Author: A Reagan

Research consultant, author and screenwriter.

On Representation: Up in the Air and Lost in Translation

Several years ago, I took a Film 101 class at DeAnza College in Cupertino, California. I loved the class – I have not watched a movie the same way since. A key objective of the class was to learn about various aspects of representation in film.  My final paper was a discussion of such aspects of two of my favorite films – Up in the Air and Lost in Translation.  I’ve wanted to bring this analysis to my blog for years and have finally sat down to do just that.  I really enjoyed diving into the many layers each film offers.

The principle idea in both Up in the Air and Lost in Translation is the complexity and value of relationships.  LIT follows the relationship between Charlotte and Bob, a friendship developed while staying at the same hotel in Tokyo, which takes on a father-daughter connection but occasionally romance seems at their fingertips.

“The central relationship is explored from the contrasting perspectives of a woman in her early 20s and a middle-aged man each afflicted by different yet parallel doubts about the course their life respectively is taking or has taken.” – Rooney, from Variety[9]

Up in the Air, directed by Jason Reitman, follows Ryan, a man loyal only to an Airline.

“[I]t’s a movie about how one man living inside the cocoon of an overly detached culture comes to see the error of his own detachment. Up in the Air is light and dark, hilarious and tragic, romantic and real. It’s everything that Hollywood has forgotten how to do; we’re blessed that Jason Reitman has remembered.” Glelberman of Entertainment Weekly[5]

This post assumes, to some extent, that the reader has seen these movies; if not, you can find the synopses on IMDB. I have seen each film dozens of times; they are two of my favorites.  The purpose here is not to walk through each movie end-to-end, but rather talk about how central themes are reinforced by sub-themes and motifs.

Lost in Translation

                At the center of this film directed by Sofia Copola is a special but complex relationship between to travelers who meet in a Tokyo hotel.  One is an older celebrity, Bob, in town to do a commercial for Japanese whiskey, the other is the tag-a-long spouse, Charlotte, a recent college graduate.  Their immediate chemistry sparks a quick friendship and we follow them in their journeys through the week.  At times there seems to be an affair on the horizon – like when they are out on the town.  Other times Bob provides the support of a parent, like at the hospital and especially in the fantastic platonic scene of the hotel bed where Bob dispenses of life advice.

Ansen, of Newsweek Magazine, stated “Is it a paternal relationship or an erotic one? Is this a love story, or something just to the left of it? Part of what makes this movie so special is its delicate blurring of conventional boundaries.”[1]

This relationship is given a motif of the color orange – a color blurred with the red of love and the yellow of friendship.   Orange can also represent safety – which these two undoubtedly feel in each other’s company.  Rooney explains “[w]hile the relationship repeatedly appears poised to move to the next level, Coppola judiciously holds it back, introducing a degree of friction when Bob sleeps with a hotel lounge singer.”[9]

                Adding texture to the main relationship exploration are other plays on relations.  From Bob himself, to Charlotte’s husband’s former client to the lounge singer – there is another altitude from which these people operate.   Yet with Bob, even while spending much of his time on camera, he doesn’t seem native to that world, there are “moments when he emerges from his shell of irony emotionally naked.”[1]

                The relationship of our two protagonists and their environment is also a rich theme.  The hotel – whether it’s the lobby, lounge, halls and room – is their safe hiding place from the world and where their relationship is grown from several initial run-ins.   The city itself acts almost like a separate character, complete with glowing red heartbeats seen in the skyline vie from their rooms. A vibrant city begins as harsh and strange but evolves to being warm and familiar by the end.  

“The director’s love and fascination for Japan are evident in every frame, from the neon-jungle aspect of Tokyo’s congested streets to the occasional departures into the calm of its gardens and temples.” – Rooney[9]

Captured incredibly well is the overwhelming fog of international travel, and the confusion it can create for us.   Trouble sleeping, being more active at night than during the day, feeling a bit lost.  Very quiet scenes help to convey the isolation and loneliness that can emerge.  Many shots of our characters show have them slightly out of frame or disproportionate to the surroundings.  We see Charlotte paused to decipher a complex subway map.  Bob is found struggling with communication through translators and his own wife.

                To put the final touch on all of this, the director brings the relationship of the movie and the audience to the top – we are left with a final scene which is both satisfying and frustrating all at once. 

“When it comes time for Bob to leave Tokyo, the awkwardness of the goodbye is heightened by the weight of certain unexpressed feelings, but this is satisfyingly resolved in a tender final exchange in which Bob’s words to Charlotte remain unheard.” – Rooney[9]

Up in the Air

Up in the Air follows the life of an always-on-the-road consultant who helps companies manage layoffs.  His occupation, where he in effect is pretending to be part of the client company, sets the tone and will be only one of several false or shallow relationships.  This focus highlights an interesting relationship that we can all relate to – that of ourselves with our employers.   An interesting and very effective choice in direction here was the decision to use real people/non-actors who had recently lost their jobs.  The director noted being surprised about their reality after talking with them, as Norris from NPR discussed with the director:

 “REITMAN: You know, if you would’ve asked me before I did this movie what is the worst part about losing a job in this type of economy, I would’ve probably said the loss of income. But as I talked to these people, that actually rarely came up.  What people said time and time again was, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. And this was kind of a startling statement, that it was really about a lack of purpose. They would say, you know, after I finish this interview, I’m going to go get in my car and I have nowhere to be. And I can’t imagine thinking that every day.”[8]

Besides being a consultant, Ryan is a motivational speaker.  But keeping in harmony with false relationships, his message is hardly motivational – it’s about abandoning attachment to things and people.   He practices this himself.  Ryan has extended family, but he’s been distant from them.  This is represented by a cardboard cutout of his soon to be married sister and her fiancé, which he is to take photos of on his travels.  He handles the cardboard family with more care than the actual humans.

Ryan is loyal, however, to his favorite airline.  He’s earned a rare number of miles with his work and is saving them to reach a milestone – ten million miles.   Brands and loyalty in general are important to him, shown in his quick dialog with Alex on the topic one night in the hotel lounge.   Director Reitman on Ryan’s desire to collect miles, when speaking with Jian Chomeshi, asked “why do we collect anything?  Instead of filling our life with meaningful things, we often have collections of who knows what – it’s as if we are trying to confuse ourselves into believing that our lives are complete, when in fact they’re not.”[4]

                Ryan has two new relationships to navigate in the film.  First, a new younger employee, Natalie, has arrived on the scene with big ideas to modernize the company with remote technology so that people don’t have to travel to help with the layoffs (saving the company money and restoring work-life balance for most employees).  Since this prospect threatens Ryan’s world, he pushes back and the two are sent on the road together so Ryan can show Natalie the ropes. What begins as a rather contentious partnership evolves to an appreciation liken to the parental relationship between Bob and Charlotte in Lost in Translation.  This may be the only authentic relationship in the entire movie, but we don’t learn that until near the end.

                On the road Ryan has met another corporate road warrior in Alex. They hit it off and are soon swapping schedules and changing flights to be in the same city whenever possible.   Ryan finds himself falling for Alex.  There is a motif with use of the color red  when the story is focused on this relationship.  One day he tries to surprise her at home, only to face the same unwelcome surprise that he lays on his client’s employees – what he thought he had is gone.  She’s living a second life with a family and admonishes him for visiting her since, from her point of view, it was clear from the beginning that this was just a fun fling on the road. 

                This film also depicts the relationship of ones environment. With airports and hotels making Ryan feel at home, he’s comforted by a sparsely decorated home base.  “His modest apartment in Omaha resembles an undecorated motel room,” wrote McCarthy of Variety Magazine.[7]  His pockets full of hotel keys, the satellite view images of cities and use of maps are all supporting motifs.  When Ryan sees the U.S. map come to life with photos and people at his sister’s wedding, he’s especially struck.  For this aspect, there is a motif of the color blue which stands for Ryan’s relationship with the sky and finding comfort there.   Ryan even makes several references to space in the movie, leading us to believe he would be even more isolated from mankind if possible.

                Along with the airports is the travel process itself.  From his efficient and mechanical rapid-packing to his backpack speech in his motivational gigs – and don’t forget the exchange between Ryan and Natalie about her luggage at check-in. “Ryan is a pure product of the new America, an addict for a life in which everything is systemized,” wrote Dargis of the New York Times.[3]

We start with Ryan, who is all about “Elevated detachment”[3]. Dargis said “In Up in the Air, Clooney gives his most fully felt performance to date as a smooth hedonist who comes to realize that he may be drowning.”[3]  But at the end, we find Clooney has changed.  Where at one point in the movie we think it’s Alex that would change him, we see in the end it was Natalie.  He reaches his miles goal, but it’s lost its charm; he’s seen taking Natalie’s advice and picking a destination, he gifts miles to his sister and her new husband, and made sure Natalie landed well.   


Through the use of key relationship themes, subthemes and motifs, Up in the Air and Lost in Translation share a point of view on the importance for people to have meaningful relationships, no matter how they arise or how long they endure.  On Lost in Translation, Ansen said “Their connection is what this small, unforgettable movie is about: a transient, magical, restorative meeting of souls”[1].  Biancolli of SF Gate wrote, “Reitman the screenwriter gives Reitman the director an excuse to ponder the spaces between us and the ties that bind. Or don’t.”[2]  These two films are excellent examples of direction which show the importance of thoughtfully layering in sub-themes and motifs that strengthen the underlying message.


[1] Ansen, David. (September 14, 2003). Scarlett Fever. Newsweek Magazine. Retrieved from

[2] Biancolli, Amy. (December 4, 2009). Review: ‘Up in the Air’. SF Gate Movie Review. Retrieved from

[3] Dargis, M. (December 4, 2009). George Clooney and Vera Farmiga as High Fliers. The New York Times.

[4] Ghomeshi, J. and Reitman, J. (September 22, 2009). ‘Up in the Air’ Director Jason Reitman on Q TV. Q on CBC. Retrieved from:

[5] Glelberman, O. (December 20, 2009). Up in the Air. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved from:

[6] Lost in Translation. Dir. Sofia Coppola. Per. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. Focus Features, 2003. Film.

 [7] McCarthy, Todd. (September 6, 2009). Review – Lost in Translation. Variety Magazine.

[8] Norris, M. (November 20, 2009). Director Jason Reitman Finds His Feet ‘Up in the Air’. NPR. Retrieved from:

 [9] Rooney, D. (August 31, 2003). Lost in Translation. Variety.

 [10] Up in the Air. Dir. Jason Reitman. Per. George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. Paramount      Pictures, 2009. Film.

Getting Up and Down with Tin Cup


It’s always a risk breaking down one of your favorite movies. Especially one that you know is crowd popular but not critic popular; you might see flaws you previously looked past or didn’t notice.  Some ratings and reviews for Tin Cup (1996) might lead you to believe this golf-pun riddled spectacle should be left buried in the bunker in which it first found itself on first release.  And while I accepted the risk in deciding to do this latest post, I’m happy to report I still love it just as much as before.  Let’s take a look now at the attributes of the movie that helps it get up and down to find itself on the short list of top sports movies – or at least top golf films – for most sports fans and movie lovers.

If you are reading a blog post on a 22-year old movie, chances are you’ve seen it. But for the small percentage of you that haven’t, the IMDB synopsis says it simply, “[a] washed up golf pro working at a driving range tries to qualify for the US Open in order to win the heart of his successful rival’s girlfriend.” In reading that you may jump immediately to an incorrect guess about how it all ends – and that’s one of the best aspects of this film, but we’ll get to that later.


Given this is an older movie, let’s start with the timelessness of this movie.  The 1996 review from Janet Malsin of the New York Times captured, it’s “bright, stylish, ridiculously alluring.”  While it’s actually the styles in the film which age it, the context and topics of the movie could be in just about any time period.  From a classic love triangle to coming to terms with the hard to swallow implications of our personality – these universal human problems translate not just over time but generations and cultures.


Tin Cup may be timeless but not because it’s predictable.  As Ebert put, it is “a formula sports comedy with a lot of non-formula human comedy.”   Tin Cup centers around a different kind of sports hero – Roy, who Malsin says has “a talent for enjoying failure in style.”  Besides incredibly good rounds of golf played with garden tools or just a seven iron, Roy has something else that we all want – a set of loveable friends and the happy banter that comes from being together.   Friends that San Francisco Examiner Critic noted they made believable.

The secondary characters give the main story nice support without stealing away too much time and attention. As Ebert also said, “Shelton’s gift is to take the main lines of the story, which are fairly routine, and add side stories that make the movie worth seeing.” And be clear, the casting of these characters is bang on, even if a contributing factor to the cost of making it.

Start to finish, the human nature of the characters is clear. The opening scene establishes straight away that we aren’t always what we’d like to be.  While Roy shares a riddle with his cronies that is solved by breaking gender biased assumptions, he demonstrates that exact bias at the end of the scene. (Side note, while this is comically presented, I can tell you that this irony is more common in the real world than we’d like to think.)


The dialogue is clever and entertaining. Malison and Ebert noted it as “flippant, skillful banter”  and “smart and fresh,” respectively. The playful ping-pong nature is one I love from various writers.  One of my favorite exchanges is the first golf lesson.  What I’m not showing here is the fun back-and-forth between teacher and student and the peanut gallery watching from the shop. Molly is confident in her research but not of her results of applying it.

I’m sure there are excesses and  repetitions here, but I believe in the gathering of knowledge and I figured, well, there must be some truths about the golf swing illustrated by these devices — and that you’d help me sort through it.

And Roy does start to evaluate what he’s starting with, and Molly shows her frustration, cursing, which Roy tries to disarm:


‘Fuck…’ ‘Shit…’ these are highly technical golf terms

and you’re using them on your first lesson — this is promising.

Then there are the exchanges with Doreen, like the first one to settle a debt, where Roy has offered the deed to his driving range which he has dangled as giving her higher stature in the community, something every strip club owner may be looking for:

What are your labor costs?

(off no response from Tin Cup)

Payroll, Roy. What do you pay your help?

Let’s see… the tractor kid gets five bucks an hour. Romeo, he gets ten cash


What do you pay yourself?


Doreen nods in a way Tin Cup finds threatening.

To hit golf balls all day… when you’re not breaking for beers or corn dogs or to gather the guys and lay bets on which crow flies off the fence next.

You’re referring to my managerial salary?

I’m referring to every nickel you snatch out of the till and every bag of beer nuts you lift from the rack, is what I’m referring to.

Let’s say it’s worth ten – you still owe me two.

And the loaded exchange when Roy is trying to get Romeo back as his caddy:

You didn’t fall in love with Earl to be your caddie?

He was a wheezing heart attack waiting to happen — cost me three strokes a side…

I carried my bag the last four holes. I love ol’ Earl but I need you.


You don’t love me?



I love you, too, God damn it!


As much as Earl?

I don’t know! Yes, yes, as much as Earl — (beat)

More than Earl!


Am I special?

If you can remove the sexual connotations

and overlay a golf theme, Romeo — I am your Juliet.

One common critiques of the film is the high number of golf puns all throughout, but these are most notably crimes committed by Roy (but totally in character).

Real Golf

I honestly believe that Tin Cup is by and large successful because the golf feels authentic, the events and coverage seem real.  It’s relatable to anyone who has picked up a club, even though Roy is a golf pro. We’ve been frustrated, gotten the shanks and all have shots we knew we could have (should have) made.  Shelton wrote the script with his golf buddy.  They centered around an actual event and utilized actual pro-golf .  PGA’s own coverage includes a quote from Phincie that “[i]t’s a hole that has stood the test of time, [it’s] a hard hole.” The club location of the filming has also embraced their role and enable fans to as well –

“We have a marble plaque that marks the spot where Roy McAvoy hit the miraculous shot in the movie,” Martin said. “Guys like to take bets and drop a ball from the spot to take their shot at glory. There are a lot of war stories about hole No. 4, especially after golf tournaments. The round/score has been lost on No. 4 many times for players.”

Shulgasser of the SF Examiner also accredits these choices to the film’s success.


Somewhere in one of my seminars or books (maybe more than one), the advice to give people what they want in a way they don’t expect it, rings true but can be really hard to do. This is one film that shows how. Malsin applauds it – “Setting out on a “Rocky” trajectory toward the triumph of a little guy from nowhere, Tin Cup actually arrives at a more interesting destination.”  Ebert wrote, it’s got an “ending, which flies in the face of convention and is therefore all the more satisfactory.”  This makes it not just surprising, but more realistic and relatable. It’s true – and while not a predictable finish for the genre, it’s perfect for Roy. The arc for him isn’t to overcome and stop going for it, but to accept and appreciate that he goes for it. And what a beautiful lesson for many of us – acceptance and appreciation.


What makes Tin Cup a timeless success and sports favorite include traditional aspects – charm, characters, dialogue, and realism. But the delightful surprise in how we love the anti-hero and his ability to win the big moment in a completely nontraditional way ensures this will remain a favorite for so many.

– AR

When we met Harry and Sally

Whenever great movies come into conversation, When Harry Met Sally hits the tongue.  I’ve been happily surprised that younger generations continue to be not just aware but big fans of the movie.  So, what exactly made this movie insanely successful, universal and timeless?  With at least 4 wins from 16 nominations (IMDB), from 9 different categories, the answer is craftsmanship in every aspect of film making.


Nearly all great films start from the same seed – a great script.  Born into a family of writers and with earnest efforts in journalism early on, Nora Ephron had many great works, however it is this script that earned her an award.  Germinated in a conversation with Rob Reiner, Andrew Scheiman and Ephron, the study of relationships was inspired by life experiences and the “he said-she said” nature of the conversation (TCM).

She took classic gender roles all-in, from expectations from first-dates and after sex, to concerns when the break-up may come, be it why and when the breakup was decided (and when Mr. Zero knows before you do), or which furniture makes the cut in the shared abode (so, not the ROY ROGERS GARAGE SALE COFFEE TABLE) or how to best plan for an eventual break-up (put your names in your books).

Ephron’s writing itself is brilliant, from the immensely quotable one-liners to the zooming in and out of the moments in Harry’s and Sally’s lives as they grow and mature. “Ephron’s dialogue represents the way people would like to be able to talk. It’s witty and epigrammatic…” (Ebert’s 1989 review) Life events, like their respective break-ups, force our protagonists to grow and develop a space for them to have more than an acquaintance’s level of interest (like on that drive from Chicago to New York).  But it is more than simple narrative stops through a lifetime, it’s looking in and around these moments from different perspectives.   As Steve Axelrod shared in a writing group conversation (Go Into the Story), several years ago, Ephron was skilled at using multiple contexts of a single scene to add depth.

Ephron goes beyond simple typical gender roles, though, and includes two souls of different ages with wildly different perspectives on life – Sally with her optimistic even if a little passive even in her pragmatic approach to happiness, and Harry with his war-worn pessimistic view in waiting for death.  We see the evolution of Sally through her change in comfort of sex topics, moving from the first café embarrassed comment about having great sex, to the full display of orgasm.  Not to be left unmentioned is her change in position on Casablanca, the romance given the nod and strength of foundation for timelessness – which at first was that Ingrid Bergman was very practical and made the right choice, to later denying this position.  We see Harry soften over the years and expose more and more vulnerability (I mean, he didn’t just sing on the karaoke machine in the Sharper Image, but bought one to serenade Sally over voicemail).

The story is a fine blend of three different buddy films – that of Harry and Sally, of course, but also between each of them and their best friends of the same sex.  Each member of the three pairs, with their own endearing quirks and mannerisms, isn’t as good alone as with the buddy.  Since Harry and Sally are also our dual protagonists, Jess and Marie are the more stereotypical buddies; each have even lesser skill than Harry or Sally, but are forever supportive (OK, minus ignoring the request to wait to call the other after the blind date gone sideways! But, at least they asked first and hey, it was love.).

But is the main story a buddy film? After all, the question is posed – can men and women even be buddies?  Writer and actress Rebecca Gethings agrees it is fitting as a buddy story.  and she along with relationship expert Judy James, agree that where men and women friendships exist, a majority of them include one who harbors romantic feelings for the other (BBC).

One of Ephron’s genius skills was the ability to take simple human nature and incorporate in scenes.  The transition of a fun karaoke scene to one of embarrassment when the audience changes, acting appalled when someone can’t remember a name that we ourselves strained for, saying I love you in reaction to a feeling of jealousy.

The use of the holidays again is effective in helping the story have a familiar and timeless feel.  As does watching characters try to get over someone, deal with aging and realizing that familiarity breeds affection.

I’ve heard it said that the best films include a line of dialogue that tell the story in one line, and this meets the mark:

“You realize of course that we could never be friends… men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way” – Harry


It’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone besides Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in the lead roles, isn’t it? Receiving many nominations for acting, I’m not alone in knowing these were great performances; from their comedic timing and vulnerability, to key additions to the dialogue (most notable the “I’ll have what she’s having,” suggested by Crystal) and the palpable chemistry.  But they weren’t the first choices; can you imagine if Albert Brooks and Susan Dey (Mental Floss)? We’ll never really know if they would have crashed or sored in these roles, but I do believe the casting turned out exactly as it was meant to be.


A classic choice in New York City, a town where we expect Harry will fit right in with his disposition and career ambitions, but we aren’t initially sure about Sally. As we see Sally change throughout the film, it makes sense that the city was part of that influence. She’s a little tougher and even funny as the story progresses.    The airport as a logical run-in location, for two career folks in a big city, and a book store for two educated people to collide – it all resonates.  And the real stories from couples? Delivered in a classical environment with traditional furniture and romantic wallpaper.


Perhaps most immediately evident is the use of the screen space to add a layer to the story.  As Jesse David Fox makes most clear, the physical distance between the characters tells us how connected the pair are at the given point of the story (Vulture). They get closer over time, until the major conflict which drives them back apart. There is also effective use of the split screen, used multiple times, pitting them together or apart in parallel time.

Perhaps one of the more interesting tidbits in Director choice is the fact that in the first script, Harry and Sally did not end up together, but Reiner insisted (Mental Floss).

He also switched from using the real couples of the married tales to actors relaying those true stories.  These stories were dynamic, ranging from simple to complex.  The actors even stayed true to the various ways couples talk – finishing sentences, talking over each other, one chatty and one quiet.

A fine director also pushes scenes to their full potential – Reiner acted out the orgasm scene to demonstrate to Ryan how dramatic the display needed to be for it to work.


The Director choice to use standards, but with a fresh musician who brought is own style, reinforced the film’s timeless quality without making it feel immediately dated (TCM).


Lest you think there aren’t wardrobe choices for an modern-day movie (as opposed to a historical or mythical context), review Elle’s excellent explanation on the explicit choices around Sally’s hair, clothing and accessories for every scene; the most dramatic effect in the buttoned-up prudish outfit warn in the orgasm scene.  Harry’s wardrobe, too, reinforces his place in the relationship and ties to the city.

Is nothing wrong?

I would be remiss in writing a piece on this movie to not take the change to talk about one, if not the only, thing that drives me crazy about the film.  It’s this scene at Jess and Marie’s wedding:


Why can’t we get past this? I mean, are we gonna carry this thing around forever?


Forever? It just happened!


It happened three weeks ago. You know how a year to a person is like seven years to a dog?


Yes. Is one of us supposed to be a dog in this scenario?




Who is the dog?


You are.


I am? I am the dog? I am the dog?


In my opinion, it seems like Harry should be the dog, not just for the typical men-are-dogs commentary, but because for him the time seems longer.  So three weeks in human time is like 21 weeks in dog time. So clearly Sally was right, Harry was the dog!

Have you ever thought how different this film would be today? Well fear not, someone has already considered this (ABC News).

What do you think? Is there another reason to love this movie? Let me know in the comments.



This article covers a great point or two about forging a different path for the romcom:

So you have an idea for a movie…

A couple months back, an old friend asked me for some advice…

Is there any value to a REALLY good idea for a blockbuster film that has not been made? If so, how would one proceed without being taken advantage of? Of course, I do not have a script, just an idea that would make tons of money developed and produced.

Now as you know, if you have read the About, I’m not actually in the industry, officially; for me, screenwriting remains a hobby.  I am, however, happy to share what I have learned about this scenario. 

Is there value? Potentially, YES! 

How? With patience and persistence!

General Pursuit of Hollywood

Let me set expectations. A story idea, from the wild, is statistically one of the rarest successes in present day Hollywood.   Even if that story is written into a script, the odds are incredibly low if it is not written by someone with the right connections.  These scripts, specs as they are called (speculative script), are uncommissioned/unsolicited screenplays.

A couple of decades ago, spec scripts were seeing a gold rush – hundreds of scripts options and sales in a year, many in the six-figures.  This year, only a couple dozen scripts will make the cut, and typically in the tens-of-thousands range. Script Pipeline provides reporting on spec sales.

Yet, there are success stories out there, even today. That slim sliver of hope is all that screenwriters, like me, need to keep the faith! So read on, dear friend – if your idea is as good as you hope, it’s worth taking a shot!

The very first thing you should do is register your idea with the WGA. Here, you can register just about anything to provide a record of the intellectual property. Keep this registration current as your idea progresses.

As for what is next, the first question I would ask, is, are you interested only in selling the idea or do you want to be involved more? If you just want to pitch the idea and get a “Story By” credit if it ever gets made, then I would suggest you take advantage of logline pitch opportunities. There are online sites like Virtual Pitchfest, and whole host of in-person pitch opportunities in L.A. (and other cities).

To do this successfully, you need to pen a great logline – check various online sources for how to write a great logline. If you want to take it further, you can write an outline or prepare a ‘one sheet’ to share with potential pitch-ees.

If you would like to try your hand at writing, you can.  If you would like to partner with a writer, you could try a personal connection or reach out to the manager of a professional.  Directories of professionals in the industry are available in various formats, typically for a fee. If you have someone specific in mind, you should try to hunt down their representation and see if they accept unsolicited ideas.  They may of course just pass, but they also might take on the project or pitch the idea upstream.  In any event, once you have a script in hand that you are satisfied (plan for writing and rewriting and rewriting from various feedback and coverage options), there are more ways to pitch than when you have just the idea – including many, many screenplay competitions.

Another option is to pitch the idea to a known producer or director; I think those are going to be much harder to cold-call (many have solicitation policies), so I would try to find a personal connection somehow.  And of course there are the production companies and studios – which are also easily found in various directories but you’ll need to follow the policies for unsolicited materials here, as well.

All of this said, you said this was a blockbuster idea, and the blockbuster idea – assuming it is a big action or other widely-appealing story (particularly internationally) – does give you the best chance of success in modern day Hollywood.  Fewer movies are being made because fewer people are going to the theater. When people do turn out for a movie, it is typically a blockbuster movie; and people particularly love stories with worlds prime for a big franchise.

Non-Traditional Studios

Thanks to digital media there are opportunities outside of the big studios. For example, Amazon Studios accepts submissions of scripts and concepts. Netflix has also started partnering in productions of movies Hollywood turned town. The Blacklist is a great accessible industry community, starting from a survey about top scripts that hadn’t been made into films.

Indie Route

So, say you decide that this sounds too daunting and you really just want to see your movie get made, period.  Then you have to consider the independent route.  Today, the barriers to entry for filmmaking have truly never been lower. Equipment is easy to come by and every town has some kind of film community or program that people can plug into.  Find a writer and film staff and you could be on your way; some don’t even go that far and just film on their iPhones.  Once your concept starts to take shape, you can take your ideas to the crowd.  Once you have the perfect film in the can, you can submit it to film festivals around the country and globe.

If you aren’t completely sure of your idea, some pros have suggested starting with a solid short and seeing where it takes you.

The Four Ps

Above I mentioned the need for patience and persistence; I always add passion and perseverance when talking about anything you want to do or accomplish.  All four are ultimately what you’ll need to see something through (and, probably, a bit of luck), but I hope that this post has helped you develop an understanding of how to tackle that big idea!


Gaining Perspective

There are two major categories of research I believe that writers need to spend time on.

First, the most obvious, is research relating to the story being written.  A lack of understanding and knowledge about the selected era, location, subject matter and characters of a story will quickly show.  For this category, I will dedicate a future post.

The second category is where I want to share insights that I’ve recently gained. The script is merely one of several critical pieces to putting together a great film.  As a writer, you have probably consulted dozens of books, articles and seminars on how to write a great script.  You’ve probably been told that the script is the foundation of film.  The importance of character, conflict and story has been drilled home.  Perhaps you take this at face value and work to make a great script.   But imagine you also explore the other pieces and roles in film making to gain perspective.

This is something I have been doing recently.  I have found it very valuable.

The first thing I did was take an introductory acting course at a local acting studio.  I was fortunate enough to have a Living Social deal come across my Inbox for “Acting for Non-Actors.”  It was a four week course, one 90-minute class each Tuesday night, at the Bay Area Acting Studio in San Jose.  Not really sure what to expect, I was still surprised at the great turn out as well as the diversity of students (age, background, nationality).  Most students were just out to try something new, and a handful were people with previous or current interest in filmmaking roles.  I was the only person self identifying as a hobbyist/aspiring screenwriter.  I soon learned that at least one other student had also shared the interest.  About 2/3 of the class time was spent on games/drills that were pretty fun and effective at bringing up the energy and drawing out the more introverted people of the group.  The other 1/3 of the class was spent on very basic Meisner technique and scene work. I have signed up for the next section called “Acting for Fun” to continue gaining the actor’s perspective.

So far, from just a few classes, the main lessons from this experience, as a writer, were:

1) A speaking character must know who/how/where she or he is focusing their attention and energy. Be clear in your writing.

2) The character really must be unique enough that an actor can channel and use the particular relatable parts of themselves.

3) The dialogue must not get in the way.  Keep it simple.  An actor can do a lot with a few words.  Trust them to communicate the ‘real story.’ Do not write out dialogue that really should come from subtext.

4) If you are doing a good job with the characters and story, you will also reduce or eliminate the need to direct from the page.  That is, fewer movement action lines and parentheticals will feel necessary.

5) Make your characters such that actors *want* to play them.  Boring (e.g. no personality, no voice) or vague characters (e.g. no real conflict or struggle) will not be educational, pivotal, defining or motivating – they won’t be exciting to study and portray.

I would love to hear from any readers that also took acting class and what you found helpful from the experience…

The second step I have taken, is to enroll in the Intro to Film class at local DeAnza Community College.  DeAnza is especially recognized in California for its Film/TV program.  The tuition is affordable, and the schedule provided several options, including the evening section that I selected.   While only a couple of weeks into the class, I have already developed greater appreciation of a great foundational script. Casting, location selection, props, scene framing, camera work, actor positioning – all of this can help tell the story.  But the characters and story have to be strong enough and clear enough to allow these important pieces to do so.

If you haven’t already educated yourself about these aspects of filmmaking, I encourage you to do so.  There are a couple of books on my shelf that are great references, and also, one of my course references is the publicly available Yale site on Film Analysis. The textbook for my class is Looking at Movies.

I assure you will watch your favorite (and despised) films with a new perspective in what makes them great or miss the mark.  It will challenge you to look at your writing with a critical eye for what is needed to turn your story into reality.

What other steps have you taken to gain perspective about the other roles in filmmaking and the importance of the script outside of the writer’s view?

Using Scene Cards

One nice feature of screenwriting software is how it can aid in tracking scenes – allowing scene-specific text, providing scene reports and even providing the option to print scene cards.  Scene cards allow you to look at the flow of the story, reorder, remove and find gaps.  I have typically used hand-written index cards because sometimes the scene information that is automatically included in the software card isn’t clear enough (and usually I didn’t manually enter enough information to be helpful). I’m sure that all roles involved in film rely on the scene cards a lot, but I am focusing on the writer.  This writing tool would likely be useful for playwrights and novelists, as well.

Recently, I started using this tool again for my current rewrite.   First, I ran through my script and marked all of the scenes and numbered them.  Second, I made a card for each scene, then grouped them by storyline. This was hard at times because most of my storylines are fairly intertwined.

Scene Cards

Next, I marked each with a ‘-‘ or ‘+’ for the change in the main character (of the storyline) energy/emotion charge of the scene.  If there wasn’t one, I marked an ‘o’ – knowing I’d probably need to remove, change or replace the scene.

Later, I took advantage of the large tables at the community center, where my daughter is taking a class, to lay out the storyline cards. I made storyline “header” cards, in green.  I then faked a timeline, and spaced the cards according to time passing.


This exercise helped locate several issues and opportunities for different flow.  As I walked through the sequence, I started eliminating cards, marking some for edits, and putting in new placeholder cards (yellow). To preserve the timeline, I made purple cards to demarcate time (Day 1, Day 2, Week later, etc), and then stacked the whole story up in the new order.  On the back, I noted the new order number.

Today, I’m now using the cards to make modifications in Final Draft.  Some scenes are just placeholders, to be written after the restructuring. After I do the writing edits, I’ll do an overall analysis and check the state of the rewrite.

I recommend this exercise, it’s been very useful.

Script Review (Part 2): It’s Kind of a Funny Story

This post is a continuation from the last – a two part review of the script and movie It’s Kind of a Funny Story.

Part 2

Now having seen the movie, my general assessment from the read alone is confirmed – this version of story is lacking.  I actually was a bit antsy and frustrated watching, as I was at times suffering through scenes I had just crawled through in print.  Now, as I haven’t read the book, I don’t know if it’s just a miss on paring for the feature structure, or if the story fundamentally has a lack of flow and depth. I suspect there must be some elements of the novel that just aren’t carrying through, as the book is rated consistently high, unlike the film.  With such a rich opportunity for real emotion, the drama should work, and sparing that, comedy found – but nothing lands, for the most part.

It is unfortunate because I actually think the casting is pretty great. Keir Gilchrist really is a perfect match for Craig.  I think he did the best job handling his role and making it as real as possible.  I also think that Zach Galifianakis was a superb pick for Bobby.  Perhaps if he strayed from the script a little more and tried to help recover the timing of the lines, the lacking sincerity, the movie would have benefited.  Emma Roberts did pretty well but perhaps someone with a little more hidden beauty would have made more sense here.


Have you ever seen someone doing something and understand what they are trying to do, but seeing that isn’t quite doing it right or getting the effect they want? This is how it seemed to me.  Many of the dialogue exchanges seem ideas thrown in and not a natural progression.

Changes from the Script

This section is possibly more interesting because the writers also directed the movie.  Now, some of these changes certainly could have been made in editing. But that also was done by one of the writers!

–        Changes I understood

  • When Bobby returns from his interview, he’s upset, he’s worried he messed it up.  In the script it is described as a child-like tantrum on the couch, but in the film it is a bigger, more grown-up outburst.
  • In the script there are a couple of places where Craig imagines Aaron being present and chiming in.  This didn’t happen in the film.  I think that’s good as it takes the emphasis away from the frustration with Aaron and keeps the focus on Craig.
  • Noelle meeting parents was removed – for simplicity and not moving them along too far, I think it works.

–        Changes I didn’t understand

  • Left out parental help montage.  I thought this was a good way to show the parents have tried to help and he has a good support system.
  • Nia says therapist, not pills, when confiding to Craig.  I guess it might be good to not state all driven kids are on stress pills, but it lost some of the connection for them, I thought.
  • Overall change in the ending is for the better.  The scene and dialogue is condensed.


A few specific things bothered me the read, the film or both:

  • I don’t get the Cribs reference.  Some of the vision in the sequence about “what happens if you don’t get in” didn’t make sense.  A presidential person isn’t usually obsessed with pop culture.
  • Bobby should understand Craig, but doesn’t. This might not be fair, perhaps Bobby is where he is because he didn’t have it as “good” as Craig, but that really isn’t the point, right? Everything is relative. When you feel depressed, it really doesn’t matter what you have in your life that is good.
  • The brain maps don’t look like brain maps. They looked like city-scapes. This really bugged me for some reason. When I look at the cover of the novel, it makes more sense.
  • Bobby decides to throw in an inspirational line.  To me, it doesn’t resonate with Bobby, it doesn’t seem natural. And there really is no set up – it’s just thrown in when Bobby stops by.
  • I wanted to really like seeing the honesty in Aaron at the end. But I have a hard time with the inconsistency from every other image of him in the movie. Perhaps if he just stopped to show concern for his friend that would be enough, but the other words just aren’t believable.
  • There is a scene where the group in the hospital plays instruments and Craig is put up to singing.  This is meant to be a sort of transformational scene, but we get completely robbed of witnessing the actual transformation.  Instead we get some fantasy reel.  I would have loved seeing him start timid then come to life as he embraces the lyrics and energy of the song.


So, I write all of this, and I’m sure it sounds like I hated it, but there were some good pieces.  Remember that I’m just an amateur and to take everything with about ten grains of salt!  The reviews on movie sites are pretty mixed. Some thought it was pretty funny (unlike me).  The novel, however, is rated very high.  Perhaps it is simply a miss in translation from print to screen and it still worked for some but not others.

This was a fun exercise and I’m likely to do it again.

Script Review (Part 1): It’s Kind of a Funny Story

For this exercise, I elected to read a script for a movie I have not yet seen, so that I can see how the movie played out compared to my read.  This analysis will have two posts.  Part 1, below, will be my analysis of the script itself, and the next post, Part 2, will be my comments after viewing the film.

Please remember, my intent with these script review posts will be to point out the things I thought were notable – unique aspects of the script or story based on my (albeit novice) experience and as seen from my eyes.

Part 1 – The Read


I picked this script because of the title and the fact that I had not yet seen the movie (or read the book).  In fact, I had forgotten hearing or seeing anything about it. While I have since looked at the IMDB listing to check the user rating and other details.  You can find the script online (


Young Craig is caving under the pressures of the expectations of his current academic path and the awkward situation of being in love with his best friend’s girl.  Fearing his ongoing and escalating suicidal feelings, he seeks admission to the hospital for treatment. The story was written for the screen by Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden, based on the novel by Ned Vizzini.


The movie is listed several ways on the major sites: “Comedy-drama”, “Art House”, “Drama”, and the trifecta “Comedy-drama-romance.”  One could even give it a nod as a coming-of-age drama, so possibly this movie is trying to be everything.

Art House – After wading through a few pretentious article on what constitutes an Art film, and the state of the art film today, I did find a good source linked from Wikipedia topic “Art film”.  In the article by Lindsay Steenberg, actually referring to one of the references, we find an informative view on what the art film is:

Bordwell further describes the structuring basis of the art cinema as based on “‘objective’ realism, ‘expressive’ or subjective realism, and narrational commentary.” In brief, the art cinema relies on a recognizable authorial voice (or narrational commentary), self-reflexive stylistic choices, causal gaps in the narrative, episodic structure, ambiguity in reading, and a plot which relies on complex psychology rather than goal fixated action to provide forward momentum.  

You can read Steenberg’s full article here:

Drama – If drama is meant to show us characters as we would like to be, whereas comedy is meant to show how we really are (per our excellent teacher, Steve Kaplan), then we are inclined to classify this script as a drama.  Even though we don’t necessarily hope to land in the mental hospital, we may hope that 1) we would be strong enough to seek help and admit ourselves before taking drastic steps, just as Craig did, and 2) we would maintain a caring and pleasant attitude such as Bobby’s, if we found ourselves in his situation.

Comedy – While there are humorous lines, I don’t really see the typical comic conventions in this film, so I think it’s a stretch to put it in this category. If I’m in the mood for a comedy, and someone recommends this movie, I’m not satisfied at the end. In fact, it seems a bit odd that we are supposed to take Craig’s situation as serious, but also be encouraged to laugh at his fellow patients.

Romance – While there are two key romantic sub-plots, I would hesitate to refer to this as a romance.  The thin-ness of the two connections may actually be good representation of teen love, however.

General Structure

The script is at 115 pages, for the copy that I have. The movie clocks in at 1:41.

  • The setup of the situation and scenario runs until Craig is resolved to spend the minimum 5 days in the hospital; this covers the first 22 pages.
  • The journey for Craig lasts most of the five days, until he gets the turning words of wisdom from Bobby, which is on page 93 (71 pages).
  • From here, it’s a quick run through tying up loose ends and getting Craig out (22 pages).

Because of the schema we are dealing with, I’m not forming an opinion on the ratio of the sections.

Notable Script Tidbits

Voice Overs – Given the storyline is in the psychology of Craig, it makes sense that there is a heavy dose of voice overs.  In reading, I have become concerned it will be too much.  It will be interesting to see how it plays out on the screen.

Dream sequence, Flashbacks and Fantasy – Again, because we are really going through the story with full access of Craig’s point of view, we also wander through his thoughts in these varying forms. Technically, even within the same variation type the directives are noted a bit inconsistently (leaving me to wonder if it is intentional or not). One of the markings isn’t clear to me, where each step is marked with a reverse order letter with an ID which seemed to correspond to nothing (Possibly scene? But the number seems high…see page 35).

Supers – These are used to help keep the user oriented to the timeline and what is real.

Insert – This was a shot directive, used a few times. It is not one I see used often.

Speaking of scenes, I’d be interested to see how the non-current-day pieces are included in the scene counting.


The characters do seem to have their own voices.  A few things stand out to me:

  • The interaction with the parents seems authentic.  The sort of obliviousness to the severity of the situation, the roles each parent plays, and the relation of the concern for the sister.
  • I think the writers do a nice job with the play between Craig and Noelle, mostly in the beginning.
  • The other is that the difference between Bobby, Craig and Noelle and the other patients in the way they speak demonstrated they were in different parts of the spectrum.


The premise is understandable: Teens dealing with pressure and not wanting to fail, the stress one feels, falling for a best friend’s significant other.  While I can see the transitions and identify transformational scene, it feels a bit forced, and overall a bit shallow of a story.  There are all of these touch points with people with real problems, but we don’t get deep enough, really, with anyone to truly achieve empathy or understand how the triggers really come to have impact. Even with Craig, we understand the idea of what makes him decide to stop the track he’s on, but we don’t buy into it fully.  Same can be said with suddenly getting over Nia.  I am hoping that the acting and directing help elevate the script, but seeing how little there is to work with, I’m not optimistic that this will happen.


Script Review: Ocean’s Eleven

I chose Ted Griffin’s Ocean’s Eleven as my first script review because it was the first one I purchased in hard copy.  That purchase pushed me into trying my hand at screenwriting.  I know that the version of the script I have is not final because there are many differences between what I have and what you see in the final cut (it also has Steve Carpenter as the writer – Griffin is listed as revisions writer, and the credited writer on IMDB).

My intent with these script review posts will be to point out the things I thought were notable – unique aspects of the script or story based on my (albeit novice) experience and as seen from my eyes.

The main reason I thought it would be interesting to read this script is the timing aspect.  That much of the movie is the setup but it is only when the heist actually starts that we understand exactly how they are going to do it.  None come to mind but I seem to recall there are heist movies that let you in on the plan, and where the risks are, so you have to watch it play out and see if those risks become issues to bear.   The other reason I love this movie and script, is the dialogue.  So many efficient exchanges. Finally, I think they do a good job at making the film funny not cheesy.

General Structure

It’s a long script, at 143 pages.  To me, the story seems to be laid out like this:

  • The initial heist partnership setup and recruiting take place over the first 48 pages. I think this is Act I.
  • The heist preparation and setup with Tess cover the next 46 pages, concluding Act II.
  • The Third Act consists of the actual heist and aftermath are over pages 94-143.

I struggled to decide if the first part of the heist is in Act II. I think it neatly goes into Act III but that Act then takes half of the time.  Given the ratio of setup (94 pages) to heist (49) is about 2:1, you have to wonder if too much time is spent on the entire setup, or if all of that is needed for the audience to be rooting for the crew to succeed.

Heist Genre

It seems that with the heist, it is important to make sure the audience roots for the crew, or at least doesn’t mind the victim being robbed.  I think Ocean’s Eleven does both.

We get to know each character as humans doing a job, so we want them to succeed. We also don’t think they will be dangerous criminals. In fact, there is a point where Rusty and Danny talk about the rules:

“Rust, when we started in this business, we had three rules. We weren’t gonna hurt anybody. We weren’t gonna steal from anybody didn’t have it coming.”

“And we were gonna play the game list we had nothing to lose.”

For the second part – not minding that the victim gets robbed – well, we are talking about a casino. In fact, three casinos.  People like to gamble but don’t like losing money to the house. The audience won’t feel bad that the house gives some back here.

What’s is interesting in Ocean’s Eleven, is that while we come to respect the work ethic of Benedict and see that he does seem to care and try to be good to Tess, we also see his true colors as a casino owner and business man. Again, we don’t mind seeing him lose here.

Notable Script Tidbits

– Quick exposition – While Danny is waiting for Frank to join him, he’s looking at the newspaper, which also informs us about man we later learn is the target (Terry) and the disgruntled-man-turned-Ocean-partner (Reuben). Included but unnamed in the picture is Tess. The fact that this is in the newspaper means these are recent events, at least between Terry and Reuben.

– Flashbacks to failed casino robberies – I love that Reuben doesn’t just talk about the prior attempts, there are quick snippets of flashbacks to emphasize the point. The efforts are futile.

– Recruiting – As I mentioned, I do think how each person is convinced to join this crazy mission gets screen time because helps us understand more about that specific character and their role.  We become more invested in the success of the criminal crew.

– Setup makes you sweat – I love that just the setup of the heist poses a few moments of risk that keep you on edge – when Roscoe gets into the IT center, for example. When Saul first approaches Benedict about storing something important in the casino safe, for another.


Rusty and Danny

One of the best scenes has two people but only one of them speaks.

“Ten should do it, don’t you think?

You think we need one more?

You think we need one more.

Okay, we’ll get one more.”

There are also two scenes that I love and for which I’m grateful there are snips on YouTube.

Tess and Danny

The dialogue between these two, throughout the film, is fantastic. It’s reminiscent of older romance films in the efficiency and cleverness of the quips.

“You know what your problem is?”

“I only have one?”

Rusty and Linus

The second great exchange is when Rusty is coaching Linus. The completely unhelpful contradicting advice from Rusty which ends in a desperate Linus waiting for Rusty to tell him the most important thing.

“Be funny but don’t make him laugh.”


One thing that Ocean’s Eleven does, that so many caper films don’t, is to be funny without seeming cheesy.  The one liners scattered throughout make it even more fun for audiences.

The story starts with Danny Ocean getting out of prison. On his way out he receives his divorce papers. When the mail prisoner asks him what the mail is about, Danny says “I’m a free man.”

When Danny crashes Rusty’s poker lesson, when asked about his line of work, Danny provides a vague answer and mentions that “Of late, I’ve been lucky to get an hour a day outside of the office.”

At the same game, Rusty’s student thinks he won the hand with “All reds!”

Reuben makes a cliche line funny – “Look, we all go way back, I owe you from the thing with the guy with the place.”

Describing casino security, Reuben says “They got enough armed personnel to occupy Paris. Okay, bad example…”

I could go on and on.

We also take joy in the goofy play between Virgil and Turk, the stress of neurotic Roscoe, watching old timer Saul deal with being back in the business and Linus moving into the big leagues.


I believe the characteristics of the Ocean’s Eleven rewritten script mentioned above are what make it a really enjoyable one. The facts that the movie was also directed well, scored well and had a host of recognizable, talented folks in the cast all came together to make a great movie.