Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Art of 3D

In a previous blog, I argued that 3D is another creative tool in the filmmaker's toolbox, including the screenwriter's toolbox (see Screenwriting for 3D). My friend and collaborator, Jacques Thelemaque, wrote on the possibilities of 3D for independent filmmakers (See 3D for Independent Film).

Here's another interesting article I ran across on the creative possibilities of 3D:

Innovation: Mastering the art of 3D film-making

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th is my birthday. Lucky, lucky me.

Nubile teenaged camp counselors beware.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Independent Film Master Class

On August 1st I'll be speaking as part of an "Independent Film Master Class." The day long live web-interactive event covers everything from idea and screenplay (my hour), all the way through marketing and distribution. I'm not getting any sort of fee for speaking and participating, and I'm promoting the event here on my blog because I think it will be an extremely valuable and inspiring day for anyone looking to make their first film.

If you decide to sign up, to attend in person or to watch the webcast, be sure to use the discount code "genrehacks." Read the details below and follow this LINK.

Filmmakers Alliance's

When:     August 1, 2010 - 9 am to 6 pm
Where:    The Downtown Independent Film Theater
                251 S. Main St.
                Los Angeles, CA 90012 (map)

IF YOU CANNOT ATTEND IN PERSON, register now for the Live Interactive Webcast. It is discounted 50% to only $25 for only the next seven days:

Filmmakers Alliance's INDEPENDENT FILM MASTER CLASS is the complete, all-in-one package - a definitive, step-by-step, one-day seminar for independent filmmakers offering all the information you need to get your film MADE and SEEN. The INDEPENDENT FILM MASTER CLASS is a clean, clear, concise and complete independent filmmaking blueprint for your film project that will allow you to sustain your life as a filmmaker!!
  • Concept, Story and Script Development - Developing ideas and concepts that work! Then, writing that script in a way that will get your film made without compromising your vision.
  • Film Financing, Crowdfunding and Beyond - Where to find the money and what you need to do to get it. Also, exploring new strategies in raising money for your film.
  • Pre-production and Production - How to get the most filmmaking bang from your budget - creatively and cost-efficiently managing your project. Also, how best to work with actors, crew, locations, unions, guilds, crafts to ensure your film not only gets made, but looks exponentially more than its cost.
  • Filmmaking Tech Tools and Online Filmmaking Support - Make your production easier to manage and giving yourself tighter control of your project by turning your computer into a portable production office (and saving the cost of overhead). There are amazing new tools online and beyond to help filmmakers - at every stage of the filmmaking process -manage the once overwhelming task of creating, shooting, finishing, promoting and distributing a film. Find out what they are and how best to use them.
  • Post-Production - New technologies, tools and methodologies are making it easier to high end work with a low end budget. Find out what they are and what you need to do give a stunning, world-class finish to your film and how to prepare for it long before you reach post.
  • Festivals and Distribution - Understanding the festival circuit and how to use it to your film’s greatest advantage. And devising and executing a distribution plan that will give your film it’s best shot at success and sustain your filmmaking life!

Speakers include no-budget filmmaking specialist Mark Stolaroff (, post-production expert, Michael Cioni (, Colleen Nystedt founder of the innovative web tool MovieSet (, self-distribution guru Marc Rosenbush (, writer-director Sean Hood ( discussing concept/story development and screenwriting for Indie features, writer-director Liam Finn serving up war stories on his no-budget first feature "Rejouer", filmmakers Diane Bell and Chris Byrne talking about financing and other issues putting together their award-winning Sundance fave "Obselidia", JC Chang ( speaking on new distribution models, tools, and trends, Saskia Wilson-Brown ( speaking about DIY funding strategies with a nod to more traditional ways of raising money -

The seminar also includes filmmaker case-studies and open Q&A; periods, so come prepared with your specific filmmaking questions - the ones that most have you stumped - so that we can take you to the next level.

- 10 filmmakers will be selected from the attendees for a FREE 6-session series of consultations. You MUST submit your project to no later than June 30th for consideration. Please submit no longer than a single page synopsis, a filmmaking resume and links to any previous work. Please DO NOT send video files or full scripts.



Ticket Prices:
$175* - Includes seminar fee plus one year of Filmmakers Alliance membership.
$125* - General seminar fee only.
$75* -  Seminar fee for FA members only (with special discount code)
$50 - Live Interactive Webcast - REGISTER NOW:

*Fee includes lunch and parking.

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These days, a smart filmmaker can make her first feature for two hundred thousand dollars. 200 k is a lot easier to raise than 20 million, but its still no easy task.

Take some tips from the guru at the link below...


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Genre: Good Movies, Bad Movies

Richard Walter, a celebrated storytelling guru and longtime chairman of UCLA’s graduate program in screenwriting, has graciously written a guest article for Genre Hacks. His lectures have become legendary among screenwriting professionals, and his advice to genre writers is both humorous and perceptive. His latest book, Essentials of Screenwriting, is available in stores now .

By Richard Walter

Not quite twenty years ago my wife and I set off to a multiplex to see the then-latest Woody Allen picture. Upon arriving at the theaters, alas, we realized we had come to the wrong location: the Woody Allen picture wasn’t playing there. (I blamed my wife for making the mistake, but may I confess here and now that the error was mine? Can we keep this among ourselves, dear readers of Sean Hood’s blog?)

There wasn’t sufficient time to get to the proper multiplex in time for the Woody Allen, so we decided to see the least dreadful movie playing at the theaters at hand. That seemed to be The Shawshank Redemption. Shawshank… could be said to be something of a genre picture, couldn’t it? Isn’t it a prison picture? If a genre picture is a certain kind of picture, a particular category, isn’t a prison picture just another genre?

The last thing we wanted to see was a prison picture. For one thing, there were likely to be no women in the picture. My wife was cool with that but not I. For another, there would surely be a lot of the usual prison fare: surly cons, vindictive guards, bars, concrete, shadows, a venal warden, the James Cagne actor de jour growling and spitting, vowing through clenched teeth, “I’m gonna break outta this joint!”

Reluctantly we slipped into the theater playing Shawshank….

We loved it!

Notwithstanding Tim Robbins’ low-volume mumbling--For the fees he’s paid can’t he at least speak up? Does he think he’s the ‘B’ Brando?--The Shawshank Redemption is really rather a splendid film. Somewhat overlong (doesn’t it seem too many movies are too long?) the film nevertheless creates characters worth caring about, sites them in scenes and settings and situations that are saturated with the sweet and subtle stress that is essential to sizzling, scintillating, successful dramatic narratives. There is a well wrought through line, a spine for the story that unifies and integrates all the elements, that intrigues and worries the viewer in the best way and ultimately engenders satisfaction.

I was reminded of one of my own central screenwriting principles: There are only two genres: good movies and bad movies.

I read a book recently treating ‘genre screenwriting.’ Here is some advice the author provides for screenwriters working on Thrillers. Use cliffhangers, exploit secrets, invent twists and turns. Here is advice for the writers of Action-Adventure scripts: give your protagonist a clear goal, make your antagonist three dimensional, give the antagonist a strong goal too. Here’s advice for the writers of Horror-Fantasy: give your protagonist a clear goal, give your antagonist a clear goal Isn’t it clear that all genres have the same rules?

Instead of focusing upon those aspects of so-called genres that are on the surface unique, writers should concentrate upon the commonalities, the shared requirements that confront all writers of all scripts. There needs to be a solid story with a beginning, a middle, and end. There must be characters who are complex and, above all else, human. These characters must speak dialogue that is peppy and precious and perky and punchy and poetic and poignant--and those are just the P’s. The dialogue must be worth listening to all for its own sake, but it cannot be there just for its own sake. It also has to move the story forward and provide for the audience a wider appreciation of the characters. Big budget, little budget, horror-fantasy or romantic comedy, the only thing that really counts is a great story. That’s not where writers should end up but where they should start. Genre writers should forget about genre and think about story. They should set themselves to the task not of fulfilling the purported requirements of a particular genre but struggle instead simply to write a compelling story.

Create a solid story and everything else will more or less fall into line.

When you think about the truly brilliant movies, they seem often to mix genres, don’t they? There is plenty of humor, for example, in Hitchcock’s darkest pictures, like Rear Window and Psycho, and certainly North by Northwest. Isn’t Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove both a bite-your-nails thriller involving nuclear annihilation on one hand and a slapstick, fall-down, pie-in-your-face comedy on the other?

Writers should stop thinking genre and, as I have said, start thinking story. They should stay open to the surprises. Instead of satisfying an audience’s expectations, they should exceed One of my favorite films of the past twenty five years is Terminator II. It has more to say about the nature of life and death, of humanity, of identity, of justice and retribution and more. It achieves this all in the context of a futuristic fantasy action-adventure thriller.

I prefer to think of it as just a really good movie.  

Is your screenplay ready to sell? Enter the Richard Walter Online Review Program to win a chance to find out! 

UCLA Professor Richard Walter asserts that one of the biggest mistakes writers make is to market their scripts before they’re truly ready. If you read Richard’s new book, Essentials of Screenwriting, and post an online review of it on, your own blog, Facebook page or favorite user review site (and send the full review and the link to where it appears online to ), you will be entered into a weekly drawing to win a free read of your script by Richard. If he deems it ready, he’ll refer it to a potential representative or directly to a production company. If he feels it is not ready, he’ll send you a letter in which he cites its essential strengths and identifies those issues that in his view require further consideration.

Friday, June 11, 2010

True Stories: Part Three

The Haunting in New York

Film is the most deceptive and artificial of mediums. Still images flash twenty four times a second to create the illusion of movement - images that are mechanically processed and digitally enhanced; images cut, spliced and juxtaposed to give the illusion of continuous time;
images shot of carefully crafted sets and talented actors ignoring hundreds of film technicians surrounding them as they pretend to be afraid of ghosts; images married to unnatural sounds and unsettling compositions, all designed to trick and manipulate the emotions of the gullible viewer. What can it possibly mean, then, when a movie claims that these fabricated images are based on something "true."

I recently finished a screenplay for
The Haunting in New York. The film will be part of the franchise that includes The Haunting in Georgia, which begins shooting this summer, and The Haunting in Connecticut released in 2009. The first in the franchise made 76 million at the Box Office based in part on the bold claim that its uncanny imagery and atmosphere of dread were "based on true events" – events experienced by Carmen Snedeker as portrayed by the author Ray Garton in the book In a Dark Place.

This caused some controversy, as some critics found the claims to "truth" absurd. Some elements in the film, such as the operatic climax and the backstory of seances and occult, were obviously fictional. And the veracity of Carmen Snedeker ‘s story itself was called into question by journalists and professional skeptics.

Never the less, after Carmen Snedeker saw the film, she burst into tears and told the producer, "that's my story." Despite the fabrications, exaggerations, and re-imaginings that where necessary to make a Hollywood movie, she felt the film was "true" to what happened to her. (read her illuminating interview HERE.)

Whether you liked The Haunting in Connecticut or not (critics for the most part didn't, but audiences for the most part did) it represented the "truth" of Snedeker's emotional experience, and did so in a way that, whether you believe in ghosts or not, maintained the dignity of her family, who honestly believe they encountered something supernatural.

This is the kind of truth I dug for when writing the third installment. There really was a beautiful but mute teenaged girl in a wheelchair who saw visions of angels and demons;
there really was a family harassed and stalked by a presence that seemed drawn to her, and these “events” really did culminate in a disturbing exorcism. What matters to me, in adapting this story, is not whether it can be scientifically proven to be “true,” but that the people themselves believe it was true and that the experience changed the course of their lives. The universal fears that are exposed in such a situation are so raw and authentic that they speak to archetypal “Truths“ that, for me at least, transcend skepticism.

So as I continue to write I will be aiming for "Truth;" not the journalistic truth of eyewitness reports and fact checking, and not some scientific revelation of what really happened because ultimately we can never know what
really happened, but rather a simulation of emotional and psychological trauma as it was experienced by real people - a small "truth" that may reveal deeper Truths...

... and of course, scare the living shit out you.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Screenwriting for 3-D

I was recently hired to do production rewrites on Conan (the barbarian, not the erstwhile Tonight Show host) which is being released in 3-D using the same digital process used in Alice In Wonderland. This is part of an industry-wide rush to embrace 3-D technology and thereby boost box office returns, as chronicled in several L.A. times articles.

A bunch of bloggers asked me how screenwriting for 3-D differs from traditional screenwriting, and I didn't have a good answer. So over lunch, I asked several other scribes how their approach differs now that studios have hired them to work on 3-D films. Each one said that it basically changes nothing - that they just focus on the story. In his own short blog entry on Writing for 3-D, Jon August sums up the sentiment by quipping, "For screenwriters, 3-D is something that may come up in a pitch, but will have very little impact on the written word."

But others see it differently. They warn that 3-D is going to "change the very nature of cinematic storytelling," apparently for the worse. In another recent L.A. times article, one screenwriter claims that "Just like a sitcom writer tries to have three laughs per page, I [try] to have a 3-D moment every 8-10 pages," an attitude that evokes the old Roger Coreman dictum to include bare breasts every 8-10 minutes. The article goes on to suggest that serious films are shot in 2-D, that only certain "genre films" are suitable for 3-D, and that Hollywood's recent turn towards the technology can only mean than it will be harder to get quality films made.

So does 3-D change nothing? Or does it change (and ultimately ruin) everything?

To say that 3-D has "no effect on the written word" seems false to me. Screenwriters are not novelists or poets. We use the "written word" the way architects draw blueprints, and ultimately we are judged not by the words we use but by the movies those words are meant to represent. Our job is not just to write story and character, but to pre-imagine a movie, so the way we imagine these movies really does matter.

When movies were primarily shot without sound, writers imagined the action without sound, and told their stories primarily with visual imagery. When movies were made in black and white, writers imagined the stories in black and white (in fact, people used to dream in black and white.) As more and more movies are made in 3-D, filmmakers ( and yes I consider screenwriters to be "filmmakers") will imagine stories in 3-D.

To me this is neither good news nor bad news for the quality of the movies themselves, although it's easy see it as a turn for the worse. The first sound films were far less creatively ambitious than the visually dynamic silent films of Buster Keaton and Fritz Lang. The first color films were often musicals that packed the entire spectrum in every gaudy frame; as late as the 1960's "serious films" (Think Godard, Bergman, and Fellini) were made in black and white.

These days filmmakers use sound and color in ways that serve the narrative. Unlike the early musicals, the cinematic palette is often extremely desaturated, so that a particular color makes a story point. Unlike early talkies, contemporary films avoid dialogue for long sequences in order to focus on the visuals. I'm not talking about esoteric and pretentious art films here (though I love them so). Think of M. Night Shyamalan's desaturated imagery and use of the color red in The Sixth Sense, or the long opening sequence with virtually no dialogue in WALL-E.

And these are choices the filmmakers made while first imagining the film, choices made while writing the screenplay.

To me the most striking thing about Avatar, as it concerns this issue, is not its awesome technical achievement, but that 3-D functions as a tool for storytelling, not as a gimmick. No one can tell me that James Cameron did not imagine his film in 3-D, and that this imagining had no effect on the words he chose to put on paper. Conversely, the most interesting visual aspect of films like 300 or Sin City, is that the filmmakers have chosen to eliminate depth entirely and focus on the dynamic graphic tension of radically flat, 2-dimensional imagery. Both those films were imagined and "written" in 2-D as graphic novels.

So my point ultimately is that 3-D has become not just a technical issue that screenwriters can ignore, but rather a creative choice that can enhance (or take away from) the storytelling. So that you understand what I'm getting at, indulge me for a moment and look at some pictures. My understanding of visual storytelling comes mainly from Bruce Block, a professor at USC's School of Cinema/TV, who wrote a must-read book for every screenwriter called The Visual Story. In it he defines three types of cinematic space:

Flat Space containing very little depth. Examples of movies that use flat space are 300 and The Parallax View.

Limited Space, which separates actors and objects in well defined flat planes. You've seen limited space in films by Ingmar Bergman, and more recently, Wes Anderson.

And Deep Space, which emphasizes depth. My favorite examples of movies that use deep space are Kubric films, like The Shining.

Block taught that filmmakers use different kinds of space in adjacent shots to create contrast and excitement, or they use the same kind of space, shot by shot, to create affinity and unity. 3-D technology is just another way to emphasize deep space. Sometimes filmmakers (did I mention that screenwriters are filmmakers?) may chose to flatten the cinematic image in a scene just before a big "3-D moment" to emphasize the sense of vertigo. Other times filmmakers may deliberately avoid 3-D - or any sort of depth - to create an image like a graphic novel. But 3-D isn't something that is best slapped-on the narrative as an afterthought.

In short, 3-D is just another creative choice, one that the screenwriter should neither over-emphasize nor ignore.

So far, this best describes my experience on Conan. 3-D has indeed subtly effected the way we (writer, director and producers) are imagining the story. The Ruins in the climax, are looking more and more like a drawing by M.C. Escher - characters jump, fall, and swing their swords, in our imagination, in jaw-dropping 3-D. Conversely, I imagine the quieter scenes preceding the climax, scenes that emphasize dialogue and character intimacy, as completely flat. I don't imagine "3-D moments" but I do imagine the space - flat, deep, or limited - in which the action occurs.

And, I think the film has benefited for it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

3D for Independent Film

Shortly, I will be posting a blog about writing screenplays for 3D films, but in the meantime, read this perceptive article (link below) by Jacques Thelemaque about the possibilities of 3D filmmaking for those of use who direct movies on micro-budgets.

The point ultimately is that 3D is just another storytelling tool in the filmmaker's toolbox. Like other cinematic elements - color, movement, composition, mise en scene and so on - 3D has emerged as not just another gimmick, but as a creative choice that will increasingly be available to all of us.

See the link below...

A Filmmaker's Life: "AVATAR" - Coming to Broadway soon.....!!

Monday, January 25, 2010

But... but your movie was so much BETTER than that!

There you are, rising from your seat as the house lights come up, dumbstruck with jealousy and outrage at the film you just finished watching. "How," you ask in shock and incomprehension, "did THAT film get into Sundance when mine did not?"

Yes, I've been in that seat too. I recommend reading an article by a two time Sundance alumni, who, like you, was rejected this year by the most dreamed-of, hoped-for, and disappointed-by festival in the country...

A Filmmaker's Life: I Just Got Rejected From Sundance