Follow up: How to write a bio

[follow up]The first of the follow up emails came in last night. I fully anticipate that several will be, basically, “Yeah, I took your advice but nothing much happened.” This one, however, was particularly encouraging, especially considering my glib-in-retrospect reply.

Here’s the original question and answer:

I’m submitting a script to a screenplay competition and to an agent that accepts unsolicited material. Both ask for a biography. Common sense says to keep it short and sweet-and spell everything correctly. But I’m finding it very hard to write anything other than a two or three sentence summation of my education and career (none of which is entertainment related and all of which is surely boring). I suppose I could add something about my interests or goals as a writer, but does anyone care? Any advice or guidance would be greatly appreciated.


Here’s my all-purpose screenwriter bio. Change the relevant details to match.

Mark Anonymous hails from Osh Kosh, Pennsylvania, the zipper capital of the world. The son of average suburbanites, he found escape from the crushing sameness of early-90’s America through the films of Pedro Almodovar and Lars Van Trier. Inspired to become a rule-breaking filmmaker, he dedicated himself to learning the rules so that he might break them more fully and artistically. To this end, he earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Oberlin, where he made stylish and inscrutable films. Forced to take a slave-job at The Gap in order to repay monumental student loans, he turned his attention to screenwriting, hand-scribing his first feature-length screenplay during slow periods in Men’s Wear. That script wasn’t very good. However, his second screenplay, A SWIFTLY TILTING DOUGHNUT, turned out great. A light-hearted riff on Joseph Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS, DOUGHNUT tells the story of a Krispy Kreme manager sent to close an unprofitable store in the Florida panhandle. Mark is 25 and lives in Pittsburg.

And here’s what happened next:

You answered my question about how to write a bio on Sept. 8, 2003.

At the time I was 33 years old, living on the east coast (still am) and working a day job as a textbook proofreader (still doing that too).

I was writing my first ever script, a short for a competition. I was feeling a little silly, like I was too old and too far away (geographically and metaphorically) from Hollywood to ever justify the amount of time and energy that I was spending on that little 15 page script.

When you answered my question, it kept the flickering flame of my optimism alive and played a part in keeping me on track to finish the script and the application.

The script won one of 3 grants and was shot the next spring in L.A. I got to hang around during pre-production and be on the set all three days that we shot. The only thing I didn’t get to participate in and see was post-production because I had to get back to my day job after 3 weeks. It was the best experience of my life and I haven’t stopped trying to write my way back to L.A. Since.

You can see the final bio that I wrote here.

The film, if you’re interested, can be seen [here]( q/posma/).

It’s about 8 minutes long, I think. Try to hang in there until the middle, when one of my favorite actresses ever, Jane Lynch, begins her turn as the antagonist of the story. I wish I could take credit for her hilarity, but she is a improv genius, as we will all see yet again this weekend in For Your Consideration.

Watching her play a role that I wrote was right up there with having my question answered by John August.

Thanks so much for all you do to help new screenwriters out. What you do helped to change my life.

— Melanie Aswell

Follow-up, please

I’ve had this site up and running for about four years,1 and in that time have answered approximately 300 questions from readers who wrote in, either to or my column on imdb.

What I haven’t done is followed up with any of those questioners to see what they actually did with the information I offered.

In some cases, the answer I gave was simply The Answer — there wasn’t a next step or a decision lurking on the horizon. But many readers write in asking for advice about a specific situation, a career choice or judgment call. These are often my favorite questions to answer, but I have no idea whether my advice is being heeded, or if it’s even helpful.

That’s why for this week I’m urging anyone whose question I’ve answered to write back in and me know what you did, and what happened.

I’m thinking about the guy whose friend was directing a movie, and wondered what job he should beg for. The girl who couldn’t stop writing. Hell, Dracula’s son.

Even if I’ve just told you that the page 17 sex joke is a myth, I’m curious to hear what’s up with you.

How will I know if it’s the real person writing in? Well, in most cases I have the original email, or at least an IP address. But my curiosity far outweighs my suspicion. Let me know how it turned out.

  1. To bring back nostalgia for the Olde Days of HTML, you can check out [early versions](*/ of the site at

Confessions of a genius script reader

LC (whose email handle ThrobbingSocks is much more provocative) tipped me off to this Film Threat article by Allan Heifetz which explains some of the more significant pet peeves of professional (and unprofessional) script readers.

Newbies also love to break the fourth wall. These fools must think they have super strength. “Hulk smash fourth wall! Aaargh! Hulk need to address audience for lighthearted and wacky fun! Hulk’s rom-com is effervescent and delightful! Aargh!” Unfortunately, once you have a character address the camera you are essentially saying that your movie takes place in a magical fantasy land where anyone can talk to a theatre full of people from another dimension whenever one feels the need to vent.

The full article is here.

Final Draft updated

Final Draft, the screenwriting application I use most despite profound reservations, has been upgraded to 7.1.3. I haven’t gotten it to crash, so that’s something.

My assistant Chad had never used the Tools>Reformat command, which despite its clunky interface is a huge timesaver when importing text from other places.1 Basically, it steps through your script paragraph by paragraph, waiting for you to press a key indicating which type of element — action, dialogue, parenthetical — that paragraph should be. If the formating is okay, ‘N’ will leave it alone and jump you to the next block. ‘P’ moves you back.

Make friends with Command-R.

One aspect of Final Draft I’ve long neglected is its ability to do multiple panes. I’ve never found splitting the window all that helpful, but with today’s giant monitors, I could see myself doing it more. One often needs to refer back to other parts of a script while writing a scene. Multiple panes make that marginally easier.

One annoyance is that Final Draft won’t let you see the two panels in different views. If I could see the “real” script on the right and the expanded script notes on the left, that would be helpful. But Final Draft can’t do that. The exceptions are Scene Navigator and Index Cards. Scene Navigator is almost worthless without the split screen. Index cards you either dig or you don’t. (I don’t.)

  1. Including other Final Draft scripts. Too often, Final Draft will retain the margin and font information after a copy-and-paste, so it’s up to you to remind it that you really do want the dialogue lined up.

What’s new in jaWiki

[wiki logo]Last week, I opened up jaWiki, which to my relief and surprise hasn’t ass-ploded into a jagged minefield of broken links and PHP fragments.

The total number of articles has grown from 91 at launch to 121, largely driven by reader contributions.

Notable new entries include:

That last one is a surprise; I like surprises. I’m happy to see articles that provide information on aspects of screenwriter-dom that I know little about. To that extent, I’ve created [[stub]] entries that I hope readers can expand upon.

There are also a lot of articles in the archive which could use some dusting-off and wikify-ing. Some possibilities include:

Again, jaWiki is an experiment. My hope is that it evolves into something useful and compelling. Time is the best test of theory.