Because if we're holding bread, we're not holding weapons.

Because screenwriting is a spiritual activity and I like the association to churches.

Because if you work for a TV show, they'll feed you.

Because we never know what tangible thing we'll get from a particular class. but being fed - that's tangible and real.

Because while we eat, we get to know one another. And then we feel more comfortable. Vulnerable. Able to write and share vulnerable stories.



I can do anything when I’m creating stories. I can make any miracle. That’s a great thing for me. I can say I deal in magic.

—Haruki Murakami

When I'm writing, it feels like magic - that my characters are alive and speaking to me. . . that I'm not quite in control. . . DT



My screenwriting teacher Paul Lucey either said this or quoted someone else saying this: 

When you get a paper cut sometimes you don’t immediately see the blood.  It takes a second to realize you’ve been injured.  Then the blood appears, starts to ooze. 

Not sure what it means exactly (!) but something about digging for the pain, waiting for the pain.  I think he was talking about the character AND the writer – a writer’s ability to visualize/see the pain that no one else does. To wait for it.  To realize it’s there.  To imbue your work with it?  To reveal your own?  Who knows. You tell me. DT



While I’m working, I might feel as tormented as the person I’m portraying. —Cindy Sherman, BOMB 12, 1985

I might change it to:

While I'm working, often i SHOULD feel as tormented as the person I'm portraying. 

If you don't know: Cindy Sherman's a visual artist who dresses up as characters and has herself photographed. But relevant to writing --

At some point: Do you feel what your characters feel? Are you not only tormented, but excited? insane? funny? motivated? confused, in love, hateful, violent, playful, etc.




(Originally published in the newsletter of Cinestory)

 After I write a rough first draft of my screenplay, the next step for me is cutting and/or combining dialogue, descriptions, characters, and scenes to make my work as tight and unified as possible. However, if I find I have written a scene or scenes with only two persons, I ask myself is there a way to add a third person. Why?

Let's take a cliché two-person scene. On a train platform, a guy wants to spill his guts to a woman. Up to this point, he has acted like he hates her, but really he's in love with her.  So here he tells her how he feels.  She responds that she loves him as well.

So what's wrong? If the movie is a romantic comedy and the goal is for our two warring characters to get together, at the conclusion of this scene, our movie is over.  Fine, if it's the climax, but what if it's not?  Then our movie ends prematurely. Also, when a character says what's on his or her mind, a scene is often experienced as "flat" or "on the nose". How many of us say exactly what's on our mind? We always hold some thing back.  Also, as audience members, we process what's said versus what isn't said.  We anticipate when hidden information will be revealed.  If everything is laid out for us, our relationship to the material is more distant and less active.[1]

Back to our scene: Now we put in a homeless person asking for money or someone playing music loudly nearby. Our hero is prevented from saying what's on his mind because the situation is no longer intimate. He's embarrassed or distracted.  Or he says what's on his mind, but our heroine can't hear what he's saying.  The movie continues.  We anticipate how he'll handle the situation, we identify with our hero as he struggles to get his information out.

In a scene from Sunset Boulevard, a woman (Nancy Olsen) from the Studio Reader Department comes in and reports to a producer (Fred Clark) on a particular story outline; her report is wholly negative. What she doesn’t realize (but we do) -- the man standing behind her watching (William Holden) is in fact the writer of the material.  We identify with the writer as he becomes angry.  We anticipate the woman’s embarrassment and enjoy her reaction when she's introduced to the writer.

Now imagine this same Sunset Boulevard three-person scene rewritten as two two-person scenes: The producer sends the writer out of the room before the woman arrives. The woman tells the producer what she thinks of the writer's story. Gone is the writer's growing rage, gone is our identification with the writer, gone is our anticipation of what the woman will say when she turns around and finds out the writer is standing behind her.  Gone are the romantic sparks and the establishment of the woman as the love interest/a helper character. What was charged/multi-layered is now purely informational/flat.

Back to our couple on the train platform.  Instead of a homeless person, we add in a cop coming towards them.  Or we add in a mysterious woman listening nearby.  Or we add in a killer who is watching the couple through the viewfinder of his high-powered rifle. 

This time, we let our hero profess his love but the scene is anything but flat because while our hero is talking, our audience is wondering -- Who is this mysterious woman listening?  Why is this cop coming towards them?  Will they be killed before our hero finishes his sentence?

At the end of the scene -- the cop arrests our hero, telling the heroine he's a murderer.  Or the mysterious woman gets on the phone and says, "All is going as planned."  Or the killer fires shots.  The movie is far from over since new questions/problems have been raised.

In contrast, at the climax of a movie, all questions are answered, all the things and characters that help our hero are stripped away. He/she has to stand or fall on his/her own strength/weakness. Think of the shoot-out in High Noon. Think of the subway scene in The Matrix.  Think of the final battle in Silence of the Lambs.  Even if there are other people around, they don’t matter. They're almost invisible. If our train platform scene is functioning as the climax, our hero will say what's on his mind regardless of who else is around and our heroine will hear him.

Of course there are a myriad of exceptions.  We can all think of climax scenes that intricately involve more than two persons.  We can all think of great two-person scenes that don't occur at the climax.  But I would argue that many two-person scenes work because information is held back, a question is left unanswered, or the scene somehow makes references to a scene or scenes from a different part of the movie or from a different movie altogether (i.e., parody scenes or homage scenes). Again, we process what's there versus what's not there, what we see versus what we've seen.

In conclusion, two's company, three's a crowd -- but not usually when you're writing a screenplay. 

[1] David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson often write about how narrative films raise questions and thereby foster audience participation.