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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by on Oct.20, 2015, under Featured, Motivation

The Martian is an extraordinary feel good film that really takes you into the idea that anything is possible if you focus on a desire, take action, don’t let the setbacks bring you down and always move forward and believe. It takes the idea of being positive to a whole new level. The Martian’s success at the box office is a sure sign that this type of story appeals to the masses. We all want to believe that we can achieve the dream despite the odds. It shows you that the underdog holds a place in all of our hearts. When the focus on the outcome is clear, it is truly amazing to see what can transpire even in what appears to be an insurmountable situation. This story takes achieving the dream to a whole new height. It is universal. It is accessible. It will make you feel like you can accomplish anything if you put forth a plan in action.

I was fascinated by this story. Drew Goddard wrote the screenplay. My first thought was that it is similar to Gravity that was written by Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron. Both films started with a very powerful trigger and dilemma. In The Martian, the trigger was when Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is thought to be dead after he is hit in the middle of a storm and his crew leaves him on Mars. His dilemma is that he has to figure out how to survive until there is a return visit. He knows that this won’t be for 4 years. His pursuit is to do the math and figure out how to make food and create an environment that will allow him to survive. In Gravity, Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock), a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission with veteran astronaut, Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) must face disaster when their shuttle is destroyed and they are left alone in space. The dilemma is clearly to find a way to survive despite the odds. The pursuit is to make it back to earth. In both films, I think that we knew what the outcome would be, but being part of the journey and learning what it took to get there is why we go along for the ride. We want to be able to see what heroes do to get over their hurdles. We want to learn how to be the hero in our own life and to be able to get past what appear to be insurmountable obstacles.

In stories like these, we know that the pursuit feels unattainable. The fascinating thing in The Martian was that the science was simplified and we were able to understand some of the choices that Matt Watney’s character had to make in order to survive. His tactics were so logical. His character remained incredibly optimistic for the majority of the journey despite the odds, the obstacles and the stakes that he faced. There was so much emotion that came from seeing his drive and watching his belief. This is such a strong message for everyone who faces a situation where it seems like “all is lost” and the chances of moving through it seem unattainable. By watching the actions that Watney takes and seeing the obstacles that he is able to overcome, we can apply the same thought to our own lives. What if we took optimism and determination and used it to fuel our pursuits? Usually, our fuel is the pain of knowing what the worst that can happen is if we don’t pursue our dreams. What if we started focusing on what the best is that can happen and believe in this possibility? How could this approach change our lives?

It also comes down to the questions that we ask ourselves. In Gravity, it felt like the question being debated was “Do I want to live or die?” This stemmed from a deep wound that happened in the past with the loss of Ryan’s child. In The Martian, we know that Watney wants to live. Part of what is fueling this is that he knows his crew is going to feel like they made a mistake. He does not want them to feel this. With Watney’s character, more of what is being debated is; can he use his resourcefulness, knowledge and optimism to attain the outcome he wants. Both situations are being fueled by emotion and desire. When you understand how to tell a story where we fully feel the emotion that is fueling the desire, you attain an outcome that appeals to the masses.

It is interesting how the real life story of the author of the book that the film is based on, Andy Weir, has parallels with what could appear to be an insurmountable goal. After dropping out of college and getting rejected for his first two books, Andy went back to working in computers. He figured that with the Internet, he could do writing as a hobby. What he produced was The Martian. The Martian was Andy’s first published book. He self-published it when he couldn’t get a publisher. It sold really well on Amazon. When it started doing well, it got on Amazon’s bestseller list. Random House approached him. This led to him landing an agent and getting a publishing deal. The film followed this.

The insurmountable goal that gets attained is what inspires all of us to believe that anything is possible. This is why these stories work; they make the attainment of the dream seem possible.

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by on Sep.22, 2015, under Motivation

One of the most important ingredients of a successful story is momentum. When you mix momentum with mindset, you root for the achievement of the goal. Many TV shows and films make the mistake of not having enough momentum and not having enough character development. Understanding the use of these two things will help you to elevate your story both in life and on the page.

I’ve been studying and analyzing story for over twenty years. I am an author of three books, a Writing Instructor for Writers on the Verge at NBC and a story/career consultant for writers. I read and analyze an average of two to three scripts a day. One of the areas of story that I’ve noticed can make or break a strong script is momentum. How do you create strong momentum? You start your story with a strong trigger incident that leads your central character into a powerful dilemma. Then, the choice made in the dilemma is what defines the external goal. You add momentum to this formula when you set up the personal dilemma and the stakes. We should always be clear about what the worst that can happen is if the goal is not achieved. It’s when we don’t know what’s at stake or why we care that the story loses momentum.

With regards to mindset, I’ve often taught the idea of ego versus spirit. In the first three quarters of the story, the central character wants to achieve the goal for ego-related reasons. It is in the last quarter of the story, after hitting a number of obstacles that the character’s motivation shifts to spirit. They now want to achieve the goal for the betterment of the greater good. I am currently reading an incredible book titled “Mindset” by Carol Dweck that made me take a deeper look into this idea. In her book, Carol discusses the idea of the “fixed mindset” versus the “growth mindset”. Carol writes; “The fixed mindset creates the feeling that you can really know the permanent truth about yourself. You don’t have to try for such-and-such because you don’t have the talent. You will surely succeed at such-and-such because you do have the talent.” She goes on to talk about the growth mindset. She writes; “By the way, having a growth mindset doesn’t force you to do something. It just tells you that you can develop your skills…. The fixed mindset stands in the way of development and change. The growth mindset is a starting point for change, but people need to decide for themselves where their efforts toward change would be the most valuable.” I love this! Even though she discusses it in relation to real life, it also applies to story. When you shift the mindset of your character from being a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, you add depth and momentum to your story.

Recently, I watched a show that had a very strong first season. This was due to a very strong season arc as well as strong episode arcs that built in momentum as the season went on. By doing this well the first season, the writers established an expectation from the audience. Then, during the second season, I’d say that the biggest mistake that was made was that you didn’t care about the season arc. There were three co-protagonists. The wounds/personal dilemmas were well developed for two of the three characters. The third character whose wound was developed the least was the one who had the most at stake within the season arc. Since we didn’t know enough about this character’s wound or understand his shift in mindset, we didn’t root for or care about the outcome. With the other two characters that were well developed, we rooted for them to find their peace but their stakes were not reflected in the season arc. If there had been more momentum in the season arc and we had understood the mindset of that third character in a stronger way, it would have made all the difference in the success of the season. I choose not to name the show simply because I admire all writers that put their heart and their soul on the page so that we can all use it to learn.

In life, momentum is the fuel that leads us toward our goals. When we understand how to utilize the idea of “what is the worst thing that can happen if we do not achieve our goal?” we ignite our possibility. When we allow our mindset to evolve from being a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, we open ourselves up to more opportunity. This thinking not only helps us to achieve more of our goals, but it also opens us up to find more fulfillment in the process. Momentum and mindset are key ingredients in our success in life and in the stories that we tell.

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by on Aug.25, 2015, under Featured, Motivation, Spiritual

I seek to provide transformation to others and to experience it personally on a daily basis. As a story consultant, my mission is to help transform the message of the storyteller into one that resonates with their audience on a deeper level, uplifts, creates change, and to leads the storyteller to a sale.

How do we create transformation through the telling of story? After writing my book, “Change Your Story, Change Your Life: A Path To Success,” I always seek ways to elevate my own message. I find that by being open to transformation in my own life, I better understand how to pass it on to others. My goal with every seminar, every one-on-one consult, and every life experience is to identify how story can encourage change in the way that we see things.

When I teach or guide, my intention is to take the storyteller to a deeper place of understanding the why. Focusing on the why leads to transformation. Three whys that have significance in this process are:

Why does the writer want to write the story?
Why are they the perfect writer for the story?
Why does the central character want what they want? Or, Why do they want to achieve the goal?

Understanding the why adds emotional fuel to your story. When we feel and understand your whys, we feel your story. It’s a similar equation for entrepreneurs who need to tell and sell the story of their brands.

When I see films, watch TV, or read a non-fiction book, I’m seeking a sense of transformation. I have a desired outcome in my mind. When I can feel the why behind what the screenwriter or author is trying to say, and I understand how it applies to my own life, transformation happens. I am a junkie for transformation through story.

This year, two books that have stood out and led me to transformation are The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday and The 22-Day Revolution: The Plant Based Program That Will Transform Your Body, Reset Your Habits and Change Your Life, by Marcos Borges.

Ryan Holiday wrote his book is to guide people through using obstacles to their advantage versus getting bogged down by them. I love his quotation: “The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.” His book illuminated the path to my own transformation because I understood the author’s why for writing it, and I understood my why for reading it. I wanted to learn from past leaders who encountered apparently insurmountable obstacles, what they did to get through them, and what they learned along the way. This book transformed how I view my own obstacles.

While Ryan Holiday’s book led to emotional transformation, The 22-Day Revolution: The Plant Based Program That Will Transform Your Body, Reset Your Habits and Change Your Life by Marcos Borges brought about physical transformation in my life. I read this book because so many of my friends who have faced cancer believe a plant-based diet is the healthiest way to go. I understood the author’s why for writing it and my why for reading. I tried the 22-day program and loved it! In addition to my internal health, I wanted to see results. The food was amazing and I loved the physical results. The fact that the transformation led to a desired visible result made it even more fulfilling.

In film and TV, the desired outcome is to transform audiences. I’ll forgive a writer almost anything structurally if I feel transformed by the story. I recently saw Ricki and The Flash. I was curious how Diablo Cody would tell the story of a woman who left her family, since this is such a counter-intuitive life experience yet it happens in the world. I wanted to see if I could understand the why behind Ricki’s action as well as Diablo’s why for writing it. In life, we make bad choices that often lead to negative outcomes. What I took away from this story was that despite deep dysfunction and mistakes made, family is family. No family is perfect and we can find meaning in the imperfections when there is love. The question I felt being asked was: Can we find redemption by fulfilling a role that we left behind and find peace in the process? I did expect that the story would go deeper into the why behind Ricki’s choice to leave in the first place, and there were parts of the story that I felt could have been stronger. However, the story did reach me. I felt her regret. I felt compassion for Ricki (played so brilliantly by Meryl Streep). I understood why she wanted what she wanted. I teared up at the end. I felt the transformation because I felt like I understood why the story was written. This is what story is about.

There is an endless market for story because all of us, in our own ways, seek to explore and understand life. By understanding the whys of story, you allow us in, you transform, and you create change.

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