Script Gods Must Die - Chicago Screenwriting Consultant - Part 2

The Micro-Budget Screenplay: Preparation
Feb 4th, 2017 by paul peditto

Chat Poster V2

My new Script Magazine article is up. If you’re writing a micro-budget screenplay, maybe check this one out. It details some pitfalls along the path of my making CHAT (photo above) and gives some insight on the earliest formats your script can take in the outlining stage.

Here’s a piece of it:

“Glance at the Go Into The Story Spec Script List for 2015 and you’ll see 55 specs sold last year. Then add up the screenplays registered with the Writer’s Guild that year– shall we say, conservatively, 50,000? About 1,000 to 1, though I’ve seen the odds– especially for those without an agent or manager– at much worse. Then look at the WGA 2016 Annual Report to see that for all the tens upon tens of thousands of folks writing screenplays last year, exactly 1,799 got paid. For every spec screenplay writer you see on breaking through with a magical story of success, you could point to a thousand dreams that didn’t pan out.

Jez Peditto, so you’re saying I should stop dreaming of being a screenwriter? I should stop writing… because the odds are against it?

Script EXTRA: 11 Ways to Develop Your Screenwriting Hustle

Not at all. I’m talking today about the need for re-calibration. A mental rearrangement of priorities. From Old School to New. The need to know yourself…and your project.

When you write a screenplay and ignore budgetary considerations, you guarantee needing other people’s money.

Needing other people’s money cedes power. It guarantees the need of L.A. and the necessity of the L.A. mechanism. It’s why you should consider writing with micro-budget in mind. When you write for cost you increase your odds of seeing the script happen. Because you control the mechanism.

The real question should be: How do I write a movie for the absolute lowest price possible without compromising the vision of my film?”

Read the rest of the article here!

script mag 2

Great Scenes: Birdman
Jan 30th, 2017 by paul peditto


Want to write great screenplays? Read them. That logic is too facile– like saying everyone who pays for classes at Second City will end up on Saturday Night Live, or win an Oscar like Adam McKay. The walls of Second City are filled with famous faces, but for every one of them who “made it”, there are thousands who did not. Same with reading screenplays. I won’t guarantee that you’ll end up signing with William Morris Endeavor if you do so, but you’ll improve. That I’d bet on. And if you’re reading screenplays, why not read an Oscar winner? Full Birdman script is here.

I usually spread the wealth on these greatest scenes posts but there are a dozen scenes from Birdman which are worthy of a script/clip look. Let’s study how this movie looks on the page…

*p.s.: Sorry for the script scrunching, nothing to be done about it.


Emma Stone and Michael Keaton go off on what it means to be relevant in the era of Facebook:

Listen to me. I’m trying to do something
that’s important…
This is not important.
It’s important to me! Alright? Maybe not to
you, or your cynical playmates whose sole
ambition is to end up going viral and who,
by the way, will only be remembered as the
generation that finally stopped talking to
one another. But to me… To me… This is–
God. This is my career, this is my chance to do
some work that actually means something.
Means something to who?
You had a career before the third comic book movie,
before people began to forget who was inside the bird
costume. You’re doing a play based on a book that was
written 60 years ago, for a thousand rich, old white people
whose only real concern is gonna be where they go to have
their cake and coffee when it’s over. Nobody gives a shit but you.
And let’s face it, Dad, it’s not for the sake of art. It’s because
you just want to feel relevant again. Well, there’s a whole
world out there where people fight to be relevant every day.
And you act like it doesn’t even exist! Things are happening
in a place that you willfully ignore, a place that has already
forgotten you. I mean who are you? You hate bloggers. You
make fun of twitter. You don’t even have a Facebook page.
You’re the one who doesn’t exist. You’re doing this because you’re
scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don’t matter.
And you know what? You’re right. You don’t. It’s not important.
You’re not important. Get used to it.
Silence. Riggan seems devastated, and Sam can see that.

Read the rest of this entry »

Voice Over VS. Off Screen
Jan 22nd, 2017 by paul peditto

voice over

This post is dedicated to folks who get confused on when to use Voice Over and when to use Off Screen.


“… and God help you if you use voiceover in your work, my friends. God help you! It’s flaccid, sloppy writing. Any idiot can write voice-over narration to explain the thoughts of a character. You must present the internal conflicts of your character in action.”

This speech by the Robert McKee character in Adaptation is one of the funniest scenes ever about that heavily-debated topic in screenwriting: Voice Over! The very sound of it (along with its sister-device flashback) strikes fear!  Horror stories of those foolish writers/directors who used voice over, and whose careers were never to be seen again!

Film is a visual medium. Too often we’re waiting for the narrator’s voice to end or start the scene. Or we’re listening to the narrator describe what we’re plainly seeing. Is there a tried and true test for the need of Voice Over? Not really. Common sense will have to do: Is there no visual way through action for you to introduce absolutely essential information that advances plot or character? No? Well then, it’s in. If it has to be Voice Over, then it’s Voice Over. And that’s ok!

Like with everything else in the screenwriting universe, there are no absolutes. I’ll bet you can name half a dozen movies that use voice over to devastating effect. Want a couple examples? Here’s one, from Forrest Gump:


A black and white photo of General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

The photo turns into live action as the General dons a hooded sheet over his head.

The General is in full Ku Klux Klan garb, including his horse.

The General rides off, followed by a large group of Klan members dressed in full uniform.


She said we was related to him in some way. And, what he did was, he started up this club called the Ku Klux Klan. They’d all dress up in their robes and their bed sheets and act like a bunch of ghosts or spooks or something. They’d even put bed sheets on their horses and ride around. And anyway, that’s how I got my name. Forrest Gump.

Signature voice. You can’t imagine the movie without it. In fact, the movie couldn’t function without it. Read the script. There is no way the same story could be told without it, which is the measure of the need of V.O. There are many haters of Voice Over. I am not one of them. Here’s another example, from V For Vendetta:

In the darkness, we hear a voice, a woman’s voice.  Her name is Evey.


“Remember, remember, the fifth of November, the gunpowder treason and plot.  I know of now reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.”

Her voice has a strength that is metered by a calmness, a deep centered peace that we can feel.


Those were almost the very first words he spoke to me and, in a way, that is where this story began, four hundred years ago, in a cellar beneath the Houses of Parliament.

In the darkness, we find a lantern.  Guy Fawkes, a dangerous man who wears a goatee, is struggling with a wheelbarrow stacked with barrels of gunpowder.


In 1605, Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

The wheelbarrow bumps over the heavy stone mortar of the cellar floor.  From the dark depths, we hear the sound of dogs.


He was caught in the cellars with enough gunpowder to level most of London.

Guy sees lanterns coming from both sides.  He tries to run as the dogs reach him first.  He grabs for his sword as dozens of pole axes pin him against the tunnel’s stone wall.

Concerning Voice Overs, the Script Gods Must Die rule applies: No other visual way through action for you to introduce absolutely essential information that advances plot or character? No? Then, damn the torpedoes and use Voice Over!


Off-Screen (O.S.) differs from Voice Over in that the character is present,  just not seen.

Here’s an example from Taxi Driver:

Dishelved middle-aged New Yorker looks up from the desk. We CUT IN to ongoing conversation between the middle-aged PERSONNEL OFFICER and a YOUNG MAN standing in front on his desk.

The young man is TRAVIS BICKLE. He wears his jeans, boots and Army jacket. He takes a drag off his unfiltered cigarette.

The PERSONNEL OFFICER is beat and exhausted: he arrives at work exhausted. TRAVIS is something else again. His intense steely gaze is enough to jar even the PERSONNEL OFFICER out of his workaday boredom.


No trouble with the Hack Bureau?


No Sir.


Got your license?




So why do you want to be a taxi driver?


I can’t sleep nights.


There’s porno theatres for that.


I know. I tried that.

Paul Schrader gives us the setting, using O.S. so that we hear the full conversation, but don’t see who talks until halfway into the scene. Here’s another excellent O.S. sequence, from X-Men:


A woman’s voice holds over the proceedings.  It is the voice of JEAN GREY – whom we will soon meet. As she is speaking, we come to a large screen television at one end of the room.


In every organism on Earth there exists a mutator gene – the X-factor, as it has come to be known.  It is the  basic building block of evolution -the reason we have evolved from homo habilus…

FOOTAGE REFLECTS THE VARIOUS STAGES OF HUMAN EVOLUTION.  Accompanying it is a GRAPH with a DIAGONAL LINE indicating the ascent of the “human being” as we know it. Accompanying the graph are evolving images of the “evolution of man.”


to homo erectus, to homo sapiens,  Neanderthals, and, finally, to homo  sapiens.

The animated demo on the screen zooms in on the lowest order of human depicted – homo habilus – a primitive, ape- like humanoid covered in hair.  As he is singled out, the terrain of his time appears, along with the harsh signs of his winter.


Taking its cues from the climate, terrain, various sources of nourishment, the mutator gene tells the body when it needs to change to  adapt to a new environment.  The  process is subtle, normally taking thousands of years.

As the graphic changes and depicts WARMER CLIMATE, the HAIR STARTS TO DISAPPEAR ON THE MAN’S BODY — gradually evolving into the human we now know as ourselves.

Now the terrain is modern, the weather pleasant.  The image pulls back and places this man back in line at the front of evolution.


Only in the last few thousand years did mankind begin to make clothes for himself, build shelters, use heat and grow food in large quantities.  With this man-made environment remaining relatively stable, the X-factor became dormant.

QUICK SHOTS: early huts, early clothing; then early homes, later homes, air conditioning, cars, modern high- rises, etc.



Until now.

Keep in mind with production drafts, you’ll sometimes find screenwriters directing like above (QUICK SHOTS, PULL BACK WIDER.) You get scripts that look like this, from Leprechaun:

As he lays there, breathing heavily… then we begin to HEAR STRANGE “IRISH MUSIC” coming from the crate. Then his MOTHER’S VOICE begins to sing the Irish song “Danny Boy” in the most beautiful voice we’ve ever heard…

LEAH’S VOICE: (singing “Danny Boy”) Oh, Danny Boy… the Saints they are a’calling…

Now we CRANE BACK… and…


“YUMMY, YUMMY, YUMMY I GOT LOVE IN MY TUMMY” 70’s rock and roll song blasting out of:


that is playing the song that brings back memories of a summer in the seventies.

ON A BEAT-UP OLD JEEP, open top, traveling down a country road. A beautiful morning. And the SONG CONTINUES as we roll credits. The driver of the jeep, J.D. REDING, is singing along with the song.

Do not direct your spec script! When you give us camera angles you take us out of the reading experience. You also encroach on the director’s domain. Don’t do it.

Good Reader, all my advice is geared toward helping you find the money to make your movie. Of course if you’ve already got the money, forget everything I’ve said. I mean it. Go ahead and write in camera angles; write in every SMASH CUT and CRANE shot; while you’re at it, write the script in 9 fonts, or in pink Crayola crayon. You’ve got the money!


Great Scenes: Mix 1
Jan 16th, 2017 by paul peditto

v for vendettaToday we’ll look at classic scenes, studying the clips/scripts from famous scenes in an effort to help with your dialogue. Not sure if I buy that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. My hope is you can synthesize how these words look on the page and incorporate them with an original touch in your own writing. Let’s get going…


The Revolution speech. Notice how the Wachowskis move us to and from multiple people to break up the long monologue. They take liberties with a few (V.O.)’s not being inserted, but I seriously doubt the money folks cared. Story over format every day of the week. Anyone looking to visualize a long monologue, this is a great example of how to do it…

                    Good evening, London.
                    Bloody fuckin' hell.
                    I thought it was time we had a
                    little talk.
                    He has to be at Jordan tower.  Come
          Finch and Dominic rush out of the room.  Creedy looks at his
          confused men.
                    Don't just stand there!  Follow
          V smiles at the horrified Adam Susan.
                    Are you sitting comfortably?  Good. 
                    Then I'll begin.
          The Leader screams, pounding on Fate.
                    Damn you!  Damn you!
          He hits the intercom.
                    Lieutenant, ready my transport.  I
                    want every armed man within a
                    hundred miles at Jordan tower. 
          We move in at VTV.
                    Right now, I imagine there are
                    hundreds of soldiers rushing here
                    to kill me because someone does not
                    want us to talk.
          We pull back in --
          INT.  LIVING ROOM
          A family watching television.  In the background, two
          children are squabbling.
                    Hush.  Turn it up.
          The husband does.  V's voice gets louder as we move towards
                    They are afraid that I am going to
                    say the things that are not
                    supposed to be said.  They are
                    afraid that I am going to say the
          INT.  APARTMENT
          A man sits on his couch, mesmerized by V.
                    The truth is that there is
                    something terribly wrong with this
                    country, isn't there?  If you look
                    about, you witness cruelty,
                    injustice and despotism.  But what
                    do you do about it?  What can you
          He pops his beer tab and the beer foams over the couch but he
          doesn't seem to notice.
          The car races wildly towards Jordan tower as Finch and
          Dominic listen to the broadcast on the radio.
                              V (V.O.)
                    You are but a single individual. 
                    How can you possible make any
                    difference?  Individuals have no
                    power in this modern world. 
                    That is what you've been taught
                    because that is what they need you
                    to believe.  But it is not true.
          The Leader seethes, staring at three television monitors in
          his limo which are all filled with V.
                    This is why they are afraid and the
                    reason that I am here; to remind
                    you that it is individuals who
                    always hold the power.  The real
                    power.  Individuals like me.  And
                    individuals like you.
          The bar is almost completely soundless except for the voice
          of V.  People stare at the television as if the moment were
          somehow suspended in time.
                    I have come to offer you a deal. 
                    If you accept, I will give you a
                    different world.  A world without
                    curfews, without soldiers and
                    surveillance systems.  A world that
                    is not run by other men but that is
                    run by you.  I am offering you a
                    second chance.
          EXT.  JORDAN TOWER
          The military forces have begun to swarm.
                    Four hundred years ago, a great
                    citizen made a most significant
                    contribution to our common culture. 
                    It was a contribution forged in
                    secrecy and stealth although it is
                    best remembered in noise and bright
          A crowd has gathered, watching through the window.
                    To commemorate that glorious night
                    at precisely the stroke of
                    midnight, the edifice of their
                    world will erupt with enough sound
                    and fury to shake the earth.  All I
                    ask is that you join me at the
                    gates to watch as the past is
                    erased, the pathway cleared so that
                    together we can start toward a new
          EXT.  JORDAN TOWER
          The Leader climbs out of his limo and is met by one of his
                    I want this man dead!  I want him
                    shot on sight!
                    Yes, sir.
          INT.  FINCH'S CAR
          Finch can see the forces gathering outside Jordan tower.
                              V (V.O.)
                    But, you ask, who am I to make such
                    promises?  A fair question but
                    hardly necessary as you know me
                    already.  To know me any more you
                    need only look to a mirror.
          Finch catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror.
          VTV fills every screen.
                    Truth be told, this wasn't even my
                    idea, was it?  If you think back,
                    you'll remember that night,
                    whispering in your lover's arms.  I
                    became a part of your plan just as
                    you have now become part of mine. 
                    Give me the line of the queen and
                    I'll give you your secret dream.
          A heavy battering ram is rushed down the hall, carried by
          four soldiers.
                              V (V.O.)
                    On the twelfth stroke of the fifth
                    day of the eleventh month, I hope
                    we shall all meet again.
          The crowd is much larger.
                    Until then, I bid you goodnight.

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Writing The Micro-Budget Screenplay: Post & Marketing
Jan 10th, 2017 by paul peditto

seed and spark

It’s a movie, now what?

In Part 4 in our Micro-Budget series we’ll assume the movie is shot and you’re in Post-Production or the marketing phase.

We’ve been using the movie I wrote/produced, Chat, as a case-study. Before we get to Sales Agents and Distributors, some life lessons for the writer as your flick hits the edit room. Unless you directed or financed it, it’s doubtful you’ll be in the edit room making final decisions. Too many cooks in the kitchen. Your writer-head needs to be in the right place to surrender control. The whole purpose of Micro, you thought, was keeping control. So that if the movie fails at least it’s your movie that fails.

But let’s stay positive and say you did direct or produce it and will have at least some say on Final Cut. The only thing that matters at this point is what you got in the can. The script is still important, but much more to the point is the footage you got. For instance…


I mentioned in the previous posts how our Director, Boris Wexler, got permission to shoot in the Board Of Trade offices where he worked. It looked nothing like the sleazy XXX-chat office I’d first imagined.


Falcon timidly, stranger in a strange land, stands before SYD, 48, a toad. As Syd searches the messy office for paperwork. Falcon scans the room…

Because we shot at Boris’ Board of Trade offices, this scene was moved from Syd’s office to the Conference Room. More spectacular visuals than a simple office scene, really opened things up and gave us a new take on the seedy backrooms you’d expect from an adult chat cam operation.

Falcon emerges, holding a large wreath, staring up at the sun. He places powerful protective sunglasses over the contacts, stepping into light.

Alien landscape, cars and people move very fast, dizzying. A crying child, a jackhammer at a construction site, the screaming of an EMT van passing with cherry lights blazing. All these exaggerated, hypersensitive for Falcon, who walks with wreath toward…

Falcon bends, laying the wreath again a newly dug stone. He stands back to observe the wreath, the stone, the empty cemetery.

Falcon looks up at a piece of paper with scrawled writing, then at a nondescript commercial building. He moves inside.

All were filmed as written. Nothing wrong with these scenes in and of themselves, but in front of a test audience we learned that the pacing of the movie’s open was slow. Top and bottom trims were made to each of these and some were outright cut. In the edit room it’s not about what was in the script any more. It’s about maximizing what you SHOT.



Falcon walks the fluorescent corridor. Still wearing protective sunglasses, he drifts past door after door. Partial glimpses inside… CHAT MODELS in various states of undress, typing on keyboards or chatting into computer cameras, office cubicles made to look like bedrooms. This is an Adult Chat studio complex and business is very good indeed. Falcon’s sunglasses hide his eyes, but the fluorescence still brings pain.

We shifted this scene to after he screens the video of his daughter doing sex chat for the first time, weeping upon seeing her.

Thus, we accomplished (I hope!) the four keys to the first 5 pages: 1-PROTAGONIST established 2-TONE established 3-WORLD established 4-CONFLICT established.



Lotta micros (like ours) trying make it into A-level film fests with no name actors and limited marketing funds. Sundance had over 12,000 submissions last year– an all-time record. Might be the ex-craps dealer in me but the mathematics of making Sundance ain’t great.

But so what? You’ve got options like never before to get your film out there, maybe even make enough $$$ back to make your next film, and the next, and get noticed. That’s how Ryan Coogler goes from low-budget Fruitvale Station to Creed.

Your marketing approach should be personal and right for you. You might not want to give up control to a distribution company. You might choose to 4-wall it (where you pay to screen it, fill the house via social media, and take a piece of the door) in a handful of cities hoping to draw critical buzz. Maybe you’ll choose to keep 100% control, promote it yourself and put it out on a place like Seed & Spark. Maybe you’ll try to get into major film festival or go the B and C-level or not bother with the film fest circuit at all. Be a student of how small-budget movies emerge from the pack. Be original — like never-seen-before original– like Tangerine, a movie about transvestite prostitutes shot on an iPhone for low, low money.


So what happened with Chat? Anything to learn from that? I believe it happened in this order…

*Showcase Entertainment signed on in late summer 2014 as Sales Agent. Yes!

*Sundance rejection. Boo!

*10 other A-level Fest rejections in 2015. Boo! But…

*Summer 2015 Gravitas Ventures agrees to distribute Chat! North American Cable and VOD. (75%-AVOD, SVOD, TVOD revenue retained indicates we’ll at least be able to start paying investors back with an outside shot of fully paying them back. The gold standard: Breaking even.) Yay!

*Armed with Gravitas deal Showcase actively sells this movie at AFM in New York, foreign markets, and DVD distributors. Nice! But…

*Trailer needs reworking—cost is 5,000$, right off the top. Boo!

*First check back in 2016 from all digital platforms indicates the obvious: Don’t quit your day job, Peditto. Rrrr….


So what’s all this amount to for you? How should you handle distribution? It’s a personal choice, as I mentioned. It’s nice my movie is selling on a dozen online platforms. Without stars and Sundance-less, we had no illusions about making it into theaters for a theatrical run, though we did get two nights at Siskel Center-Chicago this Spring…


The key is realistic expectations in a crowded marketplace. Lotta product out there. The decisions are many: Film fest submission or no? Name actor in a cameo to help with sales later or no? Self-distribution or give away a piece and hook on with a company like Gravitas Ventures? How much will you get up front to give away pieces of domestic, foreign and digital rights? Will you make anything without major festival cache? Imaging you’re making this micro-budget movie to make big $$$ is surely a prescription for Zoloft. Better to keep it realistic.



Read Spike Lee’s journal of the making of She’s Got To Have It. He struggled to make rent, hit his mother up for money, annoyed and pissed his friends off with money requests, anything to get his first movie made.

David Lynch took years to make the sub $30,000 Eraserhead. He had a paper route and grabbed unused sound and film stock from dumpsters.

Cassavetes made other people’s movies to get the cash to make his own low-budget films.

Orson Wells made wine commercials.

Robert Rodriguez sold himself for medical experiments.

Pillars and icons of filmmaking, all. They didn’t have the technological advantages you do today. But they made it happen.


Hollywood. Home of the true 1%.

Behind this gated community are the impeccable hedge rows, million-dollar mansions, and Lamborghini excess. The Country Club of which you are most definitely not a member. You cannot apply to this club. The gatekeepers know you are not of their cloth.

They can smell you, folks. You are the Unwashed. They can smell your wanting, your desperation to join them on the inside. They have set up impenetrable motes and ramparts to stop you.

How will you scale these walls?

Write and MAKE a quality micro-budget movie.


The church of D.I.Y. is upon us. The church of Micro-Budget, and all the digital miracles therein. In 1996, Jane Doe cost $225,000 to make in 18 days on Super 16 film.

In 2014 Chat cost $44,000 to shoot in 18 days with a Canon 5D Mark III.

This is what micro-budget has done. Enabled a freedom never before allowed. The freedom to pull all these projects out of the realm of needing millions from other people, needing bankable stars, needing to make artistic compromises, and moving it… into the realm of possibility.

Remember those 12,000+ submissions to Sundance last year? Record number. The D.I.Y. “revolution” is tied into digital technologies and easy access to those technologies. Meaning the availability of great cameras, advanced software programs available for home use.

Then add social media, crowdfunding, and digital distribution options through VOD(Video-On-Demand) platforms. Lower production budgets freeing movie makers from traditional barriers of entry.

This is a very good time to be making movies, and a very good time to be writing them.

Micro-Budget movies are not a panacea for world hunger. This is a world filled with no-name actors, microscopic production budget limitations, drama upon drama and the stress that comes from never having enough money when you make the movie.

But, the point is…. you’re making the movie!

It all starts with the script.

For so many years it was just a dream—getting your movie made.

You’ve talked and talked about it. With Digital technology, it’s there to be had. There’s no better time to write a micro-budget screenplay.

So let’s go…write the damn thing!

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