In honor of The Great Gatsby movie that comes out today — I am so excited! — lets talk about a real Great Gatsby from my life, Hollywood Screenwriter Shane Black, a living legend.
Shane Black is the writer / director of the highly rated Iron Man 3 that also comes out to theaters this May 2013.
Interested in screenwriting since I was a kid, getting to know real people who actually made a handsome living at screenwriting proved to me that the dream could be a reality.
In Hollywood, I was awestruck by the riches abound.
I met lots of screenwriters, the best paid of them all (in the millions) was Shane Black.
Notably generous, and like the Great Gatsby, Shane Black threw lots of unforgettable parties at his mansion.
It was the turn of the millennium, the Internet had just started to take off, and it was a time of massive change. Everything was new and the future was uncertain.
My first full time job in Hollywood was at E! Entertainment, which put me smack dab in the middle of everything that was happening in Hollywood.
The parties at Shane’s house I remember most. To me, Shane’s house was the kind you would see in fairytales, it was that big and grand.
The parties physically took place in one of two areas (or both): the disco arcade movie-screening room with tipi and bar on the top floor (3rd I think); or if the weather was good and the invitee list long, the party spilled out in the big backyard around the salt water pool. Occasionally, an actress would buy new boobs and flaunt them all night. With all the wings and levels of the house, people tended to lose themselves and never leave. It was outrageous.
We swam, watched movies, played pinball, danced, ate, drank… and made bad choices.
Like Gatsby, Mr. Black has a dark mysterious nature about him. I was warned not to talk to him about certain things, like “why we exist,” because it may depress him, so I always kept conversation light.
Shane himself was not lavish. He had an old beat car and dressed simple, usually in black. Shane tended to lay low and observe. During the time I knew him, he was suffering writer’s block in the early 2000′s.
Since then, everything has changed.
A UCLA roommate of Shane, Loren Kantor, made the woodcut portrait of Shane featured in this article.
With permission from Loren Kantor, below I share with you some more anecdotes from the early days of screenwriter Shane Black’s life:
First published April 26, 2013 by Loren Kantor
This week marks the release of Iron Man 3 written and directed by Shane Black. Shane’s story is well known. At age 22 he wrote Lethal Weapon giving new life to the action, buddy film genre. In 1990 he sold his script The Last Boy Scout for $1.75 million. Writer Joe Eszterhas eclipsed this figure with his sale of Basic Instinct for $3 million but Shane’s subsequent sale of The Long Kiss Goodnight for $4 million made him the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood. Shane continued to write screenplays into the 90′s but then he seemed to disappear. As with most Hollywood stories, Shane’s is complicated.
I was fortunate enough to live with Shane for a year while attending UCLA. In those days, Shane was a theater major who aspired to be an actor. He loved 70′s character-driven film thrillers like The French Connection, Dirty Harry and Bullitt. He was an avid reader of the hardboiled detective fiction of Ross Mcdonald and John D. MacDonald. He carried a dog-eared copy of William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade wherever he went.
I remember seeing Shane perform standup comedy at UCLA. He was frenetic on stage, trashing props and uttering punch lines about “anal probes” administered by UCLA security. Like many college seniors, Shane was uncertain about his future. He was always gracious and kind but he was also moody and intense.
One day I came home from class to find Shane typing in the living room. He was writing a satirical one-act play about the second coming of Christ. Shane’s method of typing was unique. Using just his left and right index finger, he pounded the typewriter with intense force and amazing speed. I watched spellbound as he seemed to box with the typewriter keys, pages flying out of the carriage as if Shane were channeling the ghost of Ben Hecht.
Shane completed his play in two days. A week later he staged the piece at the UCLA Theater Department. Like his future films, the play was both dark and funny. Jesus returns to earth but people are oblivious to his message. He hires a Jewish public relations man who procures Jesus a “drink milk” tv commercial and books him on the talk-show circuit. The story ends in tragicomic fashion true to Shane’s cynical view of life.
Shane spent most of his time in his college days with the Pad O’ Guys. ThePad was a group of fledgling screenwriters and film students who lived, ate and breathed movies. Members included the future filmmakers Ed Solomon (Men In Black), Jim Herzfeld (Meet The Parents), Greg Widen (Backdraft), Robert Reneau (Demolition Man), Ryan Rowe (Charlie’s Angels), David Silverman (The Simpsons) and Dave Arnott (The Adventures of Ford Fairlane).
A year after Shane graduated, he wrote Lethal Weapon in six weeks. One of Shane’s Pad friends, Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps) helped Shane find an agent and soon several studios engaged in a bidding war for the script. Shane sold the screenplay to Warner Brothers for $250,000 and his career formally began.
Shane was determined not to become a Hollywood A–hole. He continued driving his rusted Mustang convertible and he lived with several Pad friends in a Westwood apartment. As Shane’s career flourished, he experienced jealousy and resentment from friends and fellow filmmakers. Critics lambasted his writing style and he was turned down for membership in the Academy. (New Academy members were required to have “two produced works of substance and merit.”)
Shane struggled with his early success. He experienced self-doubt and began to believe his detractors who said he only made money, not quality films. When Warner Brothers hired Shane to write a sequel to Lethal Weapon, Shane’s version killed off the Mel Gibson character. Shane’s friends saw this as a symbolic suicide since the character was viewed as Black’s alter ego.
After The Long Kiss Goodnight tanked at the box office, Shane’s golden boy reputation took a hit. Producers were eager to end the spec script bidding wars that Shane had helped trigger and old friends seemed to gloat. Shane had an aversive reaction. He was burned out on screenwriting realizing the process was no longer fun.
Shane bought a beautiful home in historic Fremont Place in midtown Los Angeles. (The house served as the main character’s home in The Artist.) Shane stopped writing and began an era of partying. The Halloween bashes at Shane’s place were the stuff of legend. But the drinking and substance abuse took a toll. “I just sort of got lost. I drank too much.”
With the support of filmmaker James Brooks, Shane began writing again. In 2003, he completed his comeback piece Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. This time, he wanted to direct as well. He showed the script around Hollywood but responses were lukewarm. Some producers didn’t even bother to read the script. To Shane, the experience was humbling.
Shane turned to producer Joel Silver who procured $15 million from Warner Brothers to get the film made. Shane cast Robert Downey Jr., who at the time was nearly unemployable having just served time in prison. He also cast Val Kilmer who’s career had gone cold. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a mystery suspense film inspired by the writing of Raymond Chandler. The film was a modest success but more importantly Shane was back in the film game.
Shane stopped drinking in 2008. He again became serious about writing. Jon Favreau & Robert Downey turned to Shane when they needed help with the first Iron Man screenplay. Downey credits Shane for writing the press-conference scene after Tony Stark returns from captivity. (Shane asked to be paid in “blueberries and wild salmon.”) When Favreau declined to direct Iron Man 3, Downey lobbied for Shane to direct. Shane had helped Downey resurrect his career. Now Downey was returning the favor.
Shane always admired the “old gunslinger” story. A character falls into a dark place and must rise above his demons to redeem himself. It seems Shane has done the same. The initial reviews of Iron Man 3 are positive and Shane is ready to begin his second act. If we’re lucky, we’ll have many new Shane Black films to look forward to. Here’s hoping Shane feels the same way.
Kantor’s woodcut art and stories of Hollywood legends are amusing. My favorite woodcuts are David Lynch, Tom Waits, Lauren Bacall, Jeff Buckley, Charles Bukowski, Steve Buscemi, and Midnight Cowboy. I encourage you to look up your favorite Hollywood legends, read interesting stories, and buy a cool woodcut print from Kantor.
What “In Development” means is that story rights have been purchased (or optioned for a time) and a producer is preparing the story for screen. A story from a book or other source may require an entire screenplay adaptation to be written or a script may need some tweaking to satisfy all investing parties. The script could take months or years to perfect.
To move into pre-production, for big budget movies, often a well-known actor or director must be attached. If there is discontent over the script, lead actors, director, or they cannot raise enough money to make the movie, some stories may never leave the Development stage. In such case, the story may eventually be shelved.
Once the story is ready to be filmed and there is money to pay for it, it gets green lit and goes into
pre-production: find locations, draw storyboards, prepare costumes, secure talent and crew; then
production: the actual time of filming, all hands on deck; and finally
post-production: when the film is edited, sounds and music are added, and marketing kicks into high gear.
Top 50+ Stories In Development
The Avengers 2 (2015)
Director: Joss Whedon, Production Co: Marvel Studios
Fifty Shades of Grey
Production Co: Focus Features
The Expendables 3
Director: Patrick Hughes, Production Co: Nu Image / Millennium Films
Avatar 2 (2015)
Director: James Cameron
Justice League (2015)
Production Co: DC Entertainment
Pirates of the Caribbean 5
Production Co: Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Closer Than Love (2013)
Production Co: Solomon Pictures
Production Co: Scott Free Productions
Production Co: Annapurna Pictures
Kill Bill: Vol. 3
Director: Quentin Tarantino, Production Co: A Band Apart
Director: Greg Berlanti, Production Co: DC Entertainment
Jeepers Creepers 3: Cathedral (2013)
Director: Victor Salva, Production Co: American Zoetrope
Toy Story 4
Production Co: Pixar Animation Studios
Mission: Impossible 5 (2015)
Director: Christopher McQuarrie, Production Co: Skydance Productions
National Treasure 3
Production Co: Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Director: Bryce Dallas Howard, Production Co: Imagine Entertainment
Director: Rupert Sanders, Production Co: K/O Paper Products
Bad Boys 3
Director: Michael Bay, Production Co: Columbia Pictures
Creators: Rob Liefeld | Fabian Nicieza, Production Co: Marvel Enterprises
Production Co: Columbia Pictures
Dumb and Dumber To (2014)
Directors: Bobby Farrelly | Peter Farrelly, Production Co: Conundrum Entertainment
Snow White and the Huntsman 2 (2015)
Production Co: Universal Pictures
Production Co: DC Entertainment
Production Co: Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE)
Mortal Kombat (2013)
Director: Kevin Tancharoen, Production Co: New Line Cinema
Arrested Development (2013)
Director: Mitchell Hurwitz, Production Co: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Into the Woods
Director: Rob Marshall, Production Co: Lucamar Productions
Veronica Mars (2014)
Director: Rob Thomas, Production Co: Rob Thomas Productions
Directors: Guillermo del Toro | Mark Gustafson, Production Co: Jim Henson Company, The
Ram Leela (2013)
Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Production Co: SLB Films Pvt. Ltd.
I Am Legend 2
Production Co: Overbrook Entertainment
Bond 24 (2016)
Production Co: Eon Productions
Production Co: DMC Film
Austin Powers 4
Production Co: New Line Cinema
Brief einer Unbekannten
Director: Matt Zemlin, Production Co: Solomon Pictures
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)
Director: Francis Lawrence, Production Co: Color Force
Production Co: Fuzzy Door Productions
Sherlock Holmes 3
Production Co: Warner Bros
Paranormal Activity 5 (2013)
Production Co: Paramount Pictures
Director: Justin Theroux, Production Co: Red Hour Films
Untitled Tron: Legacy Sequel (2014)
Director: Joseph Kosinski, Production Co: Walt Disney Pictures
The Legend of Conan (2014)
Production Co: Chris Morgan Production
Director: Stephen Daldry, Production Co: Marc Platt Productions
Clash of the Titans 3
Production Co: Legendary Pictures
I, Robot 2
Production Co: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
xXx: The Return of Xander Cage
Director: Rob Cohen, Production Co: Paramount Pictures
Director: Shane Black, Production Co: Lin Pictures
Green Lantern 2
Production Co: DC Entertainment
Journey 3: From the Earth to the Moon
Director: Brad Peyton, Production Co: Contrafilm
The Girl Who Played with Fire
Production Co: Sony Pictures Entertainment
Production Co: Columbia Pictures
Rush Hour 4
Production Co: New Line Cinema
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Sequels and famous books top and fill this list. These stories are all likely to move onward into the production phase because they have already earned a lot of money.
Where does this leave you, the unknown screenwriter? Read…
As a screenwriter, it is good to know what audiences are interested in and what types of stories are selling.
Star Wars 1977
Here are some of the most anticipated movies that are in pre-production, due to film and come out over the next couple years.
Science Fiction is the biggest banking genre these days. What you will also notice is that these movies are mostly sequels.
Top 20 Movies in Pre-Production
Star Wars: Episode VII (2015)
Director: J.J. Abrams
Untitled Transformers Sequel (2014)
Director: Michael Bay
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) Marvel Enterprises
Director: James Gunn
Jurassic Park IV (2014)
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Director: Christopher Nolan
Resident Evil 6 (2014)
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
The Maze Runner (2014)
Director: Wes Ball
Fast & Furious 7 (2014)
Director: James Wan (I)
Till We Meet Again (2013)
Director: Bank Tangjaitrong
Director: Edgar Wright
Hercules: The Thracian Wars (2014)
Director: Brett Ratner
Director: Wally Pfister
Heart of Dance (2013)
Director: Terence H. Winkless
Kung Fu Panda 3 (2015)
Director: Jennifer Yuh
Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters (2014)
Director: Mark Waters
The Fault in Our Stars
Director: Josh Boone
The Fantastic Four (2015)
Director: Josh Trank
The Judge (2014)
Director: David Dobkin
21 Jump Street 2 (2014)
Directors: Phil Lord | Chris Miller
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Director: Guy Ritchie
What movies are you looking forward to seeing?
Of what type of movies would you like to see more?
Slamdance 2013 Screenwriting and Teleplay Competition
SHORTS FEATURE FILMS TELEPLAYS WEBISODES SCRIPTS
The Slamdance Screenwriting and Teleplay Competition is dedicated to discovering and supporting emerging writing talent. To that end, we are unveiling an exciting new partnership this year with JuntoBox Films who will be awarding a Grand Prize of $10,000 cash and a $50,000 production grant to the winning feature script. JuntoBox Films’ goal of producing films and finding writers with innovative and interesting stories is a great fit with what Slamdance strives to achieve.
We welcome screenplays in every genre, on any topic, from anywhere in the world. A unique feature of the competition is providing constructive feedback for every entrant. In addition to this, we also offer a more intensive coverage service for a supplementary fee. Now in our eighteenth year, we have a history of highlighting talented, independent screenwriters and introducing them to the entertainment industry. All of our readers approach scripts differently, but in general we are looking for originality and promise in a work. As an organization, we strive to foster an independent spirit among new writers and filmmakers. We’ve established a strong track record through our competition successes and are committed to continuing our pursuit to champion outstanding new work.
Our competition consists of four categories. Awards are given to the top three scripts in each category. In addition to that, JuntoBox Films and Slamdance will present the new Grand Prize for the best feature length screenplay.
• Original Teleplay/Webisode
Early Deadline: Feb. 25th – March 25th, 2013
Regular Deadline: March 26th – May 13th, 2013
Late Deadline: May 14th – June 25th, 2013
WAB Extended Deadline: June 26th – July 2nd, 2013
Early Submission Fee: $30.00
Regular Submission Fee: $40.00
Late/WAB Extended Deadline Submission Fee: $50.00
Early Submission Fee: $40.00
Regular Submission Fee: $50.00
Late/WAB Extended Deadline Submission Fee: $60.00
Up to 120 pages:
Early Submission Fee: $50.00
Regular Submission Fee: $60.00
Late/WAB Extended Deadline Submission Fee: $70.00
More than 120 pages:
Early Submission Fee: $65.00
Regular Submission Fee: $75.00
Late/WAB Extended Deadline Submission Fee: $90.00
Coverage Fees: (in addition to the submission fees)
Standard Coverage (within 2 months): +$75
Express Coverage (within 21 days): +$115
September 18th 2013 – Announce 100 Category Quarter-Finalists
September 25th, 2013 – Announce 32 Category Semifinalists
October 2nd, 2013 – Announce 12 Category Finalists and 20 Grand Prize Finalists – In no particular order
October 8th, 2013 – WGAW Party for Finalists and Semifinalists – Category Winners and Grand Prize Winner Announced
WEBSITE for more info: http://showcase.slamdance.com/Writing-Competition
“I didn’t see an article on the site about whether to register a spec script with the wga or just copyright it in the USA.
I have heard different things to do to be taken seriously and one isn’t clear over the other. Also whether or not to even put your wga number or the copyright date on your title page.
Your work is Copyright protected from the minute you create it.
Registering your script with WGA or Copyright office is a safer bet when you need evidence of creation time and exact written material, should you have a legal dispute and have to go to court.
Either WGA or Copyright are great as evidence of a completed registered work. WGA only lasts 5 years, officially, I believe. Copyright lasts your entire life and only costs a little more. WGA is cheaper, but you have to renew it often.
Yes, I put Copyright and / or WGA # on the Title Page. It is not mandatory and everyone feels differently about whether or not to put Copyright or WGA on the Title Page. Personally, when I read someone’s script, I like to know for sure that they have registered it.
Should I register my screenplay?
Yes! I recommend registering your material with Copyright or WGA before sending it out to ANYONE. Read the comments in Who Gets Story Credit? to see how frequently literary disputes happen among “friends” and business associates. Having signed agreements and registered material is extremely important and provides some level of protection. Literary theft, whether intentional or not, happens often.
I am not a USA citizen, can I still Copyright my material there?
Yes, and you should if you plan on selling to Hollywood. It is easy through the Internet.
How long does Copyright last?
“Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first.” — Copyright
Should I register with WGA or Copyright?
Copyright is the most official place and lasts all your life, but if you are really poor and every dollar is a painful departure, WGA is perfectly acceptable too. If you are dealing with Hollywood often and you have the money, register both Copyright and WGA.
What about registering a pitch, a short story, or a treatment?
Register with the WGA for unfinished works and different types of shorter written materials that you ultimately want to turn into a TV show or film. This is to protect you while you network and seek a writer, actors, director, and producer. In Hollywood, it takes a lot of people coming together to make a film or TV show. Copyright is for fully completed works like books or screenplays. WGA is better when you have a work that is not fully fleshed out or complete.
Will my personal information be available to the public?
“Yes. Please be aware that when you register your claim to a Copyright in a work with the U.S. Copyright Office, you are making a public record. All the information you provide on your Copyright registration is available to the public and will be available on the Internet.” – Copyright
Read more Copyright FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS at:
OK, I am ready to register my script online, where do I go?
Copyright USA: http://www.copyright.gov/forms/
WGA West (Hollywood): http://www.wgawregistry.org/webrss/
WGA East (New York): https://www.wgaeast.org/script_registration
For Valentine’s Day, let’s talk about writing romantic comedies and dramas.
Everyone’s idea of a good romantic movie is different, but certain romantic films sweep the nation.
If you want to write a box office romantic hit, always start by studying the biggest successes and failures.
Below are listed some romantic movie scripts that overwhelmingly won public affections.
Here are some of the reasons why…
What do all great love stories have in common?
1. TABOO !
There is something taboo happening in each of these films: an affair, social class differences, friends crossing the line to become lovers, falling in love with a prostitute, meeting through the Internet, dating a co-worker… What is forbidden is exciting.
2. Focus on ONE COUPLE only
Romantic movies that focus on several couples never do as well as movies that focus on one couple. Two hours is not long enough to get to know two people, much less five or ten or fifteen people. For audiences to fall in love with your lead characters, they need the full two hours and lots of good reasons.
3. Loving you AIN’T EASY
Some of the characters in these movies do immoral things or have fiery tempers. When there are plenty of good reasons why one should NOT love a person, it makes the love all the more powerful, passionate, and painful.
4. Surmounting CONFLICTS
Throw the taboo circumstance on top of the difficult personality, and our characters have some challenges, conflict, and obstacles to overcome. Every good story must have obstacles to overcome. In the older movies listed below, there is no happy ending. Ultimately, they do not overcome the obstacles they face.
5. The FANTASY
The fantasy is, of course, to meet someone and fall in love, to stay in love, to have a best friend for life, to have an ally in the world, someone who understands you, and even maybe financial comfort. Everyone can relate to the search for love. Everyone has a secret hope to find a lasting love. This hope for love is a part of every romantic screenplay. In real life, romantic splits happen more frequently than people finding their soul mates and staying together forever. You will have to choose, as the writer, do you feed into the fantasy or tell the tale of a broken heart?
6. The ROGUE and the DAMSEL IN DISTRESS
I, and most people, love this set up of lead characters, the rogue man who does things his own way, paying no mind to the rules of society, and the beautiful damsel in distress who is always a pain in the ass, but she is just so damn pretty she gets away with anything! There are infinite ways to create these character types and you can change the genders. This is a winning and entertaining combo.
7. The KISS
Every great love story has a frustrating long awaited kiss packed with conflict and emotion. Put some thought into this moment of your script… choose a location that enhances the moment by contrast, put an obstacle to the kiss, add some element that will make the moment memorable.
MOST SUCCESSFUL LOVE STORIES ON SCREEN
Gone With The Wind (1939)
Written by Margaret Mitchell (novel) and Sidney Howard (screenplay)
Starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable
Directed by Victor Fleming
Pitch: A manipulative woman and a roguish man carry on a turbulent love affair in the American south during the Civil War and Reconstruction.
Written by Murray Burnett, Joan Alison, Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch, Casey Robinson
Starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Pitch: Set in unoccupied Africa during the early days of World War II: An American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications.
Love Story (1970)
Written by Erich Segal
Starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal
Directed by Arthur Hiller
Pitch: Law student Oliver and music student Jenny fall in love and vow to be together against the want of their families and society.
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Written by Nora Ephron
Starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan
Directed by Rob Reiner
Pitch: Harry and Sally have known each other for years, and are very good friends, but they fear sex would ruin the friendship.
Pretty Woman (1990)
Written by J.F. Lawton
Starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts
Directed by Garry Marshall
Pitch: Rich man falls in love with a prostitute and tries to integrate her into his upscale life.
Written by James Cameron
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet
Directed by James Cameron
Pitch: An aristocratic teenager (promised to a wealthy man by her mother) falls in love with a wild party boy on a lower level of an ill-fated cruise ship.
The Notebook (2004)
Written by Jeremy Leven (screenplay), Jan Sardi (adaptation), Nicholas Sparks (novel)
Starring Rachel McAdams & Ryan Gosling
Directed by Nick Cassavetes
Pitch: A poor and passionate young man falls in love with a rich young woman and gives her a sense of freedom. They are separated by social differences and she marries someone else. Meanwhile, the first love lives their dream, alone.
Written by Melissa Rosenberg (screenplay), Stephenie Meyer (novel)
Starring Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke
Pitch: A teenage girl risks everything when she falls in love with a vampire.
Some of my favorite love stories are in science fiction movies and foreign films.
What are your favorite love stories and why?
* How to be Funny *
Here are a few tips on how to write an Oscar winning script.
1) Write a Drama.
2) Live 30 years or more before writing your Oscar winning script.
3) Your subject matter should appeal to people age 30 to 100 because that is the age range of Academy voters.
4) Make the audience laugh or cry.
5) Surf a current debated social-political topic without offending anyone.
6) Create sympathy for the type of character that is usually despised.
7) Base it on a true story or real setting or common event.
8) Keep it simple and realistic. Cutting edge, abstract, and avant-garde movies are appreciated only in small circles.
9) Build your story with a slow, strong, steady pace. Super fast, splashy, action-packed, modern masterpieces seldom win.
10) To get people to watch the film, attach a famous actor with a good reputation, but not so famous that he or she does a disservice to the story and the script is overlooked.
11) Story arch and character developments are mandatory. Audience must learn something as the lead character learns it.
12) Conflict and obstacles are requisite.
13) No one is perfect, nor should be your characters.
14) Don’t write a story that is too disturbing, gross, violent, or outrageous; you don’t want your viewers to walk away sick, upset, or angry. People vote for stories that make them feel good about themselves and their own lives.
15) Impart an indisputable moral message.
16) For an award winning movie script, the lead character must break away from what is expected of him or her. Whatever the person is supposed to do, he or she does the opposite. Macho guy is weak. Prostitute is innocent. Parent is irresponsible. Monster is friendly. Child is brave. Poor person is rich. Dumb person proves smart. You get the idea. Create an unusual twist on the norm.
Click here to read Oscar winning screenplays.
What attributes do you notice Oscar winning scripts to have?
Other helpful screenwriting articles are:
While You Enjoy Thanksgiving…
Let us give thanks to the writers and filmmakers who have entertained us and expanded our minds. Here are some of my favorite films!
Jaden’s Top 13 Best Movie Scripts
CLICK on any TITLE below to read the script. They are in alphabetical order. For multiple viewing and DVD extras, I highly recommend purchasing these movies.
Written by Guillaume Laurant and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (director)
FRENCH COMEDY ROMANCE Audrey Tautou stars as yummy sweet Amélie. Due to a misunderstanding of health as a child, Amélie becomes a sheltered lonely girl who creates a fantasy world in her mind. When she grows up and moves out into the real world, she hankers to do good deeds and watch people from afar as they illuminate with joy. A photo-booth mystery leads her to her own happy ending. The rich colors, storybook narration, and bitter sweet music of Amélie inspires the best of pianists, artists, and dreamers.
Written by Robert Towne and Roman Polanski (director)
RETRO CRIME MYSTERY that takes place in 1937 Los Angeles, Chinatown is by far and away one of the THE BEST scripts of all time. Chinatown is an elusive detective story with no dead ends, only dead people. The script leads you down one logical path to the next and when you think you are almost out of the labyrinth, you find yourself deeper in the convoluted black heart of Chinatown. Starring wacky Jack Nicholson and stunner Faye Dunaway, these amazing actors with director Roman Polanski transport the script into the land of legends. If you want to be a great writer (or actor), study every back alley and sidewalk of this script.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Written by Anthony Burgess (novel) and Stanley Kubrick (director)
FUTURISTIC CRIME SHENANIGANS, A Clockwork Orange stars goofy weird Malcolm McDowell as the funny freak hooligan. Even though this story is over 40 years old, its future, which is our now, still holds plausible as it explores the psychology of crime and punishment on youth. Milk Bar? What a thing, a Milk Bar. The language of the book is unique and hilarious, using Russian words like Droogs for his gang of friends. Shocking and disturbing, A Clockwork Orange scrutinizes society and scoffs at its procedures in a most visually dramatic Kubrickian way.
Donnie Darko (2001)
Written by Richard Kelly (director)
PSYCHOLOGICAL DRAMA MYSTERY, Donnie Darko is a nightmarish movie in the vein of David Lynch movies. We don’t know if Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Donnie is supernatural or super crazy. I like movies that leave you guessing, movies with powerful surreal dreamlike images that give you space to interpret your own story. The story ambiguity makes Donnie Darko art.
Written by Ethan Coen & Joel Coen (directors)
CRIME DRAMA COMEDY, Frances McDormand plays small town police woman detective Marge Gunderson. A murder crime spree happens to fall in her jurisdiction, which sets her on a dangerous trail of violent criminals. The Fargo script, in a delicate manner, reflects on the absurdity of our regular lives as we interact with our loved ones and strangers. One funny contrast is made when the humble pregnant fearless Marge comes home to her self-absorbed husband who talks of his own achievements, that although impressive, seem silly in comparison to her day.
Written by Nicholas Pileggi (book Wiseguy) and Martin Scorsese (director)
GANGSTER MOBSTER MOVIE Goodfellas is lead by tough sexy actor Ray Liotta and stars other classic gangster actors Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Paul Sorvino. Goodfellas is my favorite gangster movie because it feels the most personal and real. There’s a great love story and telling of the rise in the ranks. I love the dialog, the delivery, the story arch, the fear and the fun; all of it really works for me.
Groundhog Day (1993)
Written by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis (director)
FANTASY ROMANTIC COMEDY, Bill Murray plays Phil the weatherman who can’t escape this day. Everyday he wakes up, he is back in the same day as yesterday. When you hear people say “It’s like Groundhog Day,” they are referencing this movie. This is the kind of story meant to teach you about changing your negative attitude into a positive one, otherwise, you and your bad attitude may be stuck in a worst case scenario forever! Once you change your attitude, you can start to enjoy life again, even if it is the same day over and over again.
Written by Mike Judge (director) & E. Cohen
COMEDY SCIENCE FICTION Luke Wilson’s military character Joe is wholly average when he is frozen and forgotten. When he reemerges in the future, by chance, he is the smartest person on earth. The Idiocracy script takes us down the path of a dumbed-down civilization. As each year goes by since 2006, this fiction movie creeps closer and closer to our frightening reality. When the movie came out less than a decade ago, certain things were totally absurd, and now they are real and commonplace. Mike Judge saw where society was and is heading, and folks, it is scary! This is one of my top 5 favorite scripts of all time for its comic clairvoyance into our potentially bleak future. As this movie had no marketing, it made very little money and not too many people have seen it. For being one of the best movies of all time, it is never too late to show your support and buy it!
The Jerk (1979)
Written by Steve Martin, Carl Gottlieb & Michael Elias; Directed by Carl Reiner
RAGS TO RICHES COMEDY Steve Martin is one of the funniest comedians of all time and this is one of his funniest movies. Using naivety, the script explores many facets of humanity and society in a laughable and poignant way. Steve as Navin the idiot is adopted and raised by a Black family who treat him kindly with respect and prepare him for the cold cruel world where nothing is too absurd to happen. With dumb luck, he strikes it rich and falls in love, but riches and love of course come with downfalls.
Mad Max (1979)
Written by James McCausland, George Miller (director), & Byron Kennedy (uncredited)
DYSTOPIC ACTION SUSPENSE The dark rough and tumble rusty style of Mad Max has influenced fashion, motorcycle, and car cultures around the world. In his most beloved role, Mel Gibson plays vengeful Mad Max, a cop whose wife and child are murdered by outlaws. A movie like this could be cheesy after all these years, but not only is it still cool, it still influences modern trends, novels, and movies. It is a powerful simple script of action and revenge on the move. The conflict between good and evil provides a strong base for this movie. The serious acting, wardrobe, and set production choices enable Mad Max to endure the rapid fire of cultural change. The Mad Max sequels are fun, but this first film is the favorite among fans. We are all looking forward to George Miller’s new Mad Max Fury Road coming out 2013, 34 years later! Max will be played by Tom Hardy.
The Matrix (1999)
Written by Andy & L. Wachowski (directors)
MINDCRACKING SCIENCE FICTION More movie clichés have been born out of The Matrix than any other movie ever, that’s how unique it was when it came out. There is the multi-camera slow-mo shot. The bullet dodge. There is the signature jump-landing with one hand on the ground that is used in pretty much every sci-fi action fantasy movie to follow. Green dripping computer code. Plugging into your brain. Downloading languages or skills to your brain. Humans harvested and kept appeased in a dream state. People so believe in The Matrix, that trench-coat gun-wielding copycats set out to massacre in our real world. The Matrix changed everything! The Matrix draws into question reality itself. What is real? Are we just food? A power source? What are we? What is reality? The many questions put forth by The Matrix are now a part of our culture, but at the time this movie came out, every thought and action was shocking. Everyone who left the theater that year was a changed person. The Matrix script changed the world and changed our perception of it. Action packed, laden with deep thoughts, and exploding with new motion picture technology, you couldn’t ask for more out of a movie. No script has changed cinema and philosophy as much as The Matrix did.
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Written by Waldo Salt (screenplay) & James Leo Herlihy (novel); Directed by John Schlesinger
HUSTLER BUDDY DRAMA Hick Joe Buck, played by Mr.Papa Jolie Jon Voight, leaves his small town to be a gigolo in New York City. He thinks he is all that and then some. Come to find out, the big city ladies think he is rather ridiculous, but sort of cute. Making money is not as easy as he thought it would be. Ratso (Dustin Hoffman) is a dirty metropolitan varmint trying to survive. Through their struggles, they grow a bond out of need. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were a lot of interesting and odd scripts that explored sexuality. This one is sad and funny. A touching movie, in more ways than one, Midnight Cowboy makes you have sympathy for those you may otherwise loathe. With intense moments throughout, the ending gets me every time.
The Shining (1980)
Written by Stephen King (novel), Stanley Kubrick (screenplay/director) & Diane Johnson (screenplay)
SUPERNATURAL HORROR SUSPENSE Writer/Director Stanley Kubrick is my favorite filmmaker. I first saw The Shining when I was 9 years old (way too young — yes). At that age, I was really into being scared and watched lots of horror movies. Like many kids, I loved campfire ghost stories, and The Shining is a great one. It starts out with an arial view of the gorgeous mountains and winding road. Ominous music sets the tone. Creepy dad Jack Nicholson tells the Donner Party cannibalism story. Being a kid myself, I identified with this poor kid being dragged out to a freaky old hotel with his parents for the winter, which alone is enough to terrify any child. Then there are ghosts and horrific visions and Mom and Dad are going crazy. As an adult and a writer, I later related to different aspects of the story. A multi-layered script, The Shining touches upon many things adults and children go through. The book is said to be inspired by Stephen King’s own family and writing problems. The hint of reincarnation or possession when Jack goes to the bar to chitchat with some ghosts is my favorite part. The movie feels slow moving, but a lot happens without words, and that my friends is The Shining.
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This list of Best Scripts here will give you a healthy start to learning about excellent screenwriting.
What are your favorite scripts and why?
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