Saturday, October 27, 2012

Great Movies or Stories are about...

Great stories are about 
who stand for something
even if they don't know what they're doing, 
but even more so if they do.

I just reread an old Reader's Digest article by John Culhane, Where Great Movies Come From. I don't think it told me, but it did suggest that the great movies (and stories) are about things bigger than the characters -- good value, and to achieve those noble intends sacrifices are welcome.

To quote Culhane:
Critically acclaimed, financially successful and widely honored films are about universal values, that reflect the basic good in people: hard work, self respect, love of family, friends, community and God.

'Such films show us,' says director Mark Rydell, 'how the individual can make a difference—in his own life and the lives of others. ' 
'One of their messages,' says John Avildsen (director of ROCKY), 'is that  ordinary individuals are capable of extraordinary acts.'
The article discusses four films that do this:
...and how studios rejected the scripts and even the films for distribution after they were made, because the stories did not fit the supposed mold for commercial success. Yet all were very successful.

I am hoping for more visionary investors who see the financial sense of relatively small independent films that can change hearts and be a box office success.

To do that, as writers, producers, and directors, we have to develop stories about characters that stand for something bigger than themselves, against all odds.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Queries and Pitches, Do's and Don'ts

Google QUERY LETTERS for more
In the past week I was the keynoter at a local writers conference, which is always a joy for me because I get to meet other writers and hear story pitches and the wonderful ideas floating around in the minds of creative types.

A day or two before, a taped television interview of my appearance on Episode 6 of Living Right with Dr. Ray, was aired on EWTN. In that segment, in part, I discuss The Moral Premise and how filmmakers engender stories with themes and what they mean to families. (They have me listed as "Steve Williams" on the episode list, I see.)

As a result of the on-air appearance, as expected, I get some emails with pitches and queries... which prompts me now to make a few comments about sending queries to filmmakers and others.

When you want to send a query, here are some tips.

1. ASK FIRST if the person accepts queries. Save us both some time. In my case, I very rarely produce other people's creative works. I have no funding in place to produce my own stuff, let alone the work of others.... even when the work of others is better than my own. I have attempted from time to time to put together a funding package to produce a slate of films, but I'm not there.... yet. So, I don't accept queries.

If the person you're wanting to query says "Yes" to the above question, then...and only then:

2. WRITE A SHORT PROFESSIONAL QUERY. Your query email or letter should include three VERY short paragraphs, under the RE heading: "QUERY" -- and after the salutation in which you WILL spell the person's name right. ONLY include relevant information to the work you're pitching.
Paragraph 1: State the purpose of the query and what prompted you to write. "Dear Small Time Producer. // Thank you for speaking with me Saturday at the Writer's conference. Below is a log line for my completed romantic comedy screenplay, BREAKING IN, which has my bosses daughter attached to play the lead; you may have heard of her, "ANGELICA BEARTRAP."

Paragraph 2: The Log Line. "A desperate wannabe novelist battles the gatekeepers of a famous editor by breaking into the editor's office to put her manuscript on the top of the editor's pile with cleverly written faux coverage. Unbeknownst to the desperate writer, the editor is a nigh owl who returns to her office to find the writer caught by and flailing from from the ceiling fan like a monstrous mobile."

Paragraph 3: No more than 25 word bio of your professional credits. You can add another 25 words if someone of note has said something good about your writing, not your cooking, or your good looks, or how nice your mother is.
And sign off with your phone number.

When writing...don't be presumptuous.
  • Make any judgement about the quality of the story or your writing. That you're willing to submit anything to another person for review means you think it's good.
  • Make no judgement or recommendation about how well the story/movie/novel will do in the marketplace. Why? Because you don't know. Really, no one knows. As Bill O'Reilly would say, "When writing... don't be presumptuous."
  • Use any graphics, or emotion-cons, creative use of typography, asides, pictures.
  • Make casting suggestions
  • Relay how much your mother loved it. If she was like most mothers she wiped your butt as a kid and didn't complain. 
  • Mention any irrelevant connections.... like your religious faith,  unless you're pitching a story about that faith.  (I'm Catholic. I hear from other Catholics or Christians that want to pitch something to me because they believe I'll be receptive to them because they're Catholic. Honestly, when their Catholic affiliation is mentioned I'm turned off. Why? Because I have not met that many good Catholic writers, and the ones I have met are generally presumptuous about their craft on account of their faith. Believe me, in this world, in this country, at this time in history, THERE IS NO SUCH RELATIONSHIP... although there should be.
  • That you have proofed your query email or letter several times. Obviously typos (like I usally make) suggest that you're unprofessional.
  • That the work you are offering is yours to offer. That is it is your OWN creative work, or you OWN the copyright and the right to pedal its sale. Don't say so, but if you do not own the work completely, be sure that will kill any sale in the next steps. It will also poison your future relationship with the contact.
  • That you will follow industry rules of order in registering the copyright and the work with the Writer's Guild of America (if it's a screenplay). Don't bother mentioning this, but be sure that if you don't, you won't make a sale.
  • It is assumed that the work is properly formatted. Don't bother saying so.  But be sure that if it isn't, you won't make the sale.
  • You have the sense to follow professional etiquette and protocol. If you don't, you won't sell anything today or in the future.
  • A good story
  • Well-told
  • Professionally (i.e. respect for industry protocol, which can be learned from the many books on the topic. And here's one I recommend from my friend Michael Hauge: SELLING YOUR STORY IN 60 SECONDS.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Rochester Writer's Conference Keynote


I've been asked to delivery the keynote at the Rochester Writer's Conference Oct 20, 1012, which will be held in the Oakland Center at Oakland University, Rochester, MI. Here's a LINK to their site with registration information.

To assist in founder's Michael Dwyer's promotion below you'll find a description of my talk just after lunch.

Session Slides Download:
Greyscale PDF Slides (6 up)
Color PDF Slides (1 up)

Session Title:
THE TOP 21 SECRETS OF STORY SUCCESS, based on his Hollywood Story Structure book: "The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success."

Stanley D. Williams, Ph.D., Hollywood Story Consultant, Filmmaker, Writer, Publisher-Distributor
(Bio below)

General Description:
At the heart of all successful stories (whether they be short-stories, novels, plays or motion pictures) is a foundational concept that Will Smith calls “the most powerful tool in my new toolbox.” Modern research has shown that if you ignore this concept and its interrelated secrets your story is doomed. But if you consistently apply them to each character, each scene, and each dramatic beat of your tale -- your storytelling will be empowered, you’ll connect with your audience, and all the other techniques you bring to the craft will shine and fall into place. As historic and fundamental as these basic concepts are, some have become lost secrets. It’s not uncommon in story meetings to hear exclamations like, “Oh, I knew you were going to ask that” or “How could we have forgotten such a critical idea this late in the game?” Don’t be caught unawares. Follow these rules and you have a chance.  Here’s a bonus promise: Apply this concept and its ancient corollaries to your writing, and writer’s block is guaranteed to disappear.

In this 1-hour seminar you will learn the most fundamental elements of all successful story structure used in motion picture screenplays, stage plays, novels, and short stories. The talk is supplemented with graphic slides and movie clips. Blubs of what others have said about the seminar/workshop can be found at http://www.moralpremise.come - where you can also by the book and read it beforehand.  Books will be available onsite.

Narrative writers of all media will find this session beneficial, if not foundational. If you're a writer this session will give you a practical understanding of the crux of all story telling — the psychological motivation that centrally controls all character's values, actions, and consequences, and keeps the story focused on one thing. It's called the moral premise and it's been around since the beginning of storytelling. Knowing the moral premise of your tale will speed along and improve the quality of your story's structure and writing. In many ways the moral premise is a powerful muse; when used correctly it will inspire and focus your efforts, and powerfully connect you with your audience. Say "Good-bye" to writer's block.

(Depending on how fast I can talk, I'll expand or shrink the following outline. There will be time for Q&A afterwards, and I'll be hanging around the conference most of the day for informal consultations and conversation.)

•    The Purpose of Story
•    What Makes a Story True
•    The Physical vs. The Psychological Storyline
•    Natural Law and Stories - Cause & Effect
•    How the Moral Premise Unites Physical & Psychological
•    True vs. False Moral Premises
•    Box Office Correlation
•    The Protagonist's Moral Decisions
•    Conflict of Values - Story's Dramatic Thrust
•    Virtue vs. Vice

•    General Form of the Moral Premise
•    Connecting Vice, Virtue, and Consequences
•    Physical Effects - Psychological Cause
•    The MP in LIAR! LIAR!
•    The MP in DIE HARD
•    The MP Arc in DIE HARD (Clip)
•    The MP in THE INCREDIBLES (Clip)

•    Where the MP is Recognized
•    The All Important Midpoint of Act 2
•    MOG Determines the Story's End
•    MOG in LIAR! LIAR! (Clip)

•    Consistent Application in All Crafts
•    Protagonist Must Make Moral Decision
•    13 Steps in 3 Acts
•    Act 1 Climax RATATOUILLE (Clip)
•    Act 3 Climax RATATOUILLE (Clip)

•    All Vice contains a Virtue
•    All Virtue contains a Vice
•    Dramatic Thrust from Both Ends

•    5 Acts - A. F. Purchase Model
•    7 Acts - Stages of Greif
•    12 Stages - The Mythic Hero
•    15 Beats - Blake Snyder (BS2)
•    Combination Beat Chart

Dr. Stan Williams is a novel and screenplay consultant for accounts in Los Angeles and across the country. His best-known client is the actor-producer Will Smith with whom Stan and worked since 2008 on over a dozen of Smith's projects. Stan is an author, writer, speaker, and an international award-winning corporate and entertainment media producer. Since 1972, he has executive produced, directed, written, or distributed hundreds of video, film, television and interactive projects, some with world-wide distribution. Prior to his involvement in the film industry he headed up the business and creative effort at several agencies for major accounts at Ford Motor, General Motors, Chrysler Corporation, and Harley-Davidson. He also spent three years training astronauts in Houston. His screenplay structure book is The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success, published by Michael Wiese Productions. Essays, reviews and blurbs of Stan's work, writings, blogs, and workshops can be found at

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

TMP at Seekerville

I spent yesterday contributing to the com box at Seekerville, an active blog site managed by a group of novelists. As I was two years ago this time, I was invited to guest blog and answer questions about The Moral Premise.

It was a long post, especially as friend, client, and best selling author Tamera Alexander agreed to let me interview her. Tamera also went beyond the calling and embedded a YouTube video about how she uses TMP in her writing, of which I'm most grateful.

As of a few minutes ago there were 109 comments, which are viewable at the bottom of the post.


I'm sorry I haven't posted in a long time. I've been exec. producing a short film for my teen Story Symposium students (which occupied most of August), and in mid-July I shot a television series, that now I am editing, probably through October.