“Most aspiring screenwriters simply don’t spend enough time choosing their concept. It’s by far the most common mistake I see in spec scripts. The writer has lost the race right from the gate. Months — sometimes years — are lost trying to elevate a film idea that by its nature probably had no hope of ever becoming a movie.” ~Terry Rossio [Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Mask of Zorro]

The first week of —

Screenwriting 101, students turn in their story ideas. Ironically, students with the most mundane ideas tend to be the ones most worried about ideas being stolen. “I have this great idea about a woman going home for Thanksgiving, what if other students steal it?”

Hmm. Okay. Three things:

•One, other students in a screenwriting 101 class don’t have the connections or chops to steal an idea.

•Two, the only person who could steal an idea in a screenwriting 101 class is probably me the teacher — I do have the connections and chops to walk a concept into a studio.

•Three, there is no way I would do that –– first because it is unethical, but more importantly? The concept sucks and no one at a studio is going to get excited about it.

Yeah, I know, you’re laughing at the poor bastard who thought a story about Thanksgiving dinner is an exciting and novel concept. But ––

Take a hard look at your concept. I’m willing to bet 90% of the concepts out there would make the Jeopardy category “Most Done Screenplay Concepts.” [That’s a safe bet, I read a few hundred scripts a year so have a pretty good idea of what is out there.] Think yours wouldn’t make that list? Consider some of its components. How expected is the setting? How expected is the genre? How expected is the character in the lead role? How expected is the opposition? How many other scripts have the exact same villains — in a damn similar scenario? [Hint, Middle Eastern terrorists with bombs are not new and exotic bad guys.]

Also, before you sass me about scripts about characters going home for Thanksgiving getting made and working –– take a look at the screenwriters’ names attached to those films. Those names are usually not “beginner” names. And when they are? Not beginners who sold to a studio. Beginners who had to go indy and are probably still working the bookstore job because indies rarely pay rent. Even the A listers usually have a damn hard time convincing suits “Going home for Thanksgiving” is a project to throw millions of dollars at.

If you’re new? If you’re breaking in? If you’re somewhere in the middle just trying to make that next sale and nothing is sticking? Maybe what you’ve got there is a Thanksgiving script.

Studios might be more inclined to take a look at a Thanksgiving script if something about the story concept stood out. Like, location and genre. Maybe it’s not just Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe it’s Thanksgiving dinner on Mars. That is a start. Or maybe there is some mental real estate thrown in there –– maybe it’s the president having Thanksgiving dinner on Mars. Or the creator of the biggest social networking site on the planet. Maybe the stakes could be higher. Maybe it’s the president AND the creator of the biggest social networking site on the planet having Thanksgiving dinner on Mars and the fate of Planet Earth hangs in the balance ––

I am making that up on the fly and it’s not a story I would recommend you write. But it is a mindset I would recommend you adopt. How do you make the concept bigger? Think genre. Think location. Think mental real estate. [If you are on Facebook or just recognize the name, maybe you get why studio peeps were willing to throw millions of dollars into making a film about a computer nerd facing a lawsuit — that would not have flown if the computer nerd hadn’t created the most recognized social platform on the planet. “Facebook” is the definition of mental real estate.] Think stakes –– how could they be raised?

There’s something you can up — always — in a simple story concept. And if you are trying to break in, trying to get read and sold, trying to get attention ahead of the A list writers already in every studio rolodex? You had better be thinking about ways to “more up” in the concept department.

•More up in High Concept Writing. Seating is limited. Register today.


some gotham love for max

February 19, 2011


This is fun, Gotham did a write up on me yay!


Profile: Max Adams
~By Britt Gambino


Gotham teacher Max Adams has only one hard and fast rule for great screenwriting: don’t be boring. That and always use 12-point Courier font (and even that rule, she says, can be broken). If you were to follow Max’s example, you would learn another lesson about the screenwriting trade—be bold.

Originally, Max had planned to become a novelist but, by happy accident, she decided to take a screenwriting class and fell in love with the medium. She then burst onto the scene by winning first place in two of the most prestigious screenplay competitions—the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting and the Austin Film Festival’s feature screenwriting award.

Max now serves as a judge for the Nicholl Fellowships. She notes that over the years the scripts have gotten better and the competition stronger. However, it seems that one bothersome trend has not altered visibly; specifically, women still aren’t writing as many screenplays as men. According to Max, the submissions to the Nicholl are about 3 to 1, male to female. “I don’t know what that says,” Max offers. “Maybe it’s a more masculine desire. Then again, you have an industry that’s skewed toward a masculine perspective.” But Max makes a clear case for the need for female filmmakers—women are also consumers of film. In simple terms, behold the power of audiences for movies like Sex and the City or Twilight.

The Nicholl fellows have created “a family of sorts, a community.” They meet regularly for lunch. Max says, “We talk about working, agents, jobs we’re doing, jobs we’re considering doing, people we’re working for, releases that are coming out, that sort of thing.”

Being industry savvy is something Max knows a thing or two about. This year marks the ten-year anniversary of the publication of her book, The Screenwriter’s Survival Guide: Or, Guerilla Meeting Tactics and Other Acts of War. The book focuses on the business aspects of screenwriting, including such tidbits as what to wear to a meeting. The traditional “screenwriter’s uniform,” Max says, “is a t-shirt, jeans, and a casual jacket thrown on top.” She adds, “The illusion is that you are working at the computer, then throw on a jacket and head out the door to a meeting. I say illusion because writers are not actually that put together in front of the computer.”

Max claims that new technology is an ally to the bold new screenwriter. “Editing and filming have become cheaper,” Max says. “You can shoot stuff digitally and not spend an exorbitant amount of money on film.” (As opposed to spending $1,000 per minute on film some ten to twenty years ago.) Technology has also enabled screenwriters to learn by doing. “Things may work on paper that don’t work on film,” Max says. “It’s a lesson you don’t learn unless you go out there with a camera.”

Max tries to impart what she’s learned to her students. She makes them aware of what they’re up against, but she’s also encouraging. “People break the gates everyday…break the mold, break new ground.”

Most of all, Max advises confidence, saying, “Write like a pro if you want to be a pro.”


*max is a faculty member of :::gotham writers’ workshop::: and :::the university of utah::: and is the founder of :::the academy of film writing:::


where that article comes from :
that is from gotham writers’ workshop


class updates

January 7, 2011


There is —

One unexpected seat opening in the pitch class. There are also a couple open seats left in the visual writing class. Both classes start Tuesday so if anyone is interested, drop me a line now: :::contact:::


Update: The pitch class is now full.


on visual writing

December 26, 2010


Readers are entirely dependent on you. There is no movie unless you put it on the page. So, you have, absolutely have, to give readers a visual.

This does not mean a map of the furniture layout in the protagonist’s room. This means an impression of the location.

Is the furniture out of Salvation Army or out of a French showroom? Does this location scream cash? Or last dime? What does the location tell you?

The three most important elements of location are, space, light, texture.

Consider these two examples:


The kitchen is ugly, small, cramped beyond thought, one small bare bulb overhead tries to illuminate the dirty linoleum floor and old Formica table without any help from windows.



The kitchen is huge, spacious, whoever lives here has more money than God. More than modern refrigerators with glass doors going on forever line the wall, frosty interiors illuminated by harsh artificial light….


Those are examples from yours truly just making up two very different kitchen locations on the fly. Notice how different the locations are using just three elements: Space. Light. Texture.


•Excerpted from the lecture series “On Visual Writing” by Max Adams
Academy of Film Writing | Visual Writing


professor max

December 22, 2010


As of January 2011 —

AFW online courses are accredited University of Utah courses. For info on course credit, contact Paula Lee in the Film & Media Arts Department via paula.lee @ utah.edu or Max via :::afw contact page:::

Spring Classes:

The Art of the Pitch, 01.11.11
Visual Writing, 01.11.11
Character Writing, 03.15.11
High Concept Writing, 03.15.11

For a list of all upcoming classes, visit :::afw courses:::


*afw classes are open to max students outside of the u’s film & media arts department for info on that contact max directly via the :::contact page:::


where the art work comes from :
that is from rich legg

upcoming max classes

December 9, 2010


from screenwriter max adams



ONLINE 6 week master class | the art of the pitch |
START DATE 01.11.11 || •this class is full || *next class 09.13.11


ONLINE 6 week master class | visual writing |
START DATE 01.11.11 || •now registering || open





ONLINE 6 week master class | high concept writing |
START DATE 03.15.11 || •now registering || open


ONLINE 6 week master class | character writing |
START DATE 03.15.11 || •now registering || open





ONLINE 6 week master class | non static writing |
START DATE 05.17.11 || •now registering || open


ONLINE 6 week master class | structural writing |
START DATE 05.17.11 || •now registering || open





two days left

November 14, 2010


rabbit in top hatThere are two days left —

To register for :::Visual Writing:::

Honestly I am tired. Between friend birthdays, friend visits, the new books and Nicholl events, I do not really feel like pushing this class, it is a fine size and I am good with going with it with its current roster count but there are a couple seats left so I will put it out there.

We are going to do magic with words.

:::max academy:::
:::visual writing:::
:::space | light | texture:::


Course Name: Visual Wriring
Course Start Date: Tues Nov 16th
Course Location: :::Online:::
Course Duration: 6 Weeks
Course Tuition: $375
Course Registration: :::Contact:::


where the art work comes from :
that is magician’s rabbit in hat by kent dufault

open seats 11.08.10

November 8, 2010

Okay festivities are over. Drat. Back to business. I have two seats open in the 5150 workshop, the January pitch class is full, there are four seats open in the November visual writing class. Also, the March high concept writing class is now open for registration and I will be appearing at Showbiz Expo giving a short pitch seminar on December 4.

*high concept writing is very popular please register early to reserve a seat in that class

*visual writing begins nobember 16th please contact me now if you wish to register for this class

:::class info:::

the trench

October 27, 2010


There is a story —

Behind this. But I won’t tell you that now. I will tell you after.


The Trench

I am going to bring this up now because this is about the point when some stories start to look impossible to finish, deal with, there are too many pieces, you start moving them around, none of them seem to fit —

I know this point in the story very well. I hit it every single time I am working on a script. And I have been working on scripts for over 15 years and have literally lost track of how many scripts I have written. [This may or may not be comforting, hmm. But at least know you are not alone.]

When I was in my teens, I used to do a lot of line art. And I was considered a pretty gifted artist. Here is the thing about line art. Every single time I was working on a drawing, there would come this moment of what I guess I can only call despair. I’d be partway through a drawing and it would look awful. None of the lines looked like they were ever going to become an image. It all looked like a terrible mess. I’d stare at the page and think, Oh this can never come together. My impulse would be to rip the hell out of the page and just give up.

Here is the thing though. You can’t do that when a model is sitting there for you to draw. You’d look too damn stupid. So I would keep going. Not because I thought it was going to work. Because it was too embarrassing after an hour drawing a person who was sitting there for you to rip up the page and say, Oh this won’t work let’s quit and go home. And then, something magic would happen. I’d keep adding lines to that drawing. And, at some point, it would take form. The tangle and mess would disappear. And there would be an image that made sense and was beautiful and did work.

After that happens enough times, you start to take it on faith. You start to know, even though you just hit the trench where all those lines look like they are never going to come together, when everything looks hopeless and overwhelming and like it will never work? If you just ignore that and keep going, they will, ultimately come together.

The trick is, to keep going.

Writing is just like that. With every story, it starts out an idea. And you start putting words on a page. And at some point in there, you will hit that trench. It will feel like everything is out of control, like it will never all come together, like it is too overwhelming and nothing makes sense and there are holes all over you will never fill.

The trick is, to keep going.

If you stop there, you will never finish. If you keep going? It will all come together.

We’re missing some Week Six assignments this week. I figure that means a few people are in the trench.

Don’t stay in that trench. Keep going. I promise, if you keep going, you will get out.


Okay, the story — My Gotham classes are ten weeks long. Every class, about Week Six, some students start crashing. It’s tough to go ten weeks. It is more tough to go my class ten weeks. And it is a beginning class so a lot of new stuff at students thrown all at once. Last week we were hitting Week Seven and there was some crashing going on — that is what I told them.


where the art work comes from :
that is from jeremy pierce

open seats

October 11, 2010


I have one seat open in the 5150 workshop, three seats left in the January pitch class, and seven seats still open in the visual writing class.

*irony, everyone wants to know how to sell, no one is worried enough about how to write, hmm


:::class info:::



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