Education: B.A. Duke University
Place of Residence: Silver Lake, CA
Companies Read For: Paradigm, FilmEngine, New Films International
Job Prior To Entering Film: Always in film, though not always on the same side of the industry.
Favorite Place to Read: Under some cypress tree in Carmel. That failing, my living room.
Favorite Movies: The Big Chill, Amelie, All About Eve, Finding Nemo, Memento, Mean Girls, Contact, The Usual Suspects, Magnolia, Topsy-Turvy, The Thin Man, many others...
Favorite Screenwriters: Alan Ball, Charlie Kaufman, Karen Lutz & Kirsten Smith, Scott Frank, Aaron Sorkin
Favorite Directors: Hitchcock, Christopher Nolan, Paul Thomas Anderson, Hayao Miyazaki
Favorite Novels: Kafka on the Shore; 100 Years of Solitude; The Great Gatsby; Little, Big; Harry Potter series; Rebecca
Favorite Novelists: Haruki Murakami, Dorothy Parker, JK Rowling, Tom Stoppard, Yasmin Reza, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tom Wolfe, John Crowley, Shel Silverstein, David Sedaris, Derrick C. Brown
Favorite TV Shows: Six Feet Under, Outnumbered (UK), Arrested Development, Deadwood, Battlestar Galactica (reboot)
WHAT ARE THE MAIN THINGS YOU LOOK FOR WHEN YOU READ A SCRIPT?
Craft and catharsis. Two qualities that pretty much guarantee I will be entertained on a deep level. Whether I’m a reader or in the audience, I’m looking to get lost in the world that the writer created. For the record, craft isn’t entirely about technique. Voice falls under the umbrella of craft, and it can’t be emphasized enough how important that is to develop a fresh and individual voice.
WHAT MAKES BELIEVABLE CHARACTERS?
Flaws. Some writers forget to give the protagonist flaws in an effort to make them likeable. The movie is about the character’s growth; there’s nowhere for them to go if they start as saintly. Real people are paradoxes of conflicting traits. This applies to bad guys too. The best antagonists are rarely one dimensionally evil. Give the good guys some flaws and the bad guys sympathetic faults. Layers build from there.
WHAT’S THE MOST COMMON MISTAKE YOU SEE?
This is a DOOZY of a question. I’m going with presumptuousness. The more I read, the more it becomes clear that this is the most logical explanation for most mistakes.
Take the common problem of overwriting. With all the writing resources out there, there’s really no excuse to not have stumbled upon the idea that extraneous narrative description is BAD. Yet the problem persists. Why? Because those guilty of committing this sin didn’t bother to learn or absorb the lesson. This is naïve at best, arrogant at worst. One reason that there are so many weak screenplays is because, let’s face it, there are a lot of bad movies that somehow get made for all kinds of reasons (industry connections, execs/producers/financiers who understand business but have no taste in material, poor above-the-line execution, etc.). Bad movies send the message to many amateur writers that they only have to be so good to sell. And so they dash off a sequence of scenes, call it a screenplay, and turn all their attention to pitching and selling. Creatively they’ve called it a day. They’ve presumed their material is good enough.
Good writing advice is not about dogma, but about clarifying why effective techniques work and poor ones don’t. Why subtext engages better than on-the-nose dialogue, why showing is more arresting than telling. It is the writer’s responsibility to deliver the strongest screenplay possible. Educate yourself or be doomed to repeat the same banal mistakes of every other amateur. And check your work. You’re not much of a catch as a writer if you can’t ID major story problems. Is your central conflict clear early on? Is your narrative description lean and evocative, free of spelling mistakes, clutter verbs, and detailed descriptions of things we can’t see? Is there a building of tension? These are yes or no questions. If these mistakes persist on the page, you presumed that it was good enough to sell on concept alone and left it to others to make the story sing.
WHAT KIND OF SCRIPTS ARE YOU MORE LIKELY TO CONSIDER?
High concept material will never stop being valuable, but ultimately it’s not what the story is about, it’s how it’s done. That’s counterintuitive in an industry where we’re taught that concept is king, but it’s still true. Wit, fresh voice, and clean structure can make formulaic plots compelling while bad writing can turn great concepts into a cliché chore. Only the skilled, craft-driven writers are valuable in the long run.
If we’re just focusing on genre, a big area with me personally is that few writers know how to execute female-driven comedy. I just saw BRIDESMAIDS, which played to a very enthusiastic crowd (about a third of which were males who enjoyed themselves as much as the women). On my way out, I heard one woman in passing say, “Finally! A funny girl movie.” That summed up my thoughts exactly. Women have been starved in this area. Part of the problem has been that past stinkers like the expensive THE SWEETEST THING made Hollywood sour on the genre. I actually did see that one in theaters in a huge group of college girls. You couldn’t have wrestled a laugh out of us and we were the target demo. Instead of blaming execution, Hollywood came to the nonsense conclusion that women weren’t interested in female-centered funny fare. Pull off smart AND funny in this genre without relying heavily on painful tropes, canned formula, and lame/insulting characters and I’ll be ecstatic.
WHAT’S THE BEST SCRIPT YOU’VE EVER READ?
The best ones that just popped into my head (it’s a tie): PAST IMPERFECT and MIXTAPE.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE MOVIEGOING EXPERIENCE?
That’s a hard one, and not just because my mind goes blank whenever anyone asks me anything hyperbolic. The best experiences are when I connect so deeply with the characters and their dilemmas that I get completely lost from start to finish. Movies that deliver on the promise of entertaining. No one likes walking out of the theater feeling like they were suckered into seeing a dud by clever previews.
As much as character driven indie films made me fall in love with cinema, I mostly crave a good old-fashioned bit of spectacle and escape when I sit in a dark theater. That feeling of being really young and watching something adventurous like INDIANA JONES – that’s the feeling I’m most satisfied by. Spectacle that doesn’t insult the audience by completely sacrificing story. It’s fun to experience that with a group. When the audience gasps, laughs, and breaks out into applause together, something special is happening.