Join the ranks: Nashville Film Fest looking for a few good readers

Since it’s Giving Tuesday, I thought I should share a unique way for you to give back: You can be a volunteer reader for the Nashville Film Festival’s Screenwriting Competition.

This is my second year as a reader for the competition, wherein I get to read dozens of scripts and rate them according to NaFF criteria. In doing so, I am helping whittle the entries down to potential winners in more than a dozen categories.

Nashville Film Festival logoI became a reader last year in an effort to strengthen my own script-writing abilities, but you don’t have to be a writer to take advantage of this opportunity. You just have to love stories and love reading them. The folks at NaFF will help you identify what works and what doesn’t work in the script you are reading so that you can effectively rate them.

What’s more, the knowledge gained from reading and rating scripts will broaden your own film-going experience. You will look at movies in a whole new way. You will learn how a good film is structured, as well as what makes good dialogue and scenes.

NaFF is one of the largest and oldest film festivals in the U.S., screening over 250 films from more than 50 countries. Last year, which was NaFF’s inaugural screenwriting competition, more than 1,500 entries were received. They are anticipating about 2,000 entries for the 2015 competition. Winners will be announced at the film festival in April.

Relax, you don’t have to read them all. And you don’t have to read the entire script. You only have to commit to reading the first 30 pages.

Believe it or not, in those few pages, and with the help of NaFF’s training, you will be able to make an informed decision about the script you are reading. You will be able to assess whether the script has effectively established a main character you care about, a goal for the character, an antagonist or challenge that the main character must overcome, and a whole lot more, from use of dialogue to setting.

I read pages from more than 170 scripts in 2014, including one of the scripts that eventually won a top prize. And I read a number of scripts all the way through. Some because I wanted to know how the story ended, some because I was learning more about the business of script writing, both what was done right and what was wrong.

I’ve been reading off and on for the past couple months, and will ramp up my reading in the months ahead. NaFF receives most of its entries in January as the deadline nears. Trust me, there will be plenty of scripts to go around.

And it’s not too late to get in on the fun.

NaFF needs about 20 more readers to join its ranks. If you live in Middle Tennessee, to get in on the action, all you have to do is attend a reader orientation from 6 to 7:30 p.m. this Thursday, Dec. 4. The 90-minute training session will be led by Harold Loren, a 2014 juror and presenter. The event takes place at Nashville Public Television, 161 Rains Ave., Nashville (near the Tennessee State Fairgrounds).

You don’t have to be a resident to participate. NaFF has readers all across the country, and even in Canada. NaFF can send orientation materials to you and all of the reading and judging is done online. Just email competition manager Josh Escue at josh@nashfilm.org.

PS: Did I mention that readers can earn tickets to see films at the April 16-25 festival as well as attend a screenwriting training program, as well as after-parties?

Writers: You don’t have to do this … but you probably should

It’s a simple enough line of dialogue: “You don’t have to do this.”

But it’s also one of the most common and, perhaps, overused lines of dialogue in today’s movies and TV shows as well. Listen for it, and you will hear it uttered more often than not.

The line exists for one reason only: It represents a decision point.

The main character has one last opportunity to consider his or her course of action. Do they take on the bad guy even though it puts them, their family, their career, etc., at risk? Do they choose the action even if it goes against every moral fiber of their being?

Of course, the character faced with the choice always does move ahead. If not, the movie or TV episode would fizzle on the spot. The goal would go unfulfilled, the viewer would leave unhappy.

It’s unfortunate, however, that so many screenplays telegraph this choice in such a way. It’s not very original in terms of writing, and it sounds cliched. But there it is, time and time again. It’s clearly an audible cue to the viewers that this is an important decision to be made. It is a moment that everything in the film has been building towards. In other words, the big payoff is at hand.

I’m not sure if this line of dialogue has its own chapter in the many how-to screenplay books out there, but it should. Your story, your screenplay, is nothing without it.

 

 

Magnificent movie dialogue to remember

As a practicing screenwriter, I’ve found myself paying a lot more attention to dialogue that sparkles in TV and movies.

I have to say that the following exchange of dialogue from Maleficent  is one of the most chillingly effective exchanges among all the big movies released so far this year:

 

Princess Aurora: I know you’re there. Don’t be afraid.

Maleficent: I’m not afraid.

Princess Aurora: Then come out.

Maleficent: Then you’ll be afraid.

Here’s another great exchange from Amazing Spider-Man 2:

Harry Osborn: It’s been 10 years. What have you been up to?

Peter Parker:I do some web designs.

 

This one from Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a cool exchange:

 

Natasha Romanoff: You do anything fun Saturday night?

Steve Rogers: Well, all the guys in my barbershop quartet are dead. So no, not really.

 

Any memorable movie quotes from this year’s movies stand out to you?  Heck, you can even share your all-time favorite movie quotes too.  Share them in the comments section!

NaFF: The Identical superbly written, acted, directed

Made it to the Nashville Film Fest (NaFF) today.

Saw Something, Anything and The Identical. The first story focuses on a young woman who loses her first child in birth and suffers a long bout of depression afterwards that basically ends her marriage and former friendships. She seeks out an old school friend who also had doubts about his life and went into a monastery for four years, before learning that wasn’t what he wanted either. The two ultimately find each other and forge a new path. The movie was a bit slow, though it was well-acted. Written and directed by Paul Harrill, with stars Bryce Johnson, Linds Edwards, Ashley Shelton and Jason Benjamin.

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The Identical’s Seth Green and Blake Rayne appear on the red carpet at the Nashville Film Festival.

The Identical, on the other hand, was superbly acted, shot and written. The story follows identical twins separated at birth who both find their calling in music. Think what if Elvis had an equally talented twin brother no one knew about. The film was shot entirely in Tennessee and features Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Seth Green and Blake Rayne in the title role. From first-time director Dustin Marcellino. The filmmakers provided a fascinating question-answer session after the viewing and described how it was all made possible by the script (written by Howard Klausner). According to the director, Ray Liotta said after reading the script it was a part he had to have. It took over three years to bring the film to fruition, but from the audience reaction I’d say their time was well-spent. The rest of the nation can view it on Sept. 12 when it’s released in theaters. Trust me, it’s a heart-tugging, entertaining story of rock ‘n’ roll, faith and family that is not to be missed.

I plan to return to the fest for a panel on scriptwriting and for more movies on Friday.

Nebraska a funny, deeply moving script worth reading

My brother Wayne Frazier and his friend Natalie Lipka are co-hosts of an awesome weekly podcast Hollywood Close-up. Each episode features an interview with movie and TV industry types, from  actors to screenwriters to casting agents and more.

I’m particularly interested in the screenwriting aspect of the movie biz. Followers of my blog know that I recently read more than 160 scripts as a volunteer script reader for the first-ever Nashville Film Festival screenwriting competition. The experience has been more than rewarding as I’ve learned so much about what to do and what not to do, all of which I hope will translate into a solid script of my own to pitch to Hollywood one day.

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So, it was with great interest that I listened to this week’s show, which featured none other than Golden Globe and Academy Award nominee Robert Nelson, the author of the screenplay for Nebraska. It’s Nelson’s first feature film script, although he’s done a lot of work in TV, and it was great to hear him tell his story on my brother’s podcast.

I was inspired enough to visit one of my favorite WordPress sites, LA Screenwriter, which has links to all the Academy Award scripts on its site. I quickly found the link to Nebraska and downloaded it, then read the entire 101-page script. (It sounds like a lot, but scripts are actually pretty quick reads.)

It’s a funny, deeply moving story about an elderly man who believes he is the winner of a million dollar lottery and sets off to collect his winnings. His 40-year-old son accompanies him, even though he knows his father’s letter is really nothing more than one of those magazine subscription gimmicks. Together, the pair bond as they visit his father’s hometown, relatives and old “friends,” some of whom want a piece of his dad’s winnings. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in the script and real poignant moments, as well.

I haven’t had a chance to see the movie yet, but I intend to. In the meantime, the script’s impact will stay with me for some time. Robert Nelson has crafted a timeless story that I hope I can one day emulate with my own writing.

Writer’s block? Just pull out the old plague script

If there’s one sure thing you can count on with a new television series, it is a plague episode.

Admit it. You’ve seen this storyline over and over again, especially in genre-type TV shows. A mysterious super virus runs rampant, bringing down most of the main stars and threatening to do even more damage unless a miracle cure is found. And the clock is ticking.

The Star Trek family of TV series is notorious for them. They even have variations of the plague story. There is the actual alien virus storyline, and then there is the crew afflicted with growing old storyline. Or young.

Even The Walking Dead, which is already a show about a plague of zombies, had a plague storyline during the first part of this season. The flu-bug tore through the humans at the prison, adding an unseen enemy to the zombies. (As if dealing with zombies wasn’t enough!).

I’ve been catching up on viewing episodes of Intelligence on CBS and last night came across, you guessed it, a plague episode. Incredible.

Obviously, television writers know what works and what really scares us: the flu. Moreover, it’s a sense of being helpless in the face of death. It’s an oft-tested and proven storyline, so why try to come up with something more original?

Got writer’s block? Just pull out the plague story.

Gack! That kind of lazy writing just makes me sick.