Pecha Kucha — A Story About Story



A bunch of us were out to dinner and the conversation turned to movies, and eventually to story structure. I asked someone to pick their favorite movie and we went through all the story beats. At that point, my friend Lana said,

“You should do a Pecha Kucha!”

No, it’s not a dance or whatever else you might be thinking — it’s about telling stories…

Pecha Kucha 20×20 is a simple presentation format where you show 20 images, each for 20 seconds. The images advance automatically and you talk along to the images. Originally developed in Tokyo in response to architects administering “death by PowerPoint,” this succinct presentation format evolved in to informal gatherings all over the world covering a wide range of topics.

Much like screenwriting, it’s a distilled storytelling format. I spent lots of time with Lana’s help crafting this 6.6 minute presentation.

Structure and the 2015 BlueCat Screenplay Competition

The 2015 BlueCat Screenplay Competition Semi-Finalists were announced earlier this week and Sawbuck is among the chosen scripts. It’s a tremendous honor to make it this far in such a prestigious screenwriting contest (top 2% out of 4,494 feature-length entries).

A key ingredient of the excitement is something so simple I don’t always see it: people sat down, opened to page #1 and joined a 10-year-old boy on his hunt for a bizarre serial killer to save a missing child — and they enjoyed the journey!

The very idea that something I created speaks to people is a special, timeless gift.

While this announcement is only a step toward the short-term goal (Finalists to be announced on April 6th, 2015) and the long-term goal (get Sawbuck on the big screen), the following excerpts from the contest reader notes reminded me of my early struggle to embrace story structure:

“It’s the thoughtful and thoroughly justified weaving of these various story-lines that prompts such a decisive, deliberate build in the story structure. Even if the motives and desires of these characters are less than morally sound, their traits are precise and justifiable.”

“There’s an intricacy to the various motivations – and thereby frictions – that pass between the supporting characters.

“The epilogue proving <The Hero>‘s complete transformation — which began when he pointed the water gun at… <snip> — resolves all last subplots, and gives him the opportunity to conclusively solve the central dilemma of the script.”

And to think… I wanted nothing to do with story structure when I started writing. Like some new writers, I looked at story structure as training wheels for those who must be far less creative than me. So I just dismissed it and wrote.

After creating bloated, one-dimensional, meandering stories and finding myself trapped by plot dead ends, I grudgingly accepted structure as a necessary evil — Fine. I’ll use it. Whatever… I guess I’ll pack my unique ideas inside your stupid little structure boxes and watch my creative brilliance suffocate a cookie-cutter death. Then it happened…

I saw the light!

Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! was my first exposure to beats and structure. My understanding then grew through Robert McKee’s Story and many other books and blogs that showed me that story structure is not just for films and books, but is how humans have assimilated story for thousands of years. One of my favorite moments of clarity was when one author likened story structure to musical notes explaining how a seemingly infinite amount of music is created from just 12 musical notes. Wow… what a freeing perspective!

Today, I find building a story’s structure to be as creative as any other part of the screenwriting process; it’s the wire frame to sculpt a story around rather than a constricting necessity I once thought it was.

My hope, of course, is that between now and April 6th this coming-of-age (structured) story will speak to others sending Sawbuck to the contest finals and beyond. Until then…

Congratulations and good luck to all of my fellow Semi-Finalist Writers!

Bluecat Quarterfinals

Found out this week that my mystery thriller feature SAWBUCK moved on to the quarterfinals of the BlueCatPictures Screenplay Competition (top 5% out of 4,494 scripts)!

Very exciting news and looking forward to the next announcement. 

Sawbuck is a Semi-finalist!

2014 ScreenCraft Action & Thriller  Script Contest Quarter-Finalists Announced!

Got some great news today…

Sawbuck has moved on to the semi-finals of the Action & Thriller Script Contest. Congrats to all the writers who made it this far and keeping my fingers crossed for the next round!

News like this is even more inspiration for the low-budget, high-concept feature I’ve been working on.

Sawbuck Moves On!

Exciting news to have Sawbuck make it to the quarterfinals of the Action & Thriller Screenplay Competition.

Sawbuck is about a 10-year-old boy who, after almost being murdered, must join the hunt for a bizarre serial killer to save a missing child.

One comment from an industry professional described this powerful mystery as a mix between Road to Perdition and Se7en.

Story Logic

I’ve found that logic flaws are not problems to be solved; they are opportunities to discover the real story waiting patiently to be uncovered.

Setting a Story in Motion at Pixar

Think about it for just a moment… have you ever seen a bad Pixar film?


Is that only because of their ever-evolving, cutting edge animation and star-powered voice acting?


As we’ve all seen time and time again, when quality visuals and star power are glittered over the top of poorly-written stories it almost always leads to mediocre results (at best). So why is Pixar consistently exceptional?

Simply put, Pixar’s dedication to story is unparalleled in the entertainment industry.

Whenever I have conversations about screenwriting and the film industry with non-writer friends (often after them sharing their unmet expectations of a recent “blockbuster” film), I always like to mention how Pixar uses one writer on projects and how that’s one element of their consistent quality. Along with Pixar choosing extremely talented writers, having that singular voice even in a highly collaborative environment gives their stories, and ultimately their films, that unique Pixar glow.

So, I was tickled when John August posted a link to Toy Story 3 scribe Michael Arndt’s video on how to set a story in motion. Click here to check out the article and watch the video.

Along with being an enjoyable insight into Michael Arndt’s perspective and process, his way of presenting first act structure in this video helped me further solidify these familiar building blocks in a unique and fun way.

Thanks, Michael!


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