine tar–
also a peacock feather, a silk shawl, a picture of Isadora
Duncan. Clearly, the arrangement is–

A SHRINE — And it glows with the candles like some religious

We hear a woman’s voice in a North Carolina accent.

I believe in the Church of
Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions
and most of the minor ones–I’ve
 worshiped Buddha, Allah, Brahma,
Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms,
and Isadora Duncan…

PAN AWAY FROM THE SHRINE across the room. Late afternoon
light spills into the room, across fine old furniture, to a
small dressing table. A WOMAN applies make up.

ANNIE SAVOY, mid 30’s, touches up her face. Very pretty,
knowing, outwardly confident. Words flow from her Southern
lips with ease, but her view of the world crosses Southern,
National and International borders. She’s cosmic.

3954349_stdHere’s another from Constantine. Notice there’s no age or talk of dress. We get down to the essence in three lines, the core of the guy:


Lined with tenants trying to get a glimpse of the

The Stranger pushes through. Suspicious faces step out
of his path. The ones that don’t he pushes aside — even
the gangbangers.

The man has no patience for politeness, no time for tact,
no fear of anything.


The-HustlerAnd, just to mess with your minds, here’s a last one where the clothes absolutely define the character. Good Reader, I wish I had one single way for you to accomplish this task. I do know rubbing up against the kind of great writing can only help, so here’s a description from The Hustler, Minnesota Fats walking into Ames Pool Hall:

Eight sharp. A departing customer holds the door for an incoming one:
Minnesota Fats. Heads turn when he makes his punctual appearance.
Fats’ clothes reflect his high station at Ames Pool Hall: a gray felt
bowler hat, and an expensive, tailored overcoat, with a carnation in
its lapel and two silk handkerchiefs peeking up from its breast pocket.

He moves like a sultan through the room, past Big John, whose eyes dip
significantly, and over to the coat rack, where Henry respectfully
takes his coat and hat. The buzzard-like eyes of the cashier direct his
gaze toward Eddie’s table. Fats withdraws a cigarette from his gold
case, then casually strolls toward Eddie’s table standing apart and
quietly observing the sharp, precise movements of his prospective
opponent. Even though Ames is filled with players, there is little
noise other than the clicking of pool balls.

Best Screenwriting Links 4: Micro-Slant (Just MAKE The Thing!)
Jul 20th, 2015 by paul peditto


Here are some screenwriting links that concentrate on a well-worn theme here at Script Gods–trying to find a way to make your damn script HAPPEN! I know, you’re seriously tired of my ad nauseam speeches on the virtues of micro-budget. I don’t mean to proselytize, but honestly, what other option is there? To go the Studio or Indie? The minute you need OPM, Other People’s Money, to the tune of millions is the minute you become a slave to query letters and screenwriting contests. I go into more detail on this in my new book, but for those of you not buying into living in L.A. or making it happen Old School-style, let me guide you toward an article or two that might help you along on your own Micro-journey.


kickstarterimagefornewsarticle Many thanks to my student Brian C. for turning me onto this article written by Tim Ferriss, taken from his blog. When you look at the title. “Hacking Kickstarter: How to raise $100,000 in 10 days“, you roll your eyes. Yeah, right dude. But dig deeper into his strategies and you see there’s an almost scientific method to his madness. Tim details strategies for supercharging your Kickstarter campaign, how to tap into a much wider niche of potential donors for your Kickstarter campaign. “This post includes all of their email templates, spreadsheets, open-source code to build landing pages, and even a custom dashboard to monitor Kickstarter data, social media, and press.” I’ve written about Kickstarter strategies before, but this article puts me to shame. Really good stuff.


index On the short list for best micro-budget websites is the Ted Hope blog. Ted Hope deserves the Nobel Prize for work advancing the field of micro-budget filmmaking. This must-read site has twenty articles I could recommend, but today let’s focus on this one. He’s done something I’ve not seen elsewhere, compiling a distribution case study master list. Think about it–you hear about micro-budget features and their digital distribution strategies. Lots of bells and whistle hype has lead up to the myriad of digital platforms now available to today’s art house writers, directors, and producers. But…. You never really hear how any of these movies actually DID, do you? I mean how much money they brought in. For all the talk about the viability of digital platforms–ARE THEY? Is there enough money coming in to actually make it a viable option? If I spend $25,000 on my micro, what are my chances of seeing ANY money back? What are the chances of breaking even, or making a profit? This list tracks dozens of movie that were made and released. What was their experience? What can be learned? You can find it here.


indexI’m a sucker for infographics, it’s true. Many thanks to Mashable for reprinting this Allmand Law chart on how social media and viral marketing are being used in the new paradigm of digital filmmaking.

An infographic by law firm Allmand Law reveals how Hollywood is using social media and viral marketing to compensate for declining ticket sales. For example, cloud computing — when combined with digital films — saves the industry money on shipping costs by eliminating the need to transport physical copies of films between studios, theaters, distributors or advertisers. What’s more, the movie business is no longer exclusively in the business of movies, with tie-in products such as video games and toys generating profits for studios. Viral marketing has also proven to be a useful tool for filling theater seats. For example, a flight-safety video promoting Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey garnered around 2 million views before its release.”


filmmakingjustdoitAnother good one is this article from ThinkTen Media Group entitled: Getting Started and Getting Better– Filmmaking Tips From An Indie Filmmaker and Former Festival Programmer. From the article: “Recently, Think Ten Media Group Co-Founder and Indie Film Producer Jennifer Fischer (AKA @IndieJenFischer) was interviewed… This post pulls from 10 years of experience as an independent filmmaker, 7 years of experience running a film festival and 5 years of teaching filmmaking classes with kids.” OK sure, I’m pretty sure you’re not a kid any more, Good Reader. Still, some solid links and basic advice, found here.


fb-logo.fullOn Wall Street you buy the rumor and sell the news. Seeing Josh Overbay on Indiewire was “the news”. I already knew this guy was a filmmaker at his core. When did I know that? Probably when the script for As It Is In Heaven, the movie written about here, came into Script Gods Must Die. It’s not a cliche–you know a good script when you read it–page 1. So it didn’t surprise me to hear Josh had a short New York run for his movie. If you want to know how hard it is for a no-name actor micro-budget to show on an actual screen in New York City, consider this… for the 1000+ students I’ve had in my decade+ teaching, only two made a New York screen. And Josh was one of them. So listen up to this list of tips he compiled for Indiewire. And go and do likewise!

Action Sequences: The Fugitive: Dam Jump
Jul 13th, 2015 by paul peditto

the fugitive harrison ford dam scene

When it comes to action sequences we’ve looked at some rule breakers–Tarantino and Shane Black– in recent weeks. Today, we’ll compare a classic action scene from The Fugitive, how it looks on the page vs. what it looks like on the screen. The longest movie version I can find online is here, on Vimeo. The longest version on YouTube is here:

When we look at the script, it’s pretty straight-forward. There are no Tarantino flourishes with time-bending, flashes, CAPPING SOUNDS or hyper-activity of any sort. The scene is spectacular enough so that none of that is needed. There are plenty of differences though between page and screen. Here’s the script:

Gerard begins the tricky descent. Slips once. Recovers. Slips again…
And tumbles out of control. GUN and RADIO CLATTER AWAY.

Scrabbling for purchase, he finally snags an overhead pipe. Gerard stabilizes. Sweeps his light to locate his Glock, lying down-tunnel. He eases toward it.

But another hand gets there first. It’s Kimble. Face dark and desperate. Dangerous. Hand flexing on the pistol. They lock eyes for a beat.

KIMBLE: I didn’t kill my wife.

GERARD: So, you didn’t kill your wife. Not my problem.

An adrenal beat. For a moment they hold a look. Then the silence is broken by Gerard’s radio.

BIGGS (V.O.): Gerard? You there?

Gerard looks for his radio, then back at Kimble — he’s gone. Instantly Gerard reaches for his ankle — and pulls a back-up piece.


As Renfro hears FOOTSTEPS POUNDING his way.

ANOTHER ANGLE – Gerard charges down the tunnel. From a side tunnel, Renfro appears, almost colliding. Biggs follows…

GERARD: Straight ahead!


Kimble sticks Gerard’s gun into his waist band to balance in the tunnel. He spills around a corner and stops. Ahead lies an orb of light. The tunnel ends. The NOISE is incredible. Kimble moves to the end of the tunnel and stops.

KIMBLE’S POV Water pours from the tunnel into the spillway of Barkley dam disappearing into a veil of mist below — a great cauldron of mists. No rocks. None visible at least.

He hears the MARSHALS behind him — COMING CLOSER.

ANGLE – MARSHALS Gerard and Renfro turn the corner. Renfro drops into a shooting stance.

GERARD: Turn around, hands over your head. And get down on the ground. For a moment Kimble eyes Gerard.

GERARD: Your choice, Kimble…

Kimble turns his back on the Marshals, stares again at the water. Slowly he puts his hands over his head. Gerard puts up his gun and pulls his handcuffs. He moves through the water toward Kimble.

GERARD: Get down on your knees.

Kimble bends slowly, stares down into the falls, hears the footsteps get closer, then does the unthinkable. He jumps.

Biggs moving to the top of the massive dam sees Kimble leap into the sheet of water spilling over dam and disappear into the mists below. He can’t believe his eyes.


Renfro lowers his gun.

RENFRO: (amazed) Sonofabitch…

It’s the most amazing thing he’s ever seen…


“Guy did a Peter Pan right here off of this dam!”

Don’t see that classic line in the script, do you? Check the Vimeo full scene version–there are a whole lot of lines you don’t see. The movie dialogue is completely different. And that’s not all…

In the script there are three marshals witnessing the moment of truth, the jump. In the movie, just Tommy Lee. For me, a much better choice.

Which interpretation do you prefer?

Here’s how they actually pulled it off:

Devolve- Launched!
Jul 6th, 2015 by paul peditto



Can’t let today go by without giving a nod to the Devolve team, which launched the first episode of Devolve, the web series, on the Fourth of July. Nice job everyone! Great scene celebrating with a party at Lexington and 23rd (see above) only a few days ago. The link to Episode 1 is here:

For those of you considering a web series, here is a production diary and post-production marketing ideas to help you avoid the bobby traps and brainstorm. Hope it helps. Vamos!


IMG_0150  Three days in the third week of January emerged as our production dates. We would be shooting at Reggie’s Rock Club on south State Street, Chicago. Christmas had wiped out the last weeks of December in everyone’s schedule. The crew came back together in the early days of January to ramp up production. I always know when production time is closing in by the number of open threads in my email. Though this was a web series all the preparations were the same as if it were a movie–everybody with their own responsibilities, collaborating/multi-tasking to make this thing happen.

Dan Arthurs and David Schwartz were our Executive Producers and started the ball rolling. I was the Co-Producer who brought on Boris Wexler as lead Producer, John Mossman as Director, Lizz Leiser and her partner Ricardo as the writers. With Boris came killer Line Producer Jacquelyn Jamjoon and some of our Chat crew including Fred Miller, our DP, also Sarah Sharp, our Production Designer and Make up artist. With Fred came the G&E crew. With Mossman and some of my Columbia friends came great people for Script Supervisor, AD, 2ND AD, and PA’s. See how this works? Who do you know. All links in a chain, one following the next. It’s why your professional reputation is so important. If people enjoy working with you, they will again on the next project. Be an asshole and see how fast that gets around town. 10917434_1589244057972144_3342931922825047661_n

So, the pre-production multi-tasking was popping. Director Mossman sat in on final auditions and quickly decided top choices for each role. Jacquelyn sent out offers. She also updated the Google docs for scheduling and worked with the AD on call sheets. A location scout was scheduled for Reggie’s Rock Bar so Production Designer Sharp and DP Fred Miller could get a sense of set and camera angles. Mossman and Miller worked up a shot list and overheads.

Meanwhile back in New York, Lizz and Ricardo were pounding on the script. These are primarily theater folk who, I think initially, were aghast at our ABSOLUTE OBSESSION over page count. Their first draft– 24 pages but not written on Final Draft so more like 30– was brilliant but had an unacceptable page count. The Boris equation for shooting pages per day is five comfortably, six or seven pages per day is pushing it, eight or more is Fantasyland– the chances highly likely you will NOT make your day. So yes, the script had to be pounded down. Subsequent drafts were 20 pages, then a last one at 17 pages, four episodes.

We were now ready to shoot it.

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Best Psycho Scenes: The Wood Chipper
Jul 1st, 2015 by paul peditto


You know you’ve made it into national consciousness when folks snap photos for Trip Advisor at the Fargo-Moorhead Convention & Visitor’s Bureau in front of the wood chipper from the movie Fargo.

This is the second Coen Brothers psycho to make my Top 10, and though Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) isn’t as celebrated as Madman Mundt from Barton Fink, he’s plenty nasty, shooting cops in the face and such. But it’s this scene that reaches into the imagination. Why?

DSC_00026That wood chipper. Great choice for killing! If you live in the country you probably own one. But you never conceived it for a purpose like the Coen Brothers did. What is wrong with these guys?! Think about it…the fiery hallway for Mundt, or Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) in No Country For Old Men using that bolt pistol, a compressed-air slaughterhouse stun gun as the killing weapon. Who thinks this shit up? Cormac McCarthy wrote the novel, the Coens the movie script.

If you’re writing a psycho flick, I’d suggest–duh!– thinking up something original when it comes time to doing people in. Hey Peditto, great advice! How about a few suggestions? Everything’s been done, you say…

Fargo_033PyxurzThe difference between the Coens and mere mortals is that they fuse original killing weapons with black humor, making for a perfect balance of gore and laughs. Here’s the script scene, compare it with movie clip below:


Marge pulls her prowler over some distance past the cabin.
She gets out, zips up her khaki parka and pulls up its fur-
lined hood.

For a moment, she stands listening to the muffled roar of
the power tool. Then, with one curved arm half pressing
against, half supporting her belly, she takes slow, gingerly
steps down the slope, through the deep snow, through the
trees angling toward the cabin and the source of the
grinding noise.

She slogs from tree to tree, letting each one support her
downhill-leaning weight for a moment before slogging to the

The roar grows louder. Marge stands panting by one tree,
her breath vaporizing out of her snorkel hood. She squints
down toward the cabin’s back lot.

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