Ask a Multi-Award-Winning Script Consultant!

Erik Bork

 

The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is on Erik Bork, who also runs the website Flying Wrestler.

Erik Bork is best known for his work as a writer-producer on the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers and From the Earth to the Moon – for which he won two Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards. He’s also worked on the writing staff of two primetime dramas, sold multiple original series pitches, and written pilots and features for such companies as Universal, Sony, NBC, Fox, Imagine, Original Film and The Playtone Company. He teaches screenwriting for UCLA Extension and National University’s MFA Program, and has been called one of the Top 10 Most Influential Screenwriting Bloggers.

1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?

I’m continually impressed with how DOWNTON ABBEY tells interesting, emotional, heartfelt stories that are grounded in the realities of its setting, for the various kinds of people who populate it. I’ve been re-watching the first three seasons lately – and think it’s great model for what makes characters and stories compelling, and easy to invest in.

2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?

I’d been a professional screenwriter for about a decade and was being asked to speak to writers groups, teach classes, and give feedback on scripts.

3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?

Absolutely!

4. What are the components of a good script?

An intriguing and original concept about a compelling and high stakes problem for a character most people can relate to (either the character, and/or the problem) – which focuses on that character as they actively try to solve it, which is complicated and difficult for them, and entertaining for us to watch. I think working with the ten genres in the SAVE THE CAT books are a great tool for working on achieving this.

5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

Writers jump to script too quickly, without really developing a concept that has the ingredients necessary to have a chance at success. Stories often don’t have a main character that readers understand and have reason to care enough about, and sometimes it’s not told subjectively through that one person’s point-of-view. The main story problem is often not high stakes enough to the main character’s external life situation (as opposed to their internal life of thoughts, emotions and attitudes). It might not be an active enough challenge where they are pushing the story forward, or a problem that is big enough and hard enough, with enough twists and turns to it. Ultimately, it comes down to achieving the audience’s strong caring, and holding onto that – which is not easy to do.

6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

I get tired of violent adventure stories with life-and-death stakes and a simplistic good vs. evil approach. It’s easiest to grab an audience with that, but it tends to leave me cold – especially when it’s just about visual spectacle, as opposed to realistic characters going through something relatable.

7. What are the three most important rules every writer should know?

-Basic story concept is the most important thing, and hardest to get right.

-The audience must emotionally become one with your main character, which isn’t easy to achieve.

-It’s hard and rare to write something that REALLY works, even for professionals – so stay open to feedback, lots of rewriting, and a long-term process that requires a lot of persistence and ongoing belief.

8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?

I don’t really provide coverage-style “recommend”/”consider”/”pass” ratings, and don’t exactly think in those terms. I’m more about helping the writer better their craft and project(s), and never look for or expect a script that comes to me to be something they could instantly do something with in the marketplace.

9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?

They’re in no way a panacea or golden ticket, and most of them probably won’t do much to advance one’s career – unless you finish really highly in one of the top contests. But it can be a good way to see how you’re doing, and get quality feedback, if you find the price reasonable.

10. How can people can get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?

You’ll find my script consulting and rates pages on my “Flying Wrestler” blog. You can also e-mail me directly at erik@flyingwrestler.com.

11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

Cherry, hands down.

 

Twice as much

I think I'll go....that way

O happy day.

I got to the end of the 3rd quarter of Act Two today, and it’s about twice as long as it was before. For now, that’s good.  It may be edited down when I start doing pages, but I don’t mind.

I wasn’t aiming to do as much, but I’d rather have more to work with than not enough.

I’m workin’ hard at keeping the excitement level up and the pace fast. So far, so good.  Looks like my notebook will get a good workout en route to seeing K’s family next week.  It would be nice to have a solid outline ready to go in the near future.

-Movie of the Moment – Another threesome.  ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, which I was kind of disappointed with.  It moved SO SLOW!  Lots of shots that just went on forever.  2 hours, 45 minutes; could have been at least 30 minutes shorter.  A clever story though, and a great turn by Henry Fonda as the bad guy.  I wonder if this was one of the first Westerns to portray the dirty realism that was the Old West.  Overall, I like Eastwood’s Man With No Name series better.

SONS OF THE DESERT. I’ve never been a big fan of Laurel and Hardy, but I can appreciate them. In the end, I like the Stooges and Marx Brothers better. So shoot me.  This is supposed to be one of their best. I found it…okay.

THE STORY OF G.I. JOE.  Story of a unit in WWII Italy, with Burgess Meredith as famed war journalist Ernie Pyle. Pretty routine, but otherwise nothing special. I guess after you’ve seen SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and other modern WWII films, everything from mid-20th-century seems sanitized.

Cowboys and soldiers are MY kind of crap

Through some miracle unbeknownst to me, my Adobe reader at work was up and running, so I was able to read through Patrick Sweeney’s GHOST TRAIN.  Due to time constraints, I got halfway through, then finished it at home.  I want to read it again because I’ve got some questions that a second read may answer.  Comments will be posted Monday.

In the meantime…

K is out of town for the week, so while it may mean the usual readjusting of child care and a slightly different menu (my dishes tend to run simpler when it’s just me and V), it also means I tear through the stuff I put on Netflix I know she won’t watch.

Which usually means westerns, WWII flicks and cheesy recent releases.  Not so much of the first two categories this week, but some of the stuff I’ll be watching over the next few days includes: GI JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA (which looks really, really stupid, but I can’t help myself), THE LOSERS (mixed reviews), and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (I read the book, but don’t have any desire to see the upcoming American remake).

I regret not being able to do much with LUCY this weekend, but this whole parenting thing is quite time-consuming.

Speaking of which, V got HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON for Hanukkah.  She loved it when we saw it in the theatres, but I think I’m more interested in watching it again than she is.  Which is okay.

She’s really into Miyazaki films lately.  HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE. KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE.  She wants to see MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO.  Tonight’s feature is CASTLE IN THE SKY.  I saw it when she was really little, but don’t mind having it in the house again.

I don’t know which is more fun to watch.  The movies or her reaction to watching them.

Someday she may even want to watch STEAMBOY, which is just wicked cool.  It was made by Katsuhiro Otomo, the same guy who did AKIRA.  While AKIRA is cool to look at, the story just gets too confusing.  At least for me.

What’s playing at your place?

My work is cut out for me

Due to heavy rainfall on Christmas Day, this poor little Jewish traffic reporter was swamped with work (no pun intended) on Saturday, so I got absolutely nothing done on the outline.

Sunday was sunny and much quieter, so I was able to do a little bit.

My plan was to keep moving forward today while doing afternoon drive (check it out! I’m on NPR! Well, the local affiliate anyway).  But I also felt bad about having downloaded those script from the Black List and not read any, so I checked out THE 13th MAN, a WW2-era thriller about an Army comic book nerd who helps crack a case regarding Nazi agents on American soil.  All music to my ears.

Wow.  This thing is just amazing.  Incredibly well-written.  A genuine page-turner.  Phenomenal story-telling.  My only two gripes: keeping track of some of the G-men characters, and a clever plot twist at the end.  While I did like the twist, and realize it does help hold the rest of the story together, would it all work if that whole subplot didn’t exist?  Maybe.  But I’m not the writer, so I can’t really say.

I’d give it a definite 9 out of 10.  Maybe 9.5.  I only hope the other 10 scripts I’ve got lined up are as entertaining.

One of the things screenwriters always hear is to not just write your own script, but read others.  It’s one thing to read the script for a film that’s been made, or an old favorite.  But reading an unproduced script that is actually circulating around Hollywood, or maybe won some competition(s) really helps open your eyes and shows you what works, while also showing how you could improve your own.

A common occurrence in THE 13TH MAN is that the hero not only repeatedly finds himself in a conflict, that conflict keeps building, and then builds some more, and then even more.  It keeps getting worse, and he has to keep changing how he tackles the problem.  He doesn’t always come out on top, because that would be boring.  But each conflict he survives helps lead into the next one, or maybe has the big payoff thirty, fifty or seventy-five pages later.

I’d love to know how long it took Enio Rigolin from start to finish.  It only got 9 mentions on The Black List, which is a shame.  Then again, I really like this sort of thing, so I’m biased.

Hopefully I’ll be able to support this argument after reading a few more of the Black List scripts, but if Hollywood made more smart, well-written films out of these scripts, the industry would be so much better off.  Treat your audience like intelligent adults!  You’d be surprised how rewarding it can be.  Once they get a taste of it, they’ll want more.  At least I would.

One last thing.  If I were in charge of casting for THE 13TH MAN, the first name crossed off my list for the lead would be Shia LaBeouf.  He may look like the ideal nerdy soldier, but I still have issues with him as the son of Indiana Jones.

Besides, they should have used Frank Darabont’s script for that one in the first place, but that’s another post.

Movie of the Moment: KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE. My first exposure to Miyazaki from way back, and now it’s part of our family library. Utterly charming and just plain fun to watch for grown-ups and kids; the American cast does a good job, but sometimes the original Japanese with subtitles is equally enjoyable.  Most important: V loves it, which is quite reassuring.

My suggestion: If the European element appeals to you, I highly suggest STEAMBOY, Otomo’s underrated follow-up to AKIRA.

A surefire hit!

With the success of recent alternate reality stories such as PRIDE, PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES and ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER, the next logical step can only be:

THE 3 STOOGES: UNDERCOVER G-MEN!

1944. Hollywood. A Nazi spy ring has infiltrated Tinseltown’s Jewish community.

Moe, Larry and Curly are on hiatus from filming their latest batch of shorts.
Although they initially reject the offer to join the Axis, the OSS recruits them to play along and destroy the ring from within.

Slapstick combined with war-time thrills and intrigue! Tell me the world would not go absolutely gaga over this.

At least the male half would.