Monday, July 31, 2006


Every once in a while, a question comes up. Something along the lines of, "I am having English very little. I write screenplay for superfantastic amazing movie to take Hollywood by storm. I can sell this where could you please information me?"

Never mind that Hollywood screenwriting is probably the most competitive writing marketplace on the planet. Never mind that brilliant native English speakers, with degrees from the best colleges, flock here by the thousands every year, and most of them struggle for years before they break in. If they break in.

So the short answer to the question is, "No. You can't sell this. You can't write. You need to master colloquial American English before you will be allowed to sell lattes at Coffee Bean, much less take a meeting."

If you really are a good writer, if you really do have that superfantastic, amazing story that would take Smogtown by the balls, then write it in your native language. You know, the one you already have, the one in which you are not tone deaf. Sell it to your native film and television industry. You know, the one that's smaller and less competitive than the Hollywood variety. The one where you have a chance of meeting people and making connections. The one where possibly a schoolmate or a relative already has a job and can get you in the door.

But you've got your heart set on Hollywood. You're too much of a freak to settle for anything less than the world's biggest sideshow. If that's the case, Lord help you. And read on.

I'm assuming that you've already studied the hell out of your basic English grammar and vocab books. If not, then do that. Know it cold. Memorize that shit.

Proceed to the books I mentioned in the previous post. The Elements of Style. Eats, Shoots, Leaves. Figures of Speech.

Tired yet? Better not be. You're just getting started.

Book learnin' ain't enough. You've got to work your eardrums. You have to know how Yanks talk, in real time. The local argot, the particular Stateside turn of phrase. The best place to pick this up is talk radio. Morning humor shows with several regular cast members are best, because they allow you to hear the interplay between individuals. You can get a feel for the timing, and for the voice that makes each radio personality unique.

If your internet connection will allow it, check out radio shows like Don and Mike, Frosty Heidi and Frank, Ron and Fez, The Sports Junkies ( for advanced students only - the Tidewater accent can be incomprehensible to outsiders), Big Boy, Steve Harvey, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, and the Michael Feldman Show. If they have callers, listen closely to them as well. Start by taping an hour of your chosen show, and writing down every single bit of dialogue. From the personalities, the callers, even the commercials. Type up the dialogue in script format. Do this every night, two or three hours a night.

TV talk shows are okay, but not as good, because the conversation is less freewheeling, and there is more emphasis on visuals. Radio is just what you hear. The words have to carry everything.

Approach it the way that you would a masters degree, because that's the kind of fluency you're going to need for the big H.

Another great source for the American idiom is the National Enquirer. Its language is dumbed down for maximum impact. USA Today reads like Le Monde compared to this brightly colored toilet paper. Not just that, but the bizarre, tasteless stories are the stuff of which blockbuster movies are made. Even more important is the non stop celebrity coverage. Get a good long look at the pictures. If you make it, these are the lunatics you'll be working for.

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