Crash! Boom! Bang!

When I was a kid I wanted to be a stuntman.  Blame it on too many hours sitting too close to the television watching too many episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man.  Swept up in the excitement of a wry handsome hero kicking ass and taking names, I too longed to be a savior of men, women and children and make the world safe for democracy.  So I practiced.  Flipping over cars, jumping off cliffs, motor-crossing bikes and skating halfpipes, just to prove I could.  As a result, I broke my jaw, wrist, arm, finger, toe, rib, foot, knee, and collar bone… and was sewn up with enough stitches to make a quilt that would cover Kansas.  There’s got to be a better way I thought.  And so I took to writing, which enabled me to live vicariously through the actions of heroes.  Now I could be a cop, an FBI agent, a CIA operative, a Green Beret.  Basically, anything I wanted to be.  Anytime.  Anywhere.  And I didn’t break a sweat.  Or a leg.  

Soon I discovered that others liked my action writing and would hire me to write action movies… at Paramount, DreamWorks, Disney, Universal, Fox and more.  Not only was I not getting hurt, but I was getting paid.  After some hits and misses on the Hollywood rollercoaster, I returned home to the green trees and blue skies of Atlanta for an easier-peasier life.  With film and television on the upswing here, people everywhere suggested I teach what I had learned to help others tell their tales. I was surprised to find doing so was nearly as rewarding as writing them myself.  So I took to lecturing at Emory University, University of North Georgia, Reinhardt University and in my own workshops at Screenwriter School.  Soon I was inspiring hundreds of writers to tell their own stories to make the world safe for democracy.  Eventually one student said I should write a book sharing what I knew.  Then someone else said it.  Then a whole slew of people.  But like all good action heroes, I was slow to change.  But eventually, I acquiesced.  

Crash! Boom! Bang! How to Write Action Movies is my first book on screenwriting. It packs in every lesson I could squeeze into a 150 pages.  Even if you’re not an action scribe, you’ll still get a lot of it.  Because I put a lot into it.  Published by the renown MWP (www.mwp.com), it will be available June 1st in Barnes & Nobles across the globe.  But you can order one now at a discount from Amazon here, if you wish: https://goo.gl/qxO7qO.  

I hope you enjoy it.  

That you learn something.  About movies, writing, yourself.    

And that it keeps you from breaking any bones.

Michael

Enter The Dragon

Next week begins the Atlanta Film Festival’s 2017 Creative Conference. If you’re serious about screenwriting, you should attend to learn everything you can about the craft. If you’re serious about writing professionally, you should enter the screenwriting competition in Atlanta, and every other festival you can. “But won’t someone steal my idea?” No, they won’t. People don’t just hear an idea and run off and sell it. It’s not that easy. 

Competitions are a great way to get discovered. Because one of the jobs Hollywood development executives are tasked with is combing contests for fresh meat. Just entering them won’t get you much. But winning them will. So will being a finalist. What if you win two contests? Or three? There’s no way any exec worth their salt can deny reading your work.      

In 2016 Heidi Willis submitted her horror thriller Black Sunday to the Atlanta Film Festival’s screenwriting competition. From 500 screenplays sent from all over the world, a panel of readers narrowed it down to the twenty best. They were narrowed to ten. Then to three. Heidi’s clearly stood out as the best of the best to me and the others on the awarding committee. A couple months later she drove in from Alabama for the festival to receive adulation from her peers and workshop her script. Before, during and after the workshop, Heidi learned that, unbeknownst to one another, the Austin, Nashville, Bahamas and Final Draft competitions had also recognized her script as the best of the best. How? Because it was good! It stood out. And Hollywood came looking for her. All because she had the nerve… to enter the dragon. So get in the game. Enter your scripts. And come out for the conference!

Adaptation

Everyone who has ever written a novel has dreamed of it being turned into a movie. In the perfect world, Warner Bros. buys the rights to their book for a million dollars and hires Steve Zaillian to adapt it. It then goes onto make a bazillion dollars at the box office. The writer buys a sixty-foot yacht and sails off into the sunset. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Option B is the novelist decides to write the screenplay themselves. But quickly learns that writing screenplays is verrrry different than writing books. And thus, embarks on Option C: Seeking out a lowly lonely screenwriter to adapt their book for them. Usually for free. But with the age old promise of them sharing in the gold and glory upon the film’s successful release.

I got news for you. Adaptations take time. Talent. Discipline. Crafting great adaptations is a skill totally unto itself. Even some of the most successful screenwriters will duck and hide from adaptations no matter the money. Why? Often, simply having to cope with the reticence of the novelist (or producers) to make the changes necessary to turn their 350 page single-spaced brick of a book into a 110 page double-spaced screenplay that translates onto screen. Some things simply have to go. Scenes. Characters. Lines. Sometimes whole storylines. Hard choices must be made and it takes a deft hand to know what and where to carve. Not to mention, streaming those remnants together in a cohesive tapestry that will tantalize millions in the dark.

On the other hand, scripting adaptations can be incredibly rewarding. After all, they offer a head start. A hero. A story. A fellow writer with which to conspire and commiserate. And sometimes, in the case of autobiographies, writers who the story is even about. Who better to fill in the blanks of the unknown? Either way, for the love of God, make sure you have the rights to the source material you are adapting before you begin. Or all your work will be for naught. No studio will touch it. And last but not least, try to get paid something up front for your time AND your fair share on the backend. You will deserve it.

Rage Against the Machine

Louisiana. Minnesota. Texas. WTF?

Times like these it’s tough to write. Or is it?

The morning after 11 police offers were shot in Dallas I found myself trying to find the motivation to lecture at Reinhardt University’s new MFA program in creative writing.

Until I remembered… this is why we write. To make a difference.

Everyone has something to say. About gun rights. About racism. About police brutality.

Now’s your chance.

Stewing with anger? Ripped with guilt? Crushed with sadness?

Pick up a pen.

What do you want to say? About these topics? About others?

Not only is this your opportunity to express your opinion, criticism and suggestions for others to hear, but you will find the catharsis of laying your thoughts on the page will allow you to heal.

Two of the most important bits of advice I pass on to any writer are these:

1. Have something to say.

2. Say it different.

That’s it. Do that. And you’re well on your way to being heard, being hired and being healed.

Searching for an idea? Turn on the news. There are countless stories looking back at you.

Today the passionate MFA brood returned from whence they came. All over the country. Just think. If armed with new vigor and inspiration, what changes they could make in their community. Writing scripts, books, articles, blogs. As the saying goes, think global, act local.

What changes do you want to see in the world? What’s stopping you?

Pick up a pen. It’s easier than a gun.
 

Rewrite Retreat

Every now and then you have to retreat.  Get away from the world. Turn off the phone. The tube. The laptop. And let the mind rest. Eek! Really? All of it? Yes. 

It’s best if you can get out of the house. Away from the fam. And the job. And even the hum of the city. Sound impossible? Why? There are 365 days in a year. Can’t you carve out one day? For you? How about for your writing? 

This week the good folks at AIR Serenbe, the Artist In Residency program situated an hour south of Atlanta in the super cool, holistic, green Serenbe community were kind enough to give me a week in a cottage to work on my upcoming book on screenwriting. Even here I had a difficult time unplugging. But not from what you might think. There were cafes and cocktail hours. Films in fields and poetry readings. Bike rides and hiking trails. It did my body good being here. As well as my mind. And no doubt my soul. It gave me a place to rejuvenate and refuel, but much to my surprise, I wasn’t able to get done what I hoped. So as we writers are wont to do, I spent my time away from my writing riddled with guilt for not writing. And that’s my point. We all could use a helping hand steering our creative minds to complete our creative tasks.  

Often I am asked for a follow-up course to my Screenwriting 101 workshop. From that, people are armed to tackle the blank page and burn through 100 more of their first or fourth script. What then? They want to take it to the next level. To get it to a place where it’s fit to share with agents or investors and try to make something of their pile of ink. For some time, I have been toying with the idea of creating a Rewrite Retreat. A time and place where you can get away with your script and surround yourself with likeminded souls to finish what you started.  Fortunately, AIR Serenbe has kindly offered to host just such a screenplay soiree.  

We’ll hold the first one over the long weekend of October 13-16. It will be a small gathering of dedicated writers sharing ideas and wine in an intimate setting, and helping one another make their scripts the best they can be. Care to join us?