178 episodes

Rather than looking at movies in terms of "two thumbs up" or "two thumbs down" Award Winning Screenwriter Jacob Krueger discusses what you can learn from them as a screenwriter. He looks at good movies, bad movies, movies we love, and movies we hate, exploring how they were built, and how you can apply those lessons to your own writing. More information and full archives at WriteYourScreenplay.com

Write Your Screenplay Podcast Jacob Krueger

    • TV & Film

Rather than looking at movies in terms of "two thumbs up" or "two thumbs down" Award Winning Screenwriter Jacob Krueger discusses what you can learn from them as a screenwriter. He looks at good movies, bad movies, movies we love, and movies we hate, exploring how they were built, and how you can apply those lessons to your own writing. More information and full archives at WriteYourScreenplay.com

    The Shed

    The Shed

    The Shed

    Today’s podcast is an excerpt from a recent Thursday Night Writes in which we discussed some of the causes of writer’s block, how to overcome procrastination as a writer, and how to keep your writing flowing through the chaos of the holiday season, so when you’re setting your New Year’s resolutions, they can be about how to take your writing to the next level, rather than how to get the engine started again. 

    I realized I’ve been doing this wrong for 17 years. 

    For 17 years, I’ve been talking about how the holidays are hell for screenwriters. And for 17 years, on January 1st, I have reached out to our community with a Screenwriting Challenge, to help you get your engine started again. 

    And that’s completely backwards. 

     

    I need to talk about how to stop procrastination and writer’s block before it starts: how to keep your screenwriting going during the holidays! It is 100 times harder to get your screenwriting engine going again than it is to just keep it running. 

    When I was a kid, we had this shed in our backyard. I was 13 years old. It was 1987. But nobody had been in that shed since 1980. 

    The truth was, I was afraid to go into that shed. In fact, my whole family was afraid to go in there. My mom was afraid to go into that shed. My sister was afraid to go into that shed. 

    All that was really in that shed was some old bicycles, a lawnmower, and some rakes… normal shed stuff like that. But the shed was scary because we hadn’t been in there for so long. 

    And that’s exactly what happens to writers when they let that engine for their writing come to a stop. When you stop going into the shed, the shed gets scarier and scarier. 

    There are many reasons it gets scarier. 



    The cycle of procrastination and writer’s block means that writing gets scarier when you stop doing it! Part of this is simply the way your mind processes the unknown. 

    Hey, can I even get in that shed again? If I do get brave enough to go in there, am I going to find anything good? Or is everything going to be ruined? Do I even have the courage to open the door to the shed? 

    One of the reasons you get afraid is just that you haven’t been in there for a while. You don’t know what’s in there. And when you don’t know what’s in there, it’s a little scary. 

    The second thing that makes it so hard to go back into the shed is that, on some level, you know that whatever is in there isn’t in as good shape as when you shut the door a couple of months ago!

    If you’re writing on a consistent basis, it’s like having well-oiled sharp tools. But if you leave them in the shed unattended, pretty soon they’ve got cobwebs all over them, and the blades are dull, and things squeak that didn’t used to squeak. 

     

    The same thing that happens to your tools in the shed is what happens to your skills as a writer when you stop using them.



    When you’re using them every day, it’s easy to keep using them. It’s like if you run every day, taking a jog is easy. If you haven’t run for six months, you finally take a jog and you think you’re going to die!

    The most important thing to remember is you’ve got to keep going into the shed. 

    You’ve got to keep going into the shed, no matter what is going on in your life. 

    And if you haven’t been in the shed, then you’ve got to summon up the courage. Because every single day that you wait to go into that shed, the shed gets scarier. 

    The shed may never stop being scary. But it will get scarier the longer you stay out of it. Your imagination will simply be able to imagine more horror there. 

    Just like Jaws, when you can’t see the shark, it’s a lot scarier than when you can.

    • 43 min
    Every Genre Is Like a Musical

    Every Genre Is Like a Musical

    Every Genre Is Like a Musical

    This week, we’re going to be talking about writing genre movies and TV shows.



    We’re going to be talking about writing the horror genre, and writing elevated horror.



    But we’re also going to be talking about writing any kind of feature film or TV show, or even a play, comic or novel that has strong genre elements. 

    The truth is, every film and every show, every work of art for that matter, has a strong genre element. 

    Whether you’re writing an action movie, an action comedy or a romantic comedy, a musical, or even a little low-budget indie drama, there is always a genre element. 

    If you think of a Wes Anderson movie, for example, the genre element is that Wes Anderson movie is cool, hip cuteness, the odd characters, and the really beautiful tableaus: that’s the Wes Anderson genre.

    Or, if you think of a writer like Charlie Kaufman, even though he seems to defy genre, he has his own genre as well. Generally, in his early work, he’s writing inside of a romantic comedy genre. But it’s also going to have that mind-bending quality to it, it’s going to make you laugh, and it’s going to have some hidden darkness underneath the surface.

    You can see that Charlie Kaufman’s genre changed as he evolved in his career when he stopped working with Spike Jonze, and the darkness that used to be hidden under the humor emerged onto the surface. In films like Synecdoche New York or Anomalisa, the mind-bending Charlie Kaufman elements are still there, but the darkness rises to the surface and the romantic comedy elements disappear. 



    So what are we really talking about when we talk about the genre in screenwriting? Essentially genre is made up of two different elements. 

    The first element is the way that your movie or show makes the audience feel. 

    Every audience goes to a movie or binges on Netflix for the exact same reason that you do. They want to feel a certain way.

    Perhaps they want to feel like love is possible. They’re going to show up and watch a romantic comedy or a romance because it’s going to make them feel that way.

    Or maybe they want to feel an adrenaline rush. They might show up for your action movie, or a noir thriller to get that kind of adrenaline rush. 

    They might want that sci-fi or fantasy experience, that feeling of experiencing other worlds that both allow us to escape and better understand our own.

    They might be coming for a feeling of violence and action. They might be coming for a feeling of adventure. They might be coming for a feeling of connection and understanding. They might be coming for a feeling of being challenged creatively.



    Your audience is always coming to a movie or TV series for a genre feeling. And if you don’t deliver that feeling, the audience is going to be pissed off. 

    If you’re writing BoJack Horseman (see my podcast on BoJack Horseman) and you don’t deliver 500 puns a minute (and then every once in a while make us cry), we’re going to be pissed off. 

    If you’re writing Curb Your Enthusiasm and you don’t make us laugh at the little eccentricities of neurosis as Larry tries to get along in reasonable upper-class society, you haven’t done your job. And if Curb Your Enthusiasm ever made you cry, you’d be angry. Because that’s not the feeling you’re coming for. 

    The first element that we’re talking about when we talk about a genre is how the movie or show makes you feel. 

    That doesn’t mean that you should adjust the feeling of your show for your audience and it doesn’t mean that you can’t do cool mashups of genre feelings and genre elements. You certainly can. 

    For example,

    • 18 min
    Pulp Fiction: A Simple Trick For Shaping Your Audience’s Expectations

    Pulp Fiction: A Simple Trick For Shaping Your Audience’s Expectations

    Pulp Fiction: A Simple Trick For Shaping Your Audience’s Expectations

    This episode is going to be a throwback to Pulp Fiction. I recently rewatched the film in preparation for the ProTrack mentorship session with one of my students. There are so many lessons in this film that will be really valuable for you all, so I’m excited to share them with you.

    Pulp Fiction, on its surface, seems to be completely revolutionizing what screenwriting structure looks like. 

    Pulp Fiction unfolds out of chronological order. It has these long, long, long scenes. It has monologues, it has dance, and it has all these things that we don’t typically see in movies. Pulp Fiction looks like it’s doing something completely wild and complicated. And yes, it is. 

    But at the center of Pulp Fiction is something so incredibly simple. And I want to talk about this one simple idea because this is an idea that you can use in your writing.



    Here’s the simple screenwriting idea that all of Pulp Fiction grows from: You never give them exactly what they’re expecting.

    We talk a lot in this podcast about getting in touch with your voice. If you have taken my Write Your Screenplay Class, you know that there are actually four phases of writing, and the phase where you’re getting in touch with your voice is really just one of those phases. 

    One of the phases of writing that we haven’t talked a lot about on this podcast is a phase I call The Audience draft.

    How do you manipulate the audience’s expectations? How do you surprise the audience? How do you track the journey that the audience is having and the way it relates to your main character’s journey. 

    But there’s a deeper thing that we can do as we write The Audience Draft. We can use The Audience Draft to actually push ourselves past our own inner sensor. In other words, by surprising the audience, we can also surprise ourselves. And we can also surprise our characters. 

     

    This is one of the things the screenplay for Pulp Fiction does so brilliantly: it sets up really clear expectations for the audience, and then it both delivers upon and violates them, in wonderfully entertaining ways. 

    For example, in the first scene, we’re going to watch this loving couple, played by Amanda Plummer and Tim Roth, plan a robbery of a diner. We think we know where we are: Oh, these crazy people who are so madly in love with each other are going to rob this diner, and we’re going to watch their little heist movie.



    Their expectations around robbing the diner are set so clearly. They’ve talked about all the hard places to rob and why the diner is going to be the easiest possible place to rob. 

    Once you set those expectations, you know it can never happen like that. 

    You can never give your characters what they’re expecting. And you can never give your audience what they’re expecting. It has to happen in a slightly different way. 

    How do we surprise the audience’s expectations? 

    Well, rather than watching these two rob the diner, we cut away, and suddenly we’re in a completely different story! 

    That’s a shock for the audience, the audience is asking themselves, Oh, how are these two storylines going to match up? 

     

    How do you surprise the audience’s expectations? Well, that’s going to come a little bit later. But you can see that there’s a string of the plot of Pulp Fiction that Tarantino’s choice to cut away leaves dangling for us.

    We don’t forget about that string even though we lose track of it. And when it comes back together in a way that we could never have anticipated, it’s so much fun for us to experience. 

    We’re going to cut away from Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer.

    • 28 min
    Structure is a Puzzle

    Structure is a Puzzle

    Structure is a Puzzle

    This week, we’re going to be talking about screenplay structure in what may be a different way than you have experienced it before.

    Usually, when people talk about screenwriting structure, they might be talking about outlines, or plot, or the kinds of things that might have to happen, or Three Act Structure, or Seven Act Structure, or The Hero’s Journey, or any of the millions of other permutations by which people try to understand structure with their intellectual brains. 

    What we’re going to be talking about instead today is a simple metaphor that might help you understand the process of finding structure for your screenplay and how to do that in an organic and intuitive way. 

    Sometime in your childhood (or in your adulthood!) you probably have had the experience of putting together a puzzle.



    I want you to imagine 1000 piece puzzle, one of those really complicated ones with a lot of intricate detail and a lot of pieces that maybe look similar or even the same. On the cover of the box, there’s a picture. You’re trying to create that picture. 



    When you’re just looking at 1000 puzzle pieces, it can become completely overwhelming. In fact, if you just start trying to put random pieces together, you’ll probably just get overwhelmed and quit, just like most screenwriters do when they try to figure out the structure of their screenplays.

    You need a process to group those pieces so you can start to make sense of them.



    When you’re putting together a puzzle, you’re going to start, usually, by looking for the corners.

    You’re looking for pieces that have a very specific shape, a shape that makes sense, a shape that can be a central building block for your puzzle. 

    What’s nice about the corners is that in pretty much any puzzle, you’re only going to have four of them. So you do have to sort through a lot of pieces to find those corners, but you don’t need to actually find a lot of them to start building. Once you find those corners, you can start to place them. 

    In screenwriting, we also need to look for those corners. We need to look for those corners in order to find the shape for our structure. 

    But our challenge is a little bit different than the challenge of putting together a simple puzzle. 

    See, with a simple puzzle, you always have that picture on the box. It’s not a vague picture. It’s not a general picture.  It’s not a picture that’s clouded by your subconscious mind, or your dreams. It’s not a picture that’s shimmery and changes as you think about it, and maybe first looks like this and then looks like that. 

    In putting together a puzzle, we have a picture that looks like a picture and we have pieces that look like pieces. They already look like pieces. And we simply have to sort through the pieces that already exist in order to find those corners.

    In screenwriting, we have to make the puzzle pieces that we will build the structure of our screenplay.

    We have to actually create the pieces! And even as we create them, though we may have a sense of what that final picture looks like, we don’t have an exact image to build towards. We have to develop our own image along the way. 





    Screenwriting structure is like putting together a puzzle. But it’s like putting together a puzzle where you have to make the pieces and where you don’t know exactly what the final image is going to look like. 

    That means you need some different skills in order to succeed.

    What a lot of people do is try to figure out an outline for what they imagine the “image on the box” will turn out to be. They try to say, okay, there’s going to be a puppy dog in the bottom left corner, and there’s going to be a cute little Victorian cottage up to the right.

    • 18 min
    Homeland: Getting Staffed on a TV Show with Jonathan Redding

    Homeland: Getting Staffed on a TV Show with Jonathan Redding

    Homeland: Getting Staffed on a TV Show with Jonathan Redding

    Jake: My guest today is Jonathan Redding. Jonathan is the newest faculty member at Jacob Krueger Studio. 

    Jonathan was a writer on Homeland, which, if you haven’t watched, is an extraordinary show. We’re going to be talking about how Homeland was built, and what was it like to be in that room, especially as your first staff gig as a staff writer. 

    Jonathan began as a playwright and a dramaturg. And we’ll talk a little bit about the journey from playwriting to TV drama writing and how those things are related and connected. Jonathan, why don’t you just start off by telling us a little bit about your journey.

    Jonathan: I shall, but first, just let me say thank you so much for having me on. I am a fan of this podcast. And I’m so excited to be here. I’m so excited to be working with you. This is really fun for me.

    The big thing for me, Homeland was when I first got staffed. That was really my introduction into the industry. I had been pursuing it for quite a while before that, but I had mainly been in the theater world. I had been a playwright and a dramaturg and an actor. 

    I had been resident playwright to a theater in Santa Monica called The Broad Stage Regional Theater for a number of years, and while I was there, I got to work alongside some incredible artists: Mikhail Baryshnikov, Shakespeare’s Globe of London and Anna Deavere Smith came, and did workshops with us.

    I was part of the early development process for Hadestown. Anaïs Mitchell still just had the concept album because Dale Franzen. who wound up being the executive producer of the Broadway run, was at the time, our artistic director. 

    That was back when it was just first being workshopped, with actors singing it live, and trying to put together some simple kind of movement and things to it. 

    Prior to that, I had my own company called the Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble, who are perennial Ovation Award nominees out here. And had a number of celebrated and award-winning plays, including The War Cycle, which was a trilogy of plays.

    Still, breaking in was a struggle for a long time. I had been writing specs and features for a long time. When I first came to town, I brought with me spec episodes of The Shield and Lost, they were in the middle of their runs. That is how long ago I started this march.

    Homeland was my first show. It took so long! So long to get to.



    Jake: I think it’s actually very heartening for students to understand that, yes, some people get lucky– and I always say, you never know when luck will come! Luck could happen tomorrow, luck could happen in 10 years. But I think, the people who are successful are often people for whom the luck doesn’t necessarily happen when they want it to, but they keep writing, they keep pushing, and pushing and pushing. 

    It’s very valuable to understand that it may take you a long time to build a career. And that’s not because you’re failing. That’s because you’re doing something really hard.

    Jonathan: Yeah. It’s like Theseus’ boat. You start out with your piece of material, your one or two scripts, and you think, this is the thing, and it’s going to get me there. 

    And then by the time you’ve actually reached a destination, or reached some far long part of your journey, every part of the boat underneath you has been replaced, patched over and become new. And you are the constant. 

    Jake: Yeah. I love that as a concept, especially because there’s so much bad advice out there. I get writers all the time, saying, well, this person told me I should write this script. And then I write that script. And then somebody else said, I should write something like this instead. So I wrote that. And then somebody else said I should write something like this other thing.

    • 55 min
    The Inner Game of Screenwriting with Christian Lybrook

    The Inner Game of Screenwriting with Christian Lybrook

    The Inner Game of Screenwriting with Christian Lybrook

    Jake: I have a special guest today, Christian Lybrook, who is one of our ProTrack mentors at Jacob Krueger Studio.



     

    I’m especially proud to have Christian here because Christian came up through our program. He’s an extraordinary writer. He has produced and directed his own work, he’s managed to maintain a career as a writer from Idaho! ( we won’t tell anybody, Christian) And he’s also just a sensitive human being with incredible emotional intelligence, towards both his characters and the writers that he mentors. 

    We’re going to be talking about the inner game and the personal side of becoming a writer today with Christian. Welcome, Christian, thank you so much for being here.

     

    Christian: Thanks for having me. As you know, one of my favorite pastimes is chatting about all things screenwriting. Happy to be here.

    Jake: Tell us a little bit about your journey as a filmmaker. What has that looked like? And what do you think was most important thing in making the transition from being someone who is dreaming of doing this to being someone who’s doing it?

    Christian: Yeah. Great question. You know, when I think about my journey as a screenwriter, everybody knows that every journey is different. And anybody who’s listening to the podcast, you’re going to have a different version of what your story is. 

    But I think it’s helpful to talk about these stories, because they can be illustrative of the things that we have faced and the things we have to overcome. I wast somebody who didn’t go to film school, I wasn’t somebody who grew up in the business, I didn’t grow up in LA or New York.  And for a long time, I was always interested in film and screenwriting. But I didn’t think that I could do it because I didn’t know how to get into the industry. 

    I grew up on the East Coast. I was born in Massachusetts and moved around a lot. But by the time I was kind of pursuing writing, I was in grad school in Alaska, which is about the farthest away you can get from LA and still be in the United States. 

    I took a screenwriting class as I was getting an MFA in Creative Writing. And I was focused on fiction, primarily because, although I secretly wanted to be a screenwriter, I just didn’t know how to complete that training. And I took one screenwriting class, and that immediately ignited something in me, but I still was literally thousands of miles away from the industry. 

    And living in Alaska, and trying to make it as a screenwriter just seemed like a ridiculous ask. So  I stayed focused on prose, and eventually, I followed a girl to Idaho. And that’s where I am today.

    One of the nice things about Idaho is it’s a very small place. And you could do things and meet people much more easily. It’s a very small community. You meet one person and they’re going to introduce you to the next person, and the next person. 

    But it was also at this time when technology was being democratized. And for the first time, if you owned a video camera and a computer, you could make a movie. And that was really my entree into taking a stab at this stuff. Because I didn’t have to be in LA. I realized I didn’t have to be surrounded by pros, I could just make it up as I went along. 

    The first short film I made was with some buddies. None of us had training, none of us had experience. And we all thought, how hard can it be? 

    It turns out, it’s really fucking hard. 

    But it was a great introduction. And there are elements of it that I fell in love with. I taught myself how to edit.

    • 36 min

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