Monday, December 28, 2009


What screenwriting books do you recommend?

I get this question a lot from people.  We all know there are entire sections at Barnes & Noble and Borders dedicated to the art, craft and business of screenwriting.  I've read a great deal of these books.  I have many great ones on my home library shelf that are creased, highlighted and worn from numerous readings.

So here are some of the best books on screenwriting that I have read and continue to revisit for tips and inspiration.

Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters  by Michael Terno
The Screenwriter's Problem Solver by Syd Field
Screenplay by Syd Field
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

The Screenwriting Forum by RobTobin                                                         
Writing Screenplays That Sell  by Michael Hauge
Story by Robert McKee
Screenwriter's Master Class by Kevin Conroy Scott
Adventures in the Screen Trade  by William Goldman 
Screenwriting 434 by Lew Hunter
From Script to Screen by Linda Seger and Edward Jay Whetmore

I also love and have re-read the following books about writing and filmmaking:

Bird by Bird  by Anne Lamott
On Writing by Stephen King 
The War of Art  by Stephen Pressfield
The Spooky Art  by Norman Mailer
The Big Picture by William Goldman
Three Uses of the Knife by David Mamet
Hello, He Lied  by Lynda Obst
You're Only As Good as Your Next One by Mike Medavoy with Josh Young
Making Movies  by Sidney Lumet 
Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez

I highly recommend that as a screenwriter you dust off your public library card because it's a super place to get your hands on books without spending a fortune.  At my NY Public Library, I can download books and listen to them on my iPod while I'm walking my dog or exercising, so take advantage of this wonderful free resource.  Support your local library and book stores. 

Enroll in the University of YouTube!  There are a gazillion free videos about screenwriting, storytelling, screenwriters, and filmmaking on the Internet.  Become a geeky Web student.  You can spend hours watching, taking notes and learning from pros who are putting their advice, tips, and books all over the Internet.  Take advantage of our Information Age and absorb what is out there.  Some of the Web videos are lame: about marketing, self-promotion and making a buck off aspiring writers, but much of it is very good and useful.

iTunes is great.  I download screenwriting podcasts and listen to them while riding the subway (better than hearing the guy next to me snore).  I subscribe to Storywise by Jennifer Grisanti.  Jennifer does some super interviews with major producers and writers in television and movies.  I also like Pilar Alessandra's On the Page.  Pilar covers a wide range about the business and craft of screenwriting with up-and-coming writers and established agents.  Of course, I also never miss Jeff Goldsmith's podcasts with major screenwriters through Creative Screenwriting Magazine.  Jeff is too cool for school.

I hope this helps in preparing you for 2010.  It's important to stay up on everything out there from screenwriting pages on Facebook to Twitter to new movies to new media to books to e-books to seminars.  But make time to write your script or play or book EVERY single day.  Don't spend days, weeks, months and YEARS reading about writing... or researching... we still have to do the hard part -- writing.  Make that your New Year's resolution come January 1, along with getting fit and learning how to play the guitar. 

Somebody recently suggested writers buy an egg timer.  Sit down and write for one hour with the timer on.  It will focus you to write and put in the time.  DING -- when the hour is up you can go about your business and eventually you won't need the timer at all -- unless you want to bake a cake.

Until next time.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


There is nothing like Christmas in New York. 

Okay, I'm sure it's beautiful almost everywhere for Christmas, but New York City just hums with excitement, lights and tourists this time of year.  The Rockefeller Christmas tree is quite a sight, all bright and tall.  I attended the 30th Annual The City is Singing at St. Patrick's Cathedral which put me in the Christmas spirit.  I just finished wrapping all my gifts and putting them under the tree.  Whew. 

2009 was a pretty good year.  I'm looking forward to 2010, a new year, a new decade and setting new goals.  What are yours for this new year?  Will you write that script?  Finish your book?  Contact those agents?  I hope whatever your goals are that you pick a new strategy and follow through with action every single day (and not just in January).  We can do it.  Just focus and follow through.  Mull over new goals before now and January.

But until then, enjoy your holidays and time spent with friends and family.  Unwind, eat special treats and live it up.  It's that time of year.  Hope you get all that you asked for and share your joy & gratitude with others.

Until next time, HAPPY HOLIDAYS from New York.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Okay, what did Sandra Bullock step in this year?  She has two hit movies "The Proposal" and "The Blind Side", just received two Golden Globe nominations and is having one of the most successful runs of her long career.  I smell an Oscar nomination.  She's come a long way from "Speed". 

It's funny because this year I wrote a play about Sandra Bullock called "NetFits".  It's a comedy about a young married couple who fight over having a joint NetFlix account.  The wife keeps ordering Sandra "Sandy" Bullock movies and bumping her husbands picks farther down the queue.
You can read the play below if you like.  It was produced and performed in New York on Off-Off Broadway on May 6th, 2009.
So hats off to Sandra Bullock and all her success!  She's 45 and riding a wave.  Who says actresses over 40 don't get good work?  Look at Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep.  Their movies are packing movie theaters.  Keep it up, ladies, we love you.                                                                 

A play by
Janet Lawler


A young, married couple are in the living room.  The wife tapping on her laptop.  The husband listening to his iPod and texting on his BlackBerry.

DANA:   Sweetie? Did you change the Netflix password?
TODD:  Hmmm? What?
DANA Our password. For Netflix?  I keep trying to log in to our account -- for like the millionth time -- and can’t.
TODD: Oh yeah. I changed it. Last week. Didn’t I tell you?
DANA:Um no, Password Phantom, you didn’t. That’s a relief. I thought I was suffering from early dementia.
TODD:  Oops. My bad.
DANA:  Helllllllllllllllo?
TODD:  Hello.
DANA:  What’s the new password?
TODD:  Oh, um, our last name... birthday combo... anniversary
thingie... something. I’ll e-mail it to you. Later.
DANA: Just shout it out, babe.
TODD:  Nah. You’ll forget it. I’ll e-mail it to ya.
DANA:  Ohmygod. You are the biggest control freak. You’re holding our Netflix account hostage.
TODD (removes earbuds) What? Say again? I’m twittering.
DANA:   Stop twittering... and tell me the password.
TODD:  Um. No.
DANA: No? No? Love Bucket? Did you just say no... to the love of your life?
TODD: Yeah. Because the love of my life keeps changing our Netflix queue every other day without telling me. It’s infuriating. You keep reshuffling our movies like a deck of cards.
DANA: I don’t reshuffle. I reorder. And mine usually land at the top.
TODD: Who made that rule, Dana?
DANA: Me. Welcome to marriage 101.
TODD:   I didn’t know marriage meant never seeing a movie I’d like again.
DANA:   Lesson One. Marriage is all about sacrifices.
TODD:   Dana, I think we should open separate Netflix accounts.  What? What’s that look about?
DANA:  Separate Netflix accounts?    Two accounts?
TODD:  Yeah. Yours and mine.
DANA:  We’re already driving the mailman nuts with red envelopes coming and going. That’s the lamest suggestion.  Paying double for movie rentals every month? It’s a waste of money. We’re in the middle of an economic Depression, you know.
TODD:  Yes, I’ve heard, Suze Orman, thank you. Separate accounts
will save headaches. Then, you can choose your movies and I can pick my movies... sweetheart.
DANA:  You’re serious?
TODD: Very -- because you put your movies up at the top of the queue and keep pushing mine down into oblivion. It takes me three weeks to climb my way back up to number one -- just to get shoved down again. And then, then, you take forever to watch your movies -- they pile up, sitting unopened on your desk for weeks -- stopping the steady flow of my home entertainment enjoyment.
DANA:  The movies I order we watch together.
TODD:  Has it ever occurred to you that I might want to watch a movie alone? We don’t have the same tastes. To be blunt, Dana, I hate your movies.
DANA:   Excuse me? You hate my movies? Hmmm. Who’s that person sitting on the sofa watching them with me every Saturday night and digging into my popcorn bag? Huh? That person looks an awful lot like you, Todd. Chews like you too. Mouth open. Loud.
TODD:   I’m trying to chew and swallow without tasting your popcorn... since you insist on buying that artificial flavored stuff like Honey Buttered Popcorn.
DANA:  Wow.  I see. So, now, you not only hate my movies... but my snack choices too?  What else about me bugs you?
TODD:   Oh, don’t open that can of worms.
DANA:  Oh, you already popped the lid. Big time. Bring it.
TODD:   Okay. Since we’re venting. I hate the way you hog the TV remote when you don’t know how to use it.
DANA:  You mean that contraption that you got from Best Buy? That’s not a remote, Todd -- that’s a NASA control panel. “Houston, we have a problem in Apartment 3C. Houston? I'm trying to change the channel. Houston? Copy?
TODD:  Truly boggles my mind how someone with a Master’s Degree in Engineering can’t comprehend a simple DVD menu.
DANA:   Oh, I comprehend plenty, Skippy. Plennnnn-tttyyyy.
TODD:   Amazing.
DANA:  We’re married what, eight months? But ohhhhh... I’m wise to you.
TODD:   Congratulations!
DANA:   What’s the new password, Todd?! I want it! Give it to me!  I mean it! Or --
TODD:   Or what?
DANA:   I’ll report you to Netflix. They have people who handle identity theft.
TODD:   What?! I didn’t max out your credit cards. It’s not against the law to change a password.
DANA:   On a joint account? It certainly is, Buckaroo. I think it’s a federal offense.
TODD:    Netflix is in my name, Dana. I pay the bill every month.
DANA:   Well, I pay the phone bill every month. How about I change our phone number and forget tell you about it? Huh? Or better yet, change all the locks on the door? And say, oops - - my bad, Todd, I’ll mail you the key later.
TODD:  Whatever, Dana.
(Todd turns away. Dana leaps on his back.)
(Dana hops down. Rumbles through his desk on another frantic search. Then, exhausted, she looks at him.)
DANA:   If you don’t tell me the password -- this relationship is over, pal! I mean it!
TODD:   You would break up our loving marriage over that?!
DANA:   Yes! On grounds... of mental cruelty! I was all psyched up about ordering a New Release but now I can’t! You’re a very cruel man, Todd Roberts!
TODD:   What new release? Let me guess. Another romantic comedy?
DANA:   Don’t worry about it, pal.  (A beat, then -- ) The new Sandra Bullock movie.
TODD:   Oh God. Now I’m glad I blocked you.
DANA:   See! Cruelllll-tttty! You don’t even know what movie I’m talking about.
TODD:   It’s a Sandra Bullock movie! That’s all I need to know.
DANA:  For your information, Sandy happens to be the MOST rented
actress on Netflix.
TODD:  Sandy? What, did you two have lunch together or something?
Sandy Bullock?
DANA:  All her friends call her Sandy.
TODD    News flash. You’re not her friend.
DANA:   If we met -- we would be.
TODD:   Oh. So, she’s your famous... imaginary friend?
DANA:  Funny. Since when don’t you like Sandra Bullock movies? You
laughed your ass off at “Miss Congeniality 2.”
TODD:  Yeah, at how bad it was. We were dating when we saw it. I
had to act like I liked everything back then.
DANA:   Oh, you mean, how I had to act when you made me see every
Vince Vaughn movie ever made? Then, have to listen to you recite all the tag lines from “Swingers”? “You’re money, you’re so money.” “Drinks first. Questions later. You’re so money.” I got news for you, Todd, Vince Vaughn is way overrated.
TODD:   And Sandy Bullock isn’t?
DANA:   Sandra-freakin’- Bullock is hilarious. Shall I list her movie credits? While You Were Sleeping -- brilliant! Hope Floats - amazing. Crash - riveting. I’m out of adjectives... because she’s that talented. Sandy’s got range, baby, range!
TODD:   Sandra Bullock’s got about as much range as our kitchen stove. Now, my boy Vinny Vaughn is golden. He’s home on the range.
DANA:   Your boy Vinny?    Who are you all of a sudden, P Diddy?  You’re an accountant, Todd. Talk like one. “I’m down with my boy Vinny”
TODD:   That’s right. My boy V to the V is a comedic genius. Shall I run his credits? Wedding Crashers --. hilarious. Old School -- a pisser.  His only misstep was The Breakup.
DANA:   We’re making the sequel if you keep bad-mouthing Sandra Bullock!
TODD:    Lame chick flicks... you force me to sit through them at your mother’s every Thanksgiving weekend.  Come back with your sisters all giddy from Blockbuster holding every romantic comedy ever made by Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson and Reese Witherspoon. It makes me want to slit my wrists with a turkey bone!
DANA:   Fine, Todd! You want separate Netflix accounts? You got it.  How about separate beds and lives while we’re at it?
(Todd taunts her for fun.)
TODD:   Dana? I know the new password and you don’t. Try to guess it.
DANA:   It wouldn’t be hard... you’re about as deep as a puddle.
TODD:   Bullock Lover!
DANA:  And proud of it!
TODD:  And I happen to be plenty deep. Check out my movie picks on Netflix.  Foreign films -- Il Postino. Au Revoir Les Enfants. Cinema Paradiso.
DANA:  You slept through those! You only watch movies with subtitles to impress your friends at work.  So they’ll think you’re intellectual.
TODD:   No -- they know we share the account. They forgave me for renting Failure to Launch and rating it with five gold stars! Thank God you don't get to judge the Olympics.
DANA:   So.  You might order the foreign films but I order the docs.
TODD:   Why do you insist on calling documentaries “docs”? Like you’re Albert Maysles or something. (DANA IS AT HER WITS END WITH HIM.)
TODD:   Nice.
DANA:   I have to put up with you writing all those pompous movie reviews on Netflix! Who died and made you Jeffrey Lyons? Who cares what you think about art direction and sound?
TODD:   Fellow Netflixers do!
DANA:   Right -- you and all the other wanna-be filmmakers, actors and screenwriters stuck in their 9 to 5 boring jobs... and crummy marriages!
(This stops Todd cold. He watches as Dana sits on the sofa. He approaches her.)
TODD:   Do you really think... our marriage is crummy, D?
(She doesn’t respond.)
TODD:   Do you? I was just kidding about... everything I said. I’m sorry if I take my movies seriously... maybe if... I went to film school like I wanted to instead of --
DANA:   Well, you didn’t! I didn’t follow all of my dreams either, Todd. You’re never going to be as cool as Vince Vaughn and I’m never going to be as pretty and witty as Sandra Bullock! Okay? That’s life. That’s why people go to the movies in the first place. To escape being so ordinary.
(They take a moment.)
TODD:   Our marriage isn’t crummy, Dana. We just don’t talk anymore.  We’re so distracted by work, family, friends... Facebook... Twitter...... and watching too many bad movies.
DANA:   I need a moment, Todd. Okay? Just... don’t say... anything.
(Todd sits next to her. Takes her hand.)
TODD:   Hey? I really liked one Sandra Bullock movie.
DANA:  Todd. Don’t even... which one?
TODD:   Speed. That scene when Sandy drives that big-ass bus down the freeway and she screams at Keanu Reeves “Stay on or get off? Stay ON or get OFF?”. Man, that was Oscar worthy. I even said it online in my review.  Check out Netflix if you don’t believe me.
DANA:   I would -- but I can’t log on.
TODD:   Six-April-07. That’s the new password.
DANA:  Six-April-07? That not our birthdays. Or anniversary. How am I supposed to remember that?
TODD:   It’s the day we met. The day I found someone who won’t let me get away with being an ass. Someone who tells me... to follow my dreams... even when I’m too afraid to. It’s a lot easier to bury myself in movies.
DANA:   I’m sorry I put my movie picks first. That wasn’t cool. But, they’re only dumb movies, Todd.  What we have -- will last a lot longer than some two hour DVD.
TODD:   Four -- I like to watch the commentaries.
DANA:   The way I see it -- deep down we may despise each other -- but our love is real.
TODD:   Can we survive a joint Netflix account?
DANA:   No returns. No exchanges. That’s what we promised each other almost a year ago. I’m keeping up my end of the deal.
(They kiss, then snuggle on the sofa.)
DANA:   We got a new movie in the mail today. Wanna go watch it -- in bed?
TODD:    Is it a special feature?
DANA:   It could turn into one.
TODD:   You’re so money and you don’t even know it!


@Copyrighted 2009