148 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
    • 4.8 • 223 Ratings

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

    WandaVision: Genre, Structure, Theme, Engine and Your Voice as a Writer

    WandaVision: Genre, Structure, Theme, Engine and Your Voice as a Writer

    WandaVision: Genre, Structure, Theme, Engine and Your Voice as a Writer



    When you watch WandaVision, you just can’t help but think: “I am so frickin’ lucky to be writing in this golden age of television!”

    The fact that Jac Schaeffer and these writers could actually get away with WandaVision, not as an experimental thesis project for film school, but part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on Disney Plus, with a gigantic budget shows you is that the lid has literally been blown off of what you can and cannot do as a screenwriter today. 

    WandaVision reminds us of a screenwriting concept we discuss on this podcast all the time, the idea that as a screenwriter, success doesn’t come from following some formula, it comes from finding your voice as a screenwriter.

    It comes from going inside and finding that story that literally only you could write, telling that story that literally only you could tell, finding that unique voice that only you have.

    There’s a habit that we all have of surrendering our power. 

    We want to play nice, we want to play by the rules, and we want to do the things that we’re supposed to do. We often think that if we play nicely like that, and if we follow the rules and if we follow the formulas, that somehow we are going to have the Hollywood life that we envisioned for ourselves or that you could sell out into the future that actually works. 

    And of course, that’s exactly the opposite of what’s true. What’s actually true is there are way too many experienced writers who can write a clear well-told story with a good premise. The thing that breaks you in as a writer is that unique voice, that unique take, that unique thing that literally only you could come up with. 

    Sometimes, it’s the script that doesn’t get made that breaks you in as a writer. Sometimes, the script that people don’t have the courage to write makes people decide, “I need to read more of their work. I need to work with this person because they have this incredible voice.” 

    You may have noticed as I’m talking about your journey as a writer, it sounds oddly similar to Wanda Maximoff’s journey in WandaVision.

    That’s because WandaVision is more than just a history lesson in television. WandaVision is more than just a thematic lesson in how to build a superhero movie that’s actually about something. WandaVision is more than just a structural lesson about how to focus even the wildest work into a shape that a mainstream audience can connect to and understand. 

    WandaVision is also a commentary on the journey of every writer. 

    Just like Wanda, we come from influences. We grow up watching shows. We grow up watching movies. We grow up inspired by other writers and believing that we are supposed to have a life like theirs. We buy into other people’s vision. And often in the process, we end up surrendering our voice and surrendering our power, or trying to please those around us and trying to hold onto this vision of who we are supposed to be.

    We also hold onto that vision in the way we structure our scripts. We make these beautiful, very clear outlines that seem to make “so much sense.” We come up with a great pitch. We come up with a great logline. We come up with a great synopsis that makes us feel like we know exactly what story we’re telling. 

    We have a vision for that story, and where does that vision come from? It often comes from (even though we’re not conscious of it) what society is telling us a story is supposed to be or what Hollywood is telling us a show is supposed to be, or what we’ve already seen on film or television, rather than from our own voice and our own experiences and the truth of what actually is. 

    We get attached to that vision. We get attached to that structure. 

    And sometimes, along the way,

    • 41 min
    UP vs. SOUL: What Theme is Driving Your Writing?

    UP vs. SOUL: What Theme is Driving Your Writing?

    UP vs. SOUL: What Theme is Driving Your Writing?



    Today we’re going to be looking at Soul by Pete Docter, Mike Jones and Kemp Powers. 

    Soul is a fascinating movie, especially if we think of it in terms of the whole Pixar library, because the truth is Pete Docter has already made this film. Pete Docter, many years ago, made a film called Up.

    In today’s podcast, we’re going to analyze the scripts for Soul and Up, exploring how the two screenplays explore the exact same theme and structure through a different plot. Along the way, we’ll learn some powerful lessons about how theme can drive your writing.

    So, what’s the theme of Soul? The theme that Pete Docter is still hammering away at so many years later in Soul is the idea that by getting too attached to what we perceive as our life’s purpose, we can become lost souls. By becoming so obsessed with what we’re supposed to be doing, we actually end up missing life. 

    In Up, the way that that problem gets created is through a man who is madly in love with his wife. She dies young. And he spends the rest of his life trying to preserve her memory, trying to get to this place called Paradise Falls, which he believes is his destiny. 

    In a typically Pixar-magical way, in search of that destiny, he flies his house to Paradise Falls using balloons and ends up on the wrong side of the falls. Unfortunately, he has a stowaway passenger that he was really hoping not to bring along on the journey, this little kid named Russell, who is desperate for a father. 

    To understand why that little stowaway is there, we have to look at the beginning of Up.

    There’s a beautiful 10 minutes of silent filmmaking at the beginning of Up that is pretty much a perfect short film.

    In the short film, Carl meets the love of his life, Ellie, and they dream of having a child together. And she can’t have the child. They build a life together and they get consumed by normal life obstacles, and they never make it to Paradise Falls before she dies. 

    He gets obsessed with preserving what’s left of his destiny with Ellie, the things from their past and the things that they were supposed to have before she was taken from him. 

    Having arrived at “the wrong side of the falls,” the house becomes a visual metaphor, literally tethered to him by a garden hose, as he drags it behind him to Paradise Falls. 

    It’s like the albatross around his neck, and he’s so obsessed with getting that house to where it’s “supposed to be” that he almost misses the real destiny that’s right in front of him: this little boy who can become the son that he always wished for, that he always wanted with Ellie. 

    So, that’s the structure of Up. 

    By the end of the film, Carl finally lets go of the house, when he realizes that the things that mattered most to him with Ellie were not the big things that they dreamed of. The everyday little things in his life with Ellie was the real adventure.

    Like many writers, despite having made an absolutely perfect movie, Pete Docter is still not done with that theme. 12 years later, he’s still wrestling with it in a different form, this time in a movie called Soul. 

    This is something that happens to all of us. Some themes will work themselves out over the course of a single script and other themes we have to look at from one angle after another. 

    And it makes sense, because Pete Docter is one of the great producer-director-writers in history. He’s behind some of the greatest Pixar films, and always in collaboration with other brilliant artists (in the case of Soul with writers like Kent Powers and Mike Jones).

    Being that big head honcho and making those big things and doing these great things, it’s only natural to feel pressure between being the powerful creative force who you’re supposed to be– who you have the talent and the mean...

    • 27 min
    The Mandalorian: Where Hook Meets Engine

    The Mandalorian: Where Hook Meets Engine

    The Mandalorian: Where Hook Meets Engine



    This week, we’re going to be talking about The Mandalorian and the incredibly important screenwriting concept of hook. And we’re going to relate that idea of hook to another very important idea in TV writing, which is engine. So this is the podcast on where hook meets engine.

    Let’s start off by talking about hook.

    What’s the hook of The Mandalorian? Just like in your screenplay or pilot, the hook is the thing that hooks the audience, like hooking a fish.

    It’s the thing that keeps them coming back again and again.

    And what does the audience come back for again and again? They come back for a feeling.

    The feeling is the internal hook, that’s the actual thing that the audience is buying. That’s why we are paying for Disney+. Because we want to watch The Mandalorian, we want to feel that Mandalorian feeling!

    But you can’t go into a producer’s office and be like, “Let me tell you how this piece is going to make you feel.”

    So what we use is this concept called hook, which turns into a little pitch for your show, capturing that big, ironic, super-cool element that’s going to deliver that feeling.

    In The Mandalorian, that hook is so simple, right?

    The simple hook, the simple premise of The Mandalorian is that the most hardened bounty hunter ever is going to fall in love with little Baby Yoda.

    A guy who has no moral compass outside of the world of his Mandalorian religion, outside of the world where he doesn’t remove his helmet, a guy who has no ethical compass in relation to the people that he takes prisoner, that he sells for money, whose only value in the whole world is beskar armor—is going to fall in love with a cute little Baby Yoda who is supposed to be his prisoner.

    So you have this wonderful, ironic hook of the hardened bounty hunter falling in love with the cute little Baby Yoda. And you can see that pretty much everything in The Mandalorian is built around that hook!

    From the very first episode, by the time we get to the end of the pilot, we already know what’s going to happen. We already know, oh my gosh, it’s little Baby Yoda!

    And we already know that this particular Mandalorian has a history, that he was a foundling, that he understands what it is to be an orphan, that he was taken in by someone who cared for him when his own parents were killed.

    And so you take this character on this wonderful A-Z journey, where he is finding his internal compass—a man who has none. That’s the simple hook.

    All of The Mandalorian is going to grow around that simple hook. It’s all about Baby Yoda. Tough Mandalorian, cute Baby Yoda.

    That’s all it’s about—tough Mandalorian, cute Baby Yoda!

    And just think about how much effort went into that?

    There is not a frickin’ frame where a little Baby Yoda isn’t doing something cute, right? He’s eating something that’s ball-shaped. He’s getting into some kind of trouble. He’s doing some kind of adorable little look. He’s always doing something. Why? Because it’s about little Baby Yoda.

    You lose little Baby Yoda and The Mandalorian is over. You lose little Baby Yoda, and The Mandalorian is just about a dude in a helmet whose face you can’t even see traveling the world having adventures.

    It’s little Baby Yoda that gives the piece its feeling: What does it feel like when a hard guy goes soft?

    What does it feel like when a hard guy starts to find something that he actually cares about?

    What does it feel like when a rigid man starts to lose his rigidity, because of a little baby that he loves?

    So that’s The Mandalorian. That’s the hook.

    If you were going to pitch The Mandalorian, you’re pitching the Bounty Hunter with a little Baby Yoda.

    • 29 min
    One Night in Miami: Writing for Political Change

    One Night in Miami: Writing for Political Change

    One Night in Miami: Writing for Political Change



    This week we’re going to be looking at One Night in Miami by Kemp Powers, adapted from his play.

    The movie, if you haven’t seen it yet, is about a fictional evening between Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown.

    In exploring One Night in Miami, we’re going to be talking about three things that will be incredibly valuable to you as a screenwriter: the way the screenplay lands its powerful political and emotional message, the slightly old fashioned way it uses exposition (it’s not perfect), and the simple power of a character’s secret as a tool for building structure.

    When you’re writing a political screenplay like One Night in Miami, it’s important to make sure you’re not just preaching to the choir. 

    To create a desire for change in your audience, you need to take your audience to a place of deep and transformative emotional power. And the way One Night in Miami succeeds in doing this is by fusing its political message with a powerful emotional message.

    And this is what we all strive for when writing a political movie: we’re all striving to move an audience to not just affect their intellect, but to actually move them emotionally in relation to a topic, so that they feel a new kind of empathy and understanding they might not have felt if they hadn’t watched the film.

    And the way that we do that is by allowing them to see themselves in a character and move them on a journey just like that character is going through. So it’s an emotional move that actually creates the power of a political film. 

    What’s really interesting about One Night in Miami is that despite the incredibly powerful place it ends up, it doesn’t start very strong, mostly because of that pesky little problem called “exposition.” 

    In an attempt to set up the world of the movie for the audience, rather than launching us right into the action, One Night in Miami starts off by introducing the four main characters and setting up things the old-fashioned way.

    The most problematic of these intros is the one with Jim Brown, so that’s the one we’ll look at. 

    Jim Brown, potentially on his way to Miami (it’s not quite clear) has stopped off at the house of a white family friend. And he has an extraordinarily long conversation with his white family friend on the front porch of the Southern gentleman’s house. And while the writer has an ace up his sleeve for the final line, the conversation is problematic for a lot of reasons. 

    The first is, nothing is happening. And when I say nothing is happening, what I mean is Jim Brown doesn’t want anything from his white friend. He’s simply stopping by. And similarly, the white friend doesn’t want anything from Jim. He’s simply chatting him up. 

    If anybody wants something, it’s the white friend’s daughter, who just wants to be in the company of this legend. But even her want really gets attenuated. And what the scene ends up doing is what a lot of not-so-successful scenes do, it ends up being a set-up scene for the audience. 

    Now there is an incredible line at the end of the scene that is absolutely devastating. Because what you watch is a very long scene where this white man is so nice to this black man, is so kind to him, and so lovely to him. And Jim Brown is so nice and lovely to his white friend. And then, for reasons that are not exactly clear, the daughter pops in and says, “Hey, Dad, are you going to help me with that furniture?” 

    And why exactly the daughter, who just wants to be in the company of this legend Jim Brown, is interrupting her dad’s meeting with this superstar family friend to move a piece of furniture is not particularly clear. But it’s really there as a setup, right? 

    Because we’re going to find out that this white man who has seemed so nice ...

    • 24 min
    Cobra Kai: How to Find Your Hook

    Cobra Kai: How to Find Your Hook

    Cobra Kai: How to Find Your Hook



     

    This week, we’re going to be looking at the hook, engine and structure of Cobra Kai, learning how to find the hook of your screenplay or series pilot, and what to do if your original engine seems like it’s running out of steam.

    Hook is one of those all-powerful tools when you’re a screenwriter. Because hook is not just how you sell scripts. It’s not just how you write scripts. It’s how you get work-for-hire jobs, the primary way that screenwriters make a living.

    Most writers start off their career thinking it’s all about this one great idea. “I’ve got this top secret idea that only I’ve thought of. I’ve got this piece of IP (intellectual property) that nobody else knows about. I’ve got this book. I’ve got this novel. I’ve got this true story that happened to me. I’ve got this crazy thing that came to me in my dream.”

     

    We have this brilliant idea, and we get really stuck on it. We think the idea is the thing that sells.

    But as you get more advanced, as you start to actually live and work in this industry, you start to realize that ideas are a dime a dozen. And the same ideas tend to kind of make the rounds, again and again.

    In fact, that really unique idea that you have, that nobody else ever thought of… there’s a good chance that actually somebody else not only has thought of it, but has written it and has circulated it around Hollywood! 

    It’s very rare that you see a new idea. And yet, producers do buy one version of the idea and not the other. They do buy this project and not that project. So it’s important to understand what they are actually buying. 

    As you’ll see as we start to break down the structure of Cobra Kai, It’s not actually the idea that a producer buys when you sell your screenplay. It’s the hook.

    So what is hook?

    Hook is your unique take on the idea. 

    Hook is “I found this incredible piece of IP. And this element of it spoke to me. And I saw it a little different than everybody else.”

    Hook is “this dream came to me. And I saw this kind of unique take on it, this little twist on it.”

    Hook is the thing that makes you you. And hook is the way you find yourself in what you’re writing. 

    When you’re thinking about hook, don’t think about hook as selling out. Think about hook as a way of entertaining yourself. By finding little fun ironic twists, by finding things that you didn’t see coming when you first had the idea. 

    In television writing, hook becomes even more complicated because hook gets connected to this vital tool called a series engine.

    A series engine grows out of the key elements of a TV series, and the way those elements are put together each episode and each season to create the same feeling and the same hook again and again and again… to create something that feels the same, but is also different. 

    So we’re going to be talking about that special place of screenwriting magic where hook meets engine. We’re going to be talking about how to find your hook. And we’re going to be talking about what to do if you lose it. 

    You would think once you had a good hook that you would never lose it!

    Once you had that amazing take on new material, you would think that you would hold on to it like your life depended on it.

    But if you’re a screenwriter, guaranteed, you have written a draft in which somehow you lost track of that great idea you started with! You’ve written a draft and then realized, “huh, that’s funny, I wrote a different movie.” Or you realize, “wow, that hook is there, but I’ve got secondary characters and subplots that are kind of gumming up the works and taking away from it.”

    In TV, it gets even more complicated.

    • 33 min
    The Little Things: How to Write a Trick Ending

    The Little Things: How to Write a Trick Ending

    The Little Things: How to Write a Trick Ending



    This week, we’re going to be talking about The Little Things by John Lee Hancock, as well as some other films with the greatest trick endings of all time, like The Sixth Sense, The Usual Suspects and Se7en. Specifically, we’re going to be answering the question: how do you write a trick ending in your screenplay?

    If you haven’t seen The Little Things yet, don’t worry, I am going to talk about the plot, but I will not give away the big surprise until the very end. And I promise I’ll warn you before we get there.

    And if you have seen the movie, then you and I probably can agree that it has (what should be) a really fun trick ending, the kind of trick ending that we all look for, that wonderful moment that seems connected to character, that has emotional stakes to it, that surprises the audience, that’s even is a riff on the title of the script. 

    It’s a nice little moment, or at least it should be. 

    But somehow, you probably found that the trick ending in The Little Things left you just a little bit cold. It just doesn’t totally land. In your head, (if you didn’t see it coming), you might still think, “oh, that’s interesting, that’s a cool trick ending.” But in your heart, you don’t really feel the trick ending. 

    That happens for a very simple reason. 

    So in looking at The Little Things we’re going to talk about exactly why the trick ending doesn’t work to its full potential, and how to write a trick ending for your screenplay that works both intellectually and emotionally.

    Often, when your trick ending isn’t landing, or for that matter, when any element of your script isn’t landing, you rush back to rewrite, and you start to get focused on all the little details that aren’t working.

    And, of course, we could talk about all the little details of The Little Things. We could talk about the kind of clunky exposition at the beginning where we’re told again, and again, and again, and again about Denzel’s nervous breakdown and what a messed up cop he was before he lost his job and ended up at this crappy little out-of-town precinct. 

    We could talk about the good things about this script. We could talk about the wonderful performance of Jared Leto’s character, and the nice little twist on the serial killer that we see with him. We could talk about the cool 90’s throwback stuff and the old technology of solving a crime. We could talk about the pacing of the script. 

    These are exactly the kinds of things that we often get obsessed with when we rewrite, especially when something big isn’t working in our script. All those little details. “Oh, no, I messed up this little line of dialogue…” 

    But what I want to tell you is that these are the little things. They’re not the big ones. 

    And as screenwriters, as much as we care about the details, we actually have to make sure we take care of the big things before we take care of the little ones. (Even if we’re writing a script called The Little Things). 

    The reason the trick ending of The Little Things isn’t landing has absolutely nothing to do with all the little clunky execution issues in the script. 

    The truth is, the script could survive those clunky issues, even though I wish the writer had cleaned them up. The real reason the ending doesn’t land comes down to what almost always gets in the way of trick endings: it’s all about the characters. 

    The first key in writing a trick ending that works is making sure that the trick ending isn’t just happening for the audience. It’s also happening for the characters. 

    And that’s especially important if you’re writing a two-hander like The Little Things. 

    By two-hander I mean, there are really two characters in The Little Things. Sure,

    • 50 min

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5
223 Ratings

223 Ratings

Chuckielove69 ,

Jacob is amazing

I’ve had the pleasure of studying with Jacob, he is incredibly knowledgeable.

Great place to learn and study!

hunt142 ,

I’m so happy I found his podcasts!!

Jacob’s podcasts have inspired me in so many ways. His love for screenwriting is so beautiful and it’s so inspiring to me. Every time I listen to his podcasts I really feel like I need to go home and write immediately. I owe him a huge thank you for everything he has taught me.

ValiPacificNW ,

Greatly appreciate the detailed analysis and advice!

Thank you, Jacob for providing a wide array of deconstructive analysis of movies and television series and your advice for pitching scripts. It has made me much more aware of the details that most viewers overlook but are important in creating the impact of a great work of art. It also helps me to understand why there are so many films with so much potential that fall flat and just a few that are incredibly impactful that I want to watch them over each year. I am writing a nonfiction/fiction hybrid television script and look forward to that day when I can work with one of your studio professionals to transform it to something truly special.

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