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 -- http://kosmiceggprojects.blogspot.com, http://kosmicegg.blogspot.com, http://kosmicegg.tumblr.com and http://kosmiceggtarot.wordpress.com. 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: http://kosmicegg.blogspot.com/2011/10/head-long-into-health.html

And, also I've been working on some projects that don't require such a long attention span here: http://kosmiceggtarot.wordpress.com/2011/12/10/ought/, and here: http://kosmicegg.tumblr.com/

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 again....at 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?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Give up the Obvious

I have spent the last several months exploring all kinds of interesting options for screenwriters and filmmakers.

Starting with a broad idea that SOMETHING has to give in the world of movie making and movie distribution to bring the audience back, I have been interviewing people in different disciplines in the industry and related industries to get a handle on what the thinking is today, and what the possiblissities are tomorrow. My beef is that spending $100 on a mediocre experience is not something I want to repeat over and over again just because I think I love the movies. The number of times I have left a cinema thinking, "Wow, that was just not worth that much money," are countless and embarrassing. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice or maybe 30x and shame on me. You know?

In a world where technology drips from the rooftops like a rainy day, going to old-time, linear, flat screen experiences with no interaction are just...boring. I am a huge HUGE believer in story. But, the STORIES ARE BORING and redundant to the point of having always two movies out that seem to have the same story (i.e. "No Strings Attached" and "Friends with Benefits"). The presentation is BORING. The theaters are BORING. Yeah. 3-D worked for about a minute.

People in Hollywood! What are you thinking?

Well, I suspect the economy has been used as an excuse for lack of vision by more executives than just President Obama. It's like we've been playing a game of "freeze tag" and they didn't get the message that they can move. So, I'm saying they're out of the game for a while.

But, I have observed some movement on television that I find intriguing. They have those silly scan squares now popping up here and there, Jon Stewart, CBS shows, and I've followed a few of them with some curiosity. So far, nothing to write home about, but it gives me hope that there may be a shift happening. What Hollywood is missing is this very simple thing: the AUDIENCE can be as entertaining as the show.

I interviewed a lovely guy who has worked with a large cable network as a strategic development Senior VP person with visionary ideas. It seems that Hollywood wasn't quite ready to jump on board, and that is a shame because he had some very cool projects in the tube of development. In the end he ended up deciding to pursue the more avante guard world of film festivals where new experiences can be tested with less risk, and a more devoted audience. He told me that in the UK there is a preview show at some theaters where the audience in three different theaters "drive" race cars via motion control cameras in the theater. The three theatres each have their own vehicle, and one of them "wins" the race because the audience caught on to how to move to manipulate their assigned car. Then the winning theatre gets a concession coupon texted to their smart phones. Cool, huh? Ah the possiblissities!

I've interviewed web designers, app designers and programmers of all sorts to see how this magnificent idea engine of the internet and smartphones can be integrated into a cinematic experience. It turns out that it isn't really that hard to imagine accomplishing it in a short time. OMG.  All I have to do is raise about $35- $55,000 to develop some kind of interactive app that we could be enjoying in a year or so with some brave Hollywood and Cinema Distribution people on board.  Somebody give me the money!

To this end...and to other ends...I am experimenting and hoping to raise funds for another creative project that has been near and dear to my heart for a long time. It may seem to have nothing to do with film, however, give up the obvious on this one folks. I love Tarot. I'm not the only screenwriter and screenwriting instructor who does -- John Truby has a whole development program using Tarot on his website. I could wax poetic about how they're linked in story, in character, in the way symbolism and allegory communicates, but that would miss the real point. The point is I am raising funds for a creative project to write and illustrate about Tarot on Kickstarter called The Kosmic Egg Tarot Project and the thing is that I really want to finish this piece of work as much as I want to do all of the other creative projects I have up my sleeve. I need financial support to start getting my ideas out into the world where you all can experience them! This is my first foray into the world of Kickstarter, but if it works, I promise you that I will be bringing an experimental cinema experience project before you within the next  6-12 months. Ah the possiblissities!