Friday, July 18, 2014

Working with Writers

It's been nearly a year since I checked in here because I finally realized last December, 2013 that I had to give some time to my brain for healing fully and stop making any other goals move up the list of priorities above that. It takes a long time for a brain to heal, or for a person to come to terms with what is what after brain surgery or trauma. Though hard to grasp that in the midst of impatience, I've made some progress in accepting that there are things that are not going to change quick enough for my satisfaction, and I've taken up an attitude of doing what I can reasonably and sustainably. This influences everything from mundane chores to my most creative endeavors. I am coming to terms with my right to live for my own sake.

As writers, we have to adjust constantly in order to get it done. If I could write quickly for years, and thought that was great, but didn't succeed as well as I'd hoped, writing slowly now is chalk full of challenges I'm discovering. I am in a constant state of developing beyond where I once was comfortable. Sometimes it floors me that I would still want to write when it is so difficult! But, I do and so day by day I'm creating a new practice that I can live with and feel good about with a different endgame in mind. 

Did I say endgame? Yes, I did. For many years I believed the endgame was to create "successful screenplays" that could be produced in Hollywood, for a price I could retire on, and create a returning audience that I could produce a dozen experiences for over a decade. My endgame was all about working as a professional writer, and I spent years studying the craft, and trying to make my ideas fit into the expectations of a professional screenwriter. This turns out to be only the BEGINNING.

Everything is in constant process of change, and I don't mean just my brain. The entire business that was my endgame is on the verge of transmutation in terms of the way things are done. The movie industry is in metamorphosis, and yet they keep making money with fewer, and many affirm less wonderful movie products. How many box theaters have closed in your neck of the woods, and yet some theater distributors have just had record number producing years? If you need proof that the industry isn't relying on old formulas, look at the stocks of giants like SonyViacom and Time-Warner. The only game in town isn't Disney and they're pretty well planned out for some seven years with enormous investments in the tried and true franchises like Marvel and Star Wars. Kickstarter and other crowd-funding sources have become the second-full-time job of any producer or director to find the finances to create a film. Stalwart film distributors like AMC Theaters have been in overdrive trying to create new experiences for the theater-goers to get them out of their home theater set ups. Meanwhile Apple, Google, Amazon and Samsung continue to promise private home entertainment that far surpasses the interactive experience an audience can have publicly, even if the privacy of that experience is questionable. Isn't this just what I was writing about several years ago? Yet it is still unfolding...

What is a writer to do when the rules fly out the door? Well, remember this one thing...just because the way the industry as we know it has been dying, doesn't mean it is gone, and certainly doesn't mean the audience is dying. The audience still wants great, moving entertainment and dare I say it? Art. The popular term today, "content," is the fruit that everyone still loves. The audience needs it to be fantastically nourishing in today's world. Because, no one can actually know for sure which way the new industry of on-demand, on-line, niche theaters, and free/advertiser supported entertainment is headed, now your choices are your own as a writer and creator. It is a terrific time for writers because the answer is simple. 

Write what you want to see. Write how you want to be entertained. Write in a way that moves you to laughter and tears. Write stories of life lived through these tumultuous times. Write stories to break our hearts. Write stories to lift us up. Write stories in your own best length, and with or without all of the special effects available. Write stories to become interactive. Write stories that take the time to dive deeply into research. Write stories that take time to develop well. Write stories with characters who have something important, and more than what we expect, to say and let their voices be heard through all of the devices available.

It takes courage. This is true. Can you expect "overnight" success in a world where successful directors are teaming up overseas, or taking on crowd-funding sites just to finance their projects? Uhm. No. Overnight success will be surprising and probably faddish for the next decade. Money will be wasted. Time will slip by, guaranteed, but if you can see that this is a ten year development process ahead, and that there will be fits, starts and flops, then there is hope for you. Isn't that what you kind of expected anyway? Isn't that a writer's life?

I have favorite screenwriting masters who I revere for their respect/disrespect of structure and their original ideas, and I do not claim to be one of them, yet. You can find them on Youtube, or visit a number of great on-line web classes. I am a great teacher though for getting a writer going, and maintaining commitment through a project even when it becomes hard and unpleasant. Did I just say that writing can become hard and unpleasant? Yup. If you're still excited about this endeavor, and you'd like to work with a coach who knows old-school screenwriting structure front and back, but is excited to push beyond that, to push towards a future that envisions more depth and the ability to draw the audience back again and again for a new experience, then check out my rates (they haven't changed in 2 years!) and send me a message ( I am the one who can keep nudging you through until you have a piece of work that you feel great about, that has respectable structure so that it doesn't fall down in faddishness, but also breaks through the unnecessary and opens a story for today's and tomorrow's audience. 

Ayn Rand had some things right. We have to create for our own lives. We write with the understanding that there is immediate reaction and long-term judgment, but we can't care one iota about it. We have the right to ask for our own terms and to stand by them. I'm not sure I would recommend tearing things down in quite such a legally tricky manner as Mr. Roark did in The Fountainhead, but certainly walk away from those who would tear down your work and add artifice to make it fit some ideal that no longer exists. This is not the time to look backwards, Writers!

I want to add a little testimonial that I received this week from one of my current students, whom I've been working with for over a year now, though I am blushing. Just so you know that I'm the real deal, and I'm not going to rush you through this process:

I was thinking on my way to work ….what does our relationship,  coaching sessions and journey remind me of...?

And then it hit me.   I feel like you are my Anne Sullivan and I am Helen Keller! - Gina Higgins

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Rare Event

Sometimes I feel so excited about the inevitable changes in the entertainment industry that I feel I have to get it down in words. Such a moment is happening as I watch CBS give the finger to the cable industry. It was more than two decades ago that we watched the upstart cable channels learning to walk in the world of programming. Network TV was at the top of its game, and frankly, resting on its laurels half asleep to the potential that cable networks posed to them. They, the HBOs et al, were thought of along the lines of "B-Movies," second rate in every way, something that would be watched only by insomniacs, a place to send failed movies and untried television writers.

Then cable grew. It grew in every genre. It grew and it grew, and not just in shows, but in the ability to deliver a clear channel, via broadband, and satellite. Now network television, the crown jewel of home entertainment had to grovel to be a part. All of the tried and true methods of first-run to second-run re-runs disintegrated. Not to mention the awful inventions of home video recordings, then DVDs, then the freakish TiVo to undo advertising dollars. Truly it looked like the end of network TV even two or three years ago.

You may ask yourself what happened, as I did. What is giving CBS the shit to stand up and say, "NO!" to Time-Warner contracts? Is it merely the fact that it is the top network in programming? Of course, as a writer this is my true wish and certainly it helps the case for the ending of torture by cable bundling. The fact that CBS has left all of the other classic networks in the DUST with shows like NCIS, Elementary, The Big Bang Theory and Mike and Molly is surely helpful. There is no doubt about this, but it isn't the reason that CBS can say, "Buh-bye" to cable.

Along came Netflix, Hulu and any number of on-line streaming upstarts. Who needs cable, when you can watch entire seasons of reruns, and now get new programming on-demand? Honestly, this is a tale of Hollywood lore unfolding. Netflix, the company that revolutionized home entertainment by mailing out DVDs, looked like it was going under in a big way just a year or two ago has seen its stock rise to near its former zenith this past quarter because it has made the leap from the atomic age to the electronic one. It is now the leader in on-line streaming content, and it will never go back. Just the notion that CBS is looking at this and thinking, "hmmm," has my tits standing to attention. Now there's an idea. No more fucking bundles.

As the film industry was sure television would never catch on, and as the television industry was sure the cable industry would never catch on, so is the cable industry shrugging over "PewdiePie" on YouTube as if it is a fad (please note the number of views and the ad that paid them). Just as HBO is hitting the prime of its programming genius an upstart is stealing our attention, and no longer hiding behind the curtain. You know, it suddenly makes sense to have 40,000 film school graduates, if only they would change the NAME OF THE SCHOOLS. If it were me, I'd  be much more interested in studying "Transmedia Content" and get on with my life.

Here's my prediction: HBO and Showtime could be scrambling like network TV in less than five years to get your attention. CBS will rise above its own narrow field and become a new leader in content providing. Netflix will surpass its zenith stock prices of yesteryear's DVD land. PewdiePie and his progeny will make you laugh your pants off. Going to the movies will become a past-time for elitists who are sentimental about the smell of popcorn and willing to pay $100 for the chance to relive it.

Over and out from the Speculative Screenwriter

Thursday, February 21, 2013

It's A New Day

This an interesting moment for me. It's been a year since surgery. I've been making art and sinking myself into visuals. I think screenwriting for me may be going into my storage unit, a nostalgic collection of what I've learned about telling stories. Who knows what will feed into my new life?  I value the graceful structure of a great screenplay more than I can say, and think about how it could feed a series of paintings, of poems and even my memoirs

Just being done with screenwriting has made watching movies SO MUCH MORE ENJOYABLE to me. I've really felt better about movies as an audience member than I have as a writer for years. To that end, please go see great movies in the theater. Even the personal dramas like "The Silver Lining Playbook," deserve the silver screen as much as "Life of Pi," or "Cloud Atlas," or the great epic dramas like, "Lincoln." We've just been blessed this year by some fabulous choices. They are not re-runs. The Oscars are this weekend and as usual I'm looking forward to watching them. Maybe this year I won't be jealous. Grin. Maybe.

I've entered one of my art pieces in a contest to start the long road of gaining credibility as an artist. Just as I've urged my screenwriting students to do. This is the painting, and if you click on it, please vote in the month of February, 2013. It is in the "Monthly Voting Gallery," on Page 2.  If I am a winner for the Monthly Gallery then I will be in the final round of this contest and have a chance to be seen by many people in the art world, and to win a "full studio" Super Shawn Taboret, a nifty piece of furniture that will allow me to leap to professional development in my small quarters. 

C.G. Jung Laughs, Oil Pastels on Black Archival Paper, 19" x 25", 2012 (c) Amanda Morris Johnson
Thank you so very much for your interest and support in the past few years. Please consider following me on Facebook, or on my other URLs Kosmic Egg --,, and As you will see, writing is still very much part of my world, and I speculate that all that I know will feed it in an entertaining and interesting way...

Monday, December 10, 2012


It has been a long time since I posted about screenwriting. Though you can visit some new writing at Kosmic Egg Projects (art), Kosmic Egg (poetry), Kosmic Egg (personal news)  and Kosmic Egg Tarot.  It has been nearly 10 months (February 2012) since I had brain surgery to remove a benign meningioma. Since then, I have focused much of my attention on visual art - always telling a story visually is the underpinning to screenwriting. I have found this practice has opened my mind to new stories and adventures with writing, but even more importantly perhaps, has opened a new way of expressing the stories I'm interested in...visually. You can see my work at Kosmic Egg Projects page on Facebook.
Morning Ritual, Oil Pastel on Black Paper,
2012 (c) Amanda Morris Johnson

To that end, I've taught my last screenwriting class for the foreseeable future...well,  until I work with a group of high school kids in Boulder who've asked me to teach in March of 2013. Otherwise, I've let it go because I have other pots to brew in. I am willing only to work with the very most dedicated group of writers at this point, and other than the small group of kids, only individually. Wow! That's so limited, but I want to be reasonable about what I really have to offer at this stage of the game.

If you want to work with me on building a writing career, you have to work hard. You have to commit yourself to no less than 10 hours a week of writing, and two hours of private tutoring no less than every other week. I don't want to waste your time or mine.

My expectations are that you have written before, that you are looking to improve and that discipline is your new middle name. You will hear essential story writing craft information but more importantly you will hear questions. I will ask you questions until you are able to answer without hesitation about what your story is, what is your point of view, who are your characters and what don't they know. I will not write the story for you. At times I may seem unfeeling, but truthfully, screenwriting is more than a craft, more than an art. It is a business. Are you ready?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Little hiatus never hurts a writer

I'm taking a hiatus from screenwriting at the moment for my brain's sake. I was diagnosed with a benign meningioma back in October, and have been having a heck of a time with getting on the right medication for surgery. After a lot of fits and starts surgery is tentatively scheduled for mid-February. Unfortunately, it means I miss this terrific event: Boulder International Film Festival

I highly recommend that you check it out and see what independent filmmakers are up to right now. In storytelling and movie making it is all about staying present with what is going on in front of your eyes, right? So get thee to some films, and let me know what you see.

Meanwhile, if you're interested in my story, it begins here:

And, also I've been working on some projects that don't require such a long attention span here:, and here:

Friday, September 9, 2011

Essential Screenwriting Craft

You've been thinking about a film script forever, it seems. You've even written some scenes, but, darn it, you keep getting stuck. Life takes over and leads you away from that dream. It seemed so easy in your head to see a full movie, but now that you want to put it on paper...argh! What a mess!


Screenwriting is a craft first and an art form second. It is a business venture. When you are in business, you learn skills that will support your business. This means you can learn the bits and pieces that you need to know, and you can practice the craft until you become its master. You want to become a master crafts person so that you can succeed. Once you are a master crafts person, then your work is so indelible and unique, it becomes art.

I have been teaching screenwriting for more than half a decade. I have seen it all. The big resistance I get almost every single class is the idea that "formula" is a bad thing. "Damned rules! I became a writer so I don't have to follow rules!" Ehscoose mi? sense win deed righting stup folouching roools? The "formula" behind a screenplay is so ancient that it precedes celluloid. The fact is that we start training in it beginning with the first fairy tale we see performed by puppets. It is ingrained in our expectations of every genre that certain milestones happen when we watch a story unfold. The rules allow us to participate as an audience, and to experience catharsis. As a writer, you want to move people, right?  All, I am doing is cluing you into the hidden structure beneath every successful story you have ever seen.

My class is chock full of insight and technique, and will make your brain explode with helpful lessons. I am not just saying that. I've seen the light bulbs turn on in front of me in the bright-eyed and renewed enthusiasm of my students. I love teaching this information, and I want nothing more than for my students to be wildly successful screenwriters.
I mark that success in many ways:
  • You get out of your head and onto the page
  • You understand the hidden structure of film writing
  • You are more excited to share your story
  • You have a holistic, beginning-middle-end plan for writing your script
  • You are ready for the next step
There are a few spaces left in my screenwriting class that starts Monday. Go to the Events for Screenwriters tab and click on it to sign up! See you there.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Beginning the end

Writing movies is a sometimes harsh and mystifying process, and why would you do that to yourself if you didn't want to see your script actually become a film? Yet, it seems as IMPOSSIBLE to get from here to there, as it does to write the story down. As with the story itself, there's a beginning, middle and end to breaking into an industry that thrives on nepotism, and insider information.

The problem is that writers are often so daunted by learning how to write a screenplay that they cannot see the forest for the trees. Just like any hero, the vague feeling that they've gotten themselves into a pickle only happens when they've actually committed themselves to the process. It comes as a total surprise, for instance, that making movies is a BUSINESS proposition. It's not only about making a beautiful, entertaining story into a charming film that is highfalutin' and award-winning. In fact, the real reason for wanting to win awards has nothing to do with art at all. It has to do with distribution, sales propositions, and ROI.

Argh! What's a creative writer to do? Think about it to begin with! Take a moment to consider your personal end-game before you start. Who will your audience be? Is your audience actually going to the movies regularly??? Maybe your audience is more likely to watch a TV movie? Maybe your audience is more likely to watch free YouTube clips? Don't be afraid to look at films in similar genres that have been successful. Take what's been done as nourishment rather than as competition. Take what's been done and twist it into something new.

Here's an example: If you know your story is about a 45-year old woman and it is not riddled with sex and violence, then it is unlikely to be able to stand alone as a film business proposition. That doesn't mean you don't write it. That means that you work the story and build an audience as you go. Write your outline and look at what you've got. If you like the story, and you feel it could be award-winning, then write a novel first and ePublish it. Send that novel out to everyone you know who will like it and ask them to read it and recommend it. Get it reviewed on Goodreads and Amazon. Build the audience whilst you are developing that screenplay. Or write it as a play, and get it produced and reviewed, and take it to Broadway. When you've got the attention of an audience, then send that screenplay query letter to an agent and include your numbers. That will get you some attention.

It's not that Hollywood doesn't want to make movies about 45-year old women in crisis. It is that they want to make movies that have a likely return on investment. It's that simple. If you're going to be a screenwriter, you have to think of the business end of things right from the beginning.

Writing is not merely about "art," it's about a willingness to work really hard. So, what's your end-game and how are you going to make that happen?