Screenwriting & Simcity

March 9, 2013 at 7:19 am

Screenwriting Blog | Screenwriting & Simcity


Without a doubt, SimCity is my favorite game franchises of all time.  I’ve played every version and I’m still just as addicted as I was the first time I played the classic PC version long ago.

Recently, I purchased the brand new SimCity and despite some frustrating bugs, I love it.

Does this bring back memories?

SimCity was more than just a game to me.

I remember bringing paper, pencil crayons and rulers everywhere so I could plan out the cities I wanted to build.  If I wasn’t going to be home, I would simply draw them and recreate my drawings in the game later on.

I was obsessed with SimCity.

Screenwriting Blog | Screenwriting & Simcity

Note: I really wish I had kept some of those drawings…

What does Simcity have to do with Screenwriting?

A lot of it has to do with the creative freedom and power the game gives you.  It provides you with a set of tools and a blank canvas and it’s up to you to create your masterpiece.

In that way, starting a new city is just like staring at a blank first page.  The only difference is the medium and it’s all about creativity and letting your imagination run wild.

Build your world.

When I wrote stories as a child, I used SimCity to visualize the cities where my characters lived.

Why not?

For someone who couldn’t draw very well, it was a perfect way to figure out what these locations would look like.

  • Were they next to water?
  • Surrounded by trees?
  • In the slums?

Truthfully, these cities not only gave me an exciting reason to play my favorite game, it allowed me the chance to think about my story.

Have you ever engaged in an activity that lets your mind wander?  You go through the motions but really your imagination is somewhere else.  Your mind is occupied but your creativity is hard at work.

It’s that trance that I fell in love with.

I may not build the cities in my screenplays anymore but SimCity was around when I began to really take an interest in screenwriting.  I would constantly quit the game to write down whatever I came up with while setting down a police station or a brand new stadium.

Screenwriting Blog | Screenwriting & Simcity

For me, it’s like playing Basketball.  You can shoot a hundred shots in a few hours and plan out an entire script.  A creative ignition.

SimCity has those same qualities.  I can sit back and play for hours without really thinking about what I’m building.  I’m off solving story issues and building characters.  I’m creating stories.

I’ve evolved just as Simcity has over the years.  I may not lose entire afternoons in the newest version of the game but it’s nice to know my old cure for writer’s block is back.

What sparks your creativity?

ScreenCraft Behind the Scenes: Screenplay Development & Consulting

March 6, 2013 at 7:50 am

ScreenCraft Behind the Scenes: Screenplay Development & Consulting |


John Rhodes is the co-founder of ScreenCraft.  A new site dedicated to helping screenwriters develop their screenplays.  Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss the inspiration behind ScreenCraft and what it takes to provide writer’s with honest notes and criticism.

Keep reading for tons of insight into the script development process and a behind the scenes look at ScreenCraft.

XTRA | ScreenCraft is looking for Horror Screenplays!  Click here for more.

When did you first become interested in screenwriting?

I became interested in screenwriting in high school.  Growing up in Austin, TX I was surrounded with excellent community theater and indie film programs.  I remember seeing Shakespeare in the park going to SXSW back in the early days and just wanting to be a part of putting on high quality drama and entertainment.  When I moved to Hollywood and worked on DRIVE and the upcoming ENDER’S GAME, I gained first hand experience in the development process of major feature film screenplays.  Since then I’ve worked on dozens of mid-budget films in various development capacities – from securing financing to developing the screenplay with the writer.

What is it about the craft that keeps you coming back for more?

Experiencing emotional reactions from audiences is the most gratifying part of creating feature films.  There’s something awe-inspiring about sitting in a dark room filled with strangers and seeing them laugh or cry from the work you’ve helped develop on the screen.  It’s the enthusiastic conversations and debates that happen on the way out of the theater that are the real validation and reward of screenwriting.

What is ScreenCraft and how did it begin?

ScreenCraft is an independent entertainment content development company.  Our network of studio and production company executives help screenwriters develop their scripts.  It began as an idea that my partner Cameron Cubbison and I had.  We knew so many talented writers and we decided to formalize the way we helped them develop and introduce their content to studios, producers, agents and managers.  Anyone is welcome to check out our services at

Take us through the ScreenCraft process. 

We offer a range of services, including coached pitch sessions, screenplay submission strategy, and access to the largest network of working Hollywood insiders.  We focus on developing excellent narrative content (film, TV, short form) that is also marketable and attractive to the current (and always changing!) industry climate.  Writers expect a level of quality from us that goes far beyond the generic, cookie-cutter notes from many other coverage companies.  Our consultants currently work in development and production at the top studios and production companies.

What attracted you to script consulting/development?

Screenwriting is where the magic happens; it’s the purest part of the creative process.  This may sound cliché, but the power of story is so elemental to being human.  It’s how we learn and communicate truth.  And audio-visual narrative in film and TV is the most pervasive and powerful art form we currently have.

What makes a good script note?

Great question.  Giving good (read: useful) script notes is an art in itself.  So many writers hate the notes process because development executives often don’t speak the same “language” as writers; they’re concerned with separate things.  In my experience, the best notes acknowledge what the writer is trying to do (this also allows the writer to clarify if the development executive misunderstands) and offers reasons why it doesn’t work for the development executive.  Every development person has their own “pet” criteria that they bring to most scripts.  At the end of the day, everybody will have notes on any script (or finished film for that matter).  The important thing is to take notes from somebody who a) has a proven track record or b) has the power to get your screenplay produced!

Is it tough reading a ‘bad’ screenplay knowing you have to be honest in your notes?

I read all levels of screenplays.  It’s never fun to read a bad screenplay.  That said, there is something good in every screenplay.  I have no problem pointing out problems.  But I also point out at least one good thing – usually the core strength around which the screenplay should be shaped.

Carefully constructed criticism can be tricky.  It can be discouraging but it can also inspire writers to improve.  Is it hard finding a balance between the two while avoiding either extreme?

Writing is often a difficult process.  It can definitely be discouraging.  And the fact is, there are few writers who have the stamina and determination to practice enough to “make it.”  As F. Scott Fitzgerald said in a letter to his daughter: “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.

What would you say is the one thing that keeps a good script from being great?

That’s the million dollar question!  It’s never just one thing.  Each screenplay has its unique challenges.  The most common basic problem I encounter is a protagonist that isn’t interesting or strong enough.  A script should make me laugh or cry or gasp or sigh.  Without being able to elicit a strong gut reaction from a reader, a script is dead.

What is the most common mistake new writers make before submitting their screenplays?

Most writers don’t re-write enough.  Before submitting a screenplay, a writer should have their script read first by friends, then by professionals and then by executives.

What advice would you give an aspiring screenwriter about to submit his/her work?

Get your screenplay read by a development professional.  There are plenty of paid coverage services that will give you notes for less than $100.  At ScreenCraft we connect writers directly with development executives for notes – so they get a 2 for one: development and exposure to Hollywood decision makers.

In your opinion, what elements make up the perfect pitch?

Pitching is important, but not nearly as important as writing.  Nobody is buying spec pitches anymore, unless you have a proven, produced screenplay under your belt.  That said, a good pitch is truly an art form which involves the same key elements that a script has: good structure and passionate storytelling.  I could write several dozen pages about how to pitch (and how not to)!

Can you tell me about a screenplay that truly inspired you?

I really loved reading the DRIVE script for the first time.  The first 20 pages of that script are sensational.  I also really love a recent spec screenplay in development called THE DISCIPLE PROGRAM – it’s a great example of a strong, surprising, intriguing protagonist.  I had never read something like it.

What’s next for ScreenCraft?  For you?

ScreenCraft is shiny and new!  We look forward to helping hundreds of aspiring writers refine their scriptwriting technique in the coming months and years.  I’m also producing several upcoming panels in Los Angeles – we’ll have top producers, screenwriters, managers and lawyers talk about the changing industry, how new spec screenplays are getting discovered and marketed, and disruptive business models in digital entertainment.  We also have a new Horror Screenplay Contest.  I also manage a small list of writers and directors.  I have several films in development and an exciting project starring John Hawkes in production.

Special thanks to John Rhodes for the interview.

Follow ScreenCraft on twitter here.

Getting To Know Your Characters: 1000 Character Development Questions

February 27, 2013 at 1:38 am

Getting To Know Your Characters: 100s of Helpful Questions

How do you create characters?

It all depends on the story and the individual writer.  We all have different methods and techniques when creating characters.  Personally, I like to free write.  I sit down and write as much detail as I possibly can about my new creations.  When I start a screenplay, I’ve usually got a main character in mind but 100% of the time my original idea changes as I get to know them.

Beyond free writing and other techniques, there are many resources out there that provide quizzes, interviews and questionnaires to help you develop your characters.  These lists of questions are designed to help you truly understand who your characters are and what drives them.  Most of the time, I simply read questionnaires like these just to gain a basic understanding of my characters.

What’s in your character’s refrigerator?  It sounds like an odd question but answering it could give you a ton of helpful information.  Even if it gives you one tiny piece of insight it’s worth it.

At the same time, why not seek out questionnaires about getting to know yourself and answer them as one of your characters?  All of these techniques can help you write better in the long run.

The 100 Most Important Things To Know About Your Character

101 Character Development Questions For Writers

100 Character Development Questions For Writers

50 Questions That Will Free Your Mind

Top 10 Questions For Creating Believable Characters

Character Questionnaire

30 Questions (Character Questionnaire)

Creating Fictional Characters

Character Development: Getting To Know Your Characters

Character Creation Questionnaire

The Writer’s Character Sheet

Interview Your Character

Character Development Questionnaire

Create-A-Character Exercises

Character Interviews

Character Tutorial

Character Chart

2 Character Questionnaires

Character Survey

These links alone offer hundreds of questions that will challenge your creativity and elevate the quality of your characters.  Try a few of them out.

You’ll never know the level of detail you’re capable of until you give it a shot.

Click here for more Screenwriting

Will Smith & James Lassiter Are Looking For America’s Newest Scriptwriter!

February 25, 2013 at 10:44 am

Will Smith & James Lassiter Are Looking For America's Newest Scriptwriter! | Overbrook Entertainment & ANA Alliance


There’s a deadline approaching!  You could win a meeting with Overbrook Entertainment, an opportunity to get your script further developed, and $5,000!


James Lassiter and Will Smith of Overbrook Entertainment have joined forces with the ANA Alliance for Family Entertainment—a group of leading national advertisers intent on finding and supporting exceptional family content—to find the most talented undiscovered TV scriptwriters in the country. Overbrook Entertainment’s vision, together with the Alliance, is to produce and support extraordinary family entertainment.  Because family entertainment means different things to different people make sure your script is unique and emotionally relatable to today’s family. Submit either your 30-minute comedy or one-hour drama by 1pm PST, March 21, 2013. (

“The only way to deal with fear is to smash your had against it.  Write your work and submit it.” (Will Smith)

Check out for more.

Click here for more Screenwriting.

Will Smith & James Lassiter Are Looking For America's Newest Scriptwriter! | Overbrook Entertainment & ANA Alliance

Why The Lord of the Rings Continually Inspires the Screenwriter in me

December 12, 2012 at 9:56 am

Why The Lord of the Rings Continually Inspires the Screenwriter in me


I love writing screenplays.  I always have.  It’s always been a distant dream to write a film that gets made and shown to audiences around the world.  I say distant because it’s not a simple task to accomplish and it’s easy to lose your way.  But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.  Last year, for a time, I lost my way.  I was still obsessed with screenwriting but I wasn’t making time to actually write.  There was always something else to do.  It’s a poor excuse.

That’s why I dropped everything and challenged myself to do better.  As soon as I applied myself, I finished a new screenplay within two months.  It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you actually sit down and write.  What does that have to do with The Lord of the Rings extended edition DVDs?  There is a chapter in every film’s documentary that focuses on the screenwriting challenges they faced.  Three half hour chunks dedicated to each film and the passion required to realize get the screenplays done.  I.  Love.  Those.  Documentaries.

XTRA | The best special features of all time?

Adapting The Lord of the Rings was an exercise in commitment and screenwriting precision.  With such a wealth of information at their disposal, it fell to Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens to weave it all into three movies.  What I love the most is their devotion to the world of Middle Earth.  They care so much about these characters and that’s why they were so successful.  They knew the world and the characters well enough to deviate when they needed to in order to make the movies work.  It takes supreme command of the craft to pull off a screenplay based on a beloved book AND having the confidence to change things.

What’s even more inspiring was their constant need to make the screenplays better.  There were always places to improve.


There have been many instances when I felt disconnected from the characters I created.  The Lord of the Rings inspires me to continue searching for a story I believe in.  Last summer, that search led to an idea that I finally sat down and finished.  It was an amazing experience and immediately led me to another concept I care deeply about.  That’s the most inspiring thing about these films and the talent behind them.  These people cared deeply about J.R.R Tolkien’s work and wanted nothing less than perfection.  They wanted to treat every single detail with the respect it deserved.

That’s the dream.  Looking at a blank page and seeing a blank page doesn’t work.  You have to see something there.  Something you care about.  You should see new worlds, characters and the little details worthy of your passion and dedication.  It should be fun.

That type of thinking makes the blank page an inspiring sight indeed.

Why The Lord of the Rings Continually Inspires the Screenwriter in me