Richard Finney's Blog

March 13, 2015

DEMON DAYS - BOOK ONE is being rewritten and republished!Bigger and Better!
For those who don't know about this Best Selling Book Franchise, you can check out  The Official DEMON DAYS page 
For readers who want to enjoy a great story...Check out the THE FIRST THREE CHAPTERS HERE!And keep coming back to read more of the book as we...Publish online the COMPLETE REWRITTEN-REVISED VERSION OF DEMON DAYS - BOOK ONE  
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Published on March 13, 2015 13:51 • 3 views

March 11, 2015

Conflict is one of the key elements to any scene, any act, any plotline of scripted drama (and comedy as well).
I was reminded of this when I was going back and forth recently with a film director as we discussed collaborating on a project together. He wanted me to check out the storyline that he had originally worked on and used this lure to get me to read -- From minute one it has conflict in every scene.”
It was a fantastic lure on his part because I did indeed read the work and found that the story had exactly as he had advertised -- 
“Conflict in every scene.”

I know it sounds obvious, but its amazing how many screenwriters take in the word “conflict,” and say to themselves something along the lines of, “duh, of course.” Only to then move on to write their scripts in a way that is shockingly short of any conflict in the storyline, plot, between the characters, etc.  
When professional screenwriters fail in their efforts regarding “conflict,” they often fail by not making the conflict “organic,” which means they emerge with a screenplay where the conflict on the page reads/plays like it is often times written to satisfy a part of the storytelling process they know they must fullfill. 
Professional Screenwriters also fail when the “conflict” is interwoven into the storyline in a way that involves only the major character and has nothing to do with the other supporting characters beyond who the protagonist interacts with throughout the plot. This problem leads to stretches in the script where the reader/viewer is often bored because they don’t feel the same undertow of emotional tension, anticipation, and excitement running beneath the other parts of the screenplay/movie associated with the conflict focused on the main character.
But at least the professional screenwriter knows enough of his craft to maintain a level of conflict for the main character, even if at times it comes off as a token effort. Non-professional screenwriters are often mystified when the reader of their screenplay doesn’t want to go forward after reading the first twenty to thirty pages. Or the producer was bored reading their script and asked their assistant to read it first and provide coverage… before turning it down.Obviously there are several factors why the above scenarios occur, but I definitely will put my money on the lack of conflict being one of the issues that is involved in almost all non-professionally written screenplays.

Professional Screenwriters know that any script should have a ghost haunting much of the plot of any story that keeps the reader wanting to turn the pages, and the viewer wanting to see what happens next. If that ghost had a Latin name it would be – 
Lex loci  Latin. A legal principle, of whatever origins, now found in the English Common law, roughly translated as  "the law of the land."
In screenwriting terms, Lex Loci reminds all screenwriters of two goals when writing –

1 - Establish the rules of the screen story being told.

2 – Establish the main character, who is in conflict with the law of the land.

The above is where even the most celebrated professional screenwriters go off track when their stories fail to resonate with readers or audiences. 
I’m exactly like the producer I cite above, reading so many scripts from “unknown” screenwriters who want to become known, but don't write in a way that at least satisfies the two points above. 
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read scripts that have the main character doing the most mundane things, like for instance brushing their teeth. 
And that’s it. There’s nothing else attached to the choice of having a main character brush their teeth in the script.
That’s not to say that someone brushing their teeth can’t be a scene that ends up intriguing the reader.

In an episode from the brilliant series “Black Mirror,” titled “Fifteen Million Merits” ( written by Charlie Brooker and Konnie Huq) the main character wakes up and brushes his teeth and we see in this daily activity there is a decision, a challenge to what he will do. Here’s a link to the entire show, and the scene I’ve written about occurs at the 1:40 mark of the show. 

Even in the most mundane seeming actions in a script, Conflict is something that should permeate every aspect of a writer’s mind when constructing their story and executing the scenes in a screenplay. 
Conflict should be the ghost haunting the writer’s every creative step as he/she creates a screenplay that ends up being work that people will not only start, but end up finishing because they have to know how it all plays out. 

If you don't agree with me, that's fine. Maybe we should take it outside and talk about it some more...  

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Published on March 11, 2015 14:21 • 2 views

February 28, 2015

“A good half of writing consists of being sufficiently sensitive to the moment to reach for the next promise which is usually hidden in some word or phrase just a shift to the side of one’s conscious intent.”

- Norman Mailer

Understanding what makes up the creative DNA of a screenplay is what enables a screenwriter to be “sufficiently sensitive to the moment” where great things can happen. The goal of the 21 E&EE Scene Checklist is to help set the stage for creative level jumps and breakthroughs in the work. 

- From "21 Essential & Elevating Elements in a Professional Screenplay."

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Published on February 28, 2015 12:56 • 10 views

February 20, 2015

Modern culture moves fast. 
Every professional screenwriter should ask themselves this vital question – 
Does your style of writing include words, references, phrases; that are specifically chosen because they are -- cool, hip, the bomb (Feel free to insert your own phrase for “cool, hip, the bomb.”)? 
If this is the case, I have two words for you -- Shelf Life. 

Nothing ages faster than pop culture. 
And with that in mind, I advise the Professional Screenwriter approaches their work in in a way that doesn’t invite the content to suffer from rapid aging. 

Many writers convince themselves that the power of their work is their “cutting edge” insight and sensibility to what is happening in modern society. They firmly believe that what makes their work sing is when they incorporate references to the latest in style and trends. 
Hopefully their skill set has a wider range of creative weapons to draw upon. Those who feel compelled to employ the latest pop culture reference, or draw on what is happening this minute, will discover their work is headed for a short shelf life.   
Play the long game. 
Go deeper with your content. 
Work for a creative payoff that you've setup. 
Don’t settle for easy pop culture references for a laugh. 
Don't be lured into the easy score of writing homages to past movies or TV shows as an excuse for failing to come up with something original. 
What may be cutting edge now, I promise you will have a very good chance of being considered quaint and obscure just a few years on. 
Write with the goal of creating material that is "timeless."

If the goal is to seem relevant to the latest generation of movie lovers, I believe writing in a timeless way is still the way to go. 
In a recent movie poll, young people, ages 20-29, list “The Shining”  (Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson, based on the book by Stephen King) as one of their top five favorite horror movies. 
The original theatrical release of "The Shining" was 1980.  

Yesterday’s Madonna is today’s Lady Gaga. 
And Tomorrow’s Lady Gaga will be here before we know it… She’s probably already here and somehow I missed her arrival being announced in US magazine because I was too busy writing these words. 
When it does happen, how much you wanna bet much of media world will immediately rush to write their Dead-Artist-Walking obituaries of Lady Gaga. And when they do, don't look away. Pay attention because that is what the end of the road looks like for the cutting edge screenwriter trading on the latest hip phrase as a substitute for real content in their screenplays.
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Published on February 20, 2015 12:49 • 7 views

February 12, 2015

The End of the Three Act Structure????

I was trying to finish my work on two projects when I came across an email with the headline -- The End of the Three-Act Structure

I couldn’t resist following the link where I discovered the article was posted on a website run by Write Brothers Inc , a company that specializes in selling software products to screenwriters. I applaud WBI for supporting their sales effort by featuring posts written about different subjects related to the craft of screenwriting. 

With that said, the content of this particular post was so objectionable I decided to break away from what I should be doing and write a response. 

The End of the Three-Act Structure, was written by James Hull and can be found here . Hull modestly describes himself as “an animator by trade.” Actually he has many impressive credits as an animator including the big studio movies, "The Crood" and "How to Train a Dragon." Unfortunately, the subject of his post is not on the craft of an animator.  He chose to write about an important, fundamental area in the craft of screenwriting.

The main point of his argument is –

“The time has come to obliterate Aristotle's stranglehold on narrative fiction. With the amount of information and different perspectives available to Audiences today, a simplified beginning-middle-end approach simply doesn't cut it anymore. Complete stories consist of four major movements, not three.” 

A few sentences later, he attempts to support his opening statement – 

“The standard in modern screenwriting paradigm calls for splitting up the Second Act into two halves, labeling them 2A and 2B. For all intents and purposes, as long as everyone on the production agrees with this naming convention, there isn't anything about this approach that could prevent the successful conclusion of a film. The question becomes if the final product finishes with a glorious and well-celebrated run or peters out over the first weekend, adding weight to the already great discarded landfill of pointless stories.”

Perhaps Hull’s motives in writing his post was to be provocative and/or to come off as creatively progressive. Regardless of his motivation, his words, (not only the ones I’ve included, but other passages throughout his post) and ideas are flat out wrong. For starters, what he specifically perceives as the three-act structure seems to be written in almost complete ignorance to the way professional screenwriters use the three-act structure in approaching their craft. 
For example, I have no idea where he gets the notion, “the standard in modern screenwriting paradigm calls for splitting up the Second Act into two halves.” 
I am a professional screenwriter, and I have worked with dozens of professional screenwriters on studio projects as well as independent movies. I’ve also been involved with over fifty different film projects as a producer, working to develop the screenplay with the writers. And with all that experience, not once have I ever come across any professional screenwriter or any industry professional who believes “the standard in modern screenwriting is to split the second act into two halves.” 

There are several different approaches to the three act structure, but anyone who has experience in professional writing is aware that the second act, like the first act has different creative markers along the way that are used to signify creative shifts in the storyline or plot. These markers are usually perceived as guides to the screenwriter as he makes his creative choices. I use such terms as “First Act Spin” and “Second Act Tent Pole” to define these creative markers or guideposts. And nothing I’ve come across creatively resembles “splitting the second act into halves.” 

In his post, Hull goes on to write –

“Don't assume that both halves are dealing with the same thematic stuff. Don't assume that this "Special World” somehow carries with it some intrinsic meaning because of its position between the beginning and the end.”

His reference to thematic stuff and a special world clearly reveals that Hull has completely mixed up story structure with other aspects of storytelling. Both creative areas he cites have almost no meaningful bearing on the rhyme or reason associated with the approach to story structure. 

As well as being an animator by trade, Hull apparently also teaches classes on "story" at Calfornia Institute of the Arts (CalArts). So I presume his writing on this subject is being taught to fledging or beginning writers who are attempting to take up the craft of professional screenwriting. Despite what Hull writes online, the three-act structure in writing professional screenplays has not been retired. In fact the creative standard for a storyline/plot continues to be the three-act structure. 

Even when one examines screenwriting rebels who have been produced, and whose work has been celebrated as ground breaking in the area of storyline/plot structure, close scrutiny reveals a rebel with a deep understanding of the traditional three-act structure, not a rebellion borne from ignorance.

One example of truly a different approach to the three-act structure would be Stanley Kubrick, and the film “Full Metal Jacket.” Kubrick was one of the screenwriters, as well as the director of “Full Metal Jacket,” (the other screenwriter was Michael Herr; and the screenplay was  based on the book, “The Short Timers,” authored by Gustav Hasford). 

I can’t comment on the structure of the screenplay developed prior to production, but the final version of the movie released to audiences has a storyline/plot which unfolds in a way that is very much a different, atypical approach to the traditional three-act structure of modern professional screenwriting. 

That’s not to say that “Full Metal Jacket” can be used by Hull as an example of a movie with “Four Acts.” In fact, the uncommon approach on display in “Full Metal Jacket” is a storyline that still falls under the traditional three-act structure, but is creatively distinctive by the elongated duration and creative conclusiveness to the film’s first act. It was Kubrick’s unique approach to unfolding the storyline in “Full Metal Jacket” that was at least partially responsible for the lukewarm, critical response to the film upon its initial release in 1987. Of course, the critical standing of the film has risen in ensuing years, which has been the typical pattern of almost all of Kubrick’s films. 

Professional Screenwriting continues to push the boundaries of narrative structure and there is no reason to believe the three-act structure is on the endangered species list. Nor should the three-act approach be threatened out of existence by the notion that it is out of date or no longer is the best approach to constructing a screenplay for a commercial audience. What Hull apparently is not aware of is that the three-act structure embraces many creative elements that push a storyline forward, not just what he sums up as the “beginning, middle, and end.” 

****For the record, I would have responded to Hull’s post on the site of his posting, but it did not allow comments.****

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Published on February 12, 2015 14:10 • 4 views

January 28, 2015

I’m proud to announce I've become an Active Member of the Horror Writers Association

My membership comes at the perfect time -- I get to vote for the Bram Stoker Awards.There's some really talented writers competing.I'm thrilled I get to cast my vote!
I’m so excited to be part of this organization!!
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Published on January 28, 2015 15:49 • 7 views

January 27, 2015

Next Month a Boxed Set of the published PS E-Books will be released with Bonus Content!

But for those who are subscribers to my newsletter, No need to worry. You will get the Boxed Set Bonus FREE! 
21 Essential & Elevating Elements  in a  Professional Screenplay Scene  is Included in the next newsletter!  

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Published on January 27, 2015 11:59 • 6 views

January 8, 2015

In Celebration of the first three Professional Screenwriter Books landing on the Best Sellers List ,  I'm posting an excerpt from an upcoming PS Book:

Write your screenplay like a snake eating its tail…Eventually winding up where you first began…Leaving the audience sensitive to the circular space devoured between head and tail.

Resist the temptation to compare your accomplishment with other writers.Such an effort is similar to tracking the maturation of two babies born on the same day. One may end up speaking at an early age, while the other may talk years later. What is important is to observe if either baby ends up with something meaningful to say. 

A screenplay is not a house. It is similar to blueprints one designs to build a house.Remember this when you interact with those who wish to help you build your house. You cannot eat, drink, and sleep, in the blueprints of a house.
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Published on January 08, 2015 14:31 • 9 views

December 17, 2014

I wanted to post something to address the obvious -- 
I’ve been away. 
Working on a movie project.
The project itself, and my contribution...
Has me really excited! 
But I can't share any of the details... 
Per a non-disclosure contract I signed. 
When I accepted the offer to get involved... 
I knew it would keep me obligated for a couple of weeks. 
But my commitment kept me on the sidelines for two months! 
I’m not complaining. 
Only explaining… 
Why I dropped off the radar. 

Once I catch my breath and get my bearings… 
You’ll be hearing from me… 
I promise.
On this blog… 
And via my Newsletter.
Thanks so much for your patience and interest!
If you were family, I'd really feel guilty.
Actually I still feel guilty, but I love the fact that as non-family members, you don't really have the right to make me feel guilty.
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Published on December 17, 2014 15:26 • 7 views

November 7, 2014

When trying to figure out the future for content providers, I strongly suggest you read more than just what's reported in the daily media. 
Below is an article, reprinted in its entirety, where the writer completely missed what is ESSENTIAL INFORMATION for EVERYONE WHO CREATES CONTENT as a PROFESSIONAL WRITER for FILM or TV. 

Big Media Shot Itself In The Foot By Selling Shows To Netflix: Analyst

By David Lieberman (on Oct 31, 2014)

Major studio and network owners’ decision to sell shows to Netflix might go down as one of the biggest strategic blunders they’ve ever made, if Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger’s compelling report today is correct. Like a lot of analysts, he’s alarmed by what he calls the “unprecedented” drop in C3 ratings across ad-supported TV,  especially among 18 to 49-year-olds. He figures that the 4% decline in total day TV viewing vs the same period last year equals about 13 minutes per day. And he concludes it’s not a blip: They’ve gone to subscription video-on-demand services led by Netflix and its shrewd CEO Reed Hastings. Its viewing has increased about 12 minutes a day, to 95 minutes, as its audience has grown and each subscriber spends more time with it.So — contrary to the party line in media — Netflix viewing is a substitute for traditional TV, not a supplement. And “we don’t think those viewers are coming back. The trend is more likely to accelerate than decline,” Juenger says. That means Big Media companies are screwed. They can “stop licensing to SVOD, or face years of declining audiences.” But if they stop licensing, then that “would cause a material drop in immediate earnings” — which investors won’t accept. That’s why Juenger believes they’ll continue to play a short term game and “increase the amount of content they license to SVOD, to make up for the lost advertising revenue. Which will only make the problem worse.”
But wait: Wasn’t the recent drop in TV ratings mostly due to Nielsen’s slowness to count people who still watch mainstream TV but on tablets and smartphones? Juenger says no. “Nobody’s going to sit on their couch and watch video on their cell phone while keeping their TV set turned off. Most of this viewing is very likely to have come from ‘found time’when the main TV screen is not accessible or is already on.”
How about the growing use of DVRs or VOD? Again, no. Although DVR penetration is growing, that’s been “offset by declining usage.” (Early adopters are usually most enthusiastic about a technology.) And VOD still accounts for less than 1% of total viewing. “So even huge increases would not have a significant impact on total viewing.”
Juenger says that Disney, Fox, Time Warner, and Discovery are probably OK for now. He’s less confident about AMC Networks, Viacom, CBS, and Scripps Networks. The last three “have the most exposure to U.S. advertising revenue, and therefore are most exposed to the SVOD risk.”

Everyone reading the above article should be aware of what the writer misses. And its hard to give David Lieberman the benefit of doubt when it seems like he can’t even connect his own dots. This is the part of the article where he lays out the facts, but misses the essential underlying issue –

Juenger says that Disney, Fox, Time Warner, and Discovery are probably OK for now. He’s less confident about AMC Networks, Viacom, CBS, and Scripps Networks.

Could it be the companies mentioned as "OK" are not only owners of networks, but more meaningfully -- CONTENT PROVIDERS.  
The list of corporations (who may be in trouble) are predominately made up of advertised-based-networks. 
Viacom, is the only corporation on the second list that some might see as inconsistent with my point. But Viacom belongs there because it is indeed vulnerable. Yes, Viacom owns Paramount (a film studio, not advertiser based) but the other companies underneath the corporation umbrella are pretty much in the advertiser reliant Network Business. Meaning their cash revenue relies on the content provided by third party companies that they do not have a financial stake in. 

The connection of the dots becomes complete only when you look at the rise of Netflix as nothing too different than what occurs as part of an historically proven flow of economic marketplace dynamics taught in Econ-101 at any major university. 
In the marketplace there will always be upstart companies exploiting a niche in the hope they will become a viable entity. If this upstart company also possesses other elements such as at least competent/or visionary leadership; forward thinking/original intellectual property; and marketplace good timing/luck -- the upstart might very well completely overturn the apple cart. 

In our ever changing times – driven by technological innovation and the shrinking of the world into one huge marketplace – a loaded upstart company has the capability of not only upturning the apple cart, but completely re-inventing it.

But no one should mistake these turn of events regarding Netflix to believe for a moment that the major media corporations were completely caught by surprise. 
That would be naïve. 

If you were, let’s say, running Disney, wouldn’t it be just fine to let a Netflix spend all the money doing the R & D & Marketing costs to establish themselves in the brave new world of Internet streaming? Of course you don’t remain completely on the sidelines, you try here and there to establish your own beach head in this undiscovered country, but you your main strategy is to allow for the inevitable play – there’s probably a smaller, hungrier company willing to do what it takes to blaze the new frontier. 
You know that when it all plays out, your company, Disney, will be able to make their play and seize control of the real estate after the thick foliage obscuring the path through the jungle has been cleared away by someone else.
And your strategy makes sense when you ask yourself -- what’s the worse that can happen?
Disney is still getting money on their content used by a netflix or amazon. Sure, shareholders carp about how Disney isn’t doing enough about “the future.” But when you have a ton of money, and a huge library, the carping is something that becomes more of an annoyance rather than a real existential corporation  challenge.  
Best case scenario is you watch as another company must endure all the pitfalls of streaming to a new generation of viewers. You avoid all the speed bumps of incorporating new technology in a transitional way, and just wait as the lay of the land becomes more clear because the dust has settled, the initial fighting is over, and the lay of the land can now be seen clearly. 
Let the upstart companies like Netflix go through the turbulence because that’s the only way they can prove themselves in the long run on the media spectrum. As long as we get cash for our content, how are we hurt? Content doesn’t grow over night. It takes decades to build library of content. Technology is the part of the equation that seemingly grows… overnight. 
I know I’m right about the above because people smarter than me have already made their moves. Netflix and amazon are in their second cycle of creating original programing. They know that after blazing the trail, the studios will now rush past them like prospectors looking to strike it rich after the original founders drew the map. 
This is an important story, and I wanted to offer my take on what’s happening so if the writer of the article above is clueless about what’s really going on, the rest of us know what is happening. It may come off as a game of musical chairs, where someone must leave the contest because they no longer have a chair to sit in. But trust me, the corporations with the content have seat-fillers holding their chair until they return from the restroom. 

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Published on November 07, 2014 12:26 • 12 views

Richard Finney's Blog

Richard Finney

I’ve just posted on my blog something I think writers could find interesting.

It begins with an excerpt of Chapter One from the soon to be released book “DEMON
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