Script Gods Must Die - Chicago Screenwriting Consultant

Black Mass
Oct 5th, 2015 by paul peditto


Here’s a short lesson on why you never want to make your script into the equivalent of a root canal. Why you always, always wanna make a friend of humor, of laughter, even with the bleakest of subject matter.

I was looking forward to seeing Black Mass. Johnny Depp vs. Daniel Day Lewis is a toss-up for greatest actor around. A look at the trailer showed a harrowing scene around a dinner table with an associate giving up a secret family recipe and Depp as James “Whitey” Bulger, in a complete transformation, comparing giving up that recipe to giving up his friends to the FBI. How could the guy be trusted if he gave up the recipe that easily?

Great scene. There were laughs, it was all a gag, right up the alley of Goodfellas with the “What do you mean I’m funny?” scene. The comparison seems clear enough and my expectations were high, so I actually hit the multiplex to see it. I wasn’t sure why it was getting all these two-star reviews (a 75% on Rotten Tomatoes) but I would find out for myself.

Please note, I’m no critic, but if Whitey Bulger put a gun to my head I’d have to say: Two-stars is about right.
How could that be? Seems like a can’t-miss considering the pedigree of actors and gangster material.


The Goodfellas comparison is useful. At the top of that movie at least through the midpoint we’re laughing. Yeah, these guys are gangsters but they’re “relatable”. We can take a ride with Henry Hill, maybe even sympathize with him. The voice over brings you into his head and he seems like a reasonable, almost working class type bringing home the bacon for his family. And Joe Pesci?! Sure, he’s a maniac, but he’s also funny as shit. We’re laughing with these guys throughout and Scorsese does that on purpose. You get the audience to let its guard down, to bait them in, maybe even sympathize with these guys. It’s not until the body count rises and the desperation and drugs kick in that the laughs drop and hard-edged drama kicks in. But by then, you’re locked in to the ride.


Comedy as a weapon, locking you in. THAT is what’s missing in Black Mass.


There is no light in this movie. No laughter. Oh sure, they laughed at that kitchen table scene, but Johnny Depp’s Whitey Bulger isn’t Joe Pesci here. In that makeup he appears half mortician, half vampire. Absolutely bloodless. In Goodfellas you’d see the boys as family, eating lasagna together, taking trips, shopping, telling jokes and drinking. In Black Mass we get none of that. I see no great love for Whitey Bulger toward his crew or his wife. They give him a love for the IRA as he assembles an arsenal for them that gets grabbed by the FBI. They also give him a love for his son, but only give him two small scenes with the kid before he dies. When that happens Whitey becomes full vampire, totally isolated. His killings are brutal (and actually pretty predictable. Recall the woman getting bailed out of the police station and taken to the apartment. You knew she was as good as dead in the car.) When this happens the audience dials out. At least I did.


Even in the bleakest script you’ve gotta find some light. This flick—aptly-titled—was black, black, black.
When you pay money for a Based On A True story movie (the trailers before this were for Everest, The Wire, The Revenant and Steve Jobs, all true stories—why would I write a Studio or big-budgeted Indie spec script that wasn’t?)…you know the story going in. What you’re paying for isn’t the what so much as the how. We know Bulger had a long run as crime lord, escaped, and was later captured. The question is how that happened. With Johnny Depp in the lead, hell yeah I’ll pay $12 to see that.

But this Whitey Bulger never changes. He starts off as brutal killer and finishes the same way. I need some gray in the character, some light in the story. Tony Montana in Scarface doesn’t change either, starting and ending as killer. So why’s he one of the all-time classic characters? Because there were a handful of scenes in Scarface where we could relate with Tony, where we could laugh at and with him.

Makes all the difference.


Script Magazine Series, Part 3
Sep 27th, 2015 by paul peditto


Got writer’s block? Boy, is this post for you!

We’ll continue our Script Magazine series with a special writer’s block edition. Lucky you! Three different takes on that dreaded condition. Vamos!



The first method of combating writer’s block comes from an excellent article by Brett Wean. His method? Improvisation.

That there will be some days when I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen in my story, because I made some amazing discovery the day before that totally works, but has set off a butterfly effect in my second act that I’m not sure how to deal with yet. That some days, even if I know exactly which scene I have to write, for whatever reason, my fingers on the keypad “just aren’t feeling it,” and somehow writing, “INT. OFFICE — DAY” feels incredibly wrong and I can’t figure out why.


So does the responsible screenwriter just walk away from his computer for the rest of the day, or does he behave like a freakin’ professional and utilize some techniques that might enable him make some headway?

No. He starts typing. He “walks around” as his character. Maybe in a different setting he knows he probably won’t have time for in his finished script. Maybe a scene from a different time in the character’s life. Just to see what pops out. And sometimes an answer will make itself known. At the very least, the wheels of the subconscious will starts silently moving.

What’s more, the more comfortable you allow yourself to become in just sitting down, being present, not judging yourself, and setting words down, imperfect as they may be at first, the faster, more intuitive, and relaxed an editor you will be of your own work.”



So how’s a writer for Entourage deal with writer’s block? Lisa Alden’s terrific article calls it a blessing. A blessing?! Read the full article here. And here’s a taste:

Day in and day out, I embraced the fear. I stayed in the chair. But it didn’t work. I had come down with a paralyzing case of writers block. My shrink at the time decided I had ADD and wrote a prescription for Adderall. Over the next two weeks, I wrote like I was on fire. I came out the other end with a short story that I still consider the best piece of writing I’ve ever done. My agent loved it. I got lots of meetings. I watched Patton and read the Churchill letters and felt like I’d been brought into the tribe of warriors.

But the victory was short-lived. I didn’t get staffed. My agent dropped me. I lost my apartment. I had gone to battle, but lost.

I was utterly defeated.

And in that defeat, my intuition had its moment. It said, “Get off the battlefield. Now.” Then it told me to throw away the Adderall. “If this drug is what it’s going to take to write, then forget it. You’re not writing. It’s not worth it.”

And in that defeat, in giving in to the resistance instead of fighting it, the panic went away. And in its place my intuition became stronger.”



I like Bill Boyle’s voice. He’s an experienced writer and you can hear it in the very first sentence. So it’s interesting to hear that, on occasion, he struggles too. What can you do about it? Read his damn article. A piece of it follows:

“You want to write but the task at hand seems too overwhelming. First off, that can be something positive. It means you are pushing your own envelope and that can’t be bad.

But knowing that doesn’t solve the problem. Deadlines be damned! Overwhelm doesn’t care (neither does laziness or boredom). Deadlines just add to the sense of overwhelm. You feel anxious and frustrated and these negative feelings can make it even harder to get started.

So what can you do?

I attempt to break it down to the most basic piece of action.  What is the next thing the character is going to do, what is the very next thing I want the reader to experience; a specific image, an action, a piece of dialogue and that is all I focus on. I might go on a Thesaurus hunt for that one special word that will bring sanity back to me and to the page.

If I am still stuck, I shift my mode of thinking.  For me as a writer, and I suspect for you as well, there are two approaches:

1. Minutia Focus which is all about the right paragraph, the right sentence, the right word, the right first image.

2. Quantum Focus, which is much broader, is about the overall scene, character and intention of the story.


Best Screenwriting Links 6: Miscellanea
Sep 21st, 2015 by paul peditto


Good Reader, I thought I had wrapped my screenwriting links series but the killer stuff from across the cosmococcic internet galaxy just keeps on coming. So, one more time, let’s look at some miscellaneous articles (part 2) to help you along on your Fated path…


index  It was only a couple years ago one internet media analyst observed that Netflix and HBO were in a sort of competition–who would become the other first? By this he meant Netflix’s move into original programming with House Of Cards and many other scripted shows (ala HBO) while HBO was actively moving toward a 24/7 anytime, anywhere content distribution model that liberated its customers to watch content not just on television at a pre-prescribed time, but to open it up to any size screen, any time of the day or night (like the content of Netflix). Both these events have happened. Now we see in this article from Variety that Netflix is making new, bold moves again.

From the article: “The streaming giant made it clear last week that after challenging the TV industry, it now has designs on the big screen. Netflix announced two groundbreaking pacts in short order: the first with Imax and the Weinstein Co. to fund and simultaneously release a sequel to martial arts classic “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” online and in select theaters in August 2015; followed by a four-picture deal with Adam Sandler. The surprise moves by the Los Gatos, Calif.-based company could have repercussions for cinema operators and traditional business practices among Hollywood’s major studios, exhibitors and top creative talent.”

Not sure if this augers Netflix trying to become its own mini-major Studio, but it’s a trend that bears watching. Read the full article here.


index Wanna talk about a paradigm shift? How about President Obama being interviewed by those two YouTube “celebrities”? Republicans had a field day ripping him for “conduct below the office of the President” but our President is no fool. The two celebrity interviewers each has millions of followers and represent a key niche he wanted to reach.

Thus, I point you to this Tubefilter article which directly connects to the one about Netflix. Here we learn that a pair of YouTube stars are launching their own Feature Films company, directly distributing to millions of fans. “Camp Takota proved prominent YouTube stars can make very successful motion pictures. The direct-to-download feature film about twentysomething besties at summer camp starring online video sensations Hannah Hart, Mamrie Hart, and Grace Helbig was made available for purchase via VHX and iTunes starting on February 14, 2014. Less than one week later, it was holding steady in the #3 spot on iTunes Top Independent Movies chart (alongside Oscar nominees like Dallas Buyer’s Club and 12 Years a Slave) thanks to the nearly insatiable appetite for content of the online video and social media followings of the flick’s three female leads…’The internet has fundamentally changed the film business, particularly around distribution,’ said Hustvedt in the release. “We are building an entirely new kind of studio that will break more than a few of these old rules, putting audience above all else.” The article is here.


indexWhile Chat, my micro-budget feature, was fortunate to find a distributor, many self-produced movie without name actors won’t be so lucky. Many then turn to the new digital distribution platforms and self-promote. But which one should you go with? Several filmmakers who teach at Columbia who know a hellava lot more about distribution than I do have recommend Seed & Spark. They champion your movie well and give a nice cut on VOD & streaming income.

Good Reader, if you’re saying to yourself–damnit Peditto, I just wanted some format notes…I’m a writer, not a producer! Alas, the days of the writer wearing that single hat are O V E R. If you’re not going the Old School, L.A. buy-in route, then you’re making the script yourself, and you need to know about joints like Seed and Spark. Check it out here.


Nelson_comfortstation  One guy who understands this new paradigm is a Chicago guy, my pal Nelson Carvajal. Nelson is right there in the Chicago vanguard when it comes to DIY Filmmaking. His specialty is the Video Essay– working with footage from established movies and cutting them into poignant, funny, brilliant ORIGINAL works that take no prisoners and challenge the fair use doctrine. His most well known essay was the Oscar mash-up that went viral a couple years ago that made the radar of major media outlets, including USA TODAY who called it “Oscar worthy” in its own right. I was glad to find Nelson’s Indiewire Press Play video essays  and some of his other work archived here. Check them out and tell me again why you’re waiting for a screenplay contest or agent to tell you your work is good enough.

The best of us TAKE IT, or as Johnny Lydon said: “You don’t need permission for anything.”

Character Introductions 2
Sep 16th, 2015 by paul peditto

tumblr_m8t78id8kL1qf28p4o1_500I had to cut off my last discussion on character introduction. I wanted to give you a few more examples of how the pros write character descriptions that make an impact. Remember, this is the first glimpse every producer and actor get at your characters so let’s pack up those 35, average height, wearing jeans descriptions and get this right. What we’re looking for is visual essence. Here we go…

thWe talked about characters defined by their surroundings. Here’s a great example from High Fidelity.



Not a minisystem, not a matching set, but coveted audiophile
clutter of McIntosh and Nakamichi, each component from a
different era, bought piece by piece in various nanoseconds
of being flush.

ROB (V.O.)
What came first? The music or the
misery? People worry about kids
playing with guns and watching
violent videos, we’re scared that
some sort of culture of violence is
taking them over…


Big thin LPs. Fields of them. We move across them, slowly…
they seem to come to rest in an end of a few books… but
then the CD’s start, and go on, faster and faster, forever
then the singles, then the tapes…

But nobody worries about kids
listening to thousands — literally
thousands — of songs about broken
hearts and rejection and pain and
misery and loss.

It seems the records, tapes, and CD’s will never end until…
we come to ROB — always a hair out of place, a face that
grows on you. He sits in an oversized beanbag chair and
addresses us, the wall of music behind him.

Did I listen to pop music because I
was miserable, or was I miserable
because I listened to pop music?

thThe visual essence of a character can also be found in their surroundings outside of where they live. For instance, here’s the first look we get at the Nick Cage character in Leaving Las Vegas.

It is the kind of bar where the well-to-do folks of LA go
to pick up – or be picked up. Lesser-known actors, agents
and executives of all ages.

Into this bar comes Ben.

Ben is in his thirties. He is wearing an Armani suit
that could use a visit to the dry-cleaner’s. He hasn’t
shaved in the last twenty-four hours (but neither has
any of the actors in the bar). He is a good-looking man
but is clearly in trouble of some kind. Although still
in control of his faculties, it becomes clear in the
following scene that he is much the worse for wear with
drink. He looks around the room until he sees someone he
recognizes and then walks over to a table where two couples
are seated. The men are young execs, the girls, both blonde
and busty, have very white teeth and smile all of the time.
The camera follows Ben over to the table. One of the execs
looks up as Ben gets close. He recognizes him but delays
his recognition until the last moment in the hope that Ben
is not looking at him.

So L.A.! No dialogue needed for us to see this character as being this close to out of control. The journey of this tortured character study will take him all the way, and us with him. I love the SERA description too, from the same movie. She’s a Vegas prostitute but look how the description downplays that…


Into the lobby from the street comes Sera.

It’s hard to tell how old Sera is – somewhere between
twenty-five and thirty-five. She is a beautiful American
girl. Her face has the freshness of a model in a Sears
catalogue. She is dressed simply in a short black skirt
and matching jacket. High heels complete the picture.
Heads turn as she passes a group of businessmen and it’s
clear they find her very sexy. She acknowledges their
glance with a half-smile and steps into the elevator.
She could be a secretary, or a PA to one of the many
execs here in Las Vegas at a convention. The body language
is a bit different, though.

thCheck out this description of WILSON from THE LIMEY. Almost entirely “cheated”–meaning unfilmable. The camera can see little of this internal description but the actors and director will love it, the stuff of a 3D portrayal from the very start. Pick your spots to cheat on the unfilmables, like when we first see the protagonist.

WILSON steps out into the late sunlight and the heat of the
day. A slow-motion moment while he gets acclimatized. He
wouldn’t have ever felt quite this kind of heat before.

After such a rigorously air-conditioned interior. Or seen
cops wearing guns on their belts. Or black cops, for that
matter, with guns on their belts. Or seen people as fat as
Americans on their home turf. Things someone from England
notices immediately, whether consciously at first or not.

mean-street-1This flea won’t bite the heel of Martin Scorsese. Especially the pre-DiCaprio Scorsese, the Mean Streets Scorsese…but…

A couple of the character descriptions in the screenplay may have taken a liberty of two too many. You be the judge. Here’s the Keitel character:

CHARLES CAPPA JR. (CHARLIE) is 25 of Sicilain origin. He
was educated in Roman Catholic Parochial schools with one
year and a half at a Jesuit college. CHARLIE was raised
sternly in the Roman Catholic tradition but now has rejected
many of the religion’s tenets. He is very intelligent and
has a sharp sense of humor. He is always well dressed. His
favorite authors are Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Hardy, and
Theodore Dreiser. He likes reading but enjoys films more.
He is very fond of the New Testament and often exchanges
quotes from it with his friend TONY.

The Roman Catholic backstory? Sure. His favorite authors? Uh…. He likes reading but enjoys films more? Nope. Too far into the unfilmable, and not specific enough in defining. Billions on the planet like movies more than books–what’s that specifically tell me about Charlie? Now to Johnny Boy, one of the great Scorsese characters….



A deserted warehouse area in lower Manhattan. Prominent in
the frame is a brightly painted red white and blue mailbox,
contrasting with the drab hues of the neighborhood.

JOHNNY BOY walks down the street toward camera. JOHN
CIVELLO (JOHNNY BOY) is 23 years old. He is an only child
and lives with his mother, a divorcee. He is clean cut
looking, yet slightly radical in dress. He was expelled
from high school for vandalism and consequently spent
several months in reform school. He is reckless,
unambitious, nihilistic, and was classified a psychiatric 4-
F. He is first cousin of TERESA RONCHALI who lives next
door to CHARLIE. He has adopted TERESA’S family as his own
and spends more time with them than he does with his mother.

JOHNNY is carrying a package wrapped in plain brown paper
under his arm, and he is smiling. He drops the package into
the mailbox and keeps walking. But he is moving a little
faster now and smiling a little more.

Suddenly the mailbox explodes. Dozens of red, white and
blue fragments shower down on the street. The impact of the
blast knocks JOHNNY down. TITLE APPEARS on bottom of frame:

 The physical action stuff is great. It defines this guy from the very first shot. But the backstory stuff above it runs about five lines, everything from whose cousin he is to him being unambitious and nihilistic. A psychiatric 4-F works as far his psycho side but where do you draw the line? I don’t really care if his mother is a divorcee. Could we argue this point? Sure, but I’d drop a couple lines from the above.

That’s the point, Good Reader. This isn’t brain surgery. No single way to pull this off. Read a thousand screenplays, see how the best do it, and go and do likewise. OK?

Great Scenes with Psychos: I’ll Show You The Light Of The Mind!
Sep 7th, 2015 by paul peditto


No way I’m doing a Top 10 Psycho scene list without the Madman Mundt scene from Barton Fink. I found a piece of the scene on You Tube which you’ll be able to compare with the script. Let’s get right to it…

thThis is essentially the climax of the movie. Barton Fink (John Turturro) has come to realize too late that his next door neighbor isn’t just some guy named Charlie. The detectives promise to go easy on him and only fry him once. The tone is an homage to classic noir, period-piece L.A. dipped in sweaty palm trees and bloody mattresses. Where are the heads, Fink?

Remember, as with our study of American Psycho, especially with the gory scenes, Good Reader, don’t lose your sense of humor. “You two have some sick sex thing?” ‘He’s a man! We wrestled!”

“You’re a sick fuck, Fink.”

And then Mundt appears:

Down the hall we hear the ding of the arriving elevator.

Mastrionotti cocks his head with a quizzical look.

He rises and walks slowly out into the hall. Deutsch watches him go.


Mastrionotti in the hallway in full shot, framed by the door, still looking

. . . Fred . . .

Deutsch stands and pushes his suit coat back past the gun on his hip,
revealing a pair of handcuffs on his belt. He unhitches the cuffs and slips
one around Barton’s right wrist and the other around a loop in the wrought
iron footboard of the bed.

Sit tight, Fink.


As Deutsch joins Mastrionotti.

Why’s it so goddamn hot out here?

. . . Fred . . .

Deutsch looks where Mastrionotti is looking.

barton-fireNow comes that incredible hallway shot. Notice how much directing detail is baked into the script. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, you CAN put camera angles in– IF you’re the Coen Brothers, are directing the movie yourself, or are already funded. If you have the funding, hell, you can do whatever the fuck you like– write it in pink Crayola crayon or Comic Sans Font– you got the money! Back to the genius of the Coen Brothers, camera angles and all…here, more Secondary Slugs, pushing the reader’s eye down the page…really seeing the movie…

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