Tag Archives: screenwriting

Billy Squire wrecks his career with ROCK ME TONITE

If you don’t remember Billy the Squire, probably because you weren’t born yet, he was kind of a big deal for a while. A rising star.

Then this video came out and smooshed him faster than you can say Milli Vanilli.

And yes, he started out by getting creative with the spelling of “tonight,” because that’s the revolutionary rebelliousness of a true rock star, though he didn’t go as far as Prince, who uses an entirely different alphabet.

Let’s ask ourselves, for the sake of history: Why was this music video so deadly?

It’s not the music. This isn’t some 11-minute long art film with a soundtrack that some rock star thought would be a killer idea. And yeah, that happens. Somebody gets famous and they think every idea that pops into their head is brilliant.

Close your eyes and listen to the song. It’s not terrible. A decent rocker with nothing to really complain about.

The lyrics aren’t inspired, but they aren’t completely insipid, either. Let’s go with banal.

Here’s the problem: people didn’t have their eyes closed. If this song simply hit the radio, Billy might have kept on rising up and making scads of money.

The visuals are simply awful.

Billy oozes uncool out of every pore. If there’s matter and anti-matter, there’s cool and uncool. Billy does not come off as cool in this video. He doesn’t seem like a cocky, confident rock star. It feels like he’s trying too hard, and failing.

There aren’t that many rock stars who look good dancing. The smart ones keep it low key. Billy Idol doesn’t dance — he pouts and pumps his fist. Bruce Springsteen never really dances. Bono, Sting, even Mick Jagger doesn’t really dance. He does a funky chicken and that’s about it.

Billy the Squire kept trying aerobic instructor moves, which did not look good on film.

When his band finally showed up, I kept swearing they cloned Billy, or shot multiple takes with him playing all the instruments. Every band member but one dude had the same outfit and over-permed hair. IT WAS CONFUSING, and not in a good way.

So all in all, this is an epic train wreck of a video.

Also: Bonus points to whoever digs up what happens to Billy Squire.

Related posts: Music Video Monday’s Greatest Hits

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller (FREEDOM, ALASKA) that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency.

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Filed under 2 Music Video Monday

What are your evil plans for 2014?

2013: better than Orwell's 1984, but not quite a party like Prince's 1999--though we have great hopes for this new 2014 thing.

2013: better than Orwell’s 1984, but not quite a party like Prince’s 1999–though we have great hopes for this new 2014 thing.

Writers and editors, screenwriters and playwrights, poets and scribblers — what are your writerly plans for this new year of 2014?

Also: what were the greatest hits and misses of 2013?

SOCK IT TO ME.

Related posts:

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller (FREEDOM, ALASKA) that won some award and is represented by Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency.

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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, 6 Friendly Friday, Fiction, Thrillers and mysteries

MISSING YOU by John Waite teaches us all about subtext

Here’s a classic song with a video that proves singers should sing, and actors should act.

What’s not to love here?

John Waite‘s hair is pure ’80s gold, with feathery blow-dry action in the front and a sneaky pseudo-mullet in the back. It’s a Don Johnson-punk mullet. Plus he rocks the standard One Dangly Earring look that every lead singer was required to have for about two years.

Adam Ant with the Mandatory One Dangly Earring

Adam Ant with the Mandatory One Dangly Earring

HOWEVER: What’s most interesting to me is how the lyrics clash with the video.

The lyrics avoid being “on the nose,” which is Hollywood screenwriter slang for people saying, or singing, exactly what they mean. Nobody in real life does that. It’s not realistic, not good for a story and not fun for the audience.

People avoid coming out and saying directly what they truly feel.

A hero doesn’t say, “Hey, I’m really scared, and I don’t want to die, so maybe you could drop that gun and let me handcuff you, seeing how I don’t want to get shot or get stuck with piles of paperwork if I shoot you first.” He says, “Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?”

A villain doesn’t say, “Being locked up in this dark basement next to low-level lunatics is beyond boring, and I would rather stick needles in my eye than communicate with these beasts, but pretty young FBI agents are something I never get to see, so I hope you stick around and talk to me for hours, Special Agent.” He says, “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

So while the acting and the visuals in the video are completely on the nose, with zero ambiguity or subtlety, the lyrics are great and full of subtext.

John Waite misses his girlfriend / lover / wife, but he doesn’t say, “Hey baby, I miss you a lot, and I’m a wreck, and I wish you’d come back.”

He sings, “I ain’t missing you” and follows that up with “I ain’t missing you at all” and seven other variations of the same thing.

But we know he’s lying.

And that’s what makes this song a classic.

Related posts: Music Video Monday’s Greatest Hits

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller (FREEDOM, ALASKA) that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

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Filed under 2 Music Video Monday, Red Pen of Doom, The Big Screen

Mixed Writing Arts is to writing as MMA is to fighting

Since the dawn of time, writers have spent their lives toiling in their own secret tribes and guilds, each clan claiming to have mastered the One True Art.

  • Copywriters swore their kung fu was far more powerful than that sissy screenwriting nonsense, because if you can’t sell tickets to a movie, the movie doesn’t get made.
  • Working journalists cranking out two stories a day scoffed at poets spending all week on five hippie lines about trees and clouds, while poets saw the mass-production lines of the Priests of the Inverted Pyramid as lacking any sort of soul or art.
  • Romance authors gathered in huge, organized conferences while mystery novelists gathered in small secret groups to put a dent in the global bourbon supply while trading secrets and lies.
  • Speechwriters clutched their tomes with 2,000-plus years of wisdom from Plato, Aristotle, Burke and countless other giants, who were inventing rhetoric and drama and comedy long before Syd Field arrived in Hollywood and Blake Snyder started saving cats.

To me, with a foot in all of these worlds, it felt false.

I got started in journalism and speech, my sister is a screenwriter and I have a great literary agent (Jill Marr!) after writing a novel that won some award.

It hit me, again and again, that I got better as a writer not when focusing like crazy on one thing, but by being exposed to other aspects that often would never have entered my mind as an option. Like hanging out with romance authors and editors, who have made me 100-times stronger as a writer. NOBODY COULD HAVE PREDICTED THAT.

Hear me now and believe me later in the week: There is no one supreme writing art.
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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, 6 Friendly Friday, Fiction, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers, Speechwriting, Thrillers and mysteries

OBLIVION swings for the fences and misses

Hear me now and believe me later in the week: OBLIVION is an interesting and beautiful movie that could have been classic.

Why did it flop?

Let’s look at the prime suspects:

5) Tom Cruise fatigue

This is an easy target. Cruise has gone from “Biggest Movie Star on the Planet” to “Incredibly Excited Actor Jumping on Oprah’s Couch” to “Scientologist Who Gets Divorced a Lot.”

As a huge fan of Lee Child’s Reacher novels, I have to say that Reacher is something like 6’5, 250, blond and quietly sarcastic, while Cruise is short, light, dark-haired and loudly cocky.

HOWEVER: I will give the man his due, because Cruise did a fine job of acting in this movie. The average sci-fi apocalypse movie would have a hot new 20-something actor mumble his way through the thing looking stoned while trying to seem macho. Cruise was an upgrade from the typical New Action Hunk.

You could’ve put Matt Damon, Ryan Gosling or George Clooney in this sucker and it wouldn’t solve the problem. Cruise gets a pass.

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Filed under 3 Tinseltown Tuesday, Fiction, The Glowing Tube, Thrillers and mysteries

The Toughest Internship in the World

Are you a college student in some kind of writing major — journalism, PR, screenwriting or fiction — and think you can write? Show me. BRING IT.

I had a great time with two accidental and informal interns: Lauren Palazzo, a goddess of publicity on the East Coast, and Alex Corey, a journalistic muffin of stud on the West Coast.

So I’m turning this into a semi-formal and semi-official Thing, maybe because it warms my cold Swedish heart to give talented young writers good clips, good editing and a little boost toward a job and career that doesn’t involve hairnets or selling insurance.

The evil secret to all writing? Editing.

The evil secret to all writing? Editing.

What are the requirements?

  • You DON’T have to show up 8 to 5 every day, make copies or fetch coffee, because you’re doing this from far, far away, via the Series of Tubes, and I don’t care if you’re orbiting Mars as long as your internets work.
  • You DO have to write circles around your competitors and have a hunger to write better, because you understand everybody needs to be edited, and seeing your drafts get riddled with red ink doesn’t put you in therapy.
  • You DON’T need to do this for official credit, because I hate paperwork.
  • You DO need to write two posts a week for whatever semester or quarter system you use, and these posts can’t be recycled term papers or diary entries from your blog about the best bars in Madison, Wisconsin, because the whole point is to give you great writing clips so you can graduate and get a great job.

If you’re not clear about the topics covered on this blog, read this post: Seven Days, Seven Categories — this is not a coincidence

How to apply?

Step 1: Pick one of FOUR ways of contacting me — (a) the Twitter @speechwriterguy, (b) emailing the traditional resume and writing clip to guybergstrom@gmail.com, (c) creating some kind of infographic or Tumblr thing about your epic skills or (d) posting a haiku about yourself in the comments. Poems can be terrible, but haikus rock.

Step 2: Send one writing sample, or two story ideas for the blog that you could write the heck out of until there was no heck left, or three ways you’d improve the blog with WordPress magic or SEO things I don’t understand.

That’s it. 

Also: If you’re out of college, or in a different country where people don’t “go to college” and are instead “at university,” and know somebody amazing who’d be a perfect fit, please forward this post to them, retweet it or share it using smoke signals and such.

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.

Google+

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Filed under 5 Random Thursday, Housekeeping

Writers: can you do it in FOUR WORDS?

That’s the acid test for every writer: four words.

If somebody in line with you for the Largest Latte Known to Man asks what you’re working on, can you explain it in four words?

How about eight words?

Because if you can’t, you’re not really done.

What if I told you ... how to get to Sesame Street?

And I don’t care that you’ve spent the last seven years locked away in a French monastery, slaving away 25 hours a day, eight days a week to perfect (a) The Great American Novel, Even Though It Was Written in France, (b) the movie script that will turn Hollywood on its ear and stop it from spending $250 million apiece on Michael Bay explosion-fests involving robots that transform into cars or whatever  or (c) a punk-rock masterpiece with song after song with lyrics so beautiful, and rebelliously ugly, that anyone who listens to it quits working for The Man and buys an electric Fender so they can learn the only three chords you need to know to become AN INSANE ROCK GOD.

So let’s get down to it. If you haven’t already, read these posts to get all educated and such, even though it is technically cheating — because today, there is a quiz.

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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, The Big Screen

Storytelling: Some random man on Facebook takes tired, bored SUPERMAN and nails it

Every time that Hollywood reboots the SUPERMAN franchise, they hire some hot-shot screenwriter, who pens something the hot-shot director hates, leading to some OTHER screenwriter taking a stab at the page 1 polish (rewrite) until studio execs get involved and bring in five of their favorite screenwriters to add their spices to the awkward stew.

This is a certain way to spend $300 million on an epic failure.

HOWEVER: some random man, posting on the Book of Face, just told a better story than anything I’ve seen from any Superman movie in the history of mankind.

This man is smart. Somebody hire him.

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.

Google+

7 Comments

Filed under 3 Tinseltown Tuesday, The Big Screen

Writers, we are doing it BACKWARDS

Oh, it kills me to say this: we are doing it backwards.

Maybe you’re the exception to the rule. Perhaps you’re that rare writer who figured this out 10 years ago.

But I doubt it. Most of the writers that I know — whether they’re novelists or journalists, speechwriters or screenwriters — go about it roughly the same way.

Step 1) Research, whether it’s six months of intense study or six minutes of looking at Wikipedia and playing Angry Birds “to let it all percolate.”

Step 2) Boil down the research into useful nuggets of meaty goodness.

Step 3) Use their secret recipe of writing methods to cook up their piece (outlining first or winging it, 3 x 5 index cards or spiral notebook, Word 2010 or Scrivener, one draft or six drafts, coffee or bourbon).

Step 4) Hand the draft to our spouse / best friend / cousin Joey to get all coffee stained and edited. 

Step 5) Spend five or fifty minutes thinking about how to present and sell the sucker for SUITCASES STUFFED WITH TWENTIES.

Those first four steps, they’re essential, right?

Here’s the thing: We writers are incredibly talented at screwing up Step 5.

Backward is bad

Step 5 is the monster lurking under our typewriters. (Yes, I know most of you use computers. Maybe I have a magic typewriter connected to the Series of Tubes.)

It’s the troll under the bridge, snarfing our lunch and saying, “Whatcha gonna do about it, tough guy?”

Now, boiling down a novel clocking in at 100,000 pages is rough. I have author friends who’d rather leap out of a perfectly good airplane, trusting in the bouncy power of their Nike Air Jordans, than write a three-page synopsis. Tagline? Logline? Forgetaboutit.

Doing Step 5 for anything, long or short, is tough.

Tough for screenwriters, who need to boil it down to an elevator pitch.

Tough for editors in newsrooms, who have to write headlines that fit into tiny nooks and corners of the newspaper layout.

Yet nothing else matters if we botch Step 5. Because nobody will see the fruits of our labors, the hard work that went into Steps 1 through 4, if we can’t condense the whole idea into a killer pitch and hook.

Reversing course

Instead of performing the labors of Hercules before even attempting the torture of Step 5, reverse course.

Start there.

Before you invest hours / days / weeks / months into research. Before you sweat bullets to put words on page after page.

Begin with the shortest and most important words.

The  logline (or pitch, but in a sentence, not a paragraph) — “An alien monster stalks the trapped crew of a spaceship.” Optional second sentence: “Sigourney Weaver also does a short advertisement for Hanes.”

The tagline – “In space, nobody can hear you scream.”

The headline – “Alien devours spaceship crew; heading for Earth?”

Test that out, not with friends and family, who are constrained by the need to live with you, and be liked by you. Try a single sentence on people in line at Safeway or Starbucks, neighbors you barely know, visitors from out of town, tourists, people who won’t wound you forever if they make a face and tell you the idea is stupid.

And to get inspiration, use the series of tubes to check out “movie loglines” and “movie taglines” and “great headlines.” Or head to The Onion and read their headlines, which are seven separate flavors of awesomesauce.

Don’t do a thing until you have a logline, tagline and headline that sing.

Go do it. Throw ideas around on a piece of paper or whatever — and not about whatever you’re working on. Dream up a few crazy ideas and write down loglines, taglines and headlines that are shorter than short. Then kill every word you can to make them shorter.

You’re going to notice a few things.

First, the hero doesn’t matter.

Second, the villain matters a whole bunch. If you remove the villain and threat, it kills the logline / tagline / headline. Because stories — even newspaper stories — are about conflict. No villain, no conflict. But if you take out the hero, it usually makes the logline a lot shorter and a lot better.

Here’s another example I’ve used before and will use again, because it is short and sweet and the logline for about six movies that have already been made: “Asteroid will destroy earth.”

See? We don’t need Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck-whatever (Matt Damon‘s buddy, the one who dates & marries Jennifers) in there at all. Heroes just clutter things up.

Third, shorter is better. If you can get it down to three or four words, you are golden.

A new way to write

Let’s get practical. Here’s a new way to write anything.

New Step 1) Nail the logline, tagline and headline.

One sentence apiece, as few words as possible, and yes, it is cheating to have sentences that go on and on forever, sentences with six different commas and possibly semi-colons, which are a sin against the English language in the first place and should be taken out and shot.

New Step 2) Make it work as a paragraph.

Expand it a little, but not too much. Half a page.

New Step 3) Nail it as an outline on ONE PAGE, treating each side fairly.

Whether you’re writing an oped or an opera, a novel or a speech, figure out the biggest possible difference between the beginning and the end — and do it from both POV’s. The villain / problem and the hero / solution.

So: if it’s a romance where the heroine ends up as a great cook who’s happy and in a great relationship, what’s the greatest possible distance she can travel? On page 1, make her  (a) the worst cook in the world, (b) unhappy and (c) alone. How can you take that up a notch? Make her a nun who’s loses her sense of smell (and therefore taste) in a car accident. You get the idea. Read this for what I’m talking about.  The Red Pen of Doom whips SWITCH by Camryn Rhys

If the ending is happy, the beginning better be sad.

If the ending is sad, the beginning should be happy.

If the hero is a tough guy in the end, the best story shows him start out weak — only after he suffers and sacrifices and paints the fence FIVE THOUSAND HOURS does he become a tough guy and prevail (THE KARATE KID).

And you’ve got to make it a fair fight. Nobody thinks they’re a villain. The other side — whether it’s an speech about taxes or THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK — has a point. If you don’t give it credence, your writing will be one-sided and weak.

I used ALIEN before. What’s the story for the alien creatures? Maybe they’re a dying race. Maybe that crashed ship contains the last of their kind. The stakes just got a lot higher for the alien, right? You are our only hope, little facehugger. Get in that ship and lay some eggs.

Put yourself in the shoes of Darth Vader and the Emperor, who don’t see themselves as enslaving the galaxy. They’re helping people by establishing law and order. If nobody is in charge, it’s chaos and confusion. A strong empire means safety, security and economic growth. The rebels are violent terrorists who don’t appreciate what they have and will kill whoever it takes to gain power.

Now figure out your turning points. Put in your setups and payoffs. Make it work as an outline before you move on.

New Step 4) Research only what you need.

New Step 5) Write and have a professional editor bleed red ink on the pages until the draft is A SHINY DIAMOND MADE OF WORDS. 

You’ll notice that what used to be an afterthought — Step 5 in the original way of writing — becomes the first three steps.

I did that on purpose.

Say you write a beautiful oped, 700 magnificent words about why the death penalty should be abolished or whatever. Now you’ve got to pick up the phone and pitch an editor at The Willapa Valley Shopper or The New York Times.

The first five seconds (aside from the “hello!” nonsense) will determine if they even look at the piece. Maybe six or seven words, if you talk fast. Part of that will be confidence, tone of voice and other things you can’t learn via a blog post.

Your logline / tagline / headline, though, will matter. A lot. A great speaker with a muddled pitch will lose out to a mumbler with a tremendous idea they can convey in four words.

Hollywood calls this five-second kind of thing “the elevator pitch.” There are websites that devote many, many words to it. Use the powers of the google and check them out. They are useful.

Bottom line: those four words matter more than all 700 words of the oped, all 3,000 of the keynote speech, all 15,000 of the screenplay or all 100,000 of your epic novel about elves with lightsabers riding dinosaurs. Make those four words count.

Related nonsense:

Writing secret: Light as air, strong as whiskey, cheap as dirt

Everything they taught us about stories was WRONG

Quirks and legs matter more than talent and perfection

How to write KILLER headlines and hooks

Evil storytelling tricks NO ONE SHOULD KNOW

Forget the Twitter: free ink and airtime are your MOST DANGEROUS WEAPONS

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.

Google+

29 Comments

Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction