by on Aug.03, 2016, under Featured, Motivation

We are all storytellers. We begin telling stories as small children and continue throughout our lives. Story is a constant. I’ve worked with story for 25 years now. As a former studio executive, a current writing instructor for a network and independent story/career consultant, I’m on a constant quest to understand how to best guide writers to write their stories in a way that leads to a sale in TV or film. What I’ve discovered with the writers that I’ve had the most success helping to launch their careers is that it comes down to three components – System, Illustration and Application.

My system communicates my worldview of story to student. I see story from a studio executive perspective. When I was a studio executive I analyzed story all day every day on up to 5 shows a week at every stage from concept to production draft. I saw my notes executed. I saw what worked and didn’t work to create strong story. As I prepared to write my book, Story Line: Finding Gold In Your Life Story, I developed a system to teach story. I did this by gathering years worth of Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe nominated scripts. I studied them closely and extracted a formula that became the foundation of my system of teaching story. My system starts here: Strong story for TV and Film starts with what I call a powerful trigger incident. A trigger incident is something that happens at the beginning of the story that pushes the central character into a dilemma. The strength of the dilemma is key. A dilemma that forces the central character to make a difficult choice creates a powerful set up for story. It helps build empathy and a strong rooting factor in the audience. The central character’s choice in the dilemma defines her external goal. This goal should be totally clear by the end of Act One. Then, every action the central character takes and every obstacle she hits should link back to the goal. If the goal isn’t clear, the story won’t work. There should be internal and external stakes for the central character. We should always know what she wants externally, and what is the worst that can happen if she doesn’t get it. The internal story should also follow this logic and be in alignment with the external goal. This is the basics of the system that I designed to teach and analyze story.

The second critical component of teaching story is illustration. I use examples from current TV shows and films to illustrate my system to writers. When a writer clearly understands the system, examples help expand their view of story and allow them to hit some “aha” moments in their own learning process. Live events allow me to illustrate the lesson in real time by showing writers clips from TV and film. In my other avenues of teaching, I advise writers what specific things to watch and what to look for in the set up of those stories.

The third component of how I teach story is application. In one-on-one consults with writers I’m able to provide direct feedback on their stories. I use my story system to analyze whether the writer’s story is working or not. There is a tremendous value in this step because my system provides us a common language that allows me to communicate clearly the specific feedback the writer needs to understand in order to take their story to the next level. I use the system and illustration to teach writers how to apply the notes. My system, illustration and application go hand in hand to improve the writer’s outcome.

As a Story/Career consultant for writers, I’ve had the strongest success with writers who have read my books, taken advantage of my instruction at live events or online and utilized one-on-one consultations. Engaging in the complete process allows writers to soak in my system, see the illustrations and have a better understanding of how to apply the system, one that has led 40 of my clients to sell pilots, to their own work.

Want to learn more? I‘m teaching a Master Class in New York on August 12-13, 2016 at Screenwriters World. I’m also teaching a Master Class and three other classes at the London Screenwriting Festival at the beginning of September.

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BIBLE FORMULA for #Scriptchat

by on Jun.12, 2016, under Featured, Motivation, Personal tips


  • Explanation for the title of your Pilot.
  • Series log line and a brief paragraph describing your Pilot.
  • Pilot Log Line – Write a log line for your pilot (summary of the A story).
  • The Show – Describe your Pilot. This gives a sense of how you see your show.
  • The Format -Describe what your show will be week to week. Is it an action/adventure show? Is it a character drama? Is it a police procedural? Is it a medical or legal show? Is there humor? What will the balance of story be in each episode? For example, if you’re writing a legal show, will it be more about the case or more about the personal?
  • The Philosophy -Go into a deeper explanation of your concept and what your audience can expect from it.
  • The Characters -Write a paragraph or up to a page on each character.
  • Supporting Characters – Write a brief paragraph for each supporting/recurring role.
  • Character Dynamics – Give a paragraph about the primary relationships that are part of the inside story.
  • Formula – Give an idea of the story formula with regards to the A and B story arcs.
  • Themes – Go into the overarching themes.
  • The On-Going Sets – Write down what your regular sets/locations will be.

Where will the majority of story take place?

  • The Pilot Story – Write a longer description/overview of the Pilot story.
  • Future Story Arcs – Write a line about the “A” and the “B” story for your first 13 episodes. If it’s a cable show, write log lines for your first 8-10 episodes.
  • Overview – Give an overview of your series arcs for seasons 1, 2 and 3.
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by on Mar.04, 2016, under events, Featured, Motivation


Featured Speakers

Glen Mazzara

Glen Mazzara

Creator/Executive Producer/Showrunner of A&E’s new series, DAMIEN

Stephen Falk

Stephen Falk

Creator/Executive Producer/Showrunner of the FXX series, YOU’RE THE WORST

Corey Mandell

Corey Mandell

Award-Winning Playwright & Screenwriter

Jen Grisanti

Jen Grisanti

Story Consultant & Writing Instructor

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by on Feb.17, 2016, under Motivation, Podcasts


LINK to SPECIAL DISCOUNTS for ISA Podcast Listeners

The TV writing business is a tough one, but that’s why I make sure and tell all of my writers who are interested in writing for television that they need to work on writing specs. A spec script, in case you aren’t familiar with the term, is an original script but of an existing TV show – Bones, Criminal Minds, The Walking Dead, you get the idea. In today’s interview, I bring back consultant and instructor with NBC’s Writers on the Verge program, Jen Grisanti, to go into the details of writing for television, but more so what to expect and how to prepare for applying to the various studio level writing fellowships. Just about studio and network has one – Disney and ABC, NBC, CBS, Nickolodeon has one. They are all quite prestigious if and when you place as a finalist, and can virtually write you a ticket to success in terms of getting staffed on a show.


DISCOUNT NOTE! Jen is offering her FREE pilot worksheet and pitch document formula, and a special discount offer for ISA subscribers by clicking the link below. Her next class, also being offered at a discount to ISA members, is March 1! Get in on it! Follow the link below.
We also discuss what the important elements are of spec scripts per fellowship, how to write your essay when applying for the programs, and what to expect if and when you reach the finals. Jen consistently reminds us, though, not to get discouraged if you do not place as a finalist. Any number of reasons could keep you from winning, from the number of submissions that year, to the level of immense quality per submission phase. This mindset can also equate to how to prepare yourself emotionally when submitting to screenplay contests. We’re all vying for the same position as ‘working writer’, and it’s why investing in your own writing education (and yourself, really) is so essential. Jen offers some excellent insight, as she always does, and it was a pleasure to bring her back for another interview. Keep working hard everyone, and stay tuned to Curious About Screenwriting through iTunes and social media. You can find us on Twitter @NetworkISA, and you can find me, your humble host @iMaxTimm, or through my Facebook author page under Maximilian Timm. As always, thanks for listening.

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by on Jan.24, 2016, under Motivation

Here is the LINK for those of you who were at the ISA breakfast at Sundance.

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by on Jan.13, 2016, under Featured, Motivation

What does a storyteller have to do to make us feel their story? Last year, there were so many films that made us really feel what the story was trying to say. The films that I felt the most were; The Revenant, Spotlight, Room, Steve Jobs and Inside Out.

We feel story through the understanding of truth being revealed and it affirming something within us. It is all about the internal view of the external story. We feel story when we’re taken into a life moment that we may not recognize on the outside but that we completely understand internally. It is fulfilling a void through finding a solution. If we know what the internal struggle is and the arc of healing the wound is explored well, we feel the conflict and triumph in the outcome. When we understand what the filmmaker is trying to say, we feel the story.

The Revenant is about the true story of legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass surviving a brutal attack by a bear. This is what it is on the outside. Internally, it is about finding answers and moving forward after suffering tremendous loss mentally, emotionally and physically. It is poetic in how it’s done, with the scenes from a moment of loss that happened before the story starts connecting to one that happens during the story. The arc of healing the wound is beautifully played. It is graphic and extremely violent. However, this really sends home what it is to survive. I was mesmerized by this story. I felt so connected to the journey back from loss, betrayal and torture. How do you find redemption in this type of scenario? Will redemption bring you peace? There were so many elements of humanity revealed in this masterpiece directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. It penetrated both the mind and the spirit.

Spotlight tells a riveting story based on the Pulitzer Prize winning Boston Globe investigation that uncovered the enormous scandal of child molestation and cover-ups within the local Archdiocese, causing an upheaval in one of the world’s most trusted institutions. It is an amazing story to watch how all the pieces of the puzzle in this journalistic endeavor came together. What brings you into the story emotionally is that many of the journalists covering it up grew up Catholic. So, we got to see their personal challenges within this exploration of truth. The cast is phenomenal. The story is enthralling. This issue is something that hits us all on a universal level.

Room is another incredible story of survival. It explores the depth of the connection between a mother and her son after going through the horrific ordeal of the mother being abducted and impregnated by her captor and living in one room for the first five years of her son’s life before her son helps them to escape. The wound is crystal clear. The imagination of the son and how this moves him through the experience is awe-inspiring. The psychological effect of only knowing the relationship with his mom and having no understanding of the world outside of the room is truly moving. The reintegration into life is what we root for. The idea explored is; can you move past a trauma of this magnitude and find meaning and purpose again? This experience may be foreign to us, but the idea of moving past a severe trauma is very universal. It is the internal story that brings us in and makes us feel for both of these characters. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay give brilliant performances. This is a story that will stay with you.

Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of one of the world’s greatest innovators. It explores the digital revolution and shows us what life looked like for Steve Jobs during three iconic product launches. There are several scenes in this film written by Aaron Sorkin that are mind-blowing. It is the internal view of Steve Jobs that makes us feel this story. This is shown through the relationship with a daughter he initially denied was his, the reveal that he was adopted, his views toward feeling rejected and the dynamic with his loyal colleague, Joanna (played brilliantly by Kate Winslet). We feel his wound in the scene where John Sculley says; “Why do people who were adopted feel like they were rejected instead of selected?” For me, it is the parallel between his feeling about this life incident that happened and how it happened and what goes on with his daughter that made me understand this man in a whole new way. I came into this film wanting to know more about who Steve Jobs was and what made him tick. I LOVED how I felt after seeing this film. I loved it so much that I saw it twice.

Inside Out is a whimsical view into the emotional life of young Riley whose world is turned upside down when her parents tell her that they are going to move. What makes us feel this story is the interplay between her emotions; Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness that are all embodied by characters. I LOVED this movie because it really stops isolation and builds a sense of community through the understanding of how our internal emotions influence our external life. We’ve all gone through a myriad of these emotions. Seeing them come to life and try to make sense of the pursuit that they’re on to ultimately make Riley happy is a gift. It also shows us that we need to move through and understand all of our emotions to help guide us to where we want to go in life. I love the message. I felt the story. This is a film that touches us all no matter what our age.

We feel your story when the storyteller gives us an inside view of the conflict in question through the worldview of the central character and when we understand what you are trying to say with your story. It is the internal view of a character that pulls us in emotionally and makes us identify with what is being explored.

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by on Dec.09, 2015, under Motivation

Understanding the idea of split desire is a new story tool that suddenly surfaced for me in the work that I do with writers as a story/career consultant and writing instructor. With a well-written series trigger and dilemma, the pilot trigger adds a complication that creates a split desire. The complication isn’t the pilot pursuit; it’s an added element of conflict leading to create a split. This split creates the internal story that brings the audience back from week to week. It is this emotional pull and the internal conflict that makes us want to return. The internal pull is universal. It is what we identify with. We may not all understand what it is to be part of the external pursuit, as we haven’t all been spies, lawyers, entrepreneurs etc. However, when you add the complication of the internal struggle, we recognize the pull between personal and professional desires, and it resonates on a wider level. Understanding how to do this well will elevate your stories in a major way.

With THE GOOD WIFE, after losing her breadwinner, Peter, in the series arc, Alicia wants to bring security back to her family. It is because this happened that she returns to a law career that she abandoned thirteen years before. Part of the pilot trigger sequence is when her law school sweetheart, Will, gives her an opportunity to work in his law firm. This splits her desire. The question becomes; will Alicia remain loyal to Peter after he betrayed her or will she fall into the arms of an old love? This is the central conflict that drives the series. We returned every week in the first season to find out what was going to happen with this triangle.

With HOMELAND, in the series arc, Carrie hears from a prisoner who is about to be put to death that a prisoner of war has turned. Knowing this creates Carrie’s loyalty to her mission. Then, she discovers that an American prisoner of war is going to return. It is because the series trigger happened that this news has significance. This part of the pilot trigger creates a complication. Her split desire has to do with her loyalty toward the mission versus her falling in love with the prisoner of war, Brody. The season external question becomes; is Brody the prisoner of war who turned? The internal question becomes; will Carrie’s emotional connection get in the way of finding out the truth about Brody?

With SILICON VALLEY, the series trigger happens at the party that the boys from Erlich’s “incubator” attend. We learn that they are the “poorest” guys there. They are on the outside looking in. A huge deal was made at Hooli. The party is a celebration of this. This is what the “incubator” boys want to happen to one of them. The pilot trigger is when Erlich puts Richard on notice and tells him that if he doesn’t make Pied Piper work soon, he will have to vacate the house. This creates a complication to Richard’s series desire of wanting the professional dream but realizing that it means that he’s going to have to move past his internal hurdles that prevent him from standing up for himself and making things happen with Pied Piper.

With EPISODES, the series trigger is when Merc approaches Sean and Beverly, who have a happy marriage and a hit show in the UK, about doing a remake of their series in the US. The professional desire is to have a hit in the US. This conflicts with Beverly’s internal fear of whether their marriage can survive Hollywood. This fear is universal. It’s what connects the audience to this experience. The series starts by showing a flash forward to a consequence that makes us wonder how this split desire will play out. Will their show be a hit despite creative differences with the network and will their marriage survive?

Understanding how to create a strong split desire between the series arc and the complication added by the pilot arc is what will create longevity with your story concept. It is this conflict that compels people to come back. When we think about life, we are very often split between what we want professionally and our personal desires. So, this is a very universal thing. It resonates because we want to see how the characters are able to reconcile the differences between their split desires.


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by on Nov.07, 2015, under Motivation, Personal tips



  • The Title of your Pilot – Give a brief paragraph describing your pilot.
  • Log line for your Series
  • Log line for your pilot (summary of the A story)
  • The Show – Describe your pilot in a page of detail.
  • The Format – Describe what your show will be. Is it an action/adventure show? Is it a character drama? Is it a police procedural? Is it a medical or legal show? Is there humor? What will the balance of story be in each episode? For example, if you’re writing a legal show, will it be more about the case or more about the personal?
  • The Philosophy – Go into a deeper explanation of your concept and what your audience can expect from it.
  • The Characters – Write a paragraph or up to a page on each character.
  • Supporting Characters – Write a brief paragraph for each supporting/recurring role.
  • The On-Going Sets – Write down what your regular sets/locations will be. Where will the majority of story take place?
  • The Pilot Story – Write a longer description/overview of the pilot story.
  • Future Story Arcs – Write a line about the “A” and the “B” story for your first 13 episodes.
  • Overview – Give an overview of your series arcs for seasons 1, 2 and 3
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