WGA Festival Notes

BEN RIPLEY – On Action writing

Trouble should start immediately if you can.

Start in the middle of the scene if you can.

Source Code has three twists in the first 8 minutes

The more you can make your protagonist uncomfortable, the more we’ll invest.

Give people enough for them to start forming theories. (Remember the list of things on the train: the coffee spill, the ticket, the comedian, the sick bathroom guy, etc and that only one or two were relevant, the others were red herrings) 


In Source Code, Jake Gyllenhaal spends the whole film learning how to look.

PREPARATION BY CONTRAST: Think of the boy in Boychoir, he fails and fails and yet still makes the Choir. You set the audience up to expect the opposite. 

Scene of aftermath – Establishing a new world after a success or failure. Show just a quiet establishing moment after a big beat.


Drama is Desire, Suffering, Contemplation, Revelation, Transformation, Sacrifice.

If something in the source material was once important but maybe isn’t now – cut it.

Try “sidewriting” to go into the head of the character. A diary entry, etc.

Sometimes V.O. is the best way to get the author’s voice.


We the audience need to align with characters. We need to find commonality.

Sometimes we’re tasked with setting up the impossibility of a protagonists success.

The end of Act Two is about boiling down what your movie is about. There is something that has been nagging at your protagonist and now they finally know what it is.

Things always go from bad to worse. Until something important happens in act 3.

When adapting, it’s not about the events. It’s about the people surrounding them.

Samuel Goldwyn said cynically: “You want to send a message. Call Western union.” Fuck him, boil it down and fit your message on a telegram. 

Your protagonist will always shrink to the size of their problem so make sure their obstacle/Antagonist is a worthy opponent. 

BARBARA NANCE – On dialogue

Listen to the people around you. Everywhere. Everything is fodder for story.

Focus on cadence. Mess things up sometimes. Remember how real people talk.

Make sure your characters are talking TO each other, not AT each other. Especially when handling exposition/story points.

Get rid of Hi/Hello, cut right to the chase.

What problem/scenario can you put your character in that will reveal who they are.

Great examples of how to properly use dialogue:

In Sleepless in Seattle Jonah says (about his dead mother): “I’m starting to forget her.” and his dady Sam says “She could peel an Orange in one long strip.” 

In Casablanca Ilsa asks Rick, “What brings you to Casablanca?” He says something to the effect of “My health, I hear the waters’s good.” She says, “The water? We’re in the desert.” Rick says: “I was misinformed.” This exchange tells us "I hear you asking about my past, but don’t.”

William Goldman says all great protags are Mysterious Heroes.


Intention and Obstacle are what power a story. You need them in every scene.

Some of the best speeches are the ones that make an argument for something that is indefensible. Like Nicholson does in A Few Good Men.

Elvis Mitchell added “Characters need a code"


Seeing someone else succeed: "Why him? Why not me?" Want do you want?

Producer gave him the money for Tusk because: I just want to see if you can do it

Pushing whimsy 

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