The Nine Nine Goes West (A Brooklyn Nine Nine/Westworld Crossover Episode)

So I wrote a crossover spec episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Westworld. If you haven’t seen these shows, you might be confused if you read it. If you’ve seen neither, you’ll likely be very confused. Hopefully, you’ve seen at least a few episodes, and wanna give this a read, and then maybe want to hear a little about my process. Enjoy!


The Nine-Nine Goes West

A Brooklyn Nine-Nine/Westworld Crossover


Why I Wanted to Write It

This script came about as I had just finished up a feature assignment, which had stretched me a bit, and I wanted something fun and low stakes to write. I was finally catching up on Westworld Season 2, and thought, “What if another cast were to go to the park?” and Brooklyn Nine-Nine immediately sprang to mind. I thought of a few others too, but none of them seemed as fun (to me, at least) as the Nine-Niners. I started jotting down some gags immediately.

Before we go any further, you should watch this opening that some talented friends of mine helped me put together.

Lead Animation - Chad Cox, Music - Chris Pratt, Rigging - Donald Netzel, Lighting - Kaitlin Duchene

Separate blog post on its creation coming soon!

Brooklyn Nine-Nine Breakdowns

In prep for this spec, I broke down five Brooklyn Nine-Nine episodes. I also read the Westworld script for The Bicameral Mind, but as I was going to try and follow a more Nine-Nine format, I didn't break that one down the way I did the B99 materials. And every night, I would watch an episode or two of each show.

There’s a lot of information (and charts!) in the breakdowns so I’ve created a separate post for it.

For breaking down the Brooklyn Nine-Nine episodes, I really only wanted to look at page counts for acts, as I knew that a lot of the other things would be skewed considering I was mixing it up with Westworld. And while I knew that 45 pages was my goal, I wanted to try and keep the ratios similar for pacing purposes. While I knew it wouldn’t be terribly relevant for my script (as I was adding in many Westworld characters) I went ahead and used the Gender Analysis tool in Highland 2 (thanks John August) to check out the way the lines were distributed in the various episodes I broke down. I’ve put the average across the five episodes I broke down in my post.

I would've done more episode breakdowns, but five episode scripts were all the official ones I could find online. (If you happen to have a source on more, please let me know so I can add them to my data.)

Writing The Spec

Alright, about the episode. Right away, there were a few things I knew I wanted. The first was that the Cold Open and the final Act were in the precinct. I felt it would bookend the story nicely, and reiterate the fact that in Westworld they'd be fish out of water.

I also knew that I wanted the plot to be about Holt, and explore his character as someone without expressive emotions in contrast to the "robots" of Westworld. This also allowed me to directly (through Ford) explore larger themes of television narratives in general, by drawing parallels between characters in episodic stories and the hosts of Westworld with their own "narratives."

I figured out who I wanted to interact with who in the various storylines, but other than that I didn't do nearly as much outlining as I usually do for my projects. Part of it was because this was something fun for me and not an assignment, but the other part was honestly that I am far less familiar with television structure than I am with features. 


When deciding how to split up the narrative, and which Westworld characters I wanted to interact with which Brooklyn Nine-Nine characters, I only thought of what I thought would be the most fun. Boyle, Rosa, and the Man in Black was the first one. And while I initially thought Rosa and the Man in Black would have similar worldviews (and wardrobe), I realized that having Boyle try to justify his in alignment with MiB's would offer more options. And Boyle's relationship with horses just came watching episodes in prep and seeing the Officer Peanut Butter opening.

Pairing Jake with Holt felt natural. If I wanted to explore the notion that Holt may be a host, I was going to have him be super capable at everything in Westworld, and the best foil for that was clearly Jake, who I thought would fancy himself a natural cowboy but be totally inept.

I wish I could've done more with Gina, Hitchcock and Scully, but I just didn't think I'd have the pages. And of everyone, Gina felt the least likely to be interested to go to Westworld. Although, if I'm honest, of all the character's voices, I personally have the most difficulty capturing Gina so maybe I did shy away from it a bit. I was glad to get her in there at the end, and even though I don't think she'd care that much, I thought it was totally reasonable that she'd be running the place within minutes.

Terry and Amy came together out of necessity. As a family man, I knew I wanted Terry with Maeve, and perhaps draw some comparisons between him as a strong father and Maeve as a strong mother. I ran out of room to dig into it as much as I would've liked, but at least they're together.

Jokes and Sex Tapes

I tried as much as possible to have the jokes in this script come from character and their points-of-view. One thing that I went back and forth on a lot was including the “title of your sex tape” jokes. My girlfriend was the one who rightly pointed out the show had moved away from them as Jake and Amy’s relationship grew deeper. But the opportunity to just imagine Anthony Hopkins delivering a “title of your sex tape” joke was, in my opinion, too good to pass up. It did feel strange, given how Brooklyn Nine-Nine is currently written, to have Peralta do it earlier in the script, but I felt it was needed in order to set it up for Ford. I tried it without Peralta’s set up earlier, and it came out of nowhere. So I kept Peralta’s in the cold open but had Holt cut him off, which hopefully added some new comedy to it.

I also owe my girlfriend for the sharpening of Amy’s point-of-view in regards to Maeve. I originally had Amy fawning over Maeve, but was easily convinced that Amy doesn’t just love the organization itself, but the arts & crafts-ness of it all, and might be disappointed to lose the binders. Have smart readers people! They will make your scripts better!

Freeze Ending

The freeze ending with the squad was always in the outline, but the positions being their opening titles poses happened on the page. Once I discovered the idea, it took relatively little writing to make it happen. Throw Jake a "brain" a few pages earlier, and the rest took up the same amount of space. Not only is it more interesting visually, but I think helps drive home the theme of narrative self-awareness (even though they obviously aren't aware of their opening title poses).


I tried not to put too many sign posts within the script regarding when this was taking place in the context of the shows. I wanted it to stand on it's own, even if you aren't fully caught up on either show. I did, however, put a stake in the ground in regards to Holt awaiting his promotion as Commissioner. As far as the Westworld timeline, trying to fit my story in to any sort of framework they have seemed like total guesswork, given the nature of that show. So I set it in a sort-of alternate timeline, somewhere around Season One given Maeve's self-awareness, Dolores’ goals, and of course Ford. But I tried not to call too much attention to its "alternateness." It's a little bit more of a Brooklyn Nine-Nine spec than a Westworld spec, so I felt that I could take a few liberties there to make it work.

Loose Thoughts

  • I did a little internet digging to find out where the (fictional) 99 precinct was. BLANK had done the work for me. When I found out it's in Park Slope, I reached out to some friends who had lived there to find viable locations for a food truck. It was great when they separately suggested one of the same locations!

  • The dates mentioned were the last written, as I wanted to try and connect it to the season premiere dates.

  • You can imagine my anxiety when I thought Brooklyn Nine-Nine was cancelled! Thanks NBC! And speaking of thanks…

Thank You, Writers!

One thing I should absolutely mention is that if this crossover spec is any good, it's mostly in part to the writers of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Westworld. Having such well constructed characters and worlds took a huge load off of the writing process, and I owe a lot to the work they put in when crafting their shows. It's a Herculean task, and writing (or attempting to capture, at least) in the voice of other characters makes you so thankful when they're clearly defined. I want to specifically thank Dan Goor and Michael Schur, and  Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. And while there are too many to name, I would like to dedicate this script to the staff writers, past and present, of the wonderful shows Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Westworld.

If you read my script and want to talk Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Westworld, writing, or anything else, feel free to leave a comment here, or hit me up on Twitter @davidwappel.

Breaking Down Brooklyn Nine-Nine by Episode

I wrote a crossover spec episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Westworld!


A Brooklyn Nine-Nine/Westworld Crossover Spec

based on Brooklyn Nine-Nine by Dan Goor & Michael Schur and Westworld by Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy

For prep, I broke down five Brooklyn Nine-Nine episodes. I wanted to get scene counts and page counts so I could try to maintain a sense of the rhythm from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. And while I knew I would depart from it a bit as I was mixing it up with an hour long drama with very different rhythms, I would at least be able to get some numbers to go by. I also wanted to see how many flashbacks were used in each episode, so I could try and match it. And since I was analyzing stuff anyway, I used the Gender Analysis tool in Highland 2 to check out the line distribution in Brooklyn Nine.

I was able to find the official scripts for five episodes online. These five episodes were:

  • 1.1 Pilot

  • 1.2 The Tagger

  • 1.4 M.E. Time

  • 1.11 Christmas

  • 1.13 The Bet

Check out the results below, as well as the results for my spec.

Page and Scene Breakdowns

Before you take a look at the charts, be aware that the act breaks are clearly marked in the scripts, as these are where the commercials would be. I’m not picking the act breaks myself based on story assumptions.

B99 Page Breakdown by Act

B99 Scene Breakdown by Act

My fancy tool for counting pages, scenes, and flashbacks. Thanks Gotham Writers!

My fancy tool for counting pages, scenes, and flashbacks. Thanks Gotham Writers!

A few things worth mentioning here.

  • Act 1 of both The Tagger and M.E. Time have the same page count, but check out the difference in scene counts of that same act in each episode. Now look at their Act 4’s. Read/watch the episodes and you’ll see how the pacing feels different for each one, but both hit their marks for time. Great work by the writers.

  • M.E. Time and The Bet seem to have the closest ratios between their page counts and scene counts. I didn’t notice anything particularly different about those two while reading, so I’m not sure if that’s a meaningful data point, but I thought I’d point it out as interesting.

  • Of all of them, the structure of the pilot seems to be the most different. I’ve noticed this to be the case almost all the pilots I’ve read when compared to their typical episodes.

  • In general, the page counts don’t vary as much as the scene count. This is because the commercial breaks need to be coming at relatively similar intervals each episode. Also, because a scene can be short or long, but a page is a page.

Line Breakdown by Gender

Highland 2’s Gender Analysis tool in action, on Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode M.E. Time.

Highland 2 has a wonderful tool that allows you to identify the gender of a character, and then analyzes the script and breaks down the number of lines by each gender. (There’s a third option for unspecified, so I used that one for any characters that weren’t the leads, even if their genders were identified.)

Also, even though the marketing material occasionally doesn’t include them, I included Hitchcock and Scully in the breakdown, so this is reflective of six male parts and three female parts here.

B99 Line Breakdown

(Only across five first season episodes.)

Even if you don’t write in Highland 2, it’s honestly worth it for this tool. You’d be amazed at how much or how little certain characters of yours are speaking.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine Flashbacks

Brooklyn Nine-Nine gets a lot of mileage out of their quick flashbacks. I knew I wanted to use this a lot in my crossover for two reasons. The first was that I saw a thematic parallel between flashbacks in Brooklyn Nine-Nine and the timeline jumping in Westworld. The second was that they are a great setup for jokes. I didn’t want to overuse (or underuse) them, so I counted them in the episodes.


Ok, so this isn't the most interesting bar graph. I could've probably just said Brooklyn Nine-Nine averages about 5 flashbacks per episode (at least of the ones I read.)

The Nine-Nine Goes West Analysis Results

Alright, let’s see the breakdown for my crossover spec.

Number of Flashbacks: 5

I wanted to be right on, and I had fun playing with how far in the past the flashbacks were. Also, the first one was a flashback to an actual episode.

Lines Spoken by Gender

Gender Analysis

I obviously had a number Westworld characters in there, but it’s surprising how similar the ratios actually are.

Something I didn’t notice until I ran this tool was that I have no guest speaking parts. In juggling two main casts I knew I had to be economical, but I didn’t realize I hadn’t used anyone else.

Breakdowns By Act

My biggest difference (besides longer scenes) is that my second act is significantly short and my act four is long. Overall though, I think I hit my goals for pace of the script.

Scene Count per Act

Page Count per Act

My biggest difference (besides longer scenes) is that my second act is significantly short and my act four is long. Overall though, I think I hit my goals for pace of the script.

Thanks for taking a look at the breakdowns. Feel free to leave a comment, or find me on Twitter @davidwappel if you wanna chat about this stuff more!

Also, if you haven’t seen this yet, a few friends helped me make this, and it’s great. (And when I say “helped me” I mean they did everything while I said things like, “Can we make a Corgi run in slow motion?”)

Thanks to Chris, Don, and Caitlin for all contributing their talents and special thanks to Chad for doing the bulk of the animation and producing. Separate blog post on it's creation coming soon!

This Week In Stories - August 21, 2018

Black Sails

Created by Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine

Yes, I know I'm a few years late on this. I've been toying around with two pirate/adventure screenplay ideas, so I started watching just to see what else is out there. Despite the soapy and oft rushed plots, Black Sails works. There's a fair amount of unneccesary violence and sex, and the politics of Nassau are near impossible to follow, but underneath everything is a story that drives. There's a noticeable shift in Season Three (which includes Ray Stevenson as Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard) and it's all for the better. A lot of fun. (P.S. There won't be any skeleton pirates, but that doesn't make the intro kick any less ass.)

From the depths of the blackest water come the opening credits to Black Sails directed by Karin Fong and Michelle Dougherty. A masterpiece of macabre, the intricate sculptures (created entirely with digital special effects) are captured in the midst of an epic battle; skeletons and pirates, locked in a conflict of the ages.



Dead Again

Director - Kenneth Branagh, Writer - Scott Frank


I remember watching this movie with my parents when we had some extended family in town, and I was so confused. Watching it again (streaming on Amazon Prime) I loved it. I vaguely remembered a few of the twists, but none of that mattered. This movie has everything. Amnesia, mystery, past lives, hypnotism, guns, scissors, romance, period piece, Wayne Knight, and Robin Williams. The premise of this movie is incredibly unique, and if you don't know it, I'd suggest going in completely blind. (Also, check out the murderer's row of talent involved at every level, including my main man Patrick Doyle!)




A Drink Before The War (by Dennis Lehane)

My good friend and I have a two person book club, and this was our most recent read. (I actually have multiple of these, and if you want to start one with me, please let's do it!) It's the first of the Patrick & Angie series from Dennis Lehane, the most well known of the series being Gone Baby Gone. This one follows a mystery in to the middle of a gang war in Boston, and it was a solid read. Not as tight as Gone Baby Gone, and the hook maybe isn't as strong, but you can see that from the very beginning, Lehane had a very well defined notion of these two characters. If you like detective novels, give it a read.


The Great Muppet Caper

I just finished reading a book about Jim Henson (see below) so I decided to revisit my favorite of the Muppet movies. Maybe it wasn't my favorite, but it was the only one we owned on VHS. (I remember the tape was made with green plastic, and being upset that it was slightly off from Kermit's shade of green.) Anyway, I loved it. Seeing it as an adult I had a new appreciation for the technical aspects, and it feels almost like the set pieces are designed to show off. You've got Muppets on bikes, Muppets underwater (singing, no less), and huge Busby Berkely numbers. Not to mention, trick after trick that must've taken hours just for one shot. Fun story, fun British cameos, and some great humor that holds up extremely well. ("Oh, did I get my elbow in the shot?" "Don't worry; it adds human interest." " ...But I'm a bear.")


Muppet Treasure Island (& Treasure Island)

Black Sails is a sort of prequel to Treasure Island with some historical figures thrown in. So I reread Treasure Island. And then, with my Muppet views, I decided what better way to culminate it all with Muppet Treasure Island. Compared to Caper, you can really feel the Disneyfication of everything, but Tim Curry having the time of his life makes it worth it. Also, I live for Sam the Eagle in this movie.


Lost - The Constant

Writers - Damon Lindelof & Carlton Cuse, Director - Jack Bender

My girlfriend has been rewatching all of Lost, but she kindly waited to watch this episode with me. And it's fantastic. Desmond's conciousness gets unstuck in time, and he needs to reconnect with Penny (the love of his life) before his brain can't handle it and he has an aneurysm. A few things that make this episode great:

- The cuts from timeline to timeline. Always in the middle of the action, sometimes even a line.

- The logistical stakes of creating a working line of communication to Penny coincides with the emotional stakes of Desmond and Penny's broken relationship.

- Henry Ian Cusick and Jeremy Davies give great performances.

In my opinion (and many others) this the best episode of Lost.


A few other non-narrative stuff:

The Second Circle (by Patsy Rodenburg)

I'm in an improv class, and we do a lot of what I'll call "actor-y stuff." I'm not an actor, and if you've ever seen me perform, you know that's an understatement. This book contains a lot of the underpinnings of being open and present on stage, and though it's written by an acting and voice teacher, it's actually written for everyone about being open and present in life. It likely won't convert anyone, but if you're open to these sorts of ideas, you might get something out of it.


Make Art Make Money (by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens)

This is the previously mentioned book about Henson, with a focus on the nexus of his art and his business. Some of the lessons seem a little didactic, but the best parts of this book are the thoroughly researched anecdotes from Henson's life that provide multiple insights into both his business and creative decisions.


If you were only allowed one of the above, this week's vote:



Write Brain - Pitch: Pirates of the Caribbean

It's been a while. I had family visit, went on vacation, plus received an awesome new assignment. This Week In Stories should come back soon, and will include VR experiences and an escape room besides the usual books, movies, tv shows. But for now, check out this writing exercise.


This is one I do with a fellow writer based out of NYC. We're both interested in big movies, so we give each other an IP to "pitch our take" on. We can pitch a sequel, prequel, spinoff, tv show, whatever. Just has to be based on that IP. As always, it's intended to not be reflective. Part of these assignments is letting go of our inner judgement and just think/feel/write. A few weeks ago, he gave me Pirates of the Caribbean. Here's my response:

Alright dude, here's my take on Pirates:

Pirates are not as plentiful as they use to be. The ones there are simply don't hold up when compared to the dread lords of old. Davy Jones, Blackbeard, Barbossa. Jack Sparrow. But none of these are to be found.

A young lad, Thomas, obsessed with the legend of pirates, lives with his uncle on a merchant ship. His mother died giving birth to him, and his father died when he was young, so his uncle tells him because he's too young to remember. When their ship is destroyed in a squall, Thomas is the only survivor, stranded on a deserted island. He finds in the wreckage, in his uncle's belongings, a pirate treasure map, with his family name on it. But, lo and behold, the island isn't deserted. By the fortune that continually follows him, Thomas finds himself on the very same island as Jack Sparrow.

Only Jack is going by a different name. He's in hiding. But Thomas, familiar with the legends, recognizes him. Jack, who no longer calls himself Captain (and corrects Thomas when he addresses him as such) tells Thomas he's given up such trifles as pirating. But when he sees the map, he can't help but hear the call of the sea in a quest for treasure. Or at least, that's what he tells Thomas. He agrees to help Thomas undertake the journey to the treasure, so long as he can have half of it. Thomas is in it to discover the history of his family name. Was his father a pirate? Jack mentions he might have heard the name. Who knows? He hears a lot of names.

Jack, telling Thomas he's helping him follow the map, immediately takes Thomas to the pirate lord Anne Bonny. Jack uses Thomas to barter for his debt because...Thomas is Anne's son.

The map belonged to Anne's father (Thomas' grandfather) and she reveals she's been searching for it her whole life. She tells Thomas she never wanted to bring him into this life, and told herself she'd leave it to be with him, but she never did. Together, they agree to follow the map. But what about Jack?

He'll simply take a percentage of the treasure. But none of the quest. That's behind him. Or is it because he's scared to be on the open waters again?

You see, as Anne knows, Jack has drawn the ire of the sea itself, by forsaking the pirates code for his own. He had been judged and ultimately been found wanting. And the sea does not allow such a man to so easily set sail. In fact, the squall that brought down Thomas' ship was because Jack set out upon the sea. And yet, how did Jack outrun it?

Thomas, believes Jack was judged unfairly (remembering the stories of Jack with Will and Elizabeth Turner) and believes him to be a good man. The night before they set out on their quest, Thomas makes a bargain with the sea: his life for Jack's, should Jack prove false on their journey. The sea grants his bargain, and allows Jack safe passage for at least three days, then another judgement shall pass.

They begin the search in earnest. Only to discover there's another interested party. How many pirate lords is Jack in debt to? But this one is not a debt of coin. Jack "commandeered" a ship from Aeolus Thatch, an English privateer, who sold his soul for the ability to control the wind. And the ships that he makes can sail in any winds, or none.

As they go for the treasure, Anne reveals to Thomas, and Jack, that the treasure isn't just gold. There's a special jewel that grants its holder with the ability to gain whatever they desire. Like an super extra dose of luck for that thing you want. If you want love, it will bring you lovers. If you want riches it will bring you riches. If you want power, you will find yourself in greater and greater power.

The chase is on for the treasure, with a mother/son pirate duo, a windcontrolling privateer, and Jack Sparrow.

Jack's arc in this film is centered around his self-reflection. All the characters are designed to evoke various aspects of his personality. Also within this story, though he puts on a carefree front, Jack is unhappy. He doesn't generally like who he is, or who he has become as he's aged. His journey will be one of reflection, ultimately redeeming himself through his death, or at least the "death" of Pirate Captain Jack Sparrow. Perhaps he sails away into the sunset, just as Jack. Or perhaps we learn his actual name. Either way, this story is designed to be Jack's last movie as the central character of the franchise. The franchise needs to be able to stand on it's own without Depp. Not that he couldn't come back on occasion, but it needs to evolve to not necessarily need him.

- DW


Write Brain - 10 Minute Hero's Journey

I've been spending as much time as I can working on my current script, as I'm trying to finish it by the end of the month. I've therefore had less time to watch and read, and even less time to organize my thoughts in a barely organized blog post. So instead of This Week In Stories, I've decided I'll start posting some of my writing exercises.

A buddy and I trade pictures back and forth via email, along with little prompts/assignments. They're designed to take ten to fifteen minutes, and be done with little to no forethought. On occasion, I'll be posting the pictures/prompts I've been sent, along with my responses. You can sneak a peek into my mind, or, if you're so inclined, can do the exercise as well. (Before digging in, it's worth noting that we come up with these on our own. We're not pulling them out of a book or blog, and they follow no particular writing craft or interest other than our own whims.)

Here's one from last summer:

7/31/17 - Create a world based on the picture below, then tell me the hero's journey through it.  Try to do it in 10 minutes. Remember it's okay if it sucks.    - KO

My response:

8/1/17 - The world entered another Ice Age, and the majority of humankind went extinct. The most developed nations fell apart, most of their citizens died, because they were unprepared for the new way of life. But undeveloped nations actually did relatively well, particularly those in colder climates, as their ways of life did not change all that much.

Centuries passed, and new larger mammals began to appear. At first, they were hunted, and even just a single kill could provide a number of needs. But one child, while on his first hunt, was separated from his tribe, just as one of the creatures, a young one, was also separated from it's herd during the hunt. The child hid the creature in the forest, and the two became friends. The child realized that there was much more to be gained from keeping the creature alive. But he was unable to provide for it, and understood that he had to lead the creature out of the forest, back to its family. But to do so, he would have to cross the space that he knew his tribe would be, and expose the creature. So he opted to take the longer, more circuitous, far more dangerous route around the outside of the forest. There, he and the creature were exposed to harsher elements, high cliffs, lack of available food, and it was easier to get lost. But they worked together, keeping each other warm, keeping each other company, and eventually found the creature's herd, but not before the child's tribe found them. He led them right to them! He stands between his tribe and the herd of creatures, willing to die for them. Amidst this grand gesture, one of the creatures of the herd thinks the child is threatening their newly returned young and charges. The young creature then gets between the herd and the child. Each of them protect the other from their own kind.    - DW

Note: Everything in italics is unedited, lifted straight from our emails. Also, I want to give credit for the picture, but we did this before thinking they'd be public facing. If anyone recognizes the art and could point in me in the artist's direction so I can properly credit them, please let me know. I will be better about this moving forward.

This Week In Stories - March 8, 2018

I haven't read/watched/seen as much this week as I normally do. At least not new stuff. My girlfriend and I have been watching plenty of The Americans. The new (and final) season starts up March 28, so we're trying to finish the fifth season on Amazon Prime. If you aren't watching it, stop reading right now and watch the pilot.


I realized last night that I hadn't watched any movies this week, and I hadn't read any feature scripts. I didn't want to stay up too late, and I knew if I tried to read I'd fall asleep, and I didn't want to stay up too late, so I poked around for something that with a runtime on the shorter end. Supercop fit the bill.

This film is technically the third in the Police Story series, but that isn't too important. The only thing it sets up is the running gag of everyone, particularly Michelle Yeoh calling Jackie Chan's character "Supercop" as a dig at him, because they are clearly unimpressed with him, despite his previous victories.

Jackie Chan gets a lot of (extremely well deserved) credit for his action and stunts. Not only are they physically impressive, but well shot, well established, and nice little stories in their own right. Tony Zhou is much better at explaining this than I am.

What I noticed in Supercop is that Jackie Chan's character never wants to fight. Every step of the way, he tries to avoid physical conflict, even in the very moment of the fight. He's mostly defending, and then will only punch or kick back to get his attacker away from him. Now, we all know that Jackie Chan is not an ordinary man. He's a highly trained, highly talented martial arts professional. The film does not try to pass his character as anything otherwise. Supercop specifically calls out how unordinary he is, listing his many, many martial arts accomplishments. And yet he doesn't use these skills when attacked. He's not necessarily interested in being "supercop." None of this is explicit. It is not a character arc. But it is a distinction that I believe many action movies do not understand. (Or the Supercop marketing dept. for that matter.) But I think it is this distinction that allows Chan's character to be just on the ordinary side of the "ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances" character/story.

It really made think about audience empathy, and the great action heroes. Though I enjoy them all, I always empathized more John McClane and Indiana Jones than John Rambo and James Bond. John McClane is overwhelmed by terrorists. Indiana Jones is outnumbered by Nazis. They do not have superior gadgets like Bond, they do not have superior bodies like Rambo. These heroes have to use their grit and determination to win the day, because they don't have much else. (Yes, Indiana has more knowledge than the Nazis, but notice how Belloq pretty much cancels this out.)

But Jackie Chan in Supercop is both superior to his enemies. So how does the film level the playing field? Basically by making his primary character trait something other than his martial arts ability. He's a well-rounded, funny character that also happens to be really good at martial arts. Compare this to action heroes who are defined by their action abilities.

I'm sure there's plenty more to dig in to here, but Supercop was plenty to get me thinking about it, and it's something I'll be keeping an eye out for in action movies.

Other Stories This Week

I finished Myst. It was much shorter than I remember, but great. I saved it before the last part of the game so I could replay and get all the different endings. Also, because I purchased the Masterpiece Edition (the only one available for Mac) there's a new age that I can explore, but I haven't done that yet. I remember playing Riven (the sequel) as a kid, but it was too hard for me. Also, it was five CD-ROMs. I'd try it now, but none of the Myst follow-ups are available for Mac. What's the deal with that? Maybe I'll try using Boot Camp on my MacBook. We'll see.

I also finished Knightfall in the Batman Comics. (A couple spoilers coming up….) I was really surprised by how much Robin takes over the narrative while Bruce is recovering and Jean Paul's taking over as Batman. I also thought it was an interesting choice to have Bane finally defeated by someone other than Bruce Wayne/Batman, but I think it made an interesting point in clearly showing how Bruce Wayne/Batman is different than the criminals he hunts down. Maybe he could never have taken down Bane because of the line's he's unwilling to cross. I can see why this story is a fan-favorite.

My Stories

I received a lot of great feedback on the treatment for the screenplay I'm currently working on, and am in the middle of writing right now. I spent a lot more time on the treatment than I normally do, and I was afraid the writing process wouldn't be as "discoverable" because of it, but I've found that to be untrue. Plenty of surprises, and I feel much more comfortable making a couple deviations from the treatment because I know the story better. I might put up a copy of the treatment here. I'll have to get some advice on whether that's a good idea or not.

Not quite projects, but I regularly trade emails back and forth with a few writers where we do various "exercises" and I recently asked permission to post a few of them, so I'll be doing that here as well.

Other Stuff

  • I saw Annihilation last night. Still thinking about it, so maybe next time you'll get full thoughts. By that time it'll be on Netflix.
  • Purchased a new card game: The Grizzled. Haven't played yet, but I really dig the way it's cooperative, but people still make individual choices. Other co-op games can have an "alpha gamer" issue, so I'm excited to see the way in which this one avoids it. Plus it's WW1 themed and has awesome art.
  • Started reading Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology. It's hilarious.
  • Broken Finger Status: Still Broken (I think. Getting follow-up x-rays next week.) I'd post pictures, but they gave me initial x-rays on a CD. Glad to know my doctor is operating in 1997.

This Week In Stories - February 28, 2018

It's been well over a year since my last entry. A lot's happened. I've moved permanently to Los Angeles. We shot a car into space. Oh, and there was an election.

But none of that is what I'd like to focus on. I'm here (and perhaps you are, too) because of the stories we tell. I'll be posting about what I've watched, read, seen, or played recently. And along the way, I'll keep you posted about the stories I'm working on.

My largest accomplishment this past week has been completing Star Trek: The Next Generation. I say complete, but that's somewhat misleading. Max Temkin's 40 Hour Watch Guide took me through the essential episodes in the series. Since it was designed for syndication from the outset, the episodes are self-contained, with only a few exceptions. It's a type of TV that I hardly see anymore, and it's fantastic to watch. The myriad of tones displayed have a wide range, and after only a few episodes, one gets the sense that this is what it's like to live aboard an exploratory spaceship. You see the fantastic experiences, as well as the mundane operations. Some of my favorite episodes are when the Enterprise must deal with issues that arise within the socio-politics of the ship and the Federation, rather than encounters with new lifeforms. For these types of episodes, I highly recommend Measure of a Man (2.9), The Offspring (3.16), and The Drumhead (4.21). If you're looking for explorations of great sci-fi premises, you can't get better than I, Borg  (5.23) which has one of my all time favorite Picard moments.


The finale, All Good Things (7.25), is better than three of the four movies made with this crew of the Enterprise. In the first episode of the series, Picard and the Enterprise is "put on trial" as representatives of humanity. All Good Things calls back to this, reminding Picard (and us) that "the trial never ends." I think that one of the themes this episode drives home is the way that we are not just shaped by all of our past experiences, but that we are all of our experiences, throughout time. And as Picard loses fewer and fewer steps between time jumps in the episode, to the point where he is completing lines across time jumps, one gets the sense of continued identity across time. (This theme apparently strikes a chord with me, as it's one of the same themes that comes up during the climax of one my all-time faves Speed Racer.)

With highly serialized storytelling all the rage these days, it was refreshing to watch something completely opposite of everything else I'm watching. (Another perk of this was that my girlfriend was able to watch episodes with me when she was around, but I never had to wait for her to move forward.  She had already watched most of TNG, so the character familiarity did help.)

I could go on and on about TNG, and I'm curious to hear what everyone's favorite episodes are. Right now, I'm debating between three things:

1) Go back and watch TNG episodes I skipped over

2) Watch Voyager

3) Watch Deep Space Nine


I'll let you know what I decide.


In other space-related stories, I recently finished William Shakespeare's The Jedi Doth Return, which is exactly what is sounds like: A retelling of Return of the Jedi in the style of a Shakespeare play. Written (translated?) by Ian Doescher, this is the third (sixth?) installment. An annual Christmas present from my girlfriend, I look forward to these every year and The Jedi Doth Return did not disappoint. Doescher doesn't simply rewrite dialogue, but thoughtfully imbues the story with all the trappings of Shakespearean theater. R2D2 has monologues, in English, that only the audience can hear, while everyone else simply hears his beeps and whistles. Yoda's particular way of speaking is translated here as haiku, separating him from everyone else. Stage directions are fun, particularly battles. (The way the battle on Hoth is portrayed in The Empire Striketh Back, with AT-AT's actually getting lines may have been the highlight of all the William Shakespeare's Star Wars I've read so far.)


Whenever I finish one of these I'm always struck by the thought of how little storytelling has changed over the centuries. I'm reminded that while Lucas was indeed borrowing from Shakespeare, Jung, Flash Gordon and plenty of other influences, those were simply guideposts to meaningful way in which stories function to humankind. Every so often, I rewatch the animated short The Power of Storytelling (narrated by Ian McKellen, accomplished Shakespearean actor) and I find myself questioning whatever I'm working on. Am I trying to entertain and reveal something about ourselves? On the page, think I'm usually just trying to entertain,in a broad sense of the word. I then find myself reflecting on what I've consumed recently, particularly if I wasn't really into it, and asking if it was not entertaining or if it was unrevealing? Or was it both?


Other Stories

In my Comic Club (like a book club, but with comics) we're reading Shadows of the Empire. I guess I'm on a Star Wars kick. I've finished the main six issue series, but we're diving deeper into the other releases, so I'll do full thoughts when all is finished. All I knew before this was the N64 game, which I played enough to memorize.

I'm slowly working my way through the Knightfall arc in Batman. My first intro to Bane was as Ivy's henchman in Batman & Robin, so now I totally get why everyone hated that treatment, and why Hardy's Bane in Dark Knight Rises was so welcomed. Beyond that fantastic voice of course.

My girlfriend and I finished Season 4 of The Americans. We've got Season 5 to finish before the final season begins on March 28. If you aren't watching The Americans you're missing out on basically everything.

I saw Maze Runner: Death Cure, and Black Panther last weekend. Go see Black Panther, skip Death Cure.


My Stories


I finally finished the treatment for the feature spec I'm working on. My broken finger has made typing tough, but the real obstacle was making this a priority for me. Things really clicked into gear when a few things happened. First, I found an outlining process that both works for me and I enjoy. I think both are crucial. I started using IndexCard 4 for the iPad. I got an iPad Pro recently, with an Apple Pencil, and it's so fun to move the index cards around. It's also super simple to stay focused on the scene and not get caught up in the whole story. After thinking through each scene, once I exported everything out into one document, it was much easier to shape into a readable treatment. The second thing that happened was that I got an email reminding me the Austin FilmFest Screenplay Competition Early Deadline was at the end of March. While I always had March 31st as a deadline, the screenplay competition gave me a visual finish line to cross. Besides being a great fest, Austin provides feedback with their submissions so I've always had my eye on it, but nothing I felt good about sending in. I feel good about this one. I'm awaiting feedback from some readers I trust on the treatment, but I'm going to pages tomorrow.

I have a couple of projects I'm toying with starting up, mostly related to my site here. Some video essays, some old projects I have in the can, but haven't edited yet, and maybe even a collaboration with a talented animator that's a good friend of mine. We'll see.


Other Stuff


- Been playing a lot of Pandemic on my iPad lately. I'm training for the Legacy Edition of the board game. I have my eye on potential teammates, but I want to make sure I'm up to par.

- Purchased realMyst on Steam forever ago. I had a night free to myself. Finally got to play it. I really dig the way in which time actually passes, but I kinda wish I had the original just for the nostalgia factor. I'm playing in Classic mode (point-and-click) rather than the WASD movement and mouse looking, but that's mainly because of my broken finger.

- Been enjoying The Coffee Roaster in Sherman Oaks. It's where I'm writing this now in fact. They're always roasting, so it smells great. Check it out if you're in the area.

- Broken Finger Status: Still broken.

Last Week In Stories - August 1, 2016

Northanger Abbey

Based on the novel by Jane Austen, Book by Robert Kauzlaric, Music & Lyrics by George Howe 

An adaptation that was incredibly faithful to the characters and spirit of the novel, though a departure from the plot late in the story left me unfulfilled with the protagonist's journey. Also, for a musical, I wish the songs were a little more memorable, but overall a very enjoyable production from some top-notch local Chicago theatre pros. The run at Lifeline Theatre has been extended through mid-August, so check it out.


Stranger Than Fiction

Directed by Marc Forster, Written by Zach Helm

A movie that I loved when I first saw it, and enjoyed even more this time around. Anyone interested in story beats will enjoy this, and some phenomenal acting from Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson especially. A great example of making a broad concept very specific and personal. Available to rent through iTunes and Sony's PlayStation Store.


House of Leaves

Novel by Mark Z. Danielewski

This book was crazy. It does not follow any sort of form (at least as written, it definitely adheres to traditional story shape) and does not do any handholding. Like the Lost of books, it raises way more questions than answers, but (also like Lost) isn't that where the fun is anyway. You'll definitely want the colored print edition.


Last Week In Stories - July 25, 2016

A very light week for me, at least in terms of full, contained stories of stage and screen. I recently arrived in Chicago for a short visit, and a large portion of my time has been spent seeing shows at iO and The Second City. I have also recently (though belatedly) started watching Mr. Robot, as well as reading an experimental novel, House of Leaves. (I shall review both once I finish the first season and novel, respectively.)

Bat Boy: The Musical

Book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, Music & Lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe

Incredibly fun. The supporting cast stole the show, with sharp understanding and command of the comedy of their characters. Act II went a little wonky for me, as it seemed to tonally shift very late in the story, but overall it was an incredibly entertaining production of a decently entertaining show. The production I saw by Griffin Theatre just closed, but Bat Boy will productions will probably pop every so often so keep an eye out for it by local companies in your city.


In The Heart Of The Sea

Written by Charles Leavitt,  Directed by Ron Howard

The subject matter alone can carry a lot of this story, but lack of clear protagonist really held this movie back. There's a sense of scenes just happening in order but with no drive towards character change, largely because there is no clarity of whose story is this. Without a story to get sucked into, the shoddy compositing work stood out, and the few pretty visuals there were couldn't save what was an ultimately unfulfilling narrative. Which is too bad. I love Moby Dick. (I rented it on iTunes, but it's available to rent on Google Play and YouTube as well.)


The Grapes of Wrath

Stage Adaptation by Frank Galati, Directed by Erica Weiss

This production unfortunately suffered from some simple technical obstacles. A hot theater (aka uncomfortable audience), poor projection and diction from actors, and a shallow stage. While these issues could have been addressed to varying degrees, ultimately the biggest obstacle was direction. Steinbeck's novel is solid, and the adaptation is extremely faithful, but there was very little variance in the dramatic weight of events (and even micro-events within scenes), so everything felt just like it mattered as much as anything else, so it was largely difficult to distinguish characters and moments from each other, intellectually and emotionally. I do recognize, however, that the audience of the performance I saw was completely checked out. Perhaps an audience that gives more ignites the potential this production has, and on another day, it just clicks more. Check it out at The Gift Theatre in Chicago.



Last Week In Stories - July 18, 2016

A Few Good Men

Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin

Solid. All the way around solid. Sorkin clearly knows what he's doing. Even this early. The thing that I'll probably revisit this script for is the gap between text and subtext in the dialogue. Nobody ever says exactly what they mean, but as the reader, I always knew exactly what they meant. Screenplay available online.


Superman Reborn

Screenplay by Mark Jones and Cary Bates

Another fascinating Superman script. Brainiac as the villain, Metropolis as a miniature city, and Superman mortal (for a time). Interesting take on the character, but the script itself wasn't anything special. Still, pretty original considering the constant retreading we've seen in years since. Screenplay available online.



Les Miserables

Musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg

For how long it's been running, this show should be pretty tightened up by now. And it truly is. The incredibly pro production that is on Broadway right now truly showcases just how tight this story is. Every moment is motivated by character choices and as the story continually unfolds, everything is inevitable. The dominoes just fall so perfectly that it looks effortless. Broadway production closes early September.



Pawn Sacrifice

Screenplay by Steven Knight

Very "Beautiful Mind"ish in it's approach, but the protagonist, Bobby Fischer, wasn't someone to root for. In a story like this, one in which the main subject is alienating and aloof, there is often a protagonist separate from the subject. This script didn't have one, and in my opinion suffered from it. Screenplay available online.






King Kong (2005)

Film by Peter Jackson, Screenplay by Fran Walsh & Phillipa Boyens, based on King Kong (1933)

After seeing the original last week, I wanted to revisit this version. The story is extremely faithful, and there isn't much more to learn from this version that you can't get from the '33 version, at least in terms of writing story. Dialogue is much sharper, but nothing special. Andy Serkis does imbibe Kong with the same pathos of the original, and while the character choice is not original, the execution through CG stands head and shoulders above most CG characters out today, more than ten years later. Check it out on Amazon


Bridge Of Spies

Screenplay by Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen

Fantastic screenplay. This is a great example of getting the setup right so that the back half of the screenplay can't help but be interesting. Act one works so well on it's own, and everything just dovetails from there. The feel-good story helps as well, so I'm sure that's factoring in to my enjoyment. Screenplay available online.





Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda

As a rule, I don't listen to musical soundtracks unless I've already seen the show. Now, the deal I made with my girlfriend was that if, after trying the lottery to get in almost every day we were in NYC, we were unable to see the show, I would listen to it. So I did. Uninterrupted, in one continuous sitting. And I was not disappointed. Lyrically, thematically, and narratively this show is in complete unison. Every element supports the themes of the show, which are beautifully interwoven with each other, just as the various musical motifs are interwoven themselves. Some nifty lyrics, hip-hop references and deep cut historical facts all blend together into something truly spectacular. On Broadway currently, but good luck getting tickets.


Last Week In Stories - July 11, 2016

Finding Neverland

Broadway Musical, Book by James Graham

If I gleaned nothing else from this show, it is that broad strokes will only get you part of the way there. With the production value, it was a shame this wasn't better. Wonky motivations, lack of character growth, irrelevant songs, and overly stagey choreography make what should have been an inspiring musical simply a performance of spectacle rather than substance. The show runs through August 21, but I'm sure it'll be on tour soon. Info and tickets can be found on the show's official website.



Batman vs Superman: Asylum

Unproduced Screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker

Of all the unproduced Superman scripts I've been reading, this one has been my favorite so far. The script completely ignored some of the traditional elements of a Batman or Superman story. Nothing about Krypton, Alfred has passed away, and Lois Lane is mentioned but never present. While these choices were refreshing, the main thing that this script got right was having believable motivations for Batman and Superman to fight each other, rather than have it be over a simple misunderstanding. Also, the script delved more effectively into the psychology of Clark Kent than I have seen any Superman screen story (produced or not) do thus far. A very fun read, even without (especially without?) all of the usual trappings. Read Asylum here.



The Killing Joke

Graphic Novel by Alan Moore

I didn't want to do another superhero read this week, but I found myself on the train with no service and this was all I had downloaded and available at the time. I have extremely little experience with the Batman comics themselves, and I found this to be a nice little self-contained story. The stakes are actually much smaller than I thought they would be, and I thought that was a nice touch. This story perfectly captured the relationships between all involved, in very few pages. You can pick it up on Amazon in various formats.



Three Days of the Condor

Screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel

Such a great premise here. Tight writing and great, motivated pacing of the story and plot. While I didn't quite buy some character motivations on the page, I think that they're there, and would need some great actors to pull them off. I know that the film has them, so I'll definitely be checking out the film next week, probably through iTunes, but it's also currently available on Google Play and YouTube, as well. 




Film by John Ford, Story by Ernest Haycox, Screenplay by Dudley Nichols

Classic film, and I can see why. Stereotypes are all under attack here, and the nuanced characters stand out as multi-dimensional by today's standards, so I can only imagine how this gripped the world when it was first released. While John Wayne tries to steal the show, and Ford makes sure it's easy for him, the true standout is the stuntman during the chase sequence.



The Crying Game

Screenplay by Neil Jordan

A great read, and not at all what I was expecting. If you want an example of a script with major reversals at act breaks and midpoints, look no further. For a more in depth analysis, check out my lengthier review at Back To The Picture.



Rear Window

Film by Alfred Hitchcock, Screenplay by John Michael Hayes

A great screening put on by Metrograph. Even though limited to a single room, Hitchcock is able to tell a story completely visually. Just the arc of the minor character Ms. Lonelyhearts is worth watching, as it is done completely without dialogue. Also, the way in which every little decision supports the theme of relationships is spot on, without being heavy handed. Nearly a perfect film.



King Kong

Film by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, Screenplay by James Creelman and Ruth Rose

The classic. I was lucky enough to see this as a film print on screen, again courtesy of Metrograph. While the story is nothing spectacular, what sets this film apart is not only special effects, but the pathos in which Willis O'Brien imbues Kong with in all of the stop-motion sequences. Fantastic! Available to rent on Amazon.




The Story of Kullervo

Short Story by J.R.R. Tolkien

As a huge Tolkien fan, I'm actually very late in reading this recently published reinvention of a classic Finnish story. Though just released, this is actually one of Tolkien's earliest works, and precedes many of his later stories. A tough read, and a loose narrative, but as a Tolkien fan, I loved it! Find it on Amazon.



The Secret Life Of Pets

Film by Yarrow Cheney and Chris Renaud, Screenplay by Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch

Deliver on the promise of the premise, and this film does. Tons of laughs here, and while there are a few setups that don't fully pay-off, and a few sequences that stand out as a little weird (looking at you sausage factory) it was a fun film none-the-less. This movie is still in theaters, so go see it now, preferably with an audience of kids.



The Invitation

Film by Karyn Kusama, Screenplay by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi

A lot of buzz has been happening about this film, particularly the direction, and for good reason. The direction elevates the material, which isn't to belittle the script at all. The way it maintains its "Is this for real or in my head?" premise for so long is impressive enough, and the way it's directed keeps you guessing the whole time. Just released on Netflix, so watch it there.





Non-fiction Book by Syd Field

As a voracious reader of writing books, I was excited to finally get into what everyone holds up as THE book on screenwriting. So I was incredibly disappointed when I found myself completely unimpressed by Field's ideas, and even more so by his inability to clearly explain them. Perhaps it used to be the best because there were no other books on screenwriting, but there are plenty better ones out there now, so feel free to skip this one. However, it is still revered, so if you want to, you can get it in various forms on Amazon.


Last Week In Stories - July 4, 2016

The Independence Day edition! Plenty of theatre and screenplays, though deficient on actual film watching this week. Will try to remedy next week.

Superman: Flyby

Screenplay by J.J. Abrams

This script was good, but not great. Of all the Superman films or screenplays I've seen so far, this one had the most interesting insight into our main character, Clark Kent/Superman, although many times it was through non-visual writing, and felt more like a novel. It served as a good reminder that screenplay form is important, and that writing in prose can explain some things, but also create gaps in understanding when translating to filmable action. I enjoyed a many of the Superman moments (including Superman's rescue of a plane, which was about the only thing to make it to Bryan Singer's Superman Returns) and I was refreshed by some large deviations from the Superman mythos. I won't spoil them here, but you can check the screenplay out for yourself


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

Play, Stageplay by Simon Stephens, based on the book by Mark Haddon

I saw the Broadway production of this play. It was enjoyable, with solid acting, creative staging, and impressive production value, but I easily saw how this story was most likely much stronger as a novel. Though the play goes through great theatrical efforts to put us inside the mind of the protagonist, a teenage boy with a likely diagnosis of Asperger's, the connection felt contrived, and the stakes of the story itself do not feel at all high until Act Two. This show reminded me of the importance of understanding the best medium for a story, and how even with adaptation choices, medium plays a large part in sharpening the story to its best possible version. Tickets and info can be found on the show's site.



Children of Men

Screenplay by Alfonso Cuaron & Timothy J. Sexton

Though the final film has more credited writers, the script I read was solely Cuaron & Sexton's, and I noticed very few differences between it and the film. Though, I will admit, it has been a while since I've seen it. The script itself was very tight, with a clear arc set up for the protagonist's growth, and a clear goal that the protagonist was trying to achieve. This was simple storytelling executed at a high level, and a joy to read. What struck me most, however, was the subtle and unrelenting world-building. It was always in the margins of the story, never taking over, but ever present. Cuaron and Sexton never missed on opportunity to continue building this world out, without ever using clunky exposition, unneeded scenes, or heavy-handed imagery. For any story that takes place in a world unlike our own, this is paramount in providing context for story while not distracting from it. Read the screenplay here.



d4rkly your retrorockets fl4re

Staged Reading, Stageplay by Steven Mark Tenney

This staged reading revealed that staged readings can be crucial in providing immediate feedback on a script. There was far too much time spent in world-building, with what seemed to be a proclivity for naming things rather than describing a functional world. And for what little story there was, it was told with an exacting, seemingly intentional unclarity. Whether this was the author's intent or not, the audience's noticeable disinterest should have been enough for him to determine if he's achieving his goal with this script. This was a one time reading, but Planet Connections Theatre Festivity has a robust calendar with free readings and affordable stagings.



On The Verge, or The Geography of Yearning

Play, Stageplay by Eric Overmyer

While the subject matter of this play (time-traveling, Victorian era, exploration) was right up my alley, I'd say that the style of this play (slightly absurdist) was not. I'm a big proponent of clear plot and driving stories, and the playwright was more interested in ideas and concepts here. Despite that, through fun direction, strong acting, and just some good old fun wordplay, I found myself leaning into the explorations here, rather than rejecting in search of story. Whether it was my predilections for the ideas, or my enjoyment of great wordsmithing, this play that I should have for all intents and purposes been bored with, had me smiling many a time. While I do believe its lack of story ultimately limits it, getting everything else right goes a long way. The show closes July 9th, but unique productions like this The Attic Theatre Company won't be disappearing anytime soon.



The Ghost and The Darkness

Screenplay by William Goldman

This was a very taut, and visually constricting, script. William Goldman, here on the backend of his career, clearly knows what he's doing, to the point where he nearly directs from the page. Despite that, his grasp of the form is on display and he delivers a clear and engaging period piece thriller. For a more in depth review of this, read my complete breakdown at Back To The Picture. Here's the screenplay itself.



The Golden Smile

Play/Musical, Stageplay by Yaakov Bressler

The story in this absurdist play, with a few songs sprinkled within, didn't quite capture me, but the characters did. And while a number of them were not played subtle enough for my taste, on the page, this play has everything it needs, though not necessarily arranged in their best order. The songs didn't do anything to further the plot, but the ideas explored were plenty to keep me engaged, and the conceit of a play within a play has great storytelling potential. Unfortunately I caught the last show in NYC at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity but it'll be performing at the Capital Fringe Festival soon.




The George Lucas Talk Show

This improvised talk show was as close to perfect as you can get. Connor Ratliff as George Lucas is perfect, who with complete dryness simply takes everything said on the show back to some George Lucas property or project, usually Star Wars. As Lucas, Ratliff perfectly straddles the line between a guy who has no idea of the public perception of certain projects of his (ahem...prequels) or a guy who knows, but doesn't care because he thinks he's right. It is his indifference to any audience (the show audience included) but his boy-like passion for his stories that makes Ratliff's Lucas so fun to watch. Check this out at UCBeast, if you get the chance.


The Avengers (Director's Commentary)

Listening to Joss Whedon talk about storytelling is just a joy. His disdain for cliche always leads to great moments, and this commentary not only reveals much about the way the story functions in this film, but also points to ways that it doesn't in other films. The commentary is available on the Blu-ray release.

Last Week In Stories - June 27, 2016

Last week, I didn't read as much as I usually would've, but I have good reasons. One, I got to see two live performances of musicals. Two, I performed in two live (improvised) performances as part of the Del Close Marathon. So even though I didn't read as much, I was still surrounded by stories. Here are my takeaways.

Big Fish

Screenplay by John August, based on novel by Daniel Wallace, film directed by Tim Burton

A great example of how good writing pulls you through scene to scene. Great seamless storytelling. The film (which I viewed the same night) perfectly translated the writing, particularly the scene in which time stands still for a brief moment. Screenplay available here Film available at Amazon.



West Side Story

Musical Book by Arthur Laurents

(Note: My sister was in this show!) A simple plot with simple characters and simple wants can make a fantastic story. Extremely clear desires allow the plot to unfold as it does with inevitability and tragedy. Performance by Paper Mill Playhouse. Film version available at Amazon.


6/5 - (My sister's performance as one of the Jet girls)


Betty Bureau

TV Pilot by Amanda Morad via Scriptnotes

Reminiscent of Agent Carter, this pilot works well, but doesn't quite separate itself from other procedurals. A great reminder that concept is key. Nice writing from someone trying to break into the business, and very inspiring to read. Available from



Bright Star

Musical Book by Steve Martin

Great performances and great staging, but lackluster story. No real inciting incident, so nothing to carry the audience through. Some sharp, simple comedy bits from Steve Martin, but not enough. Unfortunately, this show just closed on Broadway, but soundtrack is available on the official site.



The Big Short

Screenplay by Charles Randolph and Adam McKay

Very cool use of V.O. and breaking of fourth wall. One thing I had trouble with was following along with characters in screenplay, because I felt like they didn't have unique voices. I wonder if part of this is because one of the writers was also directing, so there perhaps isn't enough of a need for this in the screenplay because the need to ensure character translation from page to screen doesn't happen across two separate minds. Screenplay available 



Del Close Marathon

This weekend, I performed with The Cardigan Party and The Floating Cities in the 18th Del Close Marathon, the annual improv marathon put on by the Upright Citizens Brigade. The biggest takeaway from this is to keep things simple and build moments, scenes, and stories one piece at a time. I saw some fantastic groups from all over the world, far too many to name here, but some highlights include the teams BUCKY, Grandma's Ashes, True Lies, and The Smokes.


Last Week In Stories - June 20, 2016

This the first post in an ongoing series I’m titling “Last Week In Stories.” It is my belief that be a better storyteller, I must study better storytellers. I intend to study stories across mediums, but I will mostly be focusing on screenplays. See below for this week’s catch and takeaways.


The Place Beyond The Pines

Screenplay by Derek Cianofrance & Ben Coccio and Darius Marde

A great example of drawing dimensions out of characters through the characters around them. Also, it follows a very unusual structure in that each act seems to identify a different character as the protagonist. Available at The Screenplay Database.



The Hitch

Audio Screenplay by Troy Anthony Miller

Some great visual writing here. It was very easy for me to picture the movie as I was listening to it. Some fun characters, straight out of Hitchcock. The ending however, hinged on a coincidence that allowed the story to happen as it had, on top of the coincidence that was the inciting incident. I’ve come the conclusion that a good story has only one coincidence. The one that allows it to happen. The one that makes it unique. Everything else should follow necessarily, like dominoes. Available through Blacklist Table Reads.



King Solomon’s Mines

Novel by H. Rider Haggard

Though clearly dated in it’s views, this book proved how effective simple storytelling can be. Clearly established goal, clearly established obstacles, clearly established stakes. One thing in particular that made the protagonist so compelling was his belief that he was likely going to die on this adventure, and went along anyway. Available (for free) on Amazon Kindle.




Audio Screenplay by Jason Wilburn & Chris Kyle

I felt that this screenplay lacked a clear inciting incident, and I was unable to determine the protagonist’s goal. I may revisit to ensure I didn’t miss it, but it reveals how important it is to make the goal clear for main characters. Hell, for every character. Many scenes did have strong and natural dialogue, though. And solid voice acting from a good cast. Available from Blacklist Table Reads.



Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

True to title, the movie never stops never stopping.

True to title, the movie never stops never stopping.

Film by Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer & Andy Samberg (Dir. Jorma Taccone & Akiva Schaffer)

Brilliant! My highlight of the week for sure. A lot of subtle acting from a film that didn’t necessarily need it, and just sharp, sharp comedy writing. Great use of the mockumentary construct, and great storytelling that was paced perfectly. I’ll probably see this again soon. In theaters now.



Central Intelligence

Film by Ike Bariholtz & David Stassen and Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dir. Dawson Marshall Thurber)

     - I enjoyed this screening. Basic setup, yet very effective. Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart work well with each others timing, and the fun they had on set was clearly showing through. There were some scenes, however, that appeared to undermine the film’s main theme, making it just a little muddy and I also could’ve used some higher stakes, but I think that’s just my taste. Fun showing regardless. In theaters now.



’Til next week!