Monday, April 25, 2016

On "On Line screenwriting"

So you've seen some basics of teaching online vs on-site (teacher in room with students). 

So what's the main difference between my way and on-site?

Well, first, on-site means that you see the instructor once a week. Then you go away and write whatever the instructor tells you to do. 

What's the difference?

In my classes my students could access me anytime. Got a problem, email Jim and he will give you an answer within a few hours at the most. You might be able to access your on-site instructor but probably not.

Many of the instructors on both ways don't allow students to access them. Except the instructor's favorites. The ones that suck up to you.

UCLA said I don't have to do it that way but I liked it, and as you saw on the last blog, the students liked it. 

So what it comes down to is this:

On-site gives you a connection with other students face-to-face, you can ask questions instantly and you can read your pages and risk students trashing it. You can also hang around campus, I always did when I took classes at UCLA. And you might find someone who's not only an aspiring writer but maybe very pretty or handsome.

On-line, you also engage with other students, just not face-to-face although if you're in the same town, you might. I made several friends over the 3 years. And something even better, I think.

Everyone has to write of course, and everyone else has to read it and comment. And everyone has to do it. On-line courses don't really get to see the other person's work.

Another thing I liked was that my classes (always full) had students of all kinds, some who lived in L.A., some lived in Kansas or even a student in Switzerland. One interesting thing was that there were a lot of women taking courses, some classes were mostly women.

So why did I leave?

I got tired, also became too busy working on real scripts. But I'm thinking about doing it again, except a class of my own, the way I want it. Maybe.

Right now I'm wrapping up the "How not to..." book. and going to do some touch-ups on S.O.B., my pilot series.

And hopefully Hallmark has interest in two of my ideas for them. 

Hey, I have 13 viewers from South Korea! Big hello!!!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The advantages of online

Okay, so you read the blood from  stone line... 

So far, it's similar to on-site courses. But it begins to change from the very start.

I had 15 students, the maximum for a semester. And it is a semester that is very real and very UCLA. The difference is that anyone can sign up for a semester or two or a full course. And there are also UCLA students who take the online course as well.

In other words, it can be a real semester course that can count for a grade.

And it can just be fun for someone in Idaho.

But everybody participates.

My first thing is to tell the students (via email) what we're going to do. Everybody has to write. Whereas on-site courses don't always have everyone write. I know a student who took a full four-year course  and didn't write anything.

So the course begins with me giving them assignments. I had different courses, one was a full screenplay, others were "the first act", the second act, etc. etc.

Then I write down the easiest way to write a screenplay.  It takes less than 5 minutes. It goes like this:

Pick out someone, boy or girl. Okay, boy. 
What does he want most in his life?
To be a basketball player.
What's stopping him?
He's short.

There's your movie.

It always comes down to somebody who wants something but can't get it. Every screenplay has this, every one. 

Okay, that's easy enough. But in my courses, as mentioned, everyone had to write. And rather than stand up and read your script in front of the whole class...

... you do it by writing your scene, or pages.

And here's the real issue; any of the 15 students can offer criticism but however - if you criticize the work someone has done, you have to give them a solution.

And that's one of the advantages of writing online, everyone has to write and everyone has to give criticism with solutions. I don't know if other instructors do that, but I did. 

Here's another thing, most of the instructors had specific times to post their lecture and have specific times for the students to read it and absorb.

I was different. I was accessible every day because I really liked doing it. And I even got to have friends from the course. But eventually, after 3 years, I began to realize that a lot of students really didn't care, mostly those women in Kansas or men in Michigan, who just really wanted a taste of screenwriting.

And I had a few assignments that conflicted with the courses. But it was fun while it lasted. I even thing that I might do it again. Here's a page of evaluations from students. You can make it larger by left clicking on image then right click on View Image and you can expand it there.

So that's a little more about online teaching. I'll finish it up Friday.

And I'm starting to think more about online courses. 

Or not.

Monday, April 18, 2016

More truth...

 So, okay, here's the second blog about teaching screenwriting. This is all about online teaching and why I think it's better.

Because I did online teaching at UCLA.

And this is why I like online better than on-site.

However, I am going to tell you how I taught, and not how others taught, online or on-site. Again, I will be referring to my book and no, I'm not trying to get you to buy one. 

What I learned about teaching screenwriting online was a lot better than a teacher talking for one hour, like the previous blog.

I would set it up like this: 

I first did that sylabus thing, in which I describe what and how I am going to show you how I write. It's based on 10 produced features and ten rewrites of other writers, not to mention a lot of rewrites that never came through. 

So this is my "theory" on screenwriting for my first class:


Welcome to 10 weeks of attempting to get blood from a stone. At least that’s what I was told many eons ago when I had my first English Comp course way back in Michigan when the Temptations were playing on the PA system and Bobby Kennedy was running for President.

The “blood from a stone” quote is quite real, because that’s what writing can be when it’s hard. When it’s not hard, it flows like a river of music and you feel elated and happy and even the unpaid bills look friendly. Another quote, about the film industry, but appropriate to screenwriting is this, “it’s like being married to a beautiful woman (or man) who cheats on you and you know she cheats on you and it breaks your heart. But every so often, she dresses up just for you and you take her out to dinner and look at her radiance across the table, and you say to yourself, it’s worth it.”

That’s what writing is. Most of the time it breaks your heart but now and then, when it’s working, when you’re watching actors take your lines and lift them to new heights, you know it’s worth it all.

Still with me?  This is my way of throwing you into the world of screenwriting and real writers.  Because if you think it’s just something you do as a lark on the way to making that $4 million spec sale, forget it. It isn’t a job, it’s a way of life, writers are always writing. I spend less than 2 hours a day on my computer (an old Toshiba notebook, if you want to know), but 22 hours thinking writing. Watching characters on the street or in coffee shops, or wherever, listening to people talking, watching their nuances, listening to the shape of their words. Watching people argue, watching people who eat alone in restaurants (I recommend this especially for actors, who can learn incredible amounts from a person eating alone who feels all eyes are on them and acts accordingly).

And when you do finish your great script and if you manage to sell it, then you face the abuse and humiliation of the “rewrite”.  Sometimes this is relatively painless and even inspiring, when you’re working with talented producers and actors who’s egos aren’t threatened by an often more educated and talented writer. Other times, it’s hell.  There’s an old joke, directors hate to have the writer on set because he’s the only one who knows the director’s faking it. We told the story first. He’s just interpreting it.

At least they pay you lots of money. Sometimes.

*Next Wednesday I'll get more into why I think good writing can be done online.

Friday, April 15, 2016

More about screenwriting courses.


Had a busy week so I'll give you the "other side" of teaching screenwriting.  And why I think my way is better. Or at least a lot more hands on, as they say. I'm tired and cranky but I have two projects at Hallmark "being looked at."

Now that I told you, it'll be gone by 5pm.

It's a Catholic thing. Whenever everything is going good, there's a voice inside of you that says "You're gonna die."

Have a good weekend wherever you are.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The truth about screenwriting schools


First of all, my book is finished. We just received the go sign, in other words, Amazon is going to post it in the next few days. We're using the cover a few blogs back as it fits well.

So, I have a few people who send me screenplays, mostly beginners. Of the half-dozen there's probably one or two that might get a shot at selling a screenplay. So what's my idea of the chances that students who take courses for hundreds of dollars.

Not very much.

Because there's so many aspiring writers?

Listen to this; I taught screenwriting at one of the best schools for screenwriters - and that's UCLA. My course was an extension class in which both UCLA students and extension students - almost anybody. 

And they got a really good class, I found that extension classes (meaning they learn at home) was a better method of learning how to write screenplays.


I had a few on-site classes to watch before I started teaching and noticed this; each weekly class was four hours in which the teacher talked about screenwriting and towards the end of that first two hours, some discussion.

Then the second part of the class is where one of the students, or two sometime, would face the other students with his/her screenplay, most likely in early stage. 

Then they would face the other students of whom some of them always liked to tear the poor guy's script apart. 

Nice, huh?

Okay, not everyone, but those who think they're smarter than anyone else. Usually there are arguments and depending on the teacher, and what credits he/she has or had in their life.

Because, mostly they haven't sold a script for a long time.

I've always said that all you need to learn how to ride is Syd Field's book and the better one which is The Art Of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri. Field's book can show you how to write and Egri's book shows you what to write.

Nothing else.

Well, my book, not as great as those two, but just as good and better than some, gives aspiring writers more of a journey from starting to write to make your way through the business.

And I've had 40 years of experience.

Yeah, sure Jim, you know everything.

I wish I did, I'd be richer. 

There are around 80 screenwriting books of almost every kind of cute name or odd name or God knows what. (I'm still Catholic).

So, one other thing about classes, is that there's always one or two or more who think they know much better than anyone else in class, usually called bullies or a-holes. They're often teacher's pets and look down on 90% of the others in the room.

And that's because the others aren't as loud, everybody knows that. You don't want to argue with those people. 

I used to be one of the quiet ones, mostly because I stammer a bit. But after writing a lot of screenplays that got sold, I can become one of the loud ones, usually when I hear some of those bullies.

By the way, I've never taken a screenwriting class, mostly because there wasn't a lot of screenwriting classes in the mid 70's. I learned the hard way.

By writing.

Of course, I also worked as a writer/producer for three TV stations, making commercials and documentaries.

So Jim, how did you teach?

That's my next blog, probably Thursday or Friday. I'm in a mood to write so the sooner the better.

So hang along, let's see what we can find.

Friday, April 8, 2016

What fresh hell can this be...

Not my quote, but I sure am feeling it.

Rather it's from Dorothy Parker who was a poet, short story writer and general great source of clips like the one above. She and a few other famous writers began The Algonquin Round Table which was a club for writers and journalists of her time period. She began joining it around 1918.

So what's that about to me?

It's been a hard week or two of "fresh hell" as you might see in my last few blogs. It all started with the indiegogo crowdfunding in which I asked for $2500 to publish my book. Well, I got $2000 which, actually was pretty good.

Then there was some disappointment to one of the artists, with respect to the cover page. After a while it went away - a little bit. I think. 

After all, it is my book.

Then I had a script go down and it looks like it might not get made - at least for now. But that happens.

Then a few days ago, it seemed like part of the creation of the book looked like it could be very expensive. More than what it was supposed to be. This is still uncertain.

But one of the issues went by easily, with a close friend who did the front and back cover which I think I posted a few days back.

There's also some more issues on Ghostkeeper 2, which lags along. And I still don't have a good agent who wants to sell my work. There are agents, but I want a good one. And not one of the big agencies because they don't want me anyways.

They don't want anyone except someone who's just finished a superhero book.

So I am looking for a nice week-end where nobody wants or doesn't want to know or talk to me. But I'm unsure about the formatting.

Did I mention I have to finish my taxes?


Monday, April 4, 2016

From books to Captain America

The last things to do on the book are hopefully easy. Nothing is easy in this publishing thing so I'm not going to be satisfied until Amazon's Createspace unit looks us over to see if everything is good.

And since last time, we had to re-do the Screenwriter book 5 or 6 times, and ended up costing me $1000. That book was a little complicated because I wanted to use full page screenplay pages and that was the problem.

The problem being margins. And since I wanted the full pages on the screenplay, it was very delicate.

But this book wouldn't have margin problems (I'm hoping) as the inserts are reduced to a part of the page and thus shouldn't have any margin problems.

I hope.

But back to the movie world.

For those of you who have netflix, I discovered two really good movies, ironically similar in titles, Before We Go and Before I Disappear. Both worth watching.

Before We Go has Chris Evens in a very different movie than the blockbuster Captain America. This story is simply two strangers who meet and have different plans but have to stay in New York overnight. A man and a woman of course.

The script has a handful of writers but the big name is Ron Bass. Wanna know who he is?
Rainman with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, Joy Luck Club, My Best Friend's Wedding and a few dozen others. But it's still Bass's movie.

I never saw Captain America, but my expert-director-know-it-all expert says that Evens is really good. He must be, he directed it too.

Not a great movie, but certainly a nice watch.  

Before I Disappear is similar in that it's also an overnight story of two lost people but this one has some real edge. It begins with the lead actor in a bathtub with blood in it and he's ready to off himself until the phone rings.

What's amazing is that the actor is also the writer and someone I didn't really know. His name is Shawn Christensen and he made a really good movie. This time the odd couple were him and a young girl, around 12 years old. 

It's basically about two different worlds, he has to take care of his sister's girl who goes to dance school. So you got someone who wants to die and who lives with druggies and now has to look after his sister's daughter because the sister... well, she's in trouble too.

There's one scene in this movie that is total breakout. I played it over again. All I'll say is that it takes place in a bowling alley and goes completely out of the movie for that moment. 

So, I'm slowly getting back to movieworld rather than bookworld. 

Although I could start another screenplay... how about a girl who saves a guy from getting beat-up in a small town bar - overnight.


Friday, April 1, 2016

ALMOST DONE! j(^%&^T^((__% (curses!)

Finally, the book project is almost done. I pay off the person who did the pencil sketches, also known as illustrations, 13 of them for $50 meaning she gets $650 of that indiegogo money of $2000. Actually around $1849 with costs of indiegogo, credit cards and paypal.

Next is the format person, who's already done 2 of my other books, Emperor of Mars and  Working Writer's Screenplay.    His work is detailed and I have no idea how it comes out. I tried once and gave it up. This costs $400.

Finally there's the front and back cover which is actually pretty cool. It's got a photograph I took along Highway 50 in Nevada on one of my documentary gigs. Anyways that's $250.

So how much do I get, less than $500.

Was it worth it?

I suppose so, this way I don't have to use my own money to have it published. Would I do it again?

I don't think so because the majority of that $2000 came from my friends and family. And I don't think they'll be so warm to me for another thing like this. Once is enough.

Monday, I'm back at the movie thing. Looking for an agent who's hungry to sell.

They do exist.

So, off to Library of Congress wherein I start creating the book in terms of my rights and all that other stuff to make sure nobody can steal "How Not To Get Beat Up In A Small Town Bar."

Yeah, way too long. My short address is simply

So there you go.  Thanks for hanging, I can't wait till Monday and away from books and bookstuff.

And ignore that ---hole who looked at a few pages of my book and said it's crap. Welcome to the internet.