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Pop Culture to the Rescue

By Richard Walter

Our reader, Kathy from West Hollywood asks: How I can hold the executive's interest who's already read a million screenplays? By now, most probably hate to read!

Richard Walter replies: Place yourself in the mind of the reader. That's what you do when you write, isn't it? You create persons and place them in situations, and also give them words (dialogue) to say, right?

When you submit your screenplay, your tangible, "thumbable" script submission, a real person reads it - maybe a development exec, maybe an agent or manager - each with plenty of other scripts in the reading pile. Keep in mind their reading load. They get scripts from their boss(es), clients, assistants, associates, competitor(s), wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, hair stylist, pool sweeper, and car detailer.

So how do you get a cranky, and jaded reader to pay attention?

Try weaving pop culture references into the script. Not in a tacked-on way, but in an integrated way. Everything must be integrated, as I always preach to my students.

But given the presumption that it passes the integration test, how have you woven in the post 9-11 consciousness into your work? The more current your references, the more current your work feels. And this applies to period pieces as well as contemporary stories.

In A Knights Tale, the song by Queen, played just before the jousting, gave a medieval story a more current feeling (notwithstanding the reality that Queen was a 70s band). Whatever the period of your story, the audience is here and now. A movie is only sight and sound, and Queen's sound drew us right into this medieval arena.

Make them pay attention!

If you're writing about a place and using its landmarks or haunts, make them current haunts. A reader is tickled by references they know. Aren't we all? Just like you research how to believably crack open a particular brand of safe, or you find out the nomenclature of the cheers if you're writing a cheerleader yarn, utilize phrases, and places that feel fresh and current in the settings where you place your characters.

Make the most of the culture wars.

In a particular scene in his script, a writer I know chose to have a character reading Bobby Flays cookbook " Boy Meets Grill." I immediately knew this writer pays attention to pop culture - hip chef, hot new cookbook (at the time). It was a good choice to weave that book into his work. Do readers and executives like to eat? They do lunch! Do they buy cookbooks and watch the Food Network? Absolutely. Bam!

Meet the Author: Richard Walter

Richard Walter is a celebrated storytelling guru, movie industry expert, and longtime chairman of UCLA’s legendary graduate program in screenwriting. A screenwriter and published novelist, his latest book, Essentials of Screenwriting, is available July 2010. His previous published works include the novels Escape from Film School and Barry and the Persuasions and screenwriting books The Whole Picture: Strategies for Screenwriting Success in the New Hollywood and Screenwriting: The Art, Craft and Business of Film and Television Writing.

He has written numerous feature assignments for the major stu...