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
10 Tips For a Winning “Elevator” Pitch
This episode will be a special installment of the podcast, because we are building up to our fourth annual Pitch Festivus! free online pitching event on Dec 7.
In years past, when we had a physical location in New York City, we used to have our annual holiday party in our physical location. Having gone online now and becoming fully virtual as a school, we took that party online as well.
So now, instead of a traditional holiday party, you are going to get a three-hour free pitching workshop with top faculty members at Jacob Krueger Studio. You’re going learn how to pitch from some of the best in the business.
And we’re going to be picking writers from the group who get to pitch their scripts and get feedback from Jacob Krueger Studio faculty members. It’s all free – and you have a chance to win prizes. It’s super fun.
So what do you do if you get chosen to pitch? Well, I’m going to tell you how to prepare a great three-minute pitch. And this isn’t only going to be helpful for you when pitching at Pitch Festivus. There are countless events (like Austin Film Festival, for example) that culminate in these awesome pitch opportunities.
So we’re going to look at how to create a winning three-minute pitch.
A three-minute pitch for your screenplay or TV show is much different than the kind of pitch that you would give if you’re actually in a meeting with an executive or an agent or a manager.
A lot of people call a three-minute pitch an “elevator pitch.” And before I teach you how to make one, I’d like to remind you that the idea of an “elevator pitch” is based on a little bit of fiction.
The concept of an elevator pitch is: “Oh, wow! I’m on an elevator with Martin Scorsese. He’s going to floor 13 and I have to pitch my script before we get to his floor!” The idea is that you have to pitch that fast.
But that’s not really true. In the real world, even if you are on an elevator with Martin Scorsese, if he’s interested, he’s gonna be like, “Yeah, keep talking. Come walk with me.”
And the same is true in a real-life environment. Let’s say you’ve just been invited into a producer’s office. Sure, you don’t want to waste their time. You don’t want to wax poetic. You don’t want to bore them. But no one is checking their watch going, “Oh, sorry, that’s two minutes and 58 seconds.” No one’s checking their watch. It’s more of a feeling of whether a pitch is a reasonable length or just too long.
At the same time, learning how to create a three-minute elevator pitch is a valuable skill. Pitch fests, which usually have these kinds of time limits, are wonderful opportunities to get attention for your script, often from very famous people. It’s a chance to get heard and it’s a chance to practice, but it’s also a little bit artificial.
Pitching a producer, agent, manager, star, director, executive or anyone else in the industry is a lot different than the kind of pitching you’re going to be doing at Pitch Festivus! or at any pitch fest.
At Pitch Festivus! we’re going to share a ton of details about how screenwriters can succeed at real-world pitching. How to pitch if you are scared of pitching. If you’re an introvert. If you’re shy.
We’re going to talk about pitching if you’re not comf...
Saltburn: A Master Class in Tone
I was lucky enough to see Saltburn by Emerald Fennell at an advance screening at the Austin Film Festival last month. It was a packed house!
(And by the way, while we’re talking about Austin Film Festival, a shout-out to our six students who were finalists. Eric Potempa, Jonathan Finnegan, Kelly McAllister and Nancy Safavi were all finalists for the pitch competition with Nancy taking third place overall. Erin Brown Thomas was a finalist for her short film, Subtext. And Meredith Allen, former student and former faculty member at Jacob Krueger Studio, was a finalist for her horror film Sensei. We’re just so proud of all our alums who are out there doing amazing stuff and having such incredible success.)
There is so much that we can learn as screenwriters from Saltburn. It’s one of those films that pushes the edges in every way – that makes you laugh in the most uncomfortable ways, that makes you feel, that both entertains you and concerns you.
Saltburn, is of course, Emerald Fennell’s follow up to Promising Young Woman. By looking at a movie that takes everything this far, we can learn about tone, we can learn about genre, we can learn about writing characters that should be unlikable and still make the audience fall in love with them.
To really help you understand Saltburn, I’m going to have to reveal a few spoilers right at the very beginning. So if you don’t want the film spoiled, you might want to watch it first. If you read on, I’m going to give you enough context to understand what we’re talking about here.
In a lot of ways, you can think of Saltburn like The Talented Mr. Ripley on steroids.
It’s The Talented Mr. Ripley with the volume turned up even louder, with things pushed to even more ridiculous extremes.
Structurally, Saltburn is built on a thriller framework. The genre elements and the genre structure of Saltburn are pulled directly from thriller.
It’s a story about a young man, Oliver Quick, played by Barry Keoghan. He’s a student at Oxford University and he’s super bright but he has no money. And at Oxford that means he’s a bit of an outcast.
He develops a sexual attraction and a friendship attraction towards Felix Catton, a ridiculously wealthy student who lives in a grand castle. Felix has everything that Oliver has ever wanted.
Emerald Fennell talks about the film as a Gothic romance. To her, this story could just as well be Heathcliff in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, a story of a really complicated unrequited love.
But at the same time Saltburn is a Gothic romance with a lot of twisted stuff happening, it’s also a thriller. It’s also a pushed to the limits version of The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Emerald Fennell’s screenplay for Saltburn is fusing genres in ways we can all learn from as screenwriters.
So here’s what happens. Felix becomes Oliver’s best friend and invites Oliver to live with him at his ridiculously huge castle estate, Saltburn, for the summer because Oliver has nowhere to go.
Oliver has told Felix that his mother is a drug addict, that his father has died, that he doesn’t speak to his family. He has nowhere to go. He has no finances. And he basically becomes not only the friend but also the plaything to this ridiculously privileged kid.
Felix is incredibly sexy. Every woman in the world is just throwing herself at him. And although it seems like it’s an unrequited love story,
Killers of the Flower Moon: Adapting a True Life
This week, we’re going to look at Killers of the Flower Moon, by Martin Scorcese and Eric Roth.
We’re going to talk about the art of adaptation: How to adapt a book or a true life story (or in this case both) into a feature film or TV series.
We’re going to look at how to develop your “take” on a book or true life story and the many hard decisions you have to make in adapting a prior work.
When you’re adapting material– whether it’s a dream, an idea, a poem, a song, a show, a board game, a haunted house, a piece of IP, a novel, a play– regardless of what you’re adapting, it’s not just a process of taking what is and translating it onto the screen. It’s actually the art of saying, What pieces of this am I going to hold on to? What decisions am I going to make around it?
As you’ll see in our script analysis of Killers of the Flower Moon, you cannot adapt the whole book. You cannot adapt the whole true story into a screenplay.
So you have to look at each part really closely. And that leads to thousands of decisions, which taken together are called your take on the material.
So let’s say you’re Martin Scorsese and you find a book like Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann.
Or let’s say you are called in for a meeting with a producer who wants you to adapt something for them.
They’re not just looking for you to say, “OK, this is the book and this is what we’re going to make.”
They’re looking for your take. They’re looking for the you in it.
They’re looking for, How are you going to approach it and what decisions are you going to make?
And that means making really bold choices, sometimes even making choices that depart in some way from the source material, so that you can look at the aspects of the story that matter to you most deeply.
And of course, this is what Martin Scorsese and Eric Roth have done in Killers of the Flower Moon.SPOILER WARNING: There are going to be some spoilers, especially as we get deeper into the podcast transcript (I’ll warn you when we get there), but we’re going to start with a broader discussion about the book, the history, and the development of the screenplay, that will discuss some elements, but won’t ruin the movie for you…
David Grann’s nonfiction book Killers of the Flower Moon is primarily a whodunnit. And this is the obvious take on this material.
You have this tribe of Native Americans, the Osage, and like most Native Americans, they were driven off their land to the crappiest possible place that anyone could find for them — a reservation in Oklahoma where nothing could grow.
Scorcese opens Killers of the Flower Moon with a ceremony of mourning. And then, it seems, fate intervenes. Oil is found on the reservation. We see this explosion of oil out of the ground and these Native men are splattered in oil.
And even though it’s a joyful moment, it’s shot almost like blood is splattering them. It’s like a premonition. It’s a Martin Scorsese movie, we know it’s going to get dark, but at this moment, for the characters, it’s pure joy. They are dancing in celebration of the oil.
And then we are told, and this is true, the Osage people at this time became the richest people per capita in the world. In 1923 alone, the tribe made $30 million (over $500 million in today’s money.)
Writer's Block and the Inner Censor
Last episode, we talked about the two different forms of writer’s block. The first kind is the obvious kind of writer’s block– you’re just not writing. And this is actually the easier form of writer’s block to solve.
The second, much more insidious, form of writer’s block exists where you might be writing a lot, but your writing is flat.
We also talked about the confidence game of writing, about doubt, and how to overcome doubt.
This episode we’re going to be talking about how to deal with another key component of writer’s block and procrastination: The Inner Censor.
As we discussed last episode, screenwriters have three different gods that we’re always serving on every project.First, there’s the Project god, which we actually want to serve.
But there are two other gods we also try to serve, which actually just get in the way.
The Commercial/Career god, “Can I sell that?”– which gets in the way of us having the curiosity to explore with our authentic voice.
And the Identity god. “Am I an artist? Am I a good artist? Am I deserving of being an artist?”
Asking these kinds of questions only serves to undermine our creativity.
If you’ve listened to my podcast on The Two Kinds of Writers Block, at this point, you have a pretty strong foundation in what causes writer’s block. But there’s another element that we still need to talk about to really understand how writer’s block works and how to overcome it.
We need to talk about the Inner Censor, how it works, how it gets developed, and how you can start to break past it to build the life of a writer that you really want, put your authentic voice on the page, navigate the challenges that press down on our voice, and keep writing even through times when you literally don’t have a single idea in your mind.
We’re going to talk about how to deal with all of that and how all of that is related to the Inner Censor. And I’m going to give you some really great tools for getting past it.
When you were a child, you did not have writer’s block. You did not have an Inner Censor. You did not know that the Inner Censor existed.
Children just say whatever they feel.
“How does Mommy look in this dress?” “Oh, you look fat, Mommy.”
They don’t think about whether it’s reasonable.
“I want to go to the soccer game. I don’t want to ride in the car!”
It doesn’t matter that riding in the car is the only way to get to the soccer game. Children literally just express whatever they feel.
For a child, there is no Inner Censor.
If you ask a child to become a dog, the child will become a dog. They won’t ask, “Is it a St. Bernard or a German Shepherd?”
They will become a dog. And they will do things that dogs do, and things that dogs do not do. And it will be fascinating to watch them. They will not be blocked for one second. Children do not have Inner Censors.
Children are in touch with their authentic voice.
It’s the only thing they know.
Developmentally, young children are actually not able to recognize that they are not the only thing in the u...
Two Kinds of Writer’s Block
For the last couple of episodes we have been talking about Talk to Me, a fabulous little horror movie. (Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of the Talk to Me Podcast)
We’ve looked at this little horror movie from every different angle. We’ve looked at the first 10 pages. We’ve looked at mirrors and foils. We’ve looked at the genre elements. We’ve looked at world building. We’ve looked at theme. We’ve looked at a character’s journey and structure.
We’ve dissected it and pulled it apart and analyzed it and developed some really awesome skills that you can apply whether you’re writing a horror movie or anything else.
But what we haven’t talked about is actually the most palpable form of horror for most screenwriters, which has nothing to do with horror genre movies.
Writer’s block. Procrastination. Being stuck.
A lot of writers don’t realize this, but there are actually two different forms of writer’s block.
The first kind of writer’s block is when you’re just not writing.
If you have the not-writing block, you probably know it. It’s obvious.
You know you have it because you’re not writing. Or you’re procrastinating. Or you’re stuck waiting for the muse. You feel like you have no control over your own art or your own life.
You can only write when you are inspired.
And sometimes months, years, decades go by without that inspiration. You don’t know how to get yourself writing or you find yourself procrastinating– pushing it off, pushing it off, pushing it off– and then rushing, rushing, rushing, to get it done.
You never really have the time you need to do something beautiful.
You’re not writing. And that is probably causing you pain.
Now for some writers, it causes so much pain that they quit. But for a lot of writers, that pain eventually forces them to seek help.
And the good news is you don’t have to suffer with writer’s block.
In my Write Your Screenplay class, we get an entire class full of people– sometimes people who have been blocked for 20 years– past writer’s block in one session. And I’ve yet to work with a single writer where these skills did not work.
There are really simple cognitive behavioral skills that you can apply to writer’s block and procrastination. If you’re blocked from writing at all, these skills will break you through your block nearly instantly, with very little effort.
So the good news is, if you’re not writing, you can take care of it. You don’t have to live with this. You don’t have to be dependent upon the muse to come to you. You certainly can be in control of your own dream.
We’re going to talk about some of these strategies that you can use to get yourself writing again in a few moments, but first we need to talk about the other kind of writer’s block.
The second form of writer’s block is flat, uninspired writing.
If you have the second kind of writer’s block, there’s a good chance that you don’t even know it. Because you’re still writing… it’s just that you’re not writing anyt...
Talk to Me, Part 2: World Building & Structure
In Part One of the Talk to Me Podcast, we talked about the first 10 pages of Talk to Me and how the first 10 pages of your script work on three different levels.
On the writing level, they allow you to find your voice and the images that you’re going to build from.
On the structural level, they allow you to have a strong foundation that you’re going to “yes, and…” as you build your character’s journey.
And finally on the commercial level, they grab your audience right away to say, “Hey, pay attention! This is going to be cool.”
In this podcast, we’re going to do some deep script analysis of the structure and theme and world-building of Talk to Me.
We’re going to learn how to build structure organically in your own screenplay through a simple concept called mirrors and foils.
We’re going to talk about how to intuitively build structure in your screenplay in relation to theme.
We’re going to be learning a new approach to creating the rules of your world and allowing your audience to discover them without exposition dumps.And we’re going to be exploring the essential human drama that we actually connect to underneath all those exciting horror genre elements.
There are going to be a ton of spoilers ahead… so, if you haven’t seen Talk to Me yet, you might want to before listening to the podcast.
Talk to Me is a great example of what’s beautiful about genre movies.
Sure, a horror genre movie can be just a bunch of blood and gore (and Talk to Me certainly has enough blood and gore for years of nightmares).
But great horror movies are not just about blood and gore.
These elevated horror films are not about the horror of monsters. They’re about the horror of families, of relationships, of the personal challenges the audience is actually dealing with.
They’re just personal dramas, blown up in an expressionistic, symbolic way.
Spoiler Alert: There are going to be a bunch of spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen Talk to Me yet, this is a good time to go watch this film. (But be prepared to be scared). Or if you’re not into scary then just read on, because you’re going to learn a ton about how to write in any genre…
When we look underneath the surface at the structure of Mia’s journey in Talk to Me, it’s about so much more than being possessed by a bunch of monsters.
The truth is, (most likely) nobody in your audience has ever been possessed by a monster or shaken hands with a creepy hand that might have been lopped off an actual psychic. No one in the audience is going to live a horror movie.
And at the same time, all of us are living horror movies in some way, because we’re all human beings and life is frickin’ hard and scary and sad.
If you’ve listened to my podcasts on A Quiet Place or Hereditary, you understand how these elevated horror movies are really family stories. And Talk to Me is no exception.
What we’re watching in Talk to Me is a family story about a girl who lost her mom.
As she tries to deal with this incomprehensible sit...
Incisive, no tangents, positive approach to the craft
I’m always searching iTunes for good screenwriting podcasts, and this is by far the most well thought out, clearest, and most helpful I have found.
Once I found this podcast, I quickly binged it very episode and attending his free, Thursday night writing workshop a few times, which I also recommend.
It seems like what a great lecture in film school would be like (never went but took some so-so courses online) and because Jacob Krueger does the podcast solo, it’s not about banter and gossip and tangents that often come with a two-person show.
This is pure education wrapped in an approachable, compassionate approach to fundamental aspects of both the craft itself, and explain the self-compassionate, constructive ways to approach both the business and art of screenwriting.
I also really enjoy the use of current films and TV series as examples of what works and what doesn’t work in context of various aspects of filmmaking and storytelling, without the sometimes cutting take downs that earn clicks for film critics.
I’m not trying to sell you classes at his film school, but I just started his “Write your TV series” course online and by the end of the first class, I *really* “got” the fundamentals of storytelling for the first time and was surprised the price was half of typical course.
Tremendous podcast. Entertaining and informative. Jake has a wonderful knowledge base and his delivery is the best.