Emmy-nominated DP Michael Goi says persistence is key.
Michael Goi, ASC has an impressive slate of TV credits to his name, including popular hits like Glee, The Mentalist, and American Horror Story. His track record is in part what led to his service as President of the American Society of Cinematographers from 2009-2012. But the success didn’t come overnight.
In an ASC Masterclass series, Goi reveals his humble beginnings and what he did to move up. The main key, more than talent and creativity? Persistence.
“When you move to Los Angeles, you’re starting over again at the bottom.”
When he first moved to LA, he recalls, “For six months, I lived on the two hot dogs for 99 cents at the A&P…but I refused to leave and I refused to give up.” And this was after he already had 300 commercials and six features under his DP belt. “When you move to Los Angeles, you’re starting over again at the bottom,” he said.
One GITS eBook every month in 2017… all of ’em free!
There are over 22,000 posts on this blog. That’s a boatload of content. I decided to do something to make it easier for readers.
Every month in 2017, I’ll be making public a free Go Into The Story eBook.
Think of it as a kind Go Into The Story Greatest Hits collection.
Download them. Read them. Pass them along.
A very special thanks to Trish Curtin and Clay Mitchell who are stepping up to handle the process turning blog posts into eBooks. I could not be doing this without the efforts of these two fine people.
The collection contains my reflections and takes on basic tenets of the craft. If any of them resonate with you, great. If not, feel free to ignore them. Each writer needs to figure out their own approach to screenwriting. My hope is to help feed that process and provide writers with inspiration along the way.
If you are an aspiring screenwriter, Twitter is an amazing resource. Eric Heisserer (Arrival, Lights Out, Hours, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Final Destination 5, The Thing) is probably the Hollywood screenwriter most willing to go online and provide a tweetstorm on a specific subject related to the craft.
Today: In June 2015, Eric took to the Twitter-verse to discuss a problem that vexes all writers from time to time: Falling out of love with a story. Reprinted in its entirety by permission.
TONIGHT: I wanna talk about something a little different. Let’s get into a problem in just about any creative endeavor: Losing the love.
Burnout. Stress. Overthinking. All manner of culprits can get you to a point where you don’t know why you’re writing a thing anymore.
It’s a trap I have faced time and again. I get into the weeds on a script and forget why I wanted to write it in the first place.
Or somewhere along the way, I start writing to manage producer notes and I lose personal agency in the story. And that stops the love.
Or even worse, I’m all on my own, tinkering on something, and I begin writing in anticipation of notes I haven’t even gotten. Love = gone.
This line of work is taxing, and in insidious ways not as noticeable as an athlete’s injuries. It will drain you if you’re not careful.
You have to reclaim your passion for a story the way you would a relationship. You have to want to make it work; make it great.
Sometimes that means stepping away and coming back to it later. Sometimes that means rediscovering what made you fall for it at the start.
And on that note, I’m gonna finish this glass and read some Ted Chiang. Because damn does he get my imagination jump-started.
As usual, when Eric tipples the Scotch and dons his Mentor mask, he delivers wisdom from on high.
If I may add a coda: When you begin a writing project, take a few minutes to write down what draws you to it, what your emotional connection to the story is, why you’re passionate to write it. Then set that document in a safe place.
Later on, if you find yourself cursing the heavens and gnashing your teeth — not an easy double to pull off! — go back to that document. Read your words. Remind yourself what it was that excited you about it in the first place.
That may provide a conduit for you back to a happy place.
You may follow Eric on Twitter: @HIGHzurrer.
You may read my April 2013 interview with Eric here.
Here’s a look at various filming locations for Tuesday, July 11: Filming in British Columbia TV Series; Riverdale Stars: K.J. Apa Location:John Oliver Secondary School in Vancouver Credit: @lightboxgallery Filming in California TV Series: American Horror Story Stars: Bille Lourd Location: FOX Studios, Los Angeles TV Series: Criminal Minds Stars: Matthew Gray Gubler Location: Quixote Studios, Electronics Pl, Los Angeles TV Series: American Crime Story Stars: Penélope Cruz Location: 1444 S Alameda St, Los Angeles Filming in Illinois Movies: Widows Stars: Liam Neeson Location: 7655 S Ingleside Ave, Chicago TV Series: The Chi Stars: Jason Mitchell Location: 3661 W Ogden Ave, Chicago Filming in New York TV Series: Mozart in the Jungle Stars: Gael García Bernal Location:Waring Ave and E Gun Hill Rd, Bronx Movie: Isn’t It Romantic Stars: Liam Hemsworth Location: E 72nd St and 5th Ave, NYC (filming by the fountain in Central Park) TV Series: The Path Stars: Aaron Paul Location: 43-23 37th Ave, Long Island City Credit: @nighttideniall Movie: The Papers (working title Nor Easter) Stars: Tom Hanks Location: W 45th St and 5th Ave, NYC Credit: @danaerrys TV Series: Mr. Robot Stars: Rami Malek Location: Thomas St and Church St, NYC Credit: @tribecacitizen TV Series: Blindspot Stars: Jaimie Alexander Location: 3rd Ave..
My last Prep: From Concept to Outline workshop of 2017 begins July 17.
As I say: There is no right way to write. Each writer is different. Each story is different. There is no single universal approach that works for everyone.
However in my view, it is impossible to overstate the importance of prep-writing. Brainstorming. Character development. Research. Plotting. Index cards. Outline. However you do whatever you do leading up to FADE IN, do it and do it an immersive, thoughtful way.
In other words, break your story in prep.
I understand writers have an itch to get into the page-writing, which is great because that can help overcome the single greatest challenge of writing: depositing one’s ass onto one’s chair to actually write.
However we have to balance that out with finding the story.
Prep-writing is essential to the success of page-writing.
Some writers absolutely loathe and can’t handle any sort of prep. They simply have to type FADE IN (or if a novel, crack open that file) and have a go at it. Nothing wrong with that… if it works.
Repeat: You may be a writer who either cannot abide the process of prep-writing or find it actually inhibits your creativity. Whatever approach you discover that works for you, even if it involves little or not prep work, good luck and go with God.
First, in my experience a writer is much less likely to finish a script if they haven’t figured out at least the major plot points before they type FADE IN. If they get lost, confusion sets in. If they are not finding the story, their enthusiasm wanes. At some point, frustration enters, then bitterness, then rejection. Another script on the Died On The Vine pile.
Second, even if they do manage to get to FADE OUT — and acknowledging that a first draft is always going to be rough — unless they do 10–15 drafts, I doubt they will ever find the story they could have discovered if they had fully immersed themselves in it in prep. That is one of the big values of brainstorming and character development especially, giving yourself the freedom to explore and test out a wide variety of narrative options as opposed to narrowing the field of choices before surfacing other possibilities.
Third, if a writer wants to have a realistic chance at succeeding as a professional writer, they have to be able to turn around stories in an efficient manner. You sign a contract on a writing assignment giving you ten weeks to deliver, you’d better be prepared to do precisely that. Having figured out whatever sort of approach to prep you use is a big plus in that regard rather than watching the ink dry on your contract, then going, “Uh, what do I do now?”
On a side note, if you have any interest in writing TV, whether you like prep-writing or not, you are simply going to have to embrace it. For example in one-hour dramas with narrative arcs that extend over the course of one or more seasons, they break all or almost all of that out before divvying out scripts to individual writers. In fact, I think it’s safe to say a majority of time in the writers room is devoted to breaking stories (after shooting the shit and eating snacks, of course).
So different strokes for different folks and all that. And yes, we all want and need to leave room for the mysteries and surprises of stories to reveal themselves. If a full outline stifles your creativity, don’t do a full outline.
However for writers not of that ilk, my point is you need to figure out the story somehow. Why not do it in prep? Then you can concern yourself in page-writing with all the fun stuff of writing — scene description, character interaction, scene construction, transitions, atmospherics — rather than desperately attempting to sort out what goes where, does this work, oh my God, I’m lost.
Finally let me say this. I have seen writers get ‘converted’ on this point. Many who had never done much in the way of prep, some who said they knew it wouldn’t work for them. After I got done working with them, it was like the heavens opened and the light of revelation shone down upon them. I’m not kidding. I have dozens of testimonials to that effect.
The essence of prep-writing is really quite simple: Get curious about your characters. Engage them, get to know them, interact with them, listen to them, ponder their personal histories, delve into their personalities, dig, dig, and dig some more. If you do that in a thoughtful way, the story, indeed the plot itself will emerge as a natural part of the prep process.
I’ve seen it happen over and over and over and over again, which is why I say to most writers…
Break your story in prep.
If you are interested in learning a proven, professional approach to story prep, consider taking my Prep: From Concept to Outline workshop. I’m only offering one more online session in 2017, beginning July 17.
The beauty of this approach is three-fold:
You can go into the page-writing part of the process with confidence because you’ve already broken the story.
Since you won’t be overwhelmed with finding the story when writing pages, you can focus your creativity where it should be — characters, dialogue, themes, mood, pace, etc.
By devoting six weeks to prep, you will almost assuredly cut the overall amount of time you spend writing your script and increase the odds you will finish your draft.
“‘From Concept to Outline’ is a course I wish I had known about a couple of years ago. I would recommend this whole-heartedly for anyone who is about to embark on their first script or ANY script. This lays the foundation stone to your story.” — Camilla Castree
“This has been an outstanding class. I’ve taken a few from other sources and most don’t live up to their promises (they shall remain nameless). But here, I’ve learned so much and gotten way more than my money’s worth.” — Daniel O’Donahue
“I went into Scott’s Prep class doubting I’d ever finish a script; I came out with the tools, confidence and inspiration to power through a complete first draft in just a few months. Amazing!” — Jessica Sada
Hurry. I’m limiting the number of roster spots to ensure I have enough time to provide the extensive feedback in I do for each writer’s weekly assignments and overall story development.
An 18 minute video from 2001 including Nolan’s chalkboard diagram.
Today’s Daily Dialogue was Memento, so as I was rooting around online for some video content, I stumbled into this:
Fascinating to hear how Nolan’s mind works and the genesis of the story. He and his brother Jonah were driving from Chicago to Los Angeles, and that’s when Jonah told Chris about this idea he had for a short story. Chris wrote the story as a screenplay while Jonah went ahead and penned it as a short story. That was published in Esquire in 2001 actually after the movie came out which is why the credit reads “written by”, an original screenplay because the source material had yet to be made public.
In the video, Nolan talks about how decided he wanted to tell the story as subjectively as possible, that is narrowly focused from Leonard’s perspective. He hit on the idea of telling the story backward upfront in the process and decided he needed a way to break up those series of — what are in effect flashbacks — with moments in the present. Hence the scenes shot in color which is Leonard’s subjective experience and black-and-white scenes which are more objective in nature.
This subjective-objective duality is reflected in the voice-over narration. In the color scenes, it’s first-person reflecting Leonard’s subjective experience. In the black-and-white scenes, the perspective is more distant and objective, almost like reporting things as Leonard sees them.
One interesting decision Nolan made was these two perspectives evolve and change. As the narrative progresses toward the third act, the color scenes become less subjective, more objective; the black-and-white scenes become less objective, more subjective.
Check out the video. See how Nolan represents the story structure for Memento as a hairpin.
When you’re done, check this out:
A half-hour with Jonah Nolan discussing his short story and its relationship to the movie.
The changing color palette of ‘Wonder Woman’ isn’t just for looks—it’s for story.
Critics and fans alike have spoken; Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is not only a box office smash, but it also offers DC fans more to get excited about with its epic fight sequences, entertaining dialogue, and one hell of a superheroine. But one less discussed aspect of the film that is particularly intriguing is its clever use of color to add depth and dimension to the story.
In this short video essay, Patrick Willems discusses how Wonder Woman’s color palette paints two very different pictures of the the idyllic paradise in which Diana was raised, and the hellish reality where Wonder Woman is born.
The experience of watching Wonder Woman is similar to that of watching Wizard of Oz, only reversed. Instead of opening to Dorothy’s sepia-toned Kansas farm and closing on the kaleidoscopic Land of Oz, we open to Diana’s verdant, all-female utopia and close on several war-embroiled countries, which are given a liberal dusting of muted cyan.
When you have a great idea for a screenplay it’s very tempting to rush to the computer and start writing. However, taking some time to think about a number of different ways you could tell the story may lead to a truly outstanding script rather than just a good one.
In a Fast Company series of successful authors’ tips on writing better stories, Terence Winter (creator, writer, and executive producer of the series, Boardwalk Empire) makes a great point about choosing the most interesting part of a story to tell:
“Every movie you’ve ever seen about Al Capone shows him at the height of his power, and sort of like Al Capone’s Greatest Hits. If you can only spend two hours with Al Capone, you want it to be when he’s at the top of his game.
On Boardwalk Empire, we meet Al Capone when he’s a kid driving a truck. That Al Capone is so much more interesting to me because we get to see him become the guy we know, and we had hours and hours to do it, and really see what formed him and what made this guy tick and that’s so much more a luxury as a storyteller and more satisfying for the audience.”
The series Gotham does something similar by looking at the formative years of the man who became Batman, and also by focusing on a character (Inspector Gordon) who has a supporting role in the later story.
Even for a screenplay there’s value in taking the time to brainstorm a number of ways of approaching the story before committing to one. For instance, a kidnapping story could be told with any of these as the viewpoint character:
* the victim
* the loved ones of the victim
* the detective investigating the case
* the kidnapper
* someone who is wrongly accused of the kidnapping
* someone who inadvertently or unwillingly gets involved in the crime
* a psychic (fake or genuine–if there is such a thing–who is asked to help locate the victim
* a previous victim of the kidnapper who realises she knows something that could help but is reluctant to relive the experience