Script Gods Must Die - Chicago Screenwriting Consultant

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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Action Line POV: My Best Friend’s Wedding
Jun 24th, 2015 by paul peditto


What is an action line?

New screenwriters are taught to write action lines as: Who is in the shot and what is happening, now. What is the camera seeing, now. But when you study the pros you’ll find they do more than this. Pros cheat. They do it all the time. How do they do it? When it comes to action lines, they give us: what is the camera seeing now–with attitude.

They impose their own screenwriting style, their writer’s voice, onto the supposed objective action line. They corrupt action lines with POV. And you need to do the same.

That is what will make your script stand out far from the maddening screenwriting crowd. Pour your writer’s voice into action lines. Screenplays, mostly, are just action lines and dialogue. It’s not enough to nail the dialogue. You have to force your personality into the action lines.

The best way to do that is to study how the pros do it. I’ve written a couple of posts on this already, but I want to study it again. Let’s examine perhaps the best example I know, My Best Friend’s Wedding. “A freaking rom-com is the best example you got?” asks Cheese Fry Chicago Joe. Yeah Joe, I’m no rom-com fan either, but this Ron Bass written script goes right into the head of the Julia Roberts protagonist. Here’s the full script. Let’s get going….

MBFW-my-best-friends-wedding-3848082-853-480 Julia Roberts is Julianne, still carrying the torch for Michael (Dermont Mulroney) though of course he can’t see it because he’s about to marry a young (yeah, we’re going back to 1997) Cameron Diaz. Like with most rom coms, we, the audience, get what the characters in the movie don’t, in about two minutes. Reading the script, we get it here in his first phone to tell Julia Roberts he’s getting married. Check out how the action lines put you right in her head:

I called because I met someone.

And her smiles breaks off. Like a spine snapping. Because there is
something in his voice.

Well, that’s great. You haven’t
really had anybody since Dingbat

You don’t understand. I’ve never
felt this way about anybody!

Never. She sits down, hard. Right on the floor.

And she’s all wrong for me!

Well, somet…

I mean she’s a junior at Chicago
University, she’s twenty years
old! Like when I first met you.

Like when. Julianne’s mouth is suddenly dry.

And her dad is like this billionaire
who owns the White Sox and some cable
empire, and you know how I’ve always
been miserably awkward around those
kinda stuffed suits…

She’s finally making her mouth work…

Well, sure.

But they’re so down to earth, such
wonderful people…

You’ve met her parents.

MICHAEL (V.O., quiet)
Well. Sure.


See. We’re getting married.
This Sunday.

There’s a knife in her heart. She can scarcely breathe.

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Great Scenes: Pleasantville: Discovering Masturbation
Jun 16th, 2015 by paul peditto


Bet that title got your attention…beats freakin’ Plot Points!

Today we’re gonna continue our script/clips series for Great Scenes with, YES!, the scene where mom (Joan Allen) masturbates for the first time. I’ll show the script here and you can go down to the YouTube video below (and thanks to Cyrille from France for preserving it). Scene de la baignoire, indeed!

Some of these scenes I’ve been highlighting are vastly different from the finished movie. Not here. This is pretty much as is for what became the movie. Interesting though, seeing how it’s laid out on the page by writer Gary Ross. Let’s check it out…

697908ee_pleasantville-helping-1Before this, Joan Allen has been the Leave It To Beaver Mom. Eisenhower-era, pancakes and sausage links every morning, drink and dinner waiting for hubby, and most definitely the twins beds at night. There is not only no fornication in Pleasantville, there isn’t even the concept of it. The thought never comes into the mind, until slutty Reese Witherspoon shows up from the present and plants the notion in Mom’s mind. Sex? What’s sex?


George crosses from the dresser to the TWO TWIN BEDS in the
middle of the room. He wears long sleeve pajamas that are
buttoned up to the neck. George puts his glass of warm milk
on the nightstand and climbs in his own single bed. It is
barely wide enough for his body and takes some maneuvering.

Sweetie? You coming to bed?

There is no answer.



She stands in her bathrobe staring down at the tub. Her
dressing gown is buttoned to the neck as well.

(calling out)
Yeah … I’m just going to take a bath

Pleasantville-movies-5752369-1280-720 Between his virginal wife here as George Parker, or being married to Nina Hartley in Boogie Nights, the classic Little Bill New Year’s Eve suicide–William H. Macy has had a couple classic sex scenes in the movies–even if it’s his wife getting the action in both. He’s clueless here that this is a bath like no bath that his wife ever took before, a bath that’s gonna literally set this world aflame in Technicolor.


She swallows once as she stares down at the tub–then reaches
for the spigot and turns on the water. Betty’s heart beats a
little faster as she HEARS the WATER THUNDERING DOWN.


Betty reaches up and unties the little silk ribbon at the top
of her robe. She slips it off, and lets it drop to the floor,
standing naked in the middle of the bathroom. Betty glances
toward the mirror and then quickly glances away. She takes a
deep breath and steps into the tub.


Betty slides down into the warm water, breathing in the
steam, and closing her eyes for a moment. She lingers like
that for a second or two, before settling a little lower in
the tub. Betty opens her eyes, but they only half open. There
is the slight trace of a smile.


Her eyes close again as she bites her lower lip gently. The
water continues to THUNDER DOWN as she arches her back.
Betty’s breathing seems to quicken as she opens her eyes all
over again:

pleasantville_58Would I recommend you NOT write in camera direction like this? If you’re new to screenwriting, with no agent, not directing the movie and haven’t raised the funds to show it–do NOT write in camera angles like this. Writer Gary Ross did direct this, so he was seeing it clearly long before he shot it. As usual, the answer on writing in camera angles is–it depends.

Back to the script…things starting to get interesting in that bathroom!

Here is where the whole world shifts, the first orgasm in Pleasantville!




She stares in amazment. Beads of sweat form on Betty’s
forehead as the world goes to TECHNICOLOR. The THUNDERING
WATER POUNDS IN THE BACKGROUND, but beneath can be heard the
beginnings of a faint, low, MOAN. Her eyes dart around the
room. Her breathing quickens: Faster … Harder … More
intense … THEN SUDDENLY …


The HUGE ELM TREE across the street suddenly BURSTS INTO
FLAMES. Fire shoots straight up into the sky as billowing
clouds of black smoke fill the air. BRIGHT ORANGE FLAMES

Ever remember another movie image like that?

Kinda puts the small stuff in perspective–any objections to his CAPPING OBJECTS, his SPECIFYING CLOSE UPS, etc–kinda go away in comparison to the concept–a black and white TV world, pure Americana, infiltrated by a pair of time traveling, dysfunctional teens, turning the black and white Eisenhower-era into a Huck Finn reading, free-loving and fully “colored” world. Killer premise.

Killer premise/concept/hook & mediocre script…

Killer script & mediocre premise….

Which do you think the producer would want first?

Here’s the scene:

Location As Character
Jun 9th, 2015 by paul peditto

So I’ve talked a bit about character introductions and arcs, but what happens when a character isn’t even a person? What about when the living characters are defined by their environment and the locations themselves become a character in the movie? I want to show how this is handled in some well known, and not-so well known, movies. This might take more than one post, but we’ll start here. Let’s begin with AFI’s Top Film of all time….



Window, very small in the distance, illuminated.

All around this is an almost totally black screen. Now, as the camera moves slowly towards the window which is almost a postage stamp in the frame, other forms appear; barbed wire, cyclone fencing, and now, looming up against an early morning sky, enormous iron grille work. Camera travels up what is now shown to be a gateway of gigantic proportions and holds on the top of it – a huge initial “K” showing darker and darker against the dawn sky. Through this and beyond we see the fairy-tale mountaintop of Xanadu, the great castle a sillhouette as its summit, the little window a distant accent in the darkness.



The literally incredible domain of CHARLES FOSTER KANE.

Its right flank resting for nearly forty miles on the Gulf Coast, it truly extends in all directions farther than the eye can see. Designed by nature to be almost completely bare and flat – it was, as will develop, practically all marshland when Kane acquired and changed its face – it is now pleasantly uneven, with its fair share of rolling hills and one very good-sized mountain, all man-made. Almost all the land is improved, either through cultivation for farming purposes of through careful landscaping, in the shape of parks and lakes. The castle dominates itself, an enormous pile, compounded of several genuine castles, of European origin, of varying architecture – dominates the scene, from the very peak of the mountain.


The description of Xanadu runs on another two full pages before Kane utters the word “Rosebud”. Everything from the zoo to the golf links to the swimming pool to the minutia of a moat and drawbridge on the epic scale of the fantastical…


Over a wide moat, now stagnant and choked with weeds. We move across it and through a huge solid gateway into a formal garden, perhaps thirty yards wide and one hundred yards deep, which extends right up to the very wall of the castle. The landscaping surrounding it has been sloppy and causal for a long time, but this particular garden has been kept up in perfect shape. As the camera makes its way through it, towards the lighted window of the castle, there are revealed rare and exotic blooms of all kinds. The dominating note is one of almost exaggerated tropical lushness, hanging limp and despairing. Moss, moss, moss. Ankor Wat, the night the last King died.



Camera moves in until the frame of the window fills the frame of the screen. Suddenly, the light within goes out. This stops the action of the camera and cuts the music which has been accompanying the sequence. In the glass panes of the window, we see reflected the ripe, dreary landscape of Mr. Kane’s estate behind and the dawn sky.

Who could live here? Yes, welcome to the world of Charles Foster Kane. Before we even see him, Xanadu has set the otherworldly stage for the character modeled on William Randolph Hurst.

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