Hello, screenwriters. For those of you who are interested, I’ve just completely redesigned my website. So for those of you who would like to know more about my background, the films I’ve written, testimonials from writers in my workshops, etc please check out the new website at: http://www.glennbenest.com
Much appreciated.
We now have over 14,000 members in our group and counting. Please get the word out to anyone who has an interest in screenwriting – and that includes directors and producers and development people who want to give better notes to the screenwriters they work with.
An interesting and telling fact that will surely resonate with many screenwriters out there – the films that I was lucky enough to get produced happened because I was working with astute directors and/or producers, who were able to give me and my writing partners great notes that pushed the excellence of our scripts to greater and greater heights.
When I worked with producers who were more knowledgeable about raising money than helping screenwriters make their scripts better and better – I inevitably failed in getting my scripts made.
The reason for this is exactly why we are spending so much time right now on the rewriting process. As David Arndt (who wrote “Little Miss Sunshine”) so succinctly pointed out – you’re only as good as the feedback you’re getting.
No one gets it right on the first pass. As Hemingway said: “All first drafts are shit.”
So if this is the case, what then makes the big difference? It’s the feedback you’re working off to do your second, third and fourth drafts.
And because we as writers can only see so much after we’ve done a draft, we absolutely need an outside perspective to help us see what is needed next to make that next draft a heck of a lot better than what we just did.
That feedback we are so hungrily in need of must come from somebody who really understands not only what makes a screenplay work, but can identify exactly what the problem is and then how to fix it. Or at least be able to offer some good creative solutions.
Lots of people in the film industry can tell you what doesn’t feel right, but to be able to identify exactly what that is and then be able to offer fixes for that problem – that is where true talent lies.
It is said Don Simpson (no longer with us) of the famous producing team – Simpson/Bruckheimer – had such a gift. He was a wizard with screenplays and was able to help his writers make each draft better and better until it got to the point where it was ready for production He and his producing partner made many great films, including “Top Gun.”
So that’s what we’re aiming for here. Get knowledgeable, professional feedback from those who have this gift, not your best friend who loves movies or your good buddy who just got out of film school, because I really don’t think that qualifies anyone to work closely with writers and help them achieve greatness.
If you’ve worked damn hard on that first or second draft, don’t blow it by not going the distance and making your script as good as it can possibly be – even if means you have to do a few more drafts. If you’re willing to do 10 drafts, then I’d say you truly love what you’re doing and will do anything to make it come to life in movie theatre. More than anything, that tells me your screenplay actually has a chance of getting made.
And of course – KEEP WRITING!
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Hello, screenwriters. This might be a good opportunity to take a short time-out and consider a larger view of what we’re doing.
We’ve been concentrating fiercely on the small points which make up a whole. That is, the parts of what makes screenwriting a powerful form of communication: Dialogue, writing effective narrative, construction of scenes, etc. But from the producer’s point-of-view, the concept of the film itself is more important than just about anything. Because a movie, whether we like it or not, is a product – no different than a car or a toaster. The producer’s first question to himself is this: “How do I sell this story?”
The reason for that is simple – the marketing of a film has everything to do with it’s central premise. The distribution company has to put out short trailers, ads on TV, billboards on buses, etc to make the audience aware of a new film coming out.
What they are essentially selling is the premise of the film. And if that idea is intriguing enough, we will hopefully stand up and take notice. That of course is in conjunction with who is starring in the film, as we will oftentimes go to a movie because we love Will Farrell or Jack Black or Tom Cruise.
But the central premise is what you will pitch to a producer when you hopefully get a meeting, it is what the producer or agent or manger will pitch his or her boss.
The central premise is what will be sold to audiences to get them to see the film and it is what the head of a studio will pitch to his foreign sales people to see if the idea of this movie will play overseas. Apart from the fact that you have written a great screenplay (we hope), obviously the central premise of your film is incredibly important.
And that is not to say that movies with soft ideas (that is ideas that are not high concept) don’t get made as well. They do. Look at my favorite movie of last year: “Manchester By The Sea.”
But let’s face it – the movie industry is in love with high concept movies – The Terminator, Back To The Future, E.T., all the comic book films that are getting made now, like the Spider Man movies, etc, etc etc
They’re high on “What If” premises, strange turns of events, time travel, etc. They have very strong plot points – that is, an action or event that comes out of the blue and turns the story around in a new direction. Unexpected plot twists of one sort or the other.
Does that mean you shouldn’t write something even though you feel very powerfully about the characters or the themes? Of course not. Because the power of the writing will come from how deeply you feel about the character’s journey.
But that also doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be savvy about how films get made. We should be able to understand the viewpoint of the producer who’re we’re trying to sell to, what is he/she is looking for, and how can we satisfy that need.
Next week we’ll continue to consider the craft rather than the marketplace.
Until then – KEEP WRITING!
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Hello, everyone. I wanted to point out in this week’s post how crucial it is to be as succinct as possible with your narrative. This has changed dramatically over the years.
Let’s take another example from “Inception.” As you recall Cobb has been offered a job to go into the mind of the son of a corporate titan and plant an idea there – that the man will hopefully feel this is his idea – Not the inception of someone else.
The son of the owner will think that it’s his idea to break up his father’s company. Cobb’s partner, Arthur, doesn’t believe it can be done.
Cobb knows it can be done as he’s already accomplished it.
Here’s the scene.
Cobb reclines his seat. Arthur picks up a salad, angry.
I know how much you want to go home.
No, you don’t.
But this can’t be done.
It can. You just have to go deep enough
You don’t know that! –
I’ve done it before.
Arthur is taken aback. Cobb turns to the window.
Did it work?
Who did you do it to?
Cobb looks at Arthur. Closed. Arthur shrugs.
So why are we headed to Paris?
We’re going to need a new architect.
I’ve picked this scene because I wanted to point out how lean it is. There are hardly any stage directions. This is due in part to the fact that it’s written by the director (Christopher Nolan) but it’s also a style that is becoming more and more prevalent in the modern world of screenwriting.
Anything that is not needed is cut: For example:
CONTINUED’S (at the top and bottom of the page)
EXTRANEOUS STAGE DIRECTIONS: that describe unnecessary details to the actors – Their little gestures, looks, the way they say the lines, etc – Totally Unnecessary. Let the actors do their job!
TOO MAN PARENTHETICALS (angrily) (happily) (furiously) etc. –
Let the actors decide how they want to say the lines.
UNNECESSARY SET DESCRIPTIONS – going into way too much detail about how a room looks. Let the set designer figure this out –
And finally – OVER DESCRIBING ACTION SEQUENCES: Once again, a stunt co-ordinator is going to do all this, so why waste a lot of precious space describing every blow of a fight or battle. Give us a general impression:
“He beats him bloody,” to me is better than a blow by blow description of a fight.
This leanness of good screenplays of course doesn’t happen in the first draft. It occurs in the 3rd of 4th or 5th draft when you’re really looking closely at every line of narrative and every line of dialogue.
The good stuff gets even better when we can cut out all the mediocre stuff!
Let’s get stingy with all those extraneous lines of narrative and dialogue. Do you feel me?
Next week, we’ll see one last scene from ‘INCEPTION.’
Until then – KEEP WRITING!
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Hi, everyone. As we saw in this last scene from “Inception,” Cobb (played by Leonardo Di Caprio) is a reluctant hero. That is — he doesn’t jump at the chance to go on a daring mission or journey.
It’s occurred to me that we haven’t talked about this particular aspect of the Protagonist’s character arc. The reluctant hero is a very common step of every hero’s journey. Why is that?
For one – it’s human nature. Who in his right mind wants to go on a dangerous journey where he might be killed? Our first instinct is self survival.
When we are presented with the dangers of facing killers or confronting evil – leaving our home and loved ones – our first instinct is to say no.
Think of all the great hero’s journey movies and you will see the reluctant hero at work. Whether it’s Star Wars where Luke Skywalker is presented with the chance to be a Jedi Knight, he refuses until the water farm he’s working on is destroyed and his grandparents are killed.
Same with “Unforgiven.” The Hero (played by Clint Eastwood) is offered the chance to get a big bounty for killing the man who scarred a prostitute. He refuses until he sees how desperate his children are and finally returns to the ways of danger and violence.
Same with Lord of the Rings, where Frodo doesn’t want the responsibility and danger of leaving the Shire and facing evil forces. It’s not until he realizes what grave danger the Hobbits are in that he agrees to take the ring to the Land of the Elves – and then from there accepts the greater burden of taking the ring all the way Mordor – to the Volcano and destroying the ring forever.
So it’s human nature not to want to accept the journey. We all try to feel safe in the little bubble we exist in, to face greater challenges and new dangers and unexpected threats and evil adversaries is not something we would naturally do unless we’re forced into it or see we have no choice.
The call to adventure is only for those who have the courage and sense of responsibility to take on the quest. This call to adventure by the way is the plot point of every Hero’s Journey film – where the hero must go on a quest of some sort.
Therefore, not everyone is destined to be a hero. You need to ask yourself if the character you’ve chosen has the stuff to be the protagonist of your story.
And that doesn’t mean that ordinary people can’t be heroic – as was the heroine in “Blind Side” or the protagonists in “The Hang-Over.” What makes them worthy of being heroes? Simply that they refuse to give up in the face of danger or overwhelming odds.
No one wants to change. We must be forced to change because of the plot points that we throw at our protagonists – there’s a war to be fought, there’s a bad guy who needs to be stopped, there’s a pending danger to our families, our society, our countries, our loved ones.
No one willing changes. They either hit rock bottom or they have no other choice. That’s where the plot point comes in – defined as an action or event that comes out of the blue and turns the story around in a new direction.
We’ll see how this works in screenplays we analyze in the future.
Until then – KEEP WRITING!
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Hello, everyone. As you’re all aware, I do these posts to provide information you wouldn’t normally receive in your typical screenwriting class, screenwriting workshop or screenwriting course. This certainly fits that bill.

Do you all realize that although “Inception,” didn’t win many Academy awards it’s made over 850 million dollars worldwide gross box office? That’s not too shabby.

So why is it so successful? Apart from the amazing visuals, it’s a great screenplay. What makes it so amazing? It’s incredibly dense and complicated (unlike most film scripts which are deceptively simple) and yet we’re never bored and stay with the story despite lots of twists and turns we might not get on first watching it.

I know I had to see it a couple of times and read the screenplay as well to truly understand the story.

Normally, that would totally turn me off. But in this instance, it just made me want to learn more.

As we saw in the last scene from the film, exposition which abounds in the screenplay, is doled in pieces and oftentimes hidden when conflict is high. Exposition can easily kill a scene because the audience has to sit there and hear a bunch of explanation rather than continue to see the story unfolding. So hiding exposition is one of the most important things a screenwriting has to learn.

Here is more exposition that gets snuck into the scene as Cobb has to make a big decision. Does he take this impossible job or not? First he completely refuses to attempt Inception. Now, Saito offers him the one thing he can’t refuse – to get back to the U.S. to see his children.


The helicopter sets down next to a private jet.


Saito indicates the plan.


Tell the crew where you want to go, they’ll file the plan en route.

Cobb and Arthur look at each other. Then move for the door.


Mr. Cobb…? There is one thing I could offer you.

(Cobb stops)

How would you like to go home? To America.

To your children.

Cobb turns back to Saito.


You can’t fix that. Nobody could.


Just like Inception.

Cobb considers this. Arthur touches his arm.


Cobb, come on –


How complex is the idea?


Simple enough.


No idea’s simple when you have to plant it in someone else’s mind.


My main competitor is an old man in poor health.

His son will soon inherit control of the corporation.

I need him to decide to break up his father’s empire.

Against his own self-interest.


Cobb, we should walk away from this.


If I were to do it. If I could do it… how do I know you can deliver?


You don’t. But I can. So do you want to take a leap

of faith, or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone?


Cobb looks at Saito. Barely nods.



Assemble your team, Mr. Cobb. And choose your team wisely.


You see what I mean by sneaking in exposition. We learn what the plot will revolve around – convincing the son

of a very wealthy industrialist to break up his father’s empire when the father is gone. We barely realize we’re getting

this exposition. The film doesn’t stop dead in its tracks as we’re more focused on Cobb, who finally takes the bait.


Now in screenwriting terms we will enter Act 2 – the reluctant Hero accepts the challenge and goes on the journey.

We’ll see another scene from Inception next week.

Until then – KEEP WRITING!


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Hello, screenwriters. In these posts I attempt to provide information that you don’t normally get in your typical screenwriting course, screenwriting class or screenwriting workshop.  We are now back to examining some exceptional scenes from the work of professional writers who will hopefully inspire us and help us understand what makes great screenwriting.
The following is of particular interest as it comes from a screenplay that is extremely complex. I know I was fascinated by this film and had to watch it multiple times and read the screenplay as well before I really understood its complicated structure and plot.
But somehow Christopher Nolan pulls it off. It’s a rare feat as you will notice most films are really very simple – and that is what makes them so difficult. Because simplicity is exceptionally hard to accomplish without the writer becoming simplistic as well.
Here is an example of a film that is complex in its plotting with multiple twists and. The writer somehow communicates all the exposition without completely making the story come to a grinding halt.
I’m talking of course about ‘INCEPTION,’ written and directed by Christopher Nolan.
This scene comes early on in Act 1, after Cobb tries to steal corporate secrets from a Japanese industrialist, Saito. Saito discovered the plan and now offers Cobb (Leonardo de Caprio) a chance to redeem himself. Arthur is Cobb’s #1 guy. They’re on a helicopter:
What do you want from us?
Arthur raises his eyebrows. Cobb is poker-faced.
Is it possible?
Of course not.
If you can steal from someone’s mind, why can’t you plant one there instead?
Okay, here’s planting an idea: I say to you,
“Don’t think about elephants.”
(Saito nods)
What are you thinking about?
Right. But it’s not your idea because you know I gave it to you.
But could you plant it subconsciously—
The subject’s mind can always trace the genesis of the idea. True inspiration is impossible to fake.
No, it isn’t.
Can you do it?
I won’t do it.
In exchange, I’ll give you the information you were paid to steal.
Are you giving me a choice? Because I can find my own way to square things with Cobol.
Then you do have a choice.
And I choose to leave.
You see here, that what could have bogged down to a boring scene about what Inception is – or what the plan Saito has in mind is – plays extremely well. It also helps that the scene has a great button – that is, the scene ends with a great line or piece of action.
How does the screenwriter pull this off? First and foremost, there is great conflict in the scene. Cobb doesn’t want to do it, he knows it’s highly dangerous and almost impossible. He also has his partner, Arthur, tell him to forget it, they should just leave.
But we also learn in this scene that Cobb knows Inception is possible. So he can be persuaded if Saito has the right incentive.
The hardest scenes you will ever write are those where there is very little action – that is people just talking to one another – And scenes which have a good deal of exposition. How do you overcome these obstacles? You sneak in the exposition during heightened states of conflict or you dole out the exposition a little at a time.
Here in ‘Inception” Nolan does both. We will discover tons more exposition about what Inception is as the film goes on. But here we get the first real sense of what we are about to experience.
We’ll study more of this screenplay next week.
Until then – KEEP WRITING!
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Hello, everyone. As you all know I try and present material that you don’t normally get in your typical screenwriting course, screenwriting class or screenwriting workshop. Today, let’s take a minute and think about the value of looking at these scenes every week from great screenwriters, who are writing films for today’s marketplace.

Not only am I attempting to point out tricks of the screenwriting trade – pointers or lessons we all can learn from in these scenes – but I’m also trying to accomplish something else – not just for you – but for me as well.

The more we read the best of what Hollywood has to offer, the more we are inspired to elevate the skill of our own writing.

Our standards need to be incredibly high. We should never give ourselves justifications for not writing the very best that we can.

This is why I teach private screenwriting workshops. Because I want to hold every writer – and myself included – to the highest standards possible. And we never let out a script go out until we’re convinced it’s as good as it can possibly be.

There comes a point with every screenplay that you’ve looked at it too many times and you can’t see it objectively anymore. So you need a new pair of eyes to help you understand how to make it even better.

Make sure you’re getting really good feedback, hopefully from a professional who will not let you get away with mediocre or sub-mediocre work. It has to be great.

Art as I’ve talked about previously art is not about pure skill – it’s about having enough skill to communicate the emotional moments you want to convey to the audience. Skill is not the end goal – but you need to have enough of it to make your audience feel what your characters are experiencing moment to moment.

We will continue to read and discuss the best work that I can find. In the meantime, locate a screenwriting workshop that will inspire you to push your material to the highest level of writing you are capable of.

If you’re in Los Angeles, ask me about my screenwriting workshops. If not in Los Angeles, keep working on your craft and getting consultations with professionals who will guide you. Don’t accept mediocrity.

I hope I can help.

Until then – KEEP WRITING!


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Hello, everyone.
I can’t emphasize enough how important the read is. I work relentlessly with the writers in my screenwriting workshops on their story structure, their characters and the protagonist’s character arcs and of course on the dialogue and scene construction.
But when we get down to the 3rd or 4th draft – I emphasize more than anything the writing of the film narrative.
This is probably the last thing a professional screenwriter will learn when it comes to the craft of writing great screenplays.
When a reader or agent or manager reads a screenplay from a new writer, it’s extremely easy to detect the beginner from the professional.
What makes this difference? In large part, it’s the narrative.
The narrative is either written with style and elegance or it’s not. It has a rhythm that is unique to the writer (also known as a writer’s voice) or it’s pedantic. That is, the writer just slapped together sentences, giving stage directions that may be workmanlike but have not been composed with a sense of poetry and style.
Your narrative will define you as a true professional or a wannabe.
It may be fine in a first draft to just get down the action, but in your subsequent drafts you need to really spend time on the crafting of your sentences, just as a novelist does when he’s writing prose.
So how we express those images – our narrative – must be written with a sense of poetry. It’s not just a matter of writing stage directions – it’s a matter of conveying the mood and feeling of your work. If you’re doing a dark comedy the style of your narrative will be very different from a drama – or a horror movie – or an action suspense film.
If this is still abstract to you, read more great screenplays. See how the narrative is written. See how it fits the genre of the film. Do the sentences have a rhythm? Is there a voice talking to you? If it’s a comedy, is the narrative just as amusing as the dialogue? It should be. Is there a style to the sentences?
Put the greatest amount of effort into those first 5 pages because that is what will determine how the reader judges you. And if he or she judges you as being a beginner, you are literally then dead in the water. Because it’s almost impossible to turn those perceptions around.
Let’s really pay attention to that in the weeks to come.
Until then – KEEP WRITING!
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Remember this. That the person who reads your script has read many, many scripts. He or she knows what a professional screenplay should read and sound like.

It shouldn’t feel like a first draft. Every sentence has to have energy and rhythm and punch. It’s not just the dialogue that has to connect with the reader – the narrative is equally as important. The sentences should have a style and tone that match the genre of the film you’re writing.

Shane Black began this new awareness of writing exciting narrative with “Lethal Weapon,” and even more so with “The Last Boy Scout,” which sold for many millions of dollars in a bidding war.

What excited the readers of this screenplay was the voice of the writer – the strength of his narrative.

Every screenplay should have a voice – you should feel like a distinctive voice is talking to you and that voice should be very compelling.

Once again, I’m quoting from the following book, where I wrote a chapter about writing great film narrative:


Screenwriting Exercises From Today’s Best Writers and Teachers

Edited by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson – a Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin Book

The following exercise will help you get the hang of writing energetic film narrative.


Take the opening description of your screenplay, where you describe the setting and the characters:

1. Take the action words – the verbs – and see if you can make them even stronger and more visual. Instead of “He falls on the floor,” find a stronger way to say that. For example, “He gets splattered on the floor.”

2. When you introduce your protagonist find a great and succinct line or two to really nail who he or she is. Instead of describing your hero in general terms, give us an indelible impression. This is an example from FACE/OFF: “Jo Archer…older…unshaven…fatigued…his EYES reveal a man in the grip of obsession.

3. This is a description of Dexter’s sister from the TV show of the same name: “And we see DEBRA (twenties) dressed as a classic cheap shore, her shapely body shrink-wrapped tight in a pink neon tube top, miniskirt, fishnet stockings and high heels, talking into her cell phone.”

4. Break up the action into shots. Stay away from big, thick paragraphs.

5. Give us interesting visual images to look at. Your job as a screenwriter is to write in visual images. Figure out what your scene is about visually and then find the central visual image that tells the story of that scene. If you do this correctly, the scene will write itself and the dialogue will come easily.

6. Find a rhythm to your narrative. If it’s a hard-boiled detective story, find a short, tough way to describe the action. If it’s an off-the-wall comedy, find a way to make the reader laugh or at least smile on page one.

7. Make it easy to read and follow. Don’t throw more than a few characters at us in the first scene. Make sure we know who the protagonist is and what genre this is: Is it action? Is it a comedy? Is it a dark comedy? I want to know that just by reading the first page.

What’s crucial in this exercise is that your attention is drawn away from the fact that you’re writing for yourself and instead becomes focused on the fact that you’re writing to amuse, entertain and /or delight the reader. Every sentence, every word is there for a reason.

If the first page vibrates with energy and skill, then the reader has a great first impression of your screenplay. Put all your writing ability into that first scene. If done correctly, it will pave the way for your success.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this attention we’re putting on the narrative. We will continue with great scene writing in the weeks to come.

Until then – KEEP WRITING!


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Hello, everyone. I was just published in a screenwriting book: “Now WRITE! SCREENWRITING” — Screenwriting Exercises From Today’s Best Writers and Teachers.

I wrote a chapter devoted to writing Great Film Narrative: Chapter 14: It’s The Read – Writing Great Film Narrative.

I thought you might enjoy some of the lessons I laid out for making description (also called narrative) as powerful as possible.

Unfortunately, most beginning screenwriters focus on the dialogue – which is fine, but the narrative is equally as important.

Writing great film narrative is usually one of the last skills the professional screenwriter learns – as the narrative in a script should be as compelling and fun to read as the dialogue.

So the following is what I wrote in this book. I hope it helps you to beef up your narrative – as the read of a script is what tells the agent, producer, manager how professional of a writer you actually are:

“The most common mistake I come across in reading the many scripts I analyze is that the film narrative for descriptive passages are tedious and lack energy.

As a screenwriting gets more and more professional, he or she realizes that the read is everything. What do I mean by that?

The narrative is not written with style or energy, it’s just pedantic, it’s way too long or it’s confusing. The writer seems to be over-describing every stage direction rather than honing it down to crystal clarity; so that we get the entire mood of the scene or what a place looks like or who a character is in one line.

So what gets in the way of a great read? Big locks of narrative.

Make every paragraph reflect a different shot: Here’s Bill, and he’s sighting in on the target. Next paragraph is Mary, who’s running for cover. Next paragraph is Mary’s mother, who screams for her to get down.

Clumsy narrative lines, “A raging fire burns through the building and brightly lights the fire crew trying to tame it.”’

That’s okay, but a little awkward and not as visual as it could be. The writer rewrites this to read: “A raging fire burns through J.R.’s building. It has turned night to day and lights the sky.”

Narrative lines in a screenplay are not comparable to prose in a novel. We want short, pithy images. More like you’re reading a poem.

Here’s an example:

“Amusement park rides glisten against a bright blue sky, and the weather’s just fine.

Come closer. Teens shrieking by on the roller coaster, bikini-clad bladers, wide eyed tourists from the Midwest munching corn dogs – can’t believe this is March.

Enter a balding tourist in a loud Hawaiian shirt. He’s barely a blip on the radar screen as he wanders over to a telescope, deposits a quarter. We take a look, too – “


This is a description of the Santa Monica pier on a spring day. It’s got energy and pacing and great images.

If you’re interested in purchasing this book, please visit:


Next week I’ll give you some exercises from this book to help you achieve better narrative writing.

Until then – KEEP WRITING!


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