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Links and Additional Resources for the Aspiring Screenwriter

July 23rd, 2014 by Kelly Lin

Editor’s Note: This post is in conjunction with a special summer program on Hulu called Hulu Summer Film School. This summer, Hulu is using some of your favorite films to explore how filmmakers use elements such as sound, cinematography, and lighting to tell powerful stories and create moments that are unforgettable. Learn more at hulu.com/film-school. 

Want to expand your knowledge of screenwriting but not sure where to start?

Here are a couple extra credit resources to get you on the ‘write’ path.

- Go into the Story’s Script Database – Free and legal copies of some of the most recent and popular screenplays. After perusing the screenplays, check the website’s blog for screenwriting lessons and interviews with famous screenwriters.

-BBC Writer’s Room Guide to Script Formatting – A script about how to format a script.

-Andrew Stanton’s TED Talk - The man behind Finding Nemo and Wall-E gives his take on the keys to a great story.

-Dan Harmon’s Guide to Story Structure- The creator of Community provides his own interpretation of the Three-Act Story Structure, the story circle. See how the structure plays out in Breaking Bad here.

-The ScriptNotes podcast from John August and Craig Mazin - A weekly podcast from the writers of titles such as Big Fish, The Hangover Part II, and Frankenweenie, covering topics such as story structure, character development, and the nuts and bolts of entering the industry. A must-listen for any aspiring screenwriters.

Happy writing!

Famous Screenwriters: Not Always an Oxymoron

July 21st, 2014 by Christopher Rowe

Editor’s Note: This post is in conjunction with a special summer program on Hulu called Hulu Summer Film School. This summer, Hulu is using some of your favorite films to explore how filmmakers use elements such as sound, cinematography, and lighting to tell powerful stories and create moments that are unforgettable. Learn more at hulu.com/film-school.

Screenwriters never get any love. That’s the conventional wisdom when it comes to film. Even the most brilliant writers toil to bring an idea to screen, but their fate is the same: indifference and obscurity for the writer, praise and immortality for the director.

Television and theater are different. Here, writers are seen to have primary creative control and may go on to have successful, respectable careers. But adjectives like “successful” and “respectable” are far too healthy for screenwriters. If you’re not a writer/director, you can be fairly certain that your name won’t even register in the mind of 99% of your film-going audience.

Occasionally, though, a screenwriter flouts conventional wisdom and gains recognition and success for their winning personality, thoughts on cultural issues of international importance, and charming physique. Ok. A screenwriter has never gained recognition for any of those things. But if I said the following writers became famous for their screenplays, you never would have believed me, would you?


Charlie Kaufman is probably the closest thing we have to a modern screenwriting auteur – that is, someone whose authorial voice seems to overpower a work so as to leave an indelible creative fingerprint. Though he’s taken the plunge into writing/directing with 2008’s Synecdoche, New York, Kaufman first gained widespread notice for his screenplay for 1999’s Being John Malkovich. From there, cinephiles eagerly awaited projects with Kaufman attached as writer. Kaufman wrote for directors like Spike Jonze, George Clooney, and Michel Gondry, but the thread that seemed to most strongly link Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind wasn’t that it fit into a particular director’s filmography. It was that it came from the mind of Charlie Kaufman.


Other writers have succeeded in writing movies, too. Nora Ephron came from a journalism background. Ephron reportedly helped in shaping the script for the Watergate-thriller All the President’s Men (she was married to Bernstein). She gained critical and commercial attention for her scripts for movies like Silkwood and When Harry Met Sally before writing and directing movies like Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. Listen to Nora talk about her experiences as a screenwriter on Charlie Rose here.


Shane Black is a writer-turned-filmmaker who gained attention when he sold his screenplay for Lethal Weapon in the 1980s, thus helping to launch one of the most successful action franchises. Black became a symbol of the confident, financially successful writer and made his directorial debut with 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Though Dustin Lance Black (no known relation to Shane Black) had quite a bit of experience writing and directing, he gained notoriety and celebrity after winning the 2008 Oscar for best original screenplay for Milk. In 2011, Dustin Lance Black penned the Clint Eastwood directed J.Edgar, and his name was a selling point in the film’s marketing.

What does this mean? That screenwriters live in a time when they’ll be loved and admired? That it’s easy to write something that gets made into a movie? A good movie? That writers who face disillusionment and rejection will one day be vindicated – an object of adoration in the center of a circle made up of beloved family and friends? No. It just means making it as a screenwriter is hard, but if you’re lucky enough to pursue a dream in writing movies, there are some stars on the horizon to help you out.

Visit the Hulu Summer Film School page to watch films from some of our favorite screenwriters and get a crash course on the classics.

The Three-Act Structure: The Repeating Phantasm Of Story

July 18th, 2014 by Jonathan Katz

Editor’s Note: This post is in conjunction with a special summer program on Hulu called Hulu Summer Film School. This summer, Hulu is using some of your favorite films to explore how filmmakers use elements such as sound, cinematography, and lighting to tell powerful stories and create moments that are unforgettable. Learn more at hulu.com/film-school. 

Before anyone ever utters “Lights! Camera! Action!” another famous triplet makes its appearance in the filmmaking process: Act One, Act Two, and Act Three.

The Three-Act Structure is the most basic and traditional form of structuring a story for film.  While plenty of films can, and do, deviate, the Three-Act Structure remains the tried and true staple of screenwriting. Let’s dig a little deeper into each act, using the comedy classic “Ghostbusters” as a guide.

!!!SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

ACT ONE:

The purpose of the first act is to introduce the audience to our hero’s world: We experience his status quo.  We see what’s missing in his life. We need to know how things are so we can see just how drastic the eventual changes can be.

In Ghostbusters, scientist Peter Venkman and his colleagues live a mundane life as paranormal researchers at a university.  Venkman is especially lonely for love, to the point of messing with his own experiments to get close to a woman.

But Act One isn’t all about playing the name game with the hero.  It also contains the inciting incident – the first time the hero’s status quo gets shaken up.  Sometimes it’s an invitation for change; Other times, the change just lands in their lap.  This call-to-action is irresistible: Though heroes may resist, they always give in.

When the university decides to strip their funding, Venkman and his colleagues are dismissed from campus.

Now, with nowhere to go, they decide to start their own little business – the “Ghostbusters.”

ACT TWO: 

The second act in the three-act structure is the main meat of the film and is usually separated into halves by the midpoint.  The first half finds our hero embarking on his new journey. He reacts to the inciting incident and follows that path until the story swings in a new direction at the midpoint.

After a crazy yet successful ghost-bust,

the team’s business booms and they quickly become a national sensation.

However, Egon notices that the ghostly activity has been growing quickly.  Our midpoint occurs when Zuul, the demon-dog appears.  This event twists the story from happy-go-lucky scientists catching cute little ghosts to something much more sinister than they all anticipated: The apocalypse is coming.

After the midpoint, things get dangerous for the hero.  The villain makes considerable progress, the hero is in mortal danger, and outside forces from a third party sometimes affect the hero’s fight. The end of Act Two puts the hero at the bottom of the proverbial pit, with the stakes higher than ever and hopes lower than ever.

In Ghostbusters, the government cracks down on the team, shutting them down and releasing all their captured ghosts into the wild.

So while the world is one step closer to the apocalypse, the Ghostbusters find themselves in jail, stripped of their equipment.

ACT THREE: 

In Act Three, the hero must use everything he’s learned over the course of the story to fight back.  He’s overpowered, but not outsmarted. The experience of Act Two has armed him with information, skills, and confidence to defeat the villain and restore order to the world.

In Ghostbusters, Venkman and the team convince the city to free them so they can fight Zuul and stop the apocalypse. Zuul is their toughest foe yet, and they fight harder than they ever to save humanity from destruction.

These three scientists go from disrespected fools at a university to the men who save the world.  Even lonely ol’ Venkman finds a little bit of love.  This is the final function of Act Three: to show how the character’s world from Act One has changed as a result of the story.

Starting with “getting to know you” in Act One, then navigating the labyrinth of Act Two, and ending with the pulse-pounding climax of Act Three, the Three-Act Structure helps divide up a story into the satisfying emotional experience that we’ve all come to know and love: a “movie.”

 

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Summer School’s in Session: Welcome to Hulu Summer Film School

July 18th, 2014 by Kelly Lin

Whether they’re transporting us into a world of fantasy or revealing a deeper truth of our present moment, great films have a way of touching our hearts and changing how we look at the world. Using elements such as sound, cinematography, and lighting, filmmakers are able to tell powerful stories and create moments that are unforgettable. This summer, we’ll be examining these elements of filmmaking through some of the films that employ them best.

Each week we’ll be posting a playlist of films related to a filmmaking technique along with supplemental content designed to give you an in-depth look behind the making of some of your favorite films. So sit back, relax, and explore the wonders of cinema through some of the medium’s most iconic works. Hulu Summer Film School is officially in session.

All great movies start with a great story. This week we’re exploring the building blocks behind what makes a great story through a selection of films which either exemplify the classic Hollywood structure or remix it in an innovative way.

Required Viewing: 

1) Ghostbusters
Screenwriters: Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, and Rick Moranis

The Three Act Structure- The Repeating Phantasm of Story” by Jonathan Katz (an analysis of the Three-Act Structure in “Ghostbusters”)

2) La Jetée
Screenwriter: Chris Marker

Told entirely through still photographs, this post-apocalyptic short tells the story of a troubled man who travels back to his past to rescue his war-torn present. Director Chris Marker uses the frozen nature of images as a metaphor for the fragmented quality of our memories. Besides putting our Windows Movie Maker slideshows to shame, this film is a master class in using imagery as a tool to convey a powerful message.Key term: allegory 
- Kelly Lin 

3) Robocop
Screenwriters: Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner

Known more for director Paul Verhoeven’s penchant for graphic violence and orchestrated mayhem, it’s the writing duo of Neumeier and Miner that gives “Robocop” its signature wit. At first blush, the film seems like a standard revenge story: a good cop is murdered and gets payback against the criminals and the corporation that destroyed him. But a deeper exploration reveals a subversion of genre storytelling – balancing mordant satire with absurdist (and dark) humor – to create a tone so compelling that by the film’s end the audience is on its feet in applause. The feel-good movie of 1987. Key term: tone        
- Naveen Singh

4) Jules et Jim
Screenwriters: François Truffaut & Jean Gruault 

“Jules et Jim” is François Truffaut’s tragic romance that deconstructs the structure of the classical filmic romance. Traditionally, a Hollywood romance involves dramatic tension between two romantically linked characters. “Jules et Jim” places emphasis on one character in particular (Jules), but the interpersonal tension that plays out is with his friend (Jim) and his lover (Catherine)—it’s a freewheeling romantic triangle. Whereas the classical romance ends in answering whether or not the central couple ends up together, “Jules et Jim’s” modern tact ends more explosively and rebelliously by invoking larger existential questions. Key Term: Deconstruction        
- Christopher Rowe 

5) Hoop Dreams
Screenwriter: Steve James & Frederick Marx

It’s the NBA or bust in this documentary about two high school kids from the Bronx who dream of basketball fame. Through scenes that depict the boys’ struggles in school, the pressure to join gang life, and their problems at home, Lee underlines the many obstacles that stand in the way of their dreams, and in doing so, renders the climactic final game all the more powerful. Key term: conflict
-Kelly Lin 

6) Exit through the Gift Shop
Screenwriter: Banksy

Is it all real or a giant hoax? Elusive street artist Banksy kept everyone guessing with his first film feature about an eccentric French shopkeeper who becomes an overnight art sensation named Mr. Brain Wash. Banksy has claimed that the story is real, yet “Gift Shop” is widely accepted to be a satire used as a device to comment on the current commercialized, inauthentic state of the art world. Whether Mr. Brain Wash is real, fake, or actually Banksy himself, Banksy’s message is quite clear: These days, it’s easy for for anyone to be considered an “artist.” Key term: satire
-Sheila Dichoso 

7) Husbands and Wives
Screenwriter: Woody Allen

The divorce of their close friends forces a couple to question the stability of their own relationship in this romantic drama from Woody Allen. What makes this film and other Woody Allen films so great is his refusal to pin down a clear protagonist or antagonist. Through the extended sequences of dialogue in “Husbands and Wives,” Allen depicts both the couple and their friends as egotistical and bitter, yet also vulnerable and lonely. As a result, his characters become multi-dimensional and ultimately relatable. Key terms: protagonist, antagonist  
- Kelly Lin 

8) Rashomon
Screenwriter: Akira Kurosawa & Shinobu Hashimoto

In Kurosawa’s “Rashomon,” a horrific murder is recounted through multiple witnesses, with each giving a slightly different account of the same crime. Instead of focusing on which witness is telling the truth, it focuses more on how we tend to remember events as we want to remember them rather than how they actually happened. Since its release, “Rashomon” has become a staple of virtually every introductory film studies textbook and its story structure, now known as The Rashomon Effect, has influenced everything from “The X-Files” to “South Park.” Key Term: Rashomon Effect
- Kelly Lin 

Extra Credit: 
“Famous Screenwriters – Not Always an Oxymoron” by Christopher Rowe 
“Links and Additional Resources for the Aspiring Screenwriter” by Kelly Lin

COMING SOON…
Week 2: Cinematography (July 26)
Week 3: Color Theory and Lighting (August 2)
Week 4: Costumes and Set Design (August 8)
Week 5: Soundtrack, Score, and Sound Design (August 16)
Week 6: Animation (August 23)
Week 7: Post Production & Special FX (August 30)

Visit the Hulu Summer Film School page to watch the films and learn more about this project.

Everyone Needs to Calm Down: It’s The Hotwives of Orlando

July 15th, 2014 by Editor

Beverly Hills has fancy cars and botox; New York has society parties and the Hamptons; Atlanta, lavish homes and expensive weaves.But there’s a new, untapped hotbed of luxury and haute couture in a city often overlooked: Orlando, Florida. At least, that’s what the creators of Hulu’s newest Original, The Hotwives of Orlando, want you to believe in the new parody show officially debuting today. 

Created by Danielle Schneider and Dannah Feinglass Phirman, the The Hotwives of Orlando features a strong cast of female comedy vets including Casey Wilson, Kristen Schaal, Angela Kinsey, Andrea Savage and Tymberlee Hill jumping into the high-heeled shoes of the outrageous society women we’ve all come to appreciate in our own special way. And whether it’s a Roaring ‘20s Intervention party or a ghost-shouting séance, these ladies know how to bring the dramain the most hilarious way possible. We politely asked the cast and creators to calm down for a minute and to tell us about how the show came together.

Tell us how the concept of the show came about: 

Danielle Schneider: It comes from a place of love. We think of it as an homage to the Housewives. I’ve been watching them since way before it was cool, from the very beginning, so this is definitely a tribute to them.

Dannah Feinglass Phirman: I came a little bit later to the Housewives but fell in love and become addicted.

Danielle: So Paul Scheer, our producer, came to us with this idea that might be kind of fun to do, and we were like ‘Yes! This is our dream job! How do we do it immediately?’ So we applied our love and our skills and wrote a script and then went out to all the funniest ladies we knew…

Andrea Savage: and when they all said no, they came to us!

Did you have a certain female comedian in mind for each character?

Danielle: I think the only person for sure was Casey Wilson, who is a good friend of ours and also a huge fan of the Housewives. I think she was someone who was on board from the day we said go, and then as we wrote and continued to get the women that we have, they all sort of made the roles their own just by doing them.

How true did you stay to the script and how much was improv?

Tymberlee Hill: I think that was an individual thing, because I know I don’t have an improv background, so I wasn’t just going to go with whatever came through [my head]. But I didn’t have to because the writing was so good. Also [Danielle and Dannah] were sitting right next to us when shooting, so if something funny came up, they were usually like, ‘let’s give it a go!’

Dannah: Also the way that these ladies worked made it feel very improvised. A lot of times I couldn’t tell they weren’t improvising, but reading what I wrote!

Andrea: But a lot of it was there on the page. Danielle and Dannah really did come up with a great script.

Kristen Schaal: These two are the next Aaron Sorkins, for sure.

Was the original intent to take it to Hulu?

Danielle: When we first wrote it we didn’t know what it was going to be, we were just hoping to do something fun with it. And then when Hulu came aboard it become something bigger than we ever imagined and we’re super excited about it.

Are there ideas floating around for a Season 2? 

Danielle: We’re definitely thinking about it, but right now it’s wide open. So fingers crossed!

Did you get to keep anything from the set?

Tymberlee: I got to keep a couple of the dresses!

Danielle: I’m not sure where that tight little pursy is—it’s funny to see something that you write on the page and think ‘oh that sounds kind of funny,’ to actually seeing it made and realize ‘We birthed that into existence.’ 

Kristen: That’s something to be proud of.

Be sure to check out all episodes of The Hotwives of Orlando now streaming on Hulu!