Personal tips

STORY: CREATING TRANSFORMATION THROUGH UNDERSTANDING THE VOID

by on Apr.10, 2017, under Featured, Personal tips

When we understand how to heal the wound and fill the void, true transformation can begin. In story as in life, our wounds create a void. The void stops us from moving forward with our journey in a productive way. The void often creates a negative narrative that gets in our way of success. The negative narrative produces a flaw. The flaw is our way of coping with the void. Our flaw could be what we do to distract ourselves from processing the wound so that we can move forward. The gift of story is that we can watch the transformation that happens to the hero with the wound from the beginning through the achievement of the goal. If the storyteller understands how to fill the void caused by the wound, the hero will find resolution on an internal and an external level.

Our present wounds are often caused by the splitting open of a prior wound. We have a memory of something in our past that created a void. So, when something happens in the present to split this open, we need to take the action to fill the void. In story, I tell the writers that I work with to think about the prior wound. In TV pilots, how does the series trigger and dilemma split open this wound? In features, how does the inciting incident split open the earlier wound? Creatively, when you link the prior wound to the present wound, you have a greater depth to deal with in the understanding of the wound and how to fill the void through conscious action and connection. When you have the prior wound linked to the present wound, you have the fertile ground in between to utilize when it comes to the telling of your story.

In the movie, LION, we see the prior wound happen at the beginning of the story. We are in the wound. We know what it is. We are in the heat of it. We FEEL the void. Then, when there is a time jump, we still have a clear understanding of the goal. He is lost. He wants to find home. Finding home goes to a whole new level of meaning because of how his story evolves. He has a new home. Love is there. However, the void is never truly filled until the answer is found. He has to move through the negative narrative and the obstacle of the wound happening when he was a young boy. The journey to find home never stops after the time jump. It is always there. Then, a new beginning for intimacy and connection appears. A problem arises when he discovers that true intimate connection cannot be truly realized until he finds home. This leads him back to his journey.

This type of story is very reflective of the writers’ journey in my worldview. For the writer to truly be able to express her/himself, she must do the emotional work to “find home” so that she can access the wound, fill the void and move forward in a way that will allow her to truly connect with her audience on a deeper level of meaning. When the void is present and the negative narrative wins, the truth cannot be fully found. So, this is where the emotional work begins.

On Netflix, there is a phenomenal show called RIVER that really takes us through the healing and processing of the wound. In RIVER, there is a twist at the start that you don’t see coming that involves the wound. It is very clever and very creative. When you understand the wound and how it stops River from moving forward, it connects with the audience in a very universal way. One of River’s flaws is his sense of denial and refusal to face the truth. In TV, the way that this is often dealt with is that there is a thematic link between the pilot arc and the season arc. The pilot arc is often one step toward healing the wound. In River, through the solving of the first case, we see how he gets answers to his own emotional void through his connection with the mom who lost her daughter and the boyfriend who confesses to killing her. River knows from the evidence that the boyfriend didn’t murder her. In working to understand the boy and what really happened, he is able to move deeper into his own process of healing. It is his digging into his own pain that leads to the answer of what happened with the boy and the girl.

When story is mastered at a level like these two stories, we all benefit. We see in process what the journey is in finding the answer to fill the void. When we learn to fill the void in story and in life, we pave a path to move forward and connect on a level that brings us true resolution.

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WHEN STORY GIVES SERVICE

by on Nov.22, 2016, under Motivation, Personal tips

When story gives true service, it takes us to a new level of consciousness and enlightenment and makes us feel very deeply. I have a hunger for this type of story. I am always on a quest for it. Take me inside a world from an angle that I haven’t experienced and make me feel like I am living in the worldview of the character/characters. This is what I discovered while watching the new Netflix show, The Crown.

Many of us in the entertainment community have recently gone through a shift or what many believe to be an “all is lost” moment. The best way to move through this type of experience is to express, heal and feel. Story is the place to do this. When story serves, it’s as if it understands what we are going through and it delivers it to us in a way that helps us to forget our own problems and buy into the world of imagination of another time and place. Oddly, this world has very strong parallels with what we just experienced with one meteoric rise to power.

The Crown took me into a world and made me feel like I was living it through the eyes of Queen Elizabeth and Winston Churchill. This is such a significant relationship in our history. To see it brought to life and delved into in a major way is absolutely spellbinding. Peter Morgan wrote this. He is a pure genius. He takes us into several different angles of relationship dynamics that ground and enthrall the viewer with this moment in time.

It starts with the King’s illness and the building of a beautiful relationship between him and his daughter, Elizabeth. We see how Elizabeth is being groomed but there is no warning at how quickly it will all happen. We feel what the King is going through. There is a moment when Elizabeth’s daughter gives him a King’s crown for a gift at the Christmas party at a time when he knows he’s sick. He reaches down for her hand as he gets choked up. I love these little moments that have so much emotion and meaning.

With Winston and Queen Elizabeth, we see how they need one another in their monumental roles. We feel their friendship and their loyalty. We feel the depth of the betrayal when Winston fails to tell Queen Elizabeth about his health and thus causes significant danger to her part in leading the nation. We feel the pain of letting go of a time that once was. We connect with what it is to have to let the younger generation take the reigns.

When I started working for Aaron Spelling, he was 69 and I was 24. He was bigger than life in my eyes. So, I could completely connect with this relationship dynamic and the understanding and admiration of an icon.

One of the many, many things that I love about this series is Morton’s exploration into the title versus the person. This was one of the major conflicts that Queen Elizabeth faced. It is very relevant today with career versus home life. However, in this time, the title had to take precedence over everything. The role of wife, mother, sister and daughter had to be secondary. Watching Queen Elizabeth have to embrace and transform into this at such a young age is astounding.

With Philip, we feel her struggle with her deep love for her new husband and her responsibility for the nation. We feel what he has to sacrifice in order to be a part of this relationship. We see how their marital bond is constantly tested by the title versus the person. It was also fascinating to know that this marriage was not supported from the beginning. Yet, there is such a poignant moment between The King and Philip when they go hunting in the pilot. The King helps Philip to see that there is no lesser role and nothing more patriotic than what he has to do with loving and protecting her.

Another relationship dynamic that moved me was the bond between the Queen and her two daughters. I never considered that when the King died, she was stripped of everything and her daughters took over. To have to see her face the death of her spouse and then go through so much loss really made us feel her pain.

I also loved the story arc where there was a promise made between the two sisters and their father. This promise is later put to the test when it is discovered that there is no way that the promise can be honored in light of the position and the responsibility. This is when we see and feel the true conflict for Queen Elizabeth and what she had to go through to maintain the role while not letting the intimate relationships in her family unravel.

For me, this is definitely one of the best first seasons that I’ve seen of any series in my 24 years of story. It filled my spirit because the writer, the director, the cast and the crew fulfilled their service to story at the highest level at a time when we need it the most.

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BIBLE FORMULA for #Scriptchat

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

BIBLE FORMULA 2016

  • 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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BIBLE FORMULA FOR ISA LISTENERS

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

BIBLE FORMULA

 

  • 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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ISA LINK

by on Jul.18, 2015, under Personal tips

For those of you on the ISA call, here is the LINK

 

 

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CREATIVE SCREENWRITING INTERVIEW – MEET THE READER

by on Jul.08, 2015, under Featured, Personal tips

Meet the Reader: Jen Grisanti

Meet the Reader: Jen Grisanti

“Our wounds are the well we should draw from.” Consultant and writing instructor Jen Grisanti discusses the key concepts of a great script, and why movies and TV matter.

By Brianne Hogan.

Jen Grisanti

Jen Grisanti has always been fascinated with film and TV. For her, it was the escapism and wish fulfillment of it all that ignited her love for story.

“I remember seeing The Hardy Boys when Joe Hardy’s girlfriend, Jamie, died. I still remember the song “If” by Bread that played. The story stuck with me because of the way that it made me feel.”

It’s her dedication to emotional resonance that makes Grisanti such a sought-after script consultant. Her two books, Story Line: Finding the Gold In Your Story, and Change Your Story, Change Your Life: A Path to Success, illustrate her passion for helping writers grow from their own personal narrative as they align their personal and professional selves.

A former assistant to Aaron Spelling, Grisanti climbed the ranks and eventually ran Current Programs at Spelling Television Inc., covering all of Spelling’s shows including Beverly Hills, 90210, and Charmed. In 2004, Jen was promoted to Vice President of Current Programs at CBS/Paramount where she covered shows including Medium, Numb3rs, and NCIS. In 2008, she launched her own consultancy firm, and when she not’s busy helping talented writers break into the industry, she’s also a writing instructor for NBC’s Writers on the Verge. This year alone, she’s participating in The Big Island Film Festival, The TV Writers’ Summit, The Story Expo, Comic Con, Wonder Con, and The Great American Pitchfest.

Despite her hectic schedule, Creative Screenwriting was able to catch up with Grisanti to discuss what she loves most about her job, the key concepts of a great script, and why movies and TV matter.

Shaun Cassidy as Joe Hardy and Parker Stevensen as Frank Hardy in The Hardy Boys

Why do movies and TV matter?

Movies and TV matter because they often share a strong message about the human experience. They bring us to a higher place of consciousness with better understanding the hero’s journey.  Through story, we see that everyone faces obstacles on their way to a goal. We see and root for the hero to get over his/her obstacles. This transforms the way that we see obstacles in our own lives. It helps us to understand how to be more engaged in our own lives and more active heroes in our own stories.

How did you get into the script consulting business?

I got into the script consulting business when I hit a crossroads in my life. I had been a studio executive at two sister companies for over 15 years when I was told that my contract was not being picked up for another term. This happened on the heels of a professional disagreement. I was a VP at the time and in mid-pursuit of what I thought was my career destiny, running a studio.  I was forced to redefine my path. In the moment, I thought that this pitfall was one of the worst things that could happen, but it ended up being one of the best things that could have happened. It took that moment of loss for me to realize and take steps toward founding a business built on the things I loved most about working in film and TV: working with writers, and developing story.

I had to go through an exploration of: if I wasn’t Jen Grisanti the studio executive, who was I? I’d done my job diligently for 15 years. I’d fully committed to the process. In the moment I found out my contract wasn’t being renewed, it felt like my dream was taken from me. I knew that I could continue to climb the ladder at other companies. I also knew that if I did that, I’d be putting my destiny back into someone else’s hands. At this point in my professional life, I knew that I had a strong reputation and that the community empathized with my loss. Since I had staffed many writers and loved that about my work, I knew that I wanted to find a new way to be of value to that community, one that could be on my own terms.

Aaron Spelling

So, I went to CAA and spoke with their business development people. CAA had represented Aaron Spelling, who was my mentor for 12 years before he passed away. I told CAA about a software idea, and an idea for a writers’ consultancy. They liked both ideas. They recommended that I do the writers’ consultancy first and get known as an entrepreneur in addition to being a studio executive. They also recognized that I had successfully staffed over 15 primetime shows and that my experience had value to the market.

I had the good fortune of having my contract paid out so I had the money to start my own business. I knew that it was now or never. So, even though, it was in the middle of the writers’ strike in 2008, I jumped off the biggest cliff of my career and started Jen Grisanti Consultancy Inc. The writers’ strike actually worked for my business. On the day of my launch, I sent my new website out to 900 people from my Rolodex. I received 175 emails in those first 24 hours. During the first week, I booked 20 meetings. This was the start of a beautiful new journey. I began to see that by building a business around my strength, story development, I was doing what I loved, and I was helping to facilitate writers’ dreams.

When I started my business, I recognized that my success would depend on the results that I got. I meditated on and visualized my clients getting results. Over the past 7 years, I’ve had over 55 of the writers that I’ve worked with get staffed. I’ve had 31 sell pilots, 5 of which have gone to series.

With this experience, I turned what I once thought was my “all is lost” moment into a trigger that would propel me to blaze a path with passion for doing what I loved the most, developing story.

www.jengrisanti.com

What do you love about: a) your job in general, and b) script reading, in particular?

One of the many things that I love the most about my job is seeing the arc of growth of the writer. I love to see how when I introduce them to new tools it can make a massive difference in the way that they approach story. There is nothing more rewarding than when you come across a writer who sees and embraces the process and understands it in a way that brings their writing to a whole new level. This is when results happen.

I love having the flexibility to do what I love and to do it with people that are driven by the same passion for story that I have.

What I love about script reading is that you can take any story and elevate it so that it is the best that it can be. As a Current Programs executive, it was my job to make story the best that it could be before it hit the air. So, you could take a script that wasn’t very strong and move it to the strongest place that it could be so that the show could be a success. I approach reading the scripts of my clients in the same way. I think about them as something that could very possibly someday be on the air. I use the knowledge and expertise that I gained from some of the top talent in the business to help get writers to where they need to be so that their success can happen.

The great thing about being a writer is that you can write your way into a job. An actor or a director doesn’t have this power. So, as a consultant to writers, I understand that the only thing between the writer and their working career is a story that hits it out of the ballpark. This fuels my passion for script reading.

Who do you usually consult for?

I work with writers at all levels.  I work with newer writers as well as working writers from staff to Co-Executive Producer level. I think that a large part of this is due to the fact that I staffed over 15 shows. I developed a creative trust with writers that have worked with me in the past and valued my feedback.

Writers contact me when they’re building their writing portfolio, when they’ve sold or are about to sell a pilot and want to make sure that it’s the best that it can be, when they are staffed and they want to write another great pilot or spec script that will keep their career going, when they are staffed and they want to stay staffed, etc.

Ian Ziering as Steve Sanders and Jason Priestley as Brandon Walsh in Beverly Hills 90210 (1990)

What is your process like when you sit down with a script for the first time? What are you looking for?

When I read a script for the first time, I begin by reading it once through just to know what the story is and where it’s going. Then, I read it a second time and make my notes. I often read it a third time to make sure that I covered all the bases and to see if anything else comes to mind that will help to elevate the story.

What I look for is strong structure and elevated emotion. I want to feel the inner story as well as the external story.  With the opening, there should be a powerful question that comes out of it. I want to be dying to know the answer to this question. If written well, the resolution will answer this question. I look for strong internal and external stakes. I look for a well-crafted personal dilemma that is connected to the professional pursuit. I look for whether or not I feel the story and understand what the writer is trying to say with it.

What are the key components that make up a great script?

The components of a great script are:

  • Set up of World and life before the trigger incident
  • A Strong series trigger and dilemma (this is for the TV pilot script)
  • A strong pilot trigger, dilemma and pursuit that are strongly linked to the series dilemma.
  • The central character should take an action in each act toward the goal, hit an obstacle and there should be a reminder of the stakes.
  • A strong external and internal stakes arc.
  • Strong act breaks that end on an obstacle due to an action that the central character took toward the goal.
  • The voice of the writer. I want to feel what they’re trying to say with the story.
  • A strong link between the “all is lost” moment and the action that the central character takes at the top act that leads toward the achievement of the goal.
  • A symbolic moment when the goal is achieved.
  • A resolution that answers the question coming out of the opening dilemma.

The Cast of Charmed

I read that when you work with writers, you discuss emotional well-being and assisting with the emotional work to heal. What does that entail, and how does that help them with their writing?

I do a ton of work with the wound/wounds of the writer. Our wounds are the well we should draw from. These moments are where our voice lives. So, I do a lot of work with writers on accessing their wounds and then drawing their emotional truth from these wounds and discussing how they can add fiction to it in their writing. This is a very big part of the process I teach. I believe that if you don’t know how to access your wounds, you are not writing from your core and your soul. As strange as it may sound, the parts of ourselves that make us the most unique are what connect us to each other in a universal way. If you understand your wounds, the audience will better connect with what you’re trying to say with the stories that you tell.

I have had tremendous breakthroughs with helping writers to understand their wounds. When writers understand how to integrate their wounds into their writing, they suddenly write that pilot script that hits it out of the ballpark and gets sold or gets them staffed.

I believe that our wounds are the key to our success in story and in life. When you lead with the wound, connection happens.

You discuss in your books moving from ego to spirit. How does this apply in TV or feature films?

At the beginning of story, the hero often wants to achieve the goal for ego related reasons. It is only after he/she hits several obstacles on the way to the goal that they become humbled. When the hero is humbled by their obstacles, the achievement of their goal takes on a deeper meaning. They wake up to the fact that the achievement of the goal isn’t just about them, it’s about contributing to the greater good.

In Story Line: Finding Gold In Your Life Story, I write about Ryan’s character from the film Up In the Air.

Ryan wants to achieve a goal at the beginning of the story for ego related reasons. He doesn’t want to stop flying because this means that he’ll lose his single lifestyle, and it threatens his belief in going through life with an empty backpack. After hitting hurdles and being humbled by them, Ryan understands that his belief no longer serves him. This marks his movement from ego to spirit. At the midpoint, Natalie tells him that he puts himself in a “cocoon of self-banishment.” Then, he goes to see his sister and tells her that he will walk her down the aisle. She tells him that she already has someone walking her down the aisle. He goes to see Alex, his love interest, and discovers that she’s married and has a family. These actions reflect his growth of moving from ego to spirit.

We see through the theme of detachment how Ryan moves from ego to spirit. It is symbolically shown with the visual of the empty backpack that Ryan uses at his motivational talks to help communicate his philosophy.  This becomes clear by lines such as: “The slower we move, the faster we die.”  It helps us understand why Ryan thinks and feels the way that he does.  It also explores the idea of mortality.  We learn through the story how being “grounded,” or shall we say being “attached,” represents the beginning of the end for Ryan.  Through the story, we see Ryan go from fully believing in his philosophy of being detached to beginning to see the value of commitment.  This is articulated visually and symbolically when we see that Ryan is no longer able to give his talk with his empty backpack.  He no longer believes in his own philosophy.  Another strong visual symbol that connects us to his journey is the cardboard figures he carries around of his sister and her fiancé to take pictures with in different locations.  It’s like Ryan was carrying his biggest fear with him: the idea of commitment.  When he gets to their wedding and thinks that he’s done this miraculous thing by taking all these pictures in different locations as a way to show his sister that he does care, he’s disappointed to see that there are hundreds of other pictures that people took that made his contribution seem small in comparison.  It was a reminder to him of what could be.  The beauty of this symbolism is that it helps us to understand who Ryan is and why he acts the way that he does.

Geory Clooney as Ryan Bingham, in Up in the Air

One of my favorite exercises in Story Line was identifying my Universal Life Moments. Can you talk about what they are, and what makes them so vital to the stories we tell?

A “universal life moment” is a moment when your world turns upside down and your sense of reality, as you know it, shifts.  Often times, this is an “all is lost” moment.  Your life has changed.  You are put in a position of choice.  You can take action, or you can choose to stay where you are, but either way, your reality will never be the same again.

Universal life moments, if you learn how to use them in your writing, are the glue that connects you to your audience. They are where your voice lives. We are often wounded during our universal life moments. Your wounds give you something to say. This is when you start to feel and understand your emotional truth. Your emotional truth is your gold as a writer. It is what separates and defines you from all other writers. It is your unique thumbprint.

Change Your Story, Change Your Life, by Jen Grisanti

Could you illustrate the five components that you discuss in your book, Change Your Story, Change Your Life: A Path To Your Success, with regards to motivation? I think it’s an essential piece of a character’s journey, but I find that it can be difficult to understand and/or tackle.

The Five Components are

  • Desire
  • Wound & Flaw
  • External Stakes
  • The Past
  • Moving Forward and Evolving

DESIRE

The first part of motivation is being able to understand what you want. What is your life goal? Many writers have trouble writing goals for their central characters because they don’t know what they want in their own life. When you understand desire, you understand what you want.

WOUND & FLAW

I do a lot of work with writers on understanding their wounds. When you understand your wounds, you understand your voice. This is pivotal in your success as a writer. I recently worked with a writer who told me that she always tends to write toward the teen audience. I asked her why this was, what was her wound? She immediately responded, “My wound is emotional abandonment.” She went on to say that her mother had too many kids too soon. Two of her siblings were diagnosed with Aspergers. Her mom was in denial about this. So, this forced the writer to be the parent to her siblings at a young age. I started to ask her about the other scripts in her portfolio. She suddenly realized that all of her scripts had the theme of emotional abandonment. So, by her understanding her wound and the flaws that came from it like pleasing people, she was able to build the stories that she tells around this.

When you understand your wounds and your flaws in your own life and the lives of the people around you, you are able to write them for your characters. Our wounds are part of what motivates us toward a goal. This goes with the idea of moving toward pleasure and away from pain.

When I lost my job, the wound that motivated me was the recognition that if I went to work for someone else on the next tier of the corporate ladder, my destiny would once again be in someone else’s hands, and the same thing could happen again. I wanted to create my own destiny. This led me to creating Jen Grisanti Consultancy Inc.

EXTERNAL STAKES

When we identify what is the worst that can happen on an external level if we do not achieve our goals, this can fuel us to move toward our goal.

So, if you want to be a working writer. Think about: what is the worst that can happen if you don’t attain this? On an external level, this could mean never being able to buy a home, not being able to put your kids through private school, etc. These are external things that you may want to create the picture of the future that you want. So, when you have them in mind, you can use them to motivate you toward your goal.

THE PAST

Your past is your blueprint for what worked and what did not work. By understanding the choices that you made in your past that led to outcomes you may not have wanted, you can use your knowledge to motivate you in a different direction.

MOVING FORWARD AND EVOLVING

When you go through things like divorce, loss of a job, a breakup, a death, etc., you want to move away from pain and toward pleasure, but you have to heal in order to do this successfully. Part of healing is the recognition that your ego is often what motivates you toward a goal. When we go through loss, we begin to wake up and become more conscious of this. We start to see that the achievement of our goals can be about contribution to the greater good. When we become more aware of this, we are able to utilize this to move us toward our goals while evolving and elevating ourselves to a higher place of consciousness.

The Cast of Medium

How important is it that writers are honest with themselves about their own “all is lost” moments and why?

Your “all is lost” moments give you a reason to start over.  They often represent the end of one story and the beginning of another. So, be open to a new beginning.  With your “all is lost” moment, you have two choices, you can be a victim to the fall or you can become and active hero in your own story. When you rise above the fall, you see the opportunity to begin again and grow.

This is important to writers because understanding their “all is lost” moments gives them something to draw from. My process in working with writers is to first understand the writers’ personal story. I want to understand what has transpired in their life that has given them something to say. I also want to see how accessible they are to their well and the wounds that have happened in their life. I encourage writers to build their writing portfolio around their wounds and their emotional truth. This helps to establish why they are the perfect writer for the stories that they are telling.

Story Line: Finding the Gold in your Story, by Jen Grisanti

At the end of Story Line, you ask, “What message are you sending out?” How important is it for writers to have a message? And why? How do we begin to find our “message”?

Your message defines what you want to say with your story. By understanding what you want to say with your story, your message forms. Sometimes, this is conscious. Sometimes, it is subconscious. I think when you have a clear sense of what you’re trying to say with your story. It helps you to write from a deeper place. This is important because it helps us to feel your story and to see you in the stories that you tell.

You begin to find your message by thinking about your why behind your what. Why do you want to tell your story in the way that you do? What inspired it? What do you want to leave behind with it? What do you want your audience to feel? What is the significance of what you are trying to say? By thinking of these things, you will find your message.

What are some common mistakes you find while reading scripts from emerging writers?

Some of the most common mistakes made by writers are

  • Not creating enough empathy for their lead from the start
  • Not having a powerful enough trigger and dilemma to start their story
  • Having a central character that is more reactive than active
  • Having soft act breaks that don’t end in jeopardy to the goal
  • Not having a strong external/internal stakes arc.

At which point in the writing and editing process should a writer approach you for your help?

I work with writers at all levels. I like working with writers from concept, to outline to script. It allows me to really help them work through their creative process.

I also love working with writers when they finish their scripts. They do not need to have their script in perfect shape before they come to me. They can send it to me when they finish their first draft. This allows us to really dive into the work.

I also have writers come to me that want to redevelop a pilot that they did in the past. I love doing this as well.

The best point to turn to a consultant is when you know that you want to take your script to the next level and you’re ready to do the work. Or, you know that you have a strong idea, but you don’t know how to execute it in the strongest way possible.

David Krumholtz as Charlie Eppes in Numb3rs

What should an aspiring writer do everyday to get to the employable/professional level?

They should take action. When you write down the goals in your life just as you write down the goals in your story, think of all of the actions that you can take toward the goal.

Five actions that writers can take everyday are:

  • Write.
  • Live your life to the fullest so that you have something to write about.
  • Absorb the world around you and soak in the messages.
  • Read scripts, read books, read newspapers, read trade papers.
  • Watch the news and documentaries.

When is a script “good enough” to make the rounds? Enter contests, fellowships, submit to agents, etc.

This is where the writer has to trust the intuition. You have to trust when it is ready. In my experience, this takes writing and rewriting through several drafts. It takes sending it out to a professional and receiving strong feedback.  It is all about doing the work to get your story where it needs to be. When you’ve received strong feedback from a number of sources, trust that the script is ready.

Bottom line is that there will always be development that can be done. However, you can get it to the strongest place possible based on the skills that you have.

What film(s) and TV show(s) do you think have a well-crafted screenplay?

FAVORITE TV SHOWSLuther

The Good Wife

Homeland

Masters Of Sex

The Americans

The Blacklist

Scandal

House Of Cards

Mad Men

Breaking Bad

The Wire

FAVORITE FILMSThe Lives Of Others

The King’s Speech

The Imitation Game

Birdman

Whiplash

Guardians Of The Galaxy

The Intouchables

American Beauty

Good Will Hunting

Braveheart

Up In The Air

Crazy, Stupid Love

Ulrich Mühe as Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler in The Lives of Others

What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to an aspiring screenwriter?

Write. Live. Meditate. Visualize. Believe.

And what’s the biggest piece of advice you’ve received as a writer?

When I was writing my first book, the best advice I received was to look at my table of contents. Then, think of a conversation that I’d want to have about the title of each chapter. This advice was pivotal for me.

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BIBLE FORMULA

by on Jul.08, 2015, under Featured, Personal tips

BIBLE FORMULA

  • 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 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.
  • 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 over
  • 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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DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO GET INTO A WRITING PROGRAM?

by on May.19, 2015, under Featured, Motivation, Personal tips

It is that time of year when writers from all over the country apply to the studio and network writing programs. I am the Writing Instructor for Writers on the Verge at NBC and have been for the last eight years. I am also a former 12-year studio executive. I’ve seen what it takes to get into these programs. I help to groom writers in this direction with my writers’ consultancy, Jen Grisanti Consultancy Inc. I’ve had writers get into every program. It all comes down to how you sell and tell your story.

I wanted to share 5 tips with writers to think about while submitting to these programs.

  1. Submit your script on time.
  2. Review your script with professionals
  3. Understand your voice in your script as well as your meetings.
  4. Have anecdotes that give us a glimpse into your worldview and show us what sets you apart.
  5. Trust and Believe.

Submit Your Scripts On Time – I’ve had countless writers send me emails at the time of the submission deadline saying that they can’t submit due to technical problems. Do not wait until the last minute of the deadline. I recommend submitting at least a day or two before the deadline. You don’t want to put all of your time and energy into the possibility and then have it go away because you didn’t get it in on time. When you are a working writer, being on time in the room and with your deadlines is everything. So, start with being on time with your submission.

Review Your Script With Professionals – I highly recommend that you have professionals review your script/scripts. This could be in the form of a script consultant. Or, you may have a friend who is an executive at the studio, a manager or an agent. Or you may know an assistant to an agent/manager/executive or showrunner that reads scripts for a living. If so, have them take a look. A writers group is also a great place to have your script reviewed. Going to a copywriter is also a great thing to do if you struggle with grammar/spelling. Put your best foot forward.

Understand Your Voice In Your Script As Well As your Meetings – What are you trying to say with the stories in your script? Be prepared to talk about this. How do you describe your voice? Do you utilize your voice in all the stories you tell? Know how to sell and tell your story. Think about how you can use your voice in meetings. If you do make it to the round where you get a call or a meeting, be prepared. Go in with intention. What are three things that you want them to know about you? What are three things that you want to know about them and/or the program? With meetings, recognize that we want it to work as much as you do it. If you’re being singled out for a meeting, it is because they responded to your material. Own this. Be confident. Recognize your worth. Sell Your Passion.

Have Anecdotes That Give Us A Glimpse Into Your Worldview and Show Us What Sets You Apart – Mine your stories from within. What has happened in your life that makes you want to write? What are your wounds? What makes you feel isolated? What are your pivotal life moments that turned your world upside down and gave you something to say? What are some of the interesting things that have happened that contribute to who you are now and what message you have to deliver? Think about the trigger incidents and dilemmas that have happened in your life. What road did you take? What are some of the universal moments that you’ve gone through? These don’t have to be huge. Think of the smaller moments that we all connect with.

Trust and Believe – If you are meant to get into the writing programs, you will. If this is not your destiny this time around, apply again next year. Know that this is not the only way to become a working writer. It all comes down to your work. There are many writers that I staffed when I was a studio executive that did not come through the programs. It all comes down to the strength of your story and how you tell it and sell it on the page and in the room. Trust in your voice. Believe in your gift. Try not to take actions that get in your own way. Meditate. Visualize. How does it feel? What emotions come up? See yourself attaining everything that you want as a writer. Trust and believe in this outcome.

When you understand how to tell and sell your story on the page and in the room, things will open up. Writing is a journey. Success does not happen overnight. There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into the moment when it all connects. Don’t be afraid to do the work. Recognize what actions to take that will lead you to your desired outcome. Let your passion guide you. Recognize that the door has opened for others and it can open for you. You have to develop and have the confidence to walk through it.

 

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WONDERCON

by on Apr.03, 2015, under Featured, Personal tips

Here is the LINK for my FREE E-Book “How To Write A Pilot That Sells” and my Pitch Document Formula.

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