By Mark Stevens
Do you think in movies?
Can you see your work in progress scene by scene, playing out on the screen?
I’d be surprised if you don’t.
I’d be surprised if you don’t cast your story. Yes, I happen to think Hilary Swank would make a great Allison Coil. Or Amy Adams.
Go ahead, shoot me for dreaming.
As long as the actress knows her way around a horse, I’d be fine.
I’m interested in story-making, no matter the medium. Novels are my thing. I could never write a play or screenplay. Or epic poem, for that matter.
And this brings me to Scriptnotes, the best podcast you might be missing.
Because John August and Craig Mazin understand what makes a story work. Each week, for free, they talk about specific issues. Sometimes they spend time on mildly interesting inside-Hollywood industry stuff, but the meat of Scriptnotes is the nitty-gritty of screenplay writing itself. I give you the recent extended conversation over “Frozen” (not just another animated feature!) or the brilliant deconstruction (Episode 73) of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” But every week has something good.
August and Mazin have serious screenplay credentials. For August, it’s “Go,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Frankenweenie,” to name a few. He also writes musicals and develops apps. He’s a cool geek and tends to take things a bit more seriously than Mazin. But if I’m not mistaken, Scriptnotes was August’s idea and the pairing with Mazin was a great choice.
Mazin—“Identity Thief,” “The Hangover Part II” and many others—brings the attitude, maybe a touch of venom every now and then, and a strong point of view. Dig it. From what I can tell, he takes nothing seriously. He might be the loud one at the dinner party, but you’ll probably die laughing. Okay with me.
Here’s what I like: these two care deeply about what makes stories work and that passion comes through.
My favorite segments involve the “Three Page Challenge.”
Bold podcast listeners and would-be screenwriters submit the first three pages of their screenplay-in-progress and August and Mazin have at it (the three pages are posted online so you can read along, too).
When the pages work (which happens), August and Mazin dole out praise and encouragement and we learn what works—and why. When the pages don’t work (the majority of the time), it’s like attending a forensic exam of a corpse with Temperance Brennan as your guide.
Remember that great workshop (“The Agent Reads the Slush Pile”) at the last Colorado Gold conference where two agents, Kristin Nelson and Sally Harding, dissected the openings of novels in progress? Insightful—and brutal. “The Three Page Challenge” is along those same lines. Character, pacing, action, plot, setting—what is tripping up your story?
I’m always picking up something from August and Mazin. I listen while walking the dog or working out and I can’t begin to tell you how many times an idea has surfaced while listening to them chat about movies and screenplays.
The last 20 episodes are available for free but for a whole whopping $1.99 you can get access to the entire back catalog.
I highly recommend Scriptnotes. A different point of view, perhaps. But it’s all about storytelling and, you know, it’s all good.
Mark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan. Book three in the series, Trapline, will be published by Midnight Ink in November 2014.