Category Archives: BLOG

Why good stories make you want to have a better life.

Recently I liked this far away three-pointer by Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed.  They always struck me as adventurous storytelling characters, Super-people from the quiet wild side.

Their quote was about finding ways to get through life.

One: “Don’t be afraid of anyone. Now, can you imagine living your life afraid of no one?”

Two: “Get a really good bullshit detector.”

Three: “Three is be really, really tender.”

“And with those three things” – Laurie said – “you don’t need anything else.”

In the full wide range that stretches from street hobos to rich presidents and from Ivy-league dropouts to post-celebrity rehabs, there is a common thread:  life is ripe with conflict.

Sure, conflict is what made humans sharper, problem solvers until the last beat. Storytellers know that ultimately conflict alone can float identity through a sea of half-truths, up, up to the surface where the sun plays catch with flying fish. However important our culture of conflict may be, the search for less human pain, suffering, and crisis may also be a story to pursue. A peaceful target to shoot for.

In dramatic movies, the ending may be, in terms of plot, happy or unhappy. In either case, if the story works, the viewer is rewarded with insights into the depths of human life.

The ancient Greeks attended Tragedies more than school, feasting on pop-corn-less morality with cathartic heroes like Oedipus (an unknowing motherfucker) or universal strategists like Ulysses, king of the surprise climax.


Endings in these stories didn’t seem to matter much. The deus ex machina finale at times gave Gods the task of resolving plot indecision or confusion. This over-the-top device released authors from spending too much stage-time on predictable closing show and tell details. (They lived happily ever after! was another shortcut).  The middle of the story is where it all happened. Development, substance, focus, now.

So, what can we learn about “making our life better” by watching a film story?  It is true that caped Super-heroes are our cultural diet now, just as Commedia dell’Arte theatre masks were dominant wanderers from town to town for four centuries.


Masks are types. Types embody in broad strokes the infinite relationships among standard folk: the rich man, the poor woman, the young lovers, the old doctor, the cop, the thief, the servant.

It’s all about relationships, stupid.

A film I would watch again is one that leads to my relationship with the story. Titanic was a lesson in teen-age blockbuster making, who would have thought it? Multiple viewings create a relationship, characters become familiar: it’s the key to the new TV series mania.

Note for debate: Characters are not people, but they’re close enough to pretend. Characters stand in a story because the plot says so, and the writer cast them for a role.  No script? No character. They look like people, however. Or should.

This is not the case in real life where life may be scripted but in all likelihood is not very good. Determinists saw destiny play a bigger part than individuals. In the west we famously trust individual agency and will to drive success and failure.

You want to be the big boss man? Slay the dragons. Dominate your universe and plunge forward. Action films seem equivalent to playing Mozart with only Major chords. (Male chords, duh)

I have a preference for the Minor Key in film. Movies that don’t try and impress only with underlined cinematic cartwheeling. I have the same bias meeting people at parties.

If a film reveals a personal insight, I am Up.  If there is a label that explains everything or indicates next to each action, I am turned off. I follow film-makers that make movies that matter, even a little.

As a producer of youth-cinema, I see film conflict not as a medieval head-to-head battle to release adrenaline, but a personal texture, an inside chess game of question marks: where to go? what to do? How? Who with? Well told conflict can be hesitation pure and simple. Or an identity short-circuit. Or lack of clarity, loss of vision. How to take direct action choices, then? Voting can be Hamletic too, in hard times.

Even without a simple top-down final duel on a skyscraper, a film can lead to a character’s foggy melting point, the quiet intersection of dramatic need, desire and urgency in search of identity.

Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed are not film characters.


Their lingo is story with sound. They quest to stay away from trouble, they are grounded in their shape-shifting personae. Who they want to be? Simple:  happier spending time together.  Popcorn flicks too could explore that engagement vibe.

In the script of life rewritten, I would try reducing, not adding, conflict to stories.  Better conflict, of course, the one worth fighting for without fists and watching with senses aloft. As James Joyce said, the cinema is a “screen of consciousness”.

Luckily I am not afraid of fear, I can smell bullshit from outside the playground, and I still want to hear my kids tell me I was kind. That’s a step towards a better now, even for a callous storyteller like me.

There is already enough conflict to go around in the world.

Danny Alegi is a filmmaker, story development coach and speaker.  Read more of Danny’s blogs at ‘Movies Without Cameras‘.


This winter I tried something new: I organised an event in the “gift economy” style. Inspired by ancient gift cultures, gift economy means offering an event (or other work) as a gift instead of exchanging it directly for money. At the end of the event people connect with their gratitude and give in a way that fits for them—either with money or with non-monetary gifts. The idea is to promote community, connection, and gratitude by moving away from transactions.

The practice of gift economy opens up new ways of interacting, learning, and seeing. I’ll share what I learned from the experience in the hope that it will inspire you to participate in a similar activity.

Wealth is what we give to others, not what we keep for ourselves

Instead of seeing wealth as an accumulation of money or resources, in a gift economy a person’s wealth comes from what they give to others. Anything we choose to give in the hope of meeting another person’s need is a gift. This may be material things, like money, food, or shelter. There are many other types of gifts, though: the gift of listening, the gift of art, the gift of connection. In a gift economy, wealth is our power to help others. Through giving we can accumulate goodwill, connection, and community.

My gift economy experiment: an evening course about building trust

I was inspired to try organising a gift economy event after reading Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein. I announced an evening course about practices for building trust. I used this version of gift economy:

I offered the course as a gift with no upfront charge. Instead I invited people to apply for the course by sharing what they hoped to learn from participating.
Based on advice I found online, I emphasised that it was not a free course, and shared the needs I was hoping to meet through organising it. This included the direct costs of hiring the venue, and my non-financial needs like introductions to people who’d like to attend my events, feedback on the course activities, and help organising conferences.
At the end of the course I asked the participants to reflect on their gratitude, and to give in way that aligned with it.
I clarified my motivation: I organise because I want to learn

When I tell people about this experiment, many appear to object, saying, “but you need to make a living somehow!” This reminds me how foreign the concept of gifting is in today’s capitalist culture. Yes, I need to make a living somehow. It doesn’t follow that I need to make money from every activity I take part in!

Offering the course as a gift helped me to clarify my motivations. I realised that I was organising the course to meet my needs for learning, growth, and understanding. Although events and training are the focus of my work, this event wasn’t about making a living. It was about learning how to run workshops where people can practise communication techniques. Discovering this changed my attitude towards the participants. Instead of seeing them as people who wanted to benefit from my expertise, I was grateful to them for facilitating my learning.

I was surprised to find that letting people know what gifts I’d like to receive created a dynamic of mutuality. Asking for what I need makes me vulnerable, and that encourages people to connect. The participants could see me learning during the course—including when things didn’t go to plan—which created an atmosphere based on helping each other to learn, instead of a one-way exchange of knowledge. I spent most of the final session getting feedback from the participants about what worked and what I could change in the future. Because of the gifting vibe, this didn’t seem out of place.

Gift economy enables events that wouldn’t be feasible otherwise

Participants at my other events have their places funded by their organisations, which limits the number of people who attend. My events are about practices for building trust, an area that many people think is important. The problem is that their organisations have difficulty funding it, because it doesn’t fit their concept of “professional development.”

Gift economy reverses the situation. People participate because they want to, and the question of who provides funds is secondary. It also reduces risk, because people don’t need to determine the value of the course before they’ve experienced it. At the end they choose what donation to make, whether monetary (paid by their organisation for some) or another type of gift. This experience helped me realise that many more events are feasible under this arrangement than under the transactional model.

Gifts create relationships

Giving and receiving gifts—rather than transactions—creates the conditions for a relationship. As well as more than covering the direct costs of the event, every single participant offered to volunteer at my larger events—something I always need help with. At the end of the course, I asked each of them to keep in touch—something we say a lot, perhaps—but this time I believe it’s likely to happen.

Next steps

If you’d like to organise an event in the gift economy style, read the post by Marie Goodwin that I used to get started, and check out Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein.

I’m organising several gift economy events in 2016, including a series of evening courses and an event about transition. For details, subscribe to my mailing list or contact me.

This post was originally published on the Impact Hub King’s Cross blog.

Why outline? Speed!  a useful post by Steven Hammon

The Outlining Process

 Speed. You can do 20 structure rewrites in a day, but if they are drafts of the feature, it might take 100 times longer to do the same amount of work. It’s so much easier to rewrite 1 page from scratch than 100. And this applies to every step in the process. You can write a scene 50 different ways in a day in a treatment. It’s about seeing the forest through the trees. You just remove all the trees and look at the big green forest as a whole. It’s about focusing on parts by themselves to avoid being overwhelmed, and therefore making working on that small sentence much easier. Simple, Fast, Easy, and Step by Step.

If you think of the outlining process as a way of organizing your story, then it’s very similar to a filing system: The Payments Filing Cabinet, it has several drawers. The Employees Drawer, it has several folders for each department. The Janitor Department, it has several employees. It would be stupid to be thinking about where the Jack and Jill files will be when you are working out where to put the filing cabinets in the room.

The key is to look at an entire segment of the thing you are outlining, and to look at what it all has in common. Get clear on that grouping process.

You work on the level that you are changing. So if you are working on the scene level, work in that document. If you change the structure, work in the structure document. And so on.

Whenever you are looking at a part, you want maybe 1-3 sentences per part. Any more and you probably aren’t looking at that step. If something can be achieved many ways, there is no need to work it out at that point in time. For instance, a car chase doesn’t have to be stuffed into a logline since the conflict of the chase can be done with car chases, or plane chases, or jet pack races, etc. But you also don’t need to work out the details of the chase until the scriptment stage. Work out if the information is crucial to that part or not. So in your act structure, the opening 10-15 pages or so will be written as 1-3 sentences or so. When you are listing out scenes, 1-3 sentences will be all you use to outline a scene.

With a screenplay, you start with Titles. These are the whole core of the subject that you want to write. You are basically outlining what the entire story will be about in a couple of words. Find the Titles that would be great for the subject you want the story to be about. Find the one that really works. You can do this entire outlining process for a few different titles and work out which story really speaks to you.

With your title, see exactly what it tells you about the story. List those bits out. It may tell you the genre, the tone, the conflict, the theme, etc. Then you create your logline based on that. First just list the extrapolated parts and then fill in the blanks. Get the best version of that. 

You can test your loglines out with someone you trust. Someone who will act as a surrogate producer or investor, making sure that it works for them. Don’t try to get multiple people giving feedback unless you are going for an overview of the group POV as a whole, since everyone has different tastes and what works for one may be totally the opposite for another.

From the logline, you extrapolate main characters, structure, and theme, and get the best versions of them. These come in different orders based on the type of story you are writing. So go with the most obvious bits first and list them all out and slot them into character profiles and structure. Roughly 1-3 sentences per 10-15 minutes of movie. Then flesh them out and get the best versions. Here is a crucial point to get trusted feedback to make sure it works. They will look for plot holes and stuff that you don’t see. 

Now that you have feedback, outline what needs to be changed and how and where and in what order. So if it affects logline, write down that you have to go back, rewrite that, then go from there. It’s like a TO DO list for things that need to be fixed and when. If its core character and structure is based around character, do that character stuff first then update the structure to match. Make sure you look at each part by itself and check that it works on its own.

These are basically all the same thing. There are different versions but really it’s how the story flows as a whole. From the Structure, Characters, and Theme, pull out all the scene parts that these imply. List out all the scenes that you know are there. Roughly 3 minutes each. Don’t confuse scenes with sluglines. You don’t write 3 sentences for an establishing shot which is 5 words in the script. A scene is a chunk of the story with a common thread. A character introduction scene. A car chase scene. A sex scene. Mentor’s death scene, etc. When you have all the obvious ones down, fill in the blanks.

Then get feedback and work out how you will rewrite it. Work out what scenes need to be changed in what order and why. And if some affect structure, go back to the structure and fix that first. If some change a character, go back and fix the character profile first. Then rewrite the step outline / treatment / beat sheet, etc. Whatever you want to call it. Write, feedback, outline how to rewrite, rewrite in order, feedback, outline how to rewrite, rewrite in order, feedback, repeat until your trusted critic is saying it’s great.

Not always necessary but it’s basically a super fast first draft without all the details that are easy to fill in. This is GREAT for seeing if each page will be a page turner. It reveals pacing issues and parts they may be too dense or too thin. From the treatment, you’ll split each scene into roughly 3 parts, 1 for each page. Here you will extrapolate what the treatment might be saying is on each page. Then you fill in the bits and flesh out the scenes to have interesting content on each page.

Then feedback, outline rewrite process, rewrite in order, feedback, outline rewrite process, rewrite in order. Then when you are really happy, you have an outline.

Roughly 1 day for getting the structure and characters right. Maybe 1-2 days for getting the beat sheet / treatment / step outline etc. Then 1-2 days to get the scriptment done. If you are slow, or don’t have enough time, extend deadline up to about 4 times. So 4 days for structure and characters, 4-8 days for treatment, 4-8 days for scriptment.

Then after you do all of that, you can format the scriptment into a script. At this point, you are letting the story be what it’s meant to be. It’s more important for the story to be what it needs to be than for it to stick to the formula etc. If a scene ends up being half a page, let it. If another scene ends up 10 pages long, let it. Fix it later. Ignore all the issues and just get it written. You are pretty much just ignoring everything you worked out in the outline stage if it in any way doesn’t work in the draft writing process. It’s more important to have a draft written than it is to strictly stick to the outline. 

The outline is just a way to work on parts fast, and to make sure those through lines are solid. Often, all that outlining will have you super clear about where you want the story to go and you will easily be able to work on any part at any time without being overwhelmed. But all of it is just a guide line and a tool. It should never be more important than the story itself.

This will help you strip away the complexity and look at one bit at a time. It’s stripping everything away to work on that single bit, easy. And if you can focus your attention to not stray outside of that bit too much, you will save so much more time.

Some people go straight from structure to draft, and use the draft as if it’s an extremely detailed treatment. This is fine for those people that don’t mind ditching entire drafts and rewriting them. These people tend to be super fast at writing drafts and super fast at rewriting. They love the rewriting process and when they work out what version they want, they then focus on making that version shine. Although, they can end up with 10 totally different scripts for the 1 concept, 9 of which end up never being used.

Everyone is different but the more you are able to work in each mode exclusively, the easier it gets. After a while, a pretty good feature completed in 3 weeks isn’t a far stretch. From there it’s all about making it incredible.

Although theses aren’t perfect, they give you a basic idea about the length and they type of details that are in each step.

Writer of Pirate of the Caribbean:

I use this version:…/wp37-xtras/wp37x.SINBAD.html

But here is an example of the process. Again, not ideal but sufficient:

Title: The Mask of Zorro

Logline: A young thief, seeking revenge over the death of his brother, is trained by the once great, but aged Zorro, who is also seeking a vengeance of his own.…/wp37-xtras/wp37x.ZORRO.html

And then after all that you can go into scriptment realm.

You need to understand what needs to be focused on on each level. For instance, “What makes a great Title?”

Then, “What do I need in my logline that will make my concept awesome, and that will make the rest of the process so much easier?”

Then, “How do I set up the entire story? How do I introduce my main character? How do I have the main character introduced to the main story? How do I set up the conflict that makes the decision to get into the story so much more powerful? How do I deliver the decision to get into this story? How do they react when they first enter the story world?” Etc.

Then, “How do I sequence the 4 or so scenes in this segment of the structure? What do each of those scenes need to deliver?”

Then, “How do I sequence this scene and what scene structure techniques should I use to deliver this scene most effectively so that each scene pops? How do I start the scene? How do I play out the scene conflict? How to I end the scene?”

Point being, each level has its own criteria. Without knowing those, and without being able to control your creative impulses, you will struggle to get them done right. So you may end up trying to do a structure summary (like that one on Wikipedia I put up as an example) and you will try to put all that stuff into a logline, which just won’t work.

Spend a week coming up with only titles, 4-6 hours a day. Maybe 200 titles a day. Become an expert on titles. Then do the same with loglines. Get like 300 loglines. Then same with structures. Write 50 plots out for your favorite loglines. Then Character profiles.

But you need to learn the knowledge into what makes them great and practice that knowledge. So for instance, character profiles. How to make them active, how to make them relatable so the audience can understand the story from their POV. How to make them have depth, how to give them motives and desires. How to make them dramatic etc. And then practice that information like 50 times.

There is no use practicing the wrong way 50 times and get the wrong way ingrained in your head. After you know the techniques backwards, you can then break any of those rules and know how it will affect your story, and you’ll be able to address any issues that arise because of those choices.

List out the each chunk that you can extrapolate, and write it out in 1-3 sentences. Flesh out the bits that are missing. 

Then Feedback, Outline the Rewrite steps, then Rewrite and Repeat. 

When it’s sorted, use that to extrapolate the next, more detailed level of chunks. 

Also, remember to work on the document that matches the things you are changing.

It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort but it becomes easy after a while. It’s all about practice. Once you get the hang of it, you will know exactly how you want your writing process to be.

Written by Steven Hammon

Shared by Danny Alegi @cinemahead

copyright -Steven Hammon 2016

Faster than a speeding bullet! Why Superman does what he does…


A story well told

Telling a story well as a film is not easy. And yet more and more people want to try and be storytellers. Some feel the need to express the personal experience of scars: pain, adventure, life detours, wonder, feelings.  Others do it for work. 

Pull Back to Reveal: Story is the mega-trend, it is everybody’s business.  

We are defined by our vision, our will and the hard choices we need to make in the face of conflict. When a person doesn’t stop trying, their vulnerability is exposed. Sooner or later meaningful connections develop, and story grows in the shared space of relationships.

To me a story well told, and worth telling, is, simple and smart. By “smart ” I mean a story  with a cinematic DNA, with the energy to connect the feeble light of our fragile optimism with the dark shadows of human nature.

At Cinemahead many projects are DIY style, home-made or personal. Are you are on a storytelling path?  What are you working on? Where do you plan to go with it?

Let it grow. 

Do “student films” matter?

If I asked you to name 3 student films, would you be able to?

If you’re not a recent film school graduate or a film teacher , the category “student film” probably doesn’t mean much to you. Everyone knows about Roman Polanski’s film-school masterpiece “Knife in The Water”, but beyond that student films sound like football practice. Exciting huh?

Actually there is such a thing as the Student Academy Award (did you know) and film schools are popping up like blow-flowers, all around the world. Film is the new universal language, next to music. Movies come to your home now, like Radio began to do in the 30s. As Sony once posted on a billboard : “Everyone is a director”. There is a highly publicized process of democratization in film. It’s great for companies selling cheaper and cheaper cameras and smart-phones. Everyone needs one, right? Who wants to be let out of the fun of getting a movie from your cousin rather than a phone call? And sharing videos, of course.  Or an animated story, or a Vine? (are Vines still growing?) For the semipros, equipment is the hot matter. Check that you have the newest Black Magic model camera,  that your three-month old software is not already obsolete. If you use RED, just keep updating those workflows.

The focus on equipment is clear. If you are making a film, your post-production set appears to be the most important feature. Yes, even more than your content. Do you have a good colourist, awesome VFX? great, shoot and you can fix it all in post. A recent NOFILMSCHOOL post highlighted the work of Akira Kurosawa). This giant of a director knew his cameras well, so much so that he felt no pain breaking some key cinematography rules, such as the 180 degree rule. even more than camera, Kurosawa thought like an editor, gazing in his cinema head not only at shots, but at the dynamic interplay of cut footage, with sound. He saw the edited movie in his head, and the material came together organically, like a piece of music composed by different orchestra elements.

There are film schools that focus on equipmen,


“The War of the Worlds” If you don’t hoax, who will?

Listen or read the Orson Wells radio on “TheWar of the Worlds.”. The sci-fi sceneario of alien invasion became a surprise hoax radio show in 1938. Today, pulling off an event like this seems unlikely, for  a few reasons:

a) This storytelling genius was so precocious smart and prolific as to make a thread of absolute masterpieces, only to get blackballed for good by the industry of fear. There are few people like Orson Wells around today.

b)  The story of alien pods landing in New Jersey farms  was told in a no-TV environment where fact-checking was impossible. Today news data travels faster than gossip and secrets pop like GMO corn.

3) There hasn’t been a good hoax in a while. Too many hoax-check sites out there.

Here is THE WAR OF THE WORLDS – SCRIPT – Orson Welles & the Mercury Theratre on the Air

danny alegi

Ps – make a #littlesecretfilm.


talkin’ INTERSTELLAR Blues

TED interstellar blogpost


“Interstellar” By Chris Nolan has sparked admiration and quality criticism (New Yorker)  Few other high-concept films in recent years have had this kind of echo, as if it were “2001 Space Odyssey” all over again.

TED-ed posted a number of blog posts and visuals about the science in the film.

The conversation continues here Cinemahead Forum

Clayton Kershaw, when a story melts down.

The Dodgers blew it again in the playoffs gifting the St. Louis cards with a take-home 1-3 series. This time it was star pitcher Kershaw who owned the melt down: he gave away a 6-1 lead in game 1 and a 2-0 lead in the 7th inning of game 4. The figthing red birds gratefully grabbed the offer en route to the world series.

Now, Kershaw is perhaps the best regular-season pitcher today. So, play along with my metaphor here: I see a pitcher like a top screenwriter, a master storyteller with a job: to take home a concept, a strategy, and in the end win. In baseball it’s the won game, in scriptwriting a finished, imaginative, killer story. (Sold, yeah.)

Kershaw in 2014 playoffs wrote some great beginnings, rock’n’roll first acts, then lost his plot points in act 3. The Dodgers jumped to early leads and coasted forward evenly. This is what good writers have learned to do, by apprenticeship and instinct:  set up the game-story and control it, directly, by pitching strikes and outs, and indirectly by inspiring your teammates to asphalt their opponents with talent.  But what about highs and lows? What about action?

Kershaw looked like William Goldman in the first 6 innings of both game 1 and 4: solid presence, perfect timing and ahead of the opposition. You trust a good writer like Goldman to take you on an adventure, like you trust Hitchock to serve a juicy finale no matter how cheap the McGuffin. But a “won game” has to actually be won, like in chess. A winning idea for a script has to be developed until it’s done and over. And it pays off.

Instead, the Dodgers seemed to wait lazily hoping to avoid disturbing plot complications. These horrors, in the form of home-runs, errors and comebacks, hurt. The more you are ahead, the darker the chance that forces of antagonism will team up to pull you down.

Kershaw may have to pitch his way out of a reputation as a choker, by winning “won games” that count. Lost games may be paradoxically easier to win, as concentration is less likely to slip away and a pitcher gets max support from his cast. But winning the “won games” is the ultimate test of patience, character, skillful. A subtle creeping danger haunted our pitcher-writer choice by choice, action by action, pitch after pitch, surfing the good story, gliding upwards towards a clear & happy climax, nothing to fear.

But our defeated storyteller Kershaw may have fallen into that exact trap of ignoring fear, coasting to a shortcut to the win. He even arm-wrestled opponents with a hasty greed for overpowering show-and-tell fastballs… Oops, gone. So little regard for  the dark disasters that lurk within an unfinished opus.

Clayton: in those fierce do-or-die moments (which will come again) focus your heart on your inner scoreboard, the one that ultimately matters. Fear is defeat. Keep your story burning.