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EIACE’s Dara Marks and Danny Manus to Host Insightful Segments

August 7, 2017
9 min read time

To continue the exciting news of the Entertainment Industry Association of Consultants & Educators [EIACE], Dara Marks and Danny Manus will be providing insight to storytelling and pitching in EIACE’s webinar series.

Dara Marks, Ph.D. is a leading international script consultant, seminar leader, and author of one of the top selling books on creative writing, Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc. She has specialized in the analysis of the modern screenplay for the past three decades, and has worked with major Hollywood studios and independent film companies on a variety of films and television projects. Her groundbreaking work in this field continues to help writers engage more deeply and effectively in the creative writing process. Currently, in addition to working as a script analyst, Dara leads seminars world-wide and is an adjunct professor at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara.

Danny Manus is one of the most in-demand script consultants as CEO of No BullScript Consulting (www.nobullscript.net) and author of “No B.S. for Screenwriters: Advice from the Executive Perspective.” He was ranked one of the “Cream of the Crop” script consultants in CS Magazine and his clients include finalists or winners of the ABC/Disney Fellowship, Austin Film Festival, PAGE Awards, Nashville Film Festival, Scriptapalooza, etc. He has consulted on projects including Strangerlands starring Nicole Kidman, I, Frankenstein starring Aaron Eckhart, and In-Lawfully Yours starring Marilu Henner. He’s a Development Consultant for Symerra Productions and was previously the Director of Development for Clifford Werber Productions (Cinderella Story), where he sold “To Oz” to United Artists and was a production executive on Just Add Water and Sydney White. He was also a Development Consultant for Eclectic Pictures (Lovelace) and the DOD at Sandstorm Films (The Covenant, 8MM2), which had a first look deal at Screen Gems. Danny is a columnist for ScriptMag, a judge six years running for PAGE Awards, and has been a speaker at Austin Film Festival, the Producer’s Guild of America, and dozens of other major writing conferences.

“For many years, theory of story was based almost entirely on very traditional ideas coming directly out of Aristotle. And while those ideas time-tested ideas still very much hold up, these days there’s more to the story,” Dara explains, “people are taking a deep psychological look at the human narrative; getting to understand the archetypical patterns we see in story and how it relates to the development of the human psyche.” From her background in mythology, Dara’s approach to storytelling and script analysis is grounded in the archetypal patterns that encompass the human narrative. Her current workshops on The Feminine Heroic highlight how essential it is for writers to connect with more than just the external action of the plot. “It is our internal challenges in life that form the true heroic quest.”

In the upcoming webinar series for EIACE on August 17th, 2017, Marks is giving a talk on “Getting to the Gold,” in which she discusses how to develop powerful and compelling characters that have depth, dimension and substance. This not only helps a story to stand out and get attention, but it greatly enhances the entire creative experience. Alongside Marks, Manus will be revealing The 5 C's Every Pitch Needs: Context, Concept, Characters, Conflict, and Confidence.

Manus and Marks shared with us how she became inspired by story analysis and what she’s discovered in making it her life’s work

Q: What is your background and what brought you to screenwriting?

Marks: I came to screenwriting in a rather non-traditional way. I was an art major in college and began working as a designer. However, early on in my career, I found myself drawn to filmmaking and was very fortunate to have met Dr. Linda Seger, one of the pioneers in script analysis. She trained me in this work, which soon became my passion, and I eventually went back to school and got advanced degrees in Mythological Studies, which for me was the study of the human story.

Manus: I’ve always wanted to write. As a kid, I wrote short stories and poetry. As a teenager, I was into journalism and went to college for it. But it was in College (Ithaca College), that I discovered the more creative world of Screenwriting. In terms of pitching, as an assistant, an executive and a consultant, I have taken over 3500 pitches! And as a writer, I’ve also had to give a number of pitches. And so knowing both sides of it, I wanted to give writers a better chance at getting read and getting their stories across because pitching is 50% of your job as a writer.

Q: Why do you find it important to be a teacher?

Marks: Both as a consultant and as a teacher, what I love most about this work is being able to assist with the creative process in the act of discovery. My deep belief is that we don’t just tell stories, but stories have something to tell us. If a writer or filmmaker can make this connection, it helps bring the story to life and offers profound direction as to how the story wants to be told. Without connecting to the voice of the story, it will always lack meaning and value, not just to the audience, but to the writer, as well.  Ultimately, the problem is that if you’re not writing about something that is of meaning and value to you, then you are really writing about nothing at all. Most of the films we see today leave our consciousness by the time we get to the parking lot. So why even bother? Some people joke that, from car attendants to neurosurgeons, it seems like everybody has a movie they’re just dying to write. The truth is, we all do have a story to tell. And if you have the courage to write your story from this inner place of discovery, then it’s an important story. The road to Hollywood is rough and hazardous, at best, and there is no guarantee that your work will sell. But if you approach writing as a creative challenge of discovery, then you can at least be assured that your journey will take you some place significant.

Manus: Because writers tend to write in a vacuum sometimes, and often don’t know where to turn for advice and guidance other than their family and friends, who are obviously biased or at the very least, unqualified. Today there are SO many places and people and resources – some much better than others - but 8 years ago when I started No BullScript, there weren’t nearly as many ways for writers to learn. I kept seeing writers take bad advice because it was the only advice they were hearing. I thought writers needed to see their scripts from an Executive’s POV. And I really enjoy seeing my clients improve and succeed, knowing how hard they’ve worked at it.

Q: What inspired you to become part of the EIACE?

Marks: There are many exciting elements that have inspired us to form this new organization called EIACE, (Entertainment Industry Association of Consultants and Teachers). First and foremost, this group is intended to act as a clearing house to help give the public confidence that the consultants and teachers they engage through us for analysis, story development and education are some of the best in the business. Because our members work on the front lines in the entertainment industry, we are also the authors who are writing the books and developing the newest theories on story that are being taught in film schools around the world. As we grow, one of our primary missions is to mentor and train new script analysts so that the skill and abilities of this profession can be greatly enhanced. It’s very easy for anyone entering the film business to say that they can read scripts, but that doesn’t mean that they’re really qualified or that they have any substantial understanding of story. Every film made today goes through a lengthy process of notes and rewrites.  If we can help improve the quality of the notes, we may be able to substantially help filmmakers make better movies.

Manus: Truth be told, more than a couple years ago I was chatting with my friend and colleague Lee Jessup (an EIACE member) and said that the Consultants who do this for a living should come together and form some sort of union so that we would stop getting lumped in with these fly-by-night, anonymous, low-rent coverage services. It just so happened that after many of us had an unfortunate incident at one of the conferences we all spoke at, everyone else had the same thought too. While EIACE is not a Union, it is an alliance of sorts. The Avengers of Story LOL.

Q: What is the EIACE looking to contribute to the entertainment industry?

Marks: It’s very easy for anyone entering the film business to put out a shingle and say I can read scripts. That doesn’t mean that they’re really qualified and they have any substantial understanding of story other than to say, “I don’t like this, and I don’t like that.” And if that is the state of the art of story analysis, it’s pretty bleak. Every one of us involved in the EIACE has a long client list and films in which we’ve worked and made an impact. So, if we want to have more of an understanding and respect for the value of good story analysis, I think we have to be able to separate those of us who have committed to this as our life’s work and have put the time and education as well as the development of our abilities toward being the best that we can be in this field.

Q: What makes a strong story?

Manus: That’s a hard question, and it’s a very different question than ‘what makes a great script?’ What makes a great story is putting compelling and engaging characters through a combination of equally compelling setups, builds, and payoffs. It’s taking an idea or concept and finding the strongest, most interesting, most engrossing, dramatic, comedic, horrific, suspenseful, etc., way of bringing it out. A strong story is one that stays with you, and that connects with you mentally, but also emotionally.

Marks: A story is strong when it relates, at its core, to our deep internal human experience. Our external human experience is another matter. All story is basically metaphor, meaning that it can’t tell us what life is, only what life is like. Therefore, in the external realm, story can explore all manner of life forms, real and imagined. But its true power lies in connecting us, internally, to our emotions and inner values. There really isn’t anything in the physical world that has any meaning to us whatsoever, except for how we internalize it. For example, if we were writing about the subject of wealth, there is nothing intrinsic in this topic that gives us any real sense of value. Every person interpreting the word “wealth” will bring a different perspective to it, depending on his or her life experience. For some people wealth may trigger feelings of oppression or inferiority, for others wealth represents inspiration and motivation. For still others, true wealth may have nothing to do with money at all, but is seen as the abundance of spirit, love and hope. None of these responses are wrong or right. More importantly, each of them is plugged into an emotional reaction from the writer that can be universally experienced by everyone. You don’t have to have an overwhelming desire to become a ruthless inside trader to identify with the conflict and discomfort Bud Fox feels in Wall Street when he is forced to choose between impressing Gordon Gekko or betraying his father. In reality, the core human value that is expressed here has more to do with the meaning of our own humanity than it has to do with the meaning of wealth. But exploring the issue of wealth is the vehicle or metaphor that takes us to this core value. Ultimately, therefore, I don’t have to have the same perception of wealth that you have in order to feel connected to the emotions that a writer is truthfully expressing through the experience of the characters.

Q: Why is it key for writers to receive honest and direct feedback? What makes your approach effective?

Manus: For a few reasons, not the least of which is that if a company loves your script and wants to develop it with you, you’re going to get TONS of notes from every which way, and they’re not all going to be sweet and easy to hear. So, if you’re not acclimated to and comfortable with the notes process, it is going to be a rude awakening for you.  My personality is pretty blunt and straight forward, and that’s how I like to deal with people. Never cruel or mean, but constructive and honest. I don’t need to use complicated or over-quoted theories to explain story. I want to just give you the cold, hard truth and ALSO give you constructive ways to fix what isn’t working and explain why.  I don’t need to spend 7 pages telling you how wonderful you are – I’m here to tell you how your story and you as a writer, can still improve.  My writers know what they’re getting when they come to me. The name of my company is no accident. But without HONEST and direct feedback, you’re not going to feel pushed, and you’re not going to learn and get better.

Q: What are your thoughts of Joseph Campbell and his Hero’s Journey?

Marks: I think the work of Joseph Campbell is extraordinary and understanding the archetypal pattern of the Hero’s Journey can be very helpful to a writer. However, I don’t view all story as a hero’s journey, in the traditional sense. Not all accomplishments in life are of the magnitude of achieving a great “boon” for all humanity. However, I do believe that all human experiences – great and small – offer us the opportunity for growth and development. Therefore, the quest to face life’s trials in order to continue to grow toward wholeness is, indeed, a heroic challenge. A protagonist who accepts and struggles with this challenge is heroic – whether or not he or she succeeds. On the other hand, a protagonist who declines, avoids or runs away from the internal opportunity to grow is a tragic figure. Films that present this internal quest to grow or not to grow, illustrate the deepest, most essential aspect of the human drama.  This is what makes the internal quest in a story most powerful and most relatable to the audience, no matter the genre.

To sign up for the EIACE's webinar series and stay informed with the conferences, seminars, and services the EIACE will be offering, please check out their website at: http://www.eiace.org/events

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