Directed by Howard Hawks and a movie I can watch over and over again. The themes and ideas are basically the same as Casablanca made two years earlier. But at the risk of receiving death threats on my facebook page, as well as a massive defriending campaign, I have always thought To Have and Have Not the superior movie. As much as I swoon over the romanticism of the Michael Curtiz film, I always felt it was sort of haphazardly thrown together, almost made up as they went along, which apparently to some degree it was. But for me, the story and characters of To Have and Have Not are edgier; the writing sharper and wittier; the plot has more tension; and I even like the songs better (sorry Herman Hupfeld and Max Steiner). It’s true that Casablanca has Ingrid Bergman; Lauren Bacall was very beautiful and a great embodiment of the Hawksian woman, but she was never much of an actress, reading her lines with a certain irritating flatness. At the same time, I’m not sure Bergman could have gotten away with the wonderful “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow.” And the foreign accents in Casablanca are a lot more convincing than here (seeing as most actors in that movie were refugees from Europe). The script is by Jules Furthman and William Faulkner, though contrary to belief, Faulkner did not write the line “Ever been stung by a dead bee”. It’s based on a book by Hemingway; reportedly Hawks bet Hemingway he could make a good movie out of the worst thing Hemingway ever wrote. When Hemingway asked which book that was, Hawks told him To Have and Have Not was a “bunch of junk” (a critical appraisal that many people still hold). I also read that Hawks made the movie because he didn’t get to direct Casablanca (proving that the best revenge is living well). Walter Brennan gives what is perhaps his greatest performance as the old rummy Eddie, an impersonation both frighteningly real and heartbreakingly pathetic. And Humphrey Bogart is the perfect embodiment of the man who wants nothing to do with nobody until the right woman comes alone; not sure how that serves as a metaphor for America’s entry into World War II, but it’s one of Bogart’s best performances. Remade twice as The Breaking Point (1950) and The Gun Runners (1958) with John Garfield and Audy Murphy in the leads respectively.

The Road Ahead: 10 Tips for the Screenwriter

A nice list. However, No. 7 is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. However, I did like No. 4, especially “Because we have become so accustomed to thinking of cinema as “a visual art form” and to exalting directors over writers, we tend to downplay the importance of words in filmmaking.”


Alessandro D’Alatri’s latest film about first love. It’s a fairly typical coming of age film in which a “country boy” (here a young man who works the tourist trade on an island during the summer and illegally works construction during the winter) falls in love with the “city girl” (a young woman in college). The love story itself is sweet and at times effective, but it takes a while to get going; the first third concerns an event at a construction site in which our hero saves the life of a fellow worker, which doesn’t really seem to have anything to do with anything, except maybe, possibly and vaguely symbolically. In fact, there’s a lot of symbolism like the falling (which works at other times) as well as a psychological condition that affects the young man when he thinks the young woman has jilted him—he forgets how to walk, which never really connects emotionally since he does almost nothing but walk the whole film. Dario Castillo works well in his film debut as the young man whose heart gets broken.


One of those films that does nothing, but does it rather well, like Fargo and The Ice Harvest (though it falls a bit short of both of those). It’s all about insurance fraud and a valuable violin (hey, why not). And snow. Lots and lots of snow. The acting is first rate with Alan Arkin having the best time trying to speak with some sort of vague Germanic accent while Billy Crudup really lets go having anger management issues. The unsympathetic hero, a sad sack compulsive liar who sells insurance (I know, a bit redundant), is played by Greg Kinnear and I always enjoy him in these small, independent type films. You can’t say he’s a great actor, but he at least tries to make interesting movies, and he’s just so damn likeable, even when he’s playing assholes. The finale where everything gets explained falls flat, but the movie does answer the burning question on everybody’s mind—whatever happened to Lea Thompson. Written by the excellent sister team of Jill (who also directed) and Karen Sprecher who also did Clockwatchers and Thirteen Conversations About One Thing.


A series of murders at a laboratory that is exploring the genetic foundations of crime is investigated by a young newspaperman and a blind ex-journalist who creates crossword puzzles (you can’t get much more giallo than that). It’s Dario Argento’s follow up film to his initial offering, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and is a lot of fun, though a bit drawn out and apparently the director’s least favorite film. It has the typical Argento touches: brilliant visual stylings; first rate art direction (sometimes I think giallo filmmakers chose locations first and then come up with a story); questionable plot points; and non-Italian leads. Actually, the story holds together better than most of these sorts of films, though there are some shoddy moments and the bad guy has the incredible good luck of always showing up at just the right time and place to make sure he isn’t discovered and to keep the story going. And as for non-Italian actors, it stars three, count ‘em three, American thespians (Karl Malden, very good as the blind man; James Franciscus, not bad as the younger journalist; and Catherine Spaak as the sex object who likes to wear pants suits with more slits than fish have gills). The 70’s clothing certainly brings back memories and the movie has some interesting side bits, such as a visit to a hustler gay bar of the period and milk that is delivered in triangular paper containers rather than bottles. “Do you know how many people are together right now making love this very second? …780 on the average. Really. I don’t know if you’re aware of it or not, but that was an invitation.”


What are some good ways you know of, or heard of, to get your material optioned or sold?

    • I have no connections or networks, so that is my question.

    • Inktip…. networking. i.e linkden, facebook, twitter, sites like Talentville, competitions. Will try and think of some more 🙂

    • And there’s just being bare-faced about it. Get the actor’s, their agent’s, director’s and/or producer’s address and posting the script. All it costs…is the price of a stamp 😉

    • I suppose that would work as well…

    • All of the above, yes. But network not with the goal of selling; the goal should be to meet people with whom you connect in a real way and with whom you enjoy exchanging ideas, talking and/or spending time. Become a friend first. Friends want to help friends. I’ve had actor friends pitch my stuff on their own, without me having to do anything but say “yes”. But that only happens once you have a real relationship.

    • of course. I think its better to find people who are into the same things as you, help them or learn from them… and become friends first. 🙂

    • Well, I don’t know if it is the most common way, but my blog has helped me a lot. It got my first short scripts sold.

    • Write great material.

    • network not so much for selling but for forging friendships and meeting talented and creative people. Let the “maybe we should work together sometime” come naturally, and a little later. Film festivals are great places to make those kinds of friends — filmmakers on their way to becoming someone who can option your script.

    • networking is the key. and having material to network about, of course. If you have halfway decent material, you can placate yourself with competitions and writing groups. But if you don’t have connections, chances are the writing career won’t go far. I’m not good at networking. I don’t like to bother people… Inktip got me my first option, though.

    • My first screenplay was really high budget so had little chance of getting made. My second one is much more down-to-earth, so I think there will be more opportunities, eg on Inktip.

    • write good. schmooze even more betterly. I have trouble with both.

    • Howard Casner At the risk at really stirring a hornet’s nest, William, I have to say I disagree. In fact, writing great material can be quite immaterial and even work against you.

    • Howard, how is that?

    • Howard Casner I wish I knew how is that. It’s very frustrating. One would think the quality of a script would be the most important part of it, but alas, alack, it’s not. One possibility is that the better written the script is, the smaller an audience it will attract and therefore, the fewer productions companies will be interested in it. Most production companies (not all, by any means), tend to value middle brow writing with perhaps just a touch of edginess over real quality scripts. The ones who can testify to this most strongly are people who read for competitions and productions companies and agents. They look around at the movies being made and know that very few of them are great material. They then look at the great material they have recommended and realize how few of them get made. That’s one of the reasons why networking is far more important than writing great material.

    • ‎”Great” is subjective, but it’s a start. Networking your face off is the key that opens the door. Getting a referral from an optioned/sold screenwriter friend to an agent is a strong step inside the door. Those are my thoughts on the matter.

    • Attach actors, get a “Recommend” from one of the biggies, go to pitchfests (with a high concept project), comtact production companies that produce your genre, network and make connections, get to know assistants, get financing, make your manager/agent work. Did I leave anything out :-)?

    • I have to agree with Howard Casner, but I also remember something * once said when I was more active at the Scriptwriters Network (a group here in LA). Bill, you were either a member, or you spoke there, or both – it was a long time ago. But it resonates today, and I believe it’s very true. You said that if we were going to network, don’t do it with other writers because they don’t open doors. Do it with filmmakers, producers, directors. They’re the ones looking for material – not other writers… and I do believe that makes a lot of sense.

    • ‘ve been fortunate enough to form a really good relationship with a particular producer. He’s option four of my scripts and things are finally starting to come together.

    • Great quality scripts often don’t get made or optioned because if the prodution company/studio looks at potential internationals sales distribution first. If they don’t think they can sell it and make money, no deal. At least that’s what happened at the top companies/studios I worked at.
    • I am with Howard. It appears that quality scripts place in contests, but tend not to get made as it may be too “deep” for the mass audience to digest.
      Look at what’s in theaters. Slim pickins.

    • okay, so if we are supposed to network with the people who actually make the movies as opposed to other writers, how do we do that? they don’t have FB pages!

    • quality scripts often don’t get made? So, the “Best Picture” Oscar list are filled with second-tier script movies? I find that hard to believe.

    • ‎”One possibility is that the better written the script is, the smaller an audience it will attract…” Sounds to me like someone’s confusing quality with sophistication, or a Woody Allen script, or “high brow”. IMO, quality is quality and it crosses all income levels, races and nationalities. I doubt “The Help” will do well internationally, as it is pure Americana, but I feel that was a quality script.

    • Howard Casner Yes, the best picture Oscar list is filled with second tier script movies. It often has been if you look at the past nominations. I don’t find that hard to believe at all. I find it hard to believe that you find it hard to believe. There are exceptions, there are always exceptions, but we’re doing percentages here, what happens most of the time. You liked The Help; fine. I thought it was okay, but definitely middle brow, second tier (the 21st century equivalent of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with a slight more edge, but just as middle brow and second tier). It doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable, it doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining, it doesn’t mean it’s awful; but second tier, yes. Saying the Help is a quality script is like saying Daphne du Maruier is a quality writer; she’s good and entertaining, but she’s no Faulkner or Hemingway. I’ve read tons of scripts that are much, much better that have never gotten made.

    • My thought is to first get representation. It’s an agent or manager’s job to get you work. To get representation:

      -be sure you have the basics down (screenplay format/story structure)
      -write familiar but original

      If you’re lucky enough to sell or option your work, you can now pitch that quirky but brilliant 175 page masterpiece about a girl from Uganda who struggles to reach her dream of being the first human to walk on mars.

    • I never said quality scripts never get made.

    • I never said you did. I’m pretty sure I took your direct quote, but I could be mistaken…

    • Obviously, you opinion of “great” differs wildly from mine, and apparently my opinion of great seems to be more in line with AMPAS and the general public. But this debate is silly for the very reason I stated above- “great” is subjective. I’m sure politics, and studios and money have all played a part in discounting one “great” picture over another, but to insinuate that the majority of what the industry standard of “great” is “second tier”, and to believe that a high number of “great” scripts are floating around Hollywood not being bought, sold, or produced (but winning contests and getting similar types of accolades)- well, I just can’t stop laughing at that premise. I guess we should all stop trying for that “brass ring” and perhaps set our sights a little lower and reach down for the tin one. If second-tier is what they want, I should have an Oscar winner somewhere around here…

    • I really don’t buy into the idea that ‘quality scripts don’t get made’… McKee always says ‘the films you see ARE the best out there and the likelihood that stored away in some attic is an Oscar winning script is rubbish’.. if it was quality.. it would be on the big screen.. and friend (script sales include Warners & GKFIlms) once told me.. agents are failed lawyers.. they didn’t feel like putting in the time and ended up in LA to try and get a piece of Hollywood.. but EVEN THEY would know a great script if they read it.. and the idea that great scripts are ‘missed’ is just preposterous.

      I think the problem is what a writer’s perception of ‘quality’ really is. Film is NOT an art. It’s a business. If you are making films for art.. enjoy the 3 people in the audience that appreciate it and come to terms with the fact that you WILL NOT make money as a successful screenwriter. Film is a business.. black and white — your script either sells or it doesn’t. A studio will never invest money unless the foresee a return on investment. Period. That’s business. If your script is great.. if a script in a Contest is great.. the film will get made.. or at least the script will get bought.. it’s a tough thing to come to terms with for all of us.. if your scripts aren’t selling, the fact of the matter is that your just ‘not there yet’.. the key word being YET.

      A great writer understands and can recognize his weaknesses.. we can say all we want about some terrible movie that we saw, but in the end.. it was one of the best 2,000 or so script of that year — how do we know? Because you watched the movie. How do we know ours aren’t one of the best 2,000 specs? Because it’s not a movie.

      The best way to get your stuff out there.. is to write quality stuff.. not one script, not two.. if you haven’t written at least 4 or 5.. you’re not there yet. Again, it’s a tough pill to swallow.. but it’s a fact. I wrote my first script and had no doubts that it was an Oscar winner compared to the drill that was in theaters.. but the reality check –> it took me 6 more scripts to get a film made. And that being said.. I’m not Goyer, I’m not Kasdan.. but maybe in 6 more I could be.. that’s the attitude you need.. just keep writing.. keep getting better.. every script is an evolution in your talent.. not every DRAFT.. every SCRIPT..

    • Howard Casner Go for it. Write those second tier scripts and you may very well make it one day. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having that as a goal. To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, he discovered that the way to make it in Hollywood is to write bad scripts, but do it very well. But for the others reading this thread, there are a couple of ways one can have a more objective view of the situation. When it comes to whether great scripts are being missed: look at the movies being made–how many of them do you like and how many of them do you think are great scripts, or even good scripts–I think you’ll find, if you are honest with yourself, that you don’t think very many are at all (and based on the various threads I read on facebook and how people complain about how bad movies are, I’m very convinced at that); then look at all the scripts you read for contests, agencies, etc. How many of the greats one get made? You do the math. I think you’ll find that a huge number of great scripts are being passed over and mediocre and bland scripts are being made. As for whether the Academy only nominates the great films (a claim that I not only find astonishing, but may be the first time I’ve ever heard anyone make such a claim on facebook or anywhere), make a list of all the films that are considered the great films in U.S. history (and British, since they stand an equal chance of getting nominated) and look at how many got nominated for best picture–I think you’ll find that they are in the minority. Then look at all the ones that got nominated and ask yourself how many of them are considered great anymore. Don’t take anybody’s opinion about it on this thread, do the research yourself and do the math. You may come to Geno and Walker’s conclusion or you may come to mine. But either way, do the research yourself.

    • There are a lot of reasons that scripts get made in the film business. Quality could be a reason but it’s not the only reason, and I would also suggest that it’s probably not the top reason. There’s also a lot of reasons scripts don’t get made, and quality is one of those reasons. But again, I would say it’s not the top reason.

      Quality is subjective. We could all read ten scripts and if we were asked which one was the best, it’s likely that we could have seven or eight different answers. Quality can’t be quantified in Hollywood because it means different things to different people. None of us have the same definition other than to say, “I know it when I read it.”

      This all goes back to the William Goldman line, “In Hollywood, nobody knows nothing.” That’s maybe the one thing we can all agree on.

    • Blue book of agents. If you like rejection, call then email them. Google entertainment lawyers. Call the big agencies get a name and beg to send in a log line.

    • I’d start with an ELEVATED concept. Work to make sure my writing is the best I can be, place in a contest or see if you can get a script request or two before I representation. I’m merely a student at this point. Just happy to be along for the ride!

    • Of course writing a post with a couple of glasses of wine under the belt doesn’t help!


The Belgium entry in the 2011 Oscar race, about a man who was castrated as a kid and his present day involvement in illegal hormone trafficking of cattle. The basic idea, that of two childhood friends who end up on opposite sides of the law, is nothing new (Manhattan Melodrama is one of the earliest examples of this plot line). But that doesn’t stop this version from being riveting. What ties it all together is a bull (pun intended) of a performance by the lead Matthias Schoenaerts, who dominates the screen and makes his unlikeable character both fascinating and sympathetic. One does become emotionally involved in his plight and the ending brings an unexpected tear to the eye. The plot could be tighter; written by Michael R. Roskam, who also directed, it treats a subplot, the murder of a police officer, as a major story line rather than a maguffin, which results at times in its getting in the way of the Schoenaerts story.


The Polish entry in the 2011 Academy Award foreign film category. Based on a true story, the story revolves around a group of Jews who hide out in the Warsaw sewers and the thief/sewer worker who helps hide them. It’s an important subject and it’s well made with powerful moments, but it’s one of those films I wanted to like more than I did. The director, Agnieszka Holland (one of Poland’s best known directors) works hard, but I think the more melodramatic and soap operic aspects of the script didn’t work for me (screenplay by David F. Shamoon). The main reason to see it is the performance by the sewer worker, Robert Wieckiewicz, who goes through the standard character arc with a good amount of empathy.


A psychological horror film by the greatest of the giallo directors, Dario Argento. The plot revolves around a woman police detective who is after a vicious rapist, but who suffers from the titled malady: a penchant for becoming so overwhelmed by artwork, that she faints and/or hallucinates. It has all the usual problems of a giallo film; the plot often makes no sense and more often is just plain silly. But it also has all the virtues of an Argento film: it’s visually stunning and so emotionally evocative one can’t stop watching it. It’s more than a little creepy and often unpleasant and not just in subject matter. The lead actress, Asia Argento, who is viciously raped and beaten in realistic, drawn out detail, is also the daughter of the director (not sure I want to be at their house for Thanksgiving). The psychopathic villain is played by Thomas Kretschmann, who has the looks of a Nordic god, and the haunting score is by Ennio Morricone. One of Argento’s best.