Thursday, July 9, 2015

Dialogue. Sweet Niblets of Mercy. DIALOGUE.

Dear Beloved Hopeful Screenwriters,

Please. In the name of all things good and holy, learn to write good dialogue. Because what I've been seeing is horrible. Terrible. Soul crushingly terrible.

But let me tell you how I really feel.

A well meaning soul sent me a script to peruse. I'm harder to pin down these days, but as a favor for a friend (and you know who you are, and when your poodle goes missing just mail me the ransom for his safe return) I read it.

The dialogue was well, sorely lacking.

First of all, your hero isn't going to KNOW everything, or we CAN'T go on a journey with him/her. And he can't just BLAB out pertinent information because we, as the audience, have to FEEL like we figured it out.  And your VILLIAN? He HAS to believe he's the star of his own plot, his own movie. If he's not equal to your hero, or even better, more powerful than your hero, is this really a good match up? We ROOT for the underdog. ALL THE TIME!  We rooted for Forrest Gump and LIFE was against that guy!

But I digress.


Writers. PLEASE. Get it through your head that you don't write the same way you talk. Writing is more formal. In writing, you won't have as many contractions ('She did not say that to you, Cynthia!')
among other wonderful grammatical bombs I could drop.  So there's that.

PLEASE. Do a back story on all of your characters. You'll thank me. You'll be surprised what you learn. "Amy" your main character has a hometown. Where? Okay, Brooklyn. Guess what? Amy now has an accent, an accent that comes with a pentameter all it's own. And how do we know how thick that accent is? By her dialogue. While you are learning such things about Amy, guess what else you learn? Her family life. What makes her tick. And suddenly, you realize Amy WOULD NEVER put up with a guy grabbing her, and instead of tolerating it, she delivers a SLAP that knocks a guy over. Which creates conflict for a scene, which is perfect because ALL of your scenes need conflict. ON EVERY PAGE, or STOP WRITING NOW.

Which brings me to this: PLEASE. Keep a dialogue journal. You overhear things all the time. If you don't, you need to set your phone down more often. The things people say are real, and your script needs real. Utilize these overheard conversations and incorporate them.

Do Not Use cliches in your writing:

Steve: Look at that. It's a bomb.
Joy: Oh no, what do we do?    <==cliche woman in distress. No one buys this anymore.
Steve: We have to disarm it.  <==seriously? HELLO! Who DOESN'T KNOW THIS? Your audience are NOT idiots, at least they don't like people pointing that out if they are!
Joy: Do you know how to do that?
Steve: Why yes, Joy. I went to a bomb disarming school last year and I have the knowledge to do this task.  Please step aside.
Joy: EEEEEEk! I'm scared. You're so strong and smart, Steve. I'm so glad I was partnered with you for this patrol.

Laugh. Go ahead. But I read this dribble sometimes. This is not the script I referred to earlier, but it's actually been handed to me. With a hopeful screenwriter smiling proudly with his finished second draft script in his hand.  (insert rolled eyes here).

First of all, that scene is horribly sexist. (If you have an issue with that statement, stop following my blog).  Secondly, the dialogue was droll and vapid.  And no contractions made him sound like a freaking robot. Who says, "Why yes, so and so?" The only time I use that is when I'm about to get into a verbal argument with someone, not croon about how they are strong and smart.

Also, there's no conflict. The writer thought there was.  "There's a ticking bomb right there!" he exclaimed.  That's not conflict.

Let's try this:

Steve: Oh (insert expletive)! A (insert expletive) bomb!
Joy: Oh my God! We need to call the bomb squad!
Steve: There's no time! We have to disarm it ourselves!
Joy: One week at Bomb Disposal and you're an expert? I'm calling the squad!
Steve: No, Joy! I can do it! I recognize the trigger.
Joy:  There's a school on this street, Steve! We need to evacuate the area!
Steve: I can DO this, Joy!
Joy: You do what you need to do. And I'll do the same.
Joy pulls out cell, makes the call to the precinct while Steve examines the bomb.

Do the characters look a little more human now? You have Steve who's all about the job. And Joy, who is not helpless, but wants to save lives. Maternal instinct, or just plain ethical, you decide.  But the conflict comes from their butting heads over how to deal with an issue.  THAT'S the conflict. Even when Steve proceeds to figure out how to disarm the bomb, Joy goes ahead and begins evacuation procedures.  Both are strong characters now. Both have different ways of dealing with situations, and that shows. Also, you know somewhere, there's a very bad villain lurking... a villain that cares nary a bit about little children. This bomb wasn't planted in an empty warehouse. No. The stakes have been upped.

There's a bunch more I can share with you, but I think I've ranted long enough. To cheer you up, here's a photo of a very close member of my family. ~SC

Photography: David E. Mitchell
Make up: Caley Caldwell
Wardrobe: TK Kelly
Model: Keagan Haney

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Prepare Your Actors

I'm directing a short film, and so far it's going really well.

We've been in preproduction for months. Lots of moving parts, you know. Locations. Equipment. Lights. PAs. Craft services. Getting this movie SAG endorsed.

Being the director I have a unique insight into the characters... I know exactly what I'm looking for from my characters. I should. I wrote the film.

To prepare my actors, I gave them each a packet.  My film has three main characters, so each packet was tailored specifically for each of them. For my lead actress, I compiled data with unfavorable outcomes to help get her in a darker "zone" if you will.

My lead actor received a packet with statistics and data. His character is a thinker and a doer, and would know stats about the issue that is plaguing him.

For my supporting actress, I gave her a manual from a local police department on how to solve the crime the movie focuses on. On top of that, I sent her a two page back story on her character.

A few months before the shoot, we had a read through.  ALWAYS have a read through of your script. You'll hear what works and what doesn't. Dialogue is tricky, and believe me, in a film, if it's not organic, people will mock you for it. With the read through, I made some minor adjustments, and we were good to go.

On the shoot, while the crew set up the shots, I was able to sit with the main actors and go over their packets.The actors did a marvelous job of grasping their characters and bringing them to life. They asked questions; great questions; hard questions. I was able to gently direct them where the characters needed to be. Everything went wonderfully:  after a few takes, the roles "set in" and rather than watching actors, we were witnessing a couple going through intense pressure and merely capturing it. When you turn around and see the men on the crew in tears, you know you have something magical going on.

I'm not sharing this to brag. I'm sharing this to encourage you. Get a great Assistant Director.  Let him/her run your set so you can spend time with your actors.  The more time you cultivate with your actors, the more trust is established, and the better the performance you can draw out of them. Note, I say "draw out" not 'beat out'.

A lot of things will make or break your film. The writing. The sound. The acting. So do your best to create a safe haven for your actors.  It can only improve your film.  ~SC

Photo Credit: Erin Moore

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Prepare Yourself

Making a film look easy, doesn't it? Effortless, even?  You think to yourself, "Oh, I have a story. I just need a camera and some actors."

And then you try to make it.

Your actors aren't real actors, probably your friends, right? And they flake out on your and don't make it on days your shooting... suddenly you realize you have to get the same scene from different angles... how will you ever actually show an explosion? When you finally get to look at your scenes, holy crud monkeys. The sound sucks.

And so it goes.

Am I saying NOT to try? Absolutely not! I think if you have a story inside you, you need to set it free.

If you want to make a film that will really capture attention, mark my words: surround yourself with people smarter than yourself.

You're only as good as your team. And if your team consists of a best friend who runs down the batteries videoing girls on the beach instead of your intense monologue in the Sahara, well, he shouldn't be part of the team.

Start small.

By small, I mean a short film. It's a lot easier to navigate, fail, rebuild and refilm a short film than it is a feature.

Learn to write a script. My GOD PLEASE LEARN HOW TO WRITE A SCRIPT. I can't tell you how many times I've had people give me their works of art and it's not formatted correctly, or slug lines are naked, or it's in the wrong font.  Read Blake Snyder's book SAVE THE CAT and William Akers book: YOU'RE SCREENPLAY SUCKS! for help.  Both of them are gold. Oh if people would read them more.

Find a local film group in your area. Today, the internet makes everything so much easier.  You can find Meetups or local colleges with film schools.


LISTEN to your team. I've worked with outstanding people with a wealth of knowledge, but the director wouldn't listen to them. So, what could have been a kick ass movie became a ho hum sleeper.

Movie making is a tedious task. It takes a lot of preparation. And by a lot, I mean months of planning before you even have your first shots. But it's in these months where you iron out all the bumps.  It's in the prep that you get to know your team, too, and how they flow.  Who's the weakest link.  Who is the worker bee.  Who's the one with the connections.  Where the problems are.

If you can troubleshoot BEFORE you shoot, it makes all the difference in the world. Your shoot goes a lot smoother, and before long, you look like you know what you're doing. :)

So please. For your sake, and the sake of your crew and actors: prepare.

Everyone will thank you. And pretty soon, you'll be making the walk down that red carpet.

Friday, December 12, 2014


Remember a while back, I helped produce the film, MUSICA CAMPESINA?

Well, it's on HBO right now... until December 29th.  If you'd like to see it, now's your chance.  It's really cool to have worked so hard on something and see it on the air. Very cool.

A few things you can spot...

In the pool hall scene... the male in the background playing a game is my oldest son, Michael Haney. :)

The yellow car Karen drives when she drops off Alejandro at the Drake Motel was my car.

Those are just a few tidbits. :)

Enjoy, tell your friends, and tell others! :D


Thursday, November 6, 2014

So I Met Nicole Kidman Today...

I work in an industry where I get to be around some pretty awesome folks.  It's never dull, that's for sure.

I had the wonderful privilege of meeting the beautiful and uber talented Queen of the Screen Nicole Kidman today. She was at Barnes and Noble, reading Paddington The Bear (and did an astounding job).  She's playing Millicent in the soon to be released film.

Besides the fact that I respect this woman greatly, and the fact that I'm an enormous fan of her body of work, there's a reason that I'm writing this blog today.

When someone becomes a celebrity, they give up a part of themselves.  They are always under a microscope. Everything they do is scrutinized. Some of them can handle it. Some of them can't. We all can think of a handful of celebrities who we've all witnessed crash and burn, tragically. For some, the celebrity status goes to their heads and suddenly they become monsters.  Who hasn't heard the story (and the audio) of a certain male celeb screaming at the DP on a set?  Or another now almost completely blacklisted actor putting out a cigarette on a DP's face? I bet when I say hard to work with celebrities you already have a couple in mind.  That's a sad thing. These people have forgotten where they've come from, and who makes them successful.

But not Nicole.

From the moment she entered the area, she was quickly taken with all of the children. She cooed and ahhed over them, even letting them crawl into her lap as she read.  When she was done, she hugged them, and took pictures with every single child for the parent. She took a picture with me.  She answered questions.  She was positively genuine and delightful.

There was never an air of snobbiness. There was never any looks to her handlers as if to say, "Can I get out of here?" and yes, I've seen that look from celebrities before.

She is a genuine person who has NOT forgotten where she's come from. She's polite. She differs to the other person. Even with her handlers telling her she needs to leave, she squeezed in as many photos as she could because she knew the parents wanted them. She has a giving soul. She was thrilled to be a part of the event, to read to children, and it showed.  And that's so refreshing. People clamor to work with her, and that's totally the reason why.

So, actors that read this blog: when you make it, don't change who you are. And don't compromise who you are to get there. You'll find that more doors open to you, more fans follow you, more people love you.  Be gracious. Be kind.

Remember where you came from.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Dear Well Meaning Person Who Wants Help With Your Project:

I appreciate you thinking highly of me enough to come to me for help.  I sincerely do. I've worked very hard to get to the place where people can come to me with questions.  It proves to myself that what I've done in the past hasn't been in vain... the long hours, stormy nights, shots in the mugginess and freezing cold, they actually did propel me into becoming the professional I am today.

And while I am friendly, and while I am nice, whether you understand this or not: I cannot work for free.

I work. HARD for a project.  I give up time with my family. I give up time to work on my own creative projects. I literally bust my butt to ensure I give 110% on your work of art. I sweat. I bleed. I cry. Over each project I'm over.

I've been asked to critique scripts for free, to provide crew, to write, to produce, to direct...

And for that, I need to be compensated. Not only me, but ALL filmmakers.

Our dedication and love of what we do, has made it easy to exploit us. We need to eat. We need to provide for our families.

Don't you?

So, the next time you approach anyone to work on your awesome project, consider offering them compensation.

We're worth it.  ~SC

A Good Article On Why Writers Should Be Compensated Too

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Be Smart About Your Work

This may be an epiphany to some; to others you may already know this:  making a movie is tough business. 

The reason why so many people think they CAN make movies is because we (professionals) make it look easy. Because we know what we're doing. 

And how do we do that? SIMPLE. 

You surround yourself with people smarter than you, and you trust them when weigh in. 

If you have a demolition expert that graciously donates their time to come to your set, and he says to you, "Hey, when they take out that building, they would put the charges on the beams, not just leave them on the floor,"  what's the correct response?

A.  Oh, it'll be fine.  No one will catch that. 
B.  We don't have time to change that.  (When it takes like, fifteen seconds). 
C.  Oh, that was a PA's job.  (curses furiously and continues with scene)
D.  Really? Thank you for that! (calls over AD, shares info, and lets AD handle the change). 

I'll give you a hint. It's:

It's ALWAYS D!  Listen to those around you who KNOW what they are doing! Believe it or not, they want to make a great movie too. They don't want to be attached to a piece of dog poop. And if you're making a film and you're ignoring everyone around you, that's what you're going to make.  

I'm not talking about your expertise, because I don't care where you went to school, or who you know, or what you've worked on in the past.  

Listening will be the difference between you making a good movie and a great movie.  

I'm NOT saying to give away your creative control. Or your status as producer to have the last word. Or as director to determine what the shot is.  Obviously, you don't lose control of your set by making it a collaborative frat party.  But if your DP says, "The lighting won't work for this shot," and your answer is, "We'll fix it in post."  Then the entire set will know that you are not a dedicated director, but lazy.   That you have unattainable expectations.  And that you do not value those around you. 

And that word travels fast. 

If you're producing, you're over a bunch of departments. If one is lagging behind and your answer is to publicly call them out and chastise or blame them, you probably need a different job. You keep everything running smoothly. And by having those smarter than yourself in the key positions: DP, Set Design, Editing, etc., you allow them to make calls, and you stand by them... unless absolutely necessary.  If there's a reason for the delay, ask the department head. It could be something easy for you to fix. And that IS your job as the producer. 

No matter the position you are in on a set, you are making magic. You're transforming worlds and bringing an audience with you.  

Why micromanage that? 

So be smart.  Surround yourself with people smarter than yourself. And tell them that. They love it. And listen when they talk. 

And always be grateful. That will weather storms and any trials that come up on a set. 

If your crew feels valued, there is nothing they won't do.  But they can't and won't feel valued if they are ignored. 


How well do you think Band Of Brothers would have fared if Spielberg had not listened to his advisors and crew? Food for though.