Film Courage: In a nutshell, what are the basic storytelling principles for a screenplay, if you had a list of bullet points?
Jen Grisanti: I would say (for me) it really is the understanding of the wound, the drive and the negative narrative that gets in the way and how the pursuit is one step toward healing the wound. I would say that is definitely one. Another story tool that I use which also goes into the Why is how does the personal dilemma of the central character link to the professional pursuit? And really being clear on if there is a link. And very often, there isn’t a link. You are setting up a weakness or a void that isn’t connected to the pursuit and how the pursuit can be the answer to that void.
“…I think when I first started consulting one of the biggest questions I asked was What Does the Central Character Want? If I don’t know that, the story doesn’t work.”
And then I would say having an active hero who has a clear want is definitely a huge thing that I work with writers on because it’s really thinking about….I mean I think when I first started consulting one of the biggest questions I asked was what does the central character want? If I don’t know that, the story doesn’t work. What I came to recognize when I wrote storyline, I recognized there were a hundred screenwriting books out there. What’s going to make my voice different? And at that point I had been an analyst for 17 years. So I recognized that analyzing is what sets me apart because I know how to do that. This is what my brain has been trained for. And so I got a bunch of Oscar nominated, Emmy nominated and Golden Globe nominated scripts and I extracted a formula because I thought I don’t want to teach writers how to write a good script because that won’t get them staffed and that won’t lead them to sell a script. I want to teach them to write a script that hits it out of the ballpark.
“And that formula which I came upon was that every strong story starts with a trigger incident or an inciting incident as many people term it and it pushes the central character into a powerful dilemma. Then the choice that is made in the dilemma is what defines the external goal for a story.”
And that formula which I came upon was that every strong story starts with a trigger incident or an inciting incident as many people term it and it pushes the central character into a powerful dilemma. Then the choice that is made in the dilemma is what defines the external goal for a story. Every obstacle, escalating obstacle and all is lost moments need to link back to that choice. And when the goal isn’t clear the story doesn’t work because everything needs to link back to, because there are countless features as well as TV shows where in the middle of the story you have no idea what the central character wants, like you’ve lost it. Because the actions and obstacles aren’t linked to the desire and we lose a sense as to what the desire was. So when you do that, story doesn’t work. And very often writers will write a passive hero that isn’t taking action.
Another mistake writers will make is that they will choose the wrong lead. They will develop another character more with regards to backstory and empathy than they will their lead.
Film Courage: Interesting….
Jen Grisanti: So they choose the wrong lead.
Film Courage: If someone is looking at their own story, how can they tell they have a passive hero?
Jen Grisanti: Are they taking action toward the goal? It’s very easy….are they reacting to what happens to them? If you look at act breaks….at the act break the central character should take an action toward the goal, hit an obstacle and then there should be a reminder of the stakes, that is IF the stakes were set up well at the beginning. And the internal and external stakes should be felt at that act break. But many times the act break is something that happens to the central character rather than it being a a result of an action they took toward the goal that led to the obstacle.
Film Courage: How soon should the key desire be revealed within the story?
Jen Grisanti: That’s a good question. End of act one. We should have a clear sense of what the central character wants by the end of act one. And I am always studying story and figuring out how to teach in a way that will connect with the writer. So I go off of the brilliant work being produced. I would say that I have seen the end of act one be on the clear set-up of the goal and that works well. Or I’ve seen act one end on the first action taken toward the goal and the first obstacle hit. So either of those are fine. I would say probably most stories the first action toward the goal is often in act two.
Question: Do you read Oscar or Emmy nominated scripts
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ABOUT JEN GRISANTI:
As a Current Programs Executive, I was exposed to the entire creative process, which means I know what the studio wants, what the network looks for and what kind of material you need in order to get hired. I have read over 8,000 scripts and given notes on most of them, so I know how to make a script the best that it can be.
In addition to Aaron Spelling, other great mentors I’ve worked with include, Glenn Gordon Caron, Barry Schindel, E. Duke Vincent, Ira Behr, Ken Sanzel, Mara Brock Akil, John Eisendrath, Jorge Zamacona, Brad Kern, Chuck Pratt and Brenda Hampton.
Over the years, I have developed numerous industry relationships with successful writers, directors and executives who have supported me along the way. You can see some of their testimonials here.
In August of 2008, I was hired by NBC to be the Writing Instructor for their program, Writers on the Verge. This is a 10-week program focused on polishing writers’ material and readying the participants for the staff writer position on a television series. Classes concentrate on creating an exceptional spec script and understanding the dynamics of pitching oneself in the television industry.
Since I launched my company in January of 2008, I have worked with over 500 writers, made up of half TV writers and half feature writers as well as 10 novelists. Twenty of my writers have sold pilots and two have gone to series. I have helped several writers to sign with top agencies including UTA and CAA, I’ve helped over 40 writers get staffed. I also worked with a feature writer on a script that is currently being produced with huge names attached. Additionally, many of writers I am working with have made it into writing programs as well as placed at high levels in writing competitions.
In June of 2009, I was invited to be a blogger on The Huffington Post.
Most of all, I absolutely love what I do. I enjoy working with writers and approach the process with care, experience and passion. It is imperative to me that both the writer and the story are honored as a script develops. In an industry that is generally too busy to give anyone personal attention, I will give it to you. With me, you get your own Personal Executive guiding you every step of the way.
THE WEEKEND SAILOR is a new feature documentary about the unexpected victory of the Mexican yacht Sayula II in the first crewed sailing race around the world in 1974. The most demanding sailing quest in history.
Sailor, Ramon Carlín visits his rebellious son, Enrique in the United Kingdom and comes across a magazine advertising a sailing race around the world. Although he had been sailing casually for two years, Ramon embarks on this race and brings his son along as an opportunity to not only teach him discipline but real life experiences as well.
ORIGIN: Three science students are on the verge of making a breakthrough in their research into biohacking and cell aging. When one of them is diagnosed with a terminal illness, they break moral boundaries and use their untested research on him, in an attempt to save his life.