Tag Archives: independent film

Calling All Trigonauts! (‘Cause “Trigonaut” Sounds Cooler Than “Intern”)

The time has come for expansion, and I cannot do it alone!

As many of you probably know, I’ve been putting out crowdfunding advice for filmmakers and various other content creators and storymakers for over five years. Ever since I successfully crowdfunded my short film Cerise, I’ve been mentoring crowdfunding filmmakers and content creators in the fine art of online fundraising through Twitter, via my book Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, and exclusively for Indiegogo. But there’s so much more I want to do, mostly by way of content creation and various new ways of distributing that content and knowledge (Meerkat and Periscope, anyone?), so I’m looking for a Trigonaut –– an fellow explorer –– to work with me, to learn about and explore the chartered and unchartered realms of crowdfunding for independent film, and to help create more top quality content so that we, together, can keep the “indie” in independent film and make sure that creators are crowdfunding using only the best tools, advice and insights available.


So here’s what I’m looking for, specifically:

– Writing and editing (basic grammar and usage skills)
– Strong interest in crowdfunding, particularly for film (or creative projects)
– Graphic design (skills in Adobe Creative Suite, mainly Photoshop and InDesign)
– Editing content for social media that’s on-brand
– Organizational abilities
– Creativity and wit
– Speed (ability to execute tasks quickly)

– Owns a DSLR (or similar camera) and microphone
– Video editing skills (proficiency in either Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere)
– A moderate knowledge of digital advertising (Google AdWords, Facebook Ads / “dark posts”, etc.)
– Listens to The #AskGaryVee Show religiously

– Outreach (to film festivals for speaking gigs, blogs / movie websites, etc.)
– Writing content for Medium (will be credited as guest writer under my personal culture / branding
– Content creation (if we go the Gary Vee route; TBD)
– Filming any local events, speaking gigs
– Research on the crowdfunding space in general, but specifically crowdfunding for indie film / web / video content
– Discover and attend events, Meet-Ups, Tweetups, etc. pertaining to film and / or crowdfunding

– 2 -3 hours a day,
– Three days per week (preferably Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, to start, but I’m totally flexible here

– Crowdfunding (for filmmaking) knowledge and insights from a noted expert and practitioner in the field
– Travel to and from events (subway / Lyft)
– Lunch once a week, during our weekly meetings, preferably on Mondays
– Drinks (at events, and just in general –– there’s always something to celebrate)
– Depending on performance, we can talk…

– What it takes to be a proper crowdfunding consultant and / or manager
– How to utilize various forms of social media (FB / Twitter, plus Instagram & Periscope, perhaps) for crowdfunding
– How to build, broaden, and make “Beliebers” out of your community (really, how to turn your networks into actual relationships)

Now, if by reading this you feel like you’re standing in front of a mirror, then I want to hear from you sooner rather than later, so reach out to me at jtrigonis@gmail.com and let’s get ready to explore the ever-changing landscape of the crowdfunding filmmakers together.

Oh, and a neat hat and soul patch to match are not requirements 🙂

Looking forward to hearing from you all soon!

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From Auteur to Author, Part 3: Crowdfunding for Filmmakers Comes Full Circle

The circle is now complete –– I’m officially an author!

On Saturday, April 6th, I had my first-ever book signing for Crowdfunding for Filmmakers: The Way to a Successful Film Campaign, published by Michael Wiese Productions this past March.


There I am reading to a captive audience at Tachair Bookshoppe, Jersey City.

The combination reading/signing was held in my favorite city in the country –– Jersey City, which also happens to be where I’ve lived for seven years now –– at a quaint little local bookshoppe called Tachair. The evening was special in many ways, mainly because I was surrounded by those who have been most supportive of me and my creative aspirations over the years. In the house was my lovely Lady Marinell, of course, to whom my book is dedicated; my brother Walter and sister-in-law Patti, who nearly made me well up when they told me how proud they were of me; and James Broderick and Vince D’Onofrio (not the actor, the playwright), two great friends, respected mentors, and former colleagues of mine from my days at New Jersey City University, where I’d taught Civilizations courses over the past ten years before trading in my adjunct status for the more reputable title of manager for film, web and video at Indiegogo.

Also in attendance were some exceptional folks whose friendships and support I’ve cherished over years, including Michael Ferrell and Devin Sanchez, two-thirds of the creative team behind the indie film Twenty Million People, which was successfully crowdfunded on Indiegogo between April and June of 2012, raising $13,515 on a $10,000 goal.

Amid a packed audience captivated by my personal stories of how Crowdfunding for Filmmakers came about and the various chapters I chose to read from, the evening was made even more significant simply because it was hosted by Tachair Bookshoppe. See, back in April, 2012, I wrote an article about Jersey City’s lack of a physical bookstore for Jersey City Independent. At that point in time, Tachair was a “roving” bookstore that would set up their tent at all the different markets and festivals in Downtown Jersey City. But partly because of my article and the spirited reception it received online, Aleta Valleau, her son Paul, and her mother Carol set up shop on Newark Avenue where they now sell used books, best-sellers, and books by local authors like me (and I hear those sell better than those best-sellers!)


A throwback to the Cerise acrostic poem days –– an appropriate thank you to to a bookshoppe dedicated to preserving the written and spoken word.

It has been an amazing journey, and it’s not over yet! From crowdfunding my short film Cerise during the early dawn of crowdfunding for indie filmmakers to writing my first blog post in my “Tao of Crowdfunding” series, which would go on to inspire Crowdfunding for Filmmakers, and onto my current calling as one of two film gurus at Indiegogo helping filmmakers to craft successful campaigns, I’m certain none of this would have been possible without the blessings of the crowd –– Not my initial book deal with MWP, not my book being made available on Amazon, and not this book first book signing.

Make no mistake: It’s because of all of you terrific folks who’ve entered into my life, and who have allowed me to enter into yours, that I continue to receive such humbling triumphs and rewards, and I’ll pay it forward in helping our community make their independent filmmaking dreams come true, one campaign at a time.

That, and making a few more of my own come true, too. Stay tuned for more on that!

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Callbacks & Additional Casting for “Mating Dome” — The Next Trigonis Film

8/28/11 UPDATE: Callbacks and Further Auditions Announced!

Following on the heels of my most recent short film Cerise, I’m pleased to announce that I’m getting ready to tackle my next short film––Mating Dome, a sci-fi comedy which “exposes” the true nature of mating in the 22nd Century!

Callbacks and Second Casting Call
We are still seeking our lead female roles. If you auditioned for us back on Saturday, August 20th, you may be getting a call if you made the cut, so be on the lookout for a phone call from our producer Ruben Rodas or our AD Pao Calderon this week.

If you’d like to audition, we’re looking for fun, sexy, slim and talented actresses between 20 and 30 years of age to play supermodels from the future. The film will be shot over the first weekend in October (September 30th, October 1st and 2nd) in New York City.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED, please email a PDF resume along with a recent head shot and, if possible, a swim suit picture (preferred, but not required) to matingdome.casting@gmail.com.

This casting call is open to union and non-union talent, and the position is PAID.

Now Seeking Male Parts
We’re also casting for one lead male role (speaking) in Mating Dome, as well as a few non-speaking roles. The physical requirement is key: You must be built! (This is the 22nd Century, a utopian future in which the women are slim and slender and the men are cut and ripped.)

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED, please email a PDF resume along with a recent head shot and, if possible, a body picture (preferred, but not required) to matingdome.casting@gmail.com.

This casting call is open to union and non-union talent.

Who’s the Team Behind the Dome?
Well, I’ll be directing and editing Mating Dome, and you can find out more about who I am simply by perusing the stories that make up my Manvelope or by following me on Twitter. The film will be starring Joe Whelski (who also wrote the story and script) and will be shot by Alain Aguilar, which marks the comeback of a talented triumvirate that once went by the name Nothingman Production, specializing in creating quality films (something) with little money (nothing)!

And we’ve got even more help! Mating Dome will be produced by Ruben Rodas of Skyframe Pictures, and as a producer, he’s building up quite a resume for himself; definitely someone to keep an eye on if you need to get things done.

Follow, Like, and Keep Informed
That’s all for now, but you can get a head start on keeping up with all that’s going on under the Mating Dome by following the film on Twitter and “Liking” the Facebook page!

Cheers, everyone, and don’t forget to close your towel!

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The Tao of Crowdfunding: A Practical Guide to Crowdfunder Etiquette

So you now know some of the keys of a successful campaign from reading the first post in my Tao of Crowdfunding series, but that’s only part of the ongoing battle to find alternative sources for financing our creative projects. Based on the incredible response “The Three Ps for a Successful Film Campaign” received from the indie film community and beyond, I’ve decided to soldier on and address a topic which some of my closest friends have cited as a bit of a concern––Crowdfunder Etiquette.

Like hat tipping, crowdfunding comes with its own etiquette.

Like hat tipping, crowdfunding comes with its own etiquette.

Some of you might be thinking to yourselves I didn’t know such a thing existed! It does or doesn’t, based on your own experiences crowdfunding. But I prefer to call it by its more common name: Good Manners. Whether your crowdfunding platform is Indiegogo, Kickstarter or any of the myriad others out there, here are five basic tenets every campaigner should follow:

1. “I’m Not Only the Campaigner, I’m Also a Funder!”
Some of you may remember that 1980s TV commercial for The Hair Club for Men and Cy Sperling’s famous concluding statement “I’m not only the Hair Club president, but I’m also a client.”

Similarly, you should be more than just the filmmaker, musician or entrepreneur by having something more tangible than time invested in your project. Surprisingly, this is something crowdfunders rarely do. Let’s be honest––if you are not willing to put your money into your own campaign, how can you ask any of your friends to contribute, let alone a perfect stranger? Whether it’s $5 or $5,000, you should be the one to jump-start your own campaign either by setting aside your own cash and raising additional funds, or by contributing to your own campaign via Indiegogo or Kickstarter. With Cerise, for instance, I opted for the first choice, saving up $10,000 and crowdfunding for $5,000 more. And, of course, I let my potential funders know that within the first thirty seconds of my pitch video. If you opt for the second choice, your name should appear (as opposed to being listed as “Anonymous”) in your “Funders” tab so that others know you’re not only the campaigner, but your also a contributor. This kind of transparency is absolutely vital to the integrity and ultimately the success of your campaign.

2. Saying Please and Thank You
Remember “The Please and Thank You Song” from Barney and Friends? (Fear not! I won’t salt the wound this reference may have opened by posting the video here.) These “magic words” run marathons in all circles. So when you promote your campaign on Twitter or Facebook, whenever possible include a simple “please” (or its abbreviation when it comes to character limits) in each one.

Travis Legge Tweets “Please” for Poetic on Indiegogo.

More importantly, whenever you receive a contribution, the absolute least you can do is thank that person. Sending an email, message on Facebook and/or Direct Message on Twitter is fine, too, but in today’s multifaceted social media stew, the more out in the open a “Thank You” is, the better.

The Red Scare Team humorously thanks a new contributor, keeping with their 1950s “Red Scare” motif.

Apart from thanking contributors to your campaign, it’s equally important to thank any- and everybody who retweets your Tweets about your project or shares your link on Google+ and Facebook. It’s polite and shows that you appreciate their part in getting the word out about your campaign.

Writer/Producer Sam Platizky thanks yours truly for tweeting about his latest zombie comedy.

Another, more general thank you, but just as strong and just as personal.

It’s about making people feel appreciated by publicly acknowledging them for all the good things they’re doing on your behalf.

3. Send Contributors Something N0w And Later
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” And so do your funders. You should give them something more immediate than a signed copy of your new album when it’s finished several months after your campaign has ended. It can be something personalized for the funder at one of the lower perk levels, and somehow related to the project you’re campaigning for, like these awesome perks from Sync:

I love the smell of nostalgia in the morning!

When I contributed to Brendon Fogle’s short film, I received my perks––a pair of records from Brendon’s personal collection and two Sync stickers––a few short weeks after clicking “Contribute Now” on Indiegogo. Now I’ve got a constant reminder of Sync until the film’s finished up and I can get my DVD in the future.

A sound designer named Christopher Postill recently got in touch with me about a campaign for his project Sounds Like an Earful, a pod cast about rethinking the sounds we’re surrounded by on a daily basis. Seeing the usual suspects of perks, I suggested he make them more personalized for his potential funders. When I saw his Indiegogo page next, I saw he had added a perk in which he’d create a sound specifically for the funder. Another perk higher up the ladder lends itself to Christopher creating a piece of music that a funder can gift to a friend or family member or keep for him- or herself.

Now this is an immediate perk that packs a personal punch!

Not only are these new perks innovative and personal, but they’re also immediate; once they’re created, they can be posted on the funder’s Facebook wall, tweeted, or emailed.

4. Constantly Keep Your Funders Updated
So you spent three intense months crowdfunding like a rockstar. You thanked all your funders. You mailed them their perks. And at the end of the campaign trail you became another crowdfunding success story! Feels good to be done, right?

Even after all that, you’re only now seeing the finish line, but you’ve still got a ways to go. Just as it’s important to keep your funders updated throughout your campaign, it’s just as important to maintain a steady stream of updates about the progress of your project even after the campaign has ended. Your funders have contributed to your campaign for various reasons, whether it’s because of your personalized pitch, your cool perks, or because they’re family and have to, but they’re also giving something more than money to you and your campaign, so the least you can do is make them feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves.

Perhaps Cerise funder Andrew Bichler said it best in this quick video about why he contributed to my short film:

You heard it right from a proud funder’s mouth: “What really turned me on [was] the fact that I, as an everyday guy, could get involved in funding and supporting the arts…” As such, it’s gratifying to be kept in the loop about what’s going on regarding a project you’ve become a part of; I receive regular updates with behind the scenes footage, post-production notes and other status updates from many of the projects I’ve contributed to like Red Scare, Tilt and How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song. If you don’t update your audience, they may start to think all kinds of outrageous things, the worst of which quite possibly being “Well, I won’t support that person’s campaigns any more!” Again, it’s all about appreciation, so treat your funders with the same respect that you’d show an investor, whether they’re contributing at the $1 rung or closer to the top of the ladder.

5. When Engaging Your Community, Don’t Solicit, Elicit
Perhaps the greatest aspect of the indie community is that in most cases it will come to bat for you during your crowdfunding campaign. The most recent account is probably the come-from-behind victory of Lucas McNelly’s A Year Without Rent, which had been stagnant for the long haul of the campaign. But in its final days and hours, this video project was pulled from the Sarlacc pit of unfunded dreams by the entire indie film community. This is an exceptional case, of course (I don’t recommend starting a campaign without plenty of preparation and a solid plan of action plotted out beforehand), but the lesson is pretty much standard: If you show passion for your project and drive it forward, your community will come to your aid.

Every time I tweet about my current 3rd Crusade for Cerise––in which I seek  film festival submission funds from friends and followers so I can continue submitting my short film to festivals––I make sure each one is unique and clever, and sure enough, my followers retweet it to their followers. I haven’t had to ask anyone to “please RT” anything in over a year because I’ve built up some credibility by showing them that I take pride not only in my film, but also in every minute detail that makes up the whole of Cerise.

If it happens to be a holiday, I make my tweets about that holiday.

If the project you’re campaigning for centers around certain subject matter, keep that subject in play.

As crowdfunders, we might try to elicit help from our respective communities and solicit less simply by showing them how truly important our campaigns are to us and how imperative their support can be in helping us reach our crowdfunding goals.

BONUS: Promotion, Not Spamotion!
There are many ways to get people not to contribute to your campaign or help you with promoting it, but by far the most sure-fire method is by coming across in your promotion as a spam artist. And I’m not just talking about sending the exact same tweet five times a day; other ways include linking your personal and project’s Twitter accounts so that those same five Tweets per day are now ten Tweets (but more on that in my “10 Commandments of Social Media for Crowdfunding” post on Indiewire) and even appending your campaign’s information as a comment onto another campaign’s page! This unscrupulous practice is actually such a problem that Kickstarter needed to mention it as one of their “Community Guidelines” on their FAQ page:

You’d think some things still fall into the realm of common sense. Not so much…

Be a pro when planning out the promotion tactics for your campaign. Even when I would promote my Indiegogo campaign for Cerise directly on my friends’ Facebook walls, it was always personalized enough that I was able to avoid the pitfalls of those annoying “Need Cash Now?” advertisements texted to people’s phones. So be personable when publicizing your campaign to steer clear of the “unfriend” and “block” features that occur with social networking and you’ll soon see that the personal touch leads to the Midas touch.

In Short…
My Dad always used to tell me “by nice ways you’ll accomplish everything.” A lot of this may seem like common sense to some of us, but it’s this kind of sense seems less and less common. As crowdfunders, we’re asking people for money, and when we ask for anything and get it, the least we can do is show our gratitude to those who gave it. By treating your funders and supporters properly, you’re not only gathering money for this one project, you’re also forging a stronger network, and at times friendships, that will stand by your side long after your first campaign has ended. And when you start another campaign for your next project, those same people will be ready to show their support once again to back a rising star and a real mensch!

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What are YOUR thoughts about crowdfunder etiquette? FUNDERS: Any props or pet peeves YOU’d like to share about crowdfunders you’ve encountered? Fill up the section below with your comments, questions or concerns!

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Ten Pages a Day: Getting Your Screenplay From First Page to First Draft

Traditional screenwriting is kaput, in my humble opinion.

For those of you who follow my tweets and Facebook status updates, you might recall that a few weeks ago I finished the first draft of my latest feature-length script Caput, a hyperbolic Hudson Hawk of an action drama that centers around a mafia hit man who’s peculiar quirk inhibits him from “getting out” for good.

Back in December I was determined to write Caput “the right way” which meant sketching some character bios, finishing a full outline, organizing a scene-by-scene breakdown on index cards, and getting through all the other step-by-step instructions that you’ll read in just about any book on screenwriting. It works for so many of my friends and colleagues whom I respect a great deal, but I found that it just doesn’t work for me.

When I write, the words need to flow. I can’t put too much thought behind them. I spent January, February, and March doing absolutely nothing with Caput except a very rough outline, which only got me up to the midpoint (in Syd Fieldian terms) before I was completely stumped. I spent a few days ruminating over it, sketching out some possible directions, but nothing seemed to work. So I put it aside, defeated for the time being.

Then I woke up on the morning of April 4th and got ready for my normal Monday teaching back-to-back Civilizations courses at one of my universities. I had packed my laptop since I was showing The Passion of the Christ as part of our chapter on Christianity, so I had a good five hours to sit down in that dark room amongst my students and write ten pages. That was my goal. It sounded reasonable enough. Ten pages, and that was all I wrote. And even though I felt the drive to continue, I parked my thoughts at page 10.

The next day, after a modest workout and even more modest breakfast, I sat at my little faux-wood table and wrote another ten pages. And ten pages a day it would be for the next two weeks, typing practically non-stop for an average of between two to three hours. By getting into “The Zone,” and most importantly by not thinking too hard about what I was writing, I was organically creating a bigger story with new characters, an entire subplot, twists and more twists with MacGuffens and other textbook elements strewn in here and there. It’s a beautiful mess of a script, I’m sure. But it’s fresh! And beginning this week, I’ll be putting together a tight revision of this first very rough draft that no eyes but mine will see.

Now I suppose it’s the poet in me, working from inspiration, letting the words flow from brain to page as if they were being whispered into my ear by some magical muse with a thick Italian accent (and pointing a gun at my ribs, too!) And although the two mediums are not worlds, but galaxies apart nowadays, one feature is the same for both: Words. If we spend too much time in our minds plotting and re-plotting, nothing gets written.) Just write out that first draft! It’s only when you have it writ that you can tell if it’s a hit.

So then, back to what I stated earlier, that traditional screenwriting is kaput. Okay, not quite. Though many script coaches and analysts will disagree with me here, I’ve found you don’t have to spend your time writing those character sketches, outlining on index cards. Just get the basic story and scenes written out and run with it. And most importantly, don’t overdo it. If you’re a writer in this day and age, you’ve probably got a job to go to at some point in the day, so write what and when you can. Tennessee Williams used to get up at 6am and write until noon every day. Well, we’re not him; most of us have to squeeze in our daily dose of writing with our morning orange juice. For me, it’s ten pages a day. For others it may be Pilar Alessandra’s Coffee Break Screenwriter approach or the “Million Dollar Method” popularized by Chris Soth and USC. And still some may simply learn tips and tricks of the trade by following the insightful tweets of The Script Lab, Screenwriting U, and Raindance Film Festival amongst others.

Whatever your method and however you do it, just write that script!

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Craft Before Content, Part Two: Anyone Can Be a Writer Nowadays, Right?

Nowadays, people are allowed to fancy themselves as anything they like with just a smidgen of experience and a lot of book smarts. When someone asks me what I am, I quickly reply, “I’m a poet.” I can back that up not with book smarts, but with bookmarks on every scholastic, literary and poetry journal in which my words appear, from my first poem “Paradise Lost” printed in Enigma back in 2001 to my current verse packed tightly between other new international voices of poetry and prose in Iodine Poetry Journal and Harpur Palate and many others.

However, I also try my hand at writing screenplays. So far, I have over ten shorts, seven of which have been made into films, and four features, one made, one forever in rewrite hell, and two that found a comfortable home in the shredder. I’ve never sold a script, and for all intents and purposes, I may be an F. Scott Fitzgerald waiting (not) to happen––a wonderful wordsmith but a terrible screenwriter. Therefore, I don’t really consider myself a screenwriter. I’m simply a guy who writes screenplays.

The paradox of today is the fact that I can call myself a screenwriter because simply writing screenplays is sufficient criteria. From the few scripts I’ve read from others like me, screenplays don’t even have to be in proper Hollywood Standard formatting, can have egregious typos straddling every sentence, and don’t even have to follow the traditional structure since as soon as a book is written on the subject, it’s already outdated because everything moves much quicker than they did back in Hollywood’s heyday.

When I decided to delve into this one-time hobby a bit more seriously, though by no means as a possible profession, the first thing I did was learn the craft of how to actually write a screenplay, then the structure, and then I practiced the discipline of sitting down and writing the actual script (this, by far, being the hardest part.)

When it comes to learning the craft of specific forms of writing, I go back and forth between condoning book smart writers and condemning them as “one hit wonderers” who wrote successful piece that people enjoyed and who now consider themselves experts at their respective form. In regards to my own work, I’m in a frame of mind that experience and practice are king. There are lots of us out there, so the ones who stand out are the ones who’ve got the innovative ideas, yes, but they’re also those who know a bit more than just the basics of storytelling and screenplay structure, learned from practice.

Now, I believe that the “innovative ideas” part can’t be taught; that is something more of a gift that some writers have and others don’t. But the other two any aspiring writer can learn in a variety of ways.

Back in 1996, I took my first ever creative writing course with a wonderful professor (and wannabe creative writer) at New Jersey City University whose passion for literature revitalized my spirit when I was all set to pursue a degree in journalism. We used a very basic textbook called Creative Writing. I remember paging through the book’s 14-point font and cheesy contour drawings of egghead writers smiling dumbfounded before a typewriter (as if that’s ever how it really is), and I always marveled at a screen shot from Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein on the page under the chapter title “Fiction Writing.” It was such a ghetto book, but it taught me the very basics of storytelling, which I’d already been exposed to from watching movies and writing my own short stories. When I then took Advanced Creative Writing, there was no textbook and my professor, a fiction writer, made us write only fiction (a challenge for me, since story had never been my forte.)

As an intermittent creative writing professor myself, I recently stopped using a textbook for class. I used to use a Penguin book called Imaginative Writing, which offers lessons on the typical aspects that all writers should know like voice, mood, and point of view, and spanning the three major genres of creative writing, that of fiction, poetry, and playwriting. But I found myself asking too often “who are these editors?” and “What have they written besides this textbook?” Now I Xerox pieces of recent flash fiction like Don Shea’s “Jumper Down,” poems by past and present greats, and I screen short films like Our Time is Up. Primaries, not secondaries.

University textbooks, of course, are miles apart in quality when compared to the more “industrial strength” paperbacks we learn from and love. Books like Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! and Robert McKee’s Story are important in shaping the screenwriter, and today, I’m noticing more and more that people are coming along calling themselves screenwriters or fiction writers because they’ve digested all the regurgitations of three-act structure and have practically drowned themselves in Joseph Campbell’s world navel, but they sometimes end up taking chances without prior know-how or enough experience with straight-up linear storytelling. Sometimes those writers get lucky, but most times the audience has to work harder to maneuver out of  the labyrinth of a feature that should’ve been a short, a “Young Goodman Brown” that dreams to be a thousand page Stephen King bestseller and so on.

So while I believe that beneath the surface of their expertise, many authors who pen screenwriting manuals, for instance, are just exceptionally good readers of screenplays rather than actual screenwriters, I do believe that in today’s vast realm of aspiring writers, these kinds of books are becoming more and more necessary as teaching tools for tomorrow’s wordsmiths who may not have the luxury of attending Screenwriting Expo or even to take an Intro to Creative Writing course in college.

In that pivotal creative writing I took at NJCU, I originally learned how to write plays, not screenplays. My first short play was called “The Dog of Sorrows,” a dark comedy (way before I knew what dark comedy was!) about a guy who murders his wife believing she’s been unfaithful because his dog told him so (somewhat based on the David Berkowitz story). My professor loved it. But when I decided to go into screenwriting, I had to learn on my own how to write a screenplay. I had plenty of content, but I had to learn that craft first.

The lesson learned is this: Before jumping into a specific type of writing, learn how to write in that form. It’s about the originality of your idea, yes, but you have to play by the ever-changing rules of the game, and the game is format, structure, pacing. Today, writers rely too heavily on the tools and not enough on the knowledge; they expect Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter to take care of the formatting for them, but if you need to format a phone conversation, you have to know how to format it, ‘cause there’s no button for that in Celtx.

The other way to learn structure and formatting is to read screenplays, a practice that every script analyst or consultant stands firmly by. The problem is most of the scripts you find are shooting scripts, and those aren’t the kind of scripts screenwriters at the “aspiring” level will be writing, and I learned that by reading the two screenplays I’ve ever finished from beginning to end––Alan Ball’s American Beauty and Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I might read Black Swan when it’s available, mainly for structure. I was all set to read The Social Network, but after finally watching the film, I wasn’t impressed enough with the film to choose Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar-winning adaptation over, say, a Chuck Palahniuk novel just for kicks.

For content, there’s no doubt that reading screenplays can be good practice for aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers. But then again, as my friend Ralph Greco once tweeted to me: “Forget reading the scripts, just watch more JODOROWSKY and you’ll be fine ;)”

Words to live by!

So how do YOU go about learning the craft of the types of writing you do? Tell a little tale in the Comments section!

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Trigonis’s Top 8½ Fellini Films

Federico Fellini (1920 – 1993) holds a very special place in my heart. The first foreign film I ever watched was Roberto Benigni’s 1997 masterpiece Life is Beautiful, and I was moved beyond expression. And though that film wasn’t directed by Fellini, it was the spark that launched me on a journey into the belly of Italian cinema, which ultimately led me to its ringmaster.

When I first watched Fellini’s , I remember not liking it very much. I was, however, quite inebriated at the time, so I’m sure that had inhibited my enjoyment somewhat. But when I woke up, I did so with a dreamy sensation and strange black and white visions. I attributed this to the movie, so I watched it again, sober and sensible, and I was enthralled by the story, the dialog, and the masterfully crafted cinematography. In short, I was hooked.

So in honor of the Italian auteur’s birthday, I’ve compiled a Top 8½ Fellini Films list. I recommend that every film enthusiast (and most especially if you’re also a filmmaker!) should see each of them at least once. And here they are, in reverse order:

8. Orchestra Rehearsal (1978) This doc-style movie made me see instruments and their players in a whole new light.

7. Il Bidone (1955) A wonderful little swindle film with one downer of an ending.

6. Fellini Satyricon (1969) A visionary (and oftentimes disturbing) take on Petronius’s ancient Roman satire. Occasionally I’ll show an excerpt or two from the film in my Civilizations courses. My students are never quite the same afterward.

5. I Vitelloni (1953) A fun film with a hopeful, somewhat happy ending. Somewhat. I’d watch it again.

4. Nights of Cabiria (1957) A touching tale of a prostitute (played by Fellini’s wife Giulietta Masina) searching in circles for happiness, but finding only heartache at every turn.

3. The White Sheik (1952) One of Fellini’s funnier films, but still a poignant tale.

2. La Strada (1954) It’s Beauty and the Beast (sort of) and this masterpiece has the most heart wrenching ending I have ever seen.

1. (1963) Of course, this insurmountable piece of surrealistic cinema about a director who hasn’t anything left to say speaks volumes to most aspiring directors who long to say something with their own voices and visions.

½. City of Women (1980) Early on I realized I’m not a big fan of Fellini’s color films. However, City of Women is a pretty wacky film, though the first half is a bit slow moving, but it picks up visually by the second half. Hence, it takes the ½ spot in the list.

What Fellini film do YOU recommend and why? Leave your comments below!

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The 3-D Re-Invasion! (Even This Blog Post is 3-D!)

This past Friday the Film Forum opened a special two week program of “Classic 3-D” films that once upon a Golden Age leapt off screens during 1953 – 1954. The line up includes some lesser known noir like Man in the Dark as well as the more notable champs like Dial M for Murder and Kiss Me Kate.

Classic 3-D

A New York Times article by Dave Kehr opens with the question on every filmmaker’s mind: “Does 3-D represent the future of the movies?” This is a question that taps at the back of my mind from time to time, too, and I think that filmmakers might be taking the current 3-D renaissance a little too seriously.

There’s a good article in The Village Voice penned by J. Hoberman that’s worth a read on this subject. It outlines “The Problem With 3-D,” highlighting the current CGI-based trend’s inferiority to photography-based 3-D. Besides claiming that most current CG3-D has an “underwhelming mediocre quality” to it, Hoberman also believes it may detract from the story being told in most 3-D features today (or in my view, tries to compensate poor script for powerful graphics.)

Earlier this year I saw my very first 3-D movie ever. And yes, it was Avatar, which is a movie worth all the fuss of filming with this enhanced technology. I even paid the extra few bucks to see the film on the ginormous IMAX screen. Barring a grossly Hollywood storyline and lack of unforeseeable twists, I was entertained primarily because of how James Cameron’s world opened up to me because of its IMAX 3-D format.

Disney's TRON: LEGACY in IMAX 3-D

3-D should therefore be reserved for films that truly warrant it. Let’s face it, Avatar was made for 3-D, and so are films like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Tron: Legacy and maybe even (gulp!) The Expendibles. If your story is one that has its most climactic scene set in a café between two people dialoging back and forth, it’s a safe bet that 3-D’s not for your film; so instead of worrying about leaping off your two-dimensional playing field onto this retro-bandwagon, filmmakers should stay focused on story they can.

Dail M for Murder is constantly hailed as a prime example of 3-D being used to actually enhance, not detract from, the storyline. Hitchcock used it in a minimalist way and achieved maximum results, successfully heightening the tension during the attempted murder of Grace Kelley’s character.

Hitchcock 3-D

Alfred Hitchcock used 3-D sparingly to heighten the audience's tension during particular moments.

The real question is whether or not the current 3-D phenomenon will truly revolutionize the cinematic experience. Or will it simply fizzle out into another brief stereophonic excursion until future mad cinescientists can discover a bridge to the third dimension without the use of glasses that induce headache, nausea, and a plethora of other fine print side effects.

And if you truly want to watch a story unfold between two people at a diner or coffee shop for an hour and a half in three dimensions, you can see a good play for the same price as an IMAX admission. (This piece from the 2010 New York Fringe Festival really pops out at you!)

Either way, a story told in 3-D needs to be one that can only be told in 3-D, one that in any other format would do a disservice to its excellence. Had I watched Avatar on a normal sized flat screen, I’m certain I would have been utterly disappointed. But 3-D opened the doorway to the film’s potential to dazzle and bring out the child-like wonder of film. If only it had a better story, it might have been worthy of that “Best Picture” nomination it received, and might’ve won as well.

What are your thoughts on 3-D and the future of cinema? Of storytelling?

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