Egoless Screenwriting

Scriptnotes: Ep. 125

It’s a week of big egos as Craig and John take a look at when (or whether) filmmakers will be able to pull a Beyoncé and surprise-release a feature film, and what Mrs. Carter’s tussle with Amazon and Target means for the future of retail DVD.

Then we dust off an old blog post on “egoless programming” and find it has a lot to recommend for screenwriters. Finally, we look at the lawsuit over The Expendables because it’s crazy town.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 1-10-14: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Q&A from the Holiday Spectacular

Scriptnotes: Ep. 124

John, Craig, and guests take questions from the audience at the Scriptnotes Holiday Spectacular. Topics include TV writing careers, what to do once you have an agent, overcoming gender stereotypes, rewriting Dodgeball, and more.

Have a happy, healthy and safe New Year.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 12-31-13: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Scriptnotes Holiday Spectacular

Scriptnotes: Ep. 123

‘Twas the Holiday Scriptnotes and at our behest,
Craig and John were joined by our six favorite guests.

“Now Kelly! Now Lindsay! Now Richard and Rawson!
On Aline and on Franklin! (Whose Black List is awesome.)”

They talk characters’ wants, trends good and bad,
And what’s to be done when a “yes” is had.

So open your eggnog, set your volume just right,
Happy Scriptnotes to all, and to all a good night.

Recorded live on December 19th, 2013 at the LA Film School as a benefit for the Writers Guild Foundation.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 12-30-13: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Young Billionaire’s Guide to Hollywood

Scriptnotes: Ep. 122

John and Craig offer advice for super-rich aspirants about the film and television industry. If you have enough money to do anything, what should you do first? Do you want to make money, or make art? Or do you just want to hang out with famous people? No judgements.

Then we tackle another set of Three Page Challenges, with scripts ranging from Twitter-age slashers to animated birds.

Our next episode will be the Live Holiday Show, which airs Tuesday after Thursday’s recording. We hope to keep on our normal schedule through the end of the year, but there’s a chance we’ll skip a week.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 12-21-13: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Highland wins 2013 Macworld Eddy

The editors of Macworld named Highland one of the best products of 2013:

Writing is hard. Writing a script or screenplay can be harder. That’s why we like Highland, Quote-Unquote Apps’ minimalistic $20 screenwriting tool. Highland offers writers a clean, unadorned space to work on their screenplay.

All Highland files are saved as plain text, allowing you to open them in just about any program on your Mac, PC, or iOS device. You can even import your PDFs and Final Draft files into the app for easy editing, and then export them back into their original formats for further work.

Certainly for those in the film industry, this app is more than worth its price.

Many thanks to the editors of Macworld, and big congratulations to the Quote-Unquote apps team for their hard work on Highland.

Nima Yousefi has built and rebuilt Highland’s parsing engine a dozen times, taking it from impressive to magical to so-good-you-forget-it’s-difficult. (The next build is even better.)

Ryan Nelson has designed and tweaked our graphics down to the pixel. Minimalism is hard, because there’s nothing to hide behind.

Stuart Friedel keeps tabs on sales figures and industry chatter. He and I use the app daily, so it’s often our observations and annoyances that set the agenda.

I was excited to see so many other apps I love on the list of Eddy winners, incluing 1Password, Badland, Bartender, Capo, Drafts 3, Fantastical 2 for iPhone, Gone Home (Craig’s One Cool Thing), IFTTT, Launch Center Pro, and nvAlt.

For 2014, we’ll be keeping up development of Highland while introducing a new app that works related magic for folks who deal with screenplays.

In the meantime, you can check out Highland on the Mac App Store.

Comparing a scene as written and as shot

I recently updated my Youtube channel, and came across a scene from my 2003 pilot “Alaska.” I thought it would be interesting to compare the written scene to what it looked like in the final version.

Here’s the scene as scripted. (You can read the whole script in the Library.)


Closing the front door behind her, Valerie follows Mathers into the living room. The house is spartan by any standard: dirty walls, old drapes, sagging furniture. Two rifles hang on the wall.

In all, it’s a shelter, but not a home. No woman has been in this house in a decade.

Venturing into the kitchen, Mathers finds industrial-sized cans of beef stew lined up on the counter. Saltines by the case.


The mother is dead, isn’t she?


Virginia Satchel. She died ten, fifteen years ago.


So who is Connie?

He points out a child’s drawing on the refrigerator, the paper yellowed with time. The illustration shows four stick figures in front of the house, labelled “Daddy,” “Glenn,” “Bobby,” and “Connie.”

Connie is noticeably bigger than the other three. As Mathers steps back,


BLASTS through the kitchen window from outside. As glass begins to rain down, a SECOND SHOT rips into the kitchen cabinets. Mathers and Valerie dive for the floor, unholstering their weapons.

Three more SHOTS blow through the kitchen. Mathers listens to the tone of the shots.


Rifle. One shooter.


You want me to call for backup?


How close is it?


Half hour. Maybe more.

Silence. The shooter has stopped. Mathers very carefully edges up to the shattered window. Valerie takes the far side.

With a quick movement, Mathers leans around the window frame and starts SHOOTING. Behind a distant wood pile, movement. A flash of metal.

Mathers ducks back as two more SHOTS rip into the window and wall.


Keep him shooting.

Before she can ask where he’s going, Mathers runs down the hallway. Valerie presses back against the wall. Steels herself, then pops around to FIRE.

She’s met with another BLAST. Just missed her.


A chair SMASHES through a second story window.

Mathers climbs out after it. He slides down the shingled roof, then jumps down another ten feet to the ground below.


We STAY WITH Mathers as he circles behind the woodpile, gun at ready. Up in the house, Valerie continues to FIRE, keeping the shooter’s attention.

Reaching a good distance behind the shooter, Mathers SHOUTS OUT:


State Trooper! Drop your weapon!

The shooter stands. CONRAD “CONNIE” SATCHEL is six-foot-six and weighs in at nearly three hundred pounds.

Severe birth defects have left him physically and mentally malformed. Although 20 years old, he’s like a giant eight-year old.


Put it down! Put it down!

Connie isn’t aiming at Mathers, exactly, but he isn’t inclined to drop the rifle either.


You’re a police man.


I am. I need you to put that rifle down.

Over Connie’s shoulder, we see Valerie approaching. She has her gun on Connie.


Is your name Connie?


How did you know?


Put down the rifle and I’ll tell you.

Intrigued, Connie sets the rifle down. Connie holds his hands up. His fingers are bandaged and bloody. Several are obviously broken, sticking out at strange angles.


What happened to your hands, Connie?


(looking at them)

They had evil in ‘em. Daddy had to fix ‘em.

Here’s the finished scene after filming and editing:

The biggest changes to the scene were motivated by the location we found. Director Kim Masters wanted plenty of windows, so we ended up enclosing a porch and playing it as a kitchen. We didn’t feature any of the set dressing I wrote in (industrial cans, saltines), but the set decorators followed that vibe.

Once the gunshots started, some dialogue got rearranged.

First, Valerie’s line was shortened to the much better “Call for backup?” Second, we added a line for Mathers — “Alright, let’s see what we got first.” I honestly don’t remember if it happened on set or in looping. (We don’t see his face in the cut, so it would have been an easy line to slip in.)

Because we ended up with a single-story cabin, there was no need to have Mathers sliding down a roof. Otherwise, the rest of the scene plays very much as scripted — and very much how I imagined it.

For me, writing a scene is a process of fully visualizing a scene in my head, then finding the words to describe it. You don’t always get such a good match between intention and finished product, but the better you can evoke the experience of the scene on the page, the more likely you’ll be pleased with the outcome.