Stephany Says Update

Stanley Kubrick Slate Magazine

Things have gotten pretty busy since my script 1969 A SPACE ODYSSEY or: HOW KUBRICK LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LAND ON THE MOON made The Tracking Board’s Hit List and the Black List.  I have had a lot more work on my plate (hooray), but I haven’t been able to write here as much as I’d like. I will do my best to keep posting monthly in 2014, because everyone needs more writing, film. And booze.

Until then, lots of exciting things are happening. If you have nothing better to do, check out the press:

LA Times

Slate

Mother Jones

Thanks for reading this silly blog in its inaugural year. Have a wonderful 2014!

Why Write?

typing monkeyAs I’m sitting here after days of not much sleep, hygiene or social interaction, I begin to wonder why I do this to myself? The hours of writing, researching, editing, and rewriting, and rewriting, and rewriting…

 In an attempt to justify my life choices, I have compiled a self-indulgent list of why I’m a writer:

1. I love words.

Seriously, I could read a dictionary and be entertained. No really, I’m that much fun. My favorite is the Oxford English Reference Dictionary that explains the roots of words. I love how words sound, and how they can be arranged into mind-boggling combinations to create meaning and emotional impact. There’s a rhythm to words and language, and I love every bit of it. Speaking of rhythm and music:

2. I can’t sing.

I firmly believe music is one of our purest art forms. With or without words, a song instantly paints a picture, tells a story and conveys emotion. Granted, I can play piano and clarinet (note very well), but I  can’t sing worth a damn. If I could sing you a song, I would. But my singing sounds like a dying cat, and so I’ll have to write you something instead.

3. Writing justifies the amount of bourbon I consume.

Enough said.

4. Writing is cheap.

A writer only needs pen and paper. If you want to get fancy, you can always get a computer or an iPad. Or a typing monkey.

5. Stories are important.

A good story transports you to another world, gives you a new perspective, presents a new idea and entertains. Stories are how we relate to one another, and how we make sense of the general chaos that is life.

For better or worse, stories show our humanity. Yes, stories are important and somebody needs to write them down.

Why do you write?

What A Writer Can Learn From Lou Reed

I was 15 when I discovered Lou Reed’s music. In the stacks of used CDs at my indie record store I found a copy of  Transformer. One listen is all it took.

Since Lou Reed’s passing last week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the influence he had on my life. I even named this blog after his song Stephanie Says.

I never met Lou Reed in person, but that doesn’t matter. I met his music, and more importantly, I discovered his lyrics, and in those beautiful words I began to see how  a few carefully chosen words could paint a picture (lyrics from the song Sweet Jane):

Standing on a corner,
Suitcase in my hand
Jack is in his corset, and Jane in her vest,
And me, I’m in a rock’n’roll band.

Can you see it? Four simple lines that instantly convey location, characters, tone, and makes you want to know what happens next. He has a “suitcase in his hand,” so where is he going? What just happened? Why is Jack in a corset instead of Jane? Tell me more…

And there you have it. The genius of Lou Reed is simple. A few beautiful words that capture a moment in time, and while I love Lou Reed’s music, even his experimental Metal Machine, it’s his words that carry me.

Whether you’re writing a song, a poem, a novel or a screenplay, take a lesson from Lou Reed.  A few simple words are all you need to tell a story and show us that this crazy world is all right. Cue music:

What I’ve Learned From Horror Movies

It’s almost Halloween, so I’m sharing some lessons I’ve learned from a few of my favorite horror films (listed in no particular order):

1.  The Shining

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a masterpiece. For the uninitiated (shame on you for not seeing this film), The Shining is about a  family that heads to an isolated hotel for the winter, where an evil presence drives the drunken father to a murderous rampage and his son experiences horrific psychic visions.

So what life lesson that can be found in The Shining? Dead girls in cute party dresses are always terrifying, and if evil spirits throw a party in the hotel where you’re staying, just hang out and have a drink. All work and no play will make you a douche bag that tries to kill your family with an axe.

Jack Nicholson

2.  The Exorcist

William Friedkin’s Exorcist is a terrifying, dramatic exploration of faith. It’s about the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and the two priests that attempt to save her through an exorcism.

The Exorcist

What life lesson could there be in The Exorcist? You’re always safer on the ground floor. First person thrown out the window by the possessed girl, shame on the demon. Second person thrown out the same window, shame on you.

The Exorcist

3.  An American Werewolf in London

American Werewolf in London is a John Landis classic. Two American college students are backpacking around England and are attacked by a mysterious creature that kills one of them and transforms the other into a werewolf.

John Landis does an excellent job of contrasting the character’s transformation into a werewolf with an upbeat soundtrack that has songs like Blue Moon and Werewolves Of London . An upbeat song played over a gruesome scene is always unnerving.

American Werewolf in London

What’s the life lesson in American Werewolf in London? A good friend and drinking buddy will never let you run across the moors alone at night.

An American Werewolf in London_1

4.  Halloween

Halloween is about an escaped psychotic murderer that stalks Jamie Lee Curtis. What makes this movie so scary? Check out the shot below of the escaped psycho in a flesh colored mask, and then listen to this theme song. Enough said.

Mike Myers

The life lesson in Halloween – never underestimate the studious chick. Never.

Jamie Lee Curtis

5.  Evil Dead 2

Evil Dead 2 is basically a bigger budget version of Sam Raimi’s first Evil Dead movie. Evil Dead 1 andare about a group of friends trapped in a cabin in the woods by evil demons. The Evil Dead/Army of Darkness films are Sam Raimi’s bizarre tributes to the Three Stooges, Looney Tunes and campy horror. They are pure fun.

So what’s the life lesson in Evil Dead 2? Never be afraid to repeat yourself, and Bruce Campbell makes everything better.

Bruce Campbell

Happy Halloween! Now go watch some horror movies.

Screenwriters: The Four Pillars of Story to Live and Die By

I have long forgotten where I learned this piece of writing advice, but these four words have been pinned to my lucky cork board so long the card is starting to yellow:

1. Stakes

2. Motivation

3. Turns

4. Escalation

It’s a constant reminder that every screenplay I write must have these four components.

By the way, all screenwriters should have a lucky cork board. But that’s a piece of unsolicited advice for another day…

writingtip

Screenwriting Books You Maybe Should Read

Honestly, I have no idea what screenwriting books you should be reading. I hate the whole idea of “should.”  The only thing you “should” NOT do is automatically take someone’s advice.

Rules were made to be challenged, and I firmly believe choosing advice is much like choosing a cocktail. Some drinks suit you perfectly, some make you gag, some leave you with a hangover, and some become your signature drink.  So here are the screenwriting books you might want to read, and my signature drink is  bourbon:

Screenwriter's Bible

1. The Screenwriter’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting, and Selling Your Script by David Trottier

This book was handed to me in my first day of film school. It teaches you how to write, format and sell your script. I never read the parts on selling or writing your script, and I have no idea if that information is helpful. However, the information this book has on script formatting is priceless. The Screenwriter’s Bible is a clear reference guide that gives you the basics of script formatting with a handy index and glossary at the back. If you want to know all the formatting rules, this is your book.

Now once you learn the formatting rules, don’t take them too seriously. All rules should be learned so you can effectively use, break and bend them to tell your story.

Aristotle Poetics

2.  Aristotle’s Poetics by Aristotle

This work was composed around 330 to 350 BCE and is still relevant today. When reading Aristotle, keep in mind that “poetry” means “to make” or “invent” in Greek.  The theories proposed in this book apply to all forms of storytelling, and Aristotle will help you understand how to structure a plot and create dramatic tension. Most of your modern screenwriting books are based on his drama theories, so why not go straight to the source? And because this book is in the public domain, you can download it for free.

Hero With A Thousand Faces

3. The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

Everything you need to know about characters can be found in Joseph Campbell’s work. Tracing all the way back to the foundations of storytelling, Joseph Campbell breaks down character archetypes and shows how to tell universal stories that connect with any audience. The names, faces and formats change over the years, but all storytelling has certain things in common.  Joseph Campbell is the best at explaining how it all works.

Personally, I think you’ll learn more from reading actual screenplays than screenwriting books. So take my advice for what it’s worth. I’m off to pour myself a bourbon. Cheers!

Screenwriters: Stop Aspiring and Other Rules to Live By

1.  Don’t call yourself an aspiring screenwriter.

What does “aspiring screenwriter” even mean? You are hoping to write a screenplay? You’ve thought about writing a script? I’m an aspiring fairy princess, but I don’t state that in my professional bio or description. Why? Because it’s ridiculous. It’s a fantasy. BE A SCREENWRITER. All you have to do is write, write and write more. And more…

2.  Don’t pontificate about the industry without credentials and facts to back up your claims.

There’s TONS of misinformation about screenwriting. Please don’t add fuel to the fire. Before I went down the writing path, I worked in development at a major studio, and I can say from experience that buying mandates and industry standards change quickly and constantly. Unless your information comes directly from someone working at a studio/production company, or from someone with a direct pipeline to these resources (i.e. reputable news sources, managers, agents or producers) – you have no clue what people want to buy or how things work. Honestly, I could write an entire post about bad advice, but as a screenwriter, it is your duty to explore, research and verify everything you are told. This isn’t hard to do. Paranoia and the need to extensively research should come naturally to any writer.

3.  Always remember YOU are the one that should get paid for YOUR work.

There are many instances where you will have to work for free, or work for a very low option payment. I wrote about this in a Script Magazine article. And yes, we all have to suck it up and do some freebies. However, an entire industry has risen around screenwriters paying other people for script coverage, script consulting, script coaching, script marketing and everything else. I’ve never used any of these services. I have no idea what is good or bad, helpful or exploitive (see rule #2). But I do believe screenwriters need to always keep one thing in mind – you are the one that should ultimately get paid for your writing.

4.  Don’t put down movies or television shows on your twitter feed, your blog or any other social media outlet. You may need a job from the people making this stuff.

A fan gets the luxury of bashing other’s work in public, screenwriters don’t get this luxury. You do not want to meet with a producer after they’ve Google’d your name and seen all the trash you’ve been talking about their projects (I know screenwriters this happened to). Whether it’s indie movies, studio movies, web series, TV series, good or bad – be supportive of your colleagues and your business. It takes guts to make this stuff. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

5. Don’t tweet, Facebook, etc., all your writing issues.

Don’t tell everyone the problems you are having with your third draft, your tenth rewrite, your outline, your character beats… Seriously, the hiring and buying process in Hollywood isn’t that different from other professions. Buyers research and Google potential employees and projects, and if your litany of writing issues come up, they will have no confidence in your ability to execute. If you want to be taken seriously, people need to have confidence in your abilities. Keep your writing issues out of the public domain.

As the industry morphs and changes, we all need to work together to maintain the value of the written word. Please, for all of screenwriting’s sake, treat this career path with respect. Have fun, but take this shit seriously. Screenwriting is a real job. Treat it that way.

Be professional. Be courteous. Be an inspiring screenwriter!